Saturday, July 05, 2008


Gardening Solace

Last year I spent about 6 weeks caring for my mother after she broke her ankle in three places while looking at flowers in Japan. My father called to tell me that he had food poisoning and would not be able to meet her plane in San Francisco to take her to surgery. So, I flew off from New York to meet her. It made me tear up to see this little frail woman wheeled out of customs in a wheel chair with her foot in a cast. She was in pain.

That was also the summer that a very well known publishing house you have heard about rejected my novel after first raving about it. I still have the editor's voicemail. This proceeded to happen about three times. Let that give some of you writers out there a dash of hope. Sometimes life is about not giving up. Nonetheless, I cried myself sick.

But I digress. At any rate, I found myself in California last summer--much as I do this summer--and since I hate the New York heat, I can't say that I completely minded (though this summer I'd rather have my father back--hey is this "bargaining?"). All the same, I felt very sorry for myself last summer, and I learned that gardening can be a wonderful solace. (I would like to say that I do not feel sorry for myself this summer at all. I can feel sorry for myself over small things. Large things just send me into action.)

My parents have always had a tremendous garden, the kind of place that people walking their dogs liked to include on a daily trek to see all the flowers and plants. And vegetables. And fruit. Because, while it has become very common for people around here to hire other people to plan and take care of their gardens, my parents liked to look after their own. I grew up taking care of the less glamorous aspects of gardening--weeding (and more weeding and more weeding), and trimming dead flowers and picking ripe vegetables. My father got to do the landscaping and planning, which meant he got to draw little pictures and employ loud and frightening machinery, while my mother disciplined everything into growing correctly.

No one was tending the garden much last summer. This bothered my parents. So, out I went with clippers to tend the dahlias and roses; the latter require a particular pruning method which, I was startled to learn, I hadn't forgotten. And you know, it's nice to work in a garden. You put in a certain amount of effort, and beauty is thrown back in your face. This is nice when compared to the vagaries of the publishing world where, you can put in a certain amount of effort, and no one may care about beauty at all.

This morning we sat out on the patio and had a breakfast of home-made sushi, and lemon meringue pie (made by yours truly). The first plums are ripening, so we also had some of those. Then I sat back and did some knitting. A couple of squirrels fought over a branch on a neighboring pine tree. Hummingbirds fought over a feeder. If those birds spent less time fighting, they would haven't to refuel so often.

Good friend Kaytie arrives tomorrow and I picked more lemons to have a pie ready for her.

My mother says that my father worried earlier this year that the lemon tree had too much fruit. "Don't worry," she said she told him, "Marie is coming and she always uses up the lemons." Now we are worried that I have almost used up the all the ripe ones. Fortunately, more fruit is waiting to ripen.

Also on the menu tomorrow for Kaytie's breakfast, are pancakes made from ollalieberries, picked from the garden. I tried to give some berries to a neighbor who said: "I just went to Whole Foods and bought some organic raspberries." This made me wonder. Do we, as a people, not understand what "organic" actually means? Do we think that "organic" from a store is just another way of saying "good"? My mother replied, "Our berries are organic." Because, duh, organic means grown in a garden, the way our berries are, and not sprayed or pesticided or nothing.

I finally packed some of our berries in an old plastic container I found in the tupperware closet. Thus packaged, the berries apparently looked "organic" and were accepted as a gift. It is sad how much packaging has taken over our lives that we need it to convince us to eat something.

A whole generation is going to grow up not knowing where food comes from. Is this okay? I'm not sure it is. Somehow I suspect it adds to neuroses. And eating disorders, that plague of the developed world.

Last summer, while caring for my parents, my father kept saying, "Please pick the berries. Don't forget the berries." And, with his voice in my head, I have dutifully been picking berries and making the occasional pie. Okay, maybe my pie making hasn't been occasional. I've been maniacal. I've made 6 pies. I'll make another one tonight.

And, since I am whining and raging, let me just say that while our food industry has made some progress in raising and shipping strawberries and tomatoes, I still refuse to eat store-bought plums. It's just, once you've grown up watching plums ripen from your bedroom window, and run out to eat the very first one that turned purple, nothing from a store tastes as good. The flesh is hard, the skin is thick and the flavor forgettable. So it was that every year my parents spoiled me and packed up egg cartons with plums and sent them across the country to me to eat.

My mother said she simply couldn't stand to eat the plums all by herself, knowing that I wasn't getting to eat them too.

That is love.

The photo below is for Maud, who understands my feelings regarding plums. I will try to bring some back to her when I finally go back to NYC. In the meantime, you can see how these burdened branches are doing their best to ripen their fruit.

Kaytie is arriving just in time to help us with the plums.

And hot on the heels of the purple plums, are these white ones. My parents have had this tree for a number of years, but this is the very first crop ever. It was my father's idea to plant a white plum tree. Sadly he did not get to eat the first crop.

Up next after all these fruits are apricots:


and figs.

By fall, we should have persimmons.

Hopefully we will also have walnuts which, in case you don't know, are actually the pit of a greenish fruit that grows on this handsome tree. My mother made a little attempt to "fix" a branch, while Angus watched from afar.

A moment later, Angus rolled around in the dirt. When he came in for the evening, my mother cleaned him off with a damp washcloth, which turned brown.

We're eating some fish for dinner which does not come from Whole Foods, but which a local fisherman caught and sold to us directly (and legally, of course). We're also going to have more home-made sushi. It was hard for her, but my mother wanted to prepare the sushi yesterday for the 4th of July, which we both think of as my father's holiday, as he was the one of the three of us who was the most American. Well, by birth I mean. And language. And culture. In that stereotypical way.

In all of this, I have a few things to say, just one of which I will share on my blog.

I have never--nor do I now--think of myself as the child of two people who were ill. How could I possibly see myself that way when surrounded by so much goodness? I still see myself as the child of two people committed to beauty. I doubt that picture will ever change.

I'm almost there...
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