Thursday, February 20, 2020

Things to know

I started writing this blog to keep track of what was growing in my garden, way back in 2010Over the last two years a little house grew where our garage-for-bikes used to be, and I let that garden go. Slowly, I started a new garden, one where the plants can take more care of each other while I am away; one in which the soil can change back into what it was before cultivation ever came here. I joined a program run by The Portland Audubon to try to stem the staggering losses of songbirds, and to repopulate the Willamette Valley with historically native plant species. This new garden is just in its infancy, and I often miss the old garden, and all the ways it connected me to season and purpose and cycle. At the same time, I hold deep, deep gratitude for how I have come to know myself in relationship to this small piece of land. 

I hope that this temporary home will bring all who contact it into deeper community with this place, its people and history, and themselves. As I notice some surprise and agitation in the first steps of sharing a very precious and private place through a very public and automated service, I want to pause and ground into my values, really feel my willingness in this process, and clarify my intentions.

I intend to hold good boundaries so that my closest loves continue to experience flow and belonging on this small piece of earth as we open our space to others. 

I intend to communicate with clarity and kindness so that our guests and neighbors feel seen and heard. I intend to care for the garden in such a way that the bonds between plants, animals, seasons, and people grow strong and resilient. 

I intend to be transparent so new friends can find out more about us/ this land/ this process/ this place, and so I can get help, feedback, and encouragement wherever it is available and authentic. 

Things I want to say right now:

1. This land has a whole life. It has been breathing through the seasons here for so much longer than we have been here. We don't really OWN it. We are here in the lap of the animals, plants, spirits, ancestral deities and traditional guardians of this place. We are here in their abundance, as part of their web: learning, growing, worshiping, forgetting and remembering our place.

2. Our African American neighbors were here, are here, will be here. Expect them; respect them. From my perspective, this is their neighborhood. Some of our neighbors we are very close to. Some play their music louder than we might prefer. This is true independent of race. If you have an issue: please let us know. 

3. Careful on the swings! These swings are part of our family rhythm. Jeff made them for Zelda's 4th birthday. For her 5th birthday, he made them taller. You may play on these swings but we take no responsibility for your safety while you are on or around these swings. Our children swing very high. They do dumb stuff and are joyful. People have fallen off. Getting hit in the face by one of the solid wooden seats is not fun. We do not have insurance for these swings.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Going, going

October 2017

I've said here before that one of my favorite parts of gardening - and this is a favorite part of the gardening in the Pacific Northwest - is the succession, the year-roundness of it. Knowing what will follow, even interplanting the next season into the current one, feels like practice for real life to me; a challenging mix of planning and presence, a titration of change. 

 May 2018

July 2018

I know in my body that growth is a coil. Up is around; forward is back. As much as I have been known to change the scenery, though, this is one of those times where I am actually dismantling my own work: I stayed for the whole cycle.

A few years into this garden (if I had the time I'd find the pictures, but let's just imagine), after the lead testing and lead-abatement grant work we had done on the house and garage (and yard), we built sides for all three beds, and added a bunch of top soil and compost. I put the screws in then; now I am taking them out. The beds have been crumbling for years. The kids use them for balance beams; the slugs and ants for homes. As each bed comes out, the soil there becomes the former garden. I give away what is left to the rabbits. No new seeds go in.

This spring we cut down the two apple trees we planted as our second act on this bit of land (right after making fences to hold the chickens we brought from the farm). I planted a Western Red Cedar in the back corner of our lot. A new kind of promise, presence, plan.

I've been wanting (asking, campaigning) to turn the garage into an apartment for a long time. I've always wanted more people on the property. I like change. I like sharing. And for so long I was here so much; I wanted a way to add to our income without lessening my emphasis on home, kids, food, friends, rhythm in place. I imagined how I would share the food and beauty of the garden with travelers, guests. I imagined jars of jam and pickles waiting for people when they came to check in; a list of things currently ok to harvest alongside. How welcoming our little plot would be for young families, elders, people from far away. How grounding.

