Wednesday, May 31, 2017

May Travels

 The mirror into which we look and see our fate. Along the Appalachian Trail.


 Beren asked me if this spurge was "non-native". Sheesh. Yes, it is. He has not really seen this plant (our distant neighbor has it, but we've not really commented on the plant in the past).

 I often tell people who are learning about plants that they will be able to identify plants at 65 mph, that plant knowledge is deep within each of us and that we just need to wake up. Seems so.

 Viburnum planting along the impoundment.

May is the busiest month for our nursery. May involves more logistics than I can handle. Deliveries, sales, emails, calls, events. My knees ached from how much I used them. I tried to give them a break whenever I could.

I kept it together until two-thirds through the month, just after my birthday. Then, I cracked. I stuffed down the tears, and kept working. Every time I considered losing it over how overwhelmed I felt or the state of the house, I repeated to myself, "You can let this bother you, or you can let it not bother you."

Right now, I sit at a desk overflowing with papers, pot sticks, Legos, kid's drawings, bits of plants for smudge sticks. The closet door, two drawers, and a cabinet all hang open. Someone (me) was too busy to close them. Or, maybe I can blame Jared for one or two of the open maws. Even if I closed the drawers and doors, chaos is all around. To my left are several boxes of business-related things to put away.

There's also a mostly empty shelf that is too big to fit in the attic and too nice to get rid of. I should get rid of it, I don't like it that much. It remained empty for awhile, until the pressure to fill it with unfiled items overwhelmed the desire to keep it clear and ready for the trip to the attic it just could not make.

To compensate for a lack of time, we bought many easy meals and snacks at the market. We ate well. That is new. The past five Mays we ate junk until the strawberries ripened. 

Though this May was hectic, we had many pleasant moments - visits with friends, birthday dance party, an evening out to see The Sword. I thought about canceling a few extracurricular events, but I didn't, for the most part.

Want something done? Ask a busy person. We have many of our systems in place. We've experienced May many times before, and we've been settled in our house for 4 years.

Somehow we finished prepping the bathroom walls and primed them. For weeks (months?), the walls were partially scraped to the drywall. The resulting pattern looked like a robot walking a dog. The robot's mouth was open and I stared at the robot's face every trip to the bathroom. Our bathroom closet was dismantled and spread between two bedrooms and the hallway until weeks later Jared put up a temporary shelf and organized the mess.

At the month's end, we spent a few days in the Catskills in a rustic cabin with no running water, no phone, and no internet. Before leaving, I thought I'd snap again with the logistics of packing. I waffled on staying home or going. The weather was iffy, but Jared declared we should go. I knew he was right because I needed a break from working.

Jared had set up a consulting job partway to the Catskills, so Beren and I had time to explore the banks of the Wallkill River which we agreed was rather beat up and weedy (in a uninteresting and sad way) and tick-filled. We decided to move on. We walked along wetland impoundments in the Wildlife Management Area admiring red winged blackbirds until we connected with the Appalachian Trail.

Beren was ahead of me. He peered into the forest, and yelled, "Momma, we have to go down here!" We walked a short leg of the trail, mostly on boardwalks. The swampy forest reminded me of the Sourlands - the place I learned my botany chops, the place I learned about stewardship and restoration, the place I honed my use of wild edible plants and medicines.

The walk was sweet for those reasons. We lingered over a just hatched dragonfly, pointing it out to several hikers who so briefly paused to say, "Oh!" or "Awesome" before trundling along. I wished they would have stopped so I could have told them all about this lovely spot, which Beren called Wild Geranium Road. 

When Jared finished up, we continued to the Catskills. Once there, I noticed how I needed to break my addiction to stimulation and activity. I slept well and long. I ate a lot. I sat. I read. I sat. For an evening and then a day.

Our trip was short, so on our second full day, we hiked to the top of Slide Mountain, the highest peak in the Catskills at about 4180'. The Catskills is the second place I honed my botany skills, and so a long walk there is a welcome one.

Above the 3500' mark we saw balsam fir, one of my favorite trees. We saw bethroot and goldthread, too. At the summit, we arrived to a noisy, startling crowd of hikers. The parking lot was full, after all. One of the Summit Stewards introduced herself. The other Steward knew a colleague of ours. Small world, big world. Looking out across the vista, I couldn't tell which. Crowded world.

