Our miniverse is out at the community garden almost every day. Plot #5 transforms into a little farm before our eyes:
My browser is full of beginner gardener searches: drought tolerant vegetables, how to start a drip irrigation system, companion planting, garden schematics. I pepper my colleagues with questions on watering and planning. One of them sends me instructions for a DIY worm composting bin: take a five gallon bucket, drill holes in it, bury it, and put a screw top lid on. I buy the supplies and Sal breaks out his power drill:
“Where do you want it?” Sal asks.
“Somewhere on the edge,” I say. “I’m planting sunflowers around it so the worms can get some shade.”
Sal and the kindergartener start digging. I distract the toddler while they swing shovels and clear away rocks. After about 20 minutes, I check in on their progress.
“Four inches,” Sal says. “At this rate, I’ll have a foot dug in about two hours.”
Plant experiments have taken over the balcony. It’s a jungle of succulents, herbs, fruit trees, edible flowers, and vegetables. The kindergartener squirrels away seeds from oranges, apples, and avocados to plant more and more. I have got to find an outlet for this naturalist energy.
My sister suggests trying for a community garden. I email the City of San Jose’s program to request getting on a waiting list. I know it’s a long shot. Community garden plots in the city are super hard to find. But about a week later I get an email back – a few spots are open, am I interested? Yes! I would take a postage stamp plot next to a highway, I’m so desperate to find this kid some dirt.
After a couple more weeks of emails, I meet the program coordinator at the garden. It’s gated and tucked away in a neighborhood, plenty of sunshine. I tour the space, review the rules and fee structure, and sign the papers. I feel like I won the lottery, staring at this 132 square foot patch of weed-sprinkled dirt…
I drive home with ideas and plans swirling in my mind. I’ll set up a drip irrigation system. Pick up supplies at Lowe’s. I could plant peppers – it’s not too late for peppers.
The kindergartener is in the middle of a game. I lower his iPad, grinning.
“I have a surprise for you. Want to hear what it is?”
His eyes widen. “No!” he whispers. “You can’t tell me if it’s a surprise.”
“Well, that’s true.” I think about how to reword it. “Ok, well, I planned a surprise for you, and now it’s ready, so want to hear what it is?”
“Yeah!” he says.
“I just got us a big patch of garden to plant!”
His brow furrows. “Are we going to live there, or…?”
“Oh, no,” I say. “We will still live here. We will just drive to it and take care of it there.”
“Oh,” he says, “is it far away?”
“No, it’s not that far, but we still have to drive to get there.” I am having trouble explaining a community garden to a five-year-old.
I tell Sal the good news, and he does a better job with explanations.
“It’s like a tiny farm,” he says. “You can be a farmer.”
The kindergartener grins. “I want to go to our farm right now and start planting seeds!”
I chuckle. “Me too, but first we have to decide what to plant. We’ll plot it out together.”
I’m so happy. It’s been forever since I had a bit of ground.
As the days trickle by, our miniverse expands. Our condo complex opens the pool and the kindergartener begs to go everyday. I have my first full day at the office. I go out to lunch with coworkers and sit at my desk. It is weird and not weird.
This weekend, family fly in for a visit. Our little condo teems with little piping voices and excitement of visitors. We have an outdoor picnic at my aunts house for the Fourth of July. As I sit in the sunshine, watching the adults catch up and the kids dig in the dirt together, I marvel at the novelty of it all. What were we doing this time last year? I can’t remember. It’s starting to fade already.
After a year and a half of wearing a mask everywhere, I am reluctant to release it. I’m fully vaccinated, but still mask up in grocery stores. In small settings with familiar people, I leave it off but keep it in my pocket, just in case.
Navigating the recovery from a pandemic is to collect experiences that were once everyday things, but are strange and new again.
“What are you doing?” a little voice pipes up at my elbow. The Kindergartener leans in on tiptoe to take a look.
“Washing these carrots,” I say.
“Can I help? I want to wash a carrot,” he says.
“Ok, go wash your hands.”
I slide the step stool over and give him a scrubber.
“Watch what I do. See how I’m scrubbing it all around?”
“Wow, that’s a lot of dirt,” he says.
“Yeah, carrots get really dirty, because they come right out from the ground.”
“Yeah, these vegetables just came right off the farm and from the dirt,” he says.
I expect him to lose interest after the carrots, but he wants to keep going. He empties the big silver bowl and I refill it with water.
“What is this?” I say, shaking some fronds at him.
“No, smell it.”
He leans in and wrinkles his nose.
“It’s called fennel,” I say. “What does it smell like?”
“I don’t know.”
“Here, try a taste,” I give him a few fronds from the top. “What does it taste like?”
“I don’t like it.”
“Use your science words,” I say, “and describe the taste.”
“How do you say, ‘I don’t like it’ in science?” he says.
