On letting go.

This feels like the first spring since we left Maine, though it’s not — but it’s the first in our new house and so by contrast, the old one rises in my mind…

To the new owners of our house in Maine:

The dicentra is unfurling by the eastern wall
And the daffodils are in bloom, or nearly so.
I know the crocus came earlier, and I hope the
Bees did too, crawling their fur against the stamens.
I’m sure the aquilegia is up already, in its low lovely
Mounds of deep graypurplegreen.

Soon, whether you know it or not, the asparagus will come,
And the strawberries will put out their blossoms –
Before that happens, you will want to bring them compost,
And to press their flailing, frost-heaved roots back into the soil.
I always forgot to mulch, you see, and I imagine you did too.

Will you plant vegetables this year? Would you like to see
My crop rotation plans? What did we leave there for you,
Sunflower stalks? Occasional herbs? And generations of
Red mustard seeds, already sprouting. I hope you know
What they are.

The trees will blossom soon, the pear and apple, peach, plum, Asian pear,
And you will be overwhelmed by so much beauty and perhaps
also the responsibility. What do these things need?
In the still-wet bottom, you’ll see elderberries clumping, and
Two young brown ash trees, planted to replace the aging willows.
How is the chestnut?

I always meant to write a calendar of smells in that place;
For eight months of the year I could know the time by scent.
The hyacinth, the blossoming pear, then philadelphus,
Syringa vulgaris, then Korean lilac in the neighbor’s hedge.
Then Linden trees along the street, then roses, phlox.
Then the fruits begin, and goldenrod and hot dry grass.
Then grapes and leaf-fall, then sharp wet mud of autumn
And the pale tastelessness of the overlast tomatoes.

You will get new firewood in this year, and look out for
The groundhog who nests beneath the pile. Trap him
If you know what’s good for you.
Be sure to line the car-hatch with a towel before you cart him
Out of town.
There is no redeeming merit to a groundhog.

On winter nights, you can keep that basement woodstove going
To good effect, and if the furnace gives you trouble, call
Bruce, his number’s right there on the side.
I hope to god that French drain sump pump doesn’t die
On you this spring; we had the good luck of no attention
Whatsoever to it and it worked like a charm. Though
The access door falls off its hinges if you try and open it
(one reason we never tended to it much).

I apologize for the noisy nature of the forced air;
We took what may have been poor advice and
Chose the reliable furnace over the quiet one, a
Dilemma I feel sure we did not understand properly
Until later.

And yes, you are welcome for the kitchen; that bank
Of windows and the new insulation are indeed a dream.
Best room I’ve ever had. The paint color, should you need it,
Is Vanilla Ice. The living room is Linen White; the dining room Buxton Blue.

I recommend you put bird feeders on the north windows, preferably on the
Second floor; the windows tip in so you can easily refill them.
And squirrels can’t come.

Prune that front lilac from time to time, and give the azaleas
Under the maple a good watering and deep mulch.
The white rugosa/bayberry composite out there by the driveway
Sort of grew together, and it’s a mess but so fragrant we’d just
Mow around it.

Do you know yet about the side yard shade and the virtues
Of a picnic blanket there on a hot day? My heart hurts now
To think of it; that is where I spent most summer with
My sons, from their smallest chubby days. They learned to
Crawl in that grass and to stroke a kitten very gently
And to build a house of sticks in several designs.
They constructed zoos and wild animal scenes
Among the asarum and the maidenhair fern (I hope both
Have survived), cushioned by the moss we never did try to
Remove.
Owls occasionally nested in the roots of the cedar tree.

Those straggly trees before the neighbor’s are witch hazel,
And they are lovely, or should be by now, you tell me.
And there’s a mighty auruncus and a lovely little fothergilla,
Mostly obscured by the spruce which has gotten
Entirely out of hand.
The white pine was tipped by tip borers and so bears
A premature crown, but those can in fact be pruned
If you can see any reason to do so.

Oh! The mountain laurel! Is it there? It took so long to establish
But then my goodness.

What else? The allium; the Echinacea; the weigela; the iris and my
Karen Grey peonies, which I miss.
I hope the red maple buds are falling soon all over the driveway,
With flocks of cedar waxwings nipping them up, flying
Flapping, and chatting. You can sit on the pebble patio,
Out from under the grape vines, and look up.

 

On recovery.

It’s been a long week for all of us, including flu shots and incipient molars as well as a host of other, more significant challenges.  Friday comes and we’re pretty much beat.  More than beat, we’re beaten down, a little, by circumstances and the persistent tiredness of not being able to see what comes next that might fix the things that need it.

