My Beach

It’s been a place that, for years, has been the consistent feature, albeit one that is, of course, always changing.

It is the beach; a very specific beach that curves along a small cove. It is made of tiny rocks that are weathered and worn from much larger ones that make up the island and the mainland across the bay. Across the water you can see Lamoine, a small town in Downeast Maine. My beach, as I have called it for years, is thin and is framed by rocks and trees and two small houses: one yellow and one gray. For years, I have walked up and down it, collecting sea glass, throwing skipping stones, and thinking. It is the place that I wish my ashes to be scattered, as it is the place I come back to, over and over, as life changes and keeps moving forward.

My dad is very sick all of a sudden, after a lifetime of being sick. Sick with post-traumatic stress from Vietnam, sick from alcohol addiction, sick from Texas oil man capitalism, sick from diabetes, sick, now, from lung cancer. About a month ago they diagnosed him with “shadows on the lung”, but due the remoteness of where my family lives and the spectre of COVID-19 which, seemingly, will never leave, he has not been able to receive a biopsy or diagnosis yet. This Friday they make the first steps to diagnosing him with something, while, every day, he becomes weaker and says things that don’t quite fit. Sometimes the things he says are thankful and hopeful and reflective, which is excellent. Sometimes they just don’t fit.

Two years ago at this time, we were taking care of Cody’s grandma, Marie, who passed away December 21. It is strange, the timing of it all. I know that it is just a coincidence, but muddling through the memories of it all is intensifying the emotions I think.

My dad and I have never had a good relationship. There are lots of reasons for this, but none of us can prove the past.

Now, I feel that we lost an opportunity, or that we both wasted so much time. I think about how he left his family, leaving England sometime in the 1960s to disappear only to be found in 1984 by a chance encounter. At least we didn’t do that with each other. I wonder if he will ever tell my brother and I what happened. I feel that we have little time to wait and see.

Since I decided to go up to Maine, at my brother’s suggestion, all I can think about is my beach. What will it look like? Will the rocks have changed in the interim three years? It has been that long.

Meredith Drew, 10 Years Later

My friend Meredith died in 2011. It has been ten years since she graced me with her words, her observations, and her sense of humor. I was cleaning up my inbox today and found this email. I almost wrote her an email back, even though I know that she won’t be able to read it. Or maybe she can? I often think she is around, on the edges of my life, watching, smiling, and occasionally laughing. It is her laugh that I hear on the wind, and in the still darkness of starry nights.

[names have been changed]

My best thoughts are Sunday morning when i first wake
up. Short sentence insights given to me from myself.

This morning:
If it hadn’t been for Patience ….

You were the one who saved him. I brought him to you
and you said, and then, no matter what anyone else
said, I held to what you said.
You were right about the school. When Alan destroyed
that, he showed his willingness to destroy his only
son.
I know you wondered why I stayed. I was waiting. I can
see it now, his pushing me to stand up so that he
could smash me. “Sebastian is not really mine because I
have to share him with you.”
Only one strike then. One chance, and my aim had to be
dead on.
So. Based on what you said, and only on what you said,
I made a move. (literally) Defying the court, the
experts and all of those carefully orchestrated lies.
YOu saved my son that day, you know. You’d meant to
spend the day with your husband and your new house.
I doubt you remember where you stood, where I stood
when I said, “Tell me Patience about Sebastian,” and you
answered. Sam was in the background keeping Sebastian’s
attention on other than us.
It’s like a photograph in my head, all bent up and
worn now from my taking it out and looking at it so
many times, just to check, “No, no. That’s not what
Patience said. Don’t listen to them.”
I was just a mom, and you were just a first year
teacher, emergencied in no less with your funny degree
and a quick summer course. There were no letters after
our names.
Valentina, the Russian seer and healer told me, “You
have great power. It is in your love for your
children. Stay in that place.”
The photograph in my head is of just that. The 4 of us
feeling powerless. Loving powerfully, not knowing the
importance of that moment, what would come of it.
You called yesterday, to check, worried that you are
not doing enough for Sebastian, worried as you are that
you are not doing enough for your own students, I
think.
I have a picture in my head, of your not doing much of
anything, just standing there, saying a few words. It
was all that you could do, of course. To you it must
have seemed like so little, hardly a “kodak moment.”

The picture shows You, however, standing in that place
of love, speaking so powerfully that in that moment
Sebastian’s life was changed.
The power did not come from your doing. It came from
your being.
You said you told your students in the bathroom that
it was because you love them.
Well, yes and no. Yes, because you love them, you have
power beyond human comprehension. No, because that is
not why you were crying. YOu were crying because you’d
momentarily and inadvertently fallen from that place
into fear.
Anyway, I have this crumpled worn picture that I
wanted to show you of you being You in that space of
love and power. Amazing, how the more I look at it,
the more clearly the Grace comes into focus.
Your Grace.
Amazing
Trust that.
Like I said. Do not be afraid. Just believe.
In you.
I have a picture of my doing just that. In the middle
of a breakdown myself, desperate, loading Sebastian and
myself in the car driving to Austin, unable to explain
to myself why it seemed so very important. Amazing,
the Grace of my knowing to turn to you.
Your words and a picture of your saying them burned
into my brain. You were that quietly powerful.

I have been listening to Oprah’s Super Soul Conversations lately. My two recent favorites are: Cicely Tyson and Grace and Gratitude.

A Little-Known Side Effect of COVID-19

The time will come when diligent research over long periods will bring to light things which now lie hidden. A single lifetime, even though entirely devoted to the sky, would not be enough for the investigation of so vast a subject… And so this knowledge will be unfolded only through long successive ages. There will come a time when our descendants will be amazed that we did not know things that are so plain to them… Many discoveries are reserved for ages still to come, when memory of us will have been effaced.
― Seneca, Natural Questions

[names have been changed]

Early in the fall, my husband came home and said that one of the ladies that he works with needed a tutor for her child, who had been in an accident and needed help with relearning things due to brain damage. Being that I hadn’t really worked with any students at school and was missing them, I said that I could help.

I spoke to Alice’s mom and was told her story. It is one that you probably haven’t heard about, or thought about, but I am in no doubt has happened to many adults with disabilities during the pandemic.

Alice, like many people, has multiple medical conditions. She has Addison’s Disease and Epilepsy, and something happened last spring to cause a grand-mal seizure. This seizure led to the ambulance being called, no surprise there, but the story now takes a twist.

As part of the seizure, or concurrent with it, Alice was also having an Addisonian Crisis. The ambulance drivers, stressed out due to overwork and the global pandemic, did not listen effectively to Alice’s mom, who I am sure was also very stressed at the moment. Alice usually goes to a hospital in Taylor, the closest major hospital to our area, but due to the pandemic, all hospitals had networked and routed patients to different places based on their medical needs. Alice was taken to St David’s in downtown Austin. Alice, it is important to note, is a 20-year old adult. The ambulance would not let her mom ride with her due to COVID. When Alice arrived at the hospital, no one knew her and the doctor familiar with her medical history was over 30 miles away at another hospital. The attending physician did not recognize her symptoms as Addison-related, and did not treat her as such. Her mom was not allowed into the hospital because of COVID, and the hospital would not release any information because Alice is an adult. Days later, her mom was finally able to get information, and found out that her daughter had had a heart attack and went without oxygen for 10 minutes before she was revived. At that time, she was in a coma, and remained in one for three months.

Before this accident, or incident, use whatever label seems appropriate, Alice was working at a sandwich shop and Walmart. She was taking two or three classes at Austin Community College. She couldn’t drive because of her epilepsy, but other than that, her life was completely normal.

In about an hour, her life became the opposite of normal. After she was released from the hospital, she could no longer walk unassisted. She had no short-term memory. Her speech was different: no longer the voice of a normal 20-year old person, she spoke in a monotone. She could not swallow liquid without risking aspiration, and could not eat solid food.

Now, a year after her accident occurred, she can walk on her own, and she has me and two other therapists who work with her on her memory and mobility. She is back to reading books and texting on her phone. She loves to watch Disney movies all day long. We are working on speech and her voice: trying to get her to control her voice more than she has been. She works very hard and keeps a daily diary now and makes marked improvements every week, although they are small and might not be obvious to someone who didn’t know her. Alice lives with her grandmother, her uncle and her brother, Andrew. Her mom lives across town with her husband, and her sister goes to college full-time at a nearby university.

When I think about Alice and her experience of the last year, I am mystified about how I didn’t think about this side effect of COVID: that people could receive such poor care that they die, or end up permanently (or at least in the long term) impacted by medical mistakes caused by the stress of the pandemic. The stress is systemic, and I suspect we haven’t really begun to understand what it has done to us individually and societally. I am sure, I am positive, that there are other people just like Alice out there; people who bore the brunt of a pandemic despite never actually having the disease.

COVID has broken-down, destroyed and distorted so many aspects of life. I sit here in a classroom, typing this story, and it is mid-April. The last time I had normal classes was over a year ago. The next time I have normal classes will be: no one knows. I asked Alice the other day if she intends to go back to ACC and she said yes. After all, there is nothing missing out of her amazing brain; it just takes a lot longer to pull the information out of it.

As with all things, the only guarantee is that things will change. Alice will continue to improve slowly. Sometimes I dream about going to her house and seeing her walking around, saying hello, and hearing her speak in a normal voice and tell me all about her day. Right now she is still talking in her funny monotone which is broken up with laughter, especially when we do voice exercises which make her make the funniest sounds.

Years from now, when we reflect on these times, I wonder what we will remember and what we will forget. What will be significant to us, and what will fade away?

Memory’s truth, because memory has its own special kind. It selects, eliminates, alters, exaggerates, minimizes, glorifies, and vilifies also; but in the end it creates its own reality, its heterogeneous but usually coherent version of events; and no sane human being ever trusts someone else’s version more than his own.”
― Salman Rushdie

The Things That I Didn’t Know

“we felt the lonely beauty of the evening, the immense roaring silence of the wind, the tenuousness of our tie to all below. there was a hint of fear, not for our lives, not of a vast unknown which pressed in upon us. a fleeting feeling of disappointment- that after all those dreams and questions this was only a mountain top- gave way to suspicion that maybe there was something more, something beyond the three dimensional form of the moment. if only it could be perceived.”
― Thomas F. Hornbein

On Valentines Day weekend, the sky fell.

I grew up on an island in Maine, and am somewhat used to very intense winter storms that cut the power for days and dump huge amounts of snow. I am not used to seeing this happen in Texas, though, and never really extrapolated out the potential impacts of a huge winter storm on the houses, people, and infrastructure of a state that isn’t prepared for a storm like this in any way. In Maine, everyone has auxiliary heat, usually in the form of a woodstove, pellet stove or Rinnai heater.

I went to HEB on Friday and purchased all the food and drink I thought we would need til the next Thursday, just in case something strange happened. I knew there was a possibility that almost nothing happened: it is quite common to have snow predicted and then either none or a very negligible amount falls, Texans flip out, and it melts by 1pm.

On Friday, I texted with friends and made dinner and waited for the storm to begin to roll in. It began to get colder and colder, and then on Sunday night I watched snow blow all over my property, blowing sideways and swirling all around the house, the windows, and settling into crevices. On Monday, we woke up to a landscape covered with white snow and blue shadows, grey skies and freezing cold temperatures.

Little did we know what was about to happen to our friends and neighbors, locally and statewide. By the end of the day, about half the people we knew had no power, and almost all of us had limited or no water. By the next day, we had no water at all, and remained that way for almost four days.

Here I sit, two weeks later, on a day that is 73 and sunny. I spent part of last week listening to people testify at the State House in Austin and blame each other for all the problems that caused the ice storm. I heard very few solutions, but many people quit, and windmills were made some sort of strange fall-guy, although that was attempted and then laughed out of the room. Everyone knows that Texas runs on oil and gas. It turns out that the fault lies in the natural gas sector, a not-well-known and not-well-regulated section of the Texas economy: the 9th largest in the world.

In other words, the sky fell and no one seems to be willing to set it to rights. In fact, earlier this week, the governor sought to “set Texas free” and remove his own mask mandate and declare that every business in Texas can reopen with full capacity, at the owners’ discretion.

Meanwhile, COVID continues to wend and weave its way through our lives, having claimed 44,656 lives as of this writing, or about 8.6% of the total deaths in the United States. One state, one of 50, representing almost 10% of total deaths.

Texas state government, if we can even really call it that anymore, is problematic at best. Seemingly cut off from the human aspects of governance, Governor Abbott et al demonstrate consistently a lack of care or thoughtfulness to the people of the state. Rather, they demonstrate consistently an intense focus on the liberty and the movement of almighty dollars into the state. I could even say that a laser focus on maximizing profit while minimizing regulation and taxation could be their re-election tagline.

I consider myself a thoughtful person who practices mindfulness meditation several times each day and reminds myself of the truth of the impermanence of our lives. I am at peace with my own mortality, and have been since my near-death illness that occurred when I was 18 years old. I understand that the only constant is change, and that, in truth, nothing is guaranteed in our lives except a very few things, none of which are very exciting.

But.

Despite my mindfulness practice, my understanding of impermanence and my attempts at maintaining equanimity, I held some assumptions that I really thought were truths, until the sky fell two weeks ago. These truths hinge on assumptions about the strength of our infrastructure, the ability of leaders to lead and communicate clearly to their constituents, that people understand the rhythms of the environment around them and can wisely respond to them, and that those same leaders care enough about those who cannot do those things to tell them what to do, or at least that they care about their suffering.

Texas is an odd place, made odder still by current social trends away from government as governance toward government as a space for well-greased palms between officials and corporations. Texas’ economy is booming, but it almost always is, and it almost always ignores the needs of the people whose work drive the strength of its economy. As a model for the rest of the country or the world, I would hope its problems are obvious. Remembering the robber barons of the late 19th century is easy when you realize that the folks most responsible for the ice storm debacle of 2021, the natural gas industry, has been mute and hardly touched by people who would call themselves legislators.

Texas is a beautiful place, and I love its heart and soul. As I walk around my property, I see bluebonnets and Texas Maximilian sunflowers and I see the fierce sun that soon will become so powerful as to feel overwhelming at different parts of the day.

I still don’t know what I don’t know, and I am still shocked at the fact that we will, again, ignore the chinks in the armor of our state, at the request of the corporations who run it. I will hope, however, that we find ways to know more about how to help one another, and build our communities one neighborhood at a time. After all, while the state government was fighting and blaming as many people as they could, communities pulled together and filled in the spaces that should be filled by government. Late-stage capitalism is a wild ride, isn’t it?

The Road Back

The car is heavy with children
tugged back from summer,
swept out of their laughing beach,
swept out while a persistent rumour
tells them nothing ends.
Today we fret and pull
on wheels, ignore our regular loss
of time, count cows and others
while the sun moves over
like an old albatross
we must not count nor kill.
There is no word for time.
Today we will
not think to number another summer
or watch its white bird into the ground
Today, all cars,
all fathers, all mothers, all
children and lovers will
have to forget
about that thing in the sky,
going around
like a persistent rumour
that will get us yet.
― Anne Sexton

I Dream of Sweet Caress from You

One of the stranger aspects of the COVID life is the lack of connection and, especially, hugs. We have stopped shaking hands and hugging because we are all afraid of catching or giving this disease to each other. It seems we are missing something larger than just a hug.

AF Archive/AP Stock Photo

When I was a little girl, I dreamed of being a paleoanthropologist and moving to Africa to study the origins of humans. I read books by and about Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey and Birute Galdikas. I loved the stories of the gorillas the most.

COVID, as of today, has killed 246,000 Americans and 1.32 million people worldwide. When I started writing about it back in March, that number was this boogey-man number that was thrown about by experts as our worst-case scenario. Now it seems like an undercount, or a lowball prediction.

Today I felt sad, it must be the time of the year, or perhaps just the lingering effects of the anger I felt the other night. I felt so lonely and so sad, and as if I am missing out on something living in the country and not the city. I miss my friends in Austin, but I miss them in the sense that I feel our lives may be shifting ever further apart, not just because of geography, but something else.

COVID is grating on all of our nerves. Raw, lonely, sad, disappointed, exhausted: everything feels worse than it normally would right now. I won’t share with you the various horror stories from around the country: suffice it to say, we are in dire straits. Our government seems to be in trouble and at the whim of a despotic man with the emotional age of a 7th grade boy in a fight, and the man coming in is quite wonderful but holy hell is he inheriting a mess.

I was thinking about the 90s yesterday as I was touring Lamar University: they were a totally different world. No smartphones, no white supremacist proto-fascist movement maybe trying to take the government and cast doubt on our elections systems, no global pandemic hitting us worse than any other country. It sure makes you wonder. What else will happen?

I miss hugs, and students, and sounds in the halls. I miss feeling connected to many of my friends. I miss my husband and myself not being so crabby sometimes. I miss a lot of things. I wonder how many we will gain back?

DATE: 15 November 2020

#Cases of COVID in the US = 11.1 million

#Deaths by COVID in the US = 246,000

Death Rate in US = 2.22%

#Cases of COVID Worldwide = 54.3 million

#Deaths by COVID Worldwide = 1.32 million

Death Rate Worldwide = 2.43%

Charity

Today, a friend told me that her sister’s name was Charity. I laughed a bit and said, “oh! She is a fellow virtue!” My friend agreed, and I started telling her a story from where I grew up, in Salisbury Cove, about the graveyard.

The graveyard sits at the top of the hill, and we “discovered” it as small children, crouching and crawling up the hillside that felt as big as a mountain in those days. At the top of the hill was a large pile of old timbers which we had to scramble over and were always afraid of falling between. Beyond the gravel drive was the small glen in which the graveyard lies.

All the old residents of Salisbury Cove are buried there, from the 1700s to two present-day people. My friend’s mention of her sister reminded me of Charity, one of the old citizens of the Cove, as well as Thankful and Eben, her husband. There are small gravestones and large ones. There are tiny ones for the babes that passed before they were even named. There are gravestones for men who fought in the Civil War, many miles away from this island in Maine.

The graveyard is always quiet, and the light is always dappled. If you go there at night, the quiet is amplified, somehow, as if the only sounds reverberate between the lichens on the stones, muffling them into a soft whisper that, I think, is mostly the movement of the needles of fir trees.

I have spent so much time there, tracing the names with my fingers, clandestinely smoking and thinking about my friends there buried, some for over two-hundred years! Someone comes and cleans the site, mows it, keeps it maintained and beautiful, although it always seems untouched and trapped in time.

It wasn’t until we were in college that all four of us realized that each of us had heard the people talking at the top of the hill. Each of us thought we were mad, or tired, or making something up, until all four were talking one evening about how, when you walk at the base of the hill at night, you can hear their whispers on the wind, rushing down the hill into your ears. You never hear what they are saying, just that they are saying it. Who is it to say that those that speak are they who are buried: perhaps it is their friends, visiting. Either way, it is a strange comfort to feel so many people around you, knowing that they walked where you are walking now. My favorite epitaph that I have ever found lies in the graveyard, and goes like this:

Behold, you strangers passing by

As you are now, so once was I

As I am now, so you may be

Prepare for death and follow me.

All the Boats in the Harbor

I grew up in the summers on a large island off the coast of Maine. If you are a longtime reader of this blog, you well know this. I grew up on Mount Desert Island, and lived there until about 5 years ago, when I returned to Austin, Texas.

Mount Desert Island (MDI) is a tourism community that attracts 2 million people in a normal summer; our year-round population is a smidge less than 10,000. There are many funny comments from tourists that islanders have to endure, and lately, one has been sticking in my memory.

I can see Bar Harbor in the summer clearly in my mind’s eye. There are pleasure boats, whale boats, lobster boats, and dinghies moored there, bobbing up and down in the water, as the currents and the winds shift. Bar Harbor is an open harbor so really is only used in the summer, due to its lack of protection from winter storms. Tourists often look out into that harbor and see all the boats on their moorings, with the mainland beyond, and ask: “how do they get all the boats to face the same direction?”

Whenever this particular question is uttered, we laugh, albeit inwardly. Of course, it is the water currents, not the mooring, that determine how the boats set in the water.

COVID has now been raging for months: it feels like forever. I remember I said I was going to write here every day, and that never materialized. I have now decided to be more patient and gentle with myself, and write whenever I feel that I can. There are all sorts of below-the-surface water currents at work, causing us all to drift on this invisible tide.

Right now, schools are supposed to open as normal, and there is no plan for teacher or staff protection. The President wants the whole country to re-open, and periodically shrieks about the stock market and the NASDAQ, as if that means anything to 15 million unemployed people. The Texas governor issued a mask order last week, in the midst of a fury of anti-mask propaganda. I canceled my Facebook account yesterday: well, I put it on a 7 day hiatus, but after reading articles like this one, I am fairly certain I am on the path to permanently deleting it next week. I was in a meeting last week and described the feeling of being in the Upside Down, if the Upside Down was made of molasses; it is as if we are in a crazy parallel reality where truth is not valued, science has been relegated to the side lines, and time seems to move very strangely.

I don’t know what else to say except that times feel dark, and strange, and scary, and it is very hot (at least we have air conditioning!). I have been sewing almost obsessively, and watercoloring scenes from my life for a new quilt. I will share some of those when I have a few more ready. Some memories are good, some poignant, some sad; very much like the life they reflect.

I have been emailing with an old boyfriend from 20 years ago, and I think we have been comfort for each other in these strange days. Cody and I seem to not be a consistent comfort to each other, but I read an article about that, too. I feel very grateful for my friends at this time, for my dog Oscar, for my family in England who I can FaceTime with, and for the myriad stories I can engage with on television and in books. I spend a lot of time in contemplation and reflection, thinking about all the stages of my life, and of other’s lives, and how many, definite chapters we all experience. Life marches on despite our existence in the vacuum of COVID-19.

In some ways, this time reminds me of working in the studio in Northeast Harbor very late at night in the winters, when it was so dark outside that I couldn’t see anything beyond a few feet out of the front window, where the lights shone. I remember the blackness of the branches of the trees, the sound of the winter wind, the deep glow of electric light in a sea of winter black. None of us can see where this goes or when it ends, although many of us would like to know.

Despite the looks of the boats in harbors worldwide, there is no one undercurrent pulling us in one direction or another. There is, unfortunately, tension and mis-management, megalomania, fear, the unknown, wishes, rebellion, new ideas, anger, and a bit of hope. I just bought some very bright fabric to make quilts for the many babies that I know are on their way into this crazy world.

Back to sewing. With love, P

Date: 8 July 2020

Worldwide Cases: 12,009,301

Worldwide Deaths: 548,822

Worldwide Mortality Rate: 4.57%

United States Cases: 3,110,000

United States Deaths: 134,000

United States Mortality Rate: 4.30%

A Mid-Year Reflection

My plan to write here,  even just a little bit, each day has fallen apart. My biggest explanation as to why is being sheerly overwhelmed by all that has happened. The United States has the most cases of any country in the world, and the highest number of deaths. Our President, who was woefully inadequate before the pandemic, now has shrouded the White House in miles of fencing and barricades to keep the protestors away from him. Protestors by the thousands are peacefully marching, now, after a week of fire and destruction brought on by three incidences of racist police brutality in a row. We are all expected to “go back to normal” despite the knowledge that the pandemic still boils in our communities, and there is a 19% unemployment rate with little being done to help those people who lost their jobs; these are the same people whose lives are impacted most by police brutality and lower-quality schools that lead to lower-paying jobs.

In other words, it is a hot mess express out there.

I don’t have very many words for it all right now, except that it seems so incredibly sad, but also incredibly predictable, that this would happen in the United States after 40 years of destabilizing social programs and a destructive and addictive dependency on capital development over anything else. We have been out of school since mid-March, and all I hope is that we go back in August. No one seems to have a plan or even a specific idea about how to manage this transition, and my explanation is that schools don’t make money so they are not a priority. Isn’t that it?

My garden is beautiful and I have to look at that as an analogy for these frightening times. I have tended my garden well during the pandemic: literally and figuratively. I have spoken to friends, worked on creative projects, continued with graduate school, begun to work on school work for the fall, and stepped outside each day to plant living things. These are the only spaces of control that I have.

I often wonder about how people felt during the last pandemic. There was no information overload. Perhaps they only knew what was happening in their town or on their street. Perhaps they knew much more? I feel that I know nothing, except that my government has lost the last shreds of authority, accountability and usefulness that they had in early 2020.

There is an election in November. Even NPR is talking about the possibility of the President not accepting the results. What happens then? What will happen this week?

Gods help us.

Date: 8 June 2020

Worldwide Cases: 7,049,649

US Cases: 1,946,144

Worldwide Deaths: 409,821

US Deaths: 116,929

Mortality Rate (Worldwide): 5.81%

Mortality Rate (USA): 6.00%

Gardening – A Personal History

When I was a little girl, my mom and her best friend (our neighbor, Shari,) would send all the kids outside on summer days to thin the carrots. We were taught at a very young age how to thin carrots, and lettuce, and basil plants. We would sit for what felt like forever, but which most likely was about 15 minutes. I remember looking down at rows of tiny, fernlike plants in perfect lines in the dirt, figuring out which ones to pluck, and which ones to leave alone. 

 

During those same years, we would be wicked children and steal Shari’s lavender flowers and run up into the woods to our fort, which we had built out of scrap wood and plastic sheeting. We covered it with pine boughs for camouflage, and built a lookout up in a tree. Erica and I decided that it smelled terrible, due to the combination of Maine rain and the plastic sheeting, and we would make air freshener by smashing the lavender flowers in an old saucer on the floor of the fort. I remember desperately wanting to live up there, thinking it was a place in which all four of us could finally be free, but never having the guts to do so. 

 

When we were kids, in Maine, in the summer, the only time of the year when it is warm-ish in Maine, we were sent out of the house after breakfast and asked to only come back for dinner. We were not allowed to come into the house during the day, as the moms were busy making bread and jam and, probably, watching some television. In those days, we climbed trees, made canoes and kayaks into playgrounds, and took said canoes and kayaks out into the ocean, always wearing life jackets and staying close to shore, because even we knew that the ocean, given a chance, will kill you with its cold temperatures and hidden currents. We knew that each year people died in the ocean for failing to understand its power. If you respected the ocean, however, and stayed close to shore, you could scoot along the ironstone rocks over to the MDI Biological Laboratory and open up the fish cages on the docks, gazing down at the tiny sharks and horseshoe crabs, sea urchins and hundreds of starfish. We would gaze down at these creatures for as long as we could until we were spotted and chased back into the canoe by wary, and kid-weary, graduate students. 

 

These stories, I hope, provide the background for why, even as I now live in Texas, that I interact with and build my garden each and every day. I started gardening in the early 2000s when I worked at Whole Foods and would bring home dying plants from the 5 cent shelf. I lived in an old house in the French Place neighborhood, just east of Hyde Park, that had a beautiful front yard just perfect for a first garden. I remember the neighborhood cats would always mess with my plants, and at the time, I did not yet understand the interesting role of a housecat in the garden. (Hint: they think you made it for them). My first real garden was in the Hudson Valley of New York in 2006, when I somehow ended up living in Croton-on-Hudson and spent a few days before I had a job digging out a 30-by-10 foot space in the sun at the top of a hill for a garden. I remember digging and scraping, gazing down at the Croton River, with the Hudson River beyond, and a giant tree at the river’s edge in which lived baby eagles. It was glorious. The rest of the property was consumed by Kudzu, which, if you have never seen, you should Google. There were two rose bushes, which I hacked down to nubs in early March, and then thought I had killed, only to watch them leap into action come April; they exploded with blossoms. In the garden, I planted all the basics and watched my first corn crop grow sky-high, trapping a family of woodchucks one at a time, and releasing them in the park across the river. 

 

Today, my garden is bigger than ever. My husband and I bought a 5-acre parcel with an old house on it about 3 years ago, and we steadily carve it, sculpt it, hack away at it with each passing week. When we bought the place, the house was shrouded on three sides by overgrown hackberry and yaupon trees, and you couldn’t even see the giant brick barns. Most of the property was also overgrown with hackberry, but now, there are trails through 1.5 acres of it. We discovered a giant, old, rambling post oak that was buttressed to the point of being choked by hackberry and mesquite. We chopped those down, cleared the site, and got married underneath it. This year, it roared back into beauteous growth and is covered with healthy, green leaves. 

 

What is the magic of gardening? Is it the soil itself, the rhythm and ritual of planting seeds and transplanting plants from one pot to another? Is it the mystery of spring when plants, hidden for months, peep out of the ground and then, seemingly in an instant, are three feet high and rising toward to ever stronger sun? Is it planting tomato plants and then noticing the baby, green tomatoes hanging on to every stem? Is it the sound of the wind, and the songs of birds, and the whisper of shifting branches? Is it wild thunderstorms that shake the house but don’t rattle the tiniest of seedlings, somehow holding on to their spot of the good earth? It is all these things, and more. It is planting wildflower seeds, afraid that none will sprout because they are notoriously finicky, and then having 5 appear! It is the first return of hummingbirds and listening to them fight over the feeder, and watching their ruby-throated gem-quality magic feeding on the geraniums by the kitchen window. It is the butterflies feeding on sap, and your puppy chasing them on the wind. It is the orchard, once dormant and cold, unfurling with green leaves, and the trees growing taller each day. 

 

I say to myself each year that I must spend 20 minutes a day in the garden, and I usually make that happen. Sometimes I plant, sometimes I weed, and sometimes I just wander. On especially lovely days, I just listen to the birds and the bees and the trees. So many trees. When I was a little girl in Maine, we used to listen to the locust trees along the driveway creak in the wind, and were always afraid they would crash down! And they never did; they bent, but never broke, not yet, anyway. 

 

There are so many lessons in gardening and being out of doors. Those lessons are patience and calm, tolerance, beauty, an appreciation of color, and soft sounds. Nothing beats the sound of wind running through grasses that are waist-high, or the feeling of the sun on your shoulders or face on a summer day, or the cool crisp chill on your shins in the mornings of spring. I check my bees each morning, taking them food, and telling them of the weather. Sometimes, on those mornings, it is yet still cool, crisp, almost cold as the dew touches my feet. 
If I could recommend gardening, and I do, to everyone, I would say remember the first line of “Desiderata” – “GO PLACIDLY amid the noise and the haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence”. All the answers are there; in this world of ours, when we all are able to move so fast, it is a wonderful thing to do something intentionally that is so slow, so colorful, so practical, so beautiful, so calming. I hope you have a wonderful day in your garden.

 

Date: 28 April 2020

Cases: 3,116,398

United States: 1,012,582

Deaths: 217,153

Mortality Rate: 6.968%

United States Mortality Rate: 5.888%

An Aside

I woke up late today; it is raining, and I always oversleep on rainy days.

I went outside to take the puppy out and check on the bees. I gathered their sugar syrup feeder jars and chatted with them, noticing that they were irritated this morning and kept flying at my head, buzzing away. I assume they were annoyed with me sleeping in and annoyed that today will be cold and rainy, again.

I walked back to the house and noticed that some of the sunflowers are about to bloom. I noticed a mockingbird scraping her bill on an old piece of oak from the post oak that we took down last year. I heard birds sing and watched them balance on the power lines. The wind lightly blew, and it was cool, but not cold.

I smiled, realizing that if there wasn’t a global pandemic that threatens not only health, but economy and democracy, this morning would be have been purely gorgeous. And it is, of course, actually that.

I wish there was more information, anecdotal or otherwise, from the Spanish Flu Pandemic. I would like to read peoples’ stories and learn how the process developed, what turns the pandemic took, how people responded, and then how it ended. Perhaps I should go to the library…oh, wait.

I was really down yesterday: worried about everything. I was sad and angry and wistful and full of grief, all at the same time. It lifted sometime in the evening when I started sewing, so that is a lesson in an of itself.

This morning, this perfect morning, I will make some toast and get back to it. I am sitting at my table looking at my favorite Mola that I brought back from my zany trip to Panama 5 years ago, I am drinking tea, I am listening to the neighbor’s rooster crow from his little cell. The puppy is sniffing and snuffling around. Cody is sleeping. I can see the roses through the front windows, and the blooms of the Jerusalem Sage as well, and beyond that, the neighbor’s giant red barn.

There is peace in these moments; in this time, many gifts.

Date: 18 April 2020

Cases: 2,273,986

United States: 706,832

Deaths: 156,076

Mortality Rate: 6.683%