Posts Tagged ‘garden’

The View from Mattie’s Pillow

August 6, 2013

I’ve taken a long break from writing here, and now we’re toward the end of summer with the Fair going full swing. I’ve given myself a break from writing in general, a strange thing to do when writing sustains and refreshes me as much as it does. But I had reached a point where the thought of sitting in front of a computer after a work day of teaching and running a department carried too much weight of obligation—and I didn’t want that to enter or underlie this blog.

That said, I’m enjoying the last few weeks of waking when I want to before returning to campus to move in to a new office and facing the plights and gripes of my colleagues. I have a school year to go before I can step back into the oblivion of just teaching—till then, my posts here may be sporadic.

We’ve had a lovely, if hot, summer here in the Interior. Spring dallied. It snowed on the day of the Preakness—mid May—and every gardener I know put their garden in late. The late cold was followed immediately by weeks of 80- and 90-degree weather, giving us no time to adjust, so the gardening that should have been done at that point was limited by our ability to tolerate sun and heat—our blood hadn’t thinned enough by then, and we fell into evenings debilitated as the sun lingered into our long white nights.

Now we have a few hours of darkness to counter our still hot days. The cycle is shifting, and with the slatey blue light that settles in around midnight comes cooler air—down to the upper 40s the other night. Instead of our typical fair-time rain, we are having smooth blue skies and 80s during the day, but the nights are giving us warning of what’s to come.

Today, I’ll load up Mattie and Sam for one more lesson before I ride Mattie in the Fair dressage classes on Friday. We are moving up a level to Training 1—after all these years, things are beginning to click. I can feel my right side when I ride, for example, a challenge for someone as left-sided as I am. And Mattie has learned to move at an even pace, not race around, pulling at the reins.

The garden is flourishing; the tomatoes are producing green ovals that may ripen before I close the greenhouse in fall—or later in the newspaper layers I store them in. Fireweed is blooming closer to the top, but isn’t all the way there yet. A few more weeks. I’m in summer brain, every moment. A few more moments, moment by moment, absorbing everything the sun brings, storing it up for the days I’m not ready to think about yet.

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Poetry Challenge 76

January 22, 2012

The long cold drags on.  We were warned.  I read in the paper last summer that we were in a La Nina cycle, which would mean long cold spells and little snow.  Here in the Interior, we’ve missed the 18 feet of snow they’ve had in Cordova on the coast.  What we get is the fine, dry stuff, the moisture freezing out of the air and falling in a thick mist over the backs of horses, fenceposts, car windshields and anything else that’s out there.

But it’s warmed a bit and today I spent a couple of hours raking and shoveling manure out of the corral, stockpiling for the summer’s compost.  And the light lingers longer, too, well past 4pm; after all, we’re a month past solstice, the darkest day of the year.  And I’ve already looked at seed catalogs online–tomatoes so plump and red, the lovely ruffles of mesclun lettuce–and I’m studying plans for swallow boxes to go up on the hill behind the house.  A little fantasy vacation to the summer to come.

It will be cold again this week–40 below at night–and the blankets are airing out, ready to go back on the horses.  We have plenty of chocolate and split birch wood.

So here’s the challenge: write about the days ahead, referring to the details of the day you’re in.  What is in flux?  What red tomato image holds you steady through this post-solstice time.  Use a vegetable in the poem.

————————

Karen from KD’s Bookblog sent this:

Trimming Leeks

Goodness lies
in cutting away
leathery greens,
lopping off rootlets
like idle talk.

What’s left recalls
a roll of white paper.
The leek master
chops it, wilts it
in sizzling butter. Adds
broth, slivered potato, cream.
Purees, seasons, serves
her soup with thick slices
of sourdough.

The empty bowl
cradles the spoon and
a whisper of lost parts.
In the dark kitchen
discarded stems
decay like new bones
in an old casket.

The View from Mattie’s Pillow

August 8, 2011

Fair Weather

 

Suddenly last night, I noticed darkness.  When clouds cover the sky, a chill fills the space we walk in, here in the Interior.  And the fair is on.  It’s a strong hint that summer is—well, I can’t bring myself to say it.  This summer seemed to start early with a May drought, sunny and warm.  In June, we had July rains.  In July, August rains.  Now that the fair is here, we’re still off kilter, if any summer can be said to be usual in the Interior, and it’s sunny and bright.    Still we have all this week to go till Saturday’s end-of-fair fireworks and plenty of weather to cram in during that time.

