I caught this photo while sitting in the loft of Brian’s art studio. My daughter doesn’t like it because she feels like I look like a ghost. I suppose there is a spirit-y quality to it, maybe a bit haunting, but I like it because I’m a part of the apple orchard and the hillside and it’s the nearest way that I can think of to show what it feels like when I am outside and the outside is in me.
This blog wasn’t intended to be entirely about food. There is a lot about food in it, and there always will be. But, in fact, “Eating Buckets” is also about drinking from the firehose of life: All of it. All of life’s ups and downs pouring out with the force of life or a volcano or a forest fire that starts with the smallest of sparks or the beginning of everything beautiful that you’ve ever imagined (because there’s nothing more surprising than that first small cataclysmic spark that turns into something bigger than you really thought possible), and trying to figure out how to absorb it all and take it all in and then: That finite moment in time when you recognize your choices: Either the opportunity to digest and take it all in and grow, or to wither on the vine.
Food is a big part of things over here on my piece of earth. But it’s not just because I love food (which I do). Building a farm a week at a time, watching the plants grow, listening to the birds and bees and the rustling of the trees (there’s a reason that’s a cliche–it’s because it’s the first layer of what we hear when we listen), watching the rising of the river, seeing the change in the weather, feeling the cold and the heat, taking stock of how blue the sky is: Living here and working on our garden means spending time in nature and everything housed out there. Being outside makes me happy right down to my toes.
Knowing that a seed requires heat and water to grow makes me consider my life and the lives of my children: I prepare the garden and I sprinkle the fertilizer and I place a seed in the soil and I water it and I watch the sun stretch its waves of warmth across it and I think, oh please, please, please grow. And when it does, I am immensely gratified, joyful, thrilled.
In that moment of pause and gratitude and wonder, I have found myself asking: What do my kids need to grow? Because as a parent, I am the gardener and I must tend to their growth–my kids are young enough to need me to help with many things; they need reminders to eat and drink and brush their teeth and go to bed on time. I give them snuggles when they are sad, and I hold them until I feel the pain in their bodies start to dissipate and their heart start to lift. I am their manager of self-care and hopefully an inspiration at some level for how to be resilient and work hard and keep one’s chin up, and how to laugh and cry and be amazed at it all.
And then I find myself, when I am alone and looking out the window, asking: What do I need? As me, myself, I have to take care of myself. I have to remember what makes me tick. I have to seek out the moments that fill me. And in doing that, in seeking my best life, I will then be able to turn and fill my children with all the life that overflows from me and spills out into them.
So I have been considering this big question while weeding my garden and mowing my lawn and picking berries and fruit, and sitting at my perch at the window: What is the balance between pruning and harvesting and guiding a plant out in nature–and letting nature take its course, letting wildness reign supreme? When do we need to nestle in and make a home and grow, and when do we need to creep forward and explore everything we can?
Isn’t it funny how all plants are trying to get out of their plot in the land by making seeds that spread all around the world? They’re not just sitting there and “being.” They’re building a legacy of fruit that is delicious, that a bird or animal will just love, and their seed will travel and bloom where planted and get to live again somewhere else entirely.
Just like many teenagers, I used to wish I could grow up to be a National Geographic explorer: Traveling the world, photographing and writing about everything, tasting everything, meeting everyone, being a part of it all. I craved the wild and the vast and the adrenaline and the meeting and the joining and the shifting.
When I took my high school career placement survey sometime in my senior year, it told me that I should go into teaching or agriculture. I remember thinking, hmm, ok, teaching: I can see that. But Farming??? Pshaw! That sounds boring and ridiculous! I want to travel the world. Or be a doctor. And study everything. Or be a park ranger so I can live deep in the woods and study the wolves. Anything Different. That’s What I Want. I want to dive into every ocean–I should be a marine biologist. I want to meet every person–I should be a journalist. I want life to be wild–I should be a scientist. Agriculture? Cultivating all that wild stuff that’s supposed to be wild? Not for me.
But those professions actually have some clarifying similarities that line right up: A teacher works to identify the magic of how to inspire and cultivate kids’ knowledge and imagination. And a farmer tries to work with plants to tame their wildness enough to make them produce food for humans, while growing their wildness enough to make them live through an entire season of growing.
Both professions allow for a solid modicum of self-sufficiency and management and creativity. Both professions involve a level of magic. And both depend on something that resonates with us all: An ability to see the potential enough to move forward through anything, even difficult terrain or terrifying consequences.
I have been thinking about it. What do I need? Chances are, it’s not so different from most people.
Just like the tomato vine that I gently adjusted this morning to climb up a twined trellis, I wish for only friends and family who will reach out and help me change direction without breaking me; help prune my ways so that I will succeed and grow without stunting me; help me climb higher and higher and grow brighter and fuller without taming me. And I want all of that because I want to offer all of that.
And so after all this time and all this growth and all this life, I arrive at this line that resonates with me, and with my plants, and with my kids, and with my family, and with all of you:
At our core, all we really want is for all of you to love all of us.
With kindness. And support. And listening. And talking. And sharing. And opening up and being alive with us.
And that happens in our small neighborhood and in our small town and in our cities and as far abroad as you can imagine.
I remember the grandpa of an ex-boyfriend in college telling me, when I said I wanted to travel the world, that he had seen plenty from the point of view in his own backyard.
Bloom where planted.
Oh, man. I still want to hop on the next plane and visit a stranger in a far-off land. I still want to write the next most-loved novel. I still want to climb every mountain and swim in every ocean and taste every sauce around the world.
But I’m also just like you and the next person: I’m most curious who I’ll meet when I get there. I’m most excited about what I can add to the world by being there.
I hugged my daughter today as she cried and then when she felt better she dashed away. And I was happy. That’s what I want most as a person, as a mother, as a friend, as a gardener, as a worker, as a writer: I want to help.
My time is so short here. All of our time is so short. Are we doing what we love? Are we doing what we want? Are we making things better by being here? We all want that. We all want to be loved so that we can love back. We have such a deep need to live like that.
Have you ever noticed that a single plant of a single species looks lonely by itself? The dandelion has it pretty good, really. Doesn’t it? But still we’re always tugging at it and trying to get rid of its bright flowers.
I have bumped against enough closed circles in my time here. Every time I find that loop that closes into a singular circle, I realize immediately that it is not for me. I want more wild than that. Closed circles make me tired and antsy. Today as I tended the wilderness of my tomato forest and helped the plants go against their nature in order to produce brilliant fruit for me, I realized again that there is a calling for the gardener and agriculturist: It’s the one who plants the seeds and helps clear the brambles for the best outcomes. But the calling is also for someone who loves the world around them, who wants to plant more, not remove more. Who wants to listen to birdsong and beesong and hummingbird wings, and who finds immeasurable delight in the softness of a plum; who delights in the soft tendrils of spring leaves and green grass, and finds equal delight in crackling leaves blanketing the earth. Who wakes to the day with an equal joy for a cup of hot coffee and who finds measures of magic in the falling of snow and the snap of cold and the skeletal remains of branches in the wind.
It’s a lot of thinking today, isn’t it? Not many pictures. But it felt good to write it all down. Thanks for listening. Happy planting and happy living to you today.