Our section of the street was a curved tail-end of a longer road, a detour along an otherwise linear path. There was (still is) a cove in the middle of the curve, which gave our block a natural feeling of privacy and community. Whenever a new neighbor moved in, John was usually the first to introduce himself and extend a warm welcome. When he introduced himself to me, decades ago now, he indicated which house was his by describing his yard as a place that fed bees and butterflies and looked a little different from all the other, more tidy, front lawns.
By early summer every year, native grasses and wildflowers in John’s yard were waist-high. Come fall, he raked leaves only enough to pile winter protection for the peonies and azaleas. Behind the house was a garden of berries, herbs, fruits, and vegetables. All of it, front and back, was tended just enough to remain wild but not neglected.
I’ve been thinking about John’s wild meadow lawn in both literal and figurative ways. With spring comes the return of “creeping Charlie” in my deeply-neglected yard, and every year I continue to ignore both the invasive weed and the yard in general. I’ve grown to dislike (loathe) weeding and garden work, though I suspect the dislike is specific to this particular yard which was overwhelming to me from the start, 18 years ago. My rationale behind ongoing benign neglect was that a wild yard might feed a healthy ecosystem.
It is time, though, to mark a line between natural and completely feral. That line is a line of intention, separating conscious decision from lazy abdication. A wild meadow of native grass and flowers is different from a careless overgrowth of harmful, invasive species. It’s time to take a stand. So I’ve been collecting pictures and pinning articles to make clear in my mind what I want to be true on the other side of what promises to be an arduous task of digging, pulling, and pruning. Once I have a general idea of the desired end result, I’ll decide what of the wild yard will remain. The next, and harder, step will entail removing the rest, the things that aren’t working.
The yard, of course, is also a metaphor for this particular pandemic moment. As a post-pandemic horizon emerges, I see a brief moment of opportunity to consider the line between natural and feral, not only physically in the yard but also, abstractly, at home and at work.
The pandemic’s silver lining (one I’d venture is actually precious platinum, not silver) is that it has illuminated options and possibilities that were once deemed impractical or off limits. In the 15 months of perpetual adjusting, pivoting, recalibrating, and surviving, what’s been let go that wasn’t really needed in the first place, and what’s been discovered that we should keep?
We don’t have long to consider such things. When the restrictions lift and the floodgates open, the pull toward old habits and familiar behaviors will be mighty. Without a clear vision of what might lie ahead, our basic instincts will want to lead us back where we were before. That world, of course, no longer exists.
So, whether it’s a vision board exercise, a re-do of the yearly planning worksheets (you know how much I love these, right?), or just scribbles on a sticky note, now’s the time to commit that dream to paper. Write it down; put the idea in the physical world, even if it seems like a silly thing to do. Hope is optimism with a plan, and a written plan, even on a sticky note, is more likely to become reality.
Reading/Listening (mostly on the same theme):
Decision Fatigue (from 2011 but just as important to understand right now)
What Does ‘Home’ Mean to Us Now? (Not the same thing it did before the pandemic.) (“We’re all feral weirdos now.”)
My children have gone feral during the pandemic. It’s fine. (“If the choice is between chaos and unhappiness, I’ll take chaos.”) (AMEN)
The New Science of Motherhood (“For moms, there’s physiological and neurological truth to the cliché that parenthood changes a person.”)
The Science of Hope (podcast/interview with Dr. Jacqueline Mattis, clinical psychologist and dean of faculty at Rutgers)
For audiobook lovers: Searching through the recent 2-for-1 sale on Audible, I stumbled upon Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, a novel I’d read years and years ago. And since I wasn’t tempted by much else on the list, I decided revisiting George Smiley might be enjoyable (and require very little from my tired, decision-overloaded brain). Reader, it was magnificent – like a whole new experience. If you’re a George Smiley fan, I’ll recommend listening, even if you’ve already read all the books. Promise.
April is national card and letter-writing month, and the #write_on folks at Egg Press put together yet another great list of resources, prompts and supports. Yes, I know it’s actually the end of April already. But it’s never too late to write a note.
I’m in the “I cannot make another decision, so keep things simple” phase of cooking. Salads, one-dish pastas, sheet plan dinners, my version of a blue plate special (chicken+starch+green vegetable), or take-out from India Palace. That’s mostly the rotation.
What I have cooked, when I’ve cooked, has been from NYT Cooking. So, fair warning: All of the links below require a subscription – one that is completely worth the price and that I encourage you to get if you don’t have it already.
Cod Cakes (completely delicious)
Here’s a funny thing about writing and occasionally posting ridiculous video tutorials: When I least expect it, someone will walk down my street, see me on the porch, and call out, “Thanks for the fried egg lesson! I make it every day now!” On top of that, another friend, similarly inspired, gave me the completely delightful Midnight Chicken cookbook (which really isn’t a cookbook but a memoir with recipes – my favorite kind of book).
My book group read and discussed Klara and the Sun, which we all enjoyed and would recommend to anyone who thinks or cares about humans, humanity, and artificial intelligence. Hard to divulge more without spoiling the book. Next up for us is The Midnight Library. My copy was a gift from my daughter, a souvenir from a spring break trip she took without me. (“You always bring us things when you travel, so I bought something for you.”)
Side Note: Yes, I realize both of these books were on the list last month, and that I’ve added nothing new here. This is how things are.
Radical Self Care.
I write a note to myself every day, a practice I’ve found calming, grounding, affirming, and fun — so much so that I’d even recommend the habit.
“If I come back as a bird, kid, I want to be a Peregrine Falcon. It’s the F16 of birds.”
David Hill, ornithologist, atheist, retired pilot, and dear friend whom I got to see live and in person this week, along with his wife Elisabeth, because we’re all vaccinated. The relief was indescribable.