so……

This site contains a variety of short and longer poems, along with some essays and travel narratives. Some were written for a specific occasion or about a specific person or place. Others were intended to be more general and to have a longer shelf life.   I hope an entry here or there may resonate with your experiences. Enjoy!

On Being Undocumented, Uncomfortable, and Racist

Last month I moved from central North Carolina to southern California. I was fortunate to be able to move by choice. Still, moving always poses challenges. Now most of my extended family is in a different time zone from me. Connections from my old location have been broken. We don’t have enough chairs. I don’t have automated payment accounts for local utilities. I don’t have a local doctor, dentist, or even a health care plan. I don’t know any of the local bakeries, take-out joints or restaurants. A good bit of the time, I feel lost. One of the most disorienting aspects of my “new life” is being relatively undocumented—no local driver’s license, no local bank, no supermarket chain I recognize, no voter ID, no links to local media channels. My challenges are minor, but I SO want my current uncertainty to end!  

In my old location, I’d counted myself a white liberal. I thought I’d worked through issues surrounding whiteness in 21st century America. I’d participated in marches and protests, listened to Rev. William Barber’s impassioned, informative speeches about racial inequities, given money and time to progressive causes. In my new location, many people around me speak other languages instead of or in addition to English. I feel vaguely threatened. 

A few days ago, I got a packet of forwarded mail containing monthly magazines with articles examining U.S. historical racism and still unresolved racial and ethnic tensions. One article described the “race card project” started by journalist Michele Norris in 2010. She’d initially asked 200 people to send her their thoughts about race, distilled into just six words (theracecardproject.com). A real challenge for somebody as wordy as I am! What popped into my head was succinct, embarrassing, and accurate: “I thought I owned the place.”  

In school in the 1950’s I’d been taught that European settlers had “conquered the wilderness,” “shown pioneer spirit,” “plowed the prairie,” “expanded the frontier,” “defeated the savage Indians,” “fulfilled manifest destiny,” etc., etc.  Once I began to read and travel more widely, I learned some limits of this Eurocentric viewpoint.

In my new home, adding to my disorientation is discomfort at having to further relinquish my former historical narrative. The version of U.S. history and growth I still partially carry around inside me has been at best incomplete, at worst, deliberately falsified. For thousands of years before the earliest European explorers came to North America, indigenous people lived in what is now the United States. Much of the hard manual labor to create the agricultural and industrial economies of our country was done either by enslaved Africans or by poorly paid Chinese and other Asians. Currently, much agricultural and caregiving work is done by low-paid latino/latina immigrants. I now live on land stolen from indigenous tribespeople.

Some of my ancestors were slaveholders. Even the majority, those who didn’t directly benefit from slavery or subsequent Jim Crow laws, had access to financial support and government programs that were effectively, if not officially, racially biased. Being “racist” applies not just to members of the KKK or white people who use the “N” word or anyone who makes disparaging remarks about “those people.” A racist can be someone of any background (though in the U.S. usually white) who benefits explicitly or implicitly from a system of arbitrary advantage. That includes me. 

The people in line with me at the DMV yesterday came in all shapes, colors, and sizes, spoke with lots of different accents. Many DMV employees could speak two languages or even more. Might I have to own up to my lingering biases, to adapt and participate in a more diverse culture here? 

What I’m experiencing mimics some stages of grieving laid out in earlier research on death and dying: 1) denial, 2) anger, 3) bargaining, 4) depression and 5) acceptance. I seem partly to be cycling through the first four stages of grieving, grieving the death of the myth of white supremacy:

1) Who, me, a racist? 2) How dare you! 3) Look, I can show you my NAACP card. 4) I will never get this right.  

Many of my background may be experiencing grief stages as well. If we are ever to coalesce as a fully multi-ethnic society, we’ll have to reject the myth of dominance, white or otherwise. We’ll have to temper our denial, anger, bargaining, or depression. Instead, whoever we are, whatever our backgrounds, we’ll need to more fully accept and embrace the humor, resilience, and graciousness that are also part of the human heritage.    