“You don’t,” I say, scrubbing the fennel in the water. “Science isn’t about if you like or don’t like something.”
We go through bowl after bowl, until the counter is filled with sparkling, damp vegetables.
“Look at all this!” the kindergartener says.
“Thanks for helping me,” I say. “That was a lot of work.”
On Tuesday, I have a Make Your Own Pizza night. I spread out chopped vegetable offerings for the kids to add to their side of the pizza.
“It’s an experiment!” I say. “Why not try something new?”
The Kindergartener sprinkles olives and some fennel fronds on his slice. The toddler grabs a huge fistful of the fennel and throws it on his side. He adds an onion sliver and a sprinkle of olives.
“Wow!” I say. “That looks great!”
They actually eat it. Well, the Kindergartener eats some of it. But the toddler inhales it. My anti-inflammatory cookbook says if you get kids to help with meal prep, they’re more likely to eat vegetables. It worked!
It’s 9 p.m. and Sal is upstairs trying to coax the toddler to sleep. Downstairs, the hum of the fan blends with the sounds from the open window as San Jose settles down for the night. I set a cup on the counter with an herbal tea bag in the bottom. I stand over the electric kettle, watching the water bubble through my half-steamed glasses in the near darkness.
I am thinking about the power of plants.
Plants are rather magical. Stick a seed in soft soil, give it air, sun, and time, and this little seed will magic up flowers, bark, fruit, vegetables, and seeds just like itself. Or, in the case of apples, the seed will create fruit with seeds very much unlike itself. And those seeds will produce apples of completely different sort!
Brewing tea is casting a spell: the heat pulls the magic out of the herbs and transfers it to the water. I sip the brew, taking in the power of plants.
My doorbell rings around 10 a.m. It’s Vegetable Monday! I run downstairs to get the bags of vegetables, fruit, and eggs out of the warming sun.
“Thanks,” I call down to the CSA delivery guy, who turns around and smiles.
“You’re welcome,” he calls up to me. “How is the delivery going?”
What I want to say:
This past year, you delivered inspiration, wonder, and something to look forward to during the doldrums. You risked your health to deliver our food. Before this vegetable box, our table was a wasteland of chicken nuggets, McDonald’s cheeseburgers, and frozen peas.
What I actually say:
“It’s going great. We signed up during the pandemic, when the shelves were getting empty, but we just kept it going because it was so great.”
“Oh, that’s good to hear,” he says.
I return his friendly wave and think: there goes an everyday hero.
At the end of the Shelter in Place Order, I arrive at a crossroads. Should I keep writing? Take a break?
“You should keep writing,” Sal says. “You have a momentum going.”
I laugh. “You are the one who said I could stop.”
“You could just write for twenty minutes every day. Just keep it going. It’s hard to start again once you stop.”
We talk about the importance of a habit of writing and painting. The Muse arrives without warning, and you have to be ready or you won’t recognize her when she visits.
“Maybe I could post a couple times a week, or once a week,” I say, warming up to the idea.
“Yeah, it doesn’t have to be your blog every day. It can be parts of a story one day, and the blog the next. I do that with my paintings. I put one down and come back to it later, and then I see something new,” Sal says.
I take a break for a couple days. It’s nice having a free evening with no extra credit obligations.
But on Thursday, as the night shadows fill the condo, I feel that pull again. Thoughts and ideas swim around my head. Phrases start to form as I pull out the old MacBook.
What am I going to write about? I think, as the screen lights up. I have nothing to write about now.
How do I feel as I type these words, marking the end of a 453-day quarantine? Relief, excitement. Tentative hope. An undercurrent of nervous energy and disbelief. Threaded throughout, a raw sense of loss.
I don’t know why I felt compelled to write every day of the Shelter in Place Order. I don’t know where this desire to record this terrible and bizarre year and a half came from. I know I will never forget it. I know I am ready to end it.
I greet this next chapter with grit in my eye, dragging these complex ideas and feelings with me.
I’m standing at my homequarters desk in a meeting when a blip appears on my phone:
CAL FIRE Incident: A new incident has been reported as active in your area. Silicon Fire is currently 30 acres and 20% contained…
Sometime during the summer of smoke and fire, I signed up for local hazard alerts through the County’s system. I check CAL FIRE’s Twitter account – the fire is about 10 minutes away.
Over the weekend I dreamt of a terrible fire, like the SCU Lightning Complex Fire one last year. The dream blips back into my mind with the text alert.
Throughout the day, I pop into the Twitter feed to check CAL FIRE’s progress. While running errands, I think about the bags we packed last year, sitting by the door. How I lined up our shoes by the door every night in case of an evacuation.
The fire is contained pretty quickly, and all is well by the end of the day. We don’t know what this summer will be like, I remind myself.
It’s just a dream.
What am I grateful for today?
Tomorrow, the state is opening up. Not really sure what that means locally yet, but I’m excited!