Lie Fallow

I’m in my mid thirties. I barely have any wisdom to impart on myself. I honestly don’t have much to offer that is original material.  I absorb it like an amoeba just swallowing things as they are pelted at me through time and space.

But, I am a writer. So, I am good at panning for the nuggets of insight in a conversation, pocketing them, and bringing them back to my lab to melt them down into something gleaming and important. Someone else thought it up. I just made it shiny.

 

This is all a preamble to say that I was wallowing in the high tide of change and adjustment to our new life, the other day, to a good good friend of mine. As our children destroyed the patio of a local brewery. We ignored them, drank our beer, continued talking.

I relayed my fish-out-of-water feeling here. Like being a Donkey at a Horse party. Kind of blends in but… something isn’t right.

But my friend said, “Have you ever heard of the term ‘to lie fallow’? Its a farming term. It kind  of means, to hang out and just wait, just be ready for the next opportunity.” I absorbed this idea like a shock wave, she continued, “You can just simmer.” I chewed on this. I convinced my daughter to get down off the 6 foot chain link fence. I drank my beer.

There are actual brain scientists studying the effect of uncertainty and change on the human brain. To sum it up. Not great for cortisol levels. We have built a world that is too stressful for our evolved psychology. The amount of mental, and physical stimuli we are constantly assaulted with is just too much for our processors. Our brains hate change and uncertainty, it treats these things like a threat, akin to being chased by a predator.  This is the root of modern anxiety.  Humans, we are our own worst enemy.  We expect too much from our psychology.

 

It has occurred to me many times that in our culture, hyper-business is virtue, resting is considered lazy. In America, we “seize'”, “persist”, “pursue”, “hussle”, “gather”, “grind”… One of the reasons we ended up out here, was to peel away from the Grind. But I still have this “seizing” mind set. That if you are not actively pursuing an idea. If you aren’t constantly on the Grind, you are worthless. This is an idea I have struggled with as a primary parent. Choosing to forgo the Grind for story time at the library, mid morning stroller rides, breastfeeding and watching Netflix. I was suffocated by guilt for this decision. Watching my partner leave early every morning and take extra work that I knew he was too tired to take, framing decks in the pouring rain. It took years of deprogramming in therapy to feel like my choice to stay home with my kids wasn’t weak and selfish. That even though I wasn’t bringing in money, I was still contributing. And even now. After six years. I still fall back into this “grind” mindset. Treading water isn’t enough. I must also be knitting a hat and cooking dinner.

 

I am not alone. This is not just me. This is a cultural problem. The value of “household management” or “the mental load” (i.e. care of children, cooking, cleaning, pet care, doctors apts.) is not valued or lifted up here in western society. It is something that, if we can, we hire others to do for us. No matter what your work distribution is like in your house, these chores will largely fall on the female partner (in a heterosexual partnership). I’m not making this up, it’s like part of lots of studies and shit. For example, I order the toilet paper. No one else in my house knows where  it comes from or how, it just appears for them and never runs out. If I died suddenly, there would be a panic as Rob took down the last roll on the shelf in two weeks. But, then, 24 rolls would appear the next day, on the front porch, because I automatically subscribe to that shit! And I have perfectly timed it. No one would ever figure out my password to stop the toilet paper from coming. I’ve made sure of this.

 

Save your excitement. I don’t have any answers. I still feel the pressure to contribute, even though, I run this place with the efficiency of the Barry Goldwater campaign.  This is  strictly an observational regurgitation of other people’s wisdom. But I am going to take my friend’s advice, and lie fallow. Not worrying about the grind, about my place, about  contributing. I’m just going to soak in the enormous amount of upheaval our lives have been for the past six years. I’m going to process the nutrients, and let the flavors coagulate. Don’t rush it. Like a curry. Always better the next day.

 

In October, the sunsets are burning hot and short. We often get stuck behind tractors on our way to/from town. The dogs come in wet and smelly. We throw an extra log in the stove before bed. We are pulling the quarts of soup out of the freezer for dinner and drinking a lot of tea in the afternoons. The  one hundred year old floor groans under me in the morning.

