We Hardly Recognized the Sky

The year after we moved into our house our neighbors lost a mature linden tree that stood at the border of our front lawns; It was one of those trees never meant for show, tucked between our houses simply becoming part of the landscape one takes for granted walking down the suburban streets until the straight-line winds came.

We were standing at the back of the house looking west and I remember looking east over my shoulder as the light hit the trees a certain way– The awkward light of thunderstorms that those of us who live in a land of tornadoes have come to be familiar with — the dark thunderstorm behind and the way the trees were moving it seemed impossible that we would keep any of them. We heard the crack and saw the crown disappear from the familiar canopy.

The strange mixture of awe and horror at seeing that giant tree with it squirrels nests and birds nests strewn across the lawn, spilling out to the street. It was like being let into a world you’d never had access to– a kind of voyeur in the treetops, but the ruin of one.

The irreplaceable nature of a mature tree. That came back to me again after Alicia died, continues to come back to me in these weeks. The irreplaceable nature of a mature friendship–the accumulation of years and memories and history. The stories.

When that tree fell we hardly recognized the sky.

On a related note I’ve been thinking too about how generation informs the children we have. The generation we came from but also the generation our parents came from. There are seven years between my husband and myself but in ways we fit very well together because our parents shared the generation. Both of our mothers were born in 1943, both of our fathers more than a decade before that. My mother is very much on the cusp of a generation right before the hippies. She was the second wave of the feminist movement at its very beginning, the freedom riders–my mother was raised in the 50s, the early 50s and late 40s and it is that she remembers most. My father’s model of marriage would have come out of that false image of the 50s, so too my husband’s parents. So even though my husband and I were born respectively in the mid 60s and early 70s….some of the ingrained patterns, the way we were raised, the things encoded in us came from a very particular time. I’ve written before about how I remember each particular step of ironing a man’s shirt. Polishing silver. Folding a fitted sheet. Making hospital corners on a bed. I was thinking that just last night as I made a Bolognese sauce… (that my mother would’ve referred to as plain old spaghetti sauce) wondering as I read the Cook’s illustrated recipe, “who needs to have the directions of how to brown ground beef” as I seem to remember having ever hovered over my mother in the kitchen. Watching each flick of her wrist. I thought how interesting it is that we would come together… all of us who stumble upon one another in this world… I thought about who my best friend was and how different it was from who I am in the world… her parents were 10 years younger than my mother, 20 years younger than my father in a generation where that kind of gap was glaring. Even though we shared a generation the mores and expectations that shaped us, maybe, were different.

As per Jjiraffe’s suggestion I’ve tried to make a list of the things that I have done in relation to my goal of our urban farm. I’m a person who has had a big goal of writing my novel for 15 years or more… (after my MFA in 98 ) and all I tend to focus on are the “have not dones “… I purposely went as far away as I could from goals surrounding writing in this project. I’m glad actually; It is a great relief to focus on something else.

We have cleared land, set the boxes, I have ordered as many yd.³ of compost from the city as I think we will need. I ordered seeds from the seed savers exchange although I probably won’t be planting seedlings until next year. This year I will get heirloom plants if I can from the local farmers markets and nurseries having waited far too long to start most seedlings in this northern climate. There is something profoundly soothing to me and looking at the Farmer’s almanac. Maybe it is the Minnesotan in me though I was only raised here, not born here… Farming seems so much of the culture, so much of the mythology here. I spent hours pouring over the seed savers exchange catalog. Who could resist the Paul Robeson tomato? Or someone’s aunt Mamie whose Tomato seeds were passed down from generation to generation… The same tomatoes somebody remembers on a dinner plate in the 30s on their farm table kitchen. Who could resist growing the Queen Anne’s pocket melon? A melon that Victorian women carried in their pockets as a natural perfume. In this world of Hybridization, homogenization Where every urban pocket of the world looks like another urban pocket of the world… There is something enchanting almost about preservation, preserving this delicate coding inside these seeds– as if we could reclaim or recapture some essence of our grandmother’s table and in doing so keep her stories alive. Replenish the earth, like a time lapse reel from a jr high filmstrip …from seedling to full-leafed fruited plant… from sapling to broad crowned tree obscuring the bright hole in the sky.

5 responses

  1. landscapes unmade and remade, interior and exterior.

    It strikes me that my husband and I have the same age difference as you and G (7 years), and yet our parents were all born within a 5-year spread (1940-1945, our mothers being the outliers – my dad was born in 1943). Funny, that.

  2. Seed catalogues – frequently a mid-winter mood stabilizer for me. Not just because of the promise of the coming spring, the future, but because of the history in them too. Obviously I have a preference for the heritage seeds as well:-)

  3. Seed catalogues – frequently a mid-winter mood stabilizer for me. Not just because of the promise of the coming spring, but because of the history in them too. Obviously I have a preference for the heritage seeds as well:-)

  4. Beautiful, as always. Sigh.

    My father was born in 1940 and my mom in 1945. They watched (and reported) the summer of love in 67 SF and were pretty bewildered by it all. My husband’s parents were both born in 45. We connect well because of that (and the fact that we both grew up in the same strange and lovely county).

    I love seed catalogues too. I’ve been too scared to buy any, instead buying organic/heritage plants from the nursery. Next year, maybe…

    I’m so glad this project is soothing for you. And sorry my comments are full of typos. My computer is being repaired at the Genius Bar so I’m stuck with my phone.

  5. Interesting thought about the generations. My parents were born in 1939 & 1941, in rural Manitoba/Minnesota… I was born in 1961. Among my classmates, I always had very young parents. My FIL was born in 1929 in Italy & grew up during the war years and post-war hard times before coming to Toronto in the late 1950s. A much different experience.

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