Maddy looked out towards Nina as she shepherded the girls towards her husband. Jardy had loved playing with plants ever since he had been a little boy — around the same time he had first met his future wife.

Ol’ Stoney’s herb bed and hanging gardens thrived under his care. Thanks to his efforts, Maddy was able to offer fresh produce well after the standard growing season — a feat greatly appreciated by local and visiting patrons alike. As Artie and Alicia grew, Jardy shared different aspects of his skills with his two children carefully tailored to their personal proclivities.

Artie was fascinated with the grapes and how their vines took over their trellises out on the rolling hillside. Alicia had always been intrigued by the trees that birthed fruit and the plants that put forth vegetables. Even so, it was the plants that grew inside Ol’ Stoney that thoroughly captivated her curiosity.

“Look how they climb, Daddy,” said Alicia almost as soon as she had begun to talk.

“They’re pretty amazing, aren’t they?” answered Jardy as he turned to look in the direction his daughter had pointed.

“They really are,” replied Alicia, as she stared upwards to the top of the vines.

Alicia was thoroughly captivated by the plants’ ability to defy gravity — not that she even knew what gravity was at the time. Whenever Jardy watched the two young girls, they invariably ended up tending to something in the indoor gardens. Jardy had no need to distract them, as both daughters were more than happy to dig in the dirt while their mothers went off on their own.

Whenever Nina and Maddy came back from their outings, the girls always returned with a significant amount of dirt tucked underneath their fingernails. However, the smiles etched across their faces more than made up for this minor inconvenience. As Nina and Maddy made their way out of Ol’ Stoney’s side entrance, Jardy was getting the girls ready for an adventure all their own.

Both girls were curious as to what they might learn today. It had already been almost two weeks since Maddy and Nina had taken their last “girls’ day”. During this session, Alisha’s father had delved into the properties of air and the way that plants breathed through their leaves. Both Maris and Alicia had found it quite endearing to view plants as one-legged creatures whose little green lungs extended outside their bodies.

During this session, Jardy had also explained how plants built their bodies out of breath. Unlike human beings and animals that converted their food into form, they were fascinated to find out that plants literally breathed their bodies into existence. Unlike people, plants possessed the magical ability to extract carbon out of the air — assembling their skeletons out of the sky.

“Today we’re going to plant tomatoes,” explained Jardy.

With that simple statement, he handed out samples of the fruit that their plants would eventually bear — giving the girls two tomatoes apiece. Providing each child with two tomatoes represented a definite strategy on his part. Not only did it keep them from plunging their hands into the dirt before he was done talking, but it also allowed them to sample the fruits of their future labors.

“Go ahead and taste one of your tomatoes,” said Jardy.

Each child bit into one of their sample with greater gusto than Jardy could have anticipated, so that juice from the tiny tomatoes spurted out to leave a stream of color on each of their shirts.

“What about the seeds?”

“You’re holding them in your hands.”

The girls met Jardy with a confused expression, as they each looked down at the remnants of the first tomato while clutching the remaining one in their other hand.

“Go ahead and finish that first tomato, and I’ll show you,” replied Jardy as he guided them towards the garden.

Momentary confusion soon gave way to wonderment as the children realized that the seeds to be planted were hidden inside their second tomatoes. Jardy handed each of them a knife so that they could slice their fruits into little disks that contained a certain number of seeds. Before the children planted their seeds surrounded by the flesh that would act as fertilizer, Jardy gave each of them a brief lesson in horticulture.

“What do we need to get a plant to grow?” He asked the girls.

“Seeds,” answered the daughters in unison.

“Anything else?” queried Jardy.

“They need water to grow,” answered Alisha.

“Yes, they do,” said Jardy.

“And air to breathe,” said Maris, thinking back to the adults practicing chokeholds before her martial arts class.

“True,” replied Jardy, “but is there anything else?”

“Soil to put it in, along with some nutrients,” stated Alicia.

“Yes, but does the soil serve any other purpose?” asked Jardy.

The two girls appeared quite stumped by this question, for they had never thought much of soil. As far as they were concerned, it was just something to stuff the seeds into. Even nutrients could be added to bolster the soil’s strength if need be.

Jardy explained that the soil helped protect the seeds from the light of the sun so that they could safely germinate in the darkness. While seeds could be grown in the presence of filtered light, the resulting plants were never as strong as those whose seeds had been hidden in the soil. It was only after the seeds had germinated that they could actually use the light, after gestating in the dark, fertile environment of the soil.

“All growth begins in the dark,” explained Jardy.

“Like when I was growing in my mommy’s belly?” asked Maris.

“Yes,” replied Jardy, somewhat uncomfortably, caught off guard by Maris’ question.

“It was really dark in there,” replied Alisha while looking at her friend.

“I know,” said Maris, “but warm and cozy just the same.”

“Yes, it was,” replied Alisha somewhat wistfully.

“Girls, can we get back to talking about growth?”, interjected Jardy, unsure of what to say.

“We were talking about growth,” replied the girls insistently in eery unison.

“Plant growth.”

“Oh, sorry, what were you saying again?”

“We were talking about how plants need a dark place with soil for growth.”

“Like me needing mommy’s stomach?” asked Alisha.

“Can we focus on plants for now?”

Alright….”

“Will the seed grow without the soil?” queried Jardy.

“No,” answered Maris, quite definitively.

“But the soil is still dead,” said Alisha.

“Is it?” asked Maris, looking at her friend.

“Will the seed grow without the soil?” asked Jardy.

“I guess not,” answered Alisha, somewhat begrudgingly.

“So one could say that the soil must possess a living, vital as well. Even if we can’t quite measure or understand it,” continued Jardy.

This statement haunted Alicia for weeks, as she had never thought of soil as a living thing — only something to run across, plant seeds in, and stamp her feet upon when she was angry. Even though her grandmother had told her time and time again that everything was alive, Alicia had never thought to apply this principle to something so mundane as dirt.