 

On Thursday, I take Mattie to the fair for the second year, to ride the Intro A, B, and C dressage tests.  She and I have been working hard together to find bend and regularity, and I’m discovering just how unbalanced my body has become over the years.  I knew this from dancing.  My left-handedness is so strong that my natural tendency is to mirror left for right, and, because I always lead with the left, all the dance injuries I’ve ever gotten are on the left side.  I sometimes forget that I even have a right side.

 

This becomes crucial when riding—especially an inexperienced horse like Mattie.  My right and left legs give different strength cues, and I tend to try to ride entirely with the left rein.  This leads to a pulling match between us, no fun with a half-ton horse.  But we’re working on it and Colleen and Trisha, being inventive teachers, have given me images and corrections till I am beginning to feel when I default to the left side.  When I get it right, bumping her with the inside leg so that she is contained by the outside rein, she flexes her neck and becomes soft and steady in her gaits.  This is happening more often—and I’m realizing how much of that is literally in my hands—and I hope it happens during our dressage tests.

 

As for Sam, he became a little lame a month ago and is just returning from a layoff in time for me to be looking for a second rider to join me on some long trail rides around the hills in our neighborhood.  I’m looking forward to clopping along our dirt roads as the sun slants deeper in the sky, stretching the season out through the time of yellow leaves and the panic of closing down the greenhouse before the first real frost.

 

Till then, the garden is flourishing more than I can keep up with, especially kale, broccoli, broccoli raab, zucchini, cauliflower, and the jungle of the potato patch.  In the greenhouse, I have cucumbers and peppers, but the tomatoes seem to be coming slowly.  I’ve heard that the yellowjacket population crash has made for fewer pollinators, though there have been bumblebees and honeybees in my flowers.  And, after last summer, I can’t complain that there are no yellowjackets since it means I can walk barefoot without fear.  I think that there are several factors in the case of my greenhouse: I got a late start; I mixed manure into the potting soil prematurely or used anaerobically composted manure; and, well, this is right where I was last year at this time.  Keeping a blog has its uses, after all.

 

Today, sunshine.  I am in the last week of my fiction writing class, and the students are producing wonderful work.  We have three nights left, then the fair, then—well, more on that when it comes.  No use jumping ahead to what summer takes us away from.

 

The View from Mattie’s Pillow

July 20, 2011

We’re deep into July now.  Though we continue to have days of rain, they’re interspersed with scrubbed-blue-sky days with temperatures in the 70s or, if we have more than one clear day in a row, in the 80s.  Now that we’re a month past solstice, the nights cool off a bit on the clear days and we’re noticing a hint of darkness in the sky after midnight—just enough to ease the insomnia that plagues us in the Interior around solstice.  Just enough to send a warning of things to come and send us urgently chasing after summer plans.  A friend is canoeing on the river for a week; the softball team is making spectacular plays (for them); the horse community is revving up training for the fair, our one big horse show of the year.

 

I’ve been going back and rereading last year’s blog entries, which assure me that my garden and greenhouse are exactly where it was last year—some tomato plants still in small pots, the zucchini just starting to bloom and put out shiny dark green squashes.  I’ve been riding more this summer—two lessons a week and lots of driving the old clunker truck and trailer around town.  The garden has suffered some neglect because of this and because of the teaching I’m doing at the moment, but it seems to be growing anyway.

 

I’ve been thinking of my grandmother these days, the one I called Weezie.  At a writer’s group meeting a week or so ago, I read a poem about her taking me to an art museum when I was a young child.  Linda, a poet, said to me, “She was your muse.”

 

I hadn’t thought of it that way, but as I stand in the greenhouse, transplanting tomatoes, mixing soil, adding willow stakes for them to grow against, I find that I think of her.  She was the daughter of a woman who made her living china painting in the late nineteenth century.  She and her sister Marguerite trained in art in Cincinnati and she always thought of herself as an artist more than anything else.  Marguerite married a ceramic sculptor named John Williams and moved to California.  I still have a few pieces or their work somewhere—or my mother does.

