Tonight I went to my garden

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Tonight I went to my garden. It was dark. The night falls early here, these days. Not even a scant cup of blue left in the sky, just the passing lights of cars.

So there I was, gathering kale by the fistfuls, approximating which leaves were the right ones to pick. I should have come here in the daylight, I thought, I should have stopped in early, before work. But there is a furtive pleasure in walking garden paths at night, talking to the plants. A few beets were pulled, a leek. What to do with this bed of leeks? I thought of sweet potato vichyssoise, such an ornamented name for such a simple soup. I wondered if one could pickle leeks. I wondered what I would do with pickled leeks. Would they go with the salads I generally eat? Could I make a sandwich with pickled leeks?

Pickles were my first favorite food. I veered toward the briny at an early age, my desire for salt – saltwater, the crunch of a dill pickle, the smattering of salt in soup – starting early, never slaked.

So, pickled leeks seemed about right. But I was ready to go home, with my one leek as a test leek for the pickling. The rest will wait for the right time.

The kale was necessary for my soup, which I wanted to be a thick, rich, beefy soup without the beef.

To make this soup, I cooked cranberry beans till they became tender and sweet. I sauteed mushrooms in olive oil, with minced garlic, thyme, and rosemary. I ribboned the kale, and opened the bottle of cheap red wine. To the beans I added the kale and a nice dose of red wine, salt and red wine vinegar. To the mushrooms, a touch of shoyu. To the soup, the mushrooms. Potatoes and beets, diced up, to the whole pot. Then the tomato paste, for good measure. Is that all? It boils up like a frenzy, then I put it to a thoughtful simmer.

That’s all. It will cook. I will let it age a day, then eat a bowl for lunch, and for dinner, and again, again, till my spoon rings the bottom of the pot.

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lion, fire

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The year is ending, and I am considering these last months. So: a manifesto, a beginning – what to be? What to say? Of this year, of all the years? Of how to live? 

Here’s where I’d start:

I am lion.

I smile wide; I am kind; I am tender. But I am also fire. I am the ache of hunger. I am a coiled wire. The unspeakable has happened, the beautiful has happened.

But I remain steel. I blaze the heat of a seraph’s wings. I am fire. I am lion.

swimming in the desert

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I am in Santa Fe for a MFA residency, a program that has allowed me to spend the last two years delving into craft and mystery and beauty and ferocity and poetry, all with equal intensity. I started the program in Ohio. Now I end it as a Seattleite – but I end it here in the high desert, in a place tucked below mountains, with rain as my timepiece marking the end of the day and the beginning of night.

I am here to graduate. This is my last residency, one I embrace with wistful excitement, looking forward to what is to come and marking what has made this graduation possible. I started swimming again around the same time I applied for the program. With some pauses in between, I’ve continued since then to find myself in the pool. When I lower myself into the water, it is more than fitness, more than regime. It is an active practice of seeking to reunite mind with body, to draw the body along with me in my peregrinations.

When I swim, I think of silt settling on a river bottom. My mind is the silt; my body is the river. The silt is settling down. I am not split apart.

Today was our first full day of the residency. As a graduating student, I had an open day, so I went in search of the nearest pool, walking two and a half miles into the city, making a provisional path for myself beside the busy roads, brushing past thistles and sagebrush.

The kind attendant lent me a lock. I paid four dollars and went into the locker room to change.

For four blissful laps, it was just the same as swimming in Seattle. On the fifth lap, my lungs began to tug along behind me. But I was determined: seventy-two lengths, no more, no less. I made it to thirty-six and switched from freestyle to butterfly. This is the stroke my body loves the most, and it is usually easy to swim for many lengths without a thought. Today, though, I struggled, feeling the lack of air in my lungs, wanting to stop, just wanting to breathe a deep gasp of sea-level air. Instead, here I was in the mountains, enjoying the luxury of a swimming pool in a desert, with its thin air, its bright and open sky. So I didn’t stop. I needed to make the mile.

There’s a metaphor in this, of course. There always is. The practices of poetry and swimming have worked their way through my body. I’m still unraveling what all of this means, but I have a hunch that swimming in the high desert is more than donning a suit and getting into the pool.

Through these last two years in my program, I can see now that I have lapped my way from there to here. I’ve swum away from the girl who didn’t know what to do with the pain in her body and mind, and toward the woman who has found some peace “dropping slow,” and a fierceness in the body to match it.

water & body ii

once : I swam in this bay

once : I swam in this bay

I just finished a swim in the nearby indoor pool.

I am training for an open water swimming race this August. So far, I’ve been in the lake this week. It was just cold and overcast enough tonight to make the indoor pool more appealing. Back and forth, back and forth, in the chlorinated blue – oh, that familiar, artificial blue hue that is so familiar, so comforting, somehow.

And the smells. I grew up with these smells: locker rooms, wet towels, rubber swim caps, chlorine-smoothed skin. These are the smells I archive my childhood by.

I took to the water when I was very young. One thing I certainly owe my parents: they put me in the water before I learned to write or read. Even then, I loved it. I don’t remember that, but these are the stories I was told: I was fearless.

I didn’t want to hold the wall. I wanted to swim.

I think this is still true. I am most myself when I am buoyed by water. My limbs feel as if they belong to me. I am not afraid of anything. All I need to do is kick and stroke. All I need to think is water and arms and legs and craning my neck to the side for my next breath.

I am okay when I am water, for an hour or two. When I slip into my swimmer-self and become someone few friends know.

