Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Why I Garden

A quick note before I write this post. Cool weather is killing our honeybees. They like temps above 57 F this time of year. Gardeners and lovers of bees, be concerned. (http://cliffmass.blogspot.com/2010/06/cool-returns.html)

Unlike last year, this may not be a great year for tomatoes. Good thing I bought Walls-o-water for mine! They are like tomato jackets. It may be 65 F outside, but my tomatoes think it's 75 degrees!

I started reading the book "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" by Barbara Kingsolver today. It's about how the author and her family attempt to locally source their diet for an entire year, while living on their Virginia farm. I'm just starting the book, and I know it's going to be a good one. Kingsolver writes a lot about her relationship to the land, and ponders whether or not Americans know where their food comes from anymore. She wants to grow her own food as a way of getting back in touch with a local eating culture -- something that Americans often lack. In places like Italy or France, local cheeses and breads are protected by those who love them. They've become part of the local culture. There used to be a reason why we eat what we eat. But now, Parmesan cheese comes from a green can -- not from Parma, Italy. And kids think that vegetables grown in the dirt make those veggies dirty -- not organic and wonderful.

While putting compost on my tomato plants today and adjusting my walls-o-water, I started thinking about why I garden, and whether or not I know where my food comes from. I would say that I know where about 50% of my food comes from. I grow my own veggies, and am splitting a CSA share with my friend Kim. I try to buy local meat from Skagit Valley Ranch when possible. But my beloved Clif bars are made in a factory, and my Trader Joe's yogurt definitely is not local. I'm doing what I can, but there are some foods that I just don't want to give up. Every now and then, a baked Cheeto tastes really good. But the sweet green peas ripening in my garden always taste better.

I garden because I get so much joy out of seeing a seed that I planted become a pea-producing plant. I garden because I love the feel of good dirt under my fingers. I garden because a tomato I've grown myself always tastes better than those you can find at the grocery store. I garden because I feel a sense of accomplishment when I pick and eat a salad I grew myself. I garden so more of my food literally comes from my backyard, and not from some big box grocery store. I garden because I am in love with the earth, with green growing things, with the rain that feeds them, the bees that pollinate them, and the sun that makes them grow tall and strong.

What I have learned from being a vegetable gardener is that there is so much more that goes into a veggie. Way more than one can understand if one buys all ones veggies at the grocery store. Growing vegetables is, for me, a labor of love. It's how I show love for the Earth. And it's how I show love for my body. I don't think it's a coincidence that I lost 20 pounds this last year. I radically changed my diet by locally sourcing my own vegetables. I'm not putting as much crap into my stomach.

From my little 4x6 raised bed, I have learned that farming is hard work. I have learned that peas become Peazilla with enough rain. I have watched my plants grow and change almost daily, reaching for the sun. I have learned what a healthy plant looks like, and am learning to spot bug damage on my leaves. I have practiced organic methods of gardening, choosing compost and organic fertilizer over chemicals. And I have tasted the sweetness in a home-grown pea.

One of my friends told me once that the adjective "cosmic" describes me quite well. I'm definitely a free spirit, and I've always been fascinated by stars. When I was little, I wanted to be the first woman on the moon. My head is often years ahead of my body. And most of my friends will tell you that I am a consummate planner -- I am always, always making plans. Well, gardening keeps me in the present. It adds some weight to the lightness of being cosmic. Gardening gets my hands in the good earth.

Quite literally, gardening keeps me grounded.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Gardening At Night

I was humming the R.E.M. song "Gardening at Night" while working in my garden this evening. One of the lovely things about Seattle in late spring is that it stays light until 9:30-10 PM. It's about 9 right now, and the sun is just finishing its descent behind the Olympics.

I put in the last of the tomatoes and the pepper I grew from seed. Right now, I have six tomato plants and two pepper plants growing. I started four tomatoes and one pepper from seed. Not too shabby!

It's been really wet up here in Seattle lately. Today was nice, but our rainfall patterns have better resembled November than June. This makes for a muddy garden. The soil in the starts I planted tonight had turned to mud. I won't need to water anything for a good long time, but I am worried about my zucchini. I think it may have powdery mildew already -- a disease that zucchini usually doesn't get until late summer. I need to call The Garden Hotline to figure it out.

