A Bear, Tomatoes, and an Exercise in Resisting in Metaphor

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A black bear is wandering our small city. Braving the busy main roads, trotting down quiet side streets and into little backyards, finding temporary refuge in the marshes and sparse woods. Two days ago, he was across from my mother’s house, moving so stealthily through the neighbor’s yard, he didn’t even disturb the laundry on the line. He took the beach route to our side of town, must’ve walked right past our house to get to the tennis courts by my dad’s where he was last photographed. He’s a young male black bear, alone, and most certainly lost. I wish he’d stop by our backyard and rest awhile in an Adirondack chair. I’d bring him a stack of toast with butter and jam and a drink of cool water, walk him over to a good fishing spot where the woods meet the marsh, and invite him back when the tomatoes are ripe.

Days of rain kept me from the garden. When the sun finally returned, I went out to weed and see if it was too late to plant cucumbers only to discover there wasn’t an inch of space. The garden is wild with tomato plants, volunteers from last summer. I have only a little tending to do: some transplanting to reduce crowding, a bit of weeding and watering. Sometimes the things we create take on a life of their own. Some growth comes not with labor but with ease.

Before I get metaphorical and compare gardening to writing, I want to pour my Marie Howe collection of observations on the table. If you decided to play along, I hope you’ll leave me a few (or a whole bunch) of yours.

A man, large and bald with thick glasses, sweeps the cafeteria floor near the table where I sit writing, looks at me and asks, “How do you like world war three?”

The boy with the missing front tooth and greasy hair always wears the same grey-brown clothes and sits alone, but at least he has a phone, and today talks briefly–so briefly–to a girl sitting nearby.

The copy machine in the teacher’s room whirs and chugs and spits so loudly, I can practice my poem in full voice without anyone hearing.

My daughter runs across the wet, green grass through the sprinkler and shouts, “Drink, mommy, drink!” I bend down and lower my face to the spray, catching the cold metallic-tasting water that feels somewhere between a tickle and a sting. I shriek with laughter.

Thin clouds gauze over the blue sky. We count two lobster boats, one barge, four sea gulls. Charles Island in the distance.

Tiny 3-year-old feet with chipped red nail polish run through the sand.

I press my nose to the back of my daughter’s head and breathe deep the scent of salt air, sunscreen, and a sweetness that belongs only to her.

The tides comes in and we watch the seaweed–green, brown, red–dance around our ankles.

Evening on the front porch. The swish-swash of the swamp maples waving in the wind. The tink-tonk of the bamboo chime.

The full moon casts a glow over the rippling water. I sit in the wet sand and watch.

 

 

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Fireflies

It’s hectic around here, unlike last week’s staycation mode. But the day’s end is quiet.

Tonight, after I buried the woodchuck who’d been hit by a car, after I watered a section of garden, after I bathed Isabella and got her to sleep, I went outside to call in the cats. As I headed down the yard, I noticed a young deer in the neighbor’s yard. We locked eyes for a few beats, and then I turned away, wanting her to understand I wouldn’t disturb her. I stood in the middle of the yard watching the fireflies, tiny licks of flame everywhere, glowing and fading, glowing and fading.

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Sweet Spot

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The day winds down, groceries put away, cats pawing at the backdoor. The toddler finds her shovel. I hose the hostas and she runs through the spray and a misty rainbow rises. “Mama, put on my garden shoes.” I kneel down before tiny feet and help them into rubber clogs. I fill the big watering can and together we carry it, walking slowly over the bumpy tree roots, water splashing, until we reach the garden, where a few of the tomato plants have fainted away from their stakes. We pour the water slowly. She wanders with her shovel, digging and throwing dirt clouds into the air around us, her wet dress caked with mud. A white butterfly hovers over a marigold and flutters away. Eggplant leaves sway. A fly buzzes. Here we are, inside the day’s sweet spot.

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Cathedral Maple

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On Saturday night at the barbecue, everyone gathered around the picnic table eating, drinking, toasting, laughing. We were serenaded by a live band playing at another party a few houses away. The air was breezy and mild. And upstairs the little toddler slept soundly.

As the night went on, people gravitated toward our old maple tree, the heart of our backyard. At one point, I found my brother-in-law and a friend gazing up into the branches, remarking on the maple’s tremendous height, the careful pruning, its possible age. I told them the story about the open house last year when we first saw the property. I loved the house, but I felt drawn to the backyard. I went out to wander more than once, placed my hand on the old maple’s trunk and promised I would return.

