This Season of Loneliness

 

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I’m sitting in my dining room this afternoon listening to coffee drip through the pot while my two boys are downstairs in the basement playing video games. One of my chickens is out back squawking from the heat, as she does every afternoon when the day breaks in two. She makes me nervous out there making such a racket. It’s not like she’s over heated or thirsty or anything. The girl has her other chicken friends and food and ice-cold water in her trough to cool her off, but at 2pm every day in the summer she starts up out there. One day a neighbor is going to complain about the noise, I’m sure. Not as if it’s worse than the college students who live next door laughing and playing their music until 3am, or the people who lived behind us and would leave their dog out back to bark at god knows what. Sigh. The realities of living in tight quarters in a city. There are so many bodies packed together, sharing the same breathing space, that we’re bound to get on each other’s nerves every now and then.

I was thinking the other day about how little I’ve written about my grandmother, or any of my ancestors lately. I wonder why that is. Somedays it feels as though they’ve left me all together. I was sitting in the back room yesterday trying to think of a memory of my grandma but nothing came. Maybe she got tired of all of the people who live around me, too. She is from the country where she grew up bare foot and unnoticed by city ordinances. Perhaps she left me to get some fresh air back up in the mountains. Not that I blame her. Though, if I’m honest, I’m not really too surprised that I can’t think of a memory. All summer I slowly spent less and less time in my garden until it was over taken by weeds and dead from thirst. Birds swooped in and pecked the tomatoes, attracting flies to the half rotted fruit, and the eggplant grew brown and misshapen from neglect. A family of mice took up residence in the green house underneath the soaker hoses, gnawing through bags of chicken feed and tipping over planter cups. A real mess. Jason finally went out there and pulled out the vegetable plants and took down the old green house, leaving only a planting shelf for me to work at this fall.

Did she leave once I began to neglect the garden or did I begin to neglect the garden once she left? I can’t be sure. But a thick unhappiness rested on me once she was gone and I have been so lonesome for family ever since. The long tired days of summer hide the fat moon and starve the stars, whose eyes bring a mindful rest to those suffering from sadness. Some evenings I watch the sun slowly creep down into the west, burning the trees into the horizon, waiting for black night to come. It’s under the soft light of night when I can finally see. Sipping wine or bourbon in the kitchen soothes my mind and quiets my angry thoughts that fire daggers into my memories of reckless parents and grandparents who destroyed our beautiful family. My mind’s eye opens and I no longer give my anger the attention it clamors for. I search for my grandmother, who my anger loves to attack with a spear, as I flip through my cook book, inviting her to sip with me. But she’s gone. I close the book. I haven’t cooked much this summer, either. Our pantry is filled with plastic wrapped gummies and granola bars that a factory pushed out on a belt. Maybe I starved my grandmother out. Or drowned her in alcohol and preservatives. Not much unlike my childhood.

Who knows how long she will be gone. I’m closely watching the world spin into autumn as the evenings cool much more easily when the sun perches on the end of the earth, waiting to push new seeds into the dirt and welcome them as new visitors when they sprout. Springing up as miracles.

 

 

Growing a School Garden

Happy Saturday, friends! I’ve been keeping myself busy these last few days with school garden business! It’s been such a great time for me out in the community talking to our city leaders and school principals making plans for outdoor classrooms and food gardens. What I’ve found most exciting is that people are very receptive to these types of initiatives if someone is eager, ready, and willing to take the lead and do the heavy lifting. All of which I’m like, BRING IT.

That’s all to say that we have a long road ahead of us. I’m currently creating a website for the organization that I’m in the process of forming called The Norfolk School Garden Collective. This organization will work to build and maintain gardens and outdoor classrooms at the public schools in our city. Right now, however, I’m just focusing on helping one school, Granby Elementary, to build a school wide food garden, habitat gardens, an outdoor classroom, and picnic area. But it takes money, materials, resources, volunteers, and a community of people dedicated to its success. And I’m just a meager gardner with a big vision. Building this idea from scratch and some timber feels pretty out of my league, but that’s half of the fun. Watching something grow from something small.

