Change, Love, Outdoors, Poetry, Relationships, spirit

Canopy Bed


Down here, sand slips free from the shape
it took since last rain,
a low creek creeping up the bank
sloughing away any illusion of permanence.
The soft, fat hide of the earth glistens, catching the stray glint
and tossing it back, wild and wide.

Something buried in the thawing deep
scratches away at its carapace.
I press my spine against the old skin
willing it to split even though it is early still,
even though it will leave me raw,
Another frost sure to come.

Continue reading “Canopy Bed”

community, growth, Home, spirit

The Reach of Our Light

montreal botanical woman 3

Like many neighbors doing their part to urge in spring, my son and I spend our weekend morning transplanting seedlings. Our task is to thin the herd. We approach this work with an unspoken awareness of the terrible, lovely power we possess. We get to decide which of these fragile things have their chance to carry on in larger containers, and which will return to beginnings.

My son with his still unbroken optimism rejects this as a false choice. He scrounges around the kitchen for used water bottles then saws off the tops and drill holes in the bottoms. Bringing them into the dining room where garden debris litters the table and floor, he paws through the dirt for discarded seedlings. We move as many wisps of roots as we can to their more capacious, though still temporary, homes.

Continue reading “The Reach of Our Light”

Change, Growing Up, Letting Go, Poetry

Truth Or

But lies were for people who didn’t believe in the future. Who saw only an endless stretch of present without consequences or change.

– Yoojin Grace Wuertz, Everything Belongs to Us

One day the ground begins its thaw.
The blind things just below the surface shift
in their sleep.
4.5 billion years and nothing has jarred the rock
from its grinding rotation.
We know this much: even if we hold it to us,
even if we drive the stakes to pin it in place,
what’s old will slough off.
Continue reading “Truth Or”

Family, Home, Learning

Boxed Blocks Equinox

mirror tree house

My boy wants me near.  I want to be near.  The sun is low in the sky. We have come inside.

He taps his pencil against the worksheet. Someone somewhere crafted this shoddy crossword puzzle. Someone believed it to be an adequate stand-in for learning, or at least believed others could be made to believe. This is how we teach the vocabulary of soil.  The Rorschach of blocks (dinosaur? metro map) lacks symmetry. It lacks even the pretense of design.

Wood pulp pressed flat extrudes the texture of earth.  What’s left is surface and the imagined mines we spell ourselves into digging.

We ask so much of our children. Continue reading “Boxed Blocks Equinox”

Living in the Moment, Outdoors, Things I Can

45. Things I Can Catch: Night Light

Four days of rain. Then an afternoon storm, a morning threat, and another downpour. A week of this at least. We lose count. We pack away the idle swimsuits and slog through every errand with an extra umbrella in the passenger seat.

Floorboards buckle up from slab. The door swells, resisting its jamb’s unyielding corset. Tiny ants breach the cinnamon fortress and try to escape into the pages of books, the weave of the carpet, any island in this ever-expanding gulf of damp. On the balcony, the cilantro and parsley bolt then shrivel. The snow peas, drunk and throbbing just days ago, now droop from bleached stems.

Even the bedsheets offer no relief. An invisible film binds leg, thigh, cheek, lashing us against the dark wash of dreams.

Before another futile attempt at sleep, I must go out. I take the dog. The sky is taking a breath so we hop over a thousand small pools and wind our way past the jungle gym and the swingset. We climb through the creeping vine tunnel and slip out beyond the lamplit warren of our neighborhood.

Out there is field, shadow, the traffic plunging below the horizon in a steady aquatic hush. The first lightning bug shines its beacon low across the brambles.

A honeysuckle mist clings to the remains of the equinox, lingering like spider silk long after its source has taken leave.

Thunder miles off growls across the distance, flashing its tail, baring its blunt teeth.

Home, Things I Can

33. Things I Can Grow: A Container Garden

Noodle in the Garden

In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt.

– Margaret Atwood

This condo is my Taj Majal. I first stepped over the threshold on the eve of Thanksgiving 2012, and knew in a breath it was home. Honeyed bamboo floors, a wide open great room, blocks away from a park and Bug’s school. It took seven months to fight through the short sale until they handed me the pen at closing. That day in June is among the sweetest of my life.

Even so, through the giddiness, one regret tugged.

Condo living means no square of earth to line with stones and bury the bulbs through winter.

Every place I’ve lived since packing out of the college dorm two decades ago has had a little place to grow pole beans and bachelor’s buttons. Even if it was just a swath of grass in the back of a shared house, I would find a way to urge things from the dirt: snapdragons, vinca, tiger lilies dug up from the nearby creek bed. When living in a city apartment, I not only planted a small sun-burst shaped herb garden behind the driveway with my housemate, I shared a plot at the community garden down the road with one of my farmer friends.

