Thursday, April 22, 2021

"Nature is Everywhere"

When I was ten years old, we lived in aparment two, Alvarado Road. It was a large complex, near a university, on a freeway frontage road. Next to the apartments was a vacant field, and a gas station. As often as possible our Mom took us to beaches, or to the local mountains, a county park. Today, those places are like going home. I think it's fair to say my brothers are as nostalgic about Julian, Dos Picos, the Bay, and Cove, as I am. The roads are familiar, the destinations dear. We loved being out in nature, exploring, paddling in the water, or scrambling over boulders, making trails. Back home,our two bedroom apartment had a very small enclosed patio, lots of winding sidewalks, a "rec" room, where Bill became incredibly adept at playing pool, for a 7 year old. We could also use the swimming pool, which was easily a favorite part of living there. Between buildings, along the sidewalks, was landscaping... carrotwood trees, agapanthus, asparagus fern (hideous stuff). Some of the apartment entries were planted with Schefflera, and I felt sorry for those Australian transplants, stuck growing in cramped quarters, where they had to stoop and bend beneath the over-hanging roofs of the second stories, with Heavenly Bamboo ("Highly popular in the landscape, one of the toughest and most adaptable plants,") encircling their trunks. To this day, I cringe when I see landscaping of nandina, Schefflera, and especially asparagus fern. It took me a long time to appreciate agapanthus, to not feel begrudging, and the same with butterfly irises, and bird of paradise. In California all of those plants were ubiquitous with apartments, rentals, and tough gardens kept by tough landlords.
Before Apt 2, we lived in a rental house in Oceanside, and before that we lived at three different houses in Ramona. Ramona is where our Mom gardened. Where I watched my mother blossom, growing rhubarb, squashes, strawberries, keeping chickens, raising calves, feeding everyone, and always impressing me because she knew the names of flowers. Ramona is where I awoke to nature. Nature. In the small house, where I walked to kindergarten, and to Woodward's, the feed and tack store. The house where we had bunnies, who had bunnies, where I made mud pies and baked them in a scrapped oven, planted sunflowers, bought Chick-o-sticks and candy cigarettes at the ReXall on Main and 7th Street. When we moved to the house off Highway 67, there was room for chickens, and those calves, and exploring out back, up into scrub, oaks, and granite boulders. There was room to run with a kite, to chase a dog, and get dirty, to eat from the garden, and stalk rabbits, to ride the Big Wheel down the rain rutted trail that dropped down, at a wild grade, for small, adventurous, daring children. We moved from this home to the red house with the big trees, a basement, room for a pony, and cats, where we could coax the toads to climb out of their holes, find horny toads, and trap-door spiders, where bats got into an attic crawl space, and even the grown-ups wanted to sit on the swings... the same swings that inspired me to ask for a big swing of our own, here at our Bird House. Next to my bed was a window that popped open, and had no screen, and within reach were the branches of a large shrub that grew all the way up to that second floor. I nibbled on the berries, whatever they were, that grew on the bush. They were garnet red, crisp on the outside and sort of spongy and pale inside. They were only slightly sweet. (Wow. The Internet is amazing. I only had to do a few rounds of searching to discover what I was eating. No one else ate them, and I was almost secretive about them, and never sure what they were. If only I'd known, because I think they were lilly pilly berries, and how absoultely magical is the name "lilly pilly"?) I don't think we lived there even two years, yet my mind is brimming with memories, like something that could fill chapters of a novel. Maybe it's because those were what they call "formative years," when I was six, when we had a full house, when I was impressionable, and aware, when both good moments, and disturbing events, were vivid. When we had to move, I was devastated.

The house in Oceanside, and the time there, was maybe the furthest I ever felt from nature, from beauty. My Mom worked in Escondido, and in Barrio Logan... commutes that I can hardly fathom, now. It was not an easy time, and some very traumatic things happened while we lived there, when I walked home from school through a SWAT event, and my friends were held hostage, and my next-door neighbor had bullet holes through her house, and an injured dog, when the home and family we shared a chain link fence with held a backyard memorial for their murdered son. This was when our father re-married, and didn't tell us, didn't invite us to the wedding. The best of those days were when we would visit cousins in Alhambra, or friends in Julian, or when the library truck would stop across the street.

Earth Day. I sat down to write about Earth Day, and I fixed on the idea that Nature is not a separate place from us. I have been seeing posts about going out into Nature, and getting away to Nature. I understand the expressions, and I know there's a difference between a greenspace or a garden strip planted up in a parking lot, and a National Park, or a truly wild space, where nothing is paved, or managed. But I have lived much of my life in spaces where nature is sectioned off, divided, minimal, and I like to think that I have learned to recognize nature in those small spaces, outside of preserves, and parks, to glean a connection and appreciation for Nature as everywhere, around us, even in us. Forests and deserts, protected spaces, where native plants and wildlife have room and habitual cycles, are wonderful, invaluable. But I know that we won't all have the chance to hike, and camp, to explore, and retreat to sacred places, where deer cross meadows, or no cars pass, and so I like to both protect large spaces, and care for small nature, too. And I think I learned this, or was at least influenced in this way, by my Mom, my Abuelas, by Handsome Eddie and Eileen, and by Genie.

