Sunday, November 6, 2016

Daffodils, order in 11.6.2016

Too hard to tell when this was taken, because of busted iPhoto. The spring Clara was 2, I think.

I ordered bulbs today, better late than never. I'll put most of them in the front yard.

Every year when they are up I know just what shapes and pieces of the season are missing. And every fall it all seems totally abstract.

Maybe this fall that will all change.

Some mysteries of this blog/garden/life: do I really want to bring the details up where I can see them? Or do I like it better to be surprised, wondering, not quite keeping up? Do I want the former but am unwilling/unable to put in the work it takes? Do I like the latter but feel embarrassed by the mess?

Can I uncover a space where these dualities are not so compelling? Not so opposed?

Friday, November 4, 2016

zz in the garden

When we first started this garden, I was pregnant. When Z came, on many, many days, she liked it better outside. 

She did not stop moving, and she was sensorily sensitive and easily overloaded. Interesting how those kids are so often the ones standing delightedly under the biggest drip at the park.

She was also very hungry, bursting metabolically, but also, again, sensitive to overwhelm. Dairy, processed food, sweets. Her skin told us, her poop, her sleep and tone. I was an equally sensitive mama, and felt better when I could tell she was calm in her gut.

I can't remember when she started showing interest in TV. It was much later than we started showing interest in having her watch TV, that's for sure. She needed a lot of interaction, but was also a shy kid. A strong leader with her intimates, she could withdraw very quickly under the glare of a stranger's focus.

The way I dealt, on so many days, with being at home so much, with Zelda and Lindy, and then with these two and Anastasia, was to get outside. We all delighted in it. It pulled us toward each other.

Zelda has grown up in this garden. I imagine that it is one of the parts of her life that is so close to her as to escape notice. She is a natural gatherer (as we all are, no?) and has the skills for long, patient looking. Sometimes she hoards, sometimes she eats as she goes. She has never stopped loving vegetables, or touching worms. She can scream along with her friends, but she keeps coming back to the open, comfortable baseline that she has always held in the out of doors.

These days, the rock box wine is made by her little sister, and Zelda is one of the mildly bored recipients, condescending to fake-drink and wildly complimenting the vintage. I was afraid that I would need to crack down on tree climbing this summer because the eight year olds are growing (much) faster than the dogwood. But she just didn't do it much. She doesn't fit in there the way she used to. The swings and drops are too small, and her feet bump. 

They sit around, leaning on things, talking about who knows what. They do cartwheels and run routines on the swings. She will still occasionally make a fairy house. She can get most herbs for me now, knows their places and whether she needs scissors. When I can get her alone, she will help clear out the leaves and rotten apples to keep the spot off the trees. She helps thin the carrots, as the bunnies wait (as bunnies do) for the tops. 

Thursday, November 3, 2016


It is only the third day of November! I have meditated every day in November!

I had a good time in October doing the stomach series at 5:30am in the kitchen on my sheepskin Cadillac. (Really.) I did it almost every (week)day! All thanks to my most pepping and inspiring friend Brookie and her studio's Coretober event and her many instagram reminders. I was also inspired by another insta-campaign - or at least one I know about because of instagram - slo-tober, and spent some time taking care of our woolens: darning, stitching, and felting up moth holes and open seams; passing on hand knits that just don't get the wear they deserve; fold-rolling our clothing drawers, and just generally trying to be loving and attentive to the things we already own, clothing-wise.

These things made me happy because the phone can seem like a real energy/focus/time sucker, and I was pleased to feel in a tangible way the growth in IRL of seeds planted by people I experience virtually. It is kind of a miracle, that. So thank you for feeding me, friends and strangers; thank you for sharing what you love.

Which brings me to: nablopomo! I'm getting on the virtual bus! This month, like all months, I want to write more and be outside more. But more than the writing, which I do a lot of anyway, my challenge is the sharing. The finishing. The accepting as good enough. The just putting it out and allowing people to read or not read, like or not like, understand or feel totally weird about. This is very hard for me. I never feel like I have really expressed/explained/described exactly what I mean. Which is an excellent reason to keep trying. But is also a sort of gripping for me, which is rooted in some persistent misperceptions about boundaries, communication, and my work as a person. More on that as we go.

These photos are from all over the history of this garden because ... JUST SKIP TO THE NEXT PARAGRAPH I can't figure out how to get Dropbox and Blogger to talk to each other and all my recent photos are on Dropbox instead of in my iPhoto library because I want to kill iPhoto (but not til I get all the old photos out, etc). So part of the challenge of trying to post everyday here on this ol garden blog will be just the technological aspect of it. I don't do it because it always seems to take so much longer to share than I think it will. Maybe I can tighten up the loop.

