Friday, July 15, 2011

Homesick for Gardens and Different Agricultural Zones

I've had gardening on the brain this week.  I wish I could say it was because I was enjoying the bounties of my garden, but sadly, that is not so.  South Florida has a completely different growing cycle, so if I had a garden, I'd be writing the garden bounty posts in February and March.

I think I have gardening on the brain because of the part of the lectionary we're in, which means the Gospel readings lately have been using agricultural metaphors:  lots of seeds and different types of soils and weeds and harvests and lack of harvest.  I've spent this past week wondering how effective these metaphors can be if most of us don't actually garden anymore.  Not too long ago, most of us were not far removed from our agrarian roots.  When I was a child and a teenager, I could still visit the family farms on both sides of the family.  I went to grad school in Columbia, South Carolina, and I went to the State Farmer's Market to buy cheap produce, the same State Farmer's Market where my grandfather had brought the family's produce to sell when he was a teenager.  But now, I suspect most of us have never seen food coming out of the earth, and I wrote this post exploring if metaphors can still work once we lose our close connection with part of the comparison.

I read this post on Marly's blog which made me instantly homesick for places that don't exist anymore.  She says, "When you live far from the region where you were raised, you miss certain things. Sometimes it's food: okra, lady peas, black eyes, crowders, the kind of fragrant peaches and other fruits that don't transport well. Sometimes it's the sounds of accents, sweeter voices or even strange mountain voices that have a lot of hush puppie in them. Sometimes it's a certain kind of courtesy, a flower leftover from another age, faded but still able to make life more beautiful. Sometimes it's plain old (but not plain) flowers: stands of man-high cardinal flowers, crepe myrtles, orchids and ladies hatpins in ditches, redbud, and dogwood."

Something about that prose transported me back to the days before air conditioning where we'd spend the evening hours on my grandparent's front porch.  We'd shell beans for the next day.  I'd ask my elders about life when they were my age, and they'd tell me.  As the world got dark, I'd collect fireflies in old Mason jars.  I get weepy just thinking about corn picked from my grandparent's garden and served almost immediately, with butter and salt.  I would pay good money if I could find tomatoes that taste like the ones they grew so effortlessly.

It's not just the vegetables I miss.  The flower I most miss is the hydrangea.  I've tried to grow them in my South Florida yard, but it's just the wrong climate. 

I saw this post and had to leave a comment:  were those white hydrangeas?  The only hydrangeas I'd ever seen were in rich shades of purple and pink.  How would you get bleached out hydrangeas like those in the gorgeous picture?

Apparently, had I grown up in New England instead of the Deep South, I'd think of hydrangeas as white.  Who knew?

Even though we've lived down here for--gasp--13 years, I still don't think of myself as a transplant.  I feel my roots slide in the sandy soil.  But I also know that I'm often yearning not so much for a place or a climate, but for a time that's gone.  I could move back to South Carolina, and I could see my grandmother more frequently, but the grandmother I remember is long gone.  I could move to a place where I'd have a better chance at having a garden, but I'd still likely not have enough time (or desire, if I'm being honest)to work in the dirt.

Of course, realizing that fact still doesn't solve my occasional bouts of what I'll call homesickness.  As with most emotional states, I just try to sit with the difficult emotion, to let it wash through me without subsuming me.  I try to remember to be grateful that I've had the good experiences that I have had, experiences which leave me with yearnings I can't fulfill.

And then I turn to my writing notebook.

Here's a poem that I wrote years ago when we first moved here; it's an example of how I transformed homesick yearning into art.  It appeared in the Palo Alto Review.

Setting Free the Fireflies

The apartment smells like my grandmother’s
house in the summer,
a childhood time before air conditioners
ruled the season.
Gentle breezes,
smelling of mowed lawns
and ripening tomatoes,
lapped their way around our beds.
The nights glowed
with that candle-like quality
which comes from distant street lights
beaming through window blinds
left open to the breeze.
Long after the yeasty smells
of my grandmother’s early morning baking
my parents crept into the bedroom
where I slept on sheets
made scratchy
from clothesline drying.
They took my jar
of carefully caught fireflies
and set my natural nightlight

1 comment:

Chum said...

Cap and I have increased the size of our garden--there is nothing like fresh tomatoes and cucumbers! Love the poem.