06/16/2015 03:23 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

For Father's Day, I Will Talk Mulch to You

What makes life worth living?

What can a person do to add meaning to their life?

What will the last thing be that we think of right before we go toward the light?

Would it be... this?


Oh, yes. Yes it would. If you were my spouse.

To my husband, mulch would be what makes everything worthwhile. Mulch would be why we work, why we put in the hours, why we set aside the weekend, why we toil until that first day of summer.

Beauty is always in the eye of the beholder, and found in the places where others overlook. And when you are on this side of life, as my husband and I are, you grapple with mortality. You question purpose and use of your time on earth.

Or you find your answers in mulch.

You rake, hoe, and lose yourself in the smoky layers of dusty bark. Mulch is the cure for what ails my husband. His weary working soul is nourished, as is his flesh, through the satisfaction of aching muscles that are evidence of a job well done.

In the first weeks of June, my husband will place a call. He will shiver as he requests his mulch color choice, Euro Blend. We will devote three days of a long awaited weekend to the process of topping our soil, encircling our trees, covering our flower beds, with a blanket of tree debris.

I used to roll my eyes at the annual spreading of the mulch, how we would lose our Friday, Saturday, and Sunday to endless hours of physical labor. I teased and ridiculed my husband over his love of mulch, I saved flyers for him about mulching done for hire.

Then I grew up. I finally noticed the joy that working on our house brings to him. I felt his appreciation for all of us, for me and our children, when we spend this time with him. Over our 20 years together, I am slowly getting the point. We aren't losing time, we are making time. Mulch is the Love Language that that cheesy relationship expert wrote about in the '90s. This is how my husband bonds with his family. Having the five of us together in the front, side, and backyard, make him feel like we are our tribe caring for our cave.

Neanderthal? More like primal.

When we are filling our wheelbarrows and dumping, spreading, and placing mulch with garden gloved hands around our trees and hedges that line the side of our house, I see my husband smiling. I can feel the vibration of his calm, the serenity of his Zen. He will find each of us where we are in the yard, and with brown staining pats on the back, let us know what he feels.

"Good job, guys!"

"Thanks, Dad."

"Looks great, honey!"

"Thanks, Mark."

With his hands on his hips, he will survey this third of an acre and sigh, Yeah, the yard looks good.

A dump truck delivers the magic mulch on a Thursday. On Friday, we begin to spread. On Saturday, we have more to spread. By Saturday evening, I'm testing the waters and asking if perhaps we have mulched as much as we can mulch. Sunday at 4 o'clock, we each take our last barrelful out to the back and we are finished. As I walk around to the front of our house to try and understand what it is that he sees in the mulch, I stand on the sidewalk and squint. He is behind me, kneeling and lavishly spreading the finishing touches of mulch around the mailbox.

"Thanks, honey," he tells me.

"No problem, Mark. The mulch looks good."

"No, I mean thanks for marrying me."

I spend three days with my gravely knees on a gardening pad, swatting away mosquitoes and with my pollen mask over my face. And next June, I'll be out here again. With a pitchfork in my hand, shoveling Euro Brown into our red wheelbarrow. Doing what makes my husband's life meaningful.

Because I know that with every scrape of my shovel scooping up wood chips, he will hear, I Love You.