Monday, February 20, 2012

A Retrospective on Transitions

While I'm on vacation this week, I thought I'd pull one out of the archives.  The following blog post was from an old blog of mine, and a lifetime ago.  I was a military wife, an at-home mom, a marginal homesteader, an organic growing activist, and a freelance writer.  My kids were wee.  We were living in rural Connecticut, and I had recently learned we would be moving here, to southern California. 
I share this because sometimes, it's interesting to open time capsules.
Between Homes
Military wives know better than to plant perennials.

But I went ahead and did it anyway.

There's no stopping me, really, even when I know better: I am a gardener at heart, and planting things is what comes naturally. I'm also a total foodie--I eat my way through life's major events. Ask me about the births of my daughters and you will hear about The Best English Muffin Ever (turns out that labor makes you easily pleased) and the Paht See Yew of Mercy (which really was as good as I remembered it when I tried it later, months post-partum-desperation).

When it comes to food plants, there's only so far annuals will get you. Strawberries, for instance, and asparagus, and rhubarb, and tree fruits and nuts and cane fruits and Jerusalem artichokes all take a year or two or ten to bear. But I love them, so I planted them anyway, even though I had to real right to.

Or at least no real right to think that I would ever harvest them, and less right to hope that whoever next occupies my home will appreciate them, that they might care for them and harvest them and enjoy them or at the very least not bulldoze them under a putting green.

But I hope this, anyway.

Because we are moving now, from one coast to the opposite. I have the advantage of a long lead time, six months or so until we actually pull up roots. In theory this means lots of time to prepare, to do the root pruning perennials require before you dig them up and plant them elsewhere. In reality, it just means I'm in limbo.

Because I am leaving behind more than my garden. I grew a community here, too. A church and a school district and friends. Sometimes I wonder if I had the right to do that, either. People here know me, they recognize me when I go to vote and when I take my kids on jogging stroller rides. My local farmer stocks my favorite brand of local milk at his farm stand and reserves half a hog for me from each fall's slaughter. One of my best friends raises my turkeys and chicken and eggs and--when I need a helping hand--my kids. The kids in my daughter’s school write her notes like "Your mom is so cool," after I do worm presentations and teach them how to churn ice cream.

Six months' lead time becomes a period of forced dormancy, where you are afraid to grow any more new roots or reach your branches more deeply into your community, because you know each point of connection is one more that will be severed when it is time to leave. But at the same time, you cannot do the work you need to do, preparing the place where you will next grow, because you are not there yet. So many tasks in the garden (and life) rest on the belief that you will be there to reap the fruits of your labors. And if you're not, what's the point?

This is where I am: premature winter.

"You transplant well," my father reassured me, and on some level he is right: I have moved 9 times in the last 13 years, and I have weathered most of those moves mostly intact. There is reason to be optimistic that I will settle into my new place, and begin to put down roots.

Yet here, I have made a home. Here, I have flourished. And that is something I never accomplished in any of my previous moves, or for that matter the place where I spent the first 16 years of my life. The great metaphor of military spouses everywhere is that we are like turtles, carrying our homes on our backs. For me, at least, that has not been quite accurate. I can carry a home, I suppose, transporting it with me wherever I go. But I cannot carry a community, and it was here--this home I grew without really meaning to--that I learned that without deep connections to the surrounding community, my movable home was really more of a house.

Gardening is so much an act of faith, an opening to grace. You can control your soil fertility, your tilth, your seeds and your transplants. But the acts of God--rain, sun, and your first and last frosts--remain frustratingly out of your control. So you do the best you can with those things you can control, and pray for blessings elsewhere.

When I moved here I cried. It was not, I was sure, the kind of place where I would ever feel at home. Call it cosmic irony, but the place I did not want to come has become the place I do not want to leave.

So while I wait, while I am between, I will cultivate this: optimism and faith. I will hope that my next move will again surprise me, reward me with blessings I could not have foreseen. In the meantime, I will tend my garden and my community as if I were still going to be here in year (or 10 or 100) because in doing so, I may make a space for the next person to call home.
I thought I'd include a pic of our pastoral New England existence, but when I found this one--taken at a beach in Rhode Island--my heart seized in my chest, paralyzed by the distance between then and now. 

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