Monday, May 31, 2021

We had rain all afternoon and all night, and now, at 6 a.m., a light drizzle is still falling. Before this round started, I pulled out the bolting spinach, sowed fennel, beets, and green onions in its place, and transplanted some cabbage, chard, and zinnia seedlings. It's been hard, with so much dryness, to transplant safely . . . too much root shock without adequate, steady moisture. So I'm really grateful for this three-day extravaganza.

And we've been busy! Yesterday afternoon the three of us put on our raincoats and walked over to Lucy's new apartment for drinks and cat fun, and then she walked back with us for dinner at our house. Seeing friends has been a delight . . . hugging dear Lucy goodbye, whom I've loved since she was two years old: the sweetness of these reunions is rich.

I think today will be quieter. I'll tweak the essay draft I wrote yesterday morning, and probably, as the rain subsides, I'll do a little weeding in the Hill Country. Tom is spending his rainy hours constructing a bench for the backyard out of scraps of decking, and Paul has been appearing and disappearing--upstairs, then downstairs--half-invisible, half-omnipresent.

A set of ominous cones has appeared along the cross-street facing my house, with signs announcing parking bans till Friday. So tomorrow morning I expect an onslaught of jackhammers and dump trucks: a week of sonic torture . . . maybe more than a week, if they move on to the section directly in front of the house.

But for today, at least, we still have birdsong.

Sunday, May 30, 2021

Day 2 of cold-and-damp has opened with overcast skies and a cat who has retreated to his late-sleeping winter hours. Thus, I wallowed in bed till almost 6 a.m., undisturbed by sunlight, birdsong, or a pet leaping full force onto my chest.

The boys have reluctantly given up their canoe trip idea: the forecast continues to be miserable for standard Memorial Day fun. Yesterday, even wearing three shirts and a coat, I was frozen when I got home from my outing to the McLaughlin Homestead. It took me hours to warm up: I felt like I'd spent 6 innings in a drizzle-swept lawn chair watching the Sisyphean progress of a "spring" Farm League baseball game. Those games always had a similar ice-inducing effect on my system.

Other than being cold, the outing was delightful. The homestead's grounds are lovely but slightly ramshackle, with large spreads of shade plantings that gave us hope for our own plots-in-progress. Valerie and I discovered that we were prone to laugh at the same road signs, and we slightly disgraced ourselves by giggling during the lilac-care tour, when the mild young arborist was suddenly pounced on by two old ladies who shouted at him for not starting the tour on time (he did) or in the correct place (he did), and browbeat him into repeating everything he'd already said in his talk. They were classic comic old lady bullies--say, Miss Doggett in Barbara Pym's novels; Mrs. Proudie in Anthony Trollope's--and the poor boy capitulated like a curate. As we walked away, he was meekly beginning his speech over again. . . .

I got home in the early afternoon to discover that the social whirl was not over: the boys had made reservations for indoor seats at a restaurant. To be sure, it wasn't very inside, as all of the windows and doors were wide open and we were freezing, but there were four walls and a ceiling.

Tonight we've been invited to our northcountry friend Lucy's new apartment in the neighborhood, to meet her cat and drink mojitos, and then she'll walk back to our place for dinner. I'll be serving American chop suey, classic food of the Harmony/Wellington diaspora, and this time everyone will be warm enough. 

I have to say: I am loving the communal rebirth.

Saturday, May 29, 2021

Rain has been falling since 3 a.m. or so--a steady cold rain that will continue all morning. No doubt our watery weekend will shatter the peonies. The big double blooms have so little fortitude against weather; every year they are crushed by a downpour. So I'm glad I picked this bud early and let it open in the house.

The rain is dampening the boys' hopes for a canoe trip, and my outing to the lilac festival will be cold and wet, but do not think I am complaining. It has been desperately dry here, and the sound of water is a delight. Last night, as the chill moved in, I basked in the charms of winter-in-May--lighting a fire in the woodstove, brewing hot tea, simmering an ancho beef stew, to be served with rice and tortillas . . .

Now, as I stare outside, the yellow yard chairs waver behind the window drops. The grass greens and thickens, and the black soil gleams beneath white flowers. Yesterday afternoon I weeded most of the flowerbeds, front and back, and they are wet and clean and beautiful. Even the Shed Patch bed, recovering from its tree-limb accident, looks fresh and happy.

Friday, May 28, 2021

The weather is entering a stretch of coolness--a sunny high of 60 today, then highs in the 50s over the three-day weekend, with rain forecast for each. But Valerie and I have decided we don't care about drizzle and chill: we're still going on our Saturday outing to the lilac festival. I don't even know where it is, and I don't care; I'm just looking forward to sitting in the passenger seat and leaving town for a few hours.