All of the rain has turned my peas into Peazilla. After last weekend's adventure on the Olympics, I returned to find that my peas had essentially collapsed their trellis and were threatening the pepper I'd just planted. The vines are at least six feet long, and they're all wrapped around each other. They're massive! I tried to take a picture, but the low light ensured it was out of focus. I'm enjoying putting freshly picked peas on my salads. They're so tasty. Anyway, once it gets warm, Peazilla is going to become a pain in the butt to take out. Peas don't grow well in warm temperatures.

Lots of new adventures to report. I started a new blog for my sportswriting, Sportsology. You can find it at http://sportsology.wordpress.com. And I got into UW Bothell! So my summer and next couple years are set. Yes! I'll be taking classes during UW summer quarter and gardening all summer long. It should be great.

Enjoy your spring salads, fresh peas, and fava beans before it's too late!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Anna and Abby's Accidental Adventure

I'm no damsel. I usually keep my head in stressful situations. I may be in distress, but I'm not the kind of woman who needs a knight in shining armor to come to her rescue. I prefer to take care of things myself.

So when the nasty red oil pressure warning light came on while I was on a dirt road in the middle of the Olympics, I did not panic. Calmly, I pulled the car over to the side of the road, turned off the engine, and made a plan. Abby and I had been intending on doing a day hike up the Duckabush River, but clearly, Edgar the Mighty Volvo was not going to make it to the trailhead. When we got out of the car to check the engine, we noticed a large pool of oil on the road leading to my car. I'd bottomed out on a hidden pothole, tearing a hole in my oil pan. Thank goodness I'd pulled over.

I knew exactly what to do. We had to get to Camp Parsons.

I was a Boy Scout camp counselor in college at Camp Parsons, the oldest Boy Scout camp west of the Mississippi. It is a place of tradition and history. Once a Parsons counselor, always a Parsons counselor. And even though I had not set foot on camp property for five years, I knew there would be someone there to help. It was an adult work party weekend, and my dad would be around, as well as other current and former staffers who could help get my car out of the Olympics.

Abby and I flagged a passing car down. The woman inside had been walking her dogs on the Duckabush trail, and needed to go back to her house and get a larger truck in order to transport both of us to camp. We started walking down the road, stopping to glare at the offending pothole. Eventually the woman, Cathy, came back with her truck. She told us that she'd once been stuck 30 miles away from the nearest town in the Alaskan interior, and was happy to help a pair of stranded hikers out. Her dog, a beautiful white long-haired dog named Handsome, sniffed us inquisitively, barking as we got in.

"Your dog is lovely. What kind of dog is that?" Abby asked. As the smaller of the two, she got in the back of the truck. I perched up front to give directions if necessary.

"Oh, he's a wolf," Cathy responded. Abby and I looked at each other, incredulous.

"A WHAT?" I yelped.

"He's a Siberian wolf," Cathy said nonchalantly. Abby warily eyed what we thought had been a big white fluffy dog in the seat next to her.

"He's real friendly," Cathy said. And true, he was.

We got to camp, found Dad, and ate lunch. At lunch, Jim, an older volunteer and Brinnon resident, offered to help us get the car. We called Triple A, explained where the car was, and off we went. Two hours later, we brought Edgar the Mighty Volvo into camp, leaving him next to the ranger's house.

We figured that Keith, who was on Camp Parsons staff with my dad in the 1970s, might know how to get a used oil pan. Now working as a long haul trucker, Keith had been a Volvo mechanic for quite a while. I called him up, and serendipitously, he had a Bellingham, WA phone book in his truck.

"Call this guy. Rainbow Larry. He's good, and he'll have what you're looking for," Keith said. Wait a minute. First, I pet a wolf. And now, Keith was telling me to call a guy named Rainbow Larry? I scratched my head and wrote down the number. I called it, and sure enough, got the answering machine for one "Rainbow Larry's Auto Service" in Bellingham. I left a message explaining what I was looking for.

Since he basically knew everyone in Brinnon and Quilcene, Jim decided to take Abby and me to try to find somebody to fix the car. Knowing very little about cars, I figured that all I needed was an oil pan and a person to put it on. Easy, right? We climbed into Jim's car with Spike, his dog, in search of Andy the Hawaiian mechanic. I didn't know much about this Andy character, except that Jim trusted him, that he was good with cars, and that we couldn't call him on his phone.