Do you all mind if I leave you with the school garden’s GoFundMe page? This weekend I am getting 10 bags of top soil and nectar plants to help the school become recognized by the Monarch WayStation Project. The teachers and the students are committed to helping grow a butterfly and bee habitat on their property and I’d like to help them make that a reality. Please consider donating to their garden to buy the materials that they need to make that a reality! Here is the link to the Granby Elementary School GoFundMe Page! I’ll be sharing pictures of the butterfly garden’s progress with you all! Thank you for putting up with my shameless fundraising attempt and for considering to donate. I appreciate this little community that reads my blog. You all are awesome.

An Ending // A Beginning

Come on a walk with me.

The trees on campus have all been heavily mulched around their bases giving the air a sweet woody smell as we walk through the quad to the halls. Students dressed in their graduation gowns are posing by trees, fountains, and brick walls, sometimes alone, sometimes arms wrapped around another, to take pictures of their long awaited and proud moment. After we walk up the stairs to my last class of the semester, we see a crowd of students huddled around a door eagerly waiting to get their exam over with. I unlock and let them in the door. They go to their usual seats and stare at their phones with ear buds tucked in their ears, some turned up so loud that I can hear the song’s lyrics. Telling them how much I enjoyed the semester and believe that all of them have learned very important things that will not only change themselves but the world around them, some roll their eyes while others smile. But none of them realize quite how nostalgic and nervous I’m feeling. I don’t really want to let them all leave, those adorable students and their phones. This just might be my last semester teaching at a university, if not ever.  And none of them know how much I’m going to miss it. After a couple of hours, they began to pass in their exams one at a time and walk out. Once the last student was still writing and making sure that she had told me everything that she wanted, perfecting her sentences, proof reading for errors, she handed me her paper, wished me a happy summer and left. I sat there for a little bit thinking about this semester, how difficult it was for personal and professional reasons. How much I won’t be missed but how much I will miss it. Working in an environment where all of my efforts to plan meager professional development workshops intended to help me and my fellow adjuncts learn Google Drive were vehemently trampled and tossed out, leaving me feeling pretty undervalued and stuck. I’m a dreamer. A planner. I want to take action. I want to lead and be led. And as an adjunct, at least at my university, that isn’t possible. So, I left. I walked down the stairs and through the quad, smelling the woody air.  And I went home.

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This is an ending but there is also a beginning. I walked through another courtyard of grass at a school this week. It is long and wide and open. Old tall trees shade the entrance of the school and when I walk in, bright construction paper lines the walls and kids talking loudly and excitedly are in the cafeteria.  My meeting with the school principal didn’t take very long before she eagerly agreed to let me plan and build an outdoor classroom and garden for the school. I have ideas. So many ideas. So many plans. Ideas and plans that I will be working on all summer. I will be attempting to grow a coalition of volunteers, civic leagues, small businesses, teachers, students and parents that will all be invested in and take ownership of this outdoor space where students can actively learn with their hands and experience. Where they get to grow food, watch insects, feed chickens, explore, do projects, eat real food, and be proud of it. I want our neighborhood to get involved and be proud to send their children to their zoned school. And I want to do it at every school in Norfolk. It just takes one person who knows other people, who knows even more people. That’s what I’ve decided to do. I thought about reopening our produce stand this fall, but I’m a bit tired of navel gazing. I’m not interesting in growing my CV, my publications, my research, my own garden, my own profits. It feels good to look outward at others and want to build them up instead of myself.

This is an ending, but it’s also a beginning. One that I will surely be writing more about and one that I hope to get you involved in. Probably force you in if you’re a close friend. And I’m ready. I’m always ready.