So what else is there to do, really, but head out into the evening garden for potatoes?  The fingerlings have gone untouched so far, since they were planted late and we harvested the yellow potatoes earlier and are still working through them.  But I wanted fingerlings, specifically, to go with the local lamb burgers and sauteed kale I was planning, and the boys surely needed some kind of existential shift.  We all did.  So out we went, with pitchfork and hod, and I dug and sifted while the boys pulled the bright beads from the soil.  Some were serious potatoes, but most were the kind of thumb-sized beauties that gave rise to their name.  Every time one came to light, Ezra would shout with joy, and he had a hard time taking turns with his brother (assisted, no doubt, by said brother’s stubby one-year-old arms).  Two-thirds of the crop is still in the ground, since the bugs found us shortly after we hit our stride, and we had enough for dinner, anyway.

While we were out there, we brought in a massive bunch of kale, a smaller assortment of late zinnias, marigolds, and bachelor’s buttons, as well as a few carrots whose impressive tops made us pull them just out of curiosity.  (Our fridge is full of carrots already.)  And of course, the raspberries have been loving this frost-free October, putting forth nearly as much ripe fruit as they did all summer, and better.  It was an evening to remember.

Every time we bring in flowers, Ezra helps arrange them in a vase, and then he says, in a tight, excited voice: “We have to have a celebration!  To celebrate these flowers!”  And indeed we do.  Three-year-old vision is sometimes so impeccably clear.

Best of all was Ezra’s request, at dinner, that we give thanks (which we do sometimes, but not often enough).  We held hands, and I spoke my gratitude for these sweet men, for this good food and the land on which it grew.  A few bites later, Ezra wanted more: Papa gave thanks for our family, and for all the love, and for the many people who grew the food we eat.  And then, Ezra himself spoke a bit later:

“Thank you for the good Ezra-Mama-Chi day and for whole-family-day tomorrow.

Thank you for the fruit and flowers that grow all around us.

And for the vegetables that grow all around us.”

As I write, my heart spilling over, my eyes rise to the prints on my desk, gifts from my artist friend Kim Crichton: “Grow.”  “Nurture.”  “Sow.”  (You have to see the images to really get them, but when you do, you’ll see why I’m all weepy over all this together.)  From a day when it seemed like nothing could come together, I all of a sudden see that in this moment, everything has.

On putting things to bed.

The rain is falling outside for the first time in weeks; it’s a sound I love.  It’s also surprisingly cold, and the leaves are suddenly coming down faster, and it makes me realize that this weekend, or maybe next is peak leaf weekend.  And then we’re heading downhill fast toward the dead of winter.

I try not to think this way, most of the time.  I try to stay more centered in where I am and what is beautiful there.  And so I’m supporting those habits by spending a lot more time appreciating the rituals of fall, especially since this is the first year in a while I’ve had that luxury.  (Babies do not permit a great deal of house-and-garden time, at least not mine.)  So here’s what that looks like:

1. Mums on the steps, orange, white, and maroon.  A daily reminder of what’s lovely and right, even when we’re barreling past them with arms full of squealing, squirming kids en route to or from some hideous ordeal like the grocery store.

2. PUMPKINS on the steps.  This is totally new to me, since I’m one of those freak shows who sees the pumpkin primarily as a foodstuff rather than an item of decor.  But today at the farmers’ market, as I’m asking Ezra if we should buy one pumpkin “to look at and then to eat,” our farmer Trent Emery (of Emery Farms; love them a lot) points out that he has sacks of ten pumpkins for ten bucks.  Sugar pumpkins.  In great shape.  Decorate and then devour.  That’s right.  Who am I to say no to a sack of pumpkins?

3. Leaves actually getting raked.  Since it’s been so dry, they’ve been incredibly easy to manage, and it’s become my little twenty-minute workout to whisk them into the driveway and then on down the slope to our Massive Epic Leaf Pile at the bottom.  The kids are doing a banner job of breaking them down into the leaf-crumbs that I like to put all through my garden beds, so this is a win-win-win.

4. Finally doing some serious weeding of the garden and, eventually, harvesting the last of things.  But if the weather is mild, we can harvest kale without protection through early December.  Putting the garden to bed isn’t quite as finite and rhythmic a process as one might imagine.

5. Mulching the perennial beds.  Poor things, they straggle through the summer without the moisture they need because I’m cheap and water-conscious (okay, and lazy), and then fall comes and they get an inch of mulch and suddenly revive.  Makes me realize what lovely gardens I’d have if I, you know, tended them.

