We all had such hopes after a year of isolation, fear, and worry. Late winter brought the first mass vaccinations and so much hope. By July the vaccine promise of seeing our loved ones safely began to melt away as case numbers including vaccinated breakthroughs began to melt in the variant surge moving throughout the world but particularly and sorrowfully in our communities. Still trying to do the right thing the information about staying safe was, and is, mixed with local decisions being made over national ones. Masks began to reappear and mask mandates and concerns for those under twelve were building with good reason. Your geographic location and your destination location could have remarkable differences along with the journey from one to the other.
It wasn’t only the virus that made this summer so hard. The weather patterns seemed as variable as virus outbreaks: massive flooding, massive fires and drought, and see-saw New England weather conditions bouncing from the 40’’s to the 90’s, especially in July. The initial June drought was followed by July’s deluge and to top it all off then came the August threat of a New England hurricane, the first in 30 years.
And there was politics, the endlessly awful divisions, hatred, and violence, with the media cranking out daily hype or truth depending on your perspective, but mostly all bad news one way or another.
What became apparent to me, unfolding over weeks of zoom conversation, was just how much we needed connection. We needed to hug loved ones. We needed to share meals and talk and we needed to be together. Every one of us who got to be with friends or family faced tough decisions about our safety and their safety, about vaccines, about being tested before, during, or after being together. Most of us got together figuring out the safest way we thought could do that. Most of us realized how critically important it is/was to reconnect. Many of us lost people, not always via the virus but for other reasons, yet the virus was forever in the background affecting everything. We don’t know when or if there is an ending to this story. What we do know is how precious the people in our lives are, how that has always been the case even when we were freely running busy, harried lives in which our priorities did not have the clarity they do now.
If you are one of those lucky people that got a friend or family visit I know you are feeling blessed. I finally got to do that and now, back on my own again, I’m tired. Sad. Joyous. Thankful. Most of all I am keenly aware of what counts most. Maybe that is the message tough times has always carried.
Note: This time the photo was not taken by me but by my beloved Cousin Debbie. Sometimes one picture really is worth a thousand words.
Yesterday, Today, ?
We began sliding into summer with a sense of relief and hope, eager for optimism’s return, wanting-needing-sunshine to warm our bodies and ease our exhausted, isolated, battered psyches. There were a few weeks of smiles and the beginnings of breathing into our lives before hints of darkness crept up to the edges of things. There’s no need to name the elements of this darkness but only to acknowledge our awareness of its presence. When or if was Pandora’s Box opened and, if it was, will it ever be possible to retract the darkness released?
What happens to us when our hopes are counter balanced in equal measure with our worries? I don’t believe nature intended that we should shoulder such burdens, despite having my own fairly pessimistic psyche or, as the saying goes “if you’re not depressed your not paying attention”? This is when our concepts of time, our personal and collective knowledge of History, and our sense of memory begin to converge as we attempt to feel our way into the darkness we see as a potential future. Who wants to look ahead through that prism? Is this what is widely being reported has a collective dire view of a the living, breathing future elements of our planet?
I am no seer nor have I had a conversation with one yet my instincts feel the need to gather together to give aid and comfort to each other in all the blessed ways possible. Convene family, friends, and actively court and encourage contact with those you’d now call strangers. This is the time to encourage and nurture our finest instincts. What we explore together and share with each other may be just what is necessary to face the ? which lies ahead.
Lately I’ve been aware of the constant sound of the ocean waves rolling in to meet the rocky shore and wondering if or how that rhythm affects the human body or the psyche. You and I have read that the ocean represents the Earth’s breath, or its lungs, or it is like the womb out of which all Placental mammals are born.
This concept of “Mother Ocean” is not exactly what I am trying to uncover. I am interested in the constancy of the repetitive sound of waves just as if I lived in a city and my background sound of was the repetitive sound of traffic.
Interesting to me, I moved here as winter was setting in so I had to wait until the next summer before I could listen to the ocean without the muffled effect of the closed windows. I craved hearing wave sounds directly that first winter. This summer has had prolonged periods of cold and wet so that the windows have often been shut at night. It is amazing how the clammy chill seeps into the house if windows are left open when the temperatures drop. However, in a heat wave the windows are open and the breeze off the water acts like air conditioning and the sound at high tide is not something that you can ignore despite the hour.
