Saturday, January 30, 2010
Talking this morning was a reminder that this blog used to be about a something, while now, it seems, it's all about me... It's true that I lost focus on the garden last year, as my energy began to move away from earth and toward water, and that muddied things a little. I'm a little reluctant to admit it, but I guess it's also true that I lost my conviction, lost my passion, lost the heart of what I thought I was working toward. I can't really say I'm looking forward to gardening this year, much as I wish I could. I feel as though my work in the coming season will be to dig up my own bones and grow something from them, a garden that will thrive on sorrow, watered with tears. This is work I know I must do, and no doubt the gardens will be living and beautiful, nonetheless. It's my intent to try to write about that here, to keep a record of how things grow. We'll see.
Now I return to the task at hand, my crash-course in French... I've made little progress today--on anything, really. The truth is that I'm not feeling inspired to make many plans, except about where to find food, and after the way the past week has gone I'd just like to hop on a plane and get the hell out of here. I can walk around a city and not talk to people, with abandon. I can spend a whole afternoon working to achieve one respectable photo and I'm willing to try eating just about anything. I will gladly wander markets and ask: Qu'est-ce que c'est? Vouz parlais Anglais? Ou sont Jacque Cousteau? So I think I'm pretty much ready to go. Just need to get packed.
Friday evening it took hold of me as a fury, a rolling boil, roiling with all the flotsam of this urban life: caged trees, entire buildings, acres of glass and concrete, buoyed by rushing bubbles of conversation burst by dull ideas and punctured by cutting words. Not suddenly; slowly, surely I became outraged at what I am asked to do, to be there, and to not be, at how I have turned myself into a numbered employee, at what I have willingly traded for this pox-ridden blanket. I wonder how many of us exist so, commuting between our lives and our jobs every morning, every night, checking our selves at the door to get through security.
I may be a fool, but I'm not an idiot. I am well aware that I've got a Very Good Job, in the small picture: I must eat and pay the bills; if I had a family I might be supporting them (or more likely, on my salary, I would not...); I don't work at a plastic factory in China the size of a gazillion football fields. But in the big picture none of this makes a shred of sense. People are using up everything there is on this planet, and fast. It's not just about peak oil, dwindling energy sources, the near impossibility of a zero-sum solution. They have poisoned our wells and drenched the soil in "weed" killers, pharmaceuticals and agents of biological warfare. In some places, like here in the Midwest, we've noticed a few amphibians with a leg or two out of place; in other places, entire populations are being slowly, but surely devastated.
So what does that have to do with my job? Well, for one, where I work our business is the Root of All Evil. I don't think I need to explain what money has to do with capitalism, what capitalism has to do with exploitation of "resources" (also known as human beings, animals, plants, land, water, minerals, air, space and everything else that exists), what resource exploitation has to do with war, or what war does to life. And I don't think it should be necessary to explain what life has to do with food and water, but apparently there are a lot of people out there who really don't know. They don't know that potatoes grow in the ground, or that milk comes not from a carton but from animals' mammary glands, that the water they drink and flush down their toilets has been recycled for millennia, or that every single breath they draw is thanks to someone, a real live person, who raised from seed a living being (the resurrection) to give us sustenance (our daily bread). And these seeds are grown in soil, water and sunlight. Sunlight we still have quite a lot of, maybe more than we know what to do with. Soil and water, however, are becoming more and more scarce. And as they do, the cost of living--of food--will continue to rise. In America we spend proportionally less on food than does most of the world, thanks to low-quality calories subsidized by our federal government, the labor of immigrants, and destructive farming practices. How long can this possibly continue? How will I be able to feed my family, when food prices here have doubled?
So, back to my job, my day-to-day, where I am encouraged to adopt an "attitude of gratitude" toward a system which is in the big picture killing the planet and in the small picture killing my spirit, as if life were a picture-in-picture television screen and not a holistic experience of macro and micro and meta, simultaneously... And now this job follows me home and crawls into my bed, keeping me awake at night, and then wants to hang around all weekend, stinking up the place with its foul breath and crude jokes? No, hell no, this will not do. But how exactly do I show it the door, when it's the one paying my mortgage?
