My Imaginary Mother in Winter

photo by Paul Mayer

BY KIMBERLY MAYER

It was my mother who prompted me to bring home the poinsettia plant this week. We will be going away for the holidays, but she was with me at the market and couldn’t resist the display.

Mom’s with me all the time now.

“O.K., O.K.” I said, “but we’re going to do it a little differently this year.” (I sound like the mother now). Typically I go for the creamy white, and she, the fire engine red. Together we took home the faded pink and we’re loving it. It lifts color from the rug and puts a blush on the complexion of everyone in the room.

Not too long ago I had to haggle with time zones, flight schedules, and getting to and from airports. Now she’s here, as I said. A companion for me in my rather reclusive life as a writer on a sparsely populated island, especially in winter.

Without her I’d be lonely.

Mom doesn’t fall ill anymore, she’s simply well. We figure out what to wear, share books, plan menus, and set spectacular tables. She’s tickled to find her silver here and thrilled when we use it. No matter how many guests, there is always room for Mom at the table.

She’s a part of me now, particularly outdoors. I always knew Mom would love this place. Yesterday we took it upon ourselves to plant the narcissi. That enormous bag of bulbs had been sitting on the floor of the mud room for two months. I had almost forgotten about it, but she remembered. We took an eyesore, a barren bank on the side of the drive, and popped into the ground 30 trumpet daffodil to bloom in early spring, 30 in mid spring, and 30 in late spring. Mom was almost giddy. The weather was raw and I was just happy to see she wasn’t cold, and her back didn’t ache in the digging.

It’s mine now that’s going.

I know of nothing like bulbs for staying forward looking in life. Growing amaryllis bulbs indoors in the Christmas season is a tradition mom instilled in us years ago. There are times when I would gladly forego everything about the holiday but that. I measure my days by its stalks.

Likewise that dirt bank in the drive is going to pull us through the winter months, I just know it. There the bulbs will rise like a standing ovation, proclaiming that there will always be another spring.

One way or another.

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Paths of Desire

photo by Paul Mayer

BY KIMBERLY MAYER

When Walt Disney designed Disneyland, he looked to see where people walked before committing those paths to concrete. Frank Lloyd Wright followed much the same principle. And today in Finland, land planners visit parks after the first snowfall of the year to best determine their layout of paths.

Otherwise paths will present themselves organically. Wikipedia states that “as few as 15 passages over a site can be enough to create a distinct trail, the existence of which then attracts further use.” Whether it is in pursuit a short cut or a wandering at whim, ‘paths of desire’ emerge as people make their own way across the meadows, fields, parks, and median strips in parking lots of their lives.

Our feet go where they’d like, so to speak.

But not my mother’s. Given a choice, she did not trample on the grass. She did not question the rules. What my mother always desired, it seemed, were paved walks in life.

What did she think of us, I wonder? Did she think us all anarchists? I never asked her. Now I wish I had.

But I will tell you that only a few years ago I had the pleasure of walking a labyrinth path with her. We were on Orcas Island and the labyrinth garden at Emmanuel Episcopal Parish church in Eastsound presented itself. Labyrinths were originally designed by churches, primarily Episcopal, as a way to get parishioners back into the fold. How clever is that?

Walking the labyrinth appealed to us both and the church yard was all ours for half the afternoon. Over and over we walked the singular path in silence to the center, and out again. I found it calming, hypnotic, —a moving meditation.

I think I began to understand her patience that day.

Perhaps that was it, all those years. My mother had found that in following a path that presented no navigational challenges, like our labyrinth, she could find her own thoughts.

I am going to go with that.

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Cut Flowers

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photo by Paul Mayer

BY KIMBERLY MAYER

Cut flowers. You see them at the market, the farmer’s market, and flower stalls. They are given and received as gifts, and they are, of course, lovely. Fresh. Ephemeral. I’m OK with the whole thing now, but for the longest time—nearly all my life–I thought it wrong to cut off a flower in bud or bloom.

My mother wanted a debutante and what she got was a hippie. A naturalist from the get-go. Truth be told, I have always preferred the wildflowers. The Queen Anne’s lace that seeded itself aside the highway to the heirloom rose. And to my mind, planted or wild, all flowers deserved to grow.

Pity the date who came to my door with a bouquet in hand. One look at the stemmed beauties wrapped in cellophane and I’d think, the poor things… When a relationship was lasting, I clarified my preference for potted plants. As it happened, my husband hung in the longest and our lives have been full of plants I have tended for months, years, and occasionally transplanted outdoors.

I was this way about cut flowers right up through becoming a Master Gardener. Now any gardener worth her salt will know that plants benefit from pruning, and cutting may keep some plants vigorously in flower. It just wasn’t in my nature.

I never knew where this came from until my mother lay dying last week. She was 89 years young and suffered a stroke in the hospital following a surgical operation. The stroke evolved, and there was nothing to do but keep vigil. And that is what we did for days.