Jim explained to me how a rural economy works. Instead of using money, people in Brinnon and Quilcene tend to use a trade and barter system. Instead of calling someone on the phone, it was always, always better to drop in and chat first.

We drove up and over Mt. Walker, marveling at the lush green forest and high mountains of the Olympic Peninsula. Jim pulled into the first driveway in Quilcene, only to find a closed gate.

"Well," he said, "this is the rural way of saying 'do not disturb." So we pulled into the drive-through coffee shop to ask the girl behind the counter if she knew where Andy the Hawaiian mechanic would be hanging out at 4 PM on a Saturday. She had no idea who we were talking about.

So we drove back to camp. While we were gone, the guys had tried to use jacks to put Edgar up on blocks. But the jacks were too tall. So two of the biggest guys in camp crawled under my Volvo and lifted it up to put it on the blocks. If that's not impressive, I don't know what is. I knew that if I got to camp, and if I got my car to camp, we'd figure something out.

Abby and I spent a wonderful evening hanging out in the common room of the Health Lodge, drinking beer and conversing with current and former Parsons staffers. My Parsons friendships are pretty special. It's the closest I'll ever get to being in a fraternity. No matter where I am and who I am, I will always be a Parsons staffer -- part of a brotherhood that spans generations. We laughed, we swore, and we shared camp stories.

The next day, Abby and I decided to take my dad's van up to the Mt. Townsend trailhead, since he was not planning on leaving camp until the mid-afternoon. We couldn't reach the top of Townsend due to deep snow at 5000 feet, but had a nice hike nevertheless. We passed many creeks and waterfalls on the way, eating lunch in a cool, foggy meadow.

While we were gone, the guys fashioned a patch out of J B Weld (special epoxy glue that is heat resistant) and metal. They put it over the hole in the oil pan, waited for it to dry, and filled my car with oil. Edgar started up right away. I'd done the right thing when I pulled over, and had saved my engine. Phew.

We made it home around 9 PM on Sunday night, tired, exhausted, and feeling like we'd had years of living in the last two days. My friends back home, whom I'd been texting updates to, sent me 'glad you're home safe' text messages.

But see, I knew we'd end up just fine. In what could have been an extremely stressful situation, I kept my head. I knew exactly what to do. I called on the 'grace under pressure' I learned to use when I was a Parsons counselor. I'm no damsel. I knew exactly what to do. I got in a car with a wolf, called a guy named Rainbow Larry, went with Jim in search of Andy the Hawaiian mechanic in Quilcene while two burly dudes lifted my car up on blocks, and drove home with a fancy Boy Scout fix holding my oil pan together.

Oh, and did I mention that I woke up with mouse poop next to my head and did not scream?

The God I believe in has a way of nudging me towards the place where I need to be. Or, in this case, tearing a hole in my oil pan. I think I needed to be at Camp Parsons this weekend. I needed to walk the trails of a place I know so well that its map is written in my bones. I needed to go to the end of the pier, breathe the fresh, salty air, and remember a time when I wore a troop's flag while jumping off the pier to start the canoe race. I was nineteen. One hundred Scouts were chanting my name. I felt like I was on top of the world.

Slipping back into my Camp Parsons self was so easy. I could reassure my friends back home that yes, I would get home safe -- to trust me, I will be fine. I hadn't felt so certain of my own well-being for months. Perhaps for years. But when faced with the adversity of being stuck four miles up a rural mountain road, I knew that Abby and I were going to get out. I knew that we'd get home. And I knew, too, that I'd finish my finals, finish out the rough year, and start my summer with confidence, grace, and the knowledge that I can, in fact, do anything.

All I needed were some Boy Scouts, laughter, beer, and someone to "duct tape" my car with some J B Weld.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

How I Spent The Game

"The House That Griffey Built" touched a nerve for a lot of you. Thanks for the comments and responses. It sounds like my crazy idea of interviewing true blue baseball fans about why they love the game and turning those interviews into a book may not be so crazy after all. Right now, I'm thinking of focusing on female fans, largely because that's the niche I fall into. When talking to male baseball fans, sometimes I find that they need to one-up me. While I did get into an interesting conversation with the guy sitting next to me as a result of this project, I didn't appreciate his implication that I'm not a "real" baseball fan because the first Mariners season I remember was 1995. I'm not a fair-weather fan. I went to games before that. But 1995 was the first year I remember actually caring about baseball.