It is always fun to be reminded how utterly process-oriented this garden has been. Writing feels that way to me too. But editing and sharing do not. That is the challenge of this month, I suppose. Maybe someone will start leaving comments to encourage me? 

Look at the head on that kid, eh?

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

this dam is coming out

Two years later. I am having a hard time re-entering the stream. 

I want to share all the things I share here, even with only myself. I want to be able to look back easily and know where the carrots were last winter, where I should avoid putting the tomatoes. The garden turns me on, tunes me in. I use words and pictures to help me focus, clarify, attune. In this way I notch my bow, and shoot myself a little deeper into life. 

So I a few weeks ago I gave myself the gift of a whole roll to shoot in the garden during a sweet little patch of autumn evening when it was still warm enough to be barefoot. At Blue Moon, I had them scan the negatives - which I never do - so that I could put them up here and make some notes. 

Now, I look at these photographs and am aware of the effort represented: I strive to show what is here - color and shape, vibrancy and decay; to honor the plants and their relationships; to stay present and release my grasping. I also see what is not pictured: everything else.

This just happened, and this is happening. Also, this bullshit.

I can feel that a pool of innocence that I have swum in, drunk from, as long as I have lived in this body is drying up. There is a sinking sensation. A hollowness. Certain sounds are louder. One of them is the sucking sound of my need for comfort.

That this innocence was preserved - invented? - by a styrofoam wall of Whiteness is very real to me. As a parent, I am increasingly alert to the partnership of privilege and protection. My privilege helps me protect my children's bodies. It also tempts me to protect their hearts and minds from the truth of how rigged the system is. How connected our cozy comfort is to someone else's late night worry and fear. 

On Friday, Zelda stayed home from school with a funny tummy. I needed to work in the middle of the day; Jeff was able to be home with her while I taught. This is privilege. But it doesn't hurt anyone. What hurts is the lie that we are not responsible for the children whose parents cannot - because history, because sociology, because economic policy - provide such protection. The quick little lie that says that those kids can handle it. That they are especially able to deal, to toughen up. That somehow the darkness of their skin indicates a resilience to more than the light of the sun. 

While she was home, I sat down in tears to write to the White House about Standing Rock. She drew a plank house with a totem pole in front. "Mama, at my school, we study history. So I know about how the Native Americans lived in Portland first. They lived in a house like this." She showed me where the food stores go, under the floor planks.  I explained about the reservation system, how it arose from a failed genocide by people of European descent who wanted to settle the Americas without limitation, without concern for the people who lived here first, or for the land or animals whom they wished to defend. It takes longer to explain this to an eight year old, and I used different words. But it is not hard. It is not over her head. She often finishes my sentences. We've been talking about this with increasing depth for years. As someone who is losing her own innocence, who loves the woods and her family, who is pained by unfairness and cruelty, she relates easily to the Native people she imagines in the past, to the story of their innocence, manipulated and crushed by force, temptation, and trauma.

I am wary of this simple story. The same brush that paints aboriginal peoples as inherently more virtuous and innocent than whites also paints them as inherently lazier, less advanced, more able to tolerate the expedient degradation of their humanity. 

We talk about the reservations as sovereign nations. Small, poor nations. I explained that, in the case of the Dakota Access Pipeline, it is not convenient for the US government to respect or defend the rights of the Sioux nation. It is convenient for the US government to let the oil company do whatever it wants. As it is convenient for us, as citizens of a large, rich country, to fill our car with gas on the corner of MLK and Killingsworth, and to heat our home with natural gas that costs less than $30 a month. And so the citizens of the Sioux nation - with the support and solidarity of native nations around the country - are defending their own rights. They are defending the rights that the US Government agreed on paper they would have.  

We talk about how history often looks more like the present than we imagine. 

In bed in the evening weeks ago, Zelda asked if any of our ancestors came from Spain. 
When I said no, I didn't think so, she crowed with delight and relief. 
"Why does that make you happy?" I asked, baffled. 
"Because our ancestors weren't the really bad ones hurting the Native Americans."  
"Did someone tell you that the Spanish were especially violent colonialists?"
"Uh, what?"
"Do you think that the Europeans from Spain treated the Natives they met very badly?"
"Yeah, and we're not from there!"
"But our ancestors are from Europe. And they did all come to America, didn't they?"
"Yeah." Sigh. "And they probably did take stuff from the people who lived here first."
"Yes, all European people who came this continent took something from the Native people, I think. Some people did it knowingly, and some because they felt they had no choice. A lot of people I'm sure told themselves that the Native people weren't using it, or that they didn't deserve it as much as the Europeans. Sadly, too, a lot of the people who came here - a lot of our ancestors - came because they didn't think they could get what they wanted or needed in the place where they came from."
"I know," she says, with resignation and sadness in her voice, "they came here and took stuff from people who had less power than them. Instead of staying there and taking it from people who had more."

