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 gardening, or planning to garden

Most awesome seed source ever.

Most awesome seed source ever.

Is this what happens when we grow up?  Do we finally get clear about what matters and just root down?  I just sent my seed order in (only to discover the empty packet of my favorite lettuce: Winter Density…argh!).  It feels late, as it always does, and a few things are on back-order.  But mostly this year I feel a seismic change in the whole process.  Every year I pull together all my zip-lock bags of seeds and corral them into one huge basket, and then I go through and inventory what I have.  It’s a process I’ve loved over the years, as it fills me with a sense of abundance (look at all these gorgeous seeds!  Think of all the gorgeous PLANTS!) and with that delicious anticipation of ordering more.  Plus, when you feel like you’ve really gone overboard, ordering like 25 packets, you realize you’re only out $35.  Which is a lot of shopping bliss for your buck.  The big change this year, though, is in me rather than in the process: for the first time in history, I’m not all that interested in growing lots of different kinds of each vegetable.  (Flowers, yes.  Still.  Always.)  But I used to want six kinds of carrots, for example, to see which were best. I wanted to compare all the kinds of peas so I could know what I preferred and have some good variety in type and time to harvest.  Now, I’m realizing, I’m becoming a much more grounded gardener.  I want delicious; I want easy; I want staggered harvests and enough variety to keep cooking and eating interesting.  But I am more than happy to stick with tried-and-true, and my appreciation of new discoveries seems happy to stay in the realm of the theoretical.  I do not need to buy new varietals.  (There, Len, it’s in writing.  To your massive surprise, I know.  Mine too.)

I suspect this change is not really about the garden.  I suspect it’s about my life.  You see, gardening used to be a hobby – and now it’s one feature of my busy life with my family.  It has always saved us money, but now we count on that.  It has always kept us healthy, but now it teaches my children a lifelong love of healthy food.  It has always been a way for me to get grounded, to come back to my most basic self, and now it does that for two much smaller souls as well.  Nine kinds of peppers seems beside the point – though I am quick to defend the obvious point that there are roasters and jalapenos and Hungarian paprikas and bells, and there’s nothing wrong with a few of each.  But will I spend time reading about the fifty other kinds I don’t have?  Not this year.  No time, and my energy and curiosity are turned elsewhere: to people, large and small; to fiber and fabric; to writing and ideas and hope.

The next step, of course, in the process is cleaning off the seed-starting mats and shelves, checking the grow-lights and the soilless mix supply, investing in more wooden plant labels and a new, sharp Sharpie.  I’ve always loved these midwinter pilgrimages, but now they seem even more special, now that they are prompted by Ezra’s impatience.  Can we start seeds, Mama?  Yes, my son.  Yes, we can.  And all throughout the summer and fall, we can point to those plants and remember the smallness of their seeds in his palm, his chubby carrot fingers working to grasp and maneuver their tiny promise.