There is a drama of life and death playing out just outside our doors.

Lines of radishes trail neatly near young peas that climb wispily toward the light, and the green fuzz of new basil speckles the soil around sturdy tomato seedlings.

At first glance, all seems peaceful in the warm June morning.

Yet this little collection of raised bed gardens is anything but quiet.

A month ago, I shifted hundreds of pounds of soil into these wooden boxes, battling swarms of black fly gnats that swarmed around my head. The dirt came from a compost pile that's been accumulating for the better part of a decade and is a collection of the leavings of life: vegetable scraps, hay, sawdust, manure, ashes, decomposing leaves. These are the ingredients of perfect soil, hyper fertile earth that will support the growth of a garden chock full of plants.

This mound of dirt is home to countless species I encountered as I shifted that soil: smooth-skinned blue spotted salamanders that rested coolly in my palm, disgruntled toads that I unwittingly ejected from their winter burrows, long pink earthworms that wriggled when exposed to light, a sleek ring-necked snake that slipped off through the leaves, and countless insects.

Muscles aching, skin drenched in sweat, fingers stained with soil, this earth was transported to my garden. In rows and mounds and little black pots were pressed the small dry seeds of carrots, radishes, squash, beans, spinach, kale, cabbage, and cucumbers.

Now everywhere I look, there is a struggle ongoing, all living things engaged in the fight between life and death.

Tender young seedlings battle hungry insects, stubborn weeds, witheringly hot sunlight, and night temperatures that are still dip lower than optimal. Robins wrench earthworms from the soft soil, carrying them away to stuff the mouths of begging young. Dragonflies swoop past, capturing flies and mosquitoes midair, only to be caught themselves in the beaks of tree swallows. Chipmunks, torn between the fear of predation and the instinctive urge to gather food, scramble back and forth between the garden beds.

A garter snake already fat on a diet of young toads eyes me balefully, clearly seeing my presence an intrusion on its new estate. While toads and insects must hurry out of her way, she is the prospective meal of the broad-winged hawk who cruises over the garden nearly every day. She seldom stays visible for long.

Does drop their fawns near the garden, sometimes so close that I startle them out of the grass while traipsing to check on young seedlings. Near the swamp, I find the wide pawprints left from a yearling black bear and later, a tiny spotted fawn-hide.

While there is almost certainly no economic benefit to the garden I plant, I would never trade the proximity it allows me to nature. It grants an insight into a world that is ever-humming with life, hidden from all but the most curious of eyes.

(Copyright © 2019 APG Media)

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