Sooner or later this is going to end, and there won't be any paycheck to take to the store. This is why we grow our own.
Friday, January 29, 2010
Wednesday, January 27, 2010
This morning I stood in the kitchen--scarf, coat, tea, boots, bags, keys, gloves--asking if there was any way I could just not go to work today, not today, not like this, not this way. I stood and looked out the window at my backyard, covered in snow and sunlight, and pressed my palms together in front of my mouth while tears welled up, no, not today, not this way, and I walked over to lean on the stark white shoulder of the refrigerator for a moment before I began to count: one, two, three, four. Be done with this. I reached for a loose paper towel, wiped my eyes, picked up my things, left for work.
Garage door lifted with KFAI on the air playing a tune that hit home, and didn't much help me get ready for work. Under the train bridge: one, two, three, four. Beautiful song, wondered who that old time telegraph man was... Oh, David Rawlings (Ruby). Oh, I forgot my wallet. Down the river and back again, a wistful set that ended as I pulled into the lot with the Wailin' Jennys singing One More Dollar. Oh, Gillian Welch. I sat for a moment to hear it out. A few minutes later I approached the door, bracing against a bitter chill, counting each footfall. I lost track before thirty, I think.
Last night I left work late for a dinner date, worried not so much about keeping good friends waiting as much as disappointing them. About 20 yards from my car I thought I'd dash the rest of the way, thought maybe if I did something would change, maybe everything would be okay. I actually thought this, that if I ran it might save my friend's life, like a child desperately crying out that she believes in fairies (aw, come on, that's just too good!), and then I thought about how stupidly unfair it is, that I should live while he suffers. I did not run. I walked this nonsense off.
I was reminded of wanting to just give it up, trade it in, my life for the life of a child, a blessing to a woman I'd known who was without, who had lost two trying and become ill. It seems so pointless, doesn't it, to not be happy, nor alive, when someone else could be, longs to be, is dying to be. But it doesn't work that way; my life might be recycled, or it may not, but I haven't the power to choose. I'm sure some people have. It's not quite what you might think, it's more wanting my life to be--well, good for something. It sounds so trite, put that way. Those of you who know what I mean should know what I mean. In any case, I drove off. I drove it off.
Dinner was at Koyi Sushi, fine but not fantastic. I was nervous, dumbly so, and furrowed, worried. Such beautiful men, such good friends, these two. We drank bottomless mugs of light green tea and tried to catch up, as if we can, as if it matters. We can, it does, it's good to be together. After dinner I showed them around my new place for a while, and we shared the rug and cushions on the living room floor while I opened a surprise that had arrived in the mail, my first personal delivery, a gift from CM's mom. Apart from us there was my new book on the floor, so I read a few poems. Words came easily at first, though I felt awkward. One came too close, I swallowed, continued. We talked for a while, about change and love, about the time that has passed.
I'd been speaking at dinner about the strangeness of living alone, of adjusting to the imbalance caused by the absence of other. Of course one adjusts in both ways, to make room or give it, to occupy or not. Ten years have gone by, and now I live by myself. But what I am living for? This question circles, and on the way home tonight I tried to remember what it used to be: for the stage, until I left it; for singing, until I stopped; for the earth, which I cannot steward; for my family, for work, for being needed, for moments, for nothing, for no one. No one but myself, is that it? Is that enough? It doesn't seem so, and yet it must be so. For now, it must be...
Mid-day today my veneer cracked, with rushing in and out all over the place, again, no, not right now, not here, not like this... I counted, under my breath, a few times. It flows in from out of nowhere and picks me up, washes me downstream. A while ago I decided to give myself license to cry, to allow myself to feel whatever it is, in whatever way it comes, but in truth I'm still damming it, damning it, trying to hold it under, which is as futile as hoping my life might be a suitable replacement for another. Try mine: replace my life with my life, now there's an idea. I splashed some water on my face, too real to be possible.
My imaginary heart quickens my breath, while I count, and hold down tears. In just two days they will have taken part of his, replaced it with a different piece--a construction to fill the void, to keep it beating: one, two.
