Monday, March 02, 2015

Blossom Time

When I was 17, Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston changed my life. I had forever loved books, but none had shifted my perspective so powerfully before this novel; or, to think about it differently, previous to this book, I had not been aware of the work a book was doing on me. The book lifted me off my feet and through a hurricane. I couldn't stop thinking about it for weeks.

Florida (where the book takes place) and California share at least one trait: in parts of both, spring arrives early. In my neighborhood right now, overgrown backyard fruit trees hang over hedges and fences, setting the hilly blocks snowy with petals and metallic with bees. The arsenic-sweet scent of prunus species trying to reproduce soaks into everything. This time of year, when the fruit trees go to it, I can't help but think of the novel:

"It was a spring afternoon in West Florida. Janie had spent most of the day under a blossoming pear tree in the back-yard. She had been spending every minute that she could steal from her chores under that tree for the last three days. That was to say, ever since the first tiny bloom had opened. It had called her to come and gaze on a mystery. From barren brown stems to glistening leaf-buds; from the leaf-buds to snowy virginity of bloom. It stirred her tremendously. How? Why? It was like a flute song forgotten in another existence and remembered again. What? How? Why? This singing she heard that had nothing to do with her ears. The rose of the world was breathing out smell. It followed her through all her waking moments and caressed her in her sleep."

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Soul Food

There are many problems with the book The Telling Room by Michael Paterniti, but there are many greatnesses as well. One such is this, a snippet of philosophy the main character Ambrosio shares that the author tucks away in a footnote:

"I have a litte jar in my cave," he said, "a four-liter jug, the last wine made by a good friend of mine before he died: Joselito. It is now the second anniversary of his death, and I'm always thinking of him. I think of how he might have laughed at this joke, or that moment. Any little thing will remind me of him. And once in a while I want to drink his wine. I want to drink him, not his wine. I take a swig of it, of him, and I put the cork back on him. Maybe someone who hears this thinks I'm off my rocker, but this is what I believe: When I give anything—wine, a tortilla, my cheese—I am inside that. And of all the people who eat what I offer, only a special few realize that there's a spirit present, that there's my love."


Friday, February 06, 2015

Oxalis Redux

One plant I keep coming back to over and over, especially since our move north, is oxalis. I've written about this genus before and how I love its ease as a garden bulb, the way it provides textural foliage interest and satiny color when it blooms, the way some species of it persevere in dry, alkaline soil.

When my in-laws were here a couple weeks ago, the three of us headed over the Golden Gate to wander through Muir Woods. There, matted in jade tufts under the ruddy columns of redwood colonies, one of the California's few native oxalises, Oxalis oregana lives. The leaves of this species make perfect hearts that close in on themselves when too much sun breaks through the redwood canopy. They need the shade, moist fine leaf litter, and climate control of the giants above them, and when they do bloom, their blossoms are shy shells of veined white or palest pink. They're precious plants, lovely and tender.



On another day, we spent the afternoon in Half Moon Bay, just a hop over the spine of the Peninsula from where my husband and I now live. There, dramatic sweeps of the invasive weed Oxalis pes-caprae (aka Goat's Foot, Cape oxalis, and many other monikers) sported carpets of silky lemon blossoms. It's impossible for me to stand among these banks of yellow and not think of Wordsworth and his daffodils, the natural beauty that sustained him in times of pensive solitude.



Here, on the bluff above the ocean, these flowers shine, shine, shine. I know Oxalis pes-caprae is invasive—of it, Bay Area garden writer Pam Pierce writes, "Experienced gardeners say that it is unlikely you will ever get rid of Cape oxalis completely. In fact, some joke the best way to get rid of Cape oxalis is to move." Metaphorically, though, I admire the weed's tenacity and perseverance. It's blooming its head off in a new home, making this foreign bluff a joyful place, something its cousin who stays home in the safe shelter of others cannot do.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

At The Wheel

Adrenaline and adventure drove the first two weeks here. That adrenaline is gone. Despite the fact my parents-in-law were in town for a week, providing company and opportunities to explore our new locale, I have been feeling very sorry for myself the last few days. I've felt alone, missing my communities of friends, coworkers, gardeners, and neighbors. I left behind a house and garden I loved, and right now having a garden again seems out of reach. I've put my name on the community garden wait list. I'm #23. Real estate is very expensive around here, so I don't know when or where we'll buy another home and another yard of our own. Meanwhile, the course of my professional future is murky at best. I know where I'll be working in one month but have no idea where I'll be working in eight months. I miss certainty and rhythm. As a result of all of this, I've had a few teary pity-parties.


This week, I began to take the helm. I found a nursery that will soon become part of my regular stomping grounds. I went to my first class at the local pottery studio and instantly found people with whom I could easily talk. I began to tell people what I want to make out of my life here—to feed a garden and a community and to write—and talking to people leads somewhere. Silence and self-pity lead nowhere, just circling in on themselves, pulling powerfully down, a slow drain of stagnant water.

Because yesterday the sun was bright but not too warm and the hills were calling, Indiana and I hiked the trails of the City of Belmont Open Space, a hike that will soon become a habit. The views are expansive, the trails edged with the good kind of wild, and the hills are steep enough to toughen up this ass of mine. I've needed to kick my own ass.

I'm beginning to feel better.

When my in-laws were here last week, we visited the docks in Sausalito. The houseboats of Sausalito have no plots of land. They have a dock, decks, sun, and people who clearly love plants. These gardens are funny and beautiful, land or no land.