Today, after my exercise class, I'll finish up an editing chapter, and then do the grocery shopping and probably some outside chores--weeding and such--before the rains kick in tonight. I don't know what day the boys will choose for their canoe trip this weekend, but Sunday and Monday look drier than Saturday--which means I'll probably have a day alone to write an essay and sort through some Frost Place obligations. I hope so: I could use a thinking day.

Outside, the peonies are beginning to bloom; my lemony Harmony irises are opening; a squirrel massacred a perfect broccoli seedling. Inside, I'm reading the Odyssey and, for a break, rereading Hilary Spurling's biography of Ivy Compton-Burnett . . . probably just her childhood years, as I always find myself particularly interested in those moments before one decides to become something. And her before-years are gothic.

Thursday, May 27, 2021

Last night, as I was chopping up this gorgeous concoction of cilantro and chive flowers, a thunderstorm blew in, tore a giant widowmaker branch off one of our maples, and dropped it directly onto the new Shed Patch garden--exactly where I'd just harvested the cilantro.

Today Paul and I will try to get it out of there with pruners and a handsaw, but we may need to wait for Tom's chainsaw. My poor ferns and impatiens! And who knows if there will be any cilantro left to salvage.

At least we got rain--only an hour of it, but a soaker, and all of the garden that isn't squashed under a tree branch is feeling pretty happy.

Before the storm I'd replaced a peaked-looking hot pepper plant and dug in a few zinnia and sunflower plants, as my seeds were not germinating well. Everything was getting stressed by the dryness and the heat, so I'm glad the weather is forecast to cool down a bit, and maybe even give us some more rain over the weekend.

Tom has three days off, thank goodness, and he and Paul are planning a canoe outing for one of those days, while my neighbor and I are going off a little outing of our own--to a lilac festival in western Maine. At some point next week or weekend, James will arrive from Chicago for a visit, and then the following weekend we'll head out to Vermont for my nephew's high school graduation. . . . This social whirl feels so strange and wonderful.

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Another scorcher on the way today, with the possibility of thunderstorms overnight. I'm hoping hard for rain: we are so dry, and it is so early to be watering as heavily as I am. 

Already it's 65 degrees outside--a cool humid dawn, and the birds have been singing wildly since 4 a.m.

Yesterday Paul went on an all-day outing, driving an hour west to hike up Pleasant Mountain, which meant that I was alone in the house for most of the day. I didn't write: I had to edit; but I got a whole lot done on the files, and the uninterrupted time felt miraculous. I'd almost forgotten that I could focus on a job for hours at a time.

In a few weeks Paul will be flying out to Chicago, and he and James will embark on a three-week Western road trip together. For the two of them, it should be a wonderful coda to a terrible year. When he gets back, he'll turn his attention to moving to New York City; and by late summer, if all goes to plan, I should get my study back and can start relearning how to be alone. It will be a shock, this repeat bout of empty nesting . . . but the change will be right.

In the meantime, I'll retreat back into my peripatetic routine: a dash of work amid distractions and chores. But the backyard should be shady and pleasant, a good place for ice tea and the Odyssey. I'll endure my exercise class before the weather gets too hot; I'll finish a few pages of my editing project; maybe I'll start the essay I need to write for Teresa's poetry letter; eventually I'll compile a chicken, cucumber, and macaroni salad for dinner. The darkness will slowly filter down among the maple leaves, and the fading yellow blooms of the rhododendron will float like pale moons in the gloaming.

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Yesterday, during my 8 a.m. exercise class, the teacher noted that we'd been at this for six months, which amazed me. Have I actually managed to show up three times a week and do this painful hard thing I don't enjoy doing? I can hardly believe I've had so much gumption.

I'll be back at my editing desk this morning, and maybe I'll be home alone for a little while too, as I think Paul is planning to go hiking somewhere. Fortunately, I crammed yesterday full of vacuuming and bathroom cleaning and mowing and trimming, so I won't have waste today breathlessly juggling chores and job . . . other than the usual chores of laundry and cooking and watering and maybe a little bit of weeding, if time allows.

Last night I roasted a chicken, made mashed potatoes and giblet gravy and a big salad with fresh greens, and ended the meal with homemade orange ice cream and sugared blueberries. So today I'll boil down chicken stock and serve noodle soup for dinner . . . easy day 2 of the three-day chicken pattern. Maybe all of this non-chore time will give me a brief space to work on revisions, or read the Odyssey in the hammock, or ride my bike in the cemetery, or doze on the couch with the cat.

I'm just remembering now that I had a dream about a famous poet, except I don't remember who he was, or why he was talking to me, or whether I was a poet too.

Monday, May 24, 2021

Monday daybreak.

A car door slams; a catbird yawps--and now the crossing bell, clang, clang, clang, and the first Downeaster of the day slides past, sounding its mournful klaxon.