I ponder separation, recovery. Surely it's difficult this way, to live with what's left, to tend to these wounds together. But more painful yet is the phantom limb, the sensation where there is no skin, the presence where there is only empty space: ghosts in nightmares, lovers in dreams. To heal, the wound must be present: wrap it, let it rest, then unwrap and weep and breathe, and slowly begin again to let it carry weight, counting each step.
Tuesday, January 26, 2010
1 : freedom or immunity from some burden or restriction vested in a person or group
2 a : a special privilege granted to an individual or group; especially : the right to be and exercise the powers of a corporation b : a constitutional or statutory right or privilege; especially : the right to vote c (1) : the right or license granted to an individual or group to market a company's goods or services in a particular territory; also : a business granted such a right or license (2) : the territory involved in such a right
3 a : the right of membership in a professional sports league b : a team and its operating organization having such membership
Monday, January 25, 2010
Peeling an orange today was a momentary pleasure, the wonder of it reaching me, its life in my hands, all I needed. There's a bowl full.
Sunday, January 24, 2010
This trip is shaping up to be an expensive affair already, which has me feeling a bit at odds with my prudence. Flying off to Paris, of all places... My hope had been to get away for some time alone in canyon country after I got through the house-buying act, or to undertake an ascetic practice of self- and home-improvements this winter, not run abroad to a cosmopolitan city and spend my life savings on fleeting pleasures. The money I've spent on my plane ticket might have equipped my kitchen beyond my modest dreams, and what I'll spend on food there, I can hardly imagine...
I stopped by the co-op on my way home today, to pick up a few essentials, and it occurred to me that many of the things I regard as such are not really typical American fare. Organic brown basmati rice, for example, or shiitake mushrooms. Locally crafted goat-cheese and crusty artisan breads. I suppose there are plenty of Americans who travel to France and have never tasted a French cheese, or (is it possible?) stood in the presence of a Monet, or heard of Edith Piaf. Some of those people might be content to go to TGI Fridays Paris (just down the street from Hotel Touriste) but I am a discriminating eater even in this modest metropolis where above-average fare of all origins abounds, and I'll be damned if I'm going to show up in gay Paris, home of haute cuisine, neighbor to my ancestral roots in Alsace-Lorraine, and drop in just any old place for a bite. No no.
I'm not after a "fine" dining experience. I don't intend to spend more on a meal than I would on a pair of shoes (which may not be saying all that much...could I be a closet fashionista?); nor am I the sort who would eschew (ha ha) a humble meal at any random hole-in-the-wall, but I have to admit that my standards for what I put into my mouth, crush between my teeth, take down, digest, absorb and become are fairly high. There's a reason I don't eat foods that are doused in poison, or killed in a filthy manner, or crafted without any care whatsoever, for consumption by the masses (or massive). It just doesn't make any sense to me to eat, unless it's going to do something Good for You. To do otherwise, to me, is not only unhealthy and unwise but is potentially sickening and--if I might go so far--Life Changing (in that food actually gives people life...). Like having sex with a prostitute, or eating half a bag of Doritos in one sitting, not that I've done either of those things.
(Okay, so sure, it's not always going to be good. Then it should at least be interesting. Like that apple stand we stopped at on the way home, where the slightly crazed owner shared some feelings about his life's professions: one part apple peddler--with his brother, who had this stupid idea of shellacking the pumpkins, "as if there's not enough to do around here"--and one part director, of the funeral home next door--between that and the polka music on rotation, all day, every day, "truly, there are days when I wish for death, hahaha...". We bought a few apples and so-so pastries. Worthwhile, is maybe what I'm getting at...)
