A good friend of mine was going away on a long trip during the fall. Miriam thought she had given herself plenty of time to do all the things that are required when one goes out of town.
I called her the day before her departure to wish her bon voyage. She was a wreck. She was completely behind on everything she needed to do. "And to top it all off," she lamented, "I bought some wonderful corms to plant for next spring. I'll never get them into the ground now!"
Well, I'll tell you, I can't bear the thought of an unplanted corm, bulb, seed plug, you name it. I always start too many seeds in March and by June I'm tucking them everywhere I can. I just can't bear the thought of a plant not getting a chance to grow. In other words, she was in luck.
"I'll plant them for you," I said.
"Oh, would you? You would do that?" Miriam was elated. She promised to set them out on the porch for me. I knew her garden well, as we have spent many hours together, toiling in each other's gardens. We quickly brainstormed some nice places for them to go. But then she said, "Oh, just put them wherever you think they'll look nice."
I arrived a couple of days later on a chilly autumn morning and spied a frost-covered paper bag on the back steps. With my trowel and bone meal in hand, I set off in search of just the right place to plant.
The corms were weird-looking―- not the usual miniature, rootlike bulbs. I hadn't asked what kind they were when Miriam and I had last talked, but the two of us were always trying out new varieties of anything we could get our hands on. Being a consummate experimental gardener, there isn't a lot I won't try to plant and coax through our seemingly endless Minnesota winters. So I shrugged my shoulders and went to work. After a lot of digging, arranging, changing my mind, digging some more and rearranging, I finally stood back from the patch of disturbed earth and nodded to myself in satisfaction. They were all planted in the perfect spot.
When Miriam got back a few months later, she and I went out to dinner to celebrate her return. At the restaurant we laughed about what a wreck she had been when she was trying to get out of town. And then she said, "You know, I still can't believe I forgot to put those corms out! What a ditz brain I am!"
I looked at her quizzically. "What do you mean? Of course you put them out. They were sitting on the porch in a paper bag, right where you said they'd be."
"No," she said, "they're still sitting on the counter where I left them."
Then an expression of dawning realization spread across her face. It held an odd combination of amusement and alarm.
"Valerie, I'm so sorry...."
"I'm truly sorry...."
She paused as if to prepare me for her news. Then she slowly said, "That was cat poop."
"Cat poop," she repeated. "I'm afraid I cleaned the litter box out before I left and forgot to put it in the garbage. I guess I must have left it on the back steps. You planted cat poop."
News like this doesn't sink in immediately. It sort of bounces around in your head and all you can hear are the echoes. Cat poop... cat poop....
Miriam looked at my face―- and did the best she could to keep from laughing. Tears welled up in her eyes, and she pressed her lips tightly together. I usually have a good sense of humor. But I was too busy replaying the images of me picking these hard little corm-like kernels from a brown paper bag and lovingly planting them in Mother Earth's bosom. I took a long drink of my wine. I wasn't sure I could laugh about this.
Miriam managed to pull herself together. She cleared her throat and, sensing my state of shock, politely asked, "So, where did you plant them?"
"Uh, next to the catnip," I replied. The next thing I knew we both had collapsed into a fit of laughter. Much to my surprise, I was laughing. And it felt good. Very good.
Years have passed since then, and both our gardens and our friendship have continued to grow. That story has grown, too―- to become one of our dearest bonds. I guess, true to form, I really will try to plant just about anything.