I ended up being offered a free ticket to tonight's game. Instead of being a good grad student and working on my paper, I jumped at the free chance to go to the ballpark. I spent quite a bit of the game walking around the stadium, talking about my book project, trying to convince people I wasn't crazy. First, I tried the Bullpen Market area, thinking that might be a good place to find true blue Mariners fans. Nope. It's just a meat market. While I did get into a fun conversation with a Twins fan who was heckling center fielder Denard Span, the book idea had no takers. Six years ago, when I did a similar project for my bachelor's thesis, I had no problem convincing random strangers to give me their email addresses so I could contact them about my thesis project. Heck, I even got the Mariners to give me Dave Niehaus' phone number so I could interview him! This time, people were a bit more guarded. Really, folks, I just want to interview you about baseball. I'm not connected with any pyramid schemes or Nigerian money emails. Trust me.

Undaunted, I spotted a bright pink sign in the upper deck that read "4 Old Bats." I'd seen this sign at games before, and had sat near the women underneath on one occasion. I walked up and said, "Hi. My name is Anna. You look like baseball fans, and I wanted to ask you a question." They invited me to sit in an empty seat in their row. I explained that I needed help with a project. They said that they like helping with projects, and had played a role in a documentary about women and baseball.

"You should really come to spring training next year," one of them said. Another showed me an email from the Mariners inviting them to have lunch in the clubhouse with Don Wakamatsu. I took down their email addresses, and said I'd be in touch soon. Awesome!

Joan, one of the women I spoke with, said I should come back and say hello next time I am at a ballgame with them. She'd run out of Honorary Old Bat pins, she said, otherwise she would have given me one. My next game is Singles Night, on June 19th. They will also be at that game. I plan on coming up to say hello, and on updating them on my project. I will possibly be in the company of a tall, dark, and handsome baseball fan from Singles Night. We will see. :)

I've decided to tentatively title the book "How We Came to Love The Game." I'm definitely going to need a lot of support and help with this project. Right now, I'm thinking about traveling to the following cities to interview female fans, share stories, and talk baseball -- New York, Boston, St. Louis, Chicago, San Francisco, and Kansas City. I need help getting connected with baseball fans in each city, as well as a place to stay. If you yourself are a female baseball fan, and would like to participate in an hour-long interview for this project, please let me know. If you know of a female baseball fan who may want to participate, please pass on my info (my email address is on Facebook) to her. I will likely have to stay in Seattle this summer due to my meager grad student budget, but in the event that the book takes off and I actually get an advance -- or I win the lottery -- I'll schedule some interviews when I come through.

Oh, and if you happen to know of a tall, dark, handsome baseball fan who's looking for a gal who truly loves the game, would you please send him my way? Yankees fans need not apply. :)

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The House That Griffey Built

#24 decided he was done today. He wrote a statement to be read to the media, and quietly hung up his glove and his cleats. There was no weepy press conference. No fanfare. He simply decided he was done.

Smiley texted me right after the news became public. "Are you sitting down? Griffey retired." I dropped my phone and ran to the computer. I couldn't believe it. See, when other heroes from that '95 team retired, they had a swan song season. Baseball got to say goodbye to Edgar Martinez in fine fashion. He received standing ovations in every ballpark the Mariners traveled to. Griffey was just done. The joy had gone out of the game for him -- easy when you're hitting below .200 and have lost all your at-bats to the hot hitting Mike Sweeney. Good for him for knowing when to stop, and preventing any more awkward situations. Seeing an aging superstar lose his abilities -- it's just so sad.

But The Kid is no longer playing baseball. And I thought we were going to get a chance to say goodbye. He wasn't going to be at the ballpark tonight, but I knew there was something I had to do. It wasn't a choice, really. I had to go that game. I had to sit in The House that Griffey Built and pay my respects in the only way I know how -- by watching Cliff Lee pitch one helluva game ending with Ichiro singling the winning run home in the bottom of the 10th. I texted all the baseball fans I knew -- people who had grown up with Griffey and the Mariners, people who live and breathe this beautiful, beautiful game. Ashley, Brian and I dropped everything. We changed our plans to sit in Griffey's House, Safeco Field, and talk baseball. It was the only way to pay our respects to The Kid.