Last stop for the afternoon was United Noodles, to stock the pantry for curry, noodle soup, fried rice, pad thai... I was squatting at the fish sauce, trying to remember if it's the one with two crabs or three, when from behind I heard my name, and turned to see my sister. Had I gotten her message? No. About meeting her there? What? She and the rest of the book club--mostly extended family members--were on a field trip. Serendipity, or just chance? We browsed for food items of the Asian Persuasion and then went for dinner at the Vietnamese gem Quang, over on "Eat Street". My bowl of soup was at least a quart and a half full of about a half pound of broccoli, another of tofu, and as much again of egg noodles, with other veg; I don't think I could have made the same, for what I paid for it, and even though I ate my fill, what's left is still more than a meal for me. Dessert was my sister's suggestion but my choice, and it turned out to be a strange one: gooey rice dumplings with a salty bean paste inside, resting in a bowlful of coconut-ginger syrup and sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds. Fascinating, if not delicious (also probably the main factor contributing to the sense of sad and empty loneliness that came over me upon returning home, to no one, with only the cheap sound of my new monitor-cum-television to keep me company...Playoffs, whoopdee doo!...but you see I mean about Life Changing...?).
Inspired by two bags of groceries and thoughts of the future as well as hopes of dispelling laziness, I decided tonight to take down the plastic sheets that have been covering the kitchen, keeping me out of my cupboards and from enjoying a clean, tidy space in which to prepare food. It still feels a bit dirty, not mine, not quite right somehow, like something more is missing than the pots and pans, but it does look better. My intent had been to make a red curry this evening, to eat for the week, but it's been a longish day (for a Sunday) and, as anxious as I am to plan my culinary stumble through Paris, I think I'm going to have leftovers for lunch tomorrow and let those restaurant guides rest for tonight. Maybe there's something good on TV...
Friday, January 22, 2010
Cold rain, ice tonight. On my way toward the ramp I was musing about what I might say to the Man Who Knows Everything, when I suddenly lost my footing and folded over, nearly toppling head-down onto the corner before I caught myself. By the end of the next block I reached a point where I had no traction whatsoever and was literally unable to take a step in any direction... An unusual sensation. I looked ahead and made a gesture of questioning futility. An encouraging (and one might say rather daring) cyclist who was coming my way smiled and told me to "Take it slow, take it slow". (Easy for him to say, with his helmet on.) I slid forward into the street and inched along, gradually reached another stretch where the sidewalk slipped me right like a Rook (to take the Black Streetlamp), scuttled forward with shrunken confidence in my boots, spun my wheels a time or two and eventually made it home without incident.
I'd already been thinking about this for the past couple weeks, while my unsalted walk has become slicker by the day... I could easily fall and crack my head open and it's not at all inconceivable that if that happened, not a soul would know or think to ask for a day or two, or even longer. I suppose it's possible that the chump who lifted my screens and busted my gate might come back and find my frozen body. One can hope. And one begins to understand how it happens that little old women die on their doorsteps without anyone noticing, and to think about perhaps getting some salt.
Thursday, January 21, 2010
Readers, I hope this one finds you: The Radiant.
Wednesday, January 20, 2010
A book of poems I opened this morning, a new one, in which I was greeted by this... dedication?
After the final no there comes a yes
I could see this was not something to begin reading before work, so I tossed it onto the shaggy rug that has taken up residence in my living room, to await my return. This rug I did not need is my new landing pad, softly inviting me to sit down, stretch out, relax and stay a while. Fluffy pillows, yoga bolster, meditation cushion have all joined me in this new room. Slowly, I've been growing into this place, starting at the center... Sunroom waits for fairer weather, comfy chair. Sauna and I have only seen each other naked once, but I'm sure we're going to be fast friends once I get over my shyness. What will eventually be my bedroom is closed off, for now. I'm in no hurry.
Losing ground. These words come to mind, leaving work today, but why? Perhaps the loss of belonging to a place, of letting it go, or of letting myself go, ungrounded, belonging nowhere. This house makes itself home to me in spite of my fears. Something solid, in this sea of change, this flood of emotion. Where did all this water come from? My watery heart. Losing ground. We begin to know this, literally--oceans rising as we refuse, finally begin to understand what we've done, that there's no going back. After the final no...
Two dressed in desert camouflage, boots, backpacks, walking together down the river road in the dark of the evening, the light of streetlamps. Where have they come from, and where are they going?
