Ode to the Smell of Fresh Grass

It’s a few weeks to the end of school and I feel desperate for the day to come when the summer is laid out before me like one giant present to be opened, leisurely, for the month or so I get to call my own.

In the meantime, in order to better teach it to one of my students, I’m reading Dandelion Wine, by Ray Bradsbury. Last week, when I asked her what the book was about, she couldn’t really say, and I couldn’t remember, thus the rereading.

I read this book when I was in my twenties, and now I read it in my last days of forty, and I can tell you that, at 50 pages in, Dandelion Wine is all about being old and understanding the value of being young. It’s about realizing that life is splendid, and also so very temporal, so very subject to the whims of time and trouble. It’s about appreciating what is, savoring and devouring it while it is what it is, before it is gone. Of course, it’s also about summer, that most delicious and fleeting of times.

So, in an ode to the summer that is to come, I give you these lines:

‘Lilacs on a bush are better than orchids. And dandelions and devil grass are better! Why? Because they bend you over and turn you away from all the people and the town for a little while and sweat you and get you down where you remember you got a nose again. And when you’re all to yourself that way, you’re really yourself for a little while; you get to thinking things through, alone. Gardening is the handiest excuse for being a philosopher. Nobody guesses, nobody accuses, nobody knows, but there you are, Plato in the peonies, Socrates force-growing his own hemlock. A man toting a sack of blood manure across his lawn is kin to Atlas letting the world spin easy on his shoulder. As Samuel Spaulding, Esquire, once said, “dig in the earth, delve in the soul.” Spin those mower blades, Bill, and walk in the spray of the Fountain of Youth. End of lecture. Besides, a mess of dandelion greens is good eating once in a while.’

and then:

‘There’s a thing about the lawn mower I can’t even tell you, but tome it’s the most beautiful sound in the world, the freshest sound of the season, the sound of summer, and I’d miss it fearfully if it wasn’t there, and I’d miss the smell of cut grass.’

Fresh cut grass was one of my mom’s most favorite of smells – that and walking across grass barefoot. We still need to buy a replacement lawn mower, but I’ll bet that the smell of fresh cut grass will be one of the things I can count on in the months to come.

I’ve still got thoughts to share about the fire – all the interesting bits I’ve been stowing away – but don’t know when the time will come to write them out. Maybe in that elusive summer that is just around the corner.

Hope you are all enjoying these last days of April.

 

The Burn: The Story I Could Tell

I could tell you the story of the burn, but it seems so boring.

I could tell you how it was a lovely evening – calm, still, warm – and how we’d all played outside, the kids with their cars, the adults with cleaning up wind-blown branches and moving chicken fencing so the hens, for many of their last suppers, could eat crickets and grass and dig in new duff.

I could recall how we almost raked up the old straw that lay under the 4-wheeler, left over from the time in February when we’d tried to nurse an injured calf back to health, but then didn’t. I could confess how it was I who suggested a campfire because we had branches to burn and hotdogs in the fridge that would make an easy dinner.

I could tell you how Andy picked up some of that loose straw and stuck it under branches in the fire pit and how quickly it burst into flame. I could tell you how, even then, I was struck by how combustible that dry straw was.

I could paint a picture for you of how Lilac fed the fire old cardboard boxes we’d cleaned out of the barn and shed, and how she put them on the fire one by one, careful lest the flames get too high. I could explain how, once those were burned and gone, we moved on to old wood and dry branches and then let those burn down so we could roast our dogs. I could tell how the kids eventually lost interest and drifted inside, but how I stayed out, petting Big Kitty Boy, who’d crawled into my lap, and waiting for the fire to burn down.

I could explain how I wasn’t worried about the remaining coals because we’d already raked up all the dead leaves up from around the fire pit and put them in the garden, and because we’d had fires in this pit uncountable times before and never had problems, and because it was a calm evening, with no wind or gusts or breeze of which to speak. I could explain how, as I got up to go inside, I planned on coming out again, just to check on everything, but how, instead, I only went to the door and looked out the window, content to turn around when I saw no obvious flames.

I could tell you how, after topping off the kids’ stomachs, we began the usual nighttime routine, but then how, while I was in the middle of putting my four year old daughter’s nighttime diaper on, one of the kids ran in to say that his dad was saying the shed was on fire.

I could try to explain how quickly things went after that, how confusing everything got, and how debilitated I became by the stress of so much new, unwelcome information. I could tell you how we moved the cars and then shuttled the kids out the backdoor, and how they were in their underwear, without socks or shoes or shirts or pants because they were all about to get into bed. I could try to tell you the order in which things happened, even though I can’t remember exactly what happened when, only that I kept running in and out of the back door, trying to call 911 from a cordless phone while the power line was burning through, taking an odd assortment of jackets to the kids who were standing in the driveway with the neighbors (transfixed by the sight of the shed fully engulfed in flame), running back in to find my spare keys because I could not recall where I’d put my regular ones which I’d used just moments before.