The kids are still little enough to fit in my arms and carry up the stairs. My son still has this one little baby curl that hides under the hair on his temple. It is fine and soft. He doesn’t care if the kitchen table is a crime scene and we haven’t found a bookshelf for the living room yet. The day I am sitting next to him at the kitchen table and run my hands through his hair to find that his little baby curl is not there anymore,  I will  wait until he leaves for the day, then I will sob into my pillow and curse time that wretched thief.

 

What will happen if I just lie fallow, stay quiet, wait, and watch the year unfold? What if all thoughts of inadequacy just left and never came back? What if doing dishes, making lunches, chopping wood, and reading stories was just enough for now? What if I could  just be slow and soft. Watch how the light comes in and stay open.  I’m going to try this out. I’ll let you know how it goes.

First Dispatch from Bow Hill

My Aunt Sheila says it takes two weeks in your new house not to feel like you’re just on a  bad vacation. And she’s right.

I have moved a lot in my short life and I hate it so much that I wonder why I keep doing it. I am a person that loves to make is fluffy little nest to retreat to away from people and things. I am a person who is very good at doing nothing at all. I will make any excuse to “rest”, “recharge”, “take it easy”. In other generations that would have been called “lazy.” But I am lucky enough to live now in the era of “self-care, ” that most ego-centric of past times. I am a person who very unapologetically puts myself first. Always have been.

“No, I don’t want to.”

“No, don’t put capers on that.”

“Ugh, I hate this place, I’m leaving.”

“Yeah, that’s not going to work for me.”

“Nope.”

“No, I brought my own wine.”

Are all things that you may have heard me say. Periodically, through out the day. Even to my kids! (GASP!) I am historically not great at transitions, although I seem to go through them, a lot, by choice (i.e. kids, marriage, moving constantly). But perhaps I keep returning to the things that cause me trauma because I am a sadist? Perhaps. Maybe I just love hard exhausting things because everyone else says “wow you must be so tired” and then I get to go rest a lot afterwards while being congratulated.  That sounds right.

 

I hear my husband say things like “I could never just hang out, I need a project, I like hard work.” I think he has a mental illness. I hate hard work, and I think people who like it are weird. If I could, I would just sit around all day drinking coffee and reading every single page in The New Yorker, which is easily, my favorite thing to do.

 

Yesterday and the day before we chipped up what felt like an entire forest of branches that had to come down of the surrounding trees. I got the worst blister of my life. Rob even took down two massive old dead Hemlocks with a chainsaw. Which was, the highlight of the day, because I got to watch someone else work super hard.  And watching a massive tree fall is nothing less, than thrilling. Especially, if you haven’t watched TV in a month.

 

There is an indescribable amount of hard work that this property and house require and I am so, not, prepared or looking forward to any of it. Also, it has occurred to me, that I am just about the least qualified person to buy and fix up a 100 year old farm house and try to build a working farm on it.

Rob is better suited to just about everything around here. It’s too bad, none of these weeds, dead trees, overgrown blackberries,  or rat-infested sheds, would respond to critical analysis, or a deeply cutting remark, in which case,  I would actually be useful as something other than a warm body, who makes sandwiches, and coffee, I DO make the best coffee of anyone in the family.

 

Rob absolutely excels at all things domestic. He is an amazing cook, carpenter, gardener, parent, wood chopper (the list could continue for three pages). I am excellent at things that are not useful in a survival situation, which, for us has always worked fantastic in an urban setting. But, here, it seems, my lack of domestic skill is exaggerated, in a way that feels unbalanced.

I analyze the weather.  I change diapers and do dishes. I assist in raking, weeding, and trimming. I mitigate toddler misbehavior. I demand apologies from children, and bribe or cajole them into eating, washing, and sleeping.