The deck out front of our rental home will be my yard. I have sun and love. I can make my garden here. Now, it's time for me to focus on the community building and writing. Anyone know of a job for someone who can garden, teach, write, and teach how to garden and write?


Friday, January 09, 2015

Lemon


On our last night in the old house, my friend Sarah picked 20 pounds of lemons for us to stow away in our cars for the trip north from the bountiful Meyer lemon tree. The tree was already in place, producing but small and scraggly, when we moved into the house. Our first winter there, I layered 6 inches of partially composted horse manure under the tree. The next year, I built in-ground worm composters (bottomless plant pots with a heavy stone or concrete over each) around its drip line. I cut out dead branches and bathed it periodically to remove smog and critters. The tree took off. It grew wide and tall and dark-green-lush. I had to cut it back twice a year because it wanted to be huger than I could manage. Every winter, it gave me enough lemons to use for every purpose imaginable, to share with local friends, and to send to my parents and friends across the country. This year, thanks to Sarah's faithful help, some of those lemons followed us to our new home.

Most of what I've done since I've lived here is unpack and arrange. Also, I've walked the dog. Other than that, I have made things with lemons: Meyer Lemon Vanilla-Bean Marmalade, lemon curd, roast chicken with a lemon stuffed inside, a very lemony bean salad, Moroccan chicken, lemon salt, lemon poppy seed cookies.

In order to save the fragrance and punch of some of these last lemons, I've made a half gallon of preserved lemons. Preserved lemons are the anchovies of the fruit world—you either love them or you don't. Similar to anchovies, they're very salty, pungent, and a little funky from their slow ferment, and they are used as a flavorant. They're made similarly to anchovies too, packed in salt and their own juices. When I saute kale or chard with garlic and minced preserved lemons, people (not my husband) ask me what makes the kale taste so good (nothing could make kale taste good to my husband). The preserved lemons—along with saffron, ginger, cumin, pimenton, garlic, and olives—are what make Moroccan chicken special, they zip up green veg and salad dressings, and they do wonders in a seafood pasta. By setting that half gallon of Meyer lemons on the basement shelf to ferment for a few weeks before going into the refrigerator, I'm saving the bounty of the tree at our old house for a while longer. Those lemons will grace our meals for the year to come.

Here, at our temporary-for-who-knows-how-long rental house, there is a sad little potted lemon tree already in place on the sunny deck. It needs more soil in its pot, some judicious pruning, and fertilizer. It could use a bath. I bet I can save it. I'm certainly going to try.





Thursday, January 01, 2015

New

Ten days ago, movers packed a truck full with our furniture and boxed goods and headed north. They were to arrive at our new-to-us rental at 10am the next day. That night, our good friends came over and helped us pack our personal items into our cars, clean up the house, and say goodbye. E and I got a few hours of sleep on our old mattress that we dragged out to the curb just before we left for good at 3:30am, racing to get to the rental before the movers did.

It was a dark drive. My husband drove ahead in a pickup. In my little car, our cat yowled the whole night, but we tunneled along through black-dark and into the velvet charcoal of the Tule fog in the Central Valley before dawn. Dawn broke as we rolled over the hills south of the Bay, then we found ourselves climbing up the spine of the Peninsula, and we were here.

It's an imperfect house without a level surface anywhere in the place, but it has some gems: lots and lots of sun that streams in on wood floors, a huge front deck that looks out over rolling hills and treed neighborhoods, a room that will serve as an office for me—an office! The cat has already discovered the joy of floor venting heaters. And our dog, well, this move has been the best possible event for our dog.

The busyness of our move and the temporary living apart of me and E led us to recognize that we couldn't give Indy the time he needed in the interim, so this fall, we sought out a Bay Area dog trainer who focused on aggressive dogs. Indiana lived with this trainer for a month. When he came home to E at Thanksgiving, E had the fence already built in the back yard and had a warm lap waiting for him. The dog that came back to our family was still Indiana, with all of his noble love and loyalty to us, and his desire to crawl into our laps even though he's so big, but without the aggression towards other dogs that made both his and our lives harder. Our rental house has a dog park a few blocks away. In our old life, a trip to the dog park was an impossibility. Now, it's a joy.

There are many parts of this move that told the both of us, even though it would be very hard, it was the right thing, but this better life for a creature that we have loved but imperfectly served since the beginning of his time with us seals the deal. We're home.


Sunday, October 12, 2014

The Reason

It's been quiet here on A Thinking Stomach, and there's a reason for it:

This summer, we learned that E may win a great job; in September, he won it; last week, he moved north to start it.

Ever since the possibility of the move came up I was certain it would happen, so I stopped planning for a fall or winter garden, and started planning on shutting things down. Every step outside to work in the yard now is an effort to clean up, clear out, erase. I'll be here in Southern California for two more months, shutting the ranchito down and selling it, cleaning up our rental property and selling that, closing up my chapter at my school, and in general, transitioning. It's a lot. But, I am enough. 

I'm not ready to write about what the ranchito has taught me in our years here, or to reflect on two decades at my school, but I did want to give you a glimpse of what's going on so you know the reason for the silence. 

It's not an unhappy silence—I'm so excited for the new possibilities the Bay Area will provide the two of us, the new growing climate to learn, the new places to explore—and it's only a temporary silence. A Thinking Stomach is not a place, but a part of me, and it goes where I go. 

This morning, a quiet fog settled over the garden and the canyon. I worked cleaning out a vegetable bed, and dug up the ginger that had grown from the single piece I planted this spring. After pulling it up and handling it's pearly newest shoots, my fingers smelled like candy. This life, even in the midst of change and anxiety, sleeplessness and hard, hard work, is sweet.