In the Thick of It

I have never really lived in a place with winter. Not since I was a little girl and spent a couple of white, wet seasons in upstate New York. I never even learned to ski, thanks to a paranoid gymnastics coach, so I skipped all those Tahoe trips so many of my friends took, and still take.

I have to admit, I was afraid of it. Afraid of the way it might chill me to the bone, especially given how easily I have always gotten cold. Afraid of the slick sidewalks and icy roads. And yes, I was also afraid of what I might do, stuck here in one tiny room longing for my garden and for spring to come.

I have always been able to garden all year through. San Francisco’s temperate climate means there is always something to do — rake, mulch, plant, trim. The garden is always calling you. But not here. Here the garden is sleeping beneath it’s thick, white winter blanket. You can’t even hear it breathing the world is so quiet thanks to the snow.

I never believed I’d actually say this, but I am in love with winter. In love with the white. In love with the silence. In love with the way the world slows down. It is such an amazing blessing, all this space and time I never knew I longed for.

There is a whole world in this one room, free of the demands of the garden. I have found time to get back to hobbies and projects too long put aside. I have started making quilts again. I have been writing. I have this whole new old life that my lust for greenery had pushed aside, and I am loving it. And I want to share it with you. Because while I am reveling in letting the garden lie fallow, the blog shouldn’t have to. There is enough growth in this one room to keep this space thriving no matter how hard or how long it snows.

Of course that means some things will have to change. This blog will need to stretch out and make room. It will sometimes need to peer into cupboards. It will sometimes need to look out at the world. It will need to find the connection between plant and fabric and word and stone. And there is a connection. It’s called Home.

Winter Comes Early

This morning when I woke up the rain was pounding heavy on the rooftops. Rain we desperately need after the long, dry summer. I listened to it for a long time, letting my mind wander from water, to transforming my new studio casita into a comfortable home, to the words I need to write for this years Nanowrimo novel. By the time my mind returned to the rain, the room had hushed and I was surrounded by a silence I hadn’t known since my few childhood winters in Rochester, New York. A silence I could wrap myself up in like the most comfortable quilt I’ve ever known — the corduroy one my mother made that still sits on the couch in my parent’s family room. I looked out the window to see what it was.

Fat snowflakes floated slowly down in bunches, coating the still-green apple leaves and newly mulched ground in a dusting of white. I have known snowy winters before. I have seen blizzards and light snow. I have experienced the “joys” of sleet and wintery mix. But this was special — my first real snow in my first real home in this strange new place. It is worth every centipede and every cold nose.

A Subversive Plot

Roger Doiron, founding director of Kitchen Gardeners International and the man who led the charge for Michelle Obama’s White House kitchen garden, gives an eye-opening and inspiring talk on gardening as a revolutionary act.


Yesterday I returned from 12 days in California visiting family and friends. It was my first time back there since I moved to New Mexico in March. It’s amazing how just a few short months can completely change your view of the world.

First there was the water, flying into Oakland airport over the bay, lunching in Pacifica, spending an afternoon in Santa Cruz at a house that sat right on the beach… I had forgotten how the water just hangs in the air, suspended like mist even on the clearest day. I had forgotten the soft hands and the wild curls that I used to have before moving here. But mostly I had forgotten the riotousness of the gardens, the colors, the rich, wild scent of it, the abundance. I, who lived my whole life in that place, had begun to believe it was all a dream.

But there I was awake in my mother’s back yard, the one I learned to garden in, surrounded by an apple tree heavy with young fruit, rhubarb plants with leaves as broad as manhole covers, tomato plants peppered with yellow shooting-star flowers and the round, green beginnings of a rich bounty to come. It was glorious to bask in the colors, the textures of wide leaves, to stand barefoot in damp grass.

But the truth is, I missed these wide skies, the hummingbirds and rabbits outside my window, and the sheer force of will and determination that permeates desert gardens and the people who grow them.

Many Hands Make Light Work

As I mentioned in my last post, a personal veggie garden is out for this season. So you can imagine my excitement when my local Zen Center offered a course entitled “True Nourishment from the Boundless Field” taught by gardening guru and one of the founding members of Green Gulch Farm, Wendy Johnson. Of course I signed up.

Now, I’ll be honest, when I read the description about gardening with mindfulness, I had no idea that the small class would actually be transforming an open field into a 36′ x 36′ fenced and gated vegetable garden complete with prayer flag border and central altar. Nor did I expect to end each day wondering how I would ever move again, my joints were so stiff and muscles so sore from unaccustomed heavy labor. But man, am I glad I went.

It was amazing watching the garden take shape and to learn about the seeds that were selected for their local history and drought-resistance (including Navajo Blue Corn, Scarlet Runner Beans, Aztec White Beans, Amaranth, Quinoa, Hopi Dye Sunflowers, and a wide variety of squash). It also felt great to get my hands in the soil again, to manhandle compost, and feed the soil. But the best part, hands-down, was working with so many wonderful people dedicated to both gardening and the reason for this garden, to help the Zen Center and its community take one step closer to food security.

But the best part is, now that the garden is installed, I can volunteer to help it as it grows, learning about this unaccustomed climate as I go.

Gardening is a beautiful and important thing, but gardening with others makes it that much sweeter. Visit the American Community Gardening Association to learn more or find a garden near you.


Late last week I received in the mail a Stage 1 Water Alert for my area. This was not unexpected. It has been ridiculously dry here and despite the few weeks of intense winter snow storms, the snow pack was negligible. The key restrictions for stage 1 are as follows:

  • No new in-ground planting
  • Outdoor watering restricted to 2 days/week between the hours of 6pm and 9am

The bad news is that due to unseasonably cold weather, I did not have a chance to plant my veggie garden before I got this message. The good news is two-fold. First, I did not have a chance to plant my veggie garden before I got the message, which means I won’t have to watch it whither and die. Second, it specifies in-ground, which means I can probably still plant a few more things in pots. Probably only a couple though. This is only stage 1, and none of us out here can see it getting any wetter.

Teach a Man to Fish

We all know the old saying: “give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. teach a man to fish, you feed him for a lifetime.” But what happens when the corporations take that one step too far, fishing the oceans and rivers to near extinction? And what does any of it have to do with gardening?

Two things, actually. The first, is that the big fishing question is just one more component of a much larger food security coin that growing our own food at home can help to address. The second, is the growing movement known as aquaponics.

Aquaponics is basically a hybrid of aquaculture and hydroponics, comprised of fish tanks and garden troughs. The waste from the fish fertilizes the plants. The plants purify the water for the fish. And because it all happens in a closed, water-conserving system, aquaponics is especially interesting for low-rain areas such as our high-desert. I hope to be learning and posting a lot more about aquaponics in the near future, but in the mean time, check out these videos from two companies dedicated to growing aquaponic culture, Friendly Aquaponics in Hawaii and Colorado Aquaponics in Denver.

You can also get a basic overview at the Growing Power website.

Finally, a Start

Yesterday I actually got outside for a little gardening and met my goals for the 350 garden challenge, finally planting the kale and lettuce plants as well as a bag of organic grocery-store sunchokes that had started to sprout. As planned, I put them in empty pots that I found around the yard, that way I can move them around if I need to (the weather report is still showing nights in the 30s for the next couple of weeks). Now I just need to make sure I water them very, very regularly, but at least that will ensure I get out into the garden on a regular basis.

Hopefully soon I’ll be able to start actually putting things into the ground, but until then, here are a few pictures to tide you over.