50° mornings. The back porch shaded until well after noon. I keep migrating the peppers, still bearing so many hopefuls, looking for any spot that escaped the sun’s sudden cold shoulder. Before I grew things, I loved the fall. The season of my birth. Now I’m begging everything to hold on … We had so little time.
Last year, between tours, I was only the somewhat reluctant mother of moths, their caterpillars sheltering in the marigolds that require little care beyond scattering seeds, which is why I suppose I’ve always liked them so much. I can help, but they don’t NEED me. It’s hard to tend a garden on the road, as Rebecca Loebe says. But this year, in the absence of roads I (and road-warrior Rebecca, too) kept gardens. As a consequence, entire civilizations have risen with my improvements to the yard; My personal Works Progress Administration, to survive my great depression.
I enjoy the many little lives I’ve facilitated in the absence of my own, the tiny ecosystems that popped up. Things have come to live with us. I used to keep an eye out for the occasional tree frog, a delightful visitor to the back porch. Now they’ve made a home in the young red maple potted there, and I find them every morning. I had to pry a slumber party of caterpillars from the muscadine leaves. A particular praying mantis prowls the front marigolds, where the tiny anime-jet-plane skippers pollinate them into new hybrids. The disused staircase I removed evicted a bunny and its baby, but I believe they have gone to live in the wood pile of low-hanging pine branches my father and I cut, now seasoning at the fenceline. The garden down in the yard also needs a season to be ready for use. I spent 20 hours digging it free of half a dozen decade-entrenched pokeweed taproots before black-bagging it to let the summer heat ensure a clean slate. Even in that inhospitable landscape I created, the big black toad has taken residence, and sometimes I bring down to him some of the aphids who’ve gotten too friendly with the pepper plants. Nature has varying levels of welcomeness.
But it’s all going to go away.
I suppose I need to remind myself that it is not going away as much as hiding away … like my musical life … like me. Just because the trees are bare doesn’t mean they’re dead. But it’s been so hard to be so empty. And to be so out of sync with my season. Normally, summer is a flurry of travel, contests, festivals, winery gigs and concert series. I pile it on, building up a downy layer to protect against hometown gigs inevitably cancelled for winter snows. And here fall is, coming fast, with none of the usual emotional or financial stores built up. And here I am, cradling the withering endeavors of summer.
It’s probably finally time to file for unemployment.
No, I didn’t before now. I didn’t even apply for any of the artist grants or aid out there. Maybe its self-defeating … but I couldn’t get past the idea that others needed it more, possibly even to survive. For example, my husband’s job was busier than ever, ensuring I’d continue to have a place to live. Otherwise, I’ve always been proud when it comes to how much a romantic partner helps me financially, and I found ways to cover my bills, limping by on livestreams and the dumb luck that I had just paid off both my car and my credit card before lockdown. A dear friend leveled with me: You will have to box yourself for a while. So I tucked the nomad in the attic and became homesteader and housewife. My landscaping is the envy of the neighborhood, the stepkids finished the school year well, and I learned … to cook. In fact, I made almost every single meal here for two months straight. Who AM I?
Yesterday, I decided it was cool enough to spend four hours over a stove making lasagna again (a quarantine skill I picked up during my brief forays inside the house) and we ate it by candlelight in sweatshirts on the back porch. I’m trying to make my peace with and find my place in the coming season. And this week, as family needs and commitments that dominated my quarantine finally subside, I am trying … to unbox myself.
It’s scarier than I thought it would be, just trying to return to what you want.
But I’m reminded of something learned digging out that stubborn garden that might apply to me now, even in this wrong season. A few weeks after I black-bagged it to kill everything I couldn’t till out, shrouding it in absolute, merciless darkness and suffocating heat … I got curious and peeked beneath. Much to my horror, an army of anemic little seedlings STILL burst forth from earth. The same dear friend told me that seeds are their own energy source, and have enough stored power to force themselves through the soil … even in the dark.