Driving Across “Flyover Country”

The past year or so has been challenging. The covid-19 pandemic ended or upended many lives, causing us to question former habits, try out new ones, ponder whether life could ever return to “normal.” For my husband and me, the pandemic accelerated a move we’d originally planned to undertake several years into the future—from one U.S. coast to the other to be close to a grown son and his family. 

It took most of the winter and early spring of 2021 to make the needed arrangements: to find a buyer for our previous house, plus someone to sell us an “age in place” home close to where one of our sons lives in southern California. Then the more physical work began. Giving away, selling, or discarding half a lifetime’s worth of furniture, clothes, and knickknacks that would not fit into our downsized new home. Then packing, packing, and more packing. Renting a mobile storage unit and figuring out how to fit our remaining stuff into it, one piece of furniture or box at a time. Family and neighbors pitched in. 

Finally but also too soon, our departure date arrived. Before heading across the country, we made a couple of detours to visit family and friends, some of whom might not be around the next time we had a chance to visit “back east.” Then, from a suburb in central Maryland, westward ho! 

We stopped briefly in central Ohio to meet our other son’s current intentional family. Then we threaded our way across Indiana and Illinois on rain-slick, pot-holed roads to a Mississippi river town in Iowa, one-time home to a set of great-grandparents. The namesake store that Jim’s great-grandpa had founded was no longer doing business, but its building still stood, raised nameplate in place.  

In front of great-granddaddy’s store in Iowa

Iowa’s interstates provided a near continuous view of wind farms. As we passed, their blades were turning, producing renewable energy. Rest areas where we took pee breaks had shelters surrounding their picnic areas. Once we’d been blown around by the near-constant wind, we understood why. Historical markers at these areas mostly chronicled settlers’  stop-off points and routes westward. Here and there, some mentioned the original inhabitants. Place names memorialized them, too: Iowa, Sioux City, Keokuk, Wichita, Topeka, Pawnee, Kiowa, and many more.

The further west we got, the bigger and emptier the landscape seemed. Irrigation rigs gradually became more plentiful icons in the flat, windy landscape. In western Kansas, we swerved slightly to visit the small town of Greensburg. A while ago, I’d read articles about the resurrection of this town, nearly flattened by an F5 tornado on the night of May 4, 2007. In the wake of recent increases in severe weather events, the saga of Greensburg has again become newsworthy. 

When we arrived late afternoon, the Greensburg town museum was open. We took an hour or so to tour exhibits of the town’s origins, near-death, and reconstruction. Founded in 1886 with help from stagecoach entrepreneur D.R. Green, the town’s initial claim to fame was a large, stone-lined hand-dug well completed in 1888. The well descended over 100 feet to reach the Ogallala aquifer to provide the town with water. Though no longer functional, the “big well” is a centerpiece of the reconstructed museum. 

Along parts of the museum walls were pictures and videos of the tornado’s destruction. On the morning of May 5, 2007, little remained of the pre-tornado town. Thanks to warnings that were largely heeded, there were only a dozen fatalities, but only three of the town’s buildings remained standing. Everyone was rendered homeless. Government, non-profit disaster relief agencies, and individual volunteers from near and far responded quickly to help the town recover. It took a while for the idea of a “green Greensburg” to take shape. Other exhibits described the planning and reconstruction process, highlighting some of the rebuilt town’s environmental features.

I don’t have the technical expertise to fully appreciate the conservation and renewable energy components of the renovated town, which includes a wind farm, solar panels, and energy-efficient public buildings and private residences. Museum exhibits stressed that rebuilding and economic development efforts have not been without snags. Greensburg’s  post-tornado population, growing slowly, is a good bit smaller than before. Also, like many small towns on the Great Plains, Greensburg perennially struggles to provide good jobs and a good quality of life for its residents. Like most places, Greensburg has recently suffered economically and socially from the pandemic. Nevertheless, for me the town had a vibrant feel to it, personified by the 80-something museum docent who sold us our tickets. She explained that she’d spent her whole life in Greensburg. The 2007 tornado was the first and only one in her lifetime to hit this settlement smack dab in the middle of “tornado alley.” She very much expected to finish her life well before the next one hit. In the meantime, she was proud of the efforts the town had made to reinvent itself. For additional information about Greensburg and its rebirth, please search the internet for various Youtube videos and recent news articles.