That plan was not to be. Now that the project I wanted is happening, the feelings I have are nothing like I dreamed. I'm going to work full time in a few weeks. My kids are bigger: we are home so much less. I don't pickle and jam all day with a baby on my back, a toddler under foot. After nearly eleven years, this yard farm has run its course. The new openings on the garage necessitate paths, privacy plantings. There are no steps now down from the deck (to the disappointment of short-legged dogs and grandparents) and when they are built, it will mean more paths, more planting. 

Also for years we harbored fantasies of somehow taking over the lot behind us, with the long-abandoned house or without. We sure talked a lot about what we might do with that land. And all the time, the blackberries over there got stronger. We (mostly Jeff) fought back, other neighbors fought back. I think the city even sends someone to mow the front yard every once in a while. Finally, just a few weeks ago, I told Jeff we should build a fence. If I had more time, I'd write all the words about growing up, accepting limitations, the depth of transition -- but let's just imagine. 

Our greenhouse is full of bikes. 

Later, there will time to write about the new plans, the new present. For now, I am letting go.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Then, now

It is overcast, deeply grey, warm. The air feels fresh and gentle. I sit for meditation on the deck, on a sheepskin and two couch pillows. Wrap myself in the same scarf I've been using for meditation since I bought it at The Himalayan Institute while I was there for my teacher training in 2003, the year I met Jeff.

I listen to the same three bird calls. A Mourning dove, a Black Capped Chickadee, and I don't know who. It is long after sunrise when I sit these days (5:45), and the sounds of cars passing on 15th seem to fill my ears. The construction crews (there are five sites that I can hear from our house) haven't yet begun.

I sit with my thought patterns as they loop around loss, fear, and judgment, compounding any sense of present loss with the threat of future loss and the specter of imagined and calculated past losses. Cultural loss, loss of life, loss of space, connection, depth. The birds are good! Focus on the birds. Poor birds, there are not enough and they can hardly hear each other. What do I know about what the birds can hear? I hate these new cheap, hastily constructed spec houses and what they represent and mean. My jaw is soft but the teeth of my mind grit against the swish of tire on pavement; I make my own inner mourning sound, below the level of hearing, a gut keening, imagining these birds flying
from one lone, preserved tree to another, one piece of private property to the next. 

I condemn in my mind these lines, the lies they tell and the history of thievery they carry forward into today. And then I peek out, to see the shape of my lines. Are they good enough? Am I making this little piece of the world more beautiful? Do the birds like me? I can name each plant, remember the time I put its roots into the soil here. I claim them automatically. My choice, my money, my idea, my careful noticing of sun and wind, my failure to protect from freeze and drought, my mistake, my daughters' home, my new idea, my future, my past. 



I must row strongly against the current to pull myself out of my central seat.

My thoughts take turns punishing me, patting me on the back. I hear the sounds beyond my form, and the sounds within. One follows the next, floating, falling away. I make my own bird call, which is breath: a filling and emptying rise and fall whose pattern sings my soul out, and in again.

I tell the sob story of how my children find safety and familiarity in the sounds of cars instead of the sounds of birds. I rub the fabric of my implication: moved away from the wild place I knew and loved, from birds and sky and family; an early gentrifier in this neighborhood, getting when the getting was good; the daughter and wife of builders, living all my life on money from development, dead trees, heavy sheets of steel, architects' fantasies made 3-D, luxury; two kids who take baths and buy the newest plastic at the art store down the street, who want to believe that they belong to this planet, to this place and its plant and animal people - but can they learn that from me?

I refuse the human company of the people who will pay $500,000 for half of one of these off-gassing duplexes. I call up my judgments. Their "Tibetan prayer" banners and Cascadia flags. Their expensive strollers and highlighted hair in high ponytails for jogging. Their assumptions: that we are the same; that this neighborhood is ours; that we are making things better, nicer, safer; that I want to be on the inside with them. I take up a smaller space inside myself to get away from the grinning monsters I have conjured. They can have the right, I'll be on the left. And yet, it's not even safe here in this wedge of my rib cage/brain: we are their precursors. We came before and laid the carpet: we made them possible.



