Connectivity

 

 

My friend Carol and I got together recently for a joyous reunion, joyous because we have known one another since the first grade in our rural Northeastern Oregon town and when old friends reunite it feels good. While we were together, another friend of Carol’s joined us, and as the stories began to flow, she shared her experience of reuniting with the classmates of her youth. Musing aloud, we wondered at the phenomenon of getting back together with our former classmates.

 

As a former teacher, I am enjoying the same connection phenomenon as with my classmates. It’s a though students and teacher have become the same age and revel in reconnecting just as much as former classmates.

 

Why is it that we so enjoy seeing each other once again and it feels like we never were apart, even though we might not have connected over the span of 30, 40, or 50 years? Carol, her friend, and I speculated but never really came to a definitive answer. We just knew that this reunification happens, and in most cases, it’s lovely. Another one of those mysteries that we enjoy despite knowing why.

 

Then today I was reading No Ordinary Time by Jan Phillips and came across this:

 

“Quantum nonlocality teaches us that particles that were once together in an interaction continue to respond to each other no matter how many miles apart, and at a rate faster than the speed of light.”

 

(This also explains why I can sometimes know a person is going to call, write, or somehow get in touch with me.)

 

She continues: “Physicist Menas Kafatos writes: ‘Nature has shown us that our concept of reality, consisting of units that can be considered as separate from each other, is fundamentally wrong.’ Since we are composed of cells, molecules, atoms and sub-atomic particles, this makes each of us part of one indivisible whole, interconnected and interdependent.”

 

So now we have an answer, both metaphysical and scientific–which I believe more and more are one and the same. We come together because once we meet, we are a part of the other, and the other, us. It feels good when our molecules come home to roost.

How Did I End Up Here?

How Did I End Up Here?

I didn’t plan to be a gardener. In fact, my senior year of university I remember vowing to never live anywhere near a farm, where I’d lived through my teenage years, ever again. No more hands chapped, chaffed, and stained by soil or Black Walnut skins, no more broken, chipped fingernails, no more gloves with the ends of the fingers worn through, no more back sore from stooping and bending, no more picking hazelnuts up from the ground and stuffing them into my mother’s ruined nylon stockings, then hung to dry in the attic. No more sweating in noonday sun, picking raspberries and being scratched into a bloody mess. I even spurned one boyfriend’s proposal because I knew he would be a lifelong farmer. It would be the literary life for me—books, theater, symphony—and my life as a teacher. So it’s very curious, indeed, how I became the avid home gardener I am today.

At first, there was no place to BE a gardener in the town where I began my career. The weather in Southeast Oregon’s High Desert was not much conducive to farming in those days before backyard hoop houses. No one I met there had a greenhouse. But my hands and eyes got itching to play in the dirt and see things grow, even to pick those wretched raspberries. I began asking around and observed that some people did have gardens, and that they grew short season crops like radishes, green beans, and peas. I had a huge back yard and what else was I going to do with it? I’d missed the fresh vegetables every summer from my parents’ garden. If I hurried, between the last frost and blazing 100-degree weather, I could maybe get in some lettuce and broccoli. I, too, could spend time chopping up the hard, reddish-brown slugs of the region. The jars on the canning shelves in the basement began filling, as well as the freezer.

There still were not many flowers, only lawns and bushes, because, well…rattlesnakes, who hung out in the shade. The previous owner had planted phlox along the fence line, and those were flowers enough for me, then.

Ten years later, I had moved as far west as a person can go and still be on land, surrounded by lush greenery, and I thought I was in Heaven. I could really garden here! Once I bought a house, I put in a small garden, much to the consternation of my neighbor, who thought lawns looked much more dignified. He protested, à haute voix, to anyone who would listen, the sins of my garden fence. My gifts of fresh produce when summer came, hushed his tone to a quiet grumbling. I moved once again to a house with a hillside behind me, where I envisioned terraces of burgeoning flowers and a vegetable garden. Through trial and error, I learned how best to cultivate flowers and food a mile from the ocean, what grew and what didn’t and what worked to keep deer away (nothing, short of a shotgun).

Now I live inland on a lovely, flat acreage, where my husband and I grow flowers, small fruits, and vegetables; where we have a small orchard of fruit trees that give us more apples than we know what to do with every autumn. I am working in a garden of some sort from February to December. So much for young adult proclamations!

Why am I a gardener now? I have the genes of my father and his father before him. I also believe that the beauty of flowers and the magic of growing things wormed its way into my childhood brain until it was a part of me and an addiction I couldn’t and no longer wanted to battle. I can’t exist or imagine a life without sunshine and fresh air, my hands soaking up the healing microbes in the soil as I work. My guess is once you’ve spent time as a child in a garden, you’re a goner.