Tonight, I can make a good meal with what is here. It is better than I might have hoped.
I've kept the radio off, no music for two weeks now. I haven't missed the noise. I'll sing from time to time, let the sound bounce around, but often I cut myself off... What is it that keeps me from singing, from dancing in my own home? Only fear, of course, but of what? On this rug I stretch my muscles, my joints, my injuries, but only as far as I can before something surfaces, gasping for air, scrambling for higher ground.
I have this rug, now, while mothers dig through rubble to find the bodies of their children, on an island shaken by the core of the Earth.
Sunday, January 17, 2010
I always wanted to have or at least for a moment (be) hold a fine timepiece, one of those Swiss or German marvels that marks not only the passage of time but the movement of the sun and moon, and by extension of imagination, all the planets and the entire cosmos, past and future merged seamlessly in a breath's fraction of the present while the eye observes a wonder borne of elements pulled from the earth's veins, a heartbeat of gold and sea shells, of gnarled wood and the cry of the cuckoo, of couples dancing in circles for no reason more than that another hour of our living has passed and we are here, to know it. Gears so tiny and bells so huge, created in devotion, in fervor, in madness. There sat a man, for days and months, peering through a hand-ground lens, piecing together the workings of this machine, carefully placing each hand, each spring, each jewel, to be carried in the hidden pocket of a dress where it would be fondled from time to time, absent-mindedly, by a woman wondering whether or not anyone might notice if she left early... (yawn)
Saturday, January 16, 2010
Wednesday, January 13, 2010
I have learned, as most of us will though none of us really has to, that money cannot buy or even rent happiness. It can, however, prove to be a tremendous source of significant comfort. Today I found yet another box of goods on my doorstep, more stuff to fill up the space, a few more things to afford. I've been making a fair amount of "impulse" purchases lately, just to fill out the profile of the single going-on-forty pseudo-professional foreign-car-driving white female urban homeowner. Some of these have actually been pretty good, if not great, ideas. One of them came in the mail today.
As cozy as my little home is, I've been spending the nights with my down sleeping bag wrapped around me, under my wool comforter, to keep off the chill. (I guess you know you've entered a new stage of life when the bag you bought two summers ago for fast-and-light backpacking in the wilderness has only ever been put to use in your own bed...) A sleeping bag is a curious thing: once you've spent a few nights out in places dark and frigid, it becomes something akin to a second skin, that winter coat of fur we always wanted (along with the tail, and the pointy teeth...) but never got to try on. It's a comfort as well as a reminder of a different way to pass the night, always a pleasure to crawl into. Even so, something just doesn't work about sleeping that way in one's own bed, night after night, and on top of that a bag rated to 15 degrees F is just way too much insulation for indoor temperatures. So the other night I got sucked in by the Sale Of The Decade and bought myself a brand spanking new blanket. I know, crazy, right?
But this blanket, you see, it's not some microfleece number from a big box store. It's not a fairly traded environmentally responsible organic cotton waffle-weave. It's not even an indispensably-tried-and-true-only-blanket-you'll-ever-need woolen beauty from the local mill. And no, okay, it's not made from snow leopard hides, or unicorn farts... it's just one hundred percent gorgeous, decadent, delicate, dry-clean friggin' only, who-do-I-think-I'm-kidding-this-time silk. When I brought the box inside I was thinking I shouldn't even bother opening it, but instead just slap a label on it and send it back, because even at that price this has to be a stupid idea. Sure, silk's an ancient Chinese secret (or possibly Indian, come to think of it) and a great insulator and super strong and wildly, naturally wonderful, but is this really practical and moreover, is this even allowed? What's wrong with sleeping with a sleeping bag? Isn't that what they're for? So what if this divine article is the color of perfect clear jade or if it's fuzzier than a baby tiger's belly button or if its slinky charmeuse edge has me on the verge of revisiting that whole thumb-sucking phase?
You can probably tell where I'm headed with this.
To bed, is where I'm headed.
To tell the truth, after a day like today, I might have preferred the luxury of having someone to talk to when I got home, or a hug, or the sound of someone else's footsteps on the basement stairs. Then again, this really is one damn fine blanket.