We all sat around the fire sharing conversation beneath the cathedral branches. We hadn’t thought about where to set up the fire, we just ended up there, drawn to the maple’s presence.

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Summer Solstice

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7:00 pm sunlight on the solstice

Sweet Summer Solstice. I went down to the water alone tonight to take in the warm breeze and late light. Listened to the grass whisper and the birds call. A birder shared his telescope with me and I watched a baby tree swallow waiting open-mouthed for his mama, who returned without food, and the baby’s brow furrowed in frustration. Oystercatchers were perched in the distance.

Later, Chris and I went outside to look for the Strawberry Moon and found the first fireflies glowing in the backyard.

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The Garden

In the garden. Late afternoon sun. Shoveling, raking, leveling dirt until my hands blistered. While my stepdad staked the fence. He pointed to the poison ivy I can never seem to identify. He persisted with staking despite all the rock ledge, found the soft earth. And we laughed about a politician, you know the one. He wrapped the wire fence, joining it to each stake, but I never once looked up from shoveling to see how he’d done it. The sun sank into shade. And my mom put on her garden gloves and plotted out the plants and I dug with my daughter’s yellow plastic shovel because I couldn’t find the spade, which isn’t a spade but a trowel. And the spade made me think of A Tree for Peter. Then the trowel was found. And my mom and I planted tomatoes and eggplant and peppers and herbs, and my stepdad quietly persisted with the fence. Until he was finished and sat on a rock to rest. And I didn’t think to get him water. We were digging and patting down dirt. My mom in her straw hat, kneeling at the garden bed, separating the basil, saying, remember we come from pioneers, we have pioneer blood. I had underestimated all the work, but they knew exactly what they were getting into, happily, without complaint. I tromped around in my bare feet, hauling dirt and water, holding the afternoon like a smooth stone, the kind you pocket and find a special place for so you can come back to it again and again, turn it over, catch each fleck in the light.

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In Good Time

One of the lovely things about the first year in a new house is the surprise of all that blooms in spring and summer. Pale purple iris and blood purple iris, the many hostas, the tiger lilies emerging. But there is one section of garden that’s nothing but tall grass. I asked Chris, why would they just plant tall grass there? Let’s clear the grass and plant flowers. So we begin digging some of it up. Then it rains for days. Then the busy weekend arrives. Suddenly the tall grass is abloom with bright pink flowers. There seems to be a lesson here. Let the tall grass alone…we all bloom in our own good time. And sometimes you don’t need to do anything but watch the beauty around you unfold. Thank you for the reminder, dear universe.

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Bright Green Warm Happy


Mid-May sunshine day, green leaf trees, lilacs in full bloom. At least five projects begun but not finished. A small pocket of time spent editing when I should’ve been writing. Toddlers at the water table. Little birds everywhere. And a robin nesting in our cedar tree.

Some days success is measured simply by how patient and present I am with my little one. Bright green warm happy.

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Yellow Rain Slicker: 84/365

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It’s taken me nearly forty years to realize that God invented yellow rain slickers not least of all so that we may create our own sunshine on rainy days.

Digging in the Dirt: 83/365

We wake in the dark at 5:00 am and my head is still heavy with migraine. Toward breakfast the day reveals itself as grey gloom. This is how April always feels, like a big grey headache. Stark branches waiting for green. Strained sun. Mud.

But later on we find organic potting soil and compost on sale and walk out of the store into a bright afternoon.

At home we gather garden tools and I hack at the dirt, clearing old roots and tilling the soil while Isabella digs with her shovel. We leave the back door open. Two cats in the yard, life used to be so hard. They chase birds and squirrels and crouch beneath the arborvitaes and roll in the grass.

It’s not warm out, but Isabella is barefoot, pressing down the dirt with tiny toes. I mix the wildflower seeds with dry compost and rake them into the bed. There are hummus sandwiches, cat chases, a rest on the rock. Dirt on our cheeks and noses and under our fingernails. I find the watering can and fill it. Dig up another bed, plant sunflower seeds, the Mammoth Russian variety, along the side of the house.

Isabella blows bubbles, hair falling across her face, sun streaming through the maple branches, cats leaping after bubbles. She says, “come sit with me, mama” and “I love helping you, mama.” I sit down next to her and she leans against me and we smile into each other’s eyes.

On the back steps, inside this April afternoon, we are tucked in the space of dreams, a flash forward I conjured three years ago in wishes and prayers and daydreams, wondering if it would ever come true. Here we are, together, as if by magic, caked with dirt, smiling. The spectacular ordinariness of us.