Texas Tech University

Nature Vs. Nurture

Katie Cortese

He tears kudzu off the live oaks, hands sheathed in rubber gloves made for avoiding dishpan hands. "Remember Priority Number One?" he asks, and laughs, but it's an airless sound and doesn't carry.

"We should have been more careful what we asked for," I say. We'd told the agent a house with a yard, fenced in, with room for a garden. We'd dreamed of tomatoes and lettuce, then watched slugs turn our cucumbers to quivering tubes of yellow protoplasm, and worms tunnel into the tomatoes before they were close to ripe.

Priority Number Two was an extra room, still brimming with unpacked boxes though we've lived here nearly a year. I've forgotten what's inside them. CDs, probably, replaced by Pandora. Remote controls we think we've lost.

I'm tearing life from the ground. Tough weeds with names I used to know. Now they are nothing but uniform green shoots against last season's bark mulch. Unwanted. Interlopers. It's the first warm day in February, and there's much to be grateful for. Where my parents live, their yard is still covered in snow.

"Son of a bitch," my husband says, tugging on a stubborn vine. I sit back on my heels to watch the muscles straining in his back before getting up to help. Gloveless, the vines cut into my hands, and I know they will leave ladderlike welts when we've pulled this patch from its host tree, burnt it in the fire-pit, triumphed over this one wild bit of the world.

I'd bought stencils for the extra room. Vines and trumpet flowers to be filled in yellow and white, because we didn't want to know the sex ahead of time.

"This year we could try some blueberry bushes," he says when we're done. He coils the vine like an extension cord, squints at me beneath his safari-style hat. "Don't they like the shade? We could get in five or six. Fresh fruit. Packed with antioxidants."

"Maybe," I say, "we'll see," and go back to the patch of earth I've stripped bare of last year's failures. In my pocket there's a handful of dried snow peas. The earth is tilled and ready. The danger of frost is past.

Though I plunge every seed into earth, I know tonight I'll dream of roots unfurling, infant tendrils feeling for purchase only to starve in the Live Oak's shadow, which stands just as stolid as last year, ancient and immovable, poised to swallow all their light.