Monthly Archives: March 2013

Hot date with your psyche

icefishingYou’re a write eejit when you haven’t checked in with your psyche since Iceland last went volcanic.

Sad thing is, you never know how much you need to do it, until you do it. Duh!

So, it’s my late winter get-in-touch-with-my-inner being time. I have a hot date with my psyche. I’m taking it away for the weekend up to the Berkshires of Massachusetts. We’ll sit, wrapped in a blanket, bemusedly gazing at small clots of ice fishermen, breathing in the 15˙ air through coffee breath and last night’s beer-furred tongues.

Of course, whom I’m actually getting in touch with is highly subjective. Aristotle would sit me down and point out that my quiet weekend was actually quite a crowded affair with all three of my souls or psyches present—my (party) animal, my morning-after vegetal, and my rational (oh my god, you mean I have to clean this shit up!). If you ask Jung, I could be communing with my psyche—the totality of all my psychic processes—and on a whole other level with my soul—or partial personality. Yeah, I was afraid of that! But Freud would argue that I’m partying with my Id and my Super Ego, and my Ego is sitting in a corner acting as chaperone.

But whatever. I’ll be there, enjoying the peace and quiet, and it’ll hit me that there’s nothing better than sitting and listening to good music and thinking about parallel universes and something and nothing. My brain’s been strapped to a conveyor belt for months and now, finally, I’m taking it for a walk in the woods. It’s like a puppy leaping down each leaf-strewn path, sniffing at tree stumps, eating deer poop, squatting to mark its territory.

And then something—or nothing—will strike me as being peculiarly funny and before I can edit myself, a laugh bubbles out of me. I feel the stress that has been building in the knots at the back of my neck making me look like a latter day Quasimodo, leaving my body.

Of course me and my psyche would be firmly and bitterly divorced by now if I hadn’t figured out that in my everyday world I have to snatch those moments of freewheeling introspection wherever I can: Sitting in an early-morning rumpled bed, sipping tea and doing the daily purge in my notebook, or after lunch, curled up on the doorstep like a cat, soaking up the faintest kiss of March sun, or later, in the evening, between the simmering rice and steaming vegetables, sitting in the iridescent green armchair in my study, watching the day’s light leech out of the sky and the first planet beginning to glow.

Those are my stolen moments of sanity, when my inner psyche and my outer goddess hang out with a glass of nectar of the vine and make daisy chains out of something—or nothing.


Begining of the Gardener’s Year

IMG_3320 IMG_3310So, here’s a little essay I read on National Public Radio a few years ago.

Catalog Season,

The Beginning of the  Gardener’s Year

They start arriving during the holiday season, squished in with the endless toy sale coupons, credit card bills, and the rare Christmas card. The catalog covers are bursting with wholesome goodness, though a true gardener knows the truth – you’ll never get botox tomatoes or porcelain perfect rosebuds in your garden without the use of massive amounts of toxic treats. That aside, their luscious covers stay my hand as I’m about to toss them in the recycling pile. Over the next month or two my bathroom will become the resting place for an ever-increasing pile of plant and seed catalogs. This is for strategic perusal during a moment of privacy in the manic holiday season.

By mid-January, when the deer have eaten their way through anything left sticking up out of the snow, and all hope of a shrubbery is growing dim, I get those first twinges. I feel an urge to see seed trays cluttering up the windowsills and kitchen table. I start feeling wistful for that warm place under the kitchen sink– the perfect spot for cozy, dark, moist germination. I’m feeling the drag of winter, and the hopeful swaying towards spring. Winter in the Northeast lays down heavily from January through February and into March, and then teases through April. But I’m beginning to sense the latent promise of the soil.

The catalogs are dragged out of the bathroom and piled by the couch. On brittle winter evenings, by lamplight, I start the long slow sift. Of course, it’s all about fantasy, little will actually be bought. Gardeners have to dream at this time of year: the perfect herb garden springing up amidst neat mounds of box wood and crunchy gravel, a rustic arbor overflowing with grape vines and late summer roses. Perhaps this year there’ll be a woodland bower with trickling stream and dappled shade flowers. With the back of an old envelope I go to work on the grand scheme.

