Thursday, May 28, 2015

Nature vs. Tidy: score, Tidy, 1, Nature, 0

Having endured, in the past nine months, the sale of three houses on three of the four sides of my house, today this question came to mind: what is the compulsion, in prepping a house for sale, to lay waste to the landscape? I'm talking the buzz-cut approach, which involves lopping, shearing, truncating,  shaving, slashing, scraping, scalping, amputation, massacre, vacuuming. Generally done at the lowest price possible by day laborers, who, bless their hearts, don't know their bindweed from their borage.

I posed this question to the crew at work, and these were some of the responses:

1. The house should look tidy.
2. The yard should look clean.
2. Prospective buyers may not want a lot of yard maintenance. 

But I think this goes deeper into our psyche as a culture, this "tidy" obsession we seem to have to sweep/pluck/prune. Control over nature — well, duh, yeah. The ol' slash'n'burn approach, show Nature who's in charge.

But it also seems tied to the almighty dollar, that to get the most $$$ from a property, it must appear to be "clean", that nature is, in some way, unclean. Of course, we love "nature" in a forest, but god help us if we allow nature to encroach upon our front yards.

Anyway, here's my formula:
Trimmed = clean.
Lush = dirty.
(And also, lush = fecundity = bad = sex.)
Does any realtor worth her commission want to show a house that, on a subliminal level, is all about sex?

Is it really this simple?
But doesn't sex sell nearly everything in this culture? Cars? Clothing? Dessert?!

Before the first of these houses went up for sale last fall, a guy with a mower laid waste to the beautiful vinca in the yard next door, which, besides being very healthy and abundant, provided some privacy to the view of my back door. Obsessively tidy yard! Clean!

And now, this spring, the new homeowner has fallen in love with all the vinca that's making a vigorous (glorious!) comeback. Go figure.

I know, it's not all this simple. But to witness this razing of the landscape so acutely, it certainly gives one pause.
Stump and Steps
(Notice, my steps aren't swept, and my stump has fungus growing on it. Yay!
Fungus = a healthy ecosystem.)

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Assault from the East

I came home from work today to discover that my neighbor, who is selling his house, hired a yard maintenance crew to clean up his yard (with which he's done nothing for the duration of his ownership) and in the process, they ripped out dozens of my plants from my garden, and butchered three shrubs (lace-cap hydrangea, camelia and forsythia) that were planted against my house.


The forsythia was planted by my late husband, and it's taken me many years to prune it to grow up and over the narrow pathway between yards, perhaps crossing the property line by a few inches. Now it's a bunch of hacked-off spikes. (Hours spent just this spring getting it back into shape. HOURS.)

My columbine, my centaurea, my blue cranesbill and my alstromeria: all gone. My beautiful kiwi vine: butchered.

At first I was spitting angry, then I just wanted to cry. Thank the gods I have this venue in which to vent!

I've already drafted a bill to present to him, but no sum of $$ will get me back my plants that I've cultivated and nurtured for 28 years.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Sunday Morning: What We Talk About At Breakfast

You take some charcoal. Burn some branches or pieces of scrap wood that's in the garage. Burn it in the little fire pit out back. Anyway, take the charcoal and smash it or grind it up until it's powdery. Use a hammer if you want. Use something.

Put it in a bucket.

Get a rotting fish. The fish market on Rainier will give you one for free, something that they can't sell or that's just going to go into the food waste. Maybe just some heads.

Add the rotting fish to the charcoal.
Add water.

Let sit for a week.
Ignore the neighbors.
Do you really care if it stinks?

Puree the whole thing into a slurry.
Et voilà.
Fish fertilizer.

Slop a few tablespoons of it into your watering can, fill it up with water, and there you have it.
How much money did you spend?

Thursday, May 21, 2015


Now that the vegetable garden is in (two rows of filet beans)
my weekends days begin to ease (onions, garlic).
I may forego the hose (six staked tomatoes)
and instead lug an old water can (hill of cucumbers)
from spigot to spaded soil (hill of zucchini).
Not a bench, but an upended log (pumpkins, parsley)
for garden meditation (scattering of carrots).
If I'm lucky, the cats will sit with me (cosmos, lemon gem marigolds)
and my days will be anchored, grounded by this humble patch of earth.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Not Quite Nature

At dusk I walked along the water's edge and saw two herons, one young eagle, and a goose family: the usual suspects.






tucked away in some bushes........

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Every spring I stumble upon a bed of peonies that makes my knees buckle.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015


A shift in the roll-call, and we've been thick in the middle of new-hire interviews. I've skimmed the Craigslist responses, plucking out what seem like possible candidates from the expected druff, from the "I believe I am the best candidate for your studio assistant position." Blah blah blah. Cut and paste, resumés that relate in no way to our job listing. We're looking for immediate hire and possible long-term commitment; how does I'll be in Seattle for two months beginning in July fit the bill? Delete delete delete, etc.


I find the interview process, from the employer's standpoint, to be excruciating. To watch these young'uns tremble and quiver in M.'s and my presence just about unravels me to a single thread.

What I want to tell them is this:
"You know, it's all gonna be just fine. Here, let me make you some lunch. Would you like a cup of coffee? Tea? You are going to be fabulously successful! [Just not here.] You will find the perfect job, make sufficient money, find the apartment you most desire — everything — everything you seek will be yours!"