Tuesday, January 12, 2010
Back at home, I threw off my work clothes and dug up some sweats from the pile on the bedroom floor which has been serving as my "walk-in" closet. Works for now, although I might need something a little better organized before I leave for Paris, I suppose, since all the rest of my apparently totally unnecessary clothes are still in suitcases which I'm going to have to empty before I pack for the trip...
Anyway, I'd been meaning to pull up a copy of last year's seed inventory since Sunday, so I tromped down to the basement and hauled my old computer upstairs, thinking I'd just hook it up to my work laptop (on which I have diligently been putting in overtime for the past three weeks) for easy viewing, but discovered that the ancient beast of a monitor that I have on loan is so old that the cord's wired in, so the whole mess had to be set up again, only all the furniture on which it might sit--all, um, two pieces, that is--are still in the basement, which is where I have now set up my new home office:
So after all that screwing around I decided it was too late to put together a squash casserole tonight and opted to dine instead on my appetizer of choice, a fingerful of mayonnaisse, followed by my old stand-by: frozen peas (5lb bag on sale!), corn and edamame, cooked with fresh carrots. With copious amounts of butter, salt and freshly ground black pepper (if you can figure out whereever the hell the pepper went to...), you can't go wrong.
This is living.
I mean, really, I wouldn't have it any other way.
Saturday, January 9, 2010
There's a strong cold wind from the south tonight, and the skies are black and clear. I squint in the cold, gazing up at Orion and Taurus, the Seven Sisters, and try to let my eyes take in all those stars I can see when it's winter like this, the ones that glisten like dewdrops on a spiderweb, so many, many more than I can possibly know are there.
Thursday, January 7, 2010
It's a box I took, from the closet in my sister's old room--both of theirs, at one time--where all the wrappings of years of Christmases and birthdays are kept on one side, overflowing with colors, and on the other hang my grandmother's best dresses and suits, many made by her own hand, most too small for any of us to try, except by holding them up in the mirror.
It's a piece of glass, worn by the river, discovered one summer by my brother who sees such things, like magic, handed to me as an offering, which I accepted, and held to the light, in which I saw concentric rings of tiny dots, and next to them, four letters:
To take that one hour I piss away every day and spend 20 minutes stretching, 20 minutes singing, and 20 minutes reading (it's really the very least I can do.)
To spend at least as much time playing piano as I do looking for furniture on craigslist.
To take my camera out for a nice long walk at least once a week.
To stop being mean to myself for no good reason, or for good reason, or for any reason at all.
To budget like I need it.
To take care of my back.
To master at least one tune on my autoharp.
To get that recipe project going again and keep it going until it's done.
There, now I've passed over yet another threshold in the short and dizzyingly ugly hallway leading (at just a slightly awkward angle) toward mediocrity... Add my list to the pile.
It's been quite a long time since I've laid eyes on it, but as I recall, the refrain of the title song goes a little something like this:
Nobody loves a caa-ba-a-age...
Nobody loves a caa-ba-a-age...
In homage to this great work, and in an effort both to revive my lagging recipe project and to nourish your wintery souls, I offer up this simple and satisfying soup.
1 tbsp canola oil
1 onion, chopped, or more
3 tbsp sesame seeds
7 cups shredded cabbage (about 1/2 large head)
2 tomatoes, chopped (or one 14 oz. can diced tomatoes)
2 slices whole wheat or rye bread, diced, or more (or other dark bread)
6 cups vegetable stock (good bouillon will work just fine)
Salt, to taste
3 tbsp Tamari, Shoyu or (if you must) plain old soy sauce, or to taste
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp caraway seeds (optional)
Heat the canola oil over medium heat in a heavy-bottomed stockpot and saute the onion until it begins to soften, about 3 minutes. Add the sesame seeds and cabbage and continue to cook, stirring, over low heat, for about 10 minutes, until the cabbage has cooked down. Stir in the remaining ingredients, bring to a boil, reduce the heat, cover and simmer for 45 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings. Serve hot.