And I have to admit it is true: getting power from people who have it is a very hard thing to do. Finding ways to keep the power you have? Easy. So easy it is possible to do it and barely notice. At this point, it is taking me some very real work to notice the ways I defend the power I have inherited. 

One of the manifestations of my power is the right to feel good about how I got it. This is a condition of my comfort. It was a condition of my parents' comfort, and my teachers'. The things that are sold to us are mostly sold by appealing to our great need to be protected from the understanding of how we came to have the power, the choices, and the comfort that we have. 

What does this have to do with the garden? Why are these thoughts the ones that circle as I yank tomato roots, shedding shining green spheres across the black earth?

Well, there's these couches, which is what some of my neighbors are growing. There's the tacit approval I feel from other New Portlanders when they see my garden: I am using the landdeveloping my investment, just like my white settler ancestors. There's the Heifer International catalog sitting open at my elbow, taunting me with what really living from the land is like. There's the very small woman with the giant smile who collects our recycling to get the deposit money, and who came into the garden the other day to have a look at the bunnies. (I was maybe just excited to say the word CoƱejo?) We had a broken conversation in Spanish about what rabbits eat, and how they make babies. She said that rabbits in Guatemala also eat sunflower leaves, broadleaf weeds, and carrot tops. 

I was reminded of travel conversations I have had with women in India, in Peru, in Mexico, in rural Idaho, in Rome. We hold up objects, use what words we have, make gestures: How do you cook it? Where does it grow? Tall, on a vine? Can you eat the whole thing? Can I help? Yes, yes, (vigorous nodding) we have something like this at home!

These conversations are important. As a woman in my garden, I feel connected to these other women. We cook, birth babies, collect eggs, and wish desperately that world were a safer, kinder place for the people we love. 
These conversations are also easier to have than ones about why my kids are safer than theirs, or how we still eat, even when there's a cold snap and all the pea blossoms freeze and drop.

Talking about the bunnies, I was embarrassed to admit that we are not keeping them to eat.  

Would I feel less embarrassed if things were less nice for me? If the plants grew less beautifully? If our family needed their nourishment more, and so I grew in a more practical way, shared less with the birds and the bees? If I had less time to put my face to the Earth, to watch her unfold each tender finger and take back the life I have helped bring forth?

Am I seriously turning my neglected garden blog into a place to wade in White Debt? Is that the alternative to a pristine lake of self-regard surrounded by a styrofoam wall? 

These questions come up, but they are just the flailing of a girl whose lake of ignorance is hardly deep enough to swim in anymore. 

Writing to Mr Obama, I explained to Z, was one of the Things We Can Do. We can make phone callswrite letters, and give money to the water protectors. So much is not up to us. Doing these things can help us feel less impotent. They can help us stand in our power and align our actions with our beliefs. And we hope that they help. We hope the people there feel our support; we hope the US government feels our disapproval. Most of all, we hope to reach across the distance, across the divide of our shared past and our divided present. 

So we keep talking about it. The way we have come to live together in this country is a garden of discomfort and sadness and truth that we tend. All month. All year. 

Not out of guilt.

In debt, yes, but not in the effort to pay it off. 

I tend a garden of truth just as I tend this sweet little piece of land. Cluelessly, haphazardly, with passion. I don't know how to do it, but it is mine to do. I do it in service, because I have to. The birds and squirrels visit, the soil grows darker, softer under my probing fingers. I see the plants lean into each other, and I briefly remember that this is not a place, separate from other places. And it is certainly not mine. 

I stand in the path and hold a fist of dry oregano branches and cry. If I thought this garden was going to prove that I am good, I was wrong. If I thought I could justify my place here, even a bit, with apple trees and kale? Wrong. If I thought I could hide here in the lettuce and live just in farmer's market Portland, not racist Portland? Wrong. 

I like to think it is the plants themselves reminding me. They whisper words in languages I do not speak. But that is no reason not to listen. 

These photographs do not carry their spirits. These are about me. The great waves of sadness I feel about the degradation of the environment, the death of our oceans, the ongoing atrocities of white supremacy, and the heartbreak of our great human separation from the flow of life - is probably just nostalgia for samsara. Cuz yeah, that shit is so sad. And the part where I think my life should be good? happy? protected? safe? 

If I think those states are mine to have, it is because I have believed the lies that protected my innocence - and produced my ignorance. I have trusted the wall more than the river. 

Bit by bit, this dam is coming out.