STUNNING GARDEN FASHION

STUNNING GARDEN FASHION

 

October is a bridging month, stuck between the actions of growing, harvesting, weeding, picking, and the action of nesting indoors, organizing everything in sight. Closets, mainly. Because there is no inoculation for the organizational frenzy, the virus has me in its grip and I’m getting sicker by the minute, straightening this, tossing that.

Here’s what I noticed when I looked in my closet, deciding where to begin: gardening has overtaken my closet. I was shocked (well, maybe not) to learn I have five storage drawers full of gardening clothes!

What comprises gardening clothes, you may well ask? Those lovely denim jumpers and pristinely white tee shirts you see in ads for nurseries? Pastel pink capris, and pink clogs, with matching pink plaid camp shirt? Maybe in catalogs, but not in my closet.

Let me describe my gardening clothes for you. There is one whole drawer full of roomy but ruined tee shirts. I have one favorite purple tee shirt encaptioned “We Be Jammin’” emblazoned on the front that I purchased in Jamaica way back in 2002 when my friend Cecilia and I took a cruise. For a tourist tee shirt, it has had an extended shelf life, especially since I have worn it at least once every week after I got back home. It’s getting thin in places and I’ve mended holes where fabric and binding thread disappeared, but it’s still going strong and it feels so right.

Others of my tee shirts have stains all down the front that no amount of washing can remove. I’m sloppy, all the time, everywhere. I forget to wear my aprons. Or I choose not to because I don’t want to get them all stained. Go figure! I have more tee shirts unwearable in polite society than good ones. When I get tired out in the flower bed, I can look down and see several kinds of memories to make me happy—where I’ve been, what I’ve done, and what I’ve eaten.

I have a drawer of shorts, ugly things of piled fabric and soil stains, or behemoths I have to secure with a belt from when I was a bigger gardener. In really hot weather they are perfect! In addition, I have two drawers of pants for varying degrees of gardening weather and comfort while bending. A couple pair I wear because they give roomy a good name. They have pockets for extras and I can bend and crouch without cutting off blood flow or oxygen. That’s important to a living, breathing organism. Others are light and stretchy, also good for hot weather when I don’t feel like using sunscreen on my legs. While they are also bendable, unfortunately, they don’t have pockets, so I have to make other arrangements for hankies and phone and other detritus I usually carry in my pockets, like seed packets, pretty rocks, or weird, dead insects to show the insect expert, Evelynn.

One larger drawer is an amalgam of all the others, plus more. Here I can find my dirt-stained-no-matter-how-many-times-I’ve-washed-them-socks, my dirt-stained-no-matter-how-many-times-I’ve-washed-them-headbands (How does dirt get clear up there anyway?), and two sleeveless, also-stained tee-shirts for the two or four truly hot days around here when I decide to offset the great farmer’s tan my arms have going. There is a pair of paint-stained, dirt-stained jeans for early spring when I need anti-cold weather and misty droppings support. Finally, rolled up in the corner is a pair of warm, wool socks for when I still have to wear my Wellies outside in the muck that amazingly turns into garden come summer.

Does my selection of garden clothing sound anything like yours? Or are you one of those lucky few I admire who never attract an ounce of soil (wet or dry), insects, or sprayed substance while gardening? If so, I don’t know how you do it. I feel sorry for my neighbors who, because they rarely see me in nice clothing with my hair combed, don’t recognize me when we meet at the store.

So now that I’m nesting and organizing, I’m faced with a conundrum–I have to toss some of this perfect clothing in order to make room for a new garden fashion arrival. For the first time since 1981, I have bought myself a pair of overalls, a gardening clothing option that actually makes sense—there are plenty of pockets, room for bending, and the ability to match with either short or long-sleeved shirts. I have followed Neal’s recommendation for the overalls even though the neighbors will have a tough time telling us apart next spring. Except for one thing. I’m the one wearing a muddy-finger-smudged floppy hat with an inoperable chin strap.

The Mended Pocket

This afternoon I finally sat down in my living room chair, took up the black thread and needle I’d dug out of the plastic storage boxes where I store them deep in my closet, and I sewed up the hole in the pocket of my six-month old rain coat. (Don’t you hate it when you buy something new and then right away it grows a hole or a button falls off or a zipper breaks?)