My suspicion is that anyone in close proximity to the sound of a body of water at night experiences changes to our breath, our heart rate, perhaps even our blood pressure. The blood pressure might lower most nights unless there’s a storm which can really alter the background sounds., sometimes sending a heart racing.
I don’t have answers to my questions but I am nonetheless grateful for being this close, this intimate, with the sounds of such a major planetary force field. I suspect it has changed me in many ways. perhaps as kind of external background meditation of sorts, happening even when the routines of life progress.
Hands In the Dirt
Long ago in another place and time I began digging in the dirt. “Gardening” is such an imprecise term for something that has so many variations. Landing in a poor and very rural place meant there was lots of land, one car, and fifteen miles from where I might find employment. I could learn to grow food so I started reading.
About that same time, my Dad who lived one state away at a lower altitude and a two hours car ride over the big mountain had also begun gardening. He’d grown up doing so but in all my years living with my parents we had never lived anywhere that had land enough for a garden patch but they had moved and the new spot had a huge garden needing the right person to come along. I didn’t learn gardening from my Dad. It was more like I learned with him from a distance. We both grew flowers but we were each far more interested in vegetables: Big Boy tomatoes (which didn’t have a growing season long enough to turn them red in far Northern Vermont), cucumbers, corn, beans, tomatoes and just about everything else that could handle a northern latitude’s short summer weather. Boy, did we garden! May through October was the time when work never ended. I learned that both being both the gardener and the food processor (the wife) was nearly impossible but after I planted, tilled, weeded and hoed I headed inside to where I filled canning jars headed for the shelves in the dirt-floor, rock-ledge basement of the house. The potato bin and the two 23 cu ft. freezers filled as did the unused floor of a bedroom upstairs, the drier space needed to store the squashes, pumpkins, and onions.
Mainly, the climb down the rickety basement stairs was where you could find most of that we ate. The colors of the jam jars and the quarts of fruit sparkled in the hanging bulb light down there and so too, in their much quieter way, twinkled the green of beans and all the dozens of bright red tomato jars.
All that remains as evidence of those years is memory and two bad snapshots of the largest of the gardens. I was way too busy to ever dig out a camera and besides, I thought I would live that way forever.
When I made my way out into the larger world I tried in many locations to get my hands back into the dirt. It had become an instinct but eventually even flowers in pots seem almost too much. This summer I’ve given the dirt a last hurrah of sorts resulting in a screaming back and plants that first had to fight drought and later the deluge. No longer are there safe growing spots for vegetables as critters everywhere multiplied with a sense that vegetables were put there just for them. The balance of nature’s world shifted and only fierce and expensive fencing makes vegetable growing possible most everywhere.
My memory turns to gardeners I’ve known beginning with those Vermont years. Carolyn and Kay growing beautiful flowers. Jeannie’s huge market garden, with help coming from the crew and family that lived communally. She told a story of a heart-to-heart with a woodchuck that carried her promise of safety from the guys with rifles if the critter’s family left the vegetables alone. It seemed to have worked.
Most of us moved and the gardens and gardeners kept changing. Brianna, a young woman I knew from the college where I worked, started an early and very successful CSA, with monumental determination packed into her small frame. I still have photos of her garden and that love of plants became her life’s occupation as she and her husband founded a nursery that is still going strong.
Now there are gardening friends, older women who have made lifetimes of gardening elsewhere who garden where they themselves are now planted. The gardens are all vastly different in scope and character. Isn’t that the way of things?
I have come to rely on the growing talents and hard work of others as I’ve sought out roadside stands or farmer’s markets because once you’ve had your hands in the dirt and extracted jewels like cucumbers, eggplant, or tomatoes you never forget the extraordinary taste of fresh from the dirt and respect for all the hard worked it took to grow them..
Note: Photo was taken in 2004 and is of Brianna Davis’s CSA garden in the Hudson Valley of New York State.