I could have stayed another week, reading, sitting, sleeping, eating, but we came home. Emails, phone calls, orders. Yet, the time away was a recharge and a reminder to slow down.

And, as always, it was a kick in the ass. More than ever, I am fired up about wild plant restoration. If anyone reading this gives a damn, plant a wild plant.

Wild plants turn the jubilant energy of the sun in to protein. Sun, soil, water, plant, insect, mammal. You see? Food. Wild plants are the basis of our food. Not just because insects pollinate a watermelon or apple somewhere, but because insects eat plants and animals eat insects and most of us eat animals. I will hone this thought and bring it to you again.

 My hiking companions.

 Hermit thrush nest with cowbird eggs. We took the cowbird egg out. I began to explain to Beren why, but quickly decided not to. Instead, we built a nest for the cowbird egg. Beren went out in the rain to warm the egg regularly.

 Snail tracks.


 "Look it's Joe pye!" said Beren. In this case, Eutrochium maculatum.

 Insects use wild plants.

Sunday, May 7, 2017


I've been wondering why I haven't written for some time. When I do write something it is about how I don't write that much. I have ideas. Things strike he as funny or notable, especially things through my young son's eyes. Yet, I don't write them down. Besides, he's his own person, and a private one at that. He doesn't pose or pause for photographs. He declines them.

Me, my husband, we're just living our lives. It is all notable, or none of it is notable. I feel like I have crossed into an easier place. I'm over my mid-life crisis, my over the hill contemplation. That took about two years, and now I feel pretty solid.

My husband and I are done fighting with our son and ourselves about school. We're done with that. We're homeschooling. A couple months ago, it was one of the scariest things since I chose to move in with the man who would one day be my husband. It was easier to choose to have a child than take him out of school.

Strange. Why would that be? Maybe it is easier to obey some biological request that I happened to hear and agree with. Women have babies, or at least many of them do for many reasons. Many of them don't for many reasons. So, one day I thought, "I'd like to have a baby." My husband agreed with no hesitation.

Well, it wasn't that easy. There were years of sitting across the kitchen table, eating. "Have you thought about having kids?" one of us would ask. I'd sit in silence. I'd think, Jared, such a good man, would be such a good father, pity, he'll never be." Jared would be silent, or maybe he'd say that we weren't really ready, or maybe I'd say that.

It wasn't that simple either. Way back when we were really poor and living in Philadelphia, I thought I might be having a baby, but I wasn't. I got my period at a street festival. No baby, just a late period. Relief.

Then, one day many years later, that scenario happened again. We were renting a little cottage in the woods, and were much less poor. Again, I discovered I was not going to have a baby. Disappointment.

That was a new feeling. Remembered I always wanted someone to call me "Momma" one day.  Like most things, two or possible three and more truths, all so misaligned were...true. There was the truth that I thought Jared would not be a dad (never pondering too hard what would be instead, what I would be. Just pondering what would not be.) There was the truth that I wanted to be called "Momma".

Not long after the disappointment, I found I would be a Momma. Now, I am. Together, Jared and I make choices all the time. Some of them are difficult. Some of them go by unnoticed.

I recently read Free to Learn by Peter Gray. I turned the pages, recognizing myself, my husband and my son. Me, acquiescent and melancholy, my husband and son, furious and fiery. I acknowledged how my schooling served me and how it crushed me. How I found my way through the challenging social web, how I was bored with my teachers and classmates, how I worked to achieve an imaginary, destructive and potent number - my GPA.

In college when it appeared I'd graduate with a 4.0, which no one gives a damn about now, I chose to take an easy class, Intro to Women's Studies. The teacher was good. I enjoyed the reading, but it was easy. My classmates were young and discussions were far simpler than ones I had in my advanced art classes. Maybe I would've got something more from a tougher class. Maybe it was good to give myself a break after working so hard. I worked and stressed and cried and uselessly memorized my way through school. I was tired.

My husband tells me how angry he was throughout school. Not challenging enough. Didn't want to be told what to do. Had conflicts with authority. He can speak better for himself, so I won't go on and on. He did have teachers he liked, especially one high school teacher that allowed for honest discussions led by anonymous questions that the students submitted to the teacher. He liked several professors at Rutgers, but many of those teachers left the university or were distracted by their need to publish.