When we moved from Oceanside to San Diego, to Apartment 2, I might have lost even more "natural space," but our Mom kept bringing us to the beaches, to tide pools, and beach-combing, to ocean swims, and exploring remote parts of the bay, where we could find sea urchins, and octipi. I remember times when we would count all of the coins we could find, for gas money, so we could get to the local mountains, so we could picnic in Dos Picos Park, fish at the pond, scramble around the trails, gather acorns, or visit Julian, and those wild spaces, with creeks, and trees, and good memories. She did all she could to give us wild spaces and freedom to move in them.

Behind Apartment 2, outside the gate of our little patio, was the patio of our neighbor, Genie. She was older. I can't say how much older, since I was only 8 or 9, maybe 10, and didn't have much perspective about such things. But she noticed me, or I noticed her. I don't remember. I do remember that she had white hair, and often wore shorts, and looked confident, like a person busy enjoying herself and happy about it. And at some point, I was invited in, and it's even possible I invited myself in, but I found myself in her apartment and seeing her paint easel, and petting her small white dog. I didn't know any women, her age that wore shorts, that painted at an easel, during the day, that was busy enjoying herself, and made time to talk about it, with me. And something else, she was gardening on that small patio, and I was astonished at it. The property manager had chased me off and scolded me, more than a few times, for picking flowers, for playing in the weight room, or hanging around where I didn't belong, for trying to climb a tree, and once for digging. So, I questioned Genie, incredulously, How can you garden here? I had this idea that there was no literal or figurative room to garden in an apartment, on a patio, no room, or permission, to dig. Plainly, and assuredly, she replied, "You can garden anywhere. Nature is everywhere, and you can have part in it, care for it." She introduced me to her plants, to her pots, and to moss rose. I most clearly remember the moss rose, and her explaining what a simple and gratifying plant it was.

She painted her flowers, too. And I was awestruck by the way she was engaged with beauty, seeing it, caring for it, even reproducing it in her art. I thought she was brilliant, and I felt akin to serenity, to calm, purposeful living, when I was around her. I wanted to observe more of this, and be in her influence. When I found out she was moving, I was almost as heartbroken as I felt leaving Weekend Villa Road for Oceanside. I would sit outside, on her patio and watch her pack. She gave me her painting of a geranium in a glass. A masterpiece, to my mind. I watched all of her things go into boxes, and felt so low, so aware of my limitations. How far is to Barstow? How would I ever see her again? How do you tell someone that you need them, that they are too significant to lose? I couldn't find the words. I asked her about Barstow, and she wrote her new address on a slip of paper. She was looking forward to the sun and warmth, to retirement, and new gardens. And that's when I realized that her patio garden was staying behind, and it shook me. How could she leave her garden? It felt doubly hard; it wasn't just me getting left behind, but the geraniums, and moss rose, too! I asked her, almost accusingly, What about your garden? How can you just leave it behind? The manager might throw it all away! She was always so composed, assured, and she replied, "They'll be fine. Don't worry. Nature finds a way." She was sure, but I had doubts. I was worried. I looked out my bedroom window, over her patio fence, and into her empty apartment, and I fixed on a plan.
Before new tenants moved in, before the apartment manager went over and could take anything out, I would take Genie's garden. I determined to save all I could of her plants, and care for them myself. It happened that we were moving, too. This time to house-sit for people with a big home and a backyard that had almost nothing growing in it. On the look out for any grown-ups, as stealthily as I could, I slipped into Genie's patio, and I dug up the moss rose, careful of the roots, mindful of not getting caught. I kept the small plants in a box, sprinkling water on them, and fretting about how long they'd last before they had to be stuck back into some dirt. And would anyone mind, if I took a bit of space in the backyard of a house that wasn't ours? I did get to transplant the moss rose, and I recognized when they went to seed, and I planted those, and some grass seed I found in the garage. I became a moss rose expert, over a few months, while we were house-sitting. I don't think my part of the yard was even more than two square feet, but I took so much pride in it. I felt like a Gardener, like a person attune with nature. I would have said "naturalist," if I knew the word. And today, on Earth Day, I remember and cherish, every small and great experience of nature, whether in the Redwoods, or on a piece of firewood that is sprung back to life with moss. We need to save the planet, and do big things for our climate, but we can do it in small ways, in small spaces, too. We can share seeds, we can share ideas and opportunities... ideas that may inspire feelings akin to serenity and feeling that connection that we have to nature, because Naure is all around us, in us.

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Deep Thoughts and Other Musings

"te lo dije," by Lola Argemí.