I could try to describe how I went into the front room and used all my will power to calm my mind so I could find my spares, but how hard it was to do because the heat from the fire was cracking and popping the window closest to the fire, and the corner where so many of my most precious things were stored was getting hot, and how, for the first time, I realized that not only was the shed aflame and the barn in danger, but that the house might go as well.

Then I could try to explain how ridiculous I felt doing it, but how I couldn’t help myself from gathering a few things together, my mom’s silver, my wallet of SS cards and passports, my grandmother’s needle points, and a couple of framed pictures of my parents. I could describe how I thought of, but left behind, things like the photo albums, the computer, the money stash, my great-great-who knows how many times great-grandfather’s sword, my grandmother’s sewing T-square ruler, my grandmother’s leather suitcases that were filled with special things, and how I left these things because running around trying to gather them up felt silly and my adrenaline rush was running out, but also because I superstitiously like if I did gather them up I would be accepting the possibility that the house might burn, and I wasn’t able to do that.

I could inform you of how it was a Monday night and the entire Redlands Mesa Volunteer Fire Department was a twenty minute drive away in Hotchkiss, at their weekly meeting; how, because of this, instead of it taking them under five minutes to get here, it took them longer, and in that time the fire leapt from the shed to the tree to the barn and, finally, to the root cellar, but how, because the fire department did arrive and because Andy got a hose on the corner of the house and because we have a stucco exterior and were able to move the cars, we didn’t lose the house.

And then I could count my blessings because, even though we did lose a lot – everything we kept outside – we didn’t lose it all.

I could tell you all this, and so I have, but it’s a story both predictable and common, and is not as interesting to me as other things that I will tell you later.

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The barn, root cellar, and shade tree.

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The remains of the shed and the utility company coming to put up a new pole. DMEA was awesome – our power was back on before noon the next day.

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The firewood pile – the biggest portion of which was stacked on the west side of the shed – closest to the house.

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The barn up close. This was a beautiful log structure, built to last, and still strong and sturdy after who knows how many years. The chicken coop was in the left corner where the wall is still standing. We were able to open their outside door, but could not get inside the barn to shoo them out. Seven hens got out. I tried to call to the ones who stayed inside, but they just sat on their roosts until the ceiling collapsed on top of them. We lost a very gentle rooster and 11 hens.

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Where it all began. The log round on the right still holds the hotdog roasting forks we used to cook dinner. You can also see the rake I used to remove all the surrounding leaves. The door in the right hand corner was stored quite a good distance away, inside the barn.

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Our new, slimmed-down profile.

The corner of the house closest to the shed.

The corner of the house closest to the shed.

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All that remains of a once beautiful old building.

 

The Burn. Part One: My Books

I spent the morning photographing my books, at least what’s left of them. It took awhile, but as I snapped picture after picture of titles and key words that might help me remember what I’d had, I realized that, in some ways, these books have never been more beautiful.

These were not the dross of my book collection. They were in the shed because I’d just moved them out of my old house a couple of months before, and I hadn’t found bookshelves to move them onto in my new house.  Before I moved them, I’d sorted through and sold anything I could bear to part with. What was left was the heart of my collection. Here they are, in their latest incarnation.

 

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From the Southwest Literature collection
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My mom worked in China for a couple of years, so I had a good sized China Section. Most of these got too burned to recognize, but they included The Private Life of Chairman Mao, a great read about Mao written by his private physician.
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I had brought a small sampling of my extensive field guide collection into the house, but I’d left the precious ones – mom’s copies and older guides – out in the shed since they were the ones I was less likely to use and more likely to want to keep in pristine condition.
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This from the good-sized women’s studies section. Never read it, always meant to.
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There was a big box of art supplies and sketch books. These were harder to lose than the reading books, since they truly are irreplaceable. Fortunately, all the fire got was the sketch books. This drawing was done, I believe, by Willow, but most of the paintings / sketches were from my childhood – oils by my brother Steve, sketches by my kid self, colored pencil drawings by mom. Luckily the fire only got the sketchbooks and art supplies – all of my mom’s framed paintings are still in a different storage room down in Paonia.

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I heard Mark Plotkin speak once. He inspired me to go to grad school in Botany. I didn’t last long, but that was because I ended up in a basement herbarium instead of out in the field with the plants. I still love plants though, and had a good collection of botany books from my grad school days.

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I loved the painting on the right, also done by Willow. I always meant to have it framed, but didn’t ever get around to it.
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Strangely, this is one of the most special books that was in the shed, and it is the only one that is salvageable. I’ve never read it, but I remember it being on the bookcase when I was a child and it always appealed to me.
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Part of the reason these books were so special… unlike many things that depreciate with age, books appreciate.