Somewhere, too close, a big truck brakes, a dump bed rattles. Flitting, invisible in the maples, a cardinal coaxes Sweetie, sweetie, sweetie; and now another car door slams, a baby complains; two doors down, Gilbert the terrier barks, sharp and short. Upstairs Tom's alarm suddenly stutters; I hear him roll over and turn it off, and then a small silence, and then I stop writing this sentence and I get up from the couch to carry him up a cup of coffee.

* * *

Yesterday we went out for our first meal in 15 months. We decided on a Washington Avenue feast: first, a big tray of oysters on the Shop's sunny deck; then beer and poutine, down the street on the patio between Oxbow Brewing and the Duckfat Frites Shack, where we got spattered with rain but decided not to care. Have you seen the cover of this week's New Yorker, with a family standing in a dark room and peering out around the edge of a huge door as the city opens out before them? That's exactly how I felt as we sat in our little circle, watching people pour beer and chatter with their boyfriends and drop used cups into the garbage and shriek about raindrops and order milkshakes. There we were were, without our masks on, watching other people without their masks on. Paul even saw a friend at another table, and went over to chat. It all seemed kind of unbelievable.

We were so giddy that we had to take naps for the rest of the afternoon, and then we played cards and I put together a late supper of tuna melts and salad, and that was our thrilling Sunday.

Sunday, May 23, 2021

Six-fifteen on a Sunday morning, and it's already 65 degrees. We're in for our first scorcher today, and to celebrate we've decided to go into town in our summer clothes and eat oysters and poutine. This will be our first restaurant outing--inside or out--for more than a year, and we're excited.

As hoped, I spent yesterday outside: writing for a while in the morning; then planting sweet woodruff in shady backyard corners, transplanting a sad-looking peony from a cramped, overshadowed spot in the Hill Country to a freer place along the back fence; re-sowing sunflower seeds, beans, and nasturtiums that hadn't sprouted the first time (sigh); arguing with the insects and squirrels that are damaging my various crops; and watering watering watering.

I've been working on a poem draft that was originally an unfinished essay about the history of laundry--a piece that's been kicking around for a while, and that I like, but haven't been able to transform into a finished entity. For while I've been thinking I should recast it in verse, and that's what I've been trying to do this week. Now that I can sit outside instead of trying to unpack sentences in the midst of the household swirl, I'm actually making a bit of progress. Who knows if it will amount to anything? Still, it's a good revision exercise, no matter what.

Saturday, May 22, 2021

Yesterday Paul and I welcomed our very first post-vaccine visitor into our house: our next-door neighbor Valerie, who came bearing blondie bars and a huge smile. I can't tell you how lovely this was: three unmasked people sitting in a living room together, talking about this and that, drinking ice tea and eating sweets, and meanwhile the late May warmth pouring in through the open windows. In the before-times, who would have thought twice about such an interaction? But the day felt like a holiday. Hours later, when Tom came home, Paul was still bubbling about it: "Guess what? We had company!"

Today I've got some weeding to do, but otherwise who knows? I'd like to sit outside and work on revisions. I'd like to make haddock fettuccine for dinner. I'll probably water some plants and wash some clothes. I've started reading Donald Hall's essay collection Seasons at Eagle Pond--an autographed copy that I found in a free pile--and today I'll also turn my attention Kerrin McCadden's poetry collection American Wake.

I'm beginning, very slowly, to feel like a poet again.

Friday, May 21, 2021

I woke up to the un-forecast sound of rain this morning . . . a very welcome sound, despite the clothes I left on the line overnight. We've had so little rain this month, and already I am running up the water bill as I hustle around trying to keep everything in the garden alive. This morning's rain wasn't much, but even drizzle is better than drought.

I'm still in work limbo, so I've got another amorphous day ahead of me . . . some combination of reading, exercise, revising, gardening. But today is the day that my neighbor finishes her two-week vax window, so our big plan is to have a glass of ice tea inside my house together! I am actually ridiculously excited about this very small event.

Yesterday I had another small but lovely interaction. Standing in the checkout line at the Hannaford, I was accosted by a five-year-old named Lionel, whose mother was wearily waiting ahead of me. She was very pregnant, and clearly exhausted, and seemed to speak little English, so I tried to make sure via body language that she was okay with my talking with her son. (She did make it clear that this was fine.) Meanwhile, he broke the ice by telling me the colors of many grocery items, informing me that he might like to get a job at this store when he grows up (e.g., when he is six), and asking questions about the people around us, who then joined into the conversation. Lionel was a complete charmer, an adorable chatterbox, a social butterfly; and as the parent of such a child (son #1 James was an incorrigible talker), I know he must be a handful at home. But he was such a bright light in the checkout line!

