On gardening, neighbors and going to war


My neighbor Dan is a bit of a mushroom expert. He tells me this one from my yard is in the genus parasola, which includes the “ink caps.” Pioneers supposedly used them as a source of ink when they came West. He says he has a family diary from 1850 written in mushroom ink.

Parasola appears for only a few hours before it melts.


The Epicureans gardened so they could come to understand death as integral to life. I think I am learning from gardening about living with other bodies versus constantly going to war.

Dan has lived here 30 years so he has good neighborhood lore. He tells me it was Mickie, Howard’s first wife, not Faith, his last, who planted the white calla lilies and pink peonies that bring us such spring bounty.


It is too much bounty, though. We are trying to dig up some of the big, old spreading plants to make room for other stuff. How do we do this in a way that’s not going to war against flowers? I see a calla leaf unfolding from a patch of dirt where I recently dug up a big plant, sifting carefully through the soil for any rhizomes hiding out. Ugh! I walk over and yank it out, just for the pleasure, even though I know the pale, warty rhizome somewhere down there will just send up another shoot.


My first harvest of walking onions.

When I decided to garden I approached it like everything else I have ever done — as an intellectual pursuit. I read a bunch of books and took courses — organic master gardener and permaculture design, thanks to the influence of the tremendous Kaia Sand. I knew a lot, theoretically. Then I confronted a bare patch of soil. I had no idea what to actually DO, in the world, with my body. This paralyzed me for some time.

Now I am learning. Slowly. Growing things is something one does under the influence of, well, everything. All the forces that flow through this spot — soil life, rain, sun of course, winter winds that whip up the Columbia Gorge, kids passing through to the school, the squirrel in the strawberry patch nibbling berries (can you spot it?), the deceased ancestors Howard and Mickie, the neighbors.


Look. Here is today’s harvest of joi choi and daikon radish. Other mouths have already feasted here. How, tell me, does some root-eating creature wandering around in the dark figure out the daikon is there?


At first when I pull out the root I recoil. This is not how a daikon is supposed to look. Then I cut it up and realize most of it is edible — and how much daikon can two girls eat? I planted it mostly so its big white root would bust up the soil and the spreading tops would crowd weeds out. Both things happened beautifully, so why not share some with root weevils, or whatever?

But the pull toward war is always there. It is more difficult, perhaps, or more subtle, to observe the forces already in motion and find a way to move with them. This is a basic tenet of permaculture, and obvious to the exalted reader. Out in the world, in the dirt, I swing back and forth.

The neighbors, who have been growing things for much longer, give me advice. That is one of the great things about gardening in front of the house. I feel like I am engaged in a public act. I don’t know if people comment on each others’ lawns, but this garden taking shape invites all kinds of input. The other day someone on a bike shouted out as she whirled past. Dan tells me my broccoli is too close and that I will regret planting sweet fennel because it will spread everywhere (more going to war).

Dan and also Mark from across the street admonish us to water our poor ubileen pear every day even though it’s raining. We planted it too shallow and it fell over, so we had to transplant in the midst of leafing.


Even Quincy looks worried about it. But notice the watering bucket. I’m listening.


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