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Another from the China collection. A memoir – well worth reading.
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Found this tucked into one of the books. Maybe I’ll take it to the bank.
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From some yoga training notes. Very apt, I think.
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This is the other ‘most precious’ book. It was the only one that had a bookplate including both of my parents’ names. A small memoir of their time together. The book was called Reading the Woods. I tore out this page, but the rest is ashes to ashes, dust to dust.
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I loved these book plates. From a different person and a different time.

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I loved this copy of Emily Post’s Book of Etiquette. Mostly ridiculous, but interesting all the same.
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Little treasures. My brother Steve and I doodling together.
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Another of Steve’s creations. The phoenix rises.
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This sketchbook largely survived. This one is by mom.
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These are by Steve. I’m the girl on the right. I remember that sweater well.
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One of my earlier drawings. I remember the Roos Bros megaphone so well. It got crushed at some point and lost to time. This drawing brings back memories of things I have loved that are long gone.

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My paisleys to the left, Steve’s oils in the middle, Heather’s Zia on the right.

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This is a strange find. My father’s handwriting with my brother Steve’s doodles. I cannot discern why they are together or what their connection is.
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My mom’s Buick LeSabre. The car is gone, the mom is gone, now the sketch is gone as well. But I have the picture and the memory, so all is not lost.

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Do you see what I mean by beautiful?
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Never read it. Should I?

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Luckily I’d brought most of the kid books into the house, so these were not lost in the fire. The Alice in Wonderland was my mom’s copy when she was a girl.

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The inside page of Eric’s Book of Beasts. A treasure from my paternal grandmother.

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Oh Whitman, I’ll buy you again, no doubt.
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A great grammar book. Damn.

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The insurance company would probably consider the writing in a couple of these books as depreciation. I would disagree.

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This one belonged to Mrs. Omer Rich. My maternal grandmother.
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Just the other night I sat beside a campfire…
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The note on the back says I drew this at age 10.
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One of my mom’s. Perhaps of herself.
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My sister and I, sitting around the table, drawing.

What do I wish? I wish they weren’t gone, but more than that I wish I’d kept a list of them. They’d be easier to replace that way.

Most of all, I wish I’d followed my instinct of a couple months back when I decided to give my collection to Surface Creek Vision’s library. These would have been great resources for the students there, and while one or two may have gone lost, or un-returned, most would have survived to be read, and then read again, enlivening mind upon mind with their wisdom.

Oh well. Live and learn.

Catching Up

Last October 31… The Princess and Her Dragon

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A four-year old’s new birthday kitty – Hilee Sophia

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Spring Forward: Mama cow in the mist

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Our first calf loss, if you don’t count the twins that were stillborn a week early, was a bull who was headbutted by a one year old steer while its mama was off for a drink of water.

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The kids and Sara and Sierra observe the still warm calf.

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Nuts…

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No nuts.

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Oak Mesa on a Brilliant January day

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Untrammeled Snow in the Chainings

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Fall back: What we ate off this winter. The cellar wasn’t warm enough though, and we lost a good deal of our squash.

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Kitties in chairs – the black on is Sylvester Mountain Philo – depending on who you ask. We have him because you can’t get just ONE kitten.

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The girl with her girl.

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The boy at six.

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His cannon.

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Outside on a snowy day.

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In his first play.

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What remains of my mom’s dishes. The first is a 2 piece set I remember from my childhood. The second, the two white plates, are from her first marriage. The brownish ones are from her third marriage, and the blue and brown are from her fourth.

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One of the benefits of living rurally – I found this set at the thrift store for $25. Just looking at them makes me happy.

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That’s it for now. Hope the winter has treated you well.

Blossom Valley Needs Nectar

Dear Folks,

I’m posting today to share with you an Indiegogo campaign that is near and dear to my heart.

Both of my kids attend the Blossom Valley school, and we are one of the families that receives financial assistance, even though the school is hardly able to give it. W and Lj love their schools and their teachers. W brings home artwork that is nothing short of astounding, and Lj sings me a new song just about every week. These may seem like small things, songs and drawings, but I know these kids are being educated on such a deep level that their strengths are being nurtured. I have no doubt that, given the opportunity to keep going to this school,  they will continue to love learning even when they’re bringing home quadratic equations to solve and sentences to diagram.

I don’t like asking for help, but it appears that our little school needs it. I hope that, if you are able to give, you will consider donating to this worthy project.

With Many Thanks.

http://igg.me/at/blossomvalleyschool

Woman Enough

I’ve been in a bit of dry spot when it comes to writing lately, so I figured it might be a good time to pick up a couple of those writing books that have been gathering dust on one bookshelf after another for more years than I can remember.