 

 

I spend about an hour every afternoon on my knees, in the front yard,  with my headphones in, listening to a podcast or an audio-book while I rip up decades of grass and weeds. Someone, more than 40 years ago, paved an intricate stone pathway connecting the side door to the original front door and covered porch.  It is well built, shaped nicely, adds stairs around the steeper parts of the yard. They must have spent weeks on it.

Judy, the previous owner has no more information for me. It was like that when I bought it. She says, with a shrug, and she walks back to her truck with an armful of mail.

But I make up stories about this person. With at least two truck beds of stones, piling, sorting through each one. Digging out the holes, trying out different ones, like a massive nonsensical puzzle. What a delightful project it must have been. They must have really been trying to avoid something way harder than that.

My trowel clinks and scrapes as I peel back the mat of grass and dirt. Bugs, bags of spider eggs, worms, beetles slugs dive and scuttle to avoid my advance. Like the Russian front. Being discouraged only by nature in her power to dwarf human ambition.

 

Humans have always harnessed death and decay to advance life. When something dies it adds richness, sticky nutrition. Serving a purpose. Death is not senseless in the garden. It makes way and nourishes the new. Time’s up spiders. We will be using this pathway anew.

Composting, for instance. Rob is in the middle stage of building a 3 bay composting system where we will  dump our cast offs from the kitchen and garden, and they will rot  and become something rich and fantastic. Again, Rob is so, so good at this.

 

In the evenings I nurse my wounds in warm water,  and pick dirt out of my nails. I slather all kinds of potions on my crackling skin. I make Rob dig out splinters while I whimper. My body stiffens and aches upon waking from the deadest sleep I’ve ever had.  One day we will look back on the first year in this house and feel a rewarding sense of accomplishment and then we can go take a well deserved nap.

 

 

 

Fresh Dungeeees.

Running down the driveway to the big house with a bottle of beer and a mason jar, through warm rain that steams up off the asphalt as soon as it hits. Purple flashes stain the groaning slate clouds, and I am hoping he isn’t still holding the hedger. Father and son have taken cover on the back porch beneath the modern greek stucco pillars. We stand looking out over the sound, gracing the seats of the ornate outdoor furniture with our torn shorts and grubby gloves. We sip the beer and watch the electric purple veins strike like long vengeful fingernails the wooded islands across the water.

He kisses my damp shoulder, calls me beautiful, and says thanks for the beer. We sit for a while until it clears, watching the ferry boats and cruise ships drift  by;  watching the water steam up off the warm grass and pavement; the sun slicing through again.

This weekend we are headed across the water to places with exotic, and mysterious names; distant watery towns tucked into trees, hanging above docks, curled in on the down of soft pastures. We take the car ferry from Seattle. The weather has cleared and the sun cooks Seattle’s sensitive belly. The locals are all but naked in anticipation of the summer weather. 80 degrees with only a 20 percent chance of rain, to me, it feels like October.  A wave of salt and cedar slough off the looming coasts of small and little-known islands, soaked in exhaust and algea. I try to tamp my excitement, he points to shadow-green strips of land with roofs and decks poking out and says “Indianola, Kingston, Suquamish, Manitou, Vashon, Bainbridge….”   I butcher the old and poetic names with niaeve humor.. “Succotash, Indiana, Manatee…” These are not the familiar Spanish arrangements of my upbringing, but an older and unnatural tounge. I can’t keep strait which are Islands, and which are peninsulas. I wonder about the cold-boned and broad faced people from here. The trickling families, who stays and who leaves, how they get old and petrified with salt and rain like boney logs on the rocky shore.

Once off the ferry and out of town the roads become thin strips of pavement between walls of endless trees. Everything is cut out of the forest with the smallest possible footprint; the trees loom, as if glowering over the gas stations, corner stores, two lane highways, and bright little farm houses tucked apologetically in damp meadows.

