I searched for "salamander" in my Gmail box on a whim (who knows. I don't know. It just felt like what I ought to do) and this came up. It's an old love letter. It really struck me deeply, and against maybe my better judgment I'm sharing it.
I think I am sharing it because this was four years ago, and things have changed. All the things we grew in that garden have died, and now something new is growing back there -- or not; I wouldn't know because I haven't been to that house in three years. I promised myself on the day I wrote this letter that I would garden at least once a week, because it brought me such joy. Since then, I have gardened only once: it was the day after the person I wrote this letter to broke up with me. I didn't know what to do, and Hannah took me out into the back yard and I pulled at the ivy until my fingers bled, and smelled the dirt, and cried.
I thought -- and a honestly, I deleted a lot of the really mushy and revealing parts of this to protect the involved party -- that this relationship would last forever. I think you can tell when you read it. But the love changed, just like gardens do, just like everything. Things die, new things grow, and sometimes you don't even remember what used to be there.
I honestly don't remember writing this letter; I don't even really remember this day. But here it is, and it's clear that I was happy; that I was hopeful. That is still true. The dirt of the earth and the things it grows continues to teach me a lot. I look back at this with gratitude, and with the knowledge that someday, something will drive me out into a garden again.
It felt like summer. I didn't let myself think about anything (NOTHING!) that I had to do. I spent the whole day in the garden, and the last three hours of it making bean soup. Everyone came in and ate big fat bowls of soup with cilantro cream sauce, and then we had popsicles. Soup and popsicles both rank in my top three favorite foods, so this was all in all a really amazing day without any more details necessary for explanation. But here are the incredible things that I saw today, and learned about, just by digging in the dirt with my fingers:
1. I saw a salamander. I think I maybe accidentally cut off his tail with a shovel, although not on purpose. I named him (her?) Margaret and we hung out a little bit and got to know one another. What a beautiful, personable animal a salamander is. Much kinder and more interested in human hands than lizards are.
2. We dug up a rhizome, which was very exciting to Derek. Apparently, a rhizome is a miracle. It allows lots of roots to grow off of it, and they can grow from any direction, going to any direction. This is a philosophical idea that Derek is really fascinated with: the idea that if we create networks among us that reach out in all kinds of different directions, we can truly make a difference on earth. He also told me a lot about mycelium. The mycelium is the part of a fungus that is like a plant. Scientists have wondered for a long time about the puzzle of the forest: How can small trees that get relatively no sunlight (because they are blocked by the canopy of the taller trees) grow? Well, mycelium experts theorized that it might have something to do with the network that mycelia create. Mycelia run like an enormous beating heart under the entire forest. And they (the scientists) found out that mycelia are able to sense when trees are not getting enough nutrients. Then, they borrow excess nutrients from tall trees who are photosynthesizing more than they need to. In this way, mycelia are keeping those trees alive. Anyway, Derek thinks this is the answer to all the world's problems.
3. There were beautiful old scraps of pottery, and similar polished-down dull glass artifacts from long ago. It reminded me of digging for treasure when I was little, but we actually found stuff.
4. I am struck by how beautiful the enormous clam shells buried in our soil are. They are all ripply and white and hard and they remind me of bones and vaginas simultaneously. They have hints of purple and pink in them if you wash them off, and they get really shiny. They're big, too! I can't believe how many of them there are. It is fun to play with them in the palms of my hands.
5. I learned how to plant seeds the right way, and how to read seed charts. And how to chop with a hatchet. And how to level out a slanted blueberry bush. Today we planted blueberries of two varieties, peppers, lots of herbs, a plum tree, beans, corn, and tons of cover crop. I actually think a lot more was planted while I was inside making soup. I am watching the landscape change.
I can't remember the part of the day before I started planting. I guess I woke up and took a shower, and went to the Hollygrove to get our vegetables. There were children there this week for some kind of event. I couldn't believe how happy I got listening to slow folk music in the presence of bright vegetables and flowers growing deep in the soil. I watched kids eating pizza that they made from a big clay oven built in the middle of the garden. It was gray and everyone was so happy. I felt great. I realized that I need to be around things like that all the time. I think that being critical and negative is really helpful to instigate change for some people, but that it doesn't really work for me, and that's not how I plan to cultivate my own change. I am going to work to embrace the things in my life that make me happiest.
Mostly, that is you. I love how you see the best in so much of the world. I love to listen to you speak. I miss you. I want to share everything with you; I want to show you the bright pink flowers that are growing right now. But that reminds me -- my favorite day of the year is coming.
I hope you're excited about this. It comes this time every year, right after the weather has been dumpy for a while. While the weather is being gross, green things start to come up, and the flowers start to bloom. But you can't fully recognize how beautiful that is because it is rainy and indoor-weathery, and you just can't quite process what nature is doing.
And then one day, in the not too distant future, it will be beautiful outside. The sun will shine, and everything will light up. And you'll see all those flowers and everything that has been so fastidiously growing, and you'll realize that it is the best day of the whole year. On that day (and it happens every year), when the flowers are just coming to life, and the sun comes out for the first time in what seems like a long time, I usually take the day off. I used to, at least, in high school and college. In high school, I played hookie, and I walked around the parks in Portland and just stared in awe. Dogwoods. Oh. My. God. Are they blooming yet? Those are my favorite, and I miss them. It is tough to be away from the seasonals and perennials I am used to. But I am lucky: I get to learn all kinds of new and beautiful life-forms in New Orleans.
Oh, --, you are my best friend, and I want to live in the world with you. I want to talk to you about birds, and not. I want to just sit. I want to cook with you. I want to listen to records with you. I wish you the happiest night, and hope that everything in your life is beautiful and sublime.