All this settling in, tending to, quieting down has made me think more about the kids’ bedtimes, and ours, too.  After all, we’re organisms in need of rest as well.  I’ve tended to focus on the obvious: the stories, the sips of water, the schedules and routines.  But I find the outside gives me new perspective on the insides, too.  My understanding of the value of blankets shifts after watching the plants respond to the mulch: it’s not just about keeping out the cold, but about snuggling, protection, nests.  My imagination of my children’s needs shifts after thinking through the garden soil and its many forms of symbiosis: no organism stands alone, and sometimes we want company and stories together, and sometimes we just need the nurture of one primary caregiver.  Sometimes we need water, sometimes mama milk, sometimes a snuggle-animal, sometimes light, sometimes dark.  We probably meet the needs anyway, since that’s pretty much our job, but there’s a difference between scattering fertilizer and layering compost.  There’s a difference between rushing through a story and giving the characters their full voices.  I save the singing for the crib-time, after the nursing, just as I save the compost for the spring, just as I rarely water.  But why?  My garden survives on this rhythm, but it could do better.  Listening and watching and smelling and being THERE can help us understand the whole range of organic needs that our people and plants profess, including the need to thrive, to blossom, to yield fruit, to be the whole and stunning miracles they can be.

On wading in: Day 21. Presence/presents.

It’s the oldest pun in the world, but it’s STILL TRUE.  Being present yields amazing presents.  Giving ourselves the gift of focusing on just one thing, being right there with it, is hard but necessary if we want to be part of the magic.  Examples:

At the Common Ground Fair yesterday, a speaker was working with a huge and restless horse, an absolute beauty of a beast who apparently has great nervousness.  The speaker told how he came to get this horse after others gave up on it, and he was only able to work with it when he could focus himself entirely on the horse.  Any lapse, any straying, any half-assed efforts the horse could sense immediately and it would freeze up and refuse to cooperate.  The owner had been able to work well with the horse and he told how it was even useful for him — though hard — to need to undertake this exercise.  “How well he works with me,” the owner said, ” is in direct relationship to how completely focused I can be on him.”

My weekends are often full of lists and planning, but my favorite days are the ones when I am lost enough to not even HAVE a list.  Those days I float from place to place and simply respond to where I am, open to what soothes me or irks me or wants to change.  By being present with the space around me, I can see with new immediacy what I should be doing in the moment.  And the results surprise me: the spice rack (a strange arrangement of small stacked painted crates bolted to the wall) got a much-needed cleaning and new contact paper; the space alongside the oven got cleaned and de-cluttered; mulch got laid; sweet woodruff got transplanted; a Barrington Belle peony got dug in; a few beds got weeded or fall-cleaned; potatoes got dug; carrots got pulled.  Even the strawberry bed, which has been a short forest of self-sown feverfew all summer, got a thorough weeding — just the kind of chore I will work hard to avoid if it’s on a list, but when it just calls to me, well, I can answer.

The most glowing moment in a satisfying day (did I mention we started with zucchini/banana/flaxseed muffins and finished with homemade potato-leek soup?) came as I was rounding the last corner in the strawberry bed, reeking of feverfew and starting to get sore.  Len was corralling the boys to go inside, and they wanted to give me a hug first, so they ran to me, barefoot and glowing in the early fall late afternoon.  One boy in each arm; one sweet neck against each cheek.  So much, so much.  How could there be more?

On wading in: Day 16. The benefits of breaking down.

Don’t worry, it’s not an all-out breakdown.  Just the sloppy, exhausted flailing of Life with sick kids, sick me, upcoming travel, house projects, and a range of professional commitments that are creeping up fast.  But two things converged today that made me want to praise that moment when things go from complicated to plain silly, causing me to just give up on trying to do it all.

One was Chi, who has been sick for days, during which time when he wasn’t nursing, he was crying.  So he was mostly nursing.  (It has made me realize, among other things, that one form of impact assessment for me is whether or not I have the privilege of wearing a comfortable bra, or whether I have to, for convenience, wear one of my aged nursing bras all day, just so I can manage the nonstop nurser.)  For much of the morning, I hoped that he would nap (he wouldn’t) or that we would go somewhere and do something, that we could jolt him out of his misery by stimulating him.  It usually works.  But today he wailed and wailed and was such a disaster that I finally just explained to Ezra that we were done trying to do anything.  As if on cue, Chi relaxed into me and finally fell asleep.  Lesson one.

Lesson two involved another form of letting go: I have two gorgeous and prolific grape vines crawling over my pergola, rich with Concords and perfectly ripe.  Every year I hope to do something with them, this year included.  But it became clear to me that I wouldn’t, and that what I hate most is not letting something go but FAILING to let it go until it’s too late.  I was not going to waste forty pounds of perfect grapes out of a misunderstanding of my own capacities.  So I had put out a note on Facebook and got a few takers.  One friend came and got a few; the other was the director of a fabulous youth gardening program in our area.  She expressed interest but we didn’t settle anything.  So I reached out again this morning and lo!  Two garden fellows and three youth gardeners came with flats and knives to harvest.  They cleaned us out, which was PERFECT, and were lovely and fun in the process.  In fact, Ezra had such a good time with them that he asked them to stay for a garden tour afterward — and when that was over, he wanted to blow bubbles with them.  And they did!  We all sat in the grass in the late afternoon sun and blew bubbles, seeing how far they would go in the wind, whether they would land in the peach tree or the grass or blow up over the house next door.   Lesson two.

