A letter to my alder. Continue reading
Julia and I continue to work on our gardens. We are weeding and cleaning the back beds. I am making space for some of what must be moved. I’ve not heard back from the inspector who told me he would call back in regards to an extension of time before imposing a fine to give me time to transplant. I hesitate calling in case the answer is not what I want to hear. In the meantime, my across the street neighbor received a complaint similar to mine. Their terrace garden is considerably smaller and their plants, although over 24” are all perennials whose final height is only in place for a few weeks. Someone on the neighborhood yahoo group has taken to calling he who is complaining the garden gestapo. I am almost more angry about this second complaint. No, not quite true. I am angry over my complaint as well. I am still muttering as I garden and doing a fair bit of blaming. Continue reading
We are sinking into home. Beds. Couch. Kitchen sink. Julia’s cello. Machines. My first batch of tomatoes from the Farmers’ Market being sauced as well as a small pot of tomatillo sauce. To be ultimately frozen for winter dishes. I have missed the wonderfully large bunches of basil at the market. I have none growing. Me thinks no pesto this year. Continue reading
Yesterday was a day of issues and challenges. Two to be precise. Two challenges that I had no idea I was going to come home to. Both require lots of energy and some decisionmaking. After 24 hours of fretting and feeling sorry for myself, for us, it was time for action. Action, in some cases, is a number of phone calls, messages left and then patient waiting. So a measure of frustration gets added to the mix, but I posted on Facebook and also on my neighborhood listserv about the appropriate issues and the response from neighbors and friends has been so supportive. And I really needed that. A hazard of living alone, no one to vent to or commiserate with. Online friends are not the answer to all the hard situations of the world but it felt good to keep one eye on Facebook responses as I started cutting down my beloved garden.
Sitting on the front porch, drinking a giant glass of iced coffee and eating a very sugared scone, both of which I have sworn off and desperately needed this morning. After inhaling the scone and sucking up half the coffee, I begin to feel humanity seeping back into my bones. I look down to see the nose of a squirrel about six inches from my foot. I startle at exactly the same moment as the squirrel—I know this guy, he spends many a morning on my porch. He moves around me, not quite out of sight. This is his porch as much as mine. I feel my heart beat quickly after the startle and I imagine I see his racing in his chest. We are not friends, both wary of the other, but not exactly unfriendly either. I put my plate of scone crumbs on the floor six feet from my seat, half the distance between us. He is still; his eyes on me. I sit back down and he advances to the plate much more quickly that I would have advised had I been his mother. He eats. I do not offer him a sip of coffee but wonder if caffeine would have made him a squirrel-ier squirrel this morning. Continue reading
Rainy, damp, more March than April and my internet connection is very weak. My desk is cluttered with unfiled detritus. I’ve noticed that my couch, the uber comfortable nest of family life, is looking rather shabby. Bought for another house with a bigger living room, it has always been a bit of an elephant in this living room. Something to be slightly squeezed around especially when the clothes basket goes downstairs or a big box is delivered. For a millisecond I wonder if the money that I just spent on airline tickets “should” have gone into some household item—Ach, the driveway!—but the cloud passes very, very quickly.
I bought airline tickets for Italy.
Written 13 November 2014 and once again too fell asleep before getting it here. A pattern emerges.
Didn’t write yesterday because I was . . . um. . . um . . .cleaning. I don’t at all mean that I am ever a slave to my house but there are a few weeks in the spring and the fall when the garden takes precedence. The garden might always take precedence if I lived somewhere where I could garden year round, but Wisconsin demands an obvious respite from the garden in the winter and somewhat of a respite when the bugs of high summer ignore clothing and chemicals to feast on dedicated weed movers.
During those weeks when I am “taking out the garden” and then “putting the garden to bed,” I passionately want to be doing those earth based chores. There is little that is more satisfying than emptying the compost bins and covering a bed with a few inches of that gold. Or clearing away what is left over from the late fall and seeing the smallest shoots appearing.
Laying in bed this morning, waiting for Julia to wake up to begin the day. I am sore and a bit achy in the body after pushing myself yesterday to plant 400 bulbs. If I bought next autumn’s bulbs the day after I planted, I would probably have many fewer tulips and narcissus in my garden. And yet, I am so very grateful that my optimism and passion for the garden has returned. Actually, it has been around the whole of this planting and weeding year.
Last fall, after a rather dreadful emotional summer, I seemed to emerge from the heavy years of grieving. Last year, around this time, I realized that I was walking around with a lighter air. I did not trust the feeling and kept looking around behind myself to see if the gloom and doom goonies were waiting to pounce. I waited for the inevitable sadness to descend when something attempted failed or someone said something, did something, something something to remind me of the life I lost. I was metaphorically shifting my eyes from side to side checking.
And of course, the time from then to now has not been without feeling sad or lonely or yearning for what I cannot have again. But the burden of carrying that baggage around does not weigh on me as it did. Perhaps I have earned a wheeled suitcase with expanding handle to haul around my baggage. Wheels help.
In a celebratory but slightly achy mood, I feel like I can finally announce with glee that I’ve started reading again! This too has been coming on slowly. To lose the pleasure of reading and to live without it has been awful. I’ve always read. It is an activity that defines me — not that when someone asks what I do, I announce passionately that I read, but to myself and for myself, it has been part of my definition. After David died, I lost the ability to be lost in some story as if I had lost the ability to understand my native tongue. And it took so very long to come back that at times I worried that it was a permanent loss. What if I became that kind of person who never browses for book, who travels on vacation with a bunch of movies loaded on my iPad, who has no interest in the NYTimes Sunday Book Review section? When I look at these fears, I admit to feeling a wee bit pretentious. But hell, yes! That is me and I was really scared that that was never going to be me again.