After Greensburg, we caught bits of the U.S. Southwest—sections of the Oklahoma and Texas panhandles, New Mexico, Arizona, then southern California. Partly because of the pandemic, partly because we were just strangers traveling through, we had few extended interactions with locals. It seemed to me that masking and social distancing regulations varied a good bit from place to place, as did compliance with any restrictions. Reactions probably had less to do with governments at any level and more to do with peer pressure. People mainly imitated their neighbors. Many seemed to have a fierce independent streak that the prospect of a potentially lethal, readily spread virus did little to abate. Even in small towns, though, customs and ethnic mixes were changing.  

By the end of our car pilgrimage, I had a much greater respect for the gritty folks who make their living and maintain their communities in “flyover country.” For me, a car trip rather than a plane ride provided insights I might well have missed in non-covid times.  

Happily Sometimes After

Our wedding anniversary falls in early spring.
Some years, we celebrate elaborately.
This year, not so much, as covid threats
Recede slightly and other health 
Concerns of aging reemerge.

When we wed, a very long time ago,
Both external and internal wars
Raged–Southeast Asia, the Middle East,
Race and gender discord. Maybe
Not so very different from now.

We agreed then, only half jokingly, to hold our
Marriage as an informal contract, renewable
Every three years. It seemed such a
Long interval, when we started out.

Our first three years included job changes
And a geographical move. The next three,
More moves, unemployment, marital strife.
Somehow, we managed to stabilize
Just before the six year mark.

Our third contract period involved
Adding two lovely, lively children to the mix.
Family life got more complex after that.
Lots of growth, outer and inner, too. 

One interval, we struggled mightily to balance
Family commitments and career aspirations.
For two years, we alternated lengthy separations
With multi-thousand-mile commutes, as one of
Us completed an international assignment.

By now we’ve passed the big five-oh. More and more of
Our cohort are becoming single by death rather than divorce.
We worry less about small stuff, practice being gentle
With ourselves while attempting to coach
The next generations equally gently.

We continue to live happiiy sometimes after.   

Jinny on her long-ago wedding day

 

The Politics of Human Reproduction

As a post-menopausal woman, I’m no longer directly impacted by the twists and turns of abortion debates and legislation. During my fertile years, I was privileged to live in areas where reliable contraception was available and reproductive options were improving. I was blessed with two much-wanted, much-loved children and a long-term partner who helped provide both material and emotional support as we navigated the great adventure of parenting. Once our children were past their most vulnerable years, I chose to end my fertility early, in part to avoid overpopulating an already human-crowded planet. 

Therefore my initial strong reaction to coverage of the “fetal heartbeat bill” passed recently in neighboring South Carolina surprised me. This particular fight has long since been joined by still-fertile women. I have no direct interest. Why, then, did a still photo of South Carolina governor Henry Dargan McMaster, an older somewhat sanctimonious male, white, signing South Carolina’s Senate Bill 1 while surrounded by other mostly older men, mostly white, plus a few women, rankle me so? On reflection, I suspect it’s a combination of personal and societal history.

Until after I was grown and married, I had little notion what abortion was. After a 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision legalized abortions under certain circumstances, protracted legal and political battles erupted. Political candidates and office holders were sometimes judged primarily or solely based on their stance on this one issue. Through decades of debate, I’ve been exposed to lots of “pro-life”  and “pro-choice” publicity. Arguments at both extremes disturb me. I lean toward a “pro-choice” stance, but remember, too, the moral ambiguity captured in author Gwendolyn Brooks’ haunting 1945 poem “The Mother” (https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/43309/the-mother-56d2220767a02). 

In early 1975, when my husband dropped me off to get a pregnancy test at a women’s health clinic, to confirm what we both hoped would be true, I had to walk a gauntlet of anti-abortion protesters shouting, waving signs, and thrusting literature into my hands about the sanctity of all life. It did not seem to occur to these zealots that a women’s health clinic might perform services other than abortions. Their brochures contained images of a generic early-term fetus. In decades since, while driving through parts of the U.S. South, I’ve seen similar fetal images on huge roadside billboards. One even advertised a “pro-life registrar of wills.”

