Away: New York

I took a day off work, and boarded a bus for New York.  Years ago I listened to Beethoven on a bus from Washington DC to New York, and now it’s my ritual.  The uplifting piano concerto no. 5, the brooding and moving piano concerto no. 4, and always always the Eroica variations.  The bus unloaded a stone’s throw from the entrance of the High Line, which was a bit of luck; it was the only place I wanted to be that day.  I spent the day shuffling up and down, looking for (and getting) inspiration for my own planting.  I want every city in the world to have a stretch of garden nestled above the city streets.

The new Whitney Museum — situated at the end of the High Line — showcases New York City as much (if not more) than the works of art.  Wonderful vistas highlighted every floor.  And pockets of fresh air on the patios broke up the visit nicely.      

John Chamberlain crushes cars and calls it art.  I didn’t always appreciate it, but now I get a thrill when I see his work.  Also I’ve seen others take a similar approach with similar materials, but it honestly doesn’t have the same effect.  For me it took seeing an entire warehouse of his crushed cars in Marfa not once but twice before it started to resonate.  In hard shapes I slowly noticed order and soon saw entirely elegant forms.  
My very lovely hotel, 500 feet from the Whitney and the end of the High Line, was recommended to me by my friend who always knows unique and affordable places to stay.  So, from my hotel guru, let me introduce the Jane Hotel.  Perfect for a solo traveler.  All my future solo visits to New York will include the Jane.  There is no skimping on the quality of materials or cleanliness.  The rooms are fun-size, making them affordable at around $100 per night.  $100! per night! in New York!   With staff attired in bellhop uniforms and an elegant display of peacock taxidermy, it looks like a Wes Anderson film set.  My minimalist heart went wild.   

Some other stops, including the very perfect urban concrete garden at MoMA.                     

New York is the easiest city in the world to be alone. Should I add for only a few days?  Okay, New York is the easiest city in the world to be alone for a few days.  When a good friend moved to the city, she remarked that she didn’t know many people, so Central Park was her best friend for the time being.  Which really just means that she was her own best friend, a sentiment I strongly support.  I am a better partner/friend/me after filling my adventure cup with solo travel, and letting a few days unfold according to my own whims.

What are your favorite solo adventures?  I want to know.

Away: New York

on humidity

   “The middle of June is past, and it is dry and hazy weather.  We are getting deeper into the mists of earth; we live in a grosser element, further from heaven these days, methinks.  Even the birds sing with less vigor and vivacity.  The season of hope and promise is passed, and already the season of small fruits has arrived.  We are a little saddened because we begin to see the interval between our hopes and their fulfillment.  The prospect of the heavens is taken away by the haze, and we are presented with a few small berries,” writes Henry David Thoreau in Wild Fruits.

The humidity rolled in early this year.  The transition has been less melancholy, in my view, than what Thoreau writes, but it feels true that the anticipation is behind us.  Summer is here and things are slowing down.  I garden less.  But I think on it more, looking for cool windows of time to get in the soil.  How does anyone do hard labor under a hot sun?  I am of cotton-picking stock, and I can’t even.

But there is something luxurious to me about the wetness in the air.  The garden is fecund.  My eyes are rested.  Like the weight of many blankets, I relish the atmospheric hugs.  Hugs imposed on us from the sky.  My desert soul draws near, welcoming moisture, and enjoying the few small berries.

on humidity

native soil

He and I walked under a hot sun, and I talked about the seasons where I grew up.  There is no need for air conditioning in Petaluma, I bragged as we sweat uphill.

Hot summer days were spent in water, under a tree with a book, perched up in a tree with a book, or just waiting — and not for long — for the rolling ocean breeze that naturally cooled the air.  Doors and windows were open all day.  Evenings required layers, and hot summer nights were a thing from television.

Except for an occasional funeral or family reunion, we did not travel much. And by my 10-year-old estimation, there was no need for it.  The beach and the City were close enough.  As a kid in Petaluma it was your duty to complain about how boring it was there.  But I secretly never wanted to leave.  I loved being home, and was content to staying put.

It wasn’t until I moved to the arid mountain west and then the east coast that I felt the urge to see other places.  But I was growing up, too, and my desire to travel was the first indicator of that fact.  I left Northern California and my childhood, knowing one day I would be back.  The first few years were filled with homesick heartsickness.  But that slowly went away.  I grew up, saw things, and in the process became who I am.  I live a life that looks different than the one I intended at eighteen.  (Which is largely good news.)

These days I rarely think longingly about what it was to live in California.  But when we walked up that hot summer hill, I couldn’t help but think what I would plant if we lived in Petaluma.  Here in the land of magnolias and old oak trees, crepe myrtles and rhododendrons, my subconscious sneaks in thoughts of eucalyptus and junipers, feather grass and succulents.  And the daydreaming of it all gives me a nostalgic high.

I may wax romantic about northwest flora but I live here, and I love it.

Here is where we go on walks.  We talk and laugh and make plans for a future garden.  Here there is a dense richness of color.  Fecund forests line every highway.  Our seasons are extreme in a way that remind you that you are deeply alive.  And the true queens of summer are fireflies that transform tall oak trees into looking like twinkling Christmas trees.  It never stops being beautiful.

If traveling was my first adulthood marker, then perhaps the second is embracing the life that is before me.  For the first time since childhood, I feel as though I have arrived at the place I most want to be.  I may not be digging in my native soil, but I am supremely content to care for the plants in the yard, and every so often entertaining the thought of someday caring for the spare landscape of my youth.

native soil

On weeds.

“What is a weed?  A plant whose virtues have never been discovered.” – R. W. Emerson

 I wondered the other day where this burst of gardening love comes from.  It started last fall — paused, as it were, through winter — and now with spring I cling tightly.  I love the sense of self I feel when I, though little, can pick up and move around heavy objects.  And oh the fruits of it all.

Much like taking walks, I also feel mental clarity churning through soil, an attempt to organize the chaos underground.  So if it’s clarity and calm I am after, what do I do with weeds?

I attended a lecture last week on the virtues of weeds.  I went home and saw the problematic side yard, and started working with urges to pull and organize the chaos.  I couldn’t get them all even if I wanted to.  Sheer exhaustion and a bit of defeat set in.  They will be back in droves the moment I look away.  So with focused energy, I pulled only the milkweed.  A few days later, I read of a woman’s attempt to save the great Monarch Butterfly by mailing milkweed across the eastern U.S. to help its spread.  Our cherished species depend upon the weeds.

I am a plodding amateur when it comes to gardening.  Through this process of deciding what to plant, what to dig up, is shaping what kind of caretaker I will become.  My focus today is to be less rigid about what is definitively beautiful, and embrace the ultimate good of healthy native species.

So as in everything we do what we can.  The pursuit of balance between the chaos and order in my life, in my garden, will be everlasting.  All we can do is work hard, take care, and remember that everything is made of stardust.

On weeds.