theoretical garden

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In April, again in May, and once more in late May, I planted a garden. Because that is what I have done every spring since 2011— turned over the topsoil and dug in.

In Utah, the pests were primarily aphids, slugs, and a blight that came for my  apricot trees. The soil either dried to dust or clumps of clay that baked to rock in the hot sun. And yet, I always harvested an abundance of peas, lettuce, chard, kale, onions, apples, and beets. In Texas, the pests were myriad: fire ants, grubs, squirrels, creepy neighbors. I primarily harvested okra and peppers because the squirrels came for my heirloom tomatoes and nothing else seemed to thrive there. Including me.

Vermont has been a different beast.

The snow came through May. My garden rows were soaked mid-day and frozen through the mid-morning. I worried nothing would grow. And for a while, nothing did.

I planted and replanted and forgot what I planted.

Now I have everything everywhere. Too many zucchini plants and not enough pumpkins. A row of perky insect bitten kale. Happy carrots. Midget corn. Confused broccoli. And peas and beans nipped to nubs from deer I am not allowed to shoot.

Gardening here has shown me how much I do not know. There are pests I cannot identify. An army of slugs I cannot defeat. Groundhogs. Rabbits. And well-fed deer I cannot shoot. (Did I mention that?)

The garden has revealed my frustration with uncertainty.

In theory, your garden can be a place of order. In winter, you plot the garden on paper and order seeds. In spring, you plant starts or wait until the last (theoretical) frost to plant. You water. And then you wait. You harvest somewhere between 40 and 100 days afterward. This typically works. Except when it doesn’t.

My garden rows are now teeming with plants in various life stages I will not get to harvest. Our rural experiment on 136 acres is winding to a close. The where next remains unknown. What I do know is I planted seeds somewhere. And some took.

Life goes on.

snow cake

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Another snow day.

Even the flakes seem confused. They blow sideways and in both directions at once. Some snowflakes rush my office window as if seeking the comfort of indoors. I turn my space heater on.

Raisins, apricots, and candied lemon peel are soaking in a bath of brandy and vanilla. I am baking a Christmas cake. It should take all day. When your office and kitchen share a wall, time is marked in new ways: articles read between proves.

Sometimes it feels easier to look back rather than forward. Other nights I dream 100 years into the future. We will have whales. Bicycles. And gondolas.

Some mornings I scan recipes and get stuck on the ones I will cook on hot summer days. When I have fresh fruit and greens straight from the farm rather than my freezer. I bookmark the pages and return to old comfort foods. With brown sugar and cloves. Cheese and pasta. And bread. Always more bread.

And bread takes time. Lately, I have plenty of that.

 

a little thing

I noticed the first taps appear around the first week of March. A single metal spout affixed to an old roadside maple tree. That’s when I began noticing others.

An intricate web of orange tubing threaded around and between a patch of woods I saw while out on a run. It appeared to be holding the whole forest together. I imagined maybe it would collapse if you removed just one tree.

The pandemic arrived around the same time. Likely earlier. Perhaps the first taps arrived earlier, too.

So I wrote a thing. You can find it here.

maybe

IMG_9514I strung white Christmas lights onto our porch Friday—a mere three months after the holiday.

A woman in Montpelier suggested people put them back up. Light in a time of darkness. The idea has resonated with many residents as it appears so many of us are collectively holding our breath. A physician friend did the math: we needed more respirators and masks two months ago.

Time is a funny thing. It is slippery. Stretchy. Undisciplined.

Twelve days ago the world sighed and shook our old house in Utah and rattled my coworkers. What in the world? That felt like last year.

Every morning my three-year-old asks “Am I going to preschool this day?”

He knows that he used to go to school Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Now those days come, and he is still at home with both parents who for some reason don’t have time to play on all the new weekend days. He dumps his Legos onto the kitchen table and builds plastic cities that he destroys moments later. When it’s time for nap he demurs on cleanup.

“It will take a thousand years,” he says.

After nap I take him out for walks along the abandoned logging road behind our house. The creeks are flowing with snowmelt. We fish rocks out of the water with reddened fingers. Some we take home. The rest we toss. There isn’t anything truly special about the ones that make it into his backpack.

“Is it spring yet?” he asks as we stomp through patches of snow.

He waves his walking stick and tells me about his birthday party this summer—all his preschool friends will be there. He wants a chocolate cake with strawberry icing.