 

The coat had been hanging in my closet since I’d discovered the hole because I hadn’t found the time or taken the time to round up the necessary equipment, sit down, and sew. It’s the same with so many small things that need doing, but you have to assemble the equipment you need, or you have to go to a specified place to do them, or any number of minor conveniences out of the normal routine of an ordinary day. Finally, a space opens up and voila, you can no longer procrastinate because all conditions are perfect for the accomplishment of the task.

 

I felt great after I sewed up the hole because now I can wear my coat again, and just in time for the fall rains. And of course, I wonder why I didn’t do this a couple of months ago right after the hole appeared.

 

Certain aspects of our relationships are like this, too, especially keeping up connections. When we have time to write or call, we are too tired, or too busy, or it’s too late, or our daily schedule is full. Or we don’t have the time, our schedule so full there’s no squeezing one more thing in to be had.

 

When all conditions arrive at the same point and we make our connections, we feel just like I did mending my pocket. Like all things with us are set straight. Like we can go on and play the banjo tune all the way through without a bump.

 

Today I had time to write a small e-mail to my brother-in-law who is recovering from a stroke. I hadn’t heard from him for a few weeks because he probably hasn’t had the perfect conditions for writing to me. I wrote to my friend Liz who was having health problems the last time I heard from her, along with tons of company. I’ve had tons of company and out-of-town commitments myself.

 

Just as with the mended pocket, I felt great sending out a tendril of connection to family and friends today. But more fell into the slots as soon as I emptied them. I haven’t heard from another friend for a few months. I know she is busy with her grandchildren in the summer while their parents work. I just received my own copy of another friend’s poetry book which I want to respond to, so every day there are needs for connection but I can’t always get to them despite my intentions. It’s as if I were the last person in one of those long lines in ice shows. The last person has to go the fastest and cover the most ground and if she lets go, she’s flung out into the void of the ice rink. I’m skating as fast as I can but I have a hard time keeping up with the rest of the line. I just do my best and feel good when I’ve made another circle in the rink.

 

Making these connections in a timely manner is important to me because at my stage of life, people can disappear before you have time to fulfill all your intentions. Actually, that can happen at any stage of life, now that I think about it. Because of that, I’ve been opening up my schedule and being careful about what I put in the slots that are now open again. I need time for me so I can get things done, like sewing up a pocket hole. I need time to be free so that I can get in touch with a friend, or go have coffee or lunch or dinner. Living a fulfilled life is crucial to the story of myself.

 

 

BERRY PICKIN’

Yesterday, I picked our blueberry bushes using my usual method—one for the mouth, one for the bowl, one for the mouth, one for …well, you understand. Also, as usual when out in nature, I fell into a contemplative mood.

I thought about how the birds had eaten their fair share of this summer’s blueberry production, even though Neal had erected blueberry cages. I knew the greedy birds had had their fill because I got one of the bandits, a teensy goldfinch, who upon seeing me, tried his darndest to escape the net. It was clear he’d forgotten the way and he was having a panic attack. He had gotten inside the cage because there was a fraction of an opening at the bottom but surprised by my arrival, he couldn’t find it directly. Since he was so absolutely cute, I did the only thing I could do. I unzipped the cage and he located open sky and flew.

I imagined the birds, already devouring what they wished, telling each other, “Now, leave something for the humans. Don’t eat ALL the berries!”

Or maybe they’d left some because they, like small planes, had to consider weight distribution before taking off.

As I picked, I thought about the Eastern Oregon equivalent of blueberries, the mighty and supreme huckleberry. Huckleberries are so coveted that families have their own maps of patches known only to them and them pass them down from parents to children. While cleaning out my files recently, I came across the one my father had drawn for me in order to reach a Mt. Adams patch.

Legends have been written about the huckleberry and its scarcity makes it even more special to those of us who tracked patches of it every summer, stripping the bushes for our jams, syrups, ice creams, and eating it right from the hand. I can taste that sweet tartness even now.

When we lived in Rockaway, we were blessed with Western Oregon huckleberry bushes which I protected from deer, bear, and humans. One patch grew near the mailboxes we shared with our neighbor, right along our property lines. I waited and waited for the berries to turn from red to plum-colored, checking every day as I picked up our bills, catalogs, and correspondence. One day I saw they would be ready the next day, and got my bowl prepared to pick right after the mail came. When the little white van had turned around and gone back down the hill, I went to the mailbox, only to find our neighbor, transplanted from urban life to coastal dwelling, had sheared the bushes he found lumpy and misshapen into a long, square hedge. I cried.

