Of bulbs and bubbles

The first day of the early dark. Since it wasn’t quite raining, Ada and I planted the last of the tulips. The bulbs have languished on our front porch for several weeks; a couple of  them had gone spongey and a few had shriveled and furred out in powdery crystals. We planted the spongey ones just in case and put the crystallized ones in the compost. Ada admired the sleek russet jackets of the healthy bulbs and made herself a collection of the skins that peeled off. The box recommended a 7″ hole, which was a real ask as I scrabbled amid the roots with the slim little blade of my grandmother’s trowel. I gave up at about 5″ deep and let my daughter use her tiny hands to nestle the bulbs into their narrow burrows for the winter. I hope the tulips will not be divas about their shallow beds. There’s no room in my haphazard gardening for divas.

Every so often I descend on the perimeter of my home in a burst of energy, grubbing up clots of wild geranium, digging out an invasive common pokeweed—which sounds drab and unassuming but is actually so fantastic in appearance (enormous leaves, red stems, showy white flowers, shiny aubergine berries) that I’d just been watching it all summer to see what it would do next. My friend Barb finally identified it and warned me it was toxic, so I donned full battle array and menaced it with my clippers and shovel before it could drop too many of those berries. But I am an inconstant gardener. The plants I feel most affection for are those that fend for themselves: the Pieris japonica, the lace-cap hydrangea, the anonymous white rose that climbs up the southwest corner, the native redcurrant, the Japanese anemones. The hydrangea and the rose do get an annual pruning, and it will have to happen early in case a window of dry weather should appear, and with it the house painters. A week of dry weather this month is about as likely as a week with no tantrums, so I’m not holding my breath, but I’m going to be prepared all the same. Ada wrote a charming four-year-old autobiography and drew our house complete with its patchwork of red, grey, and brown paint swatches on the south wall. It may well look like this until spring. Sorry, neighbors. It will come right eventually…

My days are a headlong dash of job juggling, school juggling, and haring off across town after things like pendant lights and the right waterproof paint for the leaky basement. I do my knitting in bed—I can feel Carson Demers’s glove across my cheek—or sometimes in the car during nap time. Today Jolly snored serenely through the Prairie Home Companion joke show while I worked a fingerless glove all the way from the thumb gusset to the bind-off row, which would have been a real victory if I could just figure out how to replicate my bind-off for the first glove. After the second ripping my boy woke up and that put paid to progress for the day.

Now I’m home from singing All Saints’ evensong—a Brewer Magnificat & Nunc Dimittis, Schütz’s “Selig sind die Toten,” a Kievan burial chant. I like evensong. It’s a beautiful word and a beautiful service; it feels worthwhile to gather the mind into calm focus and summon up the energy to sing well at a weary hour. The children are asleep, although Jolly sang a goodly chunk of the Music Together canon to himself in his sweet baby soprano before finally nodding off. I’m surrounded by piles of laundry and voting paraphernalia, trying to decide whether a modern-day feminist should embrace an equal rights amendment that’s 90 years late or take umbrage at the implication that she’s not already covered by the standard set of guarantees to citizens. (My voter’s pamphlet offers no arguments in opposition—apparently no one wants to come down publicly against rights for women. Some progress, at least. Brown people driving cars are not nearly so fortunate in this voting cycle.) On this day of honoring the beloved dead, I’ll fill a belated bubble on behalf of my grandmothers. I’m sure the one with the trowel was fierce on the ERA in her time. I’d let my equality-obsessed daughter do the honors with the blue pen if it didn’t constitute elections fraud and if she could be trusted not to fill in all the bubbles.

Bulbs in the dirt. Ballots in the box. What will emerge out of the mud when the days lengthen again? Weeds, mostly. But, with any luck, notes of beauty and hope as well.


Riding (1 of 7)

When we’re up home, as I will always call my childhood island, the thing my kids are most excited to do isn’t to play at the beach or take the ferry. Apart from seeing their grandparents, they most want to go to Charly’s and ride horses. This is where I spent a staggering percentage of my youth: in these rolling fields, in this old orchard, up in those woods. It’s no fancy riding stable, only a simple corral and a rustic shed to house the tack—if the door is latched you simply scramble in by the glassless window—and a couple of shed roofs to tie the horses under for shelter while grooming them. The barn swallows loop in and out. The paddock is fenced with branches pruned from the fruit trees and dropped from some of the big maples over many years. Here I learned how to stick on a horse and also a great deal about kindness, empathy, awareness, and balance. Charly is mostly retired and doesn’t teach many young riders now, but she has open arms and bowls full of cherries and strawberries picked from her garden for any of her pupils who find their way back with fervent little starry-eyed equestrians in tow.

Riding (3 of 7)Riding (4 of 7)

I’m chuffed at my girl’s easy way on a horse. She’s timid, or at least cautious, about physical risks, but she can’t wait to get aboard a great tall horse and trot around, keeping her head up and her back supple. No hands? No problem. And she’s attentive rather than assertive, which I like to see in a young rider.

Riding (5 of 7)

Riding (2 of 7)

Jolyon was not to be left out. His face got a little scrumply when he learned he couldn’t ride Chocolate, the pony of my first adventures, or Koprina, the fiery half-Arab mare who figures in so many of the stories the kids clamor to hear again and again. But he reconciled himself to Not Chocolate and sat proudly and independently astride.

Riding (7 of 7)

Kisses to ask her to walk on… and one for Mama, too.

Riding (6 of 7)

It’s good to circle back and savor old pleasures through new experience.

Swishy swashy

SculpturePark7-14 (2 of 16)

SculpturePark7-14 (5 of 16)

They never just opt for the mown path, these two. A sea of grass so tall it stirs the sky overhead? In we go. I like that about them. Luckily the little one has his trailblazer, his native guide, his St. Bernard come to rescue him from the drifts.

SculpturePark7-14 (4 of 16)

SculpturePark7-14 (3 of 16)

She’s a stand-up sister, this one. As I write it’s half an hour after bedtime and she’s invited him into her bed to read nursery rhymes. I can hear her teaching him how to clap “Pease Porridge Hot.” It’s too charming to interrupt, even though I should really go in there and sling a little thunder. I hope they’ll carry some imprint of these early days together even if they don’t recollect anything distinct. Warm evenings barefoot in the clover outside, picking pole beans and eating them before they reach the table, calling back to the fledgling nuthatches in the apple tree, picking most of our sweet neighbors’ berries, lying feet to feet in the hammock or taking turns to swing each other. “Ada! Cookies!” Jolly proffers two fistfuls of bright geometric foam tiles. She’s wriggled under the kitchen island for Hide and Seek, but she stretches forth an arm to take them. “Oh man! Jolly made me cookies!” “Pee-TEND, Ada. Not real. Not eat them.” Oh, but that’s the real stuff, isn’t it? Boxing up the kitchen before demolition guys turn up to begin our addition and writing grant applications and grading patterns should also be real, but shhhh. I’m pretending there’s just this tranquil summer sweetness for a few more fleeting moments.