Once I have perused the warty old heirloom vegetables in the organic catalogs, and the glossy offerings from the established old nurseries and fallen in love with some exotic vine from Peru that will never survive in my deer-infested garden, I pass them on to the children to cut-up for school projects. Those genetically modified tomatoes go right at the top of the food chain. In a Martha Stewart-inspired moment I have cut and pasted a rose garden full of gift tags.

I have a weakness for the cheapo catalogs, printed on wafer thin paper and bursting with special offers and 1¢ marvels. The crudely touched up photographs and the neon colors jump off the page at you. I especially love the cheesy photos of children dressed in ‘70’s outfits and sitting atop giant pumpkins with bemused smiles on their faces. I think my all-time favorite was a bonnie baby clutching a sweet pepper as big as its head with the title “Super Heavyweight Hybrid”. Some of the offerings are intriguing – a fruit cocktail tree straight out of “Willy Wonka” which bears plums, peaches, nectarines and apricots. While others are just plain scary. Surely the ‘Hairy Giant Starfish Flower” comes from outer space.

There is no such thing as too big or too sweet in the vocabulary of the people who write the copy for the vegetable and fruit catalogs. They seem to have a passion for words such as “Juicy”, “Smooth”, and “Delicious”. And then of course there are the names – “Fat “n” Sassy”, Mammoth Melting Sugar, Magnifisweet, Delectable, Phenomenal, Serendipity, Love-Me-Tender and Florida Speckled Butter. How could one not succumb? My success rate from these cheap and cheerful orders is about the same as from the much grander (and more expensive) nurseries. Which only goes to prove that I can kill cheap or expensive plants equally well.

Once I’ve reigned in my ambitions and placed my modest order all I have to do is sit back and wait for that freak 80˚ day in April when the dear UPS man will roll up in his van. Of course the garden will be untilled – a quagmire of spring mud. The tender plantlings will languish in a shady corner of my mudroom for several days. Insistent birdcalls staking claim to sections of the garden will get me out of bed at 6am. With fork in hand I’ll brave a light frost and watery sunshine to start the backbreaking work of turning over the soil in the perennial garden and the vegetable patch. Large clods of earth held together with ice crystals get turned over and left to sunbathe.

Hours later, I’ll waddle, with bent back, to the aptly named mudroom, my boots coated in a gelatinous layer. The next day, if there isn’t a late season snowstorm I’ll plant the baby leeks and get the first sowing of peas in. I’ll look down and notice that the paper I grabbed to put under my muddy boots is last season’s plant catalog.

Mud Season


You’re a write eejit when you love to play in the mud.

It’s that time of year where I live. A few days of rain and sleet have melted the foot or so of hardened snow and ice and turned the top layer into a gelatinous, brown mess. I didn’t get out early enough for my run through the woods and the icy ridges that I can usually balance on had turned into a mushy quagmire. I came home up to my uxters in mud.

There’s always a stage in a project where it turns to mud. Each direction you look you’re wallowing in muck. How did you get here, and more to the point, how are you going to get out?

It’s all a matter of perspective, folks. Once upon a wet, misty day in Ireland—yes, that could be any day, but this one was particularly memorable—I was six and my eldest sister, eight, and our parents took us for a hike up a mountain in Connemara. (In Ireland you don’t sit around waiting for the rain to stop, otherwise you’d never go anywhere or do anything.) So there we were, the four of us, being pummeled by gale force winds on the top of a craggy peak, the car was a tiny speck far below us with acres of steep, godforsaken bog and sheep tracks between us and the chocolate bar I’d left stashed under my seat. My short legs were already aching, and my Welly boots full of sludge from falling in one too many bog holes. What’s a girl to do? As we slipped and slid our way back down the mountain, rapidly becoming more and more covered in mud and soaked to the skin, my mother gave up trying to keep us upright. “All right, girls, go for it!” That was all the encouragement we needed. My sister and I rolled down the rest of that mountain, bumping through tussocks of bog cotton and cushiony pillows of heather. By the time we reached the car we were beyond saturation point. My mother stripped us off and wrapped us in scratchy wool blankets, and we sat grinning all the way home, munching chocolate.

You see, sometimes you just have to embrace the chaos, not wallow in it. As the gardener and the potter and the writer knows, if you’ve got mud, you’ve got substance. It’s ripe for growing. But first you’ve got to play a little. Revel in the chaos, and then slowly, slowly, let it take shape.