Then I thought about the greatest huckleberry picker of all, the grand poobah wizard, my grandma. Dad would hear via the huckleberry vine the patches were ready and tell us to be ready bright and early. Grandma would arrive in her Fiat, jump into our Chevy stationwagon, and off we’d go, armed with the picnic lunch Mom had prepared, and our buckets fashioned from old MJB coffee cans or gallon shortening cans. I liked the shortening cans best because the handles were crafted and there were no sharp edges, unlike the MJB cans with their rusty wire handles and sharp tops. We’d start at the top of a hill and bush by bush, slide down. We’d get sticky and sweaty and were plagued by crawling and flying bugs. Still we picked and when we grew tired of picking our grandmother first shamed us by showing us how full her bucket was, reminding us she was an old lady we surely could beat, and then she told us stories of her youth, or sang songs she’d grown up with. The latter always encouraged us to pick faster as she did not carry a tune as well as her bucket. By the time we got to the bottom of the hill, our mouths were purple and our buckets full.

Picking my own blueberries now, I thought of those huckleberry picking days, quietly sang a few lines from her songs, and before I knew it, I had my bowl full of berries ready to be processed.

Lots of us grew up in gardens or the outdoors and that’s why we are there now as adults; that’s why we encourage our kids and grandchildren, and heck, everyone we know, to get out in the garden, out in Nature herself, with others. That’s where the best learning, bonding, and wonderful fond memories occur.

 

THE WILSON

THE WILSON

Green as an alligator

the Wilson River

chomps whatever stands

in its swollen path.

Trees bow down,

a kind of surrender,

in the wake of

these mighty jaws.

Kayaks bob along

from scaly bump

to scaly bump.

Bridges quake

at the thwack of its tail,

waters rushing at

their abutments.

This is no placid swamp,

no stagnant pond.

No, this green monster

thrashes headlong

creating its own purpose,

mashing whatever

appears in its path,

emptying its gullet

into the sea.

 

2009 award[#TheWilsonRiver]

Home Grown Thanksgiving

Bountiful Table

Bountiful Table

As my family—my sister, my mother, and my husband–made way to eat Thanksgiving dinner, my sister Anita surveyed the table and said, “Wow! Just look. Most of everything here we either grew, canned, or froze. That’s awesome!”

And true. She grew the potatoes she mashed and the green beans. She grew the butternut squash she candied. She didn’t make the marshmallows, but maybe next year. The turkey and gravy were not grown by us, it’s true. However, when I was in the 7th grade, my mother grew turkeys on our farm, so that year, we could definitely say we grew the turkey we ate. That was the only year we could say that, though, because the turkeys were so stupid and time-consuming they about did my mother in, so she went on to focus on chickens, who at least have a brain.

The gravy came from McCormick’s, gluten-free, and we hadn’t grown the kinds of plants used to assemble the gravy mix. Give my sister time, okay?

The anti-pasto plate was yummy and due to our joint summertime efforts. My sister grew the cucumbers she pickled. We grew the green beans, carrots, cauliflower, cucumbers and peppers for the vegetable mixture I pickled. The apples I wedged and candied came from our apple trees. My sister grew the beets she pickled. The olives, bless their finger-tipping hearts, my sister withdrew from a can she opened and drained. She could have planted an olive tree, picked and preserved her own olives, mind you, but alas, she’s allergic to olive trees.

All of us have grown the carrots, cauliflower, and cucumber sticks on the appetizer plate.

My sister grew the loganberries, blackberries, raspberries, and marionberries in the berry delight for dessert. She bought the ice cream, but in the past we’ve milked the cow, separated the milk, and churned the ice cream. My sister Susie still makes ice cream the good, old-fashioned way, by hand. It’s one reason I will drive eight hours to visit her in the summer.

At the head of the table sat the major reason my sisters and I know how to do all this—our mother. Looking at our well-provisioned table, we were all grateful for what our parents passed on to us.

Growing up, my siblings and I learned from our father and mother how to grow, can, and preserve. My husband learned from his parents as well. I say we were lucky to have grown up in rural areas where people could live off the land and have the foresight to teach their offspring how to do the same. My sisters and I have never forgotten the lessons we learned and when we are able, we provide for ourselves. It warms my heart that many of my young friends are discovering anew these skills, if not from their elders, then from 4-H classes, the Extension Service, and from each other. They are making sure their children learn the skills as well, especially since many schools have opted out of teaching the home skills.

Self-sufficiency feels good, especially when you know that what you’ve grown is organic, without harmful chemicals, and truly tasty. Besides, you’ve kept in better shape working for it! Our whole neighborhood shares produce, techniques, recipes, and canned goods. Nothing better than that!

This Thanksgiving, among other things, I was grateful for the bounty at our table, the family members seated around it, especially our mother, and for the lessons we’ve learned and put into action.