Wednesday, July 10, 2013


my mom's sunflowers
 I am in northern California. My mom is recovering from a surgery, and we are using that as an excuse to essentially be on vacation together in her home, doing very little, sitting in the sun, escaping from reality for a while and creating an alternate universe of our own.

My mom is an awesome, lovely, sweet woman who is currently reading a book called, "Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking." She is not quiet at home. I am a cranky New Yorker readjusting to clean air and kindness, reading a book by Goethe called "The Italian Journey," and find myself saying very little in this holiday world. My step-dad is jolly and hard of hearing, occasionally popping in to shout jokes at us before disappearing to read a book called, "Chasing the Wild Pendulum: a History of Consciousness." It's been in the 90s all week and there are about 30 hummingbirds fighting over 3 feeders hanging from nearby cedars and bays. And that I think sums us up admirably.
mom's butterfly
We've realized through talking this week that I've been in New York City longer than I've lived anywhere else, and I'm not sure what to feel about this accomplishment. My mom's current house was my pre-teen and teen haven, but I've slept in New York City longer than I dreamed in the corner room with the writing desk. My step-Dad has been driving my old Mazda protege longer than I ever did, and now it smells distinctly of dog and cigar. It's not my car at all any more, even though the Japanese prayer my brother brought back for me is still hanging from the rear-view mirror.

There's been a slight paradigm shift under my feet as I've sunbathed in the rocking chair, a gentle ah-ha, settling-in feeling; the comfort of being around family, looking out the window at a tree-covered mountain, having nothing on today's schedule. Obviously one can't be on vacation all the time, but I dare to hope that this feeling of support and peace can be cultivated everywhere I go. And I think I will go other places. Having hit a record in NYC, I feel a release to dream new dreams and learn new things. That city doesn't have to be my comfort zone, because that place is here in my mom's garden.

her other butterfly
She waters it every day, even if she needs a cane. She let me help her with it a couple of times, but frankly she doesn't like being helped. We talk about the amount of time and water it takes to keep her plants alive, and I confess that I would feel rather oppressed if I knew I had to come home to an hour-long watering chore every day. It's a big commitment, cultivation. Mom agrees that I lack the natural knack, but she insists that standing still with a hose in your hand is a kind of a meditation, a cycle of nourishing at a pace I have grown incapable of keeping. She feeds her plants and they feed her, there's a symbiotic understanding between them more subtle than shade or scent. Slowing down is tricky for me, but it really is all I want right now. So I take up the hose.

The squashes and the sunflowers are hard for me, nothing but leaves, but once I make it to the tomatoes and the hot sweet smell of them hits me, my imagination chimes in. The tomato plants transport me to Marlon Brando's death scene in the Godfather, where he's chasing his grandson, and the memory of sharing the film with my Dad. Their earthy, bright smell takes me back to another garden mom kept in another county, another life when I was half my size and surrounded by all the people I loved in the world (it was a smaller world then). The tomatoes we pick for our salad are small and still hot, and taste like the Amalfi coast in Italy, where my mom daringly took me to celebrate graduating from High School.

might just stay here...
I still don't think I am ready to knuckle down and devote myself to a garden as vast and lush as my mom's, but that is only because I haven't built up the patience or the land yet. I understand now how she can devote herself to it, how it gives itself back to her, how it becomes it's own world of memories and thoughts as well as living forms. There's a small succulent plant on my windowsill in Harlem that my roomie is keeping alive for me at this very moment. I explained to her that if I can keep this plant a live for a year, maybe then I can trust myself with pets, children. She pointed out that recovering addicts have the same process, which I think is hilarious. I am not a recovering addict, just a bit of a workaholic space cadet. Why is it so hard to keep other things alive? That succulent of mine may have company soon, because I really want to take my mom's garden with me when I go back. I want to spend time and energy in the garden, to tend and garner results. I want to slow down. I want to live at the pace of plants.
happiness least, sometimes...