 

But Weezie—Louise–joined a group of women in 1918 in a horticultural class at the Ambler campus of Temple University in Philadelphia where they learned the landscape arts, plant propagation, and got to wear bloomers.  There’s a photo in an album at my mother’s house that shows them—women in their twenties with wire-rim glasses smiling and liberated by the opportunity to do “men’s” work.  When my grandmother had the opportunity to travel to Maryland and met my farmer grandfather, with his strong cheekbones and blue eyes, she thought she had found the perfect life.  She could use her scientific knowledge of agriculture on the farm and she could re-design the nearby plantation gardens in a more modernist fashion.

 

I like to think of her as she was then, long before I knew her: artistic, determined, full of plans to make the world a better place, and liberated from Victorian rules of behavior.  She didn’t count on my great-grandfather, however, who sent her to the kitchen and made her wear dresses.  And she didn’t count on the Depression.

 

When I knew her, she was landscaping the lot beside my grandparents’ house in Salisbury, Maryland, keeping it so that it looked wild, but planting things all through it that she could point out on our walks there.  She would walk me around the property, telling me the names of plants, weeding and pruning and cutting flowers for our lunch table.  She told me many things I didn’t understand at the time, but they lodged in my memory waiting for the right moment to dislodge into consciousness when I would finally grasp their importance.

 

I hope to write about her more, to dig into her history more and find out how she became the woman she was and why she chose the life she did.  But now the tomatoes need tending and, if I listen closely, she’ll guide me to tend them well.

 

 

Poetry Challenge 69

June 11, 2011

Something New

The growing season is in full swing here.  Everyday, some new wildflower that I hadn’t noticed growing bursts out into full bloom.  On the bank where I experiment every year with seeds and perennials, the irises I planted two years ago have speared up, bulged at the tips, and curled open into purple flowers.  The roses–our Alaskan wild rose–are dotted with pink blooms, and excess of pink on those bristly branches.  The bluebells are out, and the cone flowers, the invasive but beautiful purple vetch, and those yellow things that were in a packet of seed I threw out and that come back every year in a new place.

Solstice will be here soon, but, till then, the light increases daily and our activity reaches the manic–and we’re glad of it.  In the garden and in the greenhouse, I’m trying out new plants again–tomatoes friends have given me, a new variety of baby cabbage, and the ongoing biochemistry experiment of the manure compost.  Mattie and Sam are settling in to their new lesson routine–more on that when Sam writes his post again–and I have high hopes for the summer.

So write about something new–experienced or imagined.   Surprise us with what surprises you.  Tell about your grand experiment of the season.

Post it in here in comments and I’ll add it to this.

The View from Mattie’s Pillow

May 25, 2011

We’re into full green-up now.  Just a week and a half ago, everything was still so brown that we all fell into a funk.  The land was stripped of snow and no green leaves or grass or flowers had yet dared to grow toward the sun.  But not now.  The last few days have been in the seventies and, being Alaskans and tough enough to walk out in forty below, we griped about the heat.  But not for long.  The lingering dusk/dawn, and the brilliant daylight have increased our energy and our vitamin D levels to an effervescence.

Still, spring has its perils.  Though grass in my lawn is growing inches a day, by last Friday there was plenty of last year’s dead grass and brush on the ground in the woods in the surrounding hills.  On one hill, Murphy Dome, a fire flared up and filled the sky with smoke.  From Ballaine Road, I could see the smoke roll up into the sky and see the darker smoke where a tree went up or where fire retardant was dropped.   I know lots of people who live in that area—in fact, I had trailered Mattie and Sam over to Colleen’s new riding arena on Murphy Dome Road the day before, and, until I realized that the fire was not near her place, felt a chill of fear for her and her horses.  As it turned out, no homes were lost, though several friends had some worrisome moments watching the water dump planes fly overhead.  Our firefighters were right on the spot and even managed to put out a fire on the other side of town at the same time.  But the heat and the long dry spell we’re in have us worried and nervous for the fire season to come.