This condo is a dream with sunny, west-facing windows and smiling neighbors. But it has no yard at all. Its only outdoor space is a teeny-tiny balcony looking out over a shrubby berm and the I-66 sound wall.

We’re now coming up on our second year here. Houseplants spill from all the corners and keep us breathing green through cold season. In fall or spring I might go to my Mister’s and help him rake or pull weeds. Shared labor is one hallmark of the Us we are becoming, and while sweating alongside him on his quarter acre binds us together, it does little to tie me to his land. I come home to a bare balcony and a hunger for plunging my hands into the soil at my own feet. Gardening’s decadence comes from tending a plot of one’s own — or one’s own circle, as the case may be.

This year, I looked out on the balcony and thought, It would be so nice if. . .

But I can’t.

No time, no money, never done it, don’t know how.

Except that this is a bunch of hooey. My son pours the same whine when he’s toiling away at fractions and decides to give up. He collapses in a heap, wailing, “It’s too hard! I can’t do it!”

I guide him back to his chair and say, “You can’t do it yet because you haven’t learned it yet. You can do it as soon as you learn it, and you absolutely CAN learn it. I’m going to help you.”

So I do, and so he does.

This is the season of Courage to Change the Things I Can. I won’t grow a thing if I come up with a dozen reasons why it’s too hard. Indeed, trusting I can pull it off is the first critical step in pulling it off. This Things I Can project keeps reminding me that every damned thing is hard until it’s easy. Which means it’s hard for the hundredth time, it’s hard for the 9,000th hour. It’s hard until the skills become automatic. Even then? It may still be hard.

Hard and Can’t share some notable features but they happen to be different species.

You can’t do it yet because you haven’t learned it yet. You can do it as soon as you learn it, and you CAN learn it.

In March, we bought a stash of seed packets and organic potting soil. Bug donned safety goggles and drilled holes through yogurt containers. We sowed, misted, nurtured, and cheered. We mourned a batch and started those over. We stocked up on Goodwill trash cans and old busted tupperware from the backs of our cabinets. I splurged on herb starts, pansies, and window planters from the nursery.

Now it’s May. Our garden thrives.

It brings me a step closer to doing the same.

Change, Outdoors, Things I Can

21. Things I Can Unravel: Equanimity

We all have an old knot in the heart we wish to loosen and untie.

– Michael Ondaatje, The Cat’s Table

The sun rides in on the back of a fierce wind. Even though the equinox is just days from now, this taste of spring will slip away again tomorrow. Thank goodness. Winter is much safer.

The inevitability of change is worrisome. Buds unfurl and something in us pushes open. That something undoubtedly lacks the social grace to wait for an invitation. Who knows what will shatter? What will bruise? All of this is in the service of “growth.” What seems so lovely when talking garden metaphors is brutal when ripping old scar tissue to realign poorly set bones. It’s all a matter of location and scope, and so much is out of our hands.

I step out onto the scoured mud of the battlefield. The gusts whip through my hair. They bend the dog’s leash into a bow that moans like a cello string. I did not expect this violence in the air. We walk anyway, all 5 1/2 miles of swamp and field, in the last of winter’s glare. The dog leaps after grasshoppers, burying her nose in crackling grass.

With every step into relentless headwinds, I make my plans, rehearse my lines, catalog the tasks undone. Each thought is a scrap of debris stuck to the walls of my skull. Eventually, I remember to let the rushing air scrub the hull clean. I have to remember this over and over again.

The dog trots ahead, snuffles in damp leaves, falls back, prances up onto a berm. With one a paw raised, she surveys the thrashing field, alert for predator or prey in the brush. Down in the low wet, peepers sing and sing.

The sun creeps across the celestial equator. Under the vast and rippled blue, I walk blind into the next churning eddy. My skin thrills at the prying insistence of those gusts. Light snakes in under collar, hairline, wrist.

I am not ready for what’s coming.

I stride towards it anyway.

I gulp it down.

I howl back in its face.

Children, Mindfulness

Signs of Spring

Signs of Spring

He shoots hoops while I sit on a bench bent over my journal. Evening sun streaks across the blacktop. “Hey Mom, catch!” He fake pumps the ball at me and laughs before really tossing it up in a high arc. I pluck it from the sky and dribble it down the path towards the car.

“Can I write in your journal?” he asks.

“Sure.” I hand it over. He flips past page after page, not a stitch of notice snagging on the thickets and knots penned during a cramped daily metro commute. He finds a blank space, plops into his seat and starts writing. His grip on the pen is both loose and sure. We are only blocks from the house which is just far enough for my boy to fall into flight.