And many times during this time, I been the kind of dinner guest who sucks the air out of a room. I had no questions to ask new acquaintances, nothing to add to conversations and when I listened, my eyes glazed over and forgot everything the speaker said almost before the words were out of his/her mouth.
And I wondered if this was forever. What if my best slightly intellectual, perceptive, pretentious years were behind me? How long could I fake it with my faithful friends who must have noticed my less than sparkling repartee?
At the beginning of the summer, I started reading again. I was gentle with myself and went back to my reading roots — biography and science fiction and a bit of memoir. I read with that same looking over my should feeling. Was this just a season of reading that would pass? Towards the end of the summer, a friend asked if I wanted to come to a book club meeting. She invited me because it was a new group and she knew that I had not liked the memoir that the group was reading. Was I really the person to invite to spice things up? But I went, just glancing at a few chapters to insure my disgust. At the meeting I voiced my feelings and listened to the passionate defense of the piece. Last year I had forced myself to read the book, after the meeting, I re-read and changed my mind. At least for the most part.
And I liked the people in the group, so I read the old Barbara Kingsolver book that was the next one up, and last months I read The Orchardist (by Amande Coplin, and very good). I seemed to be able to contribute to the discussion, ask questions and listen to opinions. Along the way I indulged in the guilty pleasure of all of the Hunger Games and Divergent. Literary merit be damned, I was having fun. Just yesterday, I looked up Connie Willis because I could not remember the full title on one of her books (To Say Nothing of the Dog: or, How We Found the Bishop’s Bird Stump at Last which is very funny and well done) and discovered that she had published two books since I stopped reading and was struck with wondering that the world had run so far ahead during my healing time. What else will I discover?
So, I come back to words on the page and screen (almost understanding the intricacies of Overdrive — gotta’ stop by the library one more time to connect my devices.) with such gratitude that this gift has returned and also with a new and growing list of must read titles.
I rarely bring flowers inside from the garden. I used to all of the time. Perhaps one day, I shall again. But these were on the rose bush branches I trimmed as I cleaned up with front garden beds. I could not just relegate such loveliness to the compost bin immediately. Each bud has bloomed and each flower gives off delightful scent. Rich gifts at the end of the season.
I cleaned the last of the beds, cutting back perennials including a Sweet Autumn Clematis the takes over one railing of the front deck and has a sort of spooky look in the fall and serves as an excellent background for Halloween pumpkins. Then I raked out the front beds and most of the front and side lawns. My beds and lawns are not that large but the trees that drop leaves on them are large. I have at least another raking hour or two for the back garden and then a few hundred bulbs to plant. This is the time of year when I wonder what I was thinking about when I ordered the tulips and narcissus.
I don’t clutch at winter. I like to gaze at new fallen snow from the cozy overstuffed chair near the fire, but once the snow begins to fall, the skies are full of it and I find no reason to over cherish any single falling. Summer is the same, the days unfurl one after the other, blue skied, hot enough to swim, too buggy to garden but armed with the appropriate chemicals, lovely to swim or walk or bike ride or star gaze. Even during the few absolutely perfect days each summer, I enjoy them and let them pass through me, I don’t wish them to stay longer than their 24-hour cycle. Living in the moment, in the present. Pretending to be an accomplished buddha.
Ah, but not so with the autumn and spring. Transitory, sensuous delights and seasons so short that I can’t help but long for more when they finish. The early crocus, blue bells in the lawn, tulips, daffodils, peonies that debut and fade at full tilt. Every year, I resolve to let it flow through me and then find my heart aching to hold onto the delicate Fritillaria Meleagris for just one more day in the middle of May.
I am no better this time of year. One day there is a golden arching of leaves and sunlight and the next skeletons with barely perceivable buds. Today, there is a lazy shower of red and orange and tomorrow the ground will rustle brown and children will jump in leaf mountains. The very water turns steely while I walk the bay path. Julia and I raked and composted leaves yesterday. We will do it again and again, perhaps until the week after Thanksgiving, as our trees let go of their bounty. The leaves falling in the back garden to go into my compost piles and those in the front raked and piled awaiting retrieval by city composters. I know the round of autumn duties outside and in – the cutting back of perennials and pulling of annuals, the cleaning of beds and mulching of a tender biennials, the storing of equipment and making garage room for the wintering of the car, the pulling down of storm windows and listening to the silence of one more layer of glass between the neighborhood and myself, the piling of wood and setting out fireplace tools — and all the while I wish for one more day, one more minute, one more gazing up and taking in of sights and sounds and smells that even now have dimmed. What I have is never enough. I want more and I don’t want to let go.
I have not clutched at the unfolding of a happy life. I celebrated milestones without formal portraits. I did not video Cheshire’s concerts or Julia’s gotcha day. I allowed myself to depend on memory and rely on a partner to help me recall what I had not retained. In a happy life, it is easy to be the accomplished buddha.
The present, however, is no longer a time of assumed accomplishments. It is a laboring time. Not of painful clutchings and releases but of shadows and ghosts that linger. I no long struggle with sorrow although sometimes, while aiming for joy I stumble and forget the places that it hides.
Today, like other days, I seek guidance and find it Rumi’s words:
“Your task is not to seek for [joy], but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”
“The wound is the place where the Light enters you.”
“What you seek is seeking you.”
And into these words I breathe.