Recent reading: Gravity, by W. Scott Olsen

A couple of days ago I finished reading Gravity, The Allure of Distance, by W. Scott Olsen. I bought it a few years ago. It called to me for all the predictable reasons. It’s a paperback. The cover shows an empty highway, a sign for Exit 0, and the kind of big-distance, big-sky terrain that felt like home the first time I saw it (and promptly got heat-induced delirium, because that was in the Mojave and it was the first time I’d spent real time in the desert, but that’s another story).


The book took me a long time to read.

It puzzled me that that was so. The writing is beautiful. The terrain described is beautiful. The author’s sense of what it is like to get on the highway and just keep going, the pull of six or eight big lanes and semi trucks running seventy or eighty miles an hour and motels in the middle of nowhere that you pull into late at night, of gas station rest stop food and diners in the middle of nowhere, seems like a relative of mine. The pull of empty roads through deserted passes, the exhilaration of steep cliffs and jagged rock formations in the middle of nowhere (but is it really nowhere, if the pull is so strong?), is familiar too.

And that’s when I realized: the trouble I had with this book is that it made too much sense to me. It was like reading the inside of my own head, or recalling my own memories. Not to say that I’ve driven the Dempster highway, or stepped over the Arctic circle, or have any desire to – I haven’t been to the Yukon, and thus far when it comes to big deserted open spaces I bias more toward heat than ice. But the mental and emotional perspective of heading for out there, of defining home as how far I can get driving in a day (how long is a day? is it from waking to sleeping? variable, then – and I recall the time I made it from Albuquerque to Indio before stopping for a hotel, then successfully negotiated a bargain because it was so late at night), makes sense to me.

So I read the book. And as I read it, I kept putting it down, because it covered territory already known to me.

Gardening in June

It’s June – mid-June, at that. The weather has been strange so far this year. March was unseasonably hot, but since then it’s been cooler than usual. As I’m writing this, I realize I have natural disasters on my mind: California is apparently facing the worst drought in some unnerving number of decades, and the local news is full of dire predictions about fire season.


At the same time, there was mist over the hills this morning, and although my recent months’ success with vegetables is nothing like last year’s beginner’s luck (gophers ate at least half of what I planted, tiny birds munched on seedlings, and some things simply didn’t grow – why?!), the flowers that have been coming up around the garden are amazing.

1. Dwarf jacaranda. We planted 3 small trees recently; I hadn’t expected blooms this year but here they are.

2. Sweet peas in the orchard. Love these.

3. This valiant tiny rose is growing from, I think, the rootstock of one that died out above it. Isn’t it pretty?

4. My favorite color of full-size rose.

5. These white flowers self-seeded from a single plant we bought two years ago. I’ve forgotten what it’s called, but it’s native to Greece. I love the way it’s interspersing with these pale purple alliums.

6. And for something edible after all – blossoms on the volunteer blackberry bush! One of these days I probably really should cut it back from the fig tree (is it strangling it? Is that a thing?) but I can’t bring myself to while it’s showing such promise of deliciousness to come.

Later today I’m aiming to weed one of the unplanted vegetable beds, weed-whack the orchard, and trench-compost everything that isn’t likely to seed or resprout. Then in another half-empty bed, I’m going to re-plant the leafy greens I’ve been missing: kale and arugula and maybe some summer-proof spinach. Fingers crossed!

And for views onto other gardeners’ gardens, head over to The Propagator’s blog!

It’s been a while

So much has happened.

I have a new job. It’s a new role on a new team in a new organization at the same company – but in a company as big as Google, that kind of change can be significant, and in this case it is. And I’d been on Maps for nearly eight years.

The house is finally coming along. I am optimistic that one of these days, there may not be painters’ tape on the living room walls and the coat rack that should live in the entryway will no longer loom over the breakfast table in the kitchen and the stone that’s in the garage waiting to be power-washed and then installed around the fireplace may be, you know, power-washed and installed around the fireplace.

I’m still working out. Three times a week, consistently, since late December – thank you Agile PT for running online classes I actually show up to. I think this is the strongest I’ve been in maybe 10 years.

The weather’s changed! I’m two or three sunburns in (and soon I will start wearing sunblock more consistently). Yesterday the temperature felt like early summer: noticeably over eighty degrees (26+ C for anyone reading this not from the US) and after work, after weeding one of the vegetable beds & resetting a handful of drip irrigation lines, I lounged on the patio with a glass of wine until dark. Which wasn’t until 8 pm or so. Delight! (Thank you Ross Gay for that phrasing.)

In the garden, the bindweed is going crazy and I need to get the summer seeds in: zucchini, tomatoes (always an experiment, since I direct-seed them; I have two transplants in already just in case), sweet corn, beans… maybe today, after work again.

I’ve had my first vaccine shot, and the second one is scheduled and coming up soon. I’ve marked ‘maybe’ time off from work on my calendar, so I won’t have to reschedule meetings and can just rest if I have side effects. I’m grateful to work on a team where taking time off if you feel rotten from the vaccine is expected & normal & not controversial or even weird.

I’ve been dreaming again, too. I don’t mean dreaming in a big metaphorical ‘what do I want to do with my life’ kind of sense. I mean literal dreams, vivid ones, where I wake up still able to smell the Japanese barbecue or feel the old brick under my fingers or with my gaze tilted back to see the top of a skyscraper in a far-away city. I think I’m (finally) missing travel, but more than that, I think the past eighteen-plus months of adrenaline spikes and floods, caused more by a job that was a bad fit than by the pandemic, are finally receding from my body, leaving in their wake the underlying, no-longer-so-drowned-over landscape of who I’ve always been.

It’s getting better.