On the edge of the cusp

The morning light shining at the end of the dark hall, a pull to the garden.

Birds twittering, chittering, beating, swooping. Tomatoes swelling on their vines and branches laden with pears. Dusty lavender dotted with bees. Trumpets vines blaring red siren songs to the hummingbirds. The holes where rats come into and out of our yard. (Who does “our” contain?) The hot noon hour when, from the bedroom window, changing out of my gardening clothes, I watch two of them run up the branches of the blueberry bushes and eat our fruit. Brazen. 

Watering the hostas. The ones with pale, thin leaves are fragile, always wilted, their edges constantly crisped. We vow to buy only the ones with thick green leaves now. I consider reserving my water for the strong and letting the needier ones wither to papery remains I can toss without compunction into the compost bin.

The compost bin loaded with thorny sticks, dried up blooms, bristly thistles I pull from the vegetable box: Things I deem weeds, or overgrown, or dead. The sickly sweet scent of rotting kitchen scraps–cantaloupe rinds, probably–wafting upward. I shut the lid. 

Hermiston cantaloupe slices I present to my son at dinner, telling him that I don’t buy the other kind now, the ones shipped here from faraway places, so the time to enjoy these is now. “I don’t like how hard and tasteless they are,” I tell him, speaking of the ones we can buy during other months. “I like cantaloupe firm,” he tells me, and I mumble words about nature and carbon and footprints because I can’t find the right ones for what I feel. I know he’s only expressing a preference for texture but I despair a bit for the future just the same. He’s acclimated to his time, which isn’t mine. He’s never eaten watermelon with black seeds. He’s never spit them out at his cousins, laughing, while sitting at the kids’ table in his grandmother’s kitchen. 

My grandfather cutting cantaloupe on a summer morning as he readies for work, the light shining through the sink window’s short curtains. He sprinkles his melon, soft and vivid as the Hermistons I offer to my son like jewels, with salt. Paul Harvey’s voice is tinny through the radio, and my grandmother is still sleeping in their bed upstairs. I like not needing to say anything, having him all to myself, being cared for only by him, who makes me a piece of toast in the toaster that now sits on a shelf in my mother’s kitchen. He dies of a heart attack at 63. The night he dies, I sleep in that bed with my grandma, in his spot. 

I sit at my kitchen table and read a piece my friend Sharon is writing about grandmothers and canning and writing. About preservation and sustenance. She writes that she cans with words, not food. Then I read my friend Bethany’s piece about doubting the purpose of writing, she who writes multiple books through decades of mothering and teaching. I consider my history, the jars of applesauce my great-grandmother sent to our suburban house every fall that she made from apples grown on the farm, and how three generations later I am only just now, well into a sixth decade of living, beginning to learn how to grow food. I consider the tomatoes ripening in a bowl on the table, the literal fruits of my labor. I consider the one book of poems I cultivated, now nearly 20 years ago, and I wonder if the writer in me is a pale hosta. Maybe she is. Or maybe she is a rat, scratching at survival through blog posts and Instasnippets. Maybe she is an invasive, drought-resistant perennial with deep, woody roots. Maybe she is none of those things and all of those things. Maybe she is everything in the garden–the hostas and rinds and rats and tomatoes and trumpets and weeds and bees, being fed by whatever they can find there, wherever they can find it. It’s a conceit that brings comfort, here on the edge of the cusp of autumn, these brief weeks of both harvesting and fading. 

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This is another bit of writing that grew from exercises for my class on the braided essay. One exercise was about a journey (my trip down the hallway and into the garden), and one was about using sensory images of a place (or series of places), and I was feeling behind (my own arbitrary and self-imposed deadlines, as the course is self-paced), so I combined them.

I appreciate assignments that require me to pay close attention to my life. It’s been a pretty nothing-special week, on the surface of things, one that I might easily forget. I like that the simple act of listing concrete things I notice took me to a place I wasn’t expecting, and cemented memories I’m sure I’ll return to in the future. (Maybe that, alone, is reason enough for any of us to write.) Time is feeling quite non-linear these days, so present-tense seemed right for the entire piece.

7 thoughts on “On the edge of the cusp

  1. Kari Wagner Hoban says:

    I’m reading The Artist’s Way, so I am butt deep in writing assignments and three morning pages per day, so you know how much I love all of this. Side note- I sprinkle salt on my cantaloupe.

    Rita, I was lying in that bed with you. I can imagine your grandfather making your breakfast. I can hear Paul Harvey.

    Paying attention is so important because there is so much good in those details.
    Kari Wagner Hoban recently posted…Screw It, I’m Eating Tater Tots- Episode 28My Profile

    • Rita says:

      Yes, the writing that I love most is full of specific details, carefully chosen. Thank you 🙂

      I’m thinking of taking a class this fall that is based on The Artist’s Way. I read it years ago. It’s more of a commitment, and I haven’t decided yet. Are you working through the book on your own or with others? How is it going for you?

  2. Ally Bean says:

    I love how you described your grandfather looking after you– and only you. A perfect moment of childhood-ness. 63 is so young to die. Kari’s doing The Artists Way, which I did a long time ago, while I’m doing the exercises in Don’t Over Think It. I like how that book is influencing the way I approach the complications in my life.

    • Rita says:

      It was a perfect moment of childhood. I don’t know why I remember it, but maybe that’s why. Everything felt good in that moment.

  3. Kate says:

    Your tomatoes and words are lovely. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about this time and the time of our grandparents. I thought a lot as I was listening to NPR after dropping off Abe at camp, before I had to turn it off because things are so hard and dire. I’ve been thinking of heading to the farmers market to buy some green beans in bulk to can. I feel called to that hard but good work lately. Though my garden is providing more for Peter Rabbit (he’s this tiny little thing that can squeeze through our rabbit fencing) than us these days. I do get a tomato high on the vine and massive quantities of jalapeños which no one really eats but Violet. Ah, well.

    Your writing has bittersweet melancholy joy lately that I appreciate. It captures the complexity of my feelings for this time in a way I just absolutely can’t. Thank you.

    • Rita says:

      Thank you, Kate. Your words in response to mine make me feel seen. It helps me know that what I was trying to say came through. It was a nice gift in this hard week. (I’m writing these words looking out at the rising sun, blood-red from wildfire smoke.)

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