We go on.  The light lulls us. It’s hard to be too blue in this weather—at least that’s how it feels to me.  Tonight, as I write this, I’m also thinking of a former student, Matt or Soup, who decided that he’d had enough on Sunday night and left the planet.  Perhaps he experienced his own personal apocalypse; it’s hard to tell.  It’s another in the long line of sorrows that have formed an undercurrent to the spring.  It’s an inexplicable thing, but depression has its own logic.  I wish everyone could love plants or horses as I do and be healed by them.  I wish that the sense I have in this season of the energy of growing things pulsing along could buoy up everyone I care about.

Perhaps the allure of owning animals and growing plants it that it gives us the opportunity to create a micro-universe where our best intentions can have some good effect.  Sam, I tell people, would have a much worse life if I weren’t taking care of him—he’s not lame anymore and he’s trusting me more than ever.  Mattie, too, with her sense of her own bigness and her fear of pain, would not fare well with someone else, perhaps.  They’re better off in my corral, I tell myself.

But what of the humans we care about?  Could anyone’s best intentions have saved Joe’s magnificent brain from cancer?  Could anyone have stopped Frank from shoveling snow?  And Soup—could anyone have read behind his smile, his goofy kindness to see how hurt he was and where it was driving him?

I’ll keep planting cabbages, squash, carrots, kale, peas, beans, and all those pansies I bought at the greenhouse the other day.  I’ll keep transplanting tomatoes till all my little plants are in their big square buckets where they’ll stay all summer.  I’ll keep hoping for the best.

Poetry Challenge 68

May 10, 2011

Pasque flowers

We’re still in a holding pattern for spring.  Every day, the sun heats the air enough that we can go out and about without our jackets, but in the shadows, a chill still radiates from the frozen ground.  Gardeners are restless.  A friend described his impatience to get on with the matters of summer by digging a fence post hole, and found that he could only dig a few inches down before hitting frozen dirt.  The garden looks bedraggled in its fall mulch or the bleached stalks of the last broccoli I couldn’t bear to cut down before last fall’s snows.

In the midst of all this brown and our impatience with it, I looked up on the steep bank above my house and saw that my pasque flowers were blooming, always the first sign that spring will come.   They are a perennial, shaped a bit like a fuzzy crocus, purple with yellow centers, there against the brown dirt of the cutbank.  They will last a week or so, then the rest of the greening up will start in earnest.

I have a fondness for purple flowers–the pasque flower, the irises that will follow–and I’m a sucker for purple garden vegetables: purple broccoli, cauliflower, string beans, carrots.   Write a poem about a color that has meaning for you–that repeats itself in your life or in your dreams.

Post it in comments and I’ll post it here.  And maybe,  now that finals are coming to an end, I’ll post one, too.

The View from Mattie’s Pillow

March 31, 2011

My grandmother has been in my dreams lately.  She was a woman who painted, gardened, swam daily, and taught me to eat with the right fork.  I’ve been puzzling over her sudden return to my sleeping life.  Then, this week, I learned that a dear friend I met in my twenties, a painter, calligrapher, gardener, who also knew about the right fork and who spent her entire life living her own way, is in hospice care with terminal cancer.  Now, it seems clear that, in the way of dreams, she and my grandmother have conflated and that she, Kim, was tugging at the fabric of the collective unconscious to let me know that she was in this transitional time.

I will write more about Kim later.  Some of you reading this blog know her, by coincidence.  She would be abashed to know that I am writing about her.  For now, I’ll post this recent poem about my grandmother and, I see now, about Kim McDodge.

——————————-

I Dream of My Grandmother in a Frank Lloyd Wright House

 

The roof pebbled flat,

the rectangular windows,

white stucco walls.

 

Inside, the light, underwater green,

filtered through curtains.

 

I find she

isn’t  home.  She has gone

somewhere interesting

in a big car.

 

On the table:

her bracelets, a necklace,

a few crushed tissues,

a filmy scarf,

dull gold.  And pens

and magazines, detritus

of a life–

 

she can’t wait any

longer for me.  I stand

with my intentions

smelling the stale air

in the house—or

is it the exhale

of her impatience

as she gathered up her keys?

