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The Real Dirt
Lennox Toppin

When first approached with the opportunity to write the February blog for the Hamilton Arts Council, I did what any arts loving Board Member would do: I balked. In spite of it originally being discussed early last fall, I knew, come February, we would likely be in the middle of some kind of enduring deep freeze. I figured even those among us who go on about the heat and humidity would likely be saying how they could not wait for the bitterness of winter to end. I felt I would be stressed, exhausted, and most of all irritated – because I would rather suffer in the heat of summer bliss than a mind-numbing deep freeze.

Yet, here I find myself on a frozen Sunday evening with a glass of wine in hand, trying to suss up enough energy to put together some words. Not only words, but thoughts that convey some kind of meaning in the middle of this long winter. Thoughts which express something about arts and culture and Hamilton. And I keep coming back to the same thing: what I really want to write about is my garden.

I could write about my passion for my garden, and how that passion came about. I could write how one of my colleagues said one of the most interesting things she discovered about me was this passion lay dormant until it exploded in a wild frenzy when I purchased my Hamilton home. I could write about some of the themes I place in my garden – themes which explore love, sex, death and decay. But I am going to save those for another time and place.

Instead, I think I am going to write about my dirty side: how I have been on my hands and knees in the pouring rain, caked in mud, beads of sweat co-mingling with my tears and those from the heavens, listening to the voice and heartbeat of my garden. There is a deep, profound, spiritual and physical connection that I make with the earth, and I can tell you – not only is my garden as hungry as I am, but it is surprisingly carnivorous!

While it rests under a thick blanket of snow in a winter that would seemingly never end, at this time of the year the garden represents hope and renewal...and work. While most people only see the end results of the garden, the real joy for me, as with many artists, is the work that goes on behind the scenes, down and dirty, while the world is not watching. In keeping with that theme, while we anticipate the arrival of the Spring season, I think Margaret Atwood summed it up best, from Bluebeard's Egg: "In the Spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt."