“Common Living Dirt”

We were all out digging and clearing today.

I come from a family of Polish farmers on my mother’s side. (My father’s side of the family were more educated and tended to be white collar workers in old Poland.)

I love digging in the dirt. It has to be in my genes. And that’s also probably why my son is now part owner of a herd of urban goats and just loves taking care of them.

And that’s why this poem by Marge Piercy is one of my favorites:

The Common Living Dirt
by Marge Piercy

The small ears prick on the bushes,
furry buds, shoots tender and pale.
The swamp maples blow scarlet.
Color teases the corner of the eye,
delicate gold, chartreuse, crimson,
mauve speckled, just dashed on.

The soil stretches naked. All winter
hidden under the down comforter of snow,
delicious now, rich in the hand
as chocolate cake: the fragrant busy
soil the worm passes through her gut
and the beetle swims in like a lake.

As I kneel to put the seeds in,
careful as stitching, I am in love.
You are the bed we all sleep on.
You are the food we eat, the food
we are, the food we will become.
We are walking trees rooted in you.

You can live thousands of years
undressing in the spring your black
body, your red body, your brown body
penetrated by the rain. Here
is the goddess unveiled,
the earth opening her strong thighs.

Yet you grow exhausted with bearing
too much, too soon, too often, just
as a woman wears through like an old rug.
We have contempt for what we spring
from. Dirt, we say, you’re dirt
as if we were not all your children.

We have lost the simplest gratitude.
We lack the knowledge we sowed ten
thousand years past, that you live
a goddess but mortal, that what we take
must be returned; that the poison we drop
In you will stunt our children’s growth.

Tending a plot of your flesh binds
me as nothing ever could to the seasons,
to the will of the plants, clamorous
in their green tenderness. What
calls louder than the cry of a field
of corn ready, or trees of ripe peaches?

I worship on my knees, laying
the seeds in you, that worship rooted
in need, in hunger, in kinship,
flesh of the planet with my own flesh,
a ritual of compost, a litany of manure.
My garden’s a chapel, but a meadow

gone wild in grass and flower
is a cathedral. How you seethe
with little quick ones, vole, field
mouse, shrew and mole in their thousands,
rabbit and woodchuck. In you rest
the jewels of the genes wrapped in seed.

Power warps because it involves joy
in domination; also because it means
forgetting how we too starve, break,
like a corn stalk in the wind, how we
die like the spinach of drought,
how what slays the vole slays us.

Because you can die of overwork, because
you can die of the fire that melts
rock, because you can die of the poison
that kills the beetle and the slug,
we must come again to worship you
on our knees, the common living dirt.

Sit, Walk, Write

According to Natalie Goldberg, writer and teacher, the order should be “Sit, Walk, Write,” but, as is my nature, I fudge things to fit my nature. Following directions is not one of my strong suits. I improvise.

When the temperature hit 50 degrees today, I went out for a stroll (again, my nature) under a clear and sunny sky. The cool breeze brought the non-scent. of a waning winter. There is still snow on the ground. Vague puddles cross my path.

I can barely hear my footfalls, although that can be more the effect of my diminished hearing rather than the soft tread of my measured heel-to-toe pace. I doesn’t matter.

Cracks in the asphalt form telling mandalas, and I wish I had brought my camera to capture the symmetries of these unexpected partnerships between man and nature.

A young woman jogs past me and turns up a hill that I always find too strenuous for my strolls. I am not going anywhere. Have no place I have to be. It is that time of my life when strolling is the way to go. (Unless, of course the Amtrak Writers Residency project picks me to “sit, ride, write.”)

The same young woman passes me again, this time going the other way. I wait for her to pass me yet again, because three is a magical number, but she doesn’t. Is there meaning in that?

A young boy, about seven years old, walks past me on the other side of the street. He is pushing what looks like a doll’s carriage; it’s too small for a baby. When he walks toward me later, coming the other way (it seems like everyone is coming and going, but I just keep going), I stop and look through the mesh into the stroller. It’s a big orange cat. He says the cat’s name is Oliver. I look down at the logo on the stroller. It’s a pet carrier. Why not.

When I sit, it’s on the sunny front steps with my daughter and grandson. We sip our teas and chat. I need that kind of company/togetherness, and they provide it. I feel lucky.

In a moment of silence, I wonder how my son’s goats are doing. It is the year of the goat. And of goat therapy. Sometimes magic happens.

The clouds finally drift in from the west, and the breeze picks up.

Now it’s time to write. And I am.

almost the best time of the year

The best time will be summer, when the vines are loaded with tomatoes and beans and peas and, hopefully, the couple of exotic edibles, the seeds of which I planted in March and the seedlings of which I planted today: peach/mango/melon and cucamelon.

With my bum knees precluding any dancing or even minor walking, gardening seems to be the best exercise for me, and I, along with the rest of the family worked up a good sweat today — they tilling and enriching the garden soil and planting some seeds; I tinkering with the little shade garden plots and tending my seedlings. The little orange birdhouse (upper right of photo, below) that my daughter made last year from scrap pieces of wood in the cellar, has just been taken over by a pair of Carolina Wrens.

The Northeast is a marvel-filled place to live this time of year.

the readied vegetable garden behind the bank of glorious spring blooms

the readied vegetable garden behind the bank of glorious spring blooms

basil, parsley, sage, dill, garlic scapes seem to be doing well; some tomato seedlings are iffy, but I haven't given up on them.

basil, parsley, sage, dill, garlic scapes seem to be doing well; some tomato seedlings are iffy, but I haven’t given up on them.

the little shade garden by my little porch is overrun with Creeping Jenny -- but that's just fine because I keep moving some to other parts of the yard that are bare

the little shade garden by my little porch is overrun with Creeping Jenny — but that’s just fine because I keep moving some to other parts of the yard that are bare

the prettiest part of the yard is always the Japanese maple and the Buddha statue

the prettiest part of the yard is always the Japanese maple and the Buddha statue

I took the photos with my new LG Optimus G Pro from AT&T. I figured I’d treat myself with the money I’m saving by not having to buy cat food and litter any more — and also not having the expense of dance/exercise classes because of my bum knees. One door closes, another door opens.

on mysteries, miracles, and metaphors

This afternoon, as the kid from next door sat on our front steps playing Mine Craft on his iPod, my grandson stood nearby, tracking the flight of our resident red-tailed hawk. Suddenly the hawk loosed a feather, and my grandson watched as it caught on a tree branch, and then let go, and finally landed in his waiting hand. He ran into the house shouting that he caught a hawk’s feather, wanting to share this miracle with the world.

Two kids, roughly the same age. One is home schooled. Easy guess, which one.

So, you could say that my grandson, Lex, received a message from his totem animal. Such is the spirit mystery of the natural world.

While the rest of the family is planning and preparing their vegetable garden on the more fertile side of the property, I have commandeered the side of the yard where the pervasive roots of the ancient maple that was destroyed during the Snowpacalypse two winters ago make it impossible to till soil or grow anything. tree stump Poppies have already spouted in the main stump container, and my mini calla lilies that spent the winter in the cellar are generating buds under the soil of the other.

I emptied the shed of all of the big pots and have begun a kind of container garden that will include herbs, flowers, and all kinds of tomatoes. And garlic. Lots of garlic. The pots are lined up along the nearby fence, which gets sun all afternoon. secretgardenThe soil there is not great, but hostas and wild violets seem to be happy there. I planted three sunflower seedlings and some Creeping Jenny and have lined up the pots, some of which already contain herb and flower seedlings. It is not yet the configuration I want; I will have a better sense of the aesthetics as the bloomings emerge.

In a month or so, it will be fun to compare this photo with one that boasts a more colorful and thriving container garden. There will be some re-arranging and adding to. My projects, be they gardening or knitting or sewing always seem to be continuous ones until something out of my control puts an end to them. Sort of like everything in my life. Circles. Now, there’s a metaphor.

buddhaI’ve been looking for some kind of statuary around which to focus the container garden. For the moment, I’m using a cairn that I found (oddly enough) at Home Goods. We already have a Buddha in a little meditation spot in a shady part of the yard.

In the meanwhile, the family continues work on the addition to Lex’s “fort.” (Original structure is on the right of the addition.) It’s going to be a fun summer around here.
multifort

not Another Pleasant Valley Sunday

Actually, it’s a laid-back Pioneer Valley Sunday. All I did all day was some knitting while I listened to an audio version of the second book of the Hunger Game series, Catching Fire.

I love the fact that I can download audio books free from the library, but I don’t like the fact that I have to hurry and finish listening before the allotted time. I just don’t understand, since it’s downloaded, why an audio book can’t be available to any number of borrowers at the same time and for as long as they need to finish the book.

My grandson is out in the back yard reading an oversized Calvin and Hobbes book of cartoons; his mom is out there reading some book about home schooling on her Kindle; his dad is nearby reading an actual book borrowed from the library — a biography of Frank Zappa.

My grandson takes a break from reading every once in a while to resume his imaginary globe-trotting journey that is based in a “camp” he has set up next to his “fort” in the yard– complete with globe, desk, drafting tools, and assorted mute companions — where he devises maps and plans his adventures. He has amused himself all day out there with only occasional bouts of participation by the rest of us in his continuing saga.

At some point, I unplug myself from my audio book and listen as my grandson reads aloud to us something from Calvin and Hobbes that he thinks is funny. My daughter shares a passage from the book she is reading about how important it is for kids to have time for imaginative unstructured play. I think about our neighbor’s young son whose days are taken up with competitive sports, school, karate, Pokemon, and video games. A basically nice kid, an ordinary kid, he is almost devoid of any flights of fancy or curiosity about the world around him.

Ours is not a typical or ordinary family, and our quirkiness extends way out to the west coast, where my imaginative untypical son still struggles to find a job.

I think about what the world will be like when my grandson is ready to participate fully in this society, to find work that is meaningful and satisfying. Hopefully, the Hunger Games is not prophetic, although if the Republicans had their way, it might come awfully close.