The particular legislation just passed in South Carolina does not directly penalize women seeking abortions, but makes performing an abortion after a “detectable heartbeat” (typically between 6 and 8 weeks of gestation) a felony, with possible hefty fines and up to two years of jail time. The South Carolina bill is among a number of recent bills, most enacted in poorer Southern states, circumscribing legal abortions to the point that they become nearly inaccessible to poor and at-risk women.

Globally, both the incidence of abortion and the legal restrictions placed on it have been declining in recent years, with only five countries (El Salvador, Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic, Chile, and Malta) placing total or near-total bans on the procedure. Between 1994 and 2014, the incidence of abortion in industrialized countries declined 19%. Rates of abortion are roughly comparable worldwide, whatever a particular nation’s abortion policy—estimated at between 34 and 37 per thousand women annually. (For more information, see https://www.thelancet.com/pdfs/journals/lancet/PIIS0140-6736(16)30380-4.pdf). What differs markedly are the rates of maternal injury and death resulting from unsafe abortions (see https://www.who.int/health-topics/abortion#tab=tab_2). 

What has often non-plussed me about the abortion debate, in the U.S. and globally, is how much it tries to compartmentalize the period of gestation, making it ostensibly separate from the periods before and after a pregnancy. Though alternative pregnancy options such as surrogacy, in vitro fertilization, and even transgender pregnancy are becoming more available in industrialized countries (though hugely expensive), the proportion of such pregnancies is small. The vast majority of fetuses are the result of male/female intercourse. 

What about the fathers-to-be? What are their roles? What legislation impacts them? More to the point, once a baby is born, what support is provided by someone other than the mother, be it another family member or an institution? We can too often seem lax in our efforts to provide the “village” it takes to raise a child. In 2021, I can find myself  juxtaposing fetal images with images of starving children in war-torn Yemen, their heads disproportionately large in comparison to their shriveled bodies (https://www.usnews.com/news/world/articles/2021-01-04/yemeni-boy-ravaged-by-hunger-weighs-7-kg).

On this International Women’s Day, I can applaud some of the improvements made in fetal, maternal, and child health globally. I can honor SC Governor McMaster’s wife and daughter. I can listen to the beating of my own heart. I can honor women’s choices around the issue of childbearing, while I hope and work for a society that concentrates less on what happens inside the womb and more on what happens in the world into which babies are born. 

The Longest Year

This day last year, March 3, 2020, marked the first reported cases of covid here in North Carolina. It was also the day of our presidential primary. As of today, we’ve logged over 11,000 covid-related deaths in our state, over half a million in our country. We have a different President, after an election process fraught with tension and followed by an insurrection. It seems like a very long year. 

As the pandemic began to impact us, we were told at first not to wear face masks. Hospitals and health workers were short of personal protective gear, so any available supplies were needed for them. Starting March 10, 2020, North Carolina’s governor began issuing a whole string of executive orders aimed at containing or mitigating the spread of the virus. A “stay at home” phase began March 30. Executive Order 121 enjoined residents “to stay at home except to visit essential businesses, to exercise outdoors or to help a family member. Specifically, the order bans gatherings of more than 10 people and directs everyone to physically stay at least 6 feet apart from others.” Schools had closed. Parents and teachers scrambled to come up with alternative child care arrangements and virtual learning plans. Stores sold out of paper goods. Small businesses and communities of color were among the worst impacted. 

Nationally, our then-President predicted that the virus would disappear on its own. Locally, most social, religious and philanthropic groups canceled in-person meetings and began congregating in virtual spaces. Public service announcements advised us to “flatten the curve,” so that caseload spikes did not overwhelm the health care system. As spring limped toward summer, cases seemed to dip, then surge, then dip, then surge again in mind-numbing seesaws. Our regional newspaper printed the statistics of cases, hospitalizations, and deaths along the edge of its front page, a sort of grisly “box score.” Whether or not to hold in-person political rallies became a political issue of its own.  

If it was an uneasy summer for all, it was especially trying for those impacted by extra-judicial police killings captured on mobile phone video. Protests erupted across the nation and around the world. Through it all, even mask wearing got politicized. 