My son on school in his own words: "Momma, why every day do you take me to a place I hate so much?"

Jared and I sat facing each other at the kitchen table. I couldn't look at either of them. Beren stood next to me and rested his cheek on my arm.

I wish you could have been there, or maybe I don't. You'd see my failure and sadness. You'd see how we're departing from the worn paths, yet again. The weight of his head and my heart were something I could hardly endure. And yet, I brought him to school that day and many months after.

In Free to Learn, Peter Gray talks about his research how homeschool families enjoy their life. The most difficult thing is not teaching their children, spending time with their children, or finding playmates and friends, but is the disapproval of family and friends. When I read this passage, I felt stricken and called a friend who homeschooled her children. I felt better. And, in fact, I enjoy spending time with my son more now than when he was in school.

Let me repeat, I enjoy spending time with my son more now than when we was in school.

Much like choosing to have a child, choosing to homeschool unfolded after many years. "We'll do it when he reaches public school age," Jared and I said. "Could never imagine sending him to public school."  Instead, we sent him to private school, a nice one, but one that Beren said was "a place I hate so much." He said it was boring, stupid. That he hated learning.

After a year and more than a half of that, of dragging my child under my arm to school, of meetings at school, I was done, almost. Done, damn it. Almost, damn it. I think.

In February, Beren was terribly sick for a week. I sent him to school on the following Monday to drop off his Valentines for classmates. The next day we left for California. He was sick on the plane ride home. He'd picked up another illness in just one day at school. He missed another week of school upon our return.

When he felt better, I had no heart to tell him he had to go back, so we kept him out another day. I finally told Beren it was time to go back. Beren has crushed, despondent. There are not words for how he looked. Jared and I sat at the kitchen table. Beren stood nearby. Crushed. "Give Papa and I moment to talk, Beren," I said. We did. "Let's be done with this, Jared," I said. He agreed.

And then, I said to Beren, "You're not going back. You're done. No more school."

It wasn't that easy. For preceding year, Jared and I had sat up nights talking about how to make school work, and also how we planned to homeschool in the future. How we wanted Beren to make friends in this new place we moved to. How we had so much work to do. How could we do it all?

Let me repeat, I enjoy spending time with my son more now than when we was in school.

I assure you that I am a Taurus or an Owl who thinks long, who thinks hard. And then gets very, very pissed. I turned this over and over in my head. Homeschool. My kid? My stubborn kid?

Let me repeat, I enjoy spending time with my son more now than when we was in school. This is not my mantra. This is the truth. 

So let me tell you how I became furious and kicked myself out of my dusty rut. Before Beren left school, he and I attended a classmate's birthday party. I stood aside with a couple mothers, chatting. Suddenly, one asked if I still was considering homeschooling. I hemmed. I was awkward. And just like the dogs hunt the weak one, they went in for the kill.

The mothers turned to each other and away from me. "I could never homeschool. I need time away, time for myself." "Yeah, me too. I could never homeschool either." "They need to be with their friends." "Just look at much fun they have together." etc.

I have two distinct poles of personality. The Melancholy and Worried. The Indignant. The latter kicked in. My temperature went up. "It's not for everyone," I said. I thought, "F*ck this!" I even laughed to myself. Sometimes it takes opposition to define my position.

Since I'm still in the early stages of homeschooling I have to take their comments apart -

I, too, need time for myself. I didn't really have that when he was in school because I was working (and I still am working at home). I do need adult time, and that is a challenge. My child is so much happier. I so enjoy his company. Good trade off.

Yes, he needs to be with friends, peers, and children older and younger than him (which doesn't really happen naturally in school). And unfortunately, in school, a child is merely in the presence of peers and friends. They do have fun at birthday parties. In grade and high school, I can hardly recall a time outside of recess or a flashing moment in a class in which I had fun.

This is not about me and my school experience, but it is a reference point for me. This is about my experience now, and my family's experience. If I never have to pack a lunchbox or a sleepy kid into a car, I'll survive. I did have pangs about missing Beren's end of school year performance of songs. Last year, he introduced the event, "Welcome to Our Show", he said.

It seems we have a new show to put on and a new road to explore.