 

In any case, she is off,

driving away

her own self, now,

headed to a gathering

of clear minds

 

 

Poetry Challenge 62

January 24, 2011

Shakespeare and (not yet) spring

The signs of the season–more light lingering in the afternoon, an orange sherbet color in the late afternoon sky, the luscious greens, reds, yellows of seed catalog photos, the Fairbanks Shakespeare Theater Bardathon, the sparkle of snow now that the sun’s high enough in the sky to reflect from each crystal.  From Ocala, news of the birth of Fiddle’s newest foal, out of the stallion Shakespeare, named Bard of Avon–splay legged and already showing the high shoulders and strong haunches and just a hint of coil in the spine that can uncoil in a sprint down the track.  Not any where near spring, but far enough away from the darkest winter that we feel ourselves awaken to dream of spring.

Write about what gives you an inkling of hope, a sense of the change of season to come.  Or, like a new foal, what holds promise for the months and years ahead.  Post it in commments and I’ll add it here.

The View from Mattie’s Pillow

November 14, 2010

Fine snow sifting through the air—a day of gray on gray.  I went out to the corral to rake up manure and add it to my newly-half-built manure compost bin and spend time with Mattie and Sam, who are on their long winter layoff.  Though the darkness comes earlier now, there’s still a time during mid day when the sky is full of light and the snow seems to catch the light and magnify it in the air—even on a day like today when there’s no sun, just flat, filtered cloudlight.

I just finished a conversation with my friend Joe, a brilliant poet who has been part of my writing community for the thirty-plus years I’ve lived in the Interior.  He is ill; in the midst of a visit to his brother back east, two summers ago, he was struck down by a seizure and discovered that he had a brain tumor.  Now, it has returned, and he is back in Ohio, living through rounds of treatments, MRIs, hope and despair.

I have been thinking of him, of how fast our lives can turn and on how little.  Here at Mattie’s Pillow, I find it possible to believe that I can fend off trouble with good intentions.  If I keep my hands in garden soil and horse manure, I magically believe, I will stay healthy and strong.  I recommend it to anyone who asks; the transformation of hay to manure to compost to soil to tomatoes to the delicious meal of pasta I can share with a friend such as Joe seems powerful to me.  The best part of the magic is that the horse is in the middle of it all, the agent of transformation, health, and strength.

But I know there’s more to it than that.  There’s randomness to disease.  It does no good to search back to the time the disease began, for that moment can’t be predicted or changed.  We can only go forward.  I told Joe that his friends here love him and asked what I could do.  I wish I could send him this snow—so dry and fine, falling with a soft hiss and softening the edges of fences, trees, rocks, the trucks parked for winter, the horse manure pile.  I wish I could bring him here for a few moments to run his hands over Sam’s thick coat, lift his pale mane, and breathe in the yeasty horse smell.

I’ve been reading a book called The Horse in Human History, by Pita Kelenka.  I’m going through it slowly.  It’s an academic book, dense with facts and details.  But it suggests that the connection between horse and human goes back farther than we have previously assumed.  The horse is part of our psyche—whole cultures have evolved as they have because horses were made with strong backs, fast legs, and a predisposition to move in concert with others of their herd.  The horse exists deep in our collective memory—swift, powerful, mysterious, and willing all at once.  And we exist deep in theirs, if it makes any sense to draw a parallel.  At least, the horse as we have bred it reflects our deepest dreams of what we want it to be—and what, by the same token, we want ourselves to be.

Another writing friend, Sue Bowling, has been blogging about horse color varieties—the variants of palomino, for example: cream, champagne, dark gold, and more.  She gets into the genetic details, the places on the chromosome that change for each color.  For me, thinking of horse colors touches on the dreamlike qualities of horses—the colors have significance to horse owners, they go in and out of fashion—and how we respond to the colors from deep within.  Sam, the fleabitten gray, seems white in winter.  Seeing him looking over the corral fence from the road below, a neighbor girl called him a magic horse.  And Mattie—I blame much of her “issues” on the response some early owner had to her dark coat—the “Fury syndrome,” I call it.  She lived up to the negative expectations some humans placed on her as a big black horse.  I know they’re not really black and white; Sam has flecks of brown and black, and Mattie is really a dark bay.  Still, it’s beautiful to see them together in the snowy corral—the light and dark, yin and yang.

I want to send Joe a bit of what Mattie and Sam give me just by standing in the snow, letting it blanket their winter coats, and letting me lean against them for a while.  I want that magic transformation for him and for us all.


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