Just before Christmas, CR surprised me by bringing in a landscape architect to make our yard over into a beautiful urban farm. Perhaps he wants more fresh potatoes like the ones I grew in a black bag last summer. Or maybe he is tired of me complaining about the price of organic produce. Whatever it is, I am thrilled.
The trick is to use vegetables and fruit trees, along with ornamentals, to create a pleasing setting for a backyard barbecue, but also use the land and water productively. (You may have heard me rant before about watering grass in Colorado, which is an exercise in waste.) The first draft is here, and I am SO excited. I thought you might want to follow along with me on this journey. This is the draft.
There are many challenges to growing a hearty garden in Colorado. For one thing, the season is short–Zone 4 where we are, thought some parts of the city are Zone 5. For another, we sit at just over 7000 feet, which means a lot less oxygen and much harsher sunlight. To maximize my success, I’m starting plants indoors, in waves. Last week, I attended a class on starting seeds with grow lights, and have stocked up on materials. I can begin March 1. (Tomatoes, tomatoes, tomatoes!!)
What a Christmas present, huh?
Do you have a garden? What are the challenges where you are, and what crops to you most like to grow?
As I type this, a summery breeze is blowing through my office window. I can smell lilacs. The new book, HOW TO BAKE A PERFECT LIFE is finished at last…written, rewritten, given to agent and editor for thorough reads, then revised some more, and returned. It is on its way. I’ve seen a mock up of the cover, and will post one when I get a final. This is always a bittersweet period, when it sinks in that I actually have finished, and I won’t be living with these friends again. They’re on their way into the world. I’m glad, but also a little blue.
So now I’m catching up on the multitudes of tasks that have fallen by the wayside while I immersed in this book. Catching up on email from readers (please be patient with me if you emailed and I haven’t yet responded–I answer them all myself and it takes time, but I will get to every single one of them), catching up on blogs, catching up with friends I haven’t seen in a couple of months. Walking. Studying Spanish. Reading. Dancing.
What I’m really doing most of the time is packing and repacking in my head. My goal is to make it through England and Spain, four weeks, with one carry-on and a backpack. So, no more than two pairs of shoes. One fleece and one turtleneck and one rainjacket. A dress that packs very well, some leggings, and scarves to accessorize. I’ll let you know how it goes.
I’ve been walking many miles every week, aiming for at least 30, and only making that rarely. This week, I had the exuberant pleasure of dancing with Carlos AyaRosas, one of the founders of Nia, who is retiring this year. Under other circumstances, I would have cut back on the dancing to give my body a chance to adjust to the extra walking miles, but how could I forgo that chance? No way!
It was deliciously exhilarating! Carlos is a very physical dancer, and a great teacher, with an entirely different style than our (beloved) Loretta Milo. The workshop was two hours and we danced our heads off–the kind of dancing that makes you forget everything and sweat away all stress and fill up entirely with joy. I have been faithfully attending at least one, and sometimes three, classes a week since I began eighteen months ago. I always learn something new about my body or the music or how to count something that had eluded me before, but dancing with Carlos and his wife, who looks like she might be half-fey, coming out of the trees just to teach us to dance, and having the pleasure of watching Loretta and some of the other black belts lose themselves in the dance was…pure flame, pure notes, pure love. I wish you could all have been there with me.
Have you ever tried something new that ran away with your heart?
One of my great desires has always been to have a greenhouse. In a corner of my dining room is a small conservatory, a Victorian imitation, and within are a cyclamen and African violets. This morning, this cyclamen was blooming and I spent an hour admiring it, shooting the light on its petals, diving into a wordless orgy of appreciation. There is something so quiet and renewing about flowers, something that heals all those little broken spots and makes you feel you might be able to take a deep breath and keep moving after all.
If I had a greenhouse, I’d probably never get any writing done. I’d just be in there, shooting photos from twelve angles, breathing in the fresh exhalations of the leaves.
Is there some small beauty in your life that stops you exactly in your tracks?
Last weekend, I hiked around Florrisant on a moody, foggy Saturday. This leaf seemed a sign of the coming season.
Yesterday, weary of the restlessness that has followed me around for two days, I gave up the pretense of getting some pages one and drove to the downtown library. They had a particular book I wanted, but the destination was less the point than the escape. I took care of the little bits of work that had to be done yesterday, then fled into the bright blue and yellow day. On my way down the highway, I tossed around possibilities–what else to do downtown. Where to park, which shops to browse. Maybe I’d have a salad at Phantom Canyon, or have coffee at the Starbucks on the corner of Tejon and Bijou. (Every Starbucks, as you know, has its own spirit. This one is a hotbed of thirty- and forty-something Match.com first dates and young urbanites who live in the lofts sprouting up over the shops.) Once, I would have gone to Michelle’s but that’s gone now.
To add a little soupcon of interest to the ordinary journey (I really could only spare a couple of hours), I decided to pretend I was a tourist in my own town, that I had flown in for a conference and had some time free to explore the immediate area.
First the library. The downtown, or Penrose branch, of the library has an entirely different vibe than the East Library, which is where I usually go. Both are quite large, and both have wide windows opening on the western view of burly mountains, belly up to the horizon, so big you have to bend down to see the sky over the top of them. In both libraries, people sit in the chairs facing the view and read, or simply contemplate the scenery.
Downtown is a library I know from youngest childhood. I remember when they built it, all glittery quartz walls, and a statue of a naked man in front. (I was shocked that my mother let me look at it. Right at his penis, carved in brass.) Now, the non-fiction stacks are downstairs and there are usually at least a few homeless people—99% of them men—reading or wandering or just sitting quietly. They’re not allowed to bring in big packs or sleeping bags, but I like that they can come in and hang out. If I were a homeless person, the library would be the place I’d go to escape the realities of my life. I am not a homeless person, after all, and I escape there quite a lot.