I don't know if I can really put my finger on why I love baseball. It just kinda snuck into my soul one day, likely during that amazing 1995 season when Seattle went baseball mad. I was thirteen -- tall, gawky, and very awkward. I've always gotten into trouble for saying what I think and well, that didn't make me very popular in middle school. I was socially awkward -- still am, in some respects. But watching baseball changed all that. You really could taste the excitement in the city. Seattle was on fire, and all people could talk about was baseball. I watched and listened to the end of the '95 season and to all those playoff games like a girl possessed. I was hooked on the excitement, the frenzy, and the beauty of it all. And I had a Walkman. So I was the only kid on the bus who could listen to each game. I gave running play-by-plays, and for the first and only time in my life as a student, I was popular.

When times are tough, and I am under stress or incredibly sad, I go to a ballgame. And when I am joyful, dancing, and utterly in love and at peace with the world, I go to a ballgame. Baseball provides me with stability in an oft-unstable world. So many things have caught me off balance this year -- the end of a long-term relationship, the realization that my career path was not fulfilling me, the decision to become a teacher, and the negotiation of all these transitions. In baseball, there are always 27 outs. There are always moments when a player's grace just blows you away. And there are always stories -- the fables true fans tell about players, ballparks, myths, curses, and the like. For Mariners fans, we still have Hall of Famer Dave Niehaus, even though he is now missing home run calls and sometimes thinks the Mariners still play in the Kingdome. Through Niehaus on the radio, I can imagine long fly balls belted deep down the left field line. And I can still hear and see Griffey sliding into home, beating the Yankees in 1995. The Kid is intimately connected with The Double and the ensuing pigpile on home plate. I jumped ten feet in the air, just like Mike Blowers. Griffey saved baseball in Seattle with that slide. Edgar's Double was the Shot Heard Round Seattle. Griffey's slide built Safeco Field.

I'm 28, and it feels like my childhood just died today. For as long as Junior was playing, there was a part of me that was always 13, banging pots and pans together while running up and down my street. There was a part of me stuck at 6, a voracious reader catching bugs in the yard and throwing water balloons with friends. There was a naive 22-year-old writing her bachelor's thesis about Mariners fan culture and community who couldn't wait to get out into the adult world. And, too often, a weary 28-year-old who lately has been feeling like her carefully constructed life has been falling apart, and who has realized that the adult world isn't all it's cracked up to be. Everything she thought she was and would be -- it's all changing around her so quickly, too quickly, whirling and spinning out of her hands. The life I have is not the life I want, and I'm coming to terms with that and changing it so my reality better matches my dreams. Baseball, with its 27 outs and its moments of grace, gives me a much-needed center. As long as The Kid was playing, I could still be a kid too.

In baseball, as in life, there aren't really any do-overs. It's not like football where a play can be whistled dead and the team can play it again. Refs often make bad calls and make huge mistakes. Season after season, year after year, there are 27 outs. There are nine innings. And the teams keep playing until somebody wins. As much as I want a do-over right now -- as much as I want a time machine to go back to when I started graduate school and tell 23-year-old me "don't do it. This is not the right thing to do. You're going to be so unhappy," I can't. With Griffey's retirement comes the realization that I don't have any do-overs. And as much as it seems like the friends around me have it all together (it's so hard when you're one of the only grad students in a group of people who seem to have it all figured out), they don't all the time. The life I thought I would have is not the life I have now, but I have the power and the ability to change that. Just as Griffey changed his mind about baseball, I can also change my mind at any time.

There will always be 27 outs. There will always be heroes and villains. We baseball fans will always have arguments about the designated hitter, and about the merits and demerits of various players. I will always loathe the Yankees. This beautiful game will be always be at the core of who I am. And I look forward to telling my grandchildren about the time Edgar Martinez hit that perfect double down the left field line, and about how Griffey sprinted from first to home. I will sit in The House That Griffey Built tomorrow. I'll be there for his retirement ceremony. I will be there when he is inducted into the Mariners Hall of Fame -- I'll camp out to get tickets if I have to. I'll be there with friends who are true blue Mariners fans -- people to whom all I have to say is "I need to go to the game, guys," and they know. They understand. For their own personal reasons, they've come to love the game. And when that game calls each of us, we go.