Tucked into a little book called Writers on Writing, I found an essay by Erica Jong called My Grandmother on My Shoulder. She speaks to the female writer’s particular need to kill the parts of themselves that interfere with their writing. “Every woman artist has to kill her own grandmother. She perches on our shoulder whispering: “Write nice things. Don’t embarrass the family.” But “nice things” are rarely true things. The truth about human beings is rarely “nice.””

Inside the essay Erica includes a poem she wrote about the dilemma. I share it with you on a Friday morning, as many of us women, and men, prepare to meet the weekend by catching up on housework. Maybe it will give us reason to think twice about devoting our free time to houses, instead of to ourselves.

Woman Enough

Because my grandmother’s hours
were apple cakes baking,
& dust motes gathering,
& linens yellowing
& seams and hems
inevitably unraveling
I almost never keep house
though really I like houses
& wish I had a clean one.

Because my mother’s minutes
were sucked into the roar
of the vacuum cleaner,
because she waltzed with the washer-dryer
& tore her hair waiting for repairmen
I send out my laundry,
& live in a dusty house,
though really I like clean houses
as well as anyone.

I am woman enough
to love the kneading of bread
as much as the feel
of typewriter keys
under my fingers
springy, springy.
& the smell of clean laundry
& simmering soup
are almost as dear to me
as the smell of paper and ink.

I wish there were not a choice;
I wish I could be two women.
I wish the days could be longer.
But they are short.
So I write while
the dust piles up.

I sit at my typewriter
remembering my grandmother
& all my mothers,
& the minutes they lost
loving houses better than themselves
& the man I love cleans up the kitchen
grumbling only a little
because he knows
that after all these centuries
it is easier for him
than for me.

© Erica Mann Jong

 

On Not Growing Up

On April 24 I wrote a draft post called: To Blog or Not To Blog. It’s a concept I’ve been toying with for quite awhile. I can’t decide if it’s a waste of precious time or a valid writing exercise. Until now I’ve been erring on the side of it being the first. That, and, due to the recent content of the blog, it’s gotten so personal that mostly I just don’t feel comfortable any longer with all the public sharing. When I do make the effort to blog I tend to regret it, but when I don’t, I watch as good posts blow away in the winds of time and forgetfulness.

I also haven’t been feeling all that prosaic lately either, which makes writing these feel like too damn much work.

But here’s one post I have no doubts about.

I set aside yesterday to being present for my son and daughter. I traded off helping my son rebuild the ginormous dinosaur-centric lego set his dad gave him for his sixth birthday with being there for my daughter in the ways she wanted. One time that meant that I read to her. Another time we did the role playing game she likes to play with her brother, where she’s the baby, he’s the brother, and, since I was playing today, I got to be the mama. (I know, a big stretch from our everyday roles, but for some reason it’s loads of fun for her.) Today playing “Fleets,” as they call it, I tucked her in to sleep, then she and W took turns being the baby/kid who sleep walk out of bed and then have to be chased after, picked up, and returned to the bedroom to be unceremoniously dumped on the bed before being re-tucked in and told to go back to sleep before it begins all over again.

On Lj’s third turn though, she decided what she wanted to do with her time with me was to write a list. I gave her pencil and scrap paper and took to shelling peas while she wrote alternating A’s and I’s while she spoke aloud all the things she wanted to do  in the morrow. Less than a minute into her list I searched out pen and paper myself. I didn’t write down all the things she said, but I got a good sampling.

Lj’s list of things to do tomorrow:

go for a walk

play a game

have fun

eat dinner

find bunny rabbits

find elephants

catch flies

look at frogs

make some cereal

play hide n’ seek

jump on the trampoline

watch a moonie – everybody, not just the kids

look at leaves

go and look at stuff

go to the money shop and get some money

go to the toy shop and get get some toys

 

This is the child who regularly states that she never wants to grow up. You know what? She may have a point. I always think: “Why not grow up? That’s when you get to do what you want to.” But today I’m reevaluating that belief. I mean, look at what kids do when they get together. Do they sit in hard back chairs at the table and talk about politics? No, they jump on the bed and have pillow fights. They race each other out to the trampoline. Occasionally they take off their clothes and run around the house naked.

They know so little shame and so few boundaries. It can result in chaos sometimes, but at core, it is a beautiful thing.

I wish I had Lj’s taste in a good time. My life would be so much better. I would have so much more fun, be happier, and find myself much less stressed out. I would likely have longer telomeres protecting my DNA and helping me to live a longer life. (Can Your Genes Predict When You Will Die? Jan 2013 Smithsonian).

Tomorrow we will cross out as many of Lj’s July 15 Bucket List Entries as we can, while also tending to the necessities of life.

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