 

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In a Forest

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There is a woman in my neighborhood living in a forest. The wisteria has wound and twisted around her picket fence.  Tall weeds surround her mailbox. Tulips, irises, azaleas, camellias, ivy, buttercups, clover. They cover and crawl on her grass, through her fence, between edges and cracks, between her thighs, an island forest of weeds and leaves. Last year’s dead and rotting tomato plants marked with stakes as a grave lay under canopies of elderberry, viburnum, and dogwood, left to flower and drop their petals in remembrance of the those who have passed before them.  Black dirt as an oil well pumping life out of her ground. A freedom rising. Then. Bitter, haughty neighbors prune and mulch and weed, treading their city codes and gossip as wild brambles choking nestlings.  Her suburban forest offends their precious lawns, scared of dandelions and onion grass, that bite and swallow perfection. She’s a black forest, tangled and wide, growing and showing a woman rooted in wild freedom from their hateful glances and codes that want to wax, and prune, and tie her to a stake.  Burning bushes speaking misery to their everlasting gloom for a woman who dances naked, burning incense, in her forest under the moon.

a broody hen

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tonight

i saw
me

for the first time

standing
in the grass
bare foot, as
cool air
sank
low
to the
earth

a shining
girl

feeding chicks
peeping
for water
for scratch
for a
mother

tender hands
cradling birds
laying
hens
pulling hay

a small
bird girl a
broody hen
feathers puffed
dust bathing
and singing

i saw
me
for the first time
tonight

 

 

 

The one who feeds the plants

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From where I sit on this dark soil surrounded by seeds
and sprouts, I feed the plants.
Hands dirty and tired from weeding and tying
twine around poles for beans to grab and twist up towards
the sky, I sit and I wait. I watch. Burning sun scorching tender leaves
begging for shade where they cannot grow, they cry
to me and I water, unsure why the earth is so cruel. Spinning around
an unforgiving sun that lights a sky of gas and dust all made by
thirsty, burning plants, pulling life out of the earth to grow upwards
away. Take me with you.

An Activist’s Spirit

 

Did you know that my husband and I used to run a produce stand and sell vegetables in our city? Vegetables that we grew ourselves right in our backyard? Right here in Norfolk, VA. It was such a great time. It got to be busy and time consuming, but we really loved it. Sometimes I really miss it. Last year we decided to not sell our produce anymore because 1.) I just had a baby, and 2.) we decided to focus all of our time, energy and money on getting me into a doctoral program. Well, we all know how that went.

I still own that business. It’s called Barnett Family Farms.  Sometimes I think about selling vegetables again but we didn’t have enough time between finding out about all of my rejections and growing a big garden again. So, having a produce stand isn’t really an option  for me this year. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about what to do with my time. With my life. I’m in a very strange place of having really nothing to plan for or to look forward to. I have usually always had something on the horizon to guide me and to look towards. But not now. And it’s a bit, oh, I don’t know, lonely? No. That’s not what it feels like. Perhaps lost? Well, no, not that either. I guess I just feel sad. I gave up so much and spent so much time and now I’m just sad to not have what I so looked forward to.

Ah, but don’t you worry, because I know that you are. If there’s anything that you should know about me is that there will always be something else. My mind is always working around and around, thinking, analyzing, questioning, dreaming. A conclusion that I drew over the weekend is that I am an activist at heart. A lot of my nature is to fight for the causes that I love and am passionate about and academia doesn’t leave much time for activist work. So, perhaps this could be an opportunity for me to put my activist muscle to good use. Education, food sovereignty, anti-racism, politics, literature, women. All important things to me. They’re always at the forefront of my mind. But what to do with them…

For now I’m considering asking my sons’ elementary school if we can start a garden there. Something small. Something that can be integrated into a few of the classes. Of course I have ideas for something big, HUGE, like a non-profit that works to put gardens and volunteers at every school in Norfolk and getting high schoolers summer jobs tending and selling their produce. (Hi! Idealistic activist here!) But, for now, maybe I’ll just help a few first graders grow some tomatoes.