We were the people the neighbors saw roll in with a U-haul when Alberta park was still full of Black laughing teens and Black families in parade chairs with plates of food and syncopated Black basketball games watched by young Black hopefuls and tiny Black babies dressed in tiny ironed jeans getting their pictures taken on the baby swings. We were digging up the yellow grass to put in a garden and cutting holes in the roof to put in a dormer within a month of moving in. We were feeding our neighbors' chained up Pit and scooping up his poop. I was that lady: the pregnant white one smiling at everyone, full of ownership, with no idea in the world why her neighbors didn't think she was the cutest, most benign thing on Earth.

We had no cash flow but we bought our house for cash. We moved to Portland because it seemed like we could make it there, find friends, fit in; we would be within a day's drive of my parents; the food shed and water sources helped us imagine a safer future. We saw what is now our home of eleven years while walking to breakfast from our good friend's house the one time we visited. The owner (a white lady, for the record) was selling it herself and was too old to know about Craigslist, so it was still on the market at the right price when we sold the house Jeff had invested so much sweat in back in Idaho, at the absolute tail end of the bubble, in the summer of 2006.

Our mindset then was that we were buying it so we could leave. The math worked out to a $1000 a month to travel on. We went to India after staying in the house for less than a week, prepping it for the renters I had secured before ever walking in the place. When we came back a year later, our mindset was different. I was three months pregnant; the house was the only ingredient for home we had. We furnished it with free Craigslist desks and Jeff started work gutting the upstairs, throwing the plaster and lathe out the window into a waiting dumpster in the driveway. I worked on his website, started seeds, and cooked: soup, a baby. At night we walked long loops around the late winter neighborhood, wondering how the trees survived such prolific bloom, wondering what our lives would soon become.



My grief at this memory brings me back to the deck, the pillows, the air, my breath. I am sad for the lonely year that followed, when Jeff and I lost each other as I found the iron bond of motherhood and he went, adrift, toward building again the relationship with his work that had always sustained him. But there is also the good hardness there, the slow work of growing up, and all the laughing moments of shock and potent magic. 

I am sad for myself now: it has been so long since I travelled; since I lived free as a single body the shape of only me; since I woke not knowing what the day would be. 

I am sad about all that I see now that I didn't see then: how I wander and dig in a garden planted with the seeds of the slavery and genocide that grew around and through my ancestors in times now unreachable except in the harvests I, their heir, reap daily. I am sad that the Western women who carried forth the line in ways I can't imagine and ways I intimately know (blood, milk, tears, laundry) handed me also a tendency to blame myself for everything, and smile sharply at the world. 

But the grief, truly, is the grief of believing in my own small story. The solidity of my perspective is intolerable! The chance for it to go differently, or mean something else, for me to stand somewhere that lets me see it afresh - or just to live it all again, awake - is a dream of sky I see from the bottom of a well. I feel grief for all my own dead selves, all the projections around me, each daily baby I locked eyes with, and all the eyes though which the world flooded into me, which saw only what they chose to see. 

Yet here I am, still, in this skin, gazing at this garden. The house blooms behind me, fresh for this moment. The cool air ripples across my face like water. There is no answer for it. No solution. I was trapped then and am trapped now: I look out of tese eyes only. This place is mine and not mine. The burden of my presumption here is too big to fit inside me, and too steady to escape. Each nasturtium bud blooms for a few days. I see before me many that are blooming now. 

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Ode to seeds

I plant a full row of shelling peas every year. This year, I planted two full rows. It was not, for the record, a waste of space.

I've planted Alderman, there on the left, for years. The peas are delicious, long pods, and I like how dramatically tall the plants get. I have been, admittedly, one for some garden drama. But the Lincolns I bought this year - they are the new pea seed for me. Shorter plants, less drama (read piles of broken stalks burying the pathway/lots of tying up/broken twine/self-abasement for bad pea-care etc), amazing heat resistance (really, the picture below is from my birthday - July 17th! - when the Lincolns were still putting on beautiful, sweet peas), and they're OP!