Fall brought additional complications, as jurisdictions tried to come up with safe yet inclusive ways to hold an election during a pandemic. Non-partisan election workers needed to be hired, trained, retrained, and/or retained as procedures changed, election boards jockeyed for adequate protective equipment and supplies, and the elder-skewed workforce from prior elections debated whether to risk possible infection by working in 2020. By election day, voter participation rates had surpassed records going back over a century. In our county, the proportion of absentee ballots quadrupled. 

It took what seemed like forever to ascertain a winner of the presidential race, amid delayed counts, recounts, and multitudes of court cases. The loser refused to concede, opting instead to allege massive voter fraud, unsubstantiated by anything other than his massively distorted ego. Thousands of his most avid supporters came to Washington D.C. on January 6. After he addressed a rally near the White House, some of them went to the U.S. Capitol to disrupt the certification of electoral college results. A few nearly succeeded. Their actions continue to roil our politics, just as the pandemic is starting to be dented by more widespread vaccinations and better compliance with public health measures, just as financial relief for the neediest works its way through Congress. 

It’s my fervent prayer that the next twelve months will seem less endless than the preceding twelve, that some of the underlying societal ills laid bare by the pandemic will be tackled with more than lip service, and that our understanding of our dependence on the natural world will deepen. A small answer and blessing blooms in a tree well near our townhouse—this year’s first daffodils. 

First daffodils, spring 2021

What’s in a Title (um, Prefix)

Recently I’ve been corresponding with my elected national legislators on a more frequent basis than previously. We’re living through rather fraught times. Some of what I have to say, I believe, may be pertinent to getting ourselves through our multiple crises. Some of the time, I cut, paste and customize verbiage that’s been suggested by one of the many citizen activist groups I belong to. Other times, I compose an individual message. 

As someone with reliable internet access and an email account, I can most quickly communicate my views via email—both my North Carolina senators and the representative for my district in the U.S. House have email portals for receiving my missives electronically. The forms they’ve set up begin with basic information about who I am, starting with “Prefix,” (previously known as “Title.”)  There are various choice options, different for each of the national legislators who represent me.

If I write to Senator Burr, I have nine options as a non-military citizen, or over 100 if I am active-duty military. The first available option is “Mr.,” followed in sequence by “Ms.”, “Mrs.”, “Professor”, “Dr.”, “Father”, “Sister”, “Rabbi”, then “Reverend.” For those in the military, the options are alphabetical by service branch (Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Marine Corps, Navy) then in descending order of rank within each branch.  

Senator Tillis’s connection page has more options, but also starts with “Mr.” Among the alternatives that he includes are multiple options for couples, starting with “Mr. and Mrs.” and then branching out into “Mr. and Mr.” and “Mrs. and Mrs.” Multiple variations begin with “Dr.”: “Dr. and Dr.”, “Dr. and Mr.”, “Dr. and Mrs.”. Religious leaders may choose from “Reverend,” “Sister,” “Pastor,” or “Rabbi.” Three options indicate possible political associations: “The Honorable,” “Representative,” and “Senator.” Then there are military prefixes, mostly the same and in the same sequence as those for Senator Burr.  

Representative Ross’s list is simpler and shorter, beginning with “Ms.” Given my gender and my political preferences, I find her options somewhat more to my liking. Other choices include “Miss.” (probably not an abbreviation for “Mississippi”), “Mrs.”, “Mr.”, “Mr. and Mrs.”, “Rev.”, “Dr.”, “The Honorable,” and “Rabbi.” Occasionally I’ve wondered whether all the legislators might include a choice of “Other,” with a blank for specifying my preferred prefix, at this point something like “slightly-bemused-yet-still-hopeful-human.” 

So far, I’ve gotten written or emailed responses to nearly every message I’ve sent. Many are explanations of why the legislator disagrees with my views or assessment. All have used respectful language, if they can seem from my perspective to be slightly condescending. 