One young man today didn't seem to be able to find the door. What ensued was a comical (to us) back and forth from front door to back door, down to the sidewalk to, what? Look for yet another door? And us running back and forth from one end of the house to the other shouting out the door hello? Hello? Until he finally poked his head in the window, where we (but not him) burst out laughing at the absurdity of it all.

He finally figured it out, but seemed particularly shaken. (This is where my do you want a sandwich? clicks in.)

Well then.

I'm exhausted.

The new girl, I mean, woman, starts tomorrow at 10am.

Here we go again.
Step one of How to Mary-Melinda Your Glass in 10,739 Easy Steps.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Working in a Distillery in Labrador

My neighbor is selling most of her stuff, spread out across her tiny front yard like a life-museum exhibit: bike, lamp, boots. She's 38, single, tried to buy the little cottage she's lived in for seven years, but ran into a glitch, the owner (not my favorite person) wouldn't budge, and she's gotta be out by next Saturday. All this so quick.

I'll miss her, flat out.

Miss her gregarious nature, her boisterous guffaws, her generous neighborliness. Miss the sound of her music floating up to my second story bedroom when she has lawn parties into the night. Yeah, we're facebook friends, but that's different, you know?

Like I said, it all came down very fast, when she was fairly certain the sale was going to go through. She told me it's all pretty surreal, unreal, she loves it here on this street and doesn't want to go.

The rug's been yanked out from under her, and it feels like stepping off a cliff. Takes a little while to realize that there's only about an inch of air between her feet, the missing rug, and the floor. At some point: the soft thud back to earth. When the shock wanes, she'll check for missing body parts and realize that they're all still present.

Off to a new life.

It's warm out today, and all this sudden-moving stuff was swirling about in my head, when I suddenly thought about my late husband — Mark — and how on an early warm spring day, he'd get out a pair of too-small shorts and t-shirt and stretch himself into them to accommodate his annual winter weight gain. Good god it really bugged me. And for a moment (I was pulling out of the cramped parking lot of the fruit stand), the memory of this crushed me. I thought of his knees, for god's sake, his legs in their ultra-white coming out. And I missed those ridiculous short shorts. They were blue. I hated them and there I was missing them. A pair of shorts. A husband. Pulling out into traffic, my heart with that burning ache that can come on out of the blue, out of a blue-sky day when I'm not expecting it.

And I thought about my life eleven years on, about the friends I treasure most now, who were never a part of that previous life. Thought about that next blip of a marriage — that one that ended so suddenly and sent me reeling in much the same way my friend next door is reeling. How, without warning we get shifted into a new square on the game board and we want to shout But it wasn't my turn!

After the hundreds of dreams I've had where Mark shows up without explanation, sheepishly, and won't answer my queries, finally this week he did answer up to the long absence, and this is what he said:

I've been in Labrador. Working at a distillery. With fifteen other men. We lived in tents.

Well damn if I didn't wake up immediately, with about a million additional questions that of course must go unanswered. Who goes to Labrador? (If you're not up on your Canadian geography, it's the northernmost region of the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, has a population of around 26,000 people, and is home to the indigenous Inuit of Nunatsiavut, the Inuit-Métis and the Innu.)

I think the last time I thought about Labrador was in 5th grade. That's 46 years ago. WTF?

How long must I wait for a few more details? 

(And I'm going to miss my neighbor.)

Sunday, May 3, 2015


I sat out on my balcony tonight for the first time this year, dragged a wooden chair out and ate chocolate-covered pretzels and started a new book, The Painter, by Peter Heller. Just warm enough, and just enough light. There was this crow — perched up on the peak of the neighbor's garage — he'd been trailing me all day as I worked out in the yard. Couldn't figure out what it was he wanted, but as I raked up the vinca clippings from the driveway, he picked around in the leavings, just behind me. When I spoke to him (her?), he swooped up to the telephone line and watched me. He's often out when I dig in the vegetable patch, always in my wake, looking for something. Have I missed some shiny trinket? Is there one buried that, if I'm lucky, will reveal itself? A friend recently unearthed a gold and opal ring while working her garden. This bird sparks my curiosity. What does it know that I don't? —much, I am certain. And if I find some buried gem, I'll think I'll offer it to my black-winged companion. There is nothing I need that wouldn't fare better clutched in a crow's beak.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Solo at the Soirée

It's awkward — walking into a party alone when the only people you know are the hosts. Ack. Introductions, everyone else cozily coupled. The din at a level that makes it difficult to hear conversations, and conversations with complete strangers are difficult even with the best acoustics.

So I filled a plate with food (the requisite crudités [rainbow carrots, cauliflower, broccoli-ettes], the expected hummus, the bowls of whole grain & seeded chips, the goat cheese display), grabbed a hard cider and sat down in the middle of a group of people and made small talk. Very small talk, that seemed to go nowhere.

How's the water situation in San Diego?
Are these windows original?
Which of you are siblings?
Have you tried the baba ganoush?

I like parties.
I like people.
But going it alone can be daunting, and after an hour of chattery fits and starts (was I making any sense?), I made my exit, slipped off up the alley and headed home as the evening was cooling, past lilacs just past their prime, beneath bowers of mountain ash whose fragrance careened me back decades to the back yard of my childhood home, and the woods beyond, nettles beginning to line the path, fiddlehead ferns unfurling in the shadows as I sighed home, home, home.