Fat Beauties.

Our cucumbers withered and died this year, producing little. For years, I’ve built my little mounds and buried seeds or planted my seedlings. This year, the extreme heat, the fluctuations of cold and rain, and sultry heat again, made the vines lie down and quit.

The queen of my garden is the sunflower, their golden faces open high above my head, friend to the sparrows and finches who dart through their stalks.

In the face of grim news, I offer this as a tiny sliver: the sunflowers are growing mightily. Bees are fattening.

August Evening. Mosquito Bite. Driving.

Waiting for a Planning Commission meeting, I end up with an odd half hour and swim in the lake. What does ‘planning’ mean anymore, anyway? It’s enough that I grabbed my swimsuit on the way out the door.

My life feels like an intersection between work days, rising Covid cases, an upcoming book release, and the very real stories of my daughters.

The world, indeed, goes on. My daughter and friend swim in the same lake in the early afternoon. When I return that evening, we stand on the back porch, eating cucumbers and avocado toast, talking. My oldest returns after dinner out with a coworker who’s packing up and moving elsewhere, in a story full of switchbacks.

My youngest drives us up a nearby hill. The sun has just lowered below the horizon, and the sky is swirled with rose-petal pink and hues of blue, golden at the horizon. We walk up a short path for a better view, and she leads the way into a field of goldenrod. The crickets sing madly. A mosquito lands on my upper arm and sinks its proboscis into my skin. My daughters are both talking. The mosquito swells with a drop of my blood, then disappears into the fattening glooming.

As we head home, my daughter drives with the windows open, one elbow cocked over the door. I love to drive, she tells me, her eyes on the road.

Heat. Past. Swimming.

For a chunk of this weekend, I read Susannah Cahalan’s memoir about the madness that attacked her body, the book so many people I knew read a few years ago, and I picked up from a roadside free pile this week.

The heat’s returned, with fine swimming weather and thunderstorms. Sunday evening, we kayak in Greensboro, carrying out bacon and tomato sandwiches and watermelon. Afterwards, I swim far out from shore, and swim back slowly, watching my daughters who lie on the pier, talking.

At home, I walk around the house, opening windows to let in the evening’s cool air, hanging towels over the porch railings, talking to my brother on the phone. He tells me about listening to S-Town. Over the porch railings, I see Japanese beetles clustered on the primrose.

Cahalan’s book asks that hard question: how much of our lives do we direct? Who’s in the driver’s seat? My brother keeps talking, and around us the past rises. “You can’t escape that shit,” he says.

I stand on the porch steps, watching my daughters unload the kayaks. Rain has skipped over us. In the morning, I’ll need to water.

“Maybe it’s true what Thomas Moore said: “It is only through mystery and madness that the soul is revealed.” 

— Susannah Cahalan, Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness

Random Tuesday Moment

Late afternoon, shaking off the day’s chaos, a light and very welcome rain sprinkles down.

I’m drinking a glass of water and picking a few rouge leaves from here and there in the garden, when I look up and see a rainbow, a gem, tucked over the hill.

I stand, the rain falling ever so slightly. We need rain in a serious way, in a way that makes me worried about gardening. Every evening, I give little sips of water to my plants. But for this moment: water and color.

The rainbow never tells me

That gust and storm are by,

Yet is she more convincing

Than Philosophy.

— Emily Dickinson

Box of Darkness

When I was a girl, someone gave me a Sweet 16 barbie doll. We didn’t have a lot of barbie dolls in our house, and these were prized possessions. For years, I thought of my sweet 16 birthday as some vaguely hallowed ground, where I might sprout to 5’9″, with long legs.

That didn’t happen. I never even hit 5′. Doubtlessly, I never grew into that Barbie-and-Ken life, because I’m not plastic. I was a girl and grew into a woman, with a life filled with all kinds of things.

My daughter is just days from her 16th birthday. I’ve been dwelling on this birthday for weeks. In this time, I keep thinking of poet Mary Oliver’s line about her “box of darkness,” and how that box became her fortuitous strength. So much of our culture still pushes our daughters to be that barbie doll, to pretend all is well with the world, to set a placid example of good behavior.

I see my daughter struggle with her desire to succeed at this sugary, glossy image, juxtaposed with her reality as girl edging toward woman.

We all have our unwarranted boxes of darkness. Use yours, I counsel.

By an old temple

a broken clay kitchen pot

in a field of water parsley

— Buson

School Tour

A fellow school board member and I take a tour of the high school. I haven’t actually walked the halls in a year. The high school is very, very, very clean. Like, crazy clean, especially for a fifty-year old building.

In the gymnasium, I remember all those basketball games, the graduations, the Congressional delegation visit….

Afterwards, we stand outside in the sunlight, masks on, talking and talking, looking at back at this school that has meant so many things, to so many people, in so many ways the heart of the community — now, of course, for vaccine clinics.

School board positions are not hotly contested in our world, but in this sunlight, after a tour with so much history and so much more to come, I feel oddly so lucky to have this elected seat. The pandemic has flipped the tables in so many ways. It’s impossible not to think that the world is changing right now, all around us. As I leave, my fellow board member wonders how change will come, if we’ll all be hugging each other in the co-op, if things might get really weird.

Weird, I say, I can deal with. I walk home to where my daughter is baking a birthday cake for her sister’s friend. The house smells of sugar, and the cats are sprawled in a patch of sunlight, where flour is spread on the floor. How good to be here. Part of all this.