Whoever said your kids are your best teachers was right — but for me, there’s even more than that going on here.  I need to be overwhelmed, to throw up my hands before I can turn something over and let it go.  A child’s misery, a vast grape harvest: these things were too much for me today, and they broke me down.  In doing so, they opened me up to greater peace, more fun, and more useful living.  I realize this isn’t news — none of it.  But it’s worth saying again, I figure.

Oh — and may I add that this little revelation was well-timed.  We’re expecting the first real frost of the season tonight, and as I speed-harvested basil this evening, I realized my usual ritual sadness at the loss of summer, of these particular plants, this particular set of joys.  I worried about Chi (aka Tomato Joe) and Ezra coming out in the morning to find blackened vines, and I suddenly realized that such mourning does not have to be private or even silly.  We can honor this turning of the seasons.  I’d even argue we should.  So I went back in and explained to the boys what would happen tonight.  Ezra teared up, though Malachi didn’t care, which prompted Ezra to say: “Looks like it’s just you and me saying goodbye to the garden, Mama.  Let’s go.”  And we did.  We found the last two Sungolds and gave them one to each boy, Ezra carefully carrying Malachi’s indoors to where he sat with Papa.  And both boys helped me strip the basil leaves from the stems for freezing, their small hands working in the bright light of the late sun.  Malachi’s chubby hands, when he reached for my face before bath, smelled of grapes, of tomatoes, of basil.  What could be more beautiful, or more perfect on this end-of-summer night?

On spring

It’s here!  It’s here!  This week we shall see the exact moment that is most exciting in any given year: when the sequence of things blooming or otherwise demanding to be noticed gets so full, so overlapping, so abundant that I lose track.  There are grape hyacinths coming up in the nursery bed (which year by year cedes more biodiversity to campanula glomerata — otherwise a rather well-behaved plant, it seems dangerously happy here); daffodils nearing peak by the driveway; crocuses fully gone by in front of the about-to-burst hyacinth.  The forsythia has announced itself; the red maple casts its glorious, ineffable scent over the landscape.  The columbine stands inches tall, fists of bright deep green unfurling into scallopy bunches.  The lilac is pretending it hasn’t noticed all this warm weather, still grey and bony against the sky, but we know its little ways.

I’m in my annual emotional tug-of-war with the vegetable garden: I’ve waited too long, but it was cold and wet, so perhaps it’s okay…but why didn’t I use that time to add soil amendments?  (There are answers, perfectly good ones, but that would defeat the purpose of this little conversation.)  There are broccoli and cauliflower seedlings in, and brussels sprouts and teeny little Gonzalez cabbages.  The garlic was in from last year, and now leeks, onions, and shallots are in there too.  A little parsley (so much self-sows that I rarely start fresh), a little sorrel (less every year because I tire of its bullying), and too much tarragon (because really, who needs a cubic yard of it?  But there it is, and I can’t give it away fast enough).  But my spring greens!  It’s almost too late!  Thank god I got the peas in last weekend or I’d be out there in the dark now (like some people I know).  Desperate times, desperate measures.

I discovered today the severed head of a broccoli seedling, next to some decent-sized holes with sad little pea seeds around their edges.  I’m seriously contemplating asking neighbors with dogs to walk them around our lawn to discourage whatever hideous beast is eating things out there.  I’ve never really had to contend with pests, and it now seems clear that’s because I always had large brown dogs wandering the property.  And I can’t seem to stoop to repellents, because paying for canine urine after all those years of dog-ownership, well, it just seems odd.  But I should take some steps before I lose my equanimity and become someone we’d all rather avoid.

And you?  How is your garden this spring?

 

On gardening and sharing the love

This is a quick little post because I’m prepping to teach a organic-vegetable-gardening workshop this morning, and I’m excited and wanted to share.

What fun!  Gardening!  Friends!  Love it!

I’ve put together an array of resources, most of which are electronic, and I’m presenting them on my Pinterest board “Garden workshop” if you’re a Pinner.  If not, I’ll post them on my “growing” page here soon.  But the best and coolest one is from MOFGA, and is available here.

If you’re new to gardening, or just want a handy reference in one place, this is it!  Love it.  Love the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association.  Love the gardening.  Love the love.