This one comes from The Vegetarian Feast and is reprinted without permission, which I will deal with when the copyright police find me. Although the caraway is regarded by the author as optional, I think the soup would lack something significant without it. A nice rye or pumpernickel (or French Meadow Hemp, as I found out) is probably the way to go with the bread. Watch the salt--it might be a good idea to use unsalted vegetable stock and/or tomatoes, because the soy sauce will add a lot of saltiness, but is key to the richness of the broth, so don't skimp there. Quite tasty with ham and Swiss.
(With thanks to Mom, both for the cookbook--which I am glad to give another look, after all these years--and for introducing its contents, so deliciously. Gratitude, also, to the authors of the aforementioned work of art. You know who you are.)
It sounds like the cracks and clicks of the house settling
as the room warms in morning, it sounds like a fan
whispered up. It tastes of wood smoke—sweet and then stale.
It looks like the curve of a mountain
under streaked sky, and everything pale blue
just before sunrise, everything translucent,
even stone. The stone is blue, it tastes, after all,
like tea in a glass cup, it feels like wanting a
blanket on your lap, nesting, hovering around
a wound, no a break, where the mountain opens,
wanting to heal, to soften the gap, to close it,
like an empty room inside of me, and I want to give it fire
and fill it with humming, and make it hum
and vibrate—the resound of a chamber
opened and filled with air—with beating.
I want to fill the gap
but it keeps opening, pressing
inside to outside, unhousing
and unseeding the husk of me.
I am not a house with an empty room,
a broken window in a wall.
I am not sleep battered open by a dream,
not even a mountain turning solid again
as light rises, I am not a cave in the mountain. I
am not I—that’s what it feels like
today, waking alone in late winter. A spider
hanging her web in the doorjamb, spinning in three
dimensions—to catch what passes,
trembling with capture, all wet and shine,
moments when everything is a door.
- Cynthia Huntington
Tuesday, January 5, 2010
Earlier today I was wondering if there was any chance I'd get my catalog from Saint Lawrence Nurseries in time to make an early order this year, having failed to do so last year. I spent hours researching varieties of cherries and pears, tied myself in knots over what kinds of plums I wanted (or could hope to grow), finally came up with a plan (for Year 1, mind you, with the intent of adding more in Years Following), wrote a fat check and put it in the mail (this is an old-fashioned family business) only to have it returned to me, because not a single one of those I'd asked for could be delivered. That was something of a what some people might call a disappointment, but which from now on I'm going to refer to as "a blessing in disguise (of a kick in the crotch)", which it probably was, because it was a challenging Spring even without a half dozen precious little trees to keep alive (on top of the other 200...). Anyway, lo and behold, look what arrived in the mail today!
Now, don't go rushing to conclusions and mistake that exclamation point for excitement... I just put it there because it was the only sensible way to end that sentence.
I have deeply mixed feelings about delving into the work of planning this season's plantings. The many changes in my life that took place during the past year have put a question mark at the end of nearly every aspect of my plans, hopes and dreams for my family's land. The idea of working on the five, ten, thirty, one-hundred year plan, of building orchards and berry patches, medicinal herb cultures, native habitat, better soil, better habits, a greenhouse or two, the summer kitchen, large-scale composting, irrigation systems, experiments in sustainability and permaculture, a haven for generations of families, ours among others... all of that has, for me, been put "on hold" rather indefinitely and, quite possibly, permanently.
It takes a lot of energy--both real and personal--to make an investment in a long-distance relationship with the land. True, it's not a long drive, but the distance between knowing and not knowing is vast. From here the very important details of the passage of each day cannot be known, gauged or understood. Is there dew on the garden at dawn? Will that leaf uncurl today, tonight, tomorrow? Is this herb sweeter in the morning or the evening, before or after the rain? Without this experience, how can I learn?