Thursday, May 20, 2021

My plan to spend yesterday morning quietly doing this and that outside was shattered by the arrival of a fleet of jackhammers and dump trucks, which spent the morning tearing up the street in front of my house and then repaving it, for no discernible reason. Still, Paul did manage to worm out of the driveway twice and drive away by himself, so at least one of us was happy.

Instead of being outside, I sat on the couch and finished my friend Linda's collection Ballast and started my friend Gibson's collection Deke Dangle Dive. Thus, my morning was not unproductive, but it was certainly dusty and distracted.

Today should be better, distraction-wise, and I'm also excited about the new outside chairs that Paul and I bolted together yesterday: a pair of bright yellow, retro-style metal chairs that look charming in my scatty backyard. They are a perfect match for laundry, a spotty lawn, a concrete fire pit, aging vinyl siding, and a firewood tarp.

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

I'm a bit slow getting started this morning: perhaps the result of vivid dreams and sinus congestion. Spring allergies are in full swing . . . not that I regret even one pollen spore.

The good news in this household: Paul is finally a licensed driver! We are all happy and relieved. There's been a certain comedy to his consistent lateness in accomplishing standard milestones. He crawled late, he walked late, he didn't ride a bike till he was in mid-elementary school, and he avoided driving until this year, when he calmly learned in about three weeks and passed his test on the first try. That's exactly how he rode his bike too: wouldn't get on it, wouldn't get on it, then suddenly rode it perfectly. The only reason he decided to walk was because he had to crawl through a patch of mud to get to where the other kids were playing, and he wasn't in the mood for mud that day.

I'm still waiting for the editing project to return to me, so I guess I'll find something or other to fill the day: maybe a trip to the Goodwill, maybe some writing . . . everything depends on interruption levels. These days I can't set my heart on anything that thrives on solitude. So I set my heart on surprise conversations and jokes and bird sightings and flowers.

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

A busy start to the day: Paul takes his driving test at 9, and then both of us have dentist appointments later in the morning.

The temperature is supposed to reach 75 degrees here, by far our warmest day of the season. I'm glad to report that Paul and I got all of the housework done yesterday, so I'll be able sit in the shade this afternoon and work on poem revisions and Frost Place paperwork.

Last night, while I was in my poetry group meeting, the boys cooked up a most excellent chicken fricassee with spatzle--really prime--and then sat around companionably with me in the dining room while I ate my late meal. They are so lovely.

My poetry group was really good last night: the quality of the poem drafts was so high, and maybe I'm also getting better at being a member. The learning curve is slow for me, after all of those years of isolation.

Maybe tonight I'll make potato salad and a big green salad for dinner. It seems like we might be in for an open windows/no lamps/only candles/listening to baseball/first summer night kind of evening.

Monday, May 17, 2021

I let out the cat at 4 a.m. and woke up about half an hour later to the wafting odeur of skunk. So, already, this is a great Monday because, miracle upon miracle, my cat bounced into the house unscathed, ready for a hug and smelling like fresh laundry.

I thought I'd be editing this morning, but I haven't gotten the files back from the author, so instead I'll do a big housecleaning: dusting, vacuuming, mopping, bathrooms; and maybe I'll wash some more woolens, maybe sort through shoes and decide what my feet won't allow me to wear again. Then, in the afternoon, I'll turn my attention to poetry: my Odyssey phone call with Teresa and prep for tonight's poetry-group meeting.

I spent so much time outside this weekend that I do owe the house a bit of attention. Fortunately I've had help. Last week Paul washed a batch of windows for me, and tonight he'll cook dinner while I'm in my meeting. I might even be able to talk him into vacuuming. 

What else is new? Presently I'm reading Penelope Fitzgerald's novel Innocence, but today I'll probably spend time with two new poetry collections by members of my poetry group: Linda Aldrich's Ballast and Gibson Fay-LeBlanc's Deke Dangle Dive. 

And, oh, yes: Coming back from the grocery store yesterday, I was cut off at an intersection by a young man driving a Toyota Corolla with a "Virginity Rocks" bumper sticker. There might be many angles to that story.

Sunday, May 16, 2021

Now that our backyard has reached C- status (up from F, as you'll recall), I actually look forward to spending time out there. It's always had beautiful dappled shade when the maples are in leaf; and now it also has a semblance of grass, a few pretty plantings, a hammock, and a fire pit. (I also count the woodpile and the clothesline as attractions, though I understand that most people might not.) So yesterday, after I finished mowing and trimming, and after the boys drove away on their shopping expedition, I brought out a tray of ice tea, fresh guacamole, and tortilla chips, along with two novels and my laptop, and I set myself up for a few hours of lonesome bliss . . . reading, sipping, beginning to suss out a poem possibility, a little more reading, a few minutes in the hammock staring into the trees, a little more writing, a little more reading . . .  Then, after a while, I decided to transplant some Siberian iris into a couple of backyard beds; and I did a little watering, and little socializing with my neighbor; and then, after a while, the boys came home and brought their lunch outside, and we sat around companionably, in the small breeze, under the shifting new leaves, as fingers of sunlight gilded the unfolding ferns.