I read to her from the book I had on hand, Lab Girl, by Hope Jahren. Chapter after chapter in this horticultural memoir became intensely personal. I read how Hope’s strongest memory of her childhood garden was not how it smelled or looked, but how it sounded. “It might strike you as fantastic, but you really can hear plants growing in the Midwest,” she wrote.

When we came to the part about her mother’s peonies the size of cabbages, I put down the book and spoke of my own mother’s peony garden of many years ago. Closing my eyes I could see her on hands and knees tending her border alone.

“I’m sorry, mom, I never got down to help you,” I cried. “I was always running by, not interested in gardening yet. But I want you to know that I noticed how beautiful…”

And she nodded; she understood.

Suddenly I realized, right there by her hospital bedside, that in all those years of magnificent summer blooming peonies, we never had an arrangement in the house that I can recall. That’s where I got it, I thought! From my mother, who never cut the flowers she tended so lovingly.

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More Dirt

 

BY KIMBERLY MAYER

 

On June 1, 2017, the president turned his back on the planet. I was making my way to the gate having cleared airport security in Seattle, aware that this was the hour Trump would announce his decision on The Paris Agreement in The Rose Garden. It was 3pm Eastern Time, noon Pacific Time. What I was looking for no longer existed: mounted televisions turned permanently to CNN. Everyone has their own devises now, I suppose, and half the people had on ear buds.

I didn’t have to dig my phone out of my bag. When his decision was announced, it was palpable. I could feel it, all the weight and weariness in the crowd at Seatac. Wherever our destination, whatever our mission in life, we were all off on our lonely flights attending the same funeral.

If that was a death march, in the morning I woke with a Bob Dylan song in my head. Time will tell who has fell, And who’s been left behind, When you go your way and I go mine.

Flatbed truck after flatbed truck hauled in specimen trees for planting and bright yellow caterpillar tractors moved earth at The Village at Duxbury, the retirement community where my parents reside outside Boston. I was witness to the creation of what will one day, no doubt, be an arboretum. Trees my parents and future generations will watch grow.

I thought of our own expanding efforts at home growing salad greens, herbs, fruit and vegetables. Living as sustainably as possible on the island, while farming oysters, clams, and mussels in the bay. And The Demonstration Garden where I work with other Master Gardeners, growing produce for our local food bank.

Suddenly we are singing another song, something like a Battle Hymm of the Republic.

On the same day as the dire announcement in The Rose Garden, Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington, Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York, and Gov. Jerry Brown of California formed the United States Climate Alliance to uphold the objectives of the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change. To date thirteen states and Puerto Rico have joined the alliance. Eleven additional states have pledged to support the Paris Agreement, representing over 60% of the populace of the United States. Hundreds of mayors of US cities, including the 10 most populous, either support the alliance or are committed to upholding the Paris Agreement.

Businesses are going ahead with green energy because it’s good business. Pittsburgh plans to power itself entirely with renewable energy. And on and on.

Our new battle cry: the more damage the Trump Administration tries to do to the environment, the greener we go.

 

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The Things that Disappear

Taylor Shellfish Farms, Bow WA

BY KIMBERLY MAYER

“The Running of the Brides” was a one-day sale of wedding gowns at Filene’s Basement, a tradition at the downtown flagship Boston store from 1947 until the store finally closed in 2007. Gowns that retailed for thousands of dollars were on sale in the hundreds. Brides-to-be stormed the store with posses of fast running, bartering and trading friends, sisters, and mothers. As at Chicago’s commodities market, bells were rung and whistles blown to locate each other on the floor. Stepping into and hoisting out of gowns in the aisles, brides-to-be emptied the racks.

Another annual event this time of year is the Oyster Seed Sale at Taylor Shellfish Farms in Bow, Washington. In order to be in line at dawn with other oyster farmers, many from our own bay on San Juan Island, we had to ferry over the day before and spend the night. There we always purchase several bags of Pacific Triploids, Pacific Diploids, Kumamoto, and Olympia Oysters seeds. Gone like the bridal gowns, with everyone hurrying home to get their seeds back in the water at low tide.

After months of preparation, this year’s Master Gardener Plant Sale on San Juan Island was nearly over in thirty-five minutes. As the line had grown outside Mullis Senior Center before the doors opened, it’s almost safe to say one had to be in that line too for a bountiful selection of vegetable and herb seedlings.

There was just one catch: because of record cold temps, customers were advised not to plant their purchases outdoors. Not before a gradual “hardening off” to get acclimated to the outdoors. Always a good idea with vegetables grown from seedlings under cover, a one-to-two week process exposing them to a few hours of sun per day in a location sheltered from strong sun, winds, hard rain, and cold temps. Bringing them in at night, of course.

We see onions and brassica, the hardiest, going out first. Followed by celery, Chinese cabbage, lettuce, and endive in the vegetable march. Basil, tomatoes, and peppers, most tender of all, with eggplants, melons, and cucumbers preferring nighttime temperatures in the 60’s.