Open pollinated seed that makes delicious, resilient food is the holy grail. Not like those other OP peas. Maybe next year I will save my own seed. My heart swells at the thought.

Saving seed and then growing a crop from it is, for me, like connecting the two wires that make the lightbulb turn on in Middle School tech class. WOW. Also like being a truly useful person. Also a Best Mom Moment. Ode ode ode.

This is the year that I got to show Clara how the poppy seed pods can also be pepper shakers in the Rock Box Cafe.

 I let the fava plants that tillered most productively and didn't fall on their faces alone and they made me some beautiful purple seed. If that is not pure Hope, what is?

Flower seed. I looked at the Wild Garden catalog (in which, this year, Frank Morton shared how he lost his head for flowers) and I just wanted to be like Frank so bad. His descriptions of the comfort and joy that flowers are bringing him in his age - and the incredible intimacy with seed that he has grown through those many years of openness and dedication ...

Potatoes! Easiest cycle to see and feel. Clara helped me drop potatoes that had already grown sprouts in the basement into well-prepared holes and they went ahead and multiplied themselves. Yes, I piled more dead weeds and loose soil and bunny bedding on them through the early summer, but it seems almost unconscionable to say that I grew these potatoes. 

As you maybe guessed from the sprouting-in-the-basement part of that saved seed story, I had no idea how to season the above pile of potatoes after harvest. I googled and followed some stranger's instructions and while we ate the vast majority before they shriveled and sprouted ... they shriveled and sprouted. 

Fresh seed/old seed. I grew melons and squash from mystery old seed, using my strategy of clearing out my stash by planting several piles of multiple varieties of old seed in one hill and watching for vigor in the new plants, eventually thinning down to one strong plant. I always mean to save seed from this plant, because though it is sloppy and very unplanned, this method shows all kinds of desirable characteristics. I think I overwatered/over nitro-ed (bunny poooop) all the cucurbits I grew this way, because the squash, especially, was so airy when raw and so melted when cooked I could only make soup with it.

I grew carrots and broccoli and bush beans and a crazy kale mix from Adaptive from new seed, and marveled at the vigor and grace of these little lives leaping from the soil. Something was missing in the soil, though, because the aphids were too heavy on all the brassicas by harvest time to do anything but give them to the bunnies. 

Which brings us to flowers. I already wrote an ode to flowers I think. Or more than one. This year there will be black scabiosas. And more nicotiana. And more zinnias (which C and I made a fall garland from). And more more more more ...

But maybe not so many more sunflowers this year. It is hard to even type that, but this year they were so floppy, and I have given so much garden space to them for forever, and I didn't want to leave them in long enough for them to turn into bird feeders, which is my favorite part, and so I tried to save some seed for the birds, and give the leaves and stems to the bunnies ... which they loved. So, I dunno. Hard not to grow sunflowers!!

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Summer 2017

I pay for Lightroom now, which means I can organize my photos and I never have to open iPhoto again. (Related, but not to the garden: now our ten year old computer is breaking and the five year old ipad is cracked -- do I buy a Dell??) Today, having put "garden" labels on all photos of the garden since late June, I am able to see that I take more pictures of my plants than my people. Which is saying something. I am in a bit of a holding pattern over here for the next nine months, so I might as well try to make a habit of putting these photos someplace besides Dropbox.

This trellis/pumpkin-in-a-basket situation perfect encapsulates my favorite gardening strategy: try the first thing you think of, lean hard on mama nature, but with oodles of respect and love, and then try the next first thing you think of ... and be surprised when it not only works but kills you with beauty and generosity every day.

I fought hard for the back perimeter this summer, with mulch (more on that later) and whackers and drip hose. The apple trees are suffering like hell from the spot, but the wildflower seed I threw down in April ended up making the sweetest little world in a place no one ever looks. Flowers, man. Flowers make me think I know what the word "miracle" means for the first time in my life.

Good veg crops included: shallots, potatoes, favas, peas, arugula, basil, and now snap beans and kale. I did not bother with a typical summer garden and did not miss it except for a sungold plant. We got a couple volunteers and they are making a sweet, small harvest, but one sungold plant is way worth it. Also probably worth it: one slicing cucumber plant and a zucchini bush. They take up space but they are easy.