There are so many things to fix out there: no deck, such much blank space, a disastrous shed, leaning fences, not enough chairs and tables, glaring evidence of tarps, compost bins, leaf pile, wheelbarrow. Nonetheless, what was desert has become habitation.

Today will be another beauty of a day. Already the temperature's in the mid-50s, and I should get off this couch and go put a load of clothes into the washing machine, so they have time to dry outside. I hope to work a bit more on my incipient poem . . . which is really more of a "will this even be a poem? or am I fooling myself?" situation. I do have to run out to the plant nursery and buy another pepper plant, as a squirrel decided to massacre one of my seedlings.

Sudden death in spring is always part of the story.

Saturday, May 15, 2021

Saturday morning, and the neighborhood is very quiet after yesterday's surprise onslaught of jackhammers and dump trucks. Much noise was made, though what they were doing remains mysterious.

Our street is so narrow, and the houses are so close to the sidewalk, that street construction can feel like an army invasion. It's one more unsettling aspect of city life: there is no bubble of privacy. My yard may be a reenactment of a homestead, but it crouches square in the midst of planes, trains, and automobiles, not to mention barking dogs, shrieking children, leaf blowers, door slams, and the vent-fan fragrance of someone's invisible marijuana crop.

So these quiet mornings can feel like small apologies. For a few minutes, birds are the only ruckus . . . and now the freight train rumbles through . . . and now the city is stretching and blinking and the the clatter begins to swell . . .

Today I'll try to get to the stuff I didn't do when my front view was packed with asphalt guys and I didn't feel like trimming and weeding and mowing grass under their sardonic stare. Mostly, I think, we've got a flotsam-and-jetsam weekend ahead of us. I guess things are on hold with the incipient deck project because paying our taxes emptied our bank accounts. But Paul and Tom might drive downtown to practice parallel parking and see if the thrift stores are open. (Paul's taking his road test on Tuesday . . . finally.) And I might let myself sit still.

Friday, May 14, 2021

Yesterday was nearly perfect--mild and bright; the air dense with fragrance; everywhere, trees flowering and birds singing--and today will be like it. I've got my exercise class and a tiny bit of editing to finish this morning, and then the book goes back to the publisher, and I go outside--probably to mow and trim, but also to water plants, to plant a second crop of carrots, to hang towels on the line, to read a Penelope Fitzgerald novel in the hammock . . . 

Are you feeling jubilant about the CDC's announcement that fully vaxxed people don't need masks indoors or outdoors? I know I am. I cannot wait to say to a friend, "Hey, would you like to use my bathroom?" or "No worries! Just spend the night!" Or "I love your kitchen!" I am itching to go into other people's houses; and as of next Wednesday, when Paul crosses the finish line, I can open my doors and invite you into mine.

It's funny: I can be so anxious about things, and I certainly have been throughout this pandemic. I'm still not longing to go into large crowds, and I'm definitely nervous about driving long distances. But I am so eager for household company--in my house, in yours.

Thursday, May 13, 2021

I don't know what's gotten into the cat, but he's allowed me to sleep till 5:30 for two nights in a row. And now it's Thursday morning: streets and driveways tagged with graffiti streaks of sun, birds bustling in the maples, yesterday's woolen-wash still twitching gently on the lines.

It's been so pleasant to have a slow week: some editing, some writing, but also time to muddle and maunder. I've got a big weeding project to tackle in the Hill Country. I've got winter clothes to wash and store, summer clothes to sort and shelve. I've got windows to wash and screens to hose down. Amid my maunderings I will begin to tackle these bits and straggles, but even so my mind is refreshing itself. I feel like a Percheron, suddenly unharnessed from my plow and let loose in a pasture.

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

This morning the cat decided to sleep in; in fact I got up before he did, the lazy sod. So there were no more 2 a.m. hijinks, and I, for one, feel good about that.

The quiet week continues: an exercise class and a batch of easy editing, then bread baking, some work outside in the garden, chicken for dinner. Maybe I'll sort through my summer clothes. Maybe I'll wash some sweaters and scarves. Maybe I'll write. Maybe I'll lie in the hammock and stare up into the trees.

Yesterday on our walk Paul and I spied a bird we'd never seen before: a red crossbill, perched at the tip of a spruce tree. Paul was very excited . . . he has learned to love birds--and I think, for him, that's been a small sweetness of the pandemic: finding joy in a flash of color, or a spill of song.