Instead of using email, I sometimes revert to postal mail, having heard at some point that such “snail mail” was more likely to get read by a congressional staffer, rather than just put into an appropriate category for a standardized response, especially if sent to a district office rather than to Washington, D.C. The most recent response to one of these letters actually had a staffer’s initials plus the legislator’s. Progress?  

Beyond the incentive to have my thoughts-on-paper read, though, there’s a piece of sending a hand-addressed letter to my legislators that I cannot duplicate via email—I get to assign a title to the addressee. My hope is that the legislator and/or his/her staffer will pay attention to that prefix: “The Honorable.”   

Unprece(si)dented

Unprece(si)dented    —by Jinny Batterson

(Meditations on this 2021 edition of “Presidents’ Day”) 

It’s been a couple of weeks now since 45 left D.C.
I’m still not sure whether it’s safe to breathe.
This was a President who associated America with his brand,
Singed most forcefully into those least able to resist.

Early in life, he grew to resent others, so during
His term, he fueled resentments among us, gambling
That he could incite us to hate each other, rather than see
Through his redundant rhetoric of distraction.

In the farce of incompetent governance, he played his
Role to a T. Now he sulks, snarls and plays golf
At his crumbling Florida palace-by-the-sea,
As the Atlantic laps ever closer and his neighbors protest.

My coming of age in the 1960’s was punctuated by
Political assassinations–a President, a candidate,
Multiple civil rights leaders. I came partially to absorb
A mantra of the era’s aftermath: “Need leaders less.”

I do not believe we must do without leadership, but rather
That we each need to assume some small part of its
Mantle, leading from where we are. That way, we may
Be able to climb out from this slough of despond

And disunity, to continue the hard, joyous, needful
Work of reworking democracy for those coming after,
Many who know already about the hills we must climb. We can
And will rise. We will not subside into the once-shining sea. 

 

The Importance of Invitations

A good many years ago, when my husband and I were winter-housebound by young children rather than by a pandemic, we got the idea for a midwinter party: a Groundhog Day Open House. Back then, it was perfectly all right to invite large numbers of people to come visit us indoors. Most years, I’d spend part of January coming up with an invitations list in consultation with Jim, then use whatever technology and tools were handy to write out or print up invitations and distribute them. 

Over the years, our celebration evolved and moved as our children grew and we relocated multiple times. I can’t remember a year when all our invitees showed up. Among the most memorable years so far was the year we had a mammoth snow and ice storm that dumped 22 inches of frozen precipitation on our area the day of the party. As the white stuff deepened, some people phoned to express their regrets. Most just assumed we would understand why they hadn’t come. Our lone party participant was a next door neighbor, then seven months pregnant, who carefully waddled across our snowy front yards. The three of us sat in front of the wood stove, munching snacks and swapping stories far into the evening.  

After we’d spent a first Chinese New Year in China (where it’s mostly called Spring Festival), we’d sometimes incorporate an Asian New Year component to our festivities, as the two holidays can fall fairly close together. Groundhog’s Day, lest anyone forget, falls each year on February 2. This year’s lunar new year is being celebrated in many parts of Asia, with today, February 12, marking the first day of the Year of the Ox. Last weekend, friends and family checked in via an online video conferencing app to this year’s joint “virtual gathering” celebration.

Lately I’ve begun to think about the importance of invitations and the value of an honest invitation. Having participated sometimes in “command occasions,” I think it’s regrettable when “invitations” are thinly veiled coercion. It also seems to me counterproductive to have invitations serve mostly as a means of obtaining social prestige—“only the best people were there.”  

I’m gradually learning to avoid obsessing about turned-down invitations, especially as the virtual world explodes into more online invitations than I can possibly accept. The best invitations, it seems to me, are open conduits between the inviter and the invitee. Neither needs feel bad about an invitation that’s turned down. Neither party is more important than the other. Both can benefit from a deeper relationship, if the invitation suits, and from feeling valued, even if it doesn’t. What is important is the strengthened communication the invitation enables. 

It can be hard for those of us who gather energy from in-person interactions to “wait out” our current relative isolation. Today where I live it’s rainy, a cold, soggy rain that drips from clouds just a smidge above freezing. Not a good day for outdoor interactions, the main way I meet people these days. The news, through whatever medium, is nearly as dreary as the weather.  So I’m inviting myself to most of a day in a comfortable armchair, drinking hot cocoa and perusing a good book. Sometimes, inviting ourselves to quiet contemplation can be the most important invitation of all.   