Good luck to you, Ken Griffey, Jr. Come on up and see us in Seattle sometime. We miss you already. Thanks for helping to construct a place I can go when I need to escape life's peaks and valleys, laugh with friends, and watch 27 outs of the most beautiful game humans ever created.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The Sirens of Singlehood and The Single Gardener's Manifesto

So, there have been some interesting things going on in the life of this spontaneous gardener. An old friend of mine and I reconnected, and there were sparks. We followed the sparks, but it just didn't feel right. It was really all a matter of bad timing on both of our parts. In our own separate ways, we are each being seduced by the sirens of singlehood.

This recent experience has got me reflecting. I've never had a period of my life where I've made a commitment to being single. I tend to meet men via online dating services, which can create a sense of false intimacy right off the bat. It's like the relationship is destined to happen before we even meet each other. That beautiful, slow period of organic discovery where you learn about each others' interests and passions -- well, I've never really had that. Not in my adult life, anyway. I have it in my head that I'm really bad at meeting potential dating partners in real life. Considering that I've been on several offline dates in the past few months and gotten several phone numbers has been quite the revelation for me. I'm not bad at this. I'm just learning how to do it. And I think I could use more practice.

The Internet has really changed the way we interact with each other. Via Facebook and Twitter, we build online versions of ourselves. In a sense, I suppose that's also what I'm doing on this blog. I like to think that my online personality is fairly close to the reality of who I am in flesh and blood, but there are definitely differences. I give great hugs, and you can't hug a screen.

What it comes down to is this. I want to fall in love with a person, not a profile. I think that, with online dating, I often fall for the profile before the person. And I don't want to go into a relationship with an idealized notion of how a person is supposed to be, based on what he wrote on an online dating website. No -- I want real life and all of its messiness. I want the butterflies, the confusion, and the period of sharing and learning. It's too easy for me if it's all right there for the taking.

I don't want to come out and completely diss online dating, because I know it has worked for some of my friends, and I know it works for some people. Meeting "the right person" takes time and effort. You may not encounter "the right person" in your everyday interactions -- but he or she could be waiting online. And I know of people who met the right person this way. But I'm a storyteller. And I'd rather my (our) future story begin with phrases like this --

I met him at a concert. I found her joyful, crazy dancing infectious. I kept seeing her at Science Cafe, and she asked fabulous questions. We volunteered together at a garden. We started talking at a baseball game. Friends set us up. He was on a Mountaineers hike with me.

That's the kind of story I want to start telling. And I think that, in order to have that story, I really need to get offline and give real life a chance. I also need to have a summer where I am single in the city. I need to heed the call of the sirens of singlehood in order to be ready for a relationship again. I need to put myself in social situations where I may be a little bit uncomfortable. I need to get out there and meet some strangers, and bring those strangers into the circle of wonderful people I am so blessed to call friends. I need to dance, hike, garden, volunteer, and get to the point where I am comfortable doing things alone -- and especially be comfortable with going places by myself.

So my Single Gardener's Manifesto is this. I am committing myself to a summer of offline dating. I will learn how to meet people by putting myself in slightly uncomfortable social situations -- places that challenge my shyness (I can be shy in large groups of people I don't know) and my limits. I will take care of myself. I will enjoy the company of my friends. I will dance, laugh, love, and explore the city. I will force myself to go singles mixers like the upcoming Singles Night at Safeco Field, because I'm deathly curious and I have no idea what goes on at these things. It's going to be so much fun. And I'm sure I'll have some great stories, too.

Since this is supposed to be a blog about gardening, I should update you on the status of my wonderful plants! My peas are finally coming out of their flowers, and it seems like new peas appear on the vines each day. The tomato starts are all successfully hardened off. I put three more in the garden today, and will put the rest in once the peas and fava beans come out. The fava beans are starting to produce beans, and I will have to figure out what on earth to do with them. The carrots and broccoli are growing quite nicely. The garden is buzzing with light, life, and activity. Summer is almost here. I can taste the tomatoes and peppers already.