This month, the garden

One of the misters I’m aiming to replace.

Last week, a headline ran in the local newspaper: storm coming! More rain than we’ve had all year! 

It netted out to about half an inch. 

It was probably the last real rain we’ll see till October. 

Usually I turn off the sprinklers & drip system in winter, but a few weeks back I looked around and realized pretty much everything needed more water. I’ve been gradually switching to more natives and Mediterranean plants, aiming for a low-water garden, but *low* water isn’t *no* water, and even California natives need some moisture in the winter, especially if they’re baby plants which aren’t yet established. Plus there are the citrus trees, and the vegetable garden, and the berries. We’ve had a lot of drought years and I aim to mostly grow things that make sense in this climate, but watering plants that produce food feels like a solid trade-off. 

So, for the past few weeks that’s been my focus: repair, update, overhaul the sprinkler system. Partly this was just reminding myself what needed doing and repairing lines that various critters had chewed through (I’m telling myself it’s bunnies, which is a nicer thought than the alternatives), but I also switched from misters to drip lines in an ornamental bed where I plan to make a dry garden, and indulge my love of cactus & succulents; ripped out the water-hungry invasive blackberries that were strangling the fig tree (the berries were tasty, but so are figs, and there are more blackberries elsewhere); replaced some lavender plants that didn’t make it last year; planted tomatoes & basil (it’s early, but it’s an experiment, and one of the basil varieties is supposed to manage okay in cold nights); added more strawberries because why not; and planted, indeed, more natives. 

There’s still more I want to do on the drip lines. Having seen how much more pleasant they are than misters, and how much less prone to breaking, I want to switch them *all* out, not just the ones I’d initially targeted. And I still need to get the sprinklers for the (very small; another tradeoff) back lawn up and running, which means replacing & adjusting all the pop-up heads. 

From January through March, I also logged how much time I spent working in the garden. Three months of data seems like enough to give me a clear picture. It feels like a lot, but is it really? I’d like to set the garden up to be low(er) effort. But how much of a diff can I get to? Unknown. Nearly everything I’ve done in the past couple of months goes beyond maintenance to improvements (although I remain amazed by how fast weeds grow back). I’m aiming to get to a point where I can both maintain what’s here, and make small improvements, in maybe two afternoons each week. 

Meanwhile, it’s incredibly satisfying to look at the new native huckleberries, and the mallows along the fence, and the starts for rainbow chard, and the flowers interspersed with the jacarandas, and feel the sense and shape of the garden coming into focus. This morning when I went outside the drip lines on the citrus trees were humming away, and I thought, okay, that’s good, that’s better.

Two years

March 2020

Two years ago today, I took a photograph of the parking lot at the office. It was emptier than I’d ever seen it on a business day. Two years ago, I held the door open for someone whose hands were full with laptop and lunch tray, and she looked at me shamefaced. “I was trying not to touch the door handles,” she said, intending apology; she hadn’t meant to encourage me to touch them either. Two years ago, my colleague J and I talked about how much we didn’t want to work from home.

Last week, Google announced the official return-to-work date for the Bay Area. If I’ve learned one thing over the past two years, it’s that the future is uncertain, but if I had to bet, I would bet that this time it sticks. We humans, like other animals, run on seasonal cycles. It feels like no coincidence that the timing is so precisely two years later, almost to the day – not in a PR sense, but simply because annual cycles feel like a natural structure to orient around.

Two years. I suspect that all of us who’ve lived through this will remember this time as a marker, a shift. I spent the first month figuring out how to make my own lunch (in my defense, not only was I out of practice, but getting groceries was a challenge, and I suspect I underestimated the mental and emotional hit of lockdown as well) and getting my computer setup working acceptably for work. I remember the feelings of rage and frustration as the world slowed. I remember the fear I felt for my parents, the disorientation and surely not really when I was on videocalls with people in New York, and heard ambulances’ sirens, and the people I was talking to said they could see the hospital tents going up in Central Park. At home, we were in the middle of a house remodel, and simply putting everything on pause with walls down to the studs was painful. When I went for a walk, the other few people out walking and I crossed to opposite sides of the street.

I was sick – was it Covid? I don’t know; I suspect so, but I assume I will never know for sure. Covid or not, it probably accounts for some of my retrospective mental haze.

My mind kept running on the same cycles. I kept thinking there must be some way to push through.

I had been so busy. Suddenly, I wasn’t.

I remember the feeling of relief.

I remember how I sat in the yard and watched the eastern hills as the Bay Area’s pollution faded away.

I remember seeing a dozen baby quail arrive, scurry, hunt for seeds, grow up. They were smaller than my thumb at first, and there were times I didn’t cross the yard for fear of scaring them.

I learned that I am as much homebody as adventurer, which for the prior twenty years I hadn’t really given myself a chance to notice.

I lost my dad.

One good friend had a baby; another good friend’s baby started growing up without my being there to see.

I read a lot. I gardened. I cooked. I went for walks.

There were the fires, and I was grateful for the air filters we’d bought for construction.

Two years. It’s a long time. It’s long enough for a person to really shift, to become someone else. To build a different kind of life. I have new rhythms, new goals. I want different things.

I am not interested in or willing to lose who I am now.

Now, one way or another, we are on to what’s next. I know the timing is different for everyone, and California’s Bay Area has been especially hardcore on restrictions – if you are reading this, maybe your experience is very different. I imagine the fact of the change, though, may be something we have in common, even if the nature of the change bears no resemblance.

How am I going to do this? I don’t know. I hadn’t expected to like working from home, but the observed reality is that I do. I like the focus of it, the ability to settle in to my time and think. I like the feeling of control. I am healthier than I have been in years. I feel more connected to my home, and, oddly, to my team at work. I would like to see my colleagues in person occasionally, but I like the time I now have alone; I cannot imagine going back to my pre-pandemic patterns. In a probably-related observation, I would like to see my friends more too – but I looked at my calendar for the months before the pandemic, and I have no intention of going back to that way of life either. In all spheres, before the pandemic I was simply doing way too much.

Now I need the patience and resolve to see what happens – and to shape my own version of what’s next.

Smoke

I had the idea that I’d do a lot of gardening this week. I had good stuff planned: weeding, pruning back the takeover rosebush from the path, fixing up the orchard drip irrigation lines, fertilizer on the citrus trees.

But.

This.

There’s smoke on the horizon and if I go outside, I cough. The air smells like a campfire gone wrong. One person I know has evacuated, and another got a warning that didn’t follow through; some others from my poetry group, who I am less in touch with outside our monthly get together, I worry about. I worry about family, too, and the power getting cut, and all the old growth redwoods in Big Basin, and the beautiful buildings that got built the last time things were really bad, back when there was the WPA. I worry about my favorite parks, about the trees and bobcats. I hope, nervously, that the mountain lions are okay.

I worry.

I hope everyone – and although I know it’s impossible, at least as much all the trees – is okay.