His grandparents live in a little wooden house, on a clear-cut patch of grass at the edge of a cliff. “That over there, is Miller Bay…” Grandpa says, ” There is Suquamish, these guys here are getting busted for crabbing without a license… look at them… yeah… busted.” He points down at a little yellowing boat, ensconced in buoys, being approached by a police boat with it’s sirens on. The red muddy tide curls along the shore.

“The crabbin’ been good this year,” He says, “I’m getting some salmon this week… ’bout fifty pounds… gonna smoke it.” This leads to a debate between merits of Sock-eye versus King Salmon (subcategories I only know from menus) settling on the merits of the King, it having more fat, therefore better for smoking. This is all sounding like a foreign language to me, a girl from a patterned stucco suburb of Los Angeles. We fished once a year, at a penny-sized man-made pond  called “Trout-Dale”. The thin dead trout would then live in our freezer in plastic bags until mom threw them out.

Grandpa is buying the salmon from someone “in the tribe“, who has the right to fish the coveted breed. The tribe is a presence around here, a frontage road running along side the highway, a sub culture. There is an ‘us’ and a ‘them’ with a oval of impasse, relationships of convenience. They  mention “the Rez” in the same way that I would mention  “Van Nuys” or “Riverside.”

We wrap up our visit with cups of tea and sugar-free cookies. More driving through trees, across bridges, through towns, more naming of  beaches – thin and pebbly. The town of Indianola is absurdly charming. There is a stop sign, and a little red building called the Country Mart. Out front – like he was painted in by Norman Rockwell – a little toe-head boy shares an ice-cream cone with a curly-haired dog. We pick up a 12 pack of Rainer (that’s Washington-Speak for Pabst-Blue-Ribbon) and walk down to the dock, where teenage girls lean against the wooden railings talking to thin boys with fishing rods.

We are picked up by a shirt-less crew of Rob’s good friends, in a little speed boat and I work quickly to impress them with my wit, trying hard not to seem too “Californian.” I  hide my squeamishness when they pull up glittering cages of brown spidery Dungeness Crabs, clinging in panic, snapping their prehistoric claws with indignant rage. They seem so benign in the big glass aquariums at Pavillions, I can’t fathom how we are going to eat these things, they look like dinosaurs. We zip around to a few different buoys drinking beer, pulling up baskets of angry crabs.  The sun lighting us up, burning up the corners of our eyes, and drying yesterday’s storm.

In the  grassy yard of a little house, just up the road from the dock, we set up the BBQ and the crabs are boiled on the grass in an old beer keg with the top cut off, the screaming yellow foam brings a few curious neighbors, who ask about “our pull.” They eye me warily, they ask me where I’m from, and with proud grins, inform me with sweeping arms, that I am lucky to be here. I agree as I slice vegetables on a picnic table, help a little girl spell everyone’s name with a crayon, and take shots of  whiskey. I watch and learn how to crack crab on a pile of newspapers.  Finally the sun sets around 9:30, the fire-pit is lit, and we drunkenly eat crab salad and grilled vegetables. Someone turns on “The Talking Heads” which spawns a sing-a-long. The kids fall asleep in the master bedroom, and I am the only one with a sweater on, as it has fallen below 70 degrees now. The air, the still and shore-clean air holds the sweatness of the grass, and the fresh crab, and the crackling fire-pit. I want to bottle this smell and keep it on a shelf, and whenever I am feeling lonely or sad, I could just open the little bottle and sniff the cap, go back in time to an unfamiliar homeyness I felt, right then.

Rob’s Crab Ceviche/ Salad:

Ingredients: 

15 Fresh Dungeness Crab boiled in an old beer keg

1 head of crunchy purple lettuce

1 head of Garlic

1 jalapeno

1 thai pepper

1 purple onion

2-3 heads of fresh uncooked corn

1 can black beans

limes, lemons, vinegar, oil, salt, pepper, and hot-sauce to taste

Directions: Crack crab on sheets of Newspaper; chop all vegetables; put everything in the same bowl. Enjoy with beer, and friends, on tortilla chips or with a fork.