These are just random photos I like of the garden this summer. Not even in chronological order. I am so freeeee

I wanted to grow more flowers this summer, and I did. Flower seeds germinate very differently than veg seeds, was my take-away. In late June, a week after planting, if I don't see anything, I am starting to think that I fucked something up pretty badly, or the seed was old, or I should not use that seed company any more. But flowers just do it differently. I had seed sites (My First Dahlia, for example) that I gave up on and planted other things over, only to discover a three inch plant a month later, making herself at home in the mix, getting ready to bust a bud. I found this very humbling, in the sense that I do not generally think of myself as impatient in the garden, and also because I found I could not claim authorship or control when my sense of time and growth were so consistently wrong. Also, I did a lot of seed starting in the greenhouse, and then a lot of neglectful start-care, and then finally put the dried, frozen babies in the earth and they Loved Up that DIY Bunny Fertilizer and took off so fast it made my head spin. What? Flowers, man. Blowing my mind.

Clara has made bouquets for many people.

Yes, these melons ripened and yes we ate them. Taadaaaa. Also, nicotiana.

I wanted to stop pretending that construction on the garage was going to start any day, and just enjoy the garden as it is, now, without making every planting decision contingent on unknowns. I mostly did that. And, more than anything, I wanted to stop pretending that the garden is a Chore. The garden is, straight up, a choice and a blessing. And I really did that. I let go of other things (seated morning meditation for example) and gave myself the time to walk among the rows, water slowly in the cool air, feel goosebumps rise on my calves and prick my bare feet with mulch. I let the things grow that wanted to grow. I touched the leaves and dug my hands into the bunny fertilizer and ate the first of each thing without calling to a child to come and see.

I bow to this little plot of land and all the things that make their lives here, with me. It is a choice, and a blessing.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

May 17

Seeding in the shade. What? Basil. A flat of basil. And flowers. Because these are things I don't know how to grow and that's why they are interesting to me. And because of the ongoing mystery of how to use the greenhouse (step 1: get shade cloth). And because of what we are planning to do to the garage, which necessitates almost total destruction of at least one and maybe all of the garden beds and a totally new plan for the center of the yard. Which still feels up in the air. Risky, essential, confusing. So: flowers. And basil.

Peas, shallots, potatoes, kale, arugula.

Big beautiful child.

A rainy day bouquet.


A garden makes food. It provides solitude and solace. It connects us to the seasons, the rhythms, the beauty - of the world we belong to, rather than the world which we believe belongs to us. Also, it is a place to gather. Easter (which I prefer to celebrate as close to the Spring Equinox as possible) has been a thing in this garden ever since we stopped having big community gatherings for Zelda's birthday - maybe five years now? We have done it in the pouring rain in rain suits, and in our frilliest pastels. And each year I am delighted to see the kids get their faces right down in the wood violets, or under the tangle of bolted arugula as they hunt for their sugar fix. Spring really does feel like a million little miracles, and as we hide and they search, we find ones we hadn't known were there.

But this year, somehow, the garden seemed too small for all our people. The big kids are getting big, and the parties keep getting bigger. The Jesus version of Easter was a full month later than the Equinox, and I'm still feeling sensitive from the fuss that went down at Christmas when I said I liked celebrating the Solstice better. So I just didn't do anything about easter. And then it was the Saturday before the resurrection and I ended up with all five of my girls, and so we went to Fred Meyer and bought a Paas kit and some easter corn (green, pink, and baby blue candy corn. yes.). It was a bare bones event, but they were pleased. They wanted me to know that it mattered, I could feel it. I made them help me stuff the plastic eggs before I hid them, and they got the idea to put flowers and rocks and grass into some of them. April-fool-eggs. And then they hunted and we lolled about on the deck as they deeply indulged in corn syrup and did gross things with the melting candy.

We live in very weird times. I'm not sure how to show them what matters, or if what matters to me will continue to matter at all on this changing planet. But home does matter, and plants always matter. So, I guess, back to the garden.