I found the book I was looking for, Paul Theroux’s Kingdom by the Sea, and one other that I’ve been meaning to read for ages, since a travel writer at Santa Barbara Writers Conference, Jerry Dunn, recommended her—Jan Morris’s Journeys. And yet another, which is what happens to me at the library. It’s so easy to get drunk on all the choices and fill your arms and carry out those giant stacks of books you can’t possible read in three weeks, but—you know, it’s worth a try.
I left the books in my car and wandered toward Tejon, trying to keep that loose mind, admiring and aloof, a traveler’s observation, but it wasn’t that easy. I decided that I didn’t want to walk by the place where Michelle’s used to be, whether it is full or empty, it would make me sad. (A tourist would never know it was there, or that it mattered, or what it was). Instead, I wander up Cascade. And there, ahead, is a funeral parlor I’ve been inside—I remember suddenly that it was my Aunt Barbara, for whom I am named, and we were all in shock because it was so sudden and she wasn’t very old.
Step back. Observe.
But…there, across the street from the parlor, on Boulder, is the beautiful little park surrounded by tall apartment buildings, where my mother says we lived when I was a baby. I love to think of my teenage parents living in their first apartment in a Colorado summer. Objectively, I admire the mountains towering over the buildings, gold like necklaces still hanging across their chests.
I decide to go to Poor Richard’s, the last remaining bookstore downtown, where I’ll get a cup of coffee and browse. There are not many people out on a quiet Wednesday afternoon. A few students from the high school, a few more from the college up the road, a tidy woman with her tiny pug. A guy with his bike crosses the street with me and says, cheerily, “How ya doin’?” A pair of businessmen and a very pretty middle aged woman pass by, and the man on the end nods and says, “Hi.” Maybe I’m staring.
The bookstore, however, is packed. Lots of people shopping, lots of different kinds of people, the slightly furtive and grimy sorts with fingerless gloves, and women in business clothes, hair perfectly coifed and sprayed, a family group carrying around a plate of food they share with each other—the man is bald and wearing a suit with a tie, the women are maybe his wife and her mother or sisters. In the café, I sit with my back to the room so I can eavesdrop more adroitly, and listen to a woman behind me talk about healing her energetic body and someone apologizing for not getting the healing right the first time. She keeps saying it isn’t his fault, that they’re both just learning, but then I wonder why she wanted him to know. She speaks loudly. His voice is quiet and younger.
I face the windows, and watch the ordinary parade of afternoon go by on the sidewalk, a trio of teens on skateboards and striped sleeves, a bearded man with a guitar, a woman crisply clicking in her high heeled boots. Across the street is a bakery and I wonder if I should have done there to have a slice of cake, but honestly, the latte I’m drinking, served in a big porcelain cup so heavy I want both hands to life it, is one of the best I’ve had in ages and ages. I will come back here.
While I drink it, I read the book I found (because of course I found another book, even with all the ones in my car), Dog Years by Mark Doty, which engages me instantly because I am still grieving Leo the cat and I don’t care if it’s been three months. These things take time, and for once, I’m giving myself plenty, living with that thorn in my chest, and not rushing beyond it. Living now with the sorrow of the cat who kept me company for eleven years. The book gives me even more permission to do that.
This afternoon, my escape time is running out, and I reluctantly head back toward my car. Again, I’m trying to practice seeing with fresh eyes. But as I walk, my mind is continuously tossing out background notes—it isn’t aloof or observational at all. In the hotel there, which might not even be a hotel any more, lived my ex-husband’s friend Chuck, who was charming and irritating and abrasive. He died, years and years ago, when 36 seemed old to me. I haven’t thought of him in ages. Did he live there? I try to remember. Maybe they just liked to drink at the bar in the hotel.
Anyway. Now I’m passing the corner basement where I took ballet lessons when I was six, and walk past the two connected shopfronts that once contained Chinook Bookstore, where my parents brought us on winter weeknights sometimes, both of them bibliophiles, and there was a playhouse where we children could hide. Down the block is the restaurant were I met my first love after decades of silence between us, and we had a proper wake, full of celebration. It goes on, and on, and on, block after block, street after street. My body is imprinted with hundreds of memories and they unfold like fans as I walk, one era of my life after another, in no particular order.
It is impossible to be aloof here, to be a stranger. Objectively, I see that it is a clear, dry, stunning blue sky. Objectively I see that there isn’t much to this downtown, that people from big cities would find it “quaint” at best, or provincial if they were less kind. Objectively, I see that the mountains are the saving grace. But that’s as much as I can distance myself. The taproots of the city and my life are entwined, inseparable.
Walking back to my car, the knowledge buoys me. How magnificent to know a single place so thoroughly, so intimately, as if we are lovers, bound always! My own, my city, waiting here in under the benign blue eye of my mountain whenever I wander home from my travels. It seems so reassuringly permanent.
Is there a place that makes you feel this way?
Oh, and this just because I think it’s gorgeous. Same guy took the shot. Check out more of his Colorado photos at http://www.flickr.com/photos/cptspock/2694059955/
Photos courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/cptspock/
I seem to be tussling again with that virus that’s been stalking me, so I haven’t much brain power.
This morning when I took the dogs out for their walk, this small tree was ablaze. I had to finish the walk and come back for a photo, so the light had shifted a little, but still so peaceful and beautiful, the bellringer signaling autumn has arrived.
And then I loved the look of the leaves on the grass.
Now back to my book.