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

A terrible night's sleep, as the cat decided at 2 a.m. that NOW IS THE TIME TO GET UP, GET UP, DAWN, GET UP NOW NOW NOW NOW NOW, and went on this way until 4, when I finally let him outside. Of course he's currently back in bed and fast asleep, the little thug.

Anyway: good morning!

It's drizzling lightly outside, but the birds are singing loudly and the rain should stop soon. Yesterday I saw our first hummingbird, in my neighbor's quince, and I excitedly texted her the news. We have been on the lookout, with our feeders at the ready. I had so many hummers in Harmony, and have struggled to lure them here. But maybe this will be our lucky spring.

And I've started a new editing project--a much easier-going manuscript: the translation of an Azorean novel about whaling, in which my primary job is to tweak punctuation . . . practically an editing vacation, this one. As a result, yesterday I managed to write my first poem in more than a month, and it's a piece I'm very, very happy with--a draft that moves into surprising places, and is packed with sound, and rolls down the page like a truck. It involves both raucous driveway paving and a fancy rhododendron, so you can see it's got some variety.

Today, more friendly editing, and probably some weeding later in the afternoon, and definitely the vacuuming and floor washing I didn't get to yesterday, and I might work on my poem, and I might take a walk, and I'll cook something or other for dinner--maybe clam chowder, maybe braised chicken--and I might order some nifty retro metal chairs for our almost-pleasant backyard.

Monday, May 10, 2021

Mother's Day isn't a big holiday in our house, but I spent the weekend doing work that I wanted to do, so I guess that's a certain sort of celebrating. Now, on this drizzly Monday morning, I can look out the window and feel satisfied that I accomplished as much as I could . . . seeds sowed, perennials moved, beds weeded, grass mowed, wild patches trimmed. Here are a few updates.

First, cushion spurge, glorious this spring, mounding up like a painted turtle in the sidewalk flower bed that Paul has named Lantern Waste--

In a garden box in the Lane, baby lettuce and arugula, ready for cutting--

Along the gravel in the Lane, low-growing speedwell spilling into bloom--

In the Hill Country, the first iris: a bouquet of short-stemmed, moth-velvety beauties, rescued from the predecessor's weeds--

In the Lane, the first potatoes I've grown since leaving the homeland--

On the front walkway, creeping thyme, bursting into lurid flower--

The back-fence rhododendron I babied through last fall's drought, with a new lemony blossom--

In the Lurk, waging doughty battle against the weeds, the strawberries are coming into flower--

In the Bullpen, Koji the Japanese maple stands proudly among the relief pitchers (hostas, creeping ginger, a shade-loving sedum)--

On the Terrace, bionic peavines plan world domination, as garlic and tulips cower--


Sunday, May 9, 2021

So far, so good with the summer seedlings. Friday was the coldest night in the weekly forecast, and they weathered it perfectly. And this morning, after a slightly warmer Saturday night, they still look good.

I spent yesterday morning finishing up my sowing: salad greens among the tomatoes, a row of okra and sunflowers as a sidewalk hedge, cabbage and chard in a raised bed. Then I went grocery shopping, and then I did some weeding, and then I took clothes off the lines, and then I made coffee-chip ice cream, and then I ran out of steam and lay in the hammock and read Kidnapped.

Today: mowing and trimming, and more weeding, and then maybe some cooking, if I can squeeze into the kitchen. Paul's got some project going: a North African vegetable pie he wants to make. But I've been thinking of Indian food: homemade panir cheese, and dal, and naan. . . . 

Spring is a very present-tense season for me: I feel as if it makes dull fodder for this blog, all of my planting and weather-fretting. Maybe people who garden in the South or in California can take life easier in the spring: they have so much more leeway, no frost-fears, no autumn door slamming the growing season shut. But northern gardening is very tense in spring. The earlier I can get things into the ground, the better chance I have of getting an actual harvest. The earlier I get things into the ground, the better chance I have of losing my crop and being forced to start over again, late. You see the conundrum.

Still, gardening in Portland is a dream compared to gardening in Harmony. If I'd had an open field there, I would have had an easier time. At least there would have been full sun, though the frost danger would have been higher. But what I had was essentially a gap in the forest, a thin acid lick of soil on ledge. I learned a lot about what was impossible. Also a lot about why New England farmers migrated West.

Saturday, May 8, 2021

So I took the risk and put in my summer seedlings yesterday: 6 tomatoes (2 Italian paste, 2 heirloom slicers, 2 cherries); 5 peppers (a serrano, a poblano, a shishito, and 2 Italian sweets); and an Ichiban eggplant (long, thin, early, prolific).  I may regret this, if we get a sudden frost, but after five years of Portland planting experience, I'm  fairly confident that this is unlikely in our coastal enclave. Springs aren't warm here, but neither do we have the spikes of hot and cold that made growing so challenging in Harmony (along with limited sun-hours, terrible stony soil, and early autumns).