There is, also, and perhaps more pressingly, the problem of actually being physically present to do the work there is to be done, when it needs to happen. Spending an hour or two in the garden every day is a chore but also a pleasure, a meditation, a lesson. Spending 8 or 10 hours in a weekend can be exhausting, especially for those with fair skin and aging backs. Weekends are a gamble when it comes to weather, driving, and other obligations, needs, demands or desires. Beyond being present, there is being able. I am not as strong as I used to be (though I do hope to make gains) and my folks are getting on in years, despite their best intentions. It's one thing to take a broadfork to 2500 sf of soil, another to tend to dozens of fruit trees, another to turn the compost, another to weed, another to seed, another to harvest...
As I've written before, this work is a labor of love. The question for me is not, do I want to do this? but rather can I do this? or perhaps will this actually work? and is this important enough to do anyway, even if it doesn't? I have a home of my own, a large yard full of untapped potential and a very real and middle-aged need to focus some attention on my life's occupation, not to mention my sagging ass and my unpainted kitchen. Can I really afford to spend hundreds of dollars on plants and seeds and trees and gasoline in exchange for a few pounds of produce, and devote all my weekends to a place that I don't have the pleasure of even being able to enjoy, in my time and my way? What are we really trying to build, and is any of this really sustainable, if it takes so much to maintain it? And who's going to do all of this, now and in the future?
It's these questions, and others, that lie under the cover of that catalog, in between the names of heirloom English cider apples and Japanese plums. I know I'm going to have to open it, in just a moment, and start coming up with some answers.
(Check's already written.)
Saturday, January 2, 2010
I did manage, however, to spend a pretty penny on a ticket to Paris. Not being much of a city- or people-person (or one particularly infatuated with European culture) I have to wonder what the hell I'm going to do there for three days on my own, much less seven more with my sister and her husband... Wander, check. Eat, check. Get lost, check. Look at stuff, check. Talk to myself, check. So how does this differ from what I'm already doing in my living room?
Actually I'm rather looking forward to going off on a little solo adventure, if only for a few days. I seem to recall enjoying the hell out of New York the last time I was there (albeit with my dear sister as steadfast companion) and wishing we'd had more time, so chances seem good that I'll find something to love about Paris. I guess if all those supposed masterpieces and obscene buildings get to be a drag I can always go find something unnameable to eat.
On another note entirely, I'd like to share a few thoughts about the past year, while they might still be timely.
A week or so ago it struck me that, for the better part of 2009, I diverted quite an enormous amount of my personal energy into, paradoxically, trying to divert my energy. I struck down my thoughts, drowned myself in doubt, belittled my heart, swallowed my voice (and perhaps my pride...), heckled my inner child, neglected (if not abused) my adult body and generally treated myself--and, I suppose, by attrition, others close to me--like crap. You may think I'm being too hard on myself here, and you may be right, but the truth is that I spent far more time working to tear myself apart than to get myself together (bearing in mind that, with any hope, one might follow the other...). Partly this was (like sitting around all day yesterday) intentional on my part, a rather childish attempt to avoid the difficult work in front of me which, ironically, was all that dragged me through last year. But this subjugation of my truer self began to take its toll, and it was just after the Solstice that I began to realize that I was not just losing steam, I was losing life energy, my chi, as if my whole person had been perforated. This was, for those of you familiar with the Tarot, the year I began to truly understand the meaning of the suit of Swords.
Perhaps most striking to me about all of this is that during this time I tried, again and again, in myriads of ways, to crush my senses. I didn't want to know the story that my breath told me, or feel the blood in my belly, hear a song in the grass or let my eyes rest on stars. I lost strength, I lost time, I lost my wilderness. There were moments, yes--some which I've shared with you here--but for so much of the year I toiled to stamp out the life inside of me, that I cannot help but wonder how much easier things might have been, how less strange to me, if I had made another choice.
I have no wish to dwell in regret, only to put this down here, now, so that I might continue on in a different way. The last time I read my cards there were Swords, many, but also hard-earned Coins and sweet, full Cups. In the promise of a new year, I offer you all this wisdom from The Medicine Woman's Roots and hope that you will take it to heart, in your own way. May we all come to our senses, sooner or later...truly.
Oh, yeah, and my car won't start, so it looks like I'm going to have to waste a whole 'nother day here tomorrow. Darn.