Trees Resting

Trees Resting  —by Jinny Batterson

Behind our townhouse is a strip of woodland,
Too narrow and too steep to build on.

In warm seasons, its leafy expanse helps mute
The noise of the car and truck traffic beyond,
Helps disguise the bareness of our increasingly
Urban former small town.

In warm seasons, it diminishes the din of earth movers
Destroying woodlands a little further away–
Woodlands a little wider, less steep– gouging space
For more townhouses, apartments, or condos.

In this season, though, most of the leaves are gone,
Leaving just fringes of scrub pines drinking in
The diminished sunlight, leaving the dormant beech
To let last year’s bleached remnants flutter in the wind.

In this season, I hear and see the traffic,
Grate at the incessant “beep, beep, beep”
Of construction equipment nearby.

In this season, the trees are resting, saving up sap,
Rooting deeper in advance of the
Next set of warm seasons, when
Their new growth may again green the hillsides.

In this novel season of pandemic-enforced rest,
My dreams are sometimes dark.
On especially noisy days, I imagine a world
Without cars or condos or humans,
Only trees, resting.

                                              Trees resting

Our Avocado Kitchen

 

The house where we mostly raised our children was an older two-story dwelling that had likely had several owners before us. We’d bought it pre-children, thrilled by its roominess and by its relatively low price. Its exterior stucco was a light green, with darker green trim on its porches and windows. The colors fit well with the shade trees lining our narrow, one-way street. What was less thrilling was the color of its interior paint. Nearly every room was a dull, sickly looking green. Perhaps that shade of paint had been on sale when the prior owners were preparing the house to sell, or maybe they had some leftover mixture after the exterior was painted? We never got to ask. 

We quickly set about redecorating to colors we found more pleasing. By the time our older child was born, we’d stripped both the paint and the wallpaper under it from most rooms in the house. The dining room became a shade of light blue, the living room even paler. A couple of the bedrooms got “photo walls” of spectacular scenery. The nursery had kid-themed wallpaper. I sewed curtains. 

The room we left most nearly “as is” was the kitchen, where counters, sink, moldings, and a walk-in pantry broke the lines of the drab green. Our refrigerator, though, was the “avocado green”  shade popular during the 1970’s and 80’s. I don’t remember whether the fridge had come with the house, or if we purchased it at an appliance store. Over time, it developed a slight list, so that to close its door securely you had to kick the bottom. (A habit we had to break when we eventually moved to a different house and bought a non-tilting fridge.)  

The children have long since grown and set up housekeeping on their own. Their decorating tastes differ from ours, but to my knowledge, neither has ever painted a room avocado green. In retirement, we live in a townhouse with muted colors inside and out. An older friend who’s lived in this area most of his life characterizes our suburban milieu as “beigeville.” 

Then, a few years ago, we succumbed to the dietary craze for avocados—on salads, on toast, as garnishes. The pits were nearly indestructible, as I found after they’d aged for months in our backyard compost bins. Curious for alternatives, I checked online for how to sprout an avocado pit. After several tries, I got one to put down a smallish root, then planted it in a ceramic pot, where it spent warm weather on our back deck, getting lots of sun, and enough water to keep it happy. We’d bring it indoors in cold weather, since our winter climate so far freezes too hard and too often for avocados. It was happiest in our south-facing kitchen window. By its third autumn, the avocado looked more like a small tree. It had grown so tall that we trimmed its main stem before bringing it indoors. We added a stake to its now-larger pot to encourage it to grow straight. Like the fridge we used to have, though, it too has developed a slight list. 

This winter, our avocado tree has sprouted lots of auxiliary branches, with a spread that is encroaching ever more severely into our person-and-a-half kitchen. We’re not sure how much longer we can keep it. Do any of you in central North Carolina hanker for your very own kitchen avocado, with the transport to move it and enough indoor space to keep it happy for cold seasons to come?

avocado reaching for the sun

Our crowded kitchen