I also put in some basil and parsley, two more lupines (pink and yellow), and a couple of ever-bearing strawberries (autocorrect wants me to call them overbearing strawberries, which I certainly hope is the case).

Today: grass mowing, bed weeding, and more seed sowing: this time, salad greens among the new tomato plants, a row of okra, and cabbage and chard in the garden box. I'm aiming for tiny fresh cabbage heads, not the giant storage type, so we'll see how that goes. This year's seed shortage has forced me to try some experiments.

Otherwise: I'm feeling refreshed by a small vacation from editing, though I'll be starting up again on Monday. Paul has recovered from his vax, and we went on a bike ride together yesterday. I'm getting more skillful (if that's the word) on the hills . . . without a doubt, making both strength and cardio progress--not to mention keeping up with a 23-year-old!--and I'm proud because exercise-for-the-sake-of-exercise has never come naturally or easily to me.

We have to celebrate our little victories. I know you've got a couple of your own.

Friday, May 7, 2021

Good morning! I speak to you as a person who has finished her editing project (at least until the author reviews it) and has no employment obligations until next week!

What an excellent feeling, like I've rolled a sandbag off my shoulders. I am so looking forward to my Friday, which will be sunny and mildish and possibly a fine day to go tomato-plant shopping.

Poor Paul was vax-sick all day yesterday--flopping around pathetically on the couch, bored out of his skull, and deeply antagonized by a sloppy Red Sox game. Here's hoping that's over. Funny how only the youngest member of the family got sick from the shot. The rest of us just shrugged.

In cat best-friend news: Jack and Ruckus vie for supremacy over Tom's parked truck.

In bird-sighting news: Peregrine falcon swoops low over the Whole Foods parking lot; mockingbird posing on a funeral urn performs a comedy sketch routine in the cemetery.

In Odyssey news: I have discovered that I am just like a Phaecian! "We love the feast, the lyre, / dancing and varied clothes, hot baths and bed."

Thursday, May 6, 2021

Yesterday afternoon I went out into the rain and harvested these nine beautiful baby radishes, each about the size of a marble, with their greens still tender and edible. There are few vegetables more beautiful than a perfect radish, and they are an ideal crop for cool wet springs because they need only about 20 days to grow from seed to maturity. In Harmony I had lots of trouble with insect pests tunneling into the roots, but they haven't been an issue in my Portland garden. So far, this year's crop is in mint condition.

The day was notable for more than radishes: (1) Paul got his second vax and (2) I finished the bulk of a very complicated editing project. I have a very short appendix to comb through this morning, and then everything will be in the author's hands.

The rain has blown out to sea, and already I'm seeing glimpses of blue sky. I'll hang sheets on the line, and maybe go for a bike ride later, and keep reading the Odyssey, and, who knows, I might even write something new.

Whatever happens, I will be like this headstone, which Paul and I saw the other day on our walk.

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

 I woke to a slow rain ticking against the bedroom window, and it will continue all day long--a cool dark day, a perfect day to make chicken soup and wear a wool sweater and try to get to the finish line with this editing project. Mid-afternoon Paul and I will drive to Scarborough for his second vax, but I expect that will be the only blip in our otherwise slow and housebound hours.

I finished reading Tommy Orange's There There, and now I'm going to turn my reading attention entirely to the Odyssey, so that I can get through book 10 before my next confab with Teresa. I had mixed feelings about There There . . . good tight writing, excellent management of setting, but some structural problems, not enough time to get to know the characters, an ending that felt like a cop-out . . . in short, a book that read like high-quality apprentice fare, and yet it was a Pulitzer finalist, so what do I know?

Well, the world of the prize is a perennial puzzle, one that I have not solved as either a practitioner or a critic. Something goes on in those flood-lit meeting rooms. Or are they flash-lit? Or lantern-lit? Do they have trapdoors and secret staircases and hundred-year-old spiderwebs? Or are they broad and blank, with sadistic air-conditioning? I daresay I'll never find out.

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Yesterday was a typical frenetic Monday--exercise class, editing, housework, groceries, laundry, dinner--though I did find 45 minutes to weed my very-in-need strawberry bed and to plant a new hydrangea. I want to say that I am done with this season's perennial and shrub planting, but I imagine that something else will tempt me. Still, I think that the Hill Country is now in pretty good shape. My goal was to create a low hedge of various seasonal bloomers, and I now have a white rose, a yellow rose, a bridal-veil spiraea, a white azalea, an andromeda, and three blue-pink hydrangeas running along the property line. Three of those shrubs were serious reclamation projects, but they seem to be holding their own.