I do the math.

“Maybe,” I say.

 

with gloves on

The tip off was the pile of mail. Then the car. When did it move last? A week ago? Two?

A well-meaning neighbor came with a key. A stench that has taken weeks to tame. My friend was the nearest next of kin. 800 miles away. She drove across the mountains to the plains to sort through bags tagged safe by the biohazard cleanup crew. The coroner said there would be no identification of the body.

“I walked through her entire life, with gloves on,” she said.

She brought a box home containing her relative’s paperwork. Her will. Her bills. The box has to stay outside. She has to build a box for the box. The smell of decay had permeated the pages within.

Her relative’s death occurred one day in the middle of summer. A death that eventually, got noticed. The coroner doesn’t know exactly when.

The relative died before the shooting at the Gilroy Garlic Festival. Before the two mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton. The relative died in her home. A private death. One caused, most likely, by the illnesses that often accompany advanced age. She was older than all of the shooting victims killed in the last 10 days.

In that sense, she was lucky. She died alone. But she had at least considered her death. She had directives: Do not get rid of my books. No services.

My friend is grieving. Any death of a loved one causes an unsettling feeling. Their last moments are wondered about. Were they afraid? Were they ready? What did we last talk about?

These questions, of course, lead to other questions.

Will I be alone, too? Will I make it to old age? Will my children?

Or will they get snuffed out in their prime? At a festival. In a bar. In their house of worship. In their school.

Will anyone with power give a damn? Or will there just be a collective shrug? A turning of the page before the next forced pause when we consider the whereabouts of our loved ones and count our blessings.

When will the deaths be enough?

Dear Sam,

It’s snowing again. Big feathery flakes that swarm and disappear upon hitting the pavement.

You and I are winter babies. Born in the season of forced quiet. When the snow can feel both magical and cloistering at once. Perhaps this is why your signature expression is a wrinkled brow.

I wonder if you will be my serious child. If you will observe the world before engaging with it. At four weeks old, you appear to know more than you should.

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Lately, you’ve begun to study me. Your eyes—a blue so dark they look charcoal—reveal nothing as they scan my face. Do you trust me I wonder? Do I trust me I wonder?

Every day I rest you on my knees to stare into your eyes. You respond with a frown that seems to ask why have you summoned me here? And then you stretch your tiny arms, arching back into the nothing behind you. Because you do not know fear. You just know that my hands are there to support you.

I suppose this will be our lifelong dance.

But for now, let’s sit together by the fire. Let me just listen to you breathe and watch the snow. Let’s learn each other as we wait for the melting to begin.

Love,

Mama

reflections on a pregnancy

It is a strange feeling to have someone hiccup inside of you. And yet, also strangely comforting.

I’m in the final month of what is likely my last pregnancy. Sometimes I look down and watch my belly shape shift and wonder about the creature breaching like a dolphin beneath my skin. I feel aquatic. And I feel lucky.

This baby came so easily after the last pregnancy faded. I remember standing in the bathroom after my third pregnancy test just waiting to see the double blue lines appear. But I never really doubted them. I just silently noticed when a new week turned over and the baby was still here.

Sometimes, in this era of modern medicine, I think we forget how risky childbirth can be. How the body, growing another body, is risking its own. It is a burden that only women carry. And there are no guarantees. Just best intentions.

I know a woman who tried for years to have a baby – just one baby – until she could not try anymore. I know a man who waited for nine months to hold his child and never once heard it breathe before he put it in the ground.

Once, I interviewed a 16 year-old who lived on the streets of Austin and was pregnant with her second child. Perched on the exam table in her doctor’s office, she held her  tummy and talked about her hopes for her baby. Mostly, she wanted to be a better mom than she was with her son, she said wiping away tears.

“Well, you’re here now,” I told her before turning my face to my notes so she wouldn’t see my eyes.

At the time, I was struggling with infertility. I was heartbroken. For her, for me. Both in situations we desperately wanted to fix, but didn’t quite know how.

Two thousand miles and four years later, my life is unrecognizable. It’s snowing. Flakes so tiny they look like dust. Toy trucks are scattered on the floor.

The baby has stopped hiccuping. I think it is sleeping. Rest up, little one. I have so much to tell you.

alright

My two year-old is afraid of trolls. Lions. And deer. He thinks they will find their way inside our house and into his room at night. “I don’t want the animals to come,” he says, before plugging his mouth with his thumb. And while climbing the stairs for bed he asks what is underneath his bed.