Riding some current that’s his alone, Bug ignores my bustle and opts to stay in the car long after we’ve parked.  Continue reading “Signs of Spring”

Children, Outdoors

Ancestry (abridged)

He cranks the handle of the umbrella. It creaks open like dragon wings after a long winter. The skies have been emptying themselves over this place for days. Underfoot, the ground is no longer differentiated. Soil? Water? It all pools together and pushes up around the feet. Slog and slop. The green is shameless now, cascading wanton curtains of thrilled leaf. Bug neither cares about the soggy seat cushions nor acknowledges that lasagna isn’t exactly patio-dining fare.
The rain has paused. We will be eating outside.
The four of us scoot in around the green iron circle cluttered with linen napkins, big porcelain plates, and parmesan cheese. The pansies behind Bug pop in violet butter from the boxes. He devours the slipping, fat noodles and wipes up the remaining sauce with garlic toast. We talk easy and only half about anything. My mother is wearing the necklace my father sprang on her at the tag end of Christmas day last year. It is a silver-and-stone replica of the solar system.
“Which one is Pluto?” Bug asks.
“It’s the littlest one, isn’t it?” She lifts the chain and examines. Bug reaches out and touches the polished tigers-eye sphere suspended in a silver ring.
“Is that Saturn?”
We go through the planets one by one. He does not see the sun. “Grandma’s head is the sun,” I say. She strikes and pose and we all chuckle.
“I bet the hippies are still out there in the Arizona desert selling those things,” my father says. “You know, they make every single piece by hand.”
“What’s a hippie?” Bug asks.
Silence. We all consider.
“An ancient civilization,” I finally say. My folks both laugh.
“Hippies were a strange tribe of people who broke with tradition long ago,” I go on. “They created their own rituals and ways of worshipping the things they held sacred.”
“Yeah,” my dad snorts. “Unlike every other civilization in the world?”
“They made wild, new music and wore beautiful costumes.” I explain. “Some of their songs and stories are still with us today.” I take a swig of my ice water and reach the professorial conclusion. “In fact, you could say it was a renaissance.”
My mother laughs. “Yeah, a renaissance of hair.” She smiles at Bug. “Everyone grew their hair long then.”
“My hair is long,” Bug says.
“Yeah. It wouldn’t be if not for the revolutionary ways of the Hippie,” I say.
Bug ponders this. Behind him, the tiny duckpins of the fuschia plant are popping open and splaying their purple viscera. “What kind of hair would I have?”
“Short,” say my folks together.
“Army short,” says my dad.
“And you wouldn’t be able to wear jeans to school,” explains my mom.
“You have much to thank the Hippie for,” I tell him.
“Why?” Bug reaches for more bread but I block him with a carrot. He takes it and gives it a crunch around his loose tooth.
“Because before that, people had ideas about doing things only one way,” I say.
“Everyone had to follow orders,” my mother explains. She gestures towards the rest of the lasagna and my dad reaches for it. She slops out extra helpings on the smeared plates. The dog snuffles near and I give her a firm point down the steps.
“Hippies were big kids like your aunt and uncles,” I explain. I wave off the offer of another helping. The evening is just too light for more. “Young people. Tired of being told how to be. They decided they were going to do things their own crazy, artsy, colorful way. And so they did, even if it got them in trouble.”
“Okay,” says Bug. He tucks into the melty cheese. His shirt is spattered. The capacity of his stomach stuns me, as does the fact that he is just so very tall.
“You should have seen your granddaddy’s hair,” my mother says with a faraway look in the direction of her husband.
He grunts. “Yeah. It was really something. Down to there, hair.”
“Where it stops by itself,” she says.
It goes quiet except for the sip of wine, the slurp of sauce. A borer bee dips low and Bug ducks away. I remind him that bees prefer nectar over tomato sauce and that she’ll be off to find something sweeter. She should have no trouble lighting upon an ample source in this fecund pocket of earth.

Letting Go, Poetry

Self Swathing

At the bend where curb meets street,
leaf debris writhes as if trying to awaken
at long last
into sentience.
Alas, no such magic here. Instead, intention
or perhaps merely instinct
compels a worm hidden below
to travel without regard for freight
or sight. Under cover of dust and plum
blossom, mint-brushed helicopter pods
and the laced bottlebrushes
of a doll’s kitchen, she undulates
in her inexorable attempt at progress
towards some primal certainty
of open ground. Laden
with ornament, festooned
like a May queen in her azalea crown
and grass skirt, she twists back into the wall
of concrete, unable to climb. She cannot see
past the mantle she must bear
to retain her precious title.

These pretty burdens
we refuse to shed.
How they slow us down.
How our majesty rivets us
to corners.