Yet, for many years after I left my swim team, I avoided the pool. I wanted to hide in the intricate grottoes of my head, rather than live in my skin. I forgot what it was like to swim for the joy of it, rather than for a coach’s dictums. And I didn’t want those dictums, didn’t want the cliquishness that became my overwhelming memory of swim team.

I didn’t want to be a swimmer anymore.

So I stopped. Gave it up.

It hurt. I didn’t know that it hurt until I returned to the pool last year. Then I knew something had been cut away, that I had cut away the feeling of living in my body and simply being present to it.

I swim now because I love the water, because I love the body. Because there I remember what it is to be fiercely alive.

 

‘Make Something Good’

I revisit Laura Veirs every summer. And, every summer, she rings true. Particularly this July, and particularly this song. I don’t think I could find a better song to describe what I want to do with my years. It’s just right.

fruitful

harvest

With a garden of my own that’s big enough to feed me for perhaps the whole year – believe me, I am trying to make this happen – I am relearning fruitfulness.

With two hundred square feet of growing, living things, my life has changed. Rapidly. Now I spend hours every day doing something garden-related.

In this, I am relearning diligence, too, from the daily and weekly patterns of watering, weeding, pruning, and harvesting. Diligence, fruitfulness. Taking care. Taking good care.

Then I come back to my kitchen and spend hours blanching and preparing for the freezer many armfuls of bok choy, kale, chard, and spinach, making a vegetable stock from the remainders that I can’t use otherwise, doctoring a second fermentation of kombucha with the mint and lavender I’ve just harvested, making a salad mix from lettuce, arugula, and chicory.

I stand over a hot stove on a hot day, happy – the fan blowing across my arms and tugging at my hair, my hands busy, in a dance from stock pot to sink to colander to stock pot.

Bending over a garden bed in the hot sun or standing in my kitchen with the day’s harvest, with my body feeling the necessity and strain of good work, I feel as whole as I can be.

This garden has provided a new urgency to my life: the urgency of now. I can’t think about next week’s tasks. I can only think about the need to take care – to tend what is ready to be tended, to create a litany of tasks around this day, this hour, to live with my body alert to it all.

water & body

Tonight's hilltop

Tonight’s hilltop

Sometimes, on a windy day, when I was on the swim team, the pool was rough and choppy. I struggled against the water, bearing my body along, a heavy weight, buffeted like driftwood.

Now, sitting at a desk, wearing a jacket and jeans, I feel my body tugging against me in the same way. I am being carried away from it. I am pushing against it. I am not at ease. The water (the body) is not my home today. The sky is menacing me. The strokes I am making are faulty and weak; I can’t breathe hard enough, can’t turn my head fast enough. I want to move through the world with simple, clean creases in my wake. Instead, the wake I leave is a net of broken lines.

That’s one story I know.

The other is that the pool will silken smooth. I will butterfly for miles.

The other is that I will walk to my garden in silence and fairly glide my way there.

And when I walk up a steep hill, my body is strong, my body rises with certainty to the top.

Slow, sure, these muscles bear me like grace. I must trust them.

the happy hippie

masonjars

I turned up the folk playlist. Turned on the fan. Sterilized a few half-gallon mason jars. And began.

Chard kimchi.

It’s DIY time.

Friends, I have an abundance of greens in my garden. Every day is salad day. Every day is chop-up-some-spinach/arugula/lettuce/chard/bok choi day. Then I add some walnuts or avocado or tomato (I found tomatoes at the farmer’s market yesterday – really huge, beautiful heirlooms!) along with a balsamic basil vinaigrette I put together. Delightful. Really. I could eat salad all summer long.

(Ask me in a month. No, but really.)

So, yes, I have two rows of red and Fordhook chard in my garden. And they’re beautiful: the leaves grow inches every day and curl and crinkle in the sunlight. Fordhook is particularly lovely: the clean white stem with the ripply leaf? Perfection.

Because I am in this garden thing for the long haul, and because I want to appreciate and value its harvest as much as I can, I decided to preserve as much chard as possible by making kimchi – it can then keep for months & I can put it on everything: rice, quinoa, salads, soba noodles.

I can only say, oh, sweet harvest. I have a gallon of kimchi fermenting now.

And I’m turning my hand to kombucha in the latest darkest blue of this June night, since I have all these mason jars and a waiting kombucha mother. I’m on a roll. Let’s keep going.

thinking spot

where i go when i need to think

I go to this shore when I am sad. Or when I am happy. Or when I want to read a book for three long sweet hours. Or when I want to catnap in the sun. Or when I want to walk along the edge of the water and pick up shells and put them back. Or when I want to thinkdream. Or when I want to sail. Or when I have a puzzle to solve. Or when I want to swim all the way across and back. Or when I want to feel the icy water on my ankles. And go in a little more. A little more.

building muscles

garden

Digging dirt is my zen practice of the summer. I have a huge mound. It was eight cubic yards, once. Now it is perhaps three cubic yards. Or four. It looks much smaller than it was, but I have much more left to dig.

Honestly? I love it. This dirt mound is the best thing to happen to me this summer. (Yet. We’ll see.)

The mound becomes – shovelful by shovelful, wheelbarrowful by wheelbarrowful – raised beds on a slope, a perch with a view to the Olympics.

(Stop. Lean against the shovel. Look at the mountains. Breathe. Begin shoveling again. This is my practice.)

I have five beds now. Four are fully planted with all manner of things: a bonanza of greens (spinach, bok choi, chard, Romaine & butterhead lettuces, kale, et cetera), Thai & cinnamon & Italian basils, oregano, lavender, tomatoes, peppers, beets, sorrel, rosemary, cauliflower. Tonight I’m planting the fifth with leeks for next spring.