Lola Argemí is an artist and designer I follow on Instagram. But more than that... we are new friends, and we've even Zoomed. Zoomiar. Zoomimos. Zoomiamos? I love her art, and watching her make art. She posts captivating videos on her account. And other posts she shares make me nostalgic for México, DF. It's been a long time. Seriously, muchisimo tiempo desde que estuve en El Ciudad. 1979, when Grandma Jones came with us, and we flew the red-eye. I hardly remember the landing, but we somehow got to my tios' home, and I woke up into a dream, with Grandma by my side, in Tia Thalia's jewel blue bedroom with painted flowers on the walls, and her philodendrons climbing into the room from downstairs. Frida Khalo must have lived down the calle. Mexico City has the effect of keeping its past and present entwined, old and new comingle and dine together. We could hear the clatter of cooking in the kitchen, the sounds of the neighborhood like an old phonograph playing in the next room. Without stirring, I let everything seep into my head, and never felt so faraway, then Grandmother and I looked at each other, and silently we agreed that we were home. It's a mean trick of life that we can have these poignant and lasting memories, ideas and sensory experiences so vivid, they are ingrained in our cells, and yet they cannot be touched, not fully accessed. I want to go back. I would trace the lines of the flowers, learn the names of the streets we walked along, hold my Abuela's hand more often, for longer. I would try to hold everything more often, longer. Lola reminds me of times and moments, long ago, and I am tempted to imagine there is a way back. Tio Hugo and Tia Thalia were artists, so was my Grandmother... I am just thinking of this, now. I am so glad I ordered Lola's print, that she packed it up with two more little prints, that I love, that it came from Mexico City. I even loved anticipating the package, and imagining that it would contain fragments of the dream, of a faraway place with ancient voices, and sights, that felt strange, yet like home.

Te lo dije, I told you, a phrase I know, have heard from my Mommy, from other Mamás, and abuelas, and it's a mean trick of life that whatever wisdom and insight they were trying to impart barely took root when I heard them as a child. Now, recalling the best of moments long gone, I understand, too late, that they knew, they knew and tried to impart... that the strange places, and long trips, the stories, the lessons and moments that were hard to focus on, mattered. The memories are precious now, urgent, prized. Prized, but elusive and fragmented. Oh bittersweet. Hmm. My thoughts are interlaced with overpowering emotions, nostalgia, and I wish I could succinctly, precisely put into words how it feels to remember such distinct instances, and yet be so cut off from them, too. And grappling with the idea that I could have paid closer attention (perhaps?) and remembering that adults tried to caution me, to pay attention, to appreciate, how time will pass too quickly. It's so frustrating that these lessons are nearly impossible to internalize, to accept without time for perspective, without experience, and the understanding comes too late for the years that have already slipped by. I am struggling to say it all, and it's like trying to grasp a writhing, slippery thing, so I am making a mess of it. But maybe something of this will make sense to you, too. And maybe I should, at least, apply this to here and now, so that going forward, I can have fewer regrets, greater appreciation.

My goodness, what a lot of deep thoughts and other musings, can surface when looking on art, when reflecting on all the threads that are woven in our lives, from past and present, near and far. And now that I have opened up about just a few reactions I have had, looking at Lola's painting, I want to ask her, ?En que pensabas, pintando el cuadro, "te lo dije"?
Another Stay at Home haircut, and I like this one. It's better than the one before, when Geoff gave up on my approach and took matters into his own hands. He took everything down with the clipper on the 3 setting! Geoff and Alex have been keeping up with haircuts. I cut my hair off, in four whacks, last July, but now I am leaving it to grow, so is Maria. William and Max both have long, and growing hair. I gave Bambi a trim a few months ago. I think about getting dye and covering my gray, which is funny, because it seems "silver" and "gray" are trending! As long as I am in a nostalgic mood anyway, I'll say, I really miss having long braids, that I could pull over my head and pin into a crown, like I did when I was much younger.
Would you look at these beautiful embroidery hoops? And so many, too! Susie was clearing space, and making donations when she saw all the sewing I've been doing, that's when she messaged me, asking if I could use more hoops? Her gift is what got me thinking, again, of how much I miss exhibiting at Maker Faires, sharing what we make, and teaching crafts, and STEM skills. I would love to bring all of these hoops to an event and share embroidery, teach someone how to make French knots, and create a stitched copy of a drawing. I miss the enthusiasm and eagerness people bring to a Maker Faire, connecting with someone that has always wanted to learn how to do that___! Susie and I met at a Maker Faire, and I miss making connections like that, building new friendships, like the ones with Nedda, and Enchanted Leaves, and Stephania, and Gever Tulley. In fact, some of those friendships, began through truly random Make a family reading our Making Blog, Benevolent Order of Makers, then, coincidentaly, moving from New York, and becoming our neighbors in California, and dear friends... Hello, Ido, Leslie, Simon, Bex and Spencer! Ah, more threads and connections. It's so nice to have these good thoughts, and ties, streaming through my head.
We have been busy busy busy, and before I spend more than half the day posting to the blog, I want to get back to some of what we have been up to... like moving furniture, painting, cleaning, purging, re-purposing, and refreshing! I even bought everyone new pillows, and some sheets (which Cairo deeply appreciates.) It's good... distraction, improvements, things changing around and new appreciation for seeing things in another light. Ahem... I would like to reflect on this a little more, but I will resist. I think I have indulged in enough deep thoughts and other musings for one morning.