We’re still a ways from that this spring. In the daily procession at our home, toting vegetable plants between kitchen and deck, back and forth in what Gabe Rivera calls “a yearning to graduate to the great outdoors,” we are building horticultural armored plating in the seedlings. It’s all good. Any lingering overcast is also less stressful for plants.

These are among the things that disappear this time of year: wedding gowns, oyster seeds, and vegetable & herb starts. Just the beginning of things, really.

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The Ocean is Rising and So Are We

 

BY KIMBERLY MAYER

I don’t need to tell you how many people turned out in pouring rain for The March for Science, April 22nd in Washington DC. And for The Climate March one week later, with over 200,000 participants, along with tens of thousands in 370 sister marches throughout the country.

Marches are happening with increasing frequency everywhere. It’s getting so you can’t sit them out.

We were in DC for The March for Science, and home on San Juan Island for The Climate March. From one Washington to another.

Azalea blossoms were out in full force in DC, as cherry blossoms lingered. In the islands, Orca whales are in migration, following the salmon who are returning to the rivers where they were born. And hummingbirds returning from their vast migration to our feeders.

Nature needs to know we are with her, that we have her back.

On Saturday April 29th we gathered at noon in the upper parking lot of the courthouse in Friday Harbor. Liquid sunshine then too. Bearing hand-painted signs, wearing handmade costumes, pushing babies in strollers, and toting dogs on leash. One person wore a teepee construction around him. Essentially it was a microcosm of all we had seen, and all the camaraderie we had experienced in DC the week before. One country, coast to coast. Or so it seems.

If there is one good thing to come out of oppressive regimes, it is this: The Resistance.

Who are they, in fact, who do sit this out?

In the run up to the election, I had wanted to write an open letter to my Republican relatives, as well as a few friends I’ve probably lost by now. But I must have mulled over it too much, for I never did. Now of course I wish I had. I would like to hear from you.

Tell me, what did you not see coming with Trump? What were you thinking?

 

 

 

 

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The Secret Gardens of Trump Tower

BY KIMBERLY MAYER

In 1979 Trump made a deal with New York City. If he committed 15,000 sq ft to amenities for the public, including terraced gardens, he could add twenty extra floors to Trump Tower. The deal net Trump $530 million.

The public, for the most part, lost.

Known as POPS, privately owned public spaces, the spaces are legally required to be open to the public under a city’s zoning ordinance or other land use law. Across New York City there are more than 500 POPS in 320 buildings, but Trump Tower’s gardens are not well known because Trump Tower itself, the corporate headquarters of Trump Organization, barely acknowledges the existence of these spaces.

In the past thirty years Trump Tower has been fined repeatedly on its POPS agreement. Signage to the gardens is neither noted at the 5th Avenue entrance to Trump Tower nor on the building’s directory. Paramilitary guards guard the Tower, joined lately by Secret Service. The 6 story atrium space is often closed for press conferences, and public seating replaced with kiosks selling Trump’s “Make America Great” hats.

One reporter made six attempts over a period of two weeks to get into the gardens, only to be told on one occasion that the garden was closed due to rain.

 Wait… closing a garden due to rain?

So I checked with some of my sources in the city: Dave Yourgrau, Program Director at Startup Institute; Sarah Yourgrau, Producer for Film/TV; and Yogi Shmuel, Real Estate Agent at Douglas Elliman Real Estate. Were any of them aware of public gardens at Trump Tower? No, they were not.

“I have never heard of the gardens, nor do I know of anyone who has,” explained Dave. “Trump properties have a huge reputation of being unavailable to the public.”

Reporters from Salon, Business Insider, Crains New York, Untapped Cities, and aPOPS: Advocates for Privately Owned Public Space who have found a way into the gardens at Trump Tower tell us we’re not missing much. “A handful of hostas, a small maple tree, built-in granite benches, and a garbage can” was one description of the 4th floor garden. On the 5th floor, “A row of seven trees, probably Japanese maple or cherry (four of whom were dead).”

Not the flora and fauna one might expect in a garden, nor the visitors. Is nothing about this man, Donald J. Trump, natural? Has he ever grown so much as a geranium on a windowsill? My guess is he has not. To say nothing of a sense of civic duty. That deal he struck with the city of New York was never much more than a nod to nature on his part.

It was always about the twenty floors.

The importance of urban gardens to city dwellers cannot be stressed enough. Gardens restore both our lungs and our spirit. They provide a sanctuary, a connection and with nature, a sense of season, and an unhurried stillness. Lynden B. Miller, Director of The Conservatory Garden in Central Park observes, “People simply feel better about themselves and their communities when surrounded by beautiful plants.”

And those who plant, or provide a garden, know that they are doing something for the good of the world.

Donald J. Trump is missing this, all of this.

 

 

 

 

 

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