Ice and flowers …

Ice and flowers …

Home just in time to batten the hatches

Published on Substack: OCT 30, 2023

TIny bottles with nasturtium flowers in front of a frosted window
Slightly out of focus nasturtiums in front of a frosty window

I got home from California just in time to spend most of last week running around trying to get ready for the snow and cold temperatures that blew in late in the week. There was an actual hatch to batten on the greenhouse shed, storm windows to put up, tomatoes and herbs and flowers to harvest, strawberries and herbs to bury in straw, and a chicken coop that needed winterizing.

All while working my regular job (which thankfully was a little slow last week, for the first time since June).

We had a very odd fall this year. We never did get a hard frost, until we got snow. I’m hoping my wee cherry trees will be okay, and as usual, by this time of year, I’m ready for the garden to be done. There are some hardy greens I’m hoping made it through the single digits, we lucked out and got over a foot of snow to insulate them, so later this week, as it warms up, I’ll probably have to do one more mad harvest, complete with chopping and blanching and freezing. It’s worth it though to have my own greens to eat this winter.

My week away was really wonderful. It was the perfect combination of actual vacation, as in sitting in a beach chair with my toes in the water reading a book all afternoon vacation, and Something To Do. Pam Houston and I knew one another a little bit as younger women, our paths crossed and recrossed over several years. She was at Utah when I was at Davis, and I was at Utah when she went to teach at Davis. We knew a lot of people in common, and both behaved, at times, like the ambitious and slightly broken young women we were. Nonetheless, she was nice enough to blurb my book when it came out, and I’ve seen her a few times at events over the intervening decades.

Seeing what she has built with Writing by Writers was incredibly impressive. She’s built a true community, mostly of women but not exclusively, a space where groups of people come together and do the real work of digging deep, and writing the truth about our lived experiences. There was an open reading toward the end of the week that I almost skipped. Anyone who has been around writing communities for any amount of time has gritted their teeth through more terrible open readings than we’d like to admit, but that was absolutely not the case here. I wasn’t going to read, but the younger writers told me I had to, and so I signed up. As did several other women my age who had hesitated. It was a joyful occasion in which the limit was 250 words, and everyone got up there with astonishing work. Funny pieces. Pieces that made you think oh. we’re going therePieces that made us all weep, in the best, non-manipulative way, weep from the true joy of seeing someone stand up and say something absolutely bedrock true about their experience.

It was an absolute joy.

Over the decades I have lost faith, more than once, in the larger project that is writing. The world is so full of books, and blog posts, and essays. And despite the fact that as always, I probably talked too much in workshop, it was such a joyful, supportive group of really smart people ranging in age from their 20s to our 60s and 70s that it gave me faith in the larger project again. Faith that writing matters. That our writing matters. All of us.

I’m deeply grateful. It was a truly wonderful experience.

And now, at the end of the weekend, as the temperatures are starting to warm up again, as the sun is bouncing off snow, glorious snow, and the peaks are shining white against western skies so blue that it’s astonishing a color can even do that, I’ve got a wee lasagne put together for Himself, who will be home soon.

Home. Perhaps the best thing about a vacation for me, is having a home, a real home, to come back to. And now, as the darkness sets in for the winter, I can see the shape of this book, and it’s time to hunker down, write my way through to the end. Because the other gift of last week was finding out that it works. There are some rough edges, but the voice, the tone, the trajectory — they work.

For me, the work and the life, they’ve always been entwined. While I haven’t been publishing much, an essay here and there, not a book for way too long, I have been writing. There is work in the hopper. There are greens in the freezer. There is so much jam this year. Eight kilos of plums off my tree, all jammed now, and being given all over the neighborhood. There’s this newsletter, and the reading, and the notes, and the writing that is getting down on the page is, at last, working. The work and the life, they’re all the same. The work is working.

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