Where does fear come from? Sometimes I think it’s too soon. Give him a few more years to fall in love with the world before recoiling from it. But I suppose it is human nature to be afraid of what can consume you.

The book where he first learned of trolls has vanished from the shelf even though he hasn’t asked to read it in a week. When tucking him in at night, I reassure him that lions live far away in Africa. Which is true. I tell him that he would need two planes, at least, to get there. I do not tell him that mountain lions roam the national forest that is our backyard. That I have seen their footprints in the snow. And that I have turned back when running certain empty trails just because I had a feeling I should.

Sometimes he runs around the house yelling “roar! Mama roar!” He likes being chased until the moment he believes a mother might really be able to transform into a lion. In his world, I know the answers to all questions. I am the keeper of safety. The chaser of bad dreams. It might even be possible for me to take flight.

The other afternoon he pointed to the sky, his cheeks reddened from the snow-scrubbed air, and demanded “fly like the birds, mama!” I kept my smile and looked up at sparrows overhead.

Afterward I snapped an icicle off the forsythia bush and placed it in his mittened hands. “You can’t eat it,” he told me. “Oh you can,” I responded. He slowly brought it to his lips and tasted the ice. His eyes sparkled. Then he cracked the tip off with his teeth and crunched on the cold.

“The world is alright” I said.

Dear Red Sox,

Congratulations! You won the World Series. (Again!)

Remember when I used to care deeply about things like that? If you scroll back on this site to posts from nearly a decade ago, you can find me writing to the coaching staff and players like you about strategies for doing so. Many I wrote in jest, but the sentiment was there: the team was failing me in some way and you could fix it if you just tried.

I don’t feel that way now.

I no longer get worked up about pitching changes made too late (or too soon). About cold streaks in need of breaking. Maybe it’s because you have become so adept at winning over the years. Maybe it’s because as we age it’s harder to be emotionally stirred by the losses of people you don’t really know living hundreds of miles away. But I don’t think that is true. Yet, over the last two years I have thought less about the concept of my team and winning.  I’ve just been thinking about other things.

I’ve thought about young children ripped from their families at the border. About children younger than 5 signing away rights they can’t fully understand. I’ve thought about the world’s changing climate and the inaction of my country’s leadership to even try to change the course of history. I’ve thought about white men with high capacity guns and a chip on their shoulder walking into churches, synagogues, and schools and snuffing out lives of innocent people in their places of learning and worship. I’ve thought about the attacks on the free press. About the lifting up of ignorance, of fear, of hate. So instead of writing to you I’ve been writing to my congressmen about all of these things.

And I admit, I am tired. 

Don’t get me wrong, I am still happy for you. You deserved the title. You put in the work. I never doubted you. I mean, 108 wins in the regular season? You beasts. And I am grateful for the distraction you have given me this last few weeks. The gift of a few hours reprieve from thinking about all of those other things has been a true blessing.

But now you will go to your respective off-season homes for a well deserved rest. And I will go back to writing to the people in power about their tacit endorsement of the status quo. I hope that a decade from now I’m back to writing you about lackluster changeups and the importance of hustling. Because I miss thinking about you.

Yours,

Kristen

 

 

the smell of decay

Rain that fell in the night soaks the golden leaves covering my path to work. The moisture lingering in the air reminds me of fall back home. The sweet smell of decay wafts from the trail—a rare treat in the arid West. The air feels heavy against my cheeks. But then again everything feels heavy these days. My growing belly. My tired heart.

I awoke yesterday to news of multiple bombs sent to leaders of the Democratic Party and members of the press. To the nation’s first black president. To verbal targets the president jeers during his rallies and over his Twitter feed. I thought of the journalist decapitated and dismembered just two weeks ago. His fingers purportedly severed. The price of dissent in a place where it is forbidden. We are not there yet I thought. Are we?

I called my senators. I worked. I ran. My mind did not wander though I know every curve of this trail. I know where it climbs and where it dips. I know the spot where you can find wild raspberries in the summer. And yet I feel lost. I feel we are lost.

And I am not sure how we wind our way back. Watching the Red Sox in the World Series last night I couldn’t muster the same joy I felt in years past. “You lose something when you win,” I said.

I’m still figuring out what that means.