Friday, April 30, 2010

Inch By Inch, Row By Row. Part I

I have never been much of a gardener. I don't love getting my hands into the dirt; actually, it feels all gritty and kind of squicks me out. I'm not big on nature; I've always been a city person, and my idea of getting outside is to walk several blocks while people-watching on a street like, say, Broadway in New York or Seattle, or Commercial Drive in Vancouver. I am just fine with buying my produce and flowers. I feel no need to be self-sufficient.

But. Two things happened. No, three. Well, maybe four.

First, we bought a house. Almost two years ago. I'd lived in a house with my spouse (and a mouse! and maybe a louse! and a blouse!) before that, but it was *her* house, and I didn't have the same feeling about the yard that I did when we moved and it was *our* house. Plus, the former owner was a devoted gardener and made a beautiful garden here, and I felt bad just letting it go to rack and ruin.

The second thing that happened was global warming. Well, sort of. The second thing that happened, really, was that, wanting to contribute less to global warming and landfills and the overall trashing of the planet, we got a compost bin from the city, and started putting our non-protein-based kitchen waste in it. And eventually it filled up, and I thought, gee, I should take some of that compost out of the bottom of the bin and put it in... the garden. Right. Garden. What garden?

The third thing that happened--okay, not the third thing, this is actually chronologically the FIRST thing, but I'm just going to leave it third in this list, okay? Anyway, what happened was, I moved to the Northwest. In the East, where I'm from, it's perfectly okay to spend a sunny afternoon curled up on the couch reading the New Yorker, if you are lucky enough to have the leisure, the couch, and the New Yorker enabling you to do so. If you feel like appreciating the weather, you can look out the window and maybe remark to the cat that it certainly is lovely out. But in Seattle, or Vancouver, or anyplace Seattle-or-Vancouver-like, there's this crazy moral imperative where in the unlikely event that the sun is shining and it's not pouring down miserable rain, really you need to be OUTSIDE! Enjoying It! As I mentioned earlier, my favored Outside activity is walking through a bustling cityscape. But I don't actually live right next to a bustling cityscape (I used to! long, long ago, in Seattle, in a lovely little studio apartment that was recently torn down to make a subway station. But that's another story.), there's no convenient way for me to Enjoy being outside when I have no bus to catch and it's not quite warm enough to sit on the porch reading the New Yorker. So what I mostly do, when it's nice out, is sit inside, not enjoying my New Yorker or whatever, but feeling guilty that I'm not outside and resentful that I feel guilty.

After twenty years of this, I got a little tired of it, and thought maybe I should try Enjoying the Outdoors like other people around here do. And I know from several years of Monday-morning staff-room conversations that the main way that people Enjoy the Outdoors, when such is possible, is to work in their gardens.

Okay! Compost moldering in the bin; cultural imperative to Enjoy the Outdoors, backyard all ready to garden in. This is what we call, in the literary analysis biz, overdetermined.

So. A garden, then.

A lot of our garden is already sort of...gardened. I mean, there are perennial plants planted, and they grow, and the weeds haven't gotten them yet. But there's this long, sunny patch of ground over by the garage, that was basically weeds. The former owner told us that the soil over there wasn't very good and if we wanted to do anything with it we should get new soil in. Last year RW bought some flowering plants at the school plant sale and put them in a patch of it, and they looked pretty, but I thought this year I would grow FOOD. Just like Alice Waters in the California elementary schools, and Michelle Obama at the White House, and all. Because I am the Zeitgeist Girl. With my ukulele and my brown hoodie and my little tiny iPod shuffle. Okay, I am the Zeitgeist-of-2-or-3-years-ago Girl. That works for this. Isn't reducing food-miles so 2008?

But first I needed good soil, and that was where I balked. It just didn't seem right to go to the store and BUY DIRT. Isn't the point--one of the points-- of gardening that it is frugal? That you plant seeds and grow your own food and keep at least some of your nutritional needs out of the capitalist stream? Isn't it defeating a purpose to haul a bunch of plastic bags filled with dirt--oh, sorry, soil--up to a cash register? A friend told me that you could mix compost (compost! I have compost! Okay, the grapefruit peels and eggshells are still pretty intact, but I'm sure there's some compost in there somewhere)--right, mix compost with sand from the beach and get usable dirt, but then she said you have to WASH the sand and I threw up my hands in despair.

[More coming. Because I can milk a saga out of ANYTHING. Stay tuned later on for my riveting series on vacuuming the couch.]

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Things Past

I actually remember the very last day that I bumped around the city aimlessly. It was in 1995, a few days before I started library school, and I was looking for some books downtown. "I wonder when I'll get to do this again?" I thought, idly. Then there was school, and then looking for a job and planning the commitment ceremony, then working, then we had the baby, then there was more work, then we moved, and now it's 15 years later and I think I might finally get to do it again sometime soon. Of course, it is a different city and a different world. But still.

I remember the tile patterns in various bathrooms I have frequented. At my dad's apartment, I think it was, and also my cousin's nearby, and maybe my grandparents', there were these little white hexagons that made pleasing arrangements when you looked at them for long enough. And it might have been my elementary school that had tiles in a repeating combination of squares and rectangles that fit together in an interesting way, that you could re-arrange into many different interlocking shapes. Bathrooms on the West Coast mostly don't have that kind of tile. I miss it. I'm sure all that time looking at those tiles contributed to my understanding of geometry, too.

I remember the first time I wrote a paper on the computer, which was also the first time I accidentally deleted a paper, which was also, fortunately, the first time I made use of the "Undo" command. I was up late, late at night, in my mother's home office, typing away in a happy daze, and when I was done I highlighted the whole thing and accidentally hit they backspace key instead of whatever other key I had meant to hit. I was a senior in high school and the paper was about Theodore Roethke's poetry. I might still have it in my boxes somewhere, safe and sound on paper still. But there was that terrible moment, the moment when everything disappeared: all my insightful conclusions, my illustrative quotes, those graceful paragraphs. All gone--poof! Like that! And me staring at the traitor screen in mute horror.

I remember being three or four years old, sitting on the bus, looking at the funny pointy knobby things you could use to open or shut the windows. I called them kitty-cat ears because that was how they looked to me.

The other day a college friend posted a photo of herself on Facebook. We weren't such good friends that we'd made an effort to keep in touch before Facebook put me in potential touch with almost everyone I ever knew. So in my mind she is still 20 years old, doing pasteup on the college newspaper, funny and witty and flirting, maybe without knowing it, with the editor. When I saw the photo of her last week I thought with great sadness: oh! That girl is gone!

I know that girl (we called ourselves women, but now I think of us back then, fondly, as girls) is still there, inside my friend, like 4-year-old me is still inside 43-year-old me, still marveling at the kitty-cat ears. And if you believe in certain theories of time, she is still there in the common room also, still 20, still cutting and pasting and laughing and flirting. But in the regular, everyday world that I live in, that girl is as gone as the Theodore Roethke paper on my screen, and instead there is a (perfectly happy, by all appearances, I should note) middle-aged woman out there on the other side of that photo, and there is no Undo key.

Why this should make me more melancholy than my own middle age, I do not know.