For now, we are thankful for what we have. And we hope for a future where curiosity, imagination, playfulness, and mutual support and cooperation across age levels are valued a lot more than they are today.

Hobbes makes him happy.

Today is his tenth birthday, and he’s a big Calvin and Hobbes fan. A few days ago, we found a pattern for making a Hobbes, and so I ran out to Joann’s, bought the fabric and stuffing, and launched myself into a marathon sewing project.

He would check on me periodically to see how it was coming — if it would be ready for his birthday.

Now, here is a kid obsessed with law enforcement officials, fire fighters, SWAT teams, and military and construction vehicles. (It’s a “boy thing,” he tells me.)

But he put that all aside, insisting that he help sew on Hobbes’ stripes. And so, for two hours, my grandson and I sat and sewed together. At first I threaded the needle and made the knot at the end of the thread for him. By the time he finished sewing the stripes onto the tail, he had figured out how to do those things himself.

Hobbes was finished in time and was a major guest at the birthday party’s “Sundae-Inator” station that he and his mom had built to reflect the “Phineas and Ferb” party theme.

I’m not sure what I thought that my life would be like at this point. I doubt if I ever saw myself having a great time sitting with my grandson while we collaborated on sewing a stuffed tiger.

puppy love

She is 9 weeks old and four pounds and the cutest little rescue mutt you’ll ever know.

We picked her up last Sunday from the woman who was fostering her mom and puppies through “For the Love of Labs Rescue” and fell in love with her immediately. Her name already was Madison, and so my grandson (whose birthday present she is) decided to keep that name.

We have no idea what she’ll look like as an adult dog. Her father is some dog who wandered by, and they think her mom is some sort of spaniel/collie/???? mixture. The mom and pups were rescued from an abandoned house.

She’s already learning how to do her business outside, never barks, and when anyone picks her up, she just snuggles in for all the affection she can get.

We’ve been wanting to get a rescue puppy for a while, and when we met her, we knew she was the one.

It’s a Lego Christmas

He got all the Lego sets he wanted: a complete police station, a chinook helicopter, and a (no longer made. so thanks to ebay) a Coast Guard rescue boat. He kind of made my morning when the first thing he said when he opened the police station was “Oh look, a female police officer!” He already put the boat and helicopter together and is working on the police station.

I look at the hundreds of little Lego pieces and my brain locks up. I am terrible at anything that smacks of putting puzzle pieces together. The “spatial relations” part of any IQ test is the part on which I did the worst. I wonder if I wouldn’t have that problem if I had Lego to play with when I was a kid. But it was the 40s, and what I had were dolls. Lots of them, with every imaginable accessory. When my brother came along in the 50s, I played with his Lincoln Logs, but those aren’t as complex as Lego, so that part of my brain never really got enough exercise.

We are all coughing and nose-blowing, and it’s been going on for almost two months. I’m sick of being sick. The antibiotics only took care of my sinus swelling. The rest has to be viral, and it’s wearing us all down. (Except for my grandson, who is having too much fun with his Lego stuff.)

In desperation I am making a concoction of onion, garlic, honey, and lemon juice. I’m a firm believer in the power of onions and garlic anyway, so I figured it was worth a try. After the stuff sits overnight, you take the liquid by the teaspoonful or put it in tea.

I think it’s time for a nap. By then, he should be finished putting together the three-story Lego police station, complete with jail cells, mobile command center, K-9 unit, criminals, and police officers — including the one token female.

Lego needs a smack on its corporate head

They are making Lego for Girls!! BAD IDEA,LEGO! You are perpetuating the “pink” stereotype that women are trying so hard to eliminate. Don’t they pay attention to what’s going on in the the rest of the world?

What they need to do, instead of making and marketing what basically is a line of “Lego Barbies,” is to add a lot of female figures into their existing lines and market regular Lego to girls — as they did in their more enlightened era, back in 1981.

Don’t Lego idea people ever see any news items? They are 50 years behind the times. I have heard that even the business cards Lego provides to its employees (which always feature an image of a Lego figure of the employee’s choice) offer many different male figures for male employees; the females are supposed to choose between a nurse or a cheerleader.

Elsewhere in the interwebz — if those ill-informed decision makers would just look and follow links –there is a whole generation of females who are vocally and assertively trying to affect the stereotypical ways that females and female superheroes are portrayed by the comic book and fantasy game industries. Lego’s “girly” line is going against the kinds of enlightened attitudes that intelligent informed people want for their kids. (The kind of people who spend a lot of money on Lego products.)

Lego building blocks are the staple of my 9 year old grandson’s play and learning time. He and his female playmates all use the same Lego pieces (although I have had to buy extra female figures because so few come with the sets). In their play, females are cops, firefighters, construction workers, doctors, and moms; males are cops, firefighters, construction works, doctors, and dads.

Girlie Lego figures and sets are not the answer. Lego. The answer is to spend your money NOT making PINK Legos, but rather put your money into including more female figures who are professionals and then including girls in your advertising on an equal basis with boys.

Go here and email Lego a complaint about this issue.