Today, two weeks after my second vax, I am now fully protected against Covid. Tom hits two weeks tomorrow, the same day that Paul gets his second shot. In another two weeks our household will open its doors, and I am grateful and excited and longing to see people.

In the meantime, I will keep chipping away at this editing project. I hope to be largely done with it by week's end, and then maybe I'll have a chance to think about writing poems again.

Monday, May 3, 2021

Brownfield Bog is about an hour and a half west of Portland, and spring hasn't fully arrived in that part of the state. While the city trees are fluffy with catkins and infant leaves, the bog trees are still winter-bare, and the understory growth is mostly young reed shoots and shoreline alders. But the water was high, and the air was mild, and the blackflies were immaterial, and it was a beautiful day to canoe.

The place is somewhat hard to find, and its access road is nothing but rocks and holes, so very few visitors were there to disturb the quiet. The paddle is a four-mile circuit up and down a winding finger of slow-moving water that ends at a big beaver dam. Beavers were busy in the bog: we must have seen eight or ten lodges along the edges, and Tom caught sight of a swimming animal that might have been a muskrat or an otter or a beaver. All of them live in the marsh.

Mostly, though, we saw birds . . . many, many red-winged blackbirds singing among last-year's brown grasses; mallards and Canada geese honking and splashing; a pair of hooded mergansers with their crazy flat-top hairdos; a kingfisher flying low over the open water and then hooking suddenly into a tree; and a shrieky plover-like wader we later identified as a greater yellowlegs.

Sitting in the middle of a canoe is pretty uncomfortable, so we swapped out the princess position, and everyone got a chance to paddle. Paul is a star-quality canoer: after spending so many summers on Ontario rivers, he could back us out of any corner. And I really enjoyed being in a part of Maine that resembled my homeland . . . watery and remote, ringed with firs, a secret garden teeming with small life.

Sunday, May 2, 2021

Turns out I have a few minutes to write to you after all. We decided to leave for our canoe trip a little later than originally planned, just to let the air warm up a bit before we got on the water. So here I am, peacefully drinking coffee and not rushing around, which is fine because I spent all of yesterday rushing around like mad and am happy not to be doing it now.

By the way: before I forget, here's a new poem, "Finding the Muse in Harmony, Maine," out in the current issue of Hole in the Head Review. 

Now, back to the story of rushing around: I gardened full-tilt yesterday . . . prepped ground and then planted three colors of dahlias, plus sunflower, zinnia, scarlet runner, nasturtium, and green bean seeds; then transplanted a bunch of creeping thyme into the stones along the edge of the sidewalk; then rushed out to the nursery and bought a beautiful little Korean white azalea and a lupine for the Hill Country (yes, I now live in a place where you actually have to buy lupines instead of watching them run wild in northcountry rock meadows) and some shade annuals and greenery (white and yellow begonias, trailing vinca) for backyard containers; and then dug holes and filled flower pots and watered; and then mowed grass and ran the trimmer; and then made vanilla ice cream and scalloped potatoes and prepped steaks for the grill; and then stood next to the boys in the backyard and said: "If I were giving this place a grade, I'd say it has now advanced to a  C-," . . . which isn't bad, considering that it was a straight F when we bought it.

In contrast with yesterday's craziness, I will spend today in the middle of a three-person canoe, lolling like Cleopatra as two strong men propel me down a lazy stream. Makes me wish I owned an asp hat.

Saturday, May 1, 2021

Happy May! After two days of slow rain, the skies are beginning to clear, and I am itching, itching, to get outside and start planting my mid-spring entries. Today, dahlia tubers and nasturtium and sunflower seeds; possibly zinnia, okra, and bean seeds. Plus, I might take a ride out to one of the nurseries and do some impulse buying. Why say "might"? I'll definitely do some impulse buying.

Tomorrow we're taking a family jaunt into western Maine to do some bog canoeing, and I have hopes of foraging fiddleheads while we're out there. I did plant edible ostrich ferns in the garden, and they're coming up strong, but it will be years, if ever, before they give me more than a handful. I also, much to Paul's skeptical amusement, planted three ramps I bought in the produce section at Whole Foods. They had their roots and root hairs, and I thought, Why not? The funny thing is that they seem to have taken hold, so maybe in a few years I'll have a mini-forage plot right here in the city.

So today will be mud and dirt and puddles, with steaks grilled over the fire for dinner. I plan to do no housework, other than laundry and cooking and dishes. Meanwhile, the boys will be prepping for tomorrow's trip: putting in the new thwart that Tom made, gathering this and that so we can get onto the water as early as possible. If you don't hear from me in the morning, don't worry. I'll tell you all about it when I get back.