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Julianna somehow talked me in to this self portraiture project. I find it a little embarrassing, but think it’s good to have friends who talk you into your own discomfort. Here it is again:

I was out on a collection walk early this morning. It seemed like a necessary beginning to the day, after another unsettled night. For as long as I can remember I have used walks like this one to clear my head and calm my spirit. A collection walk has a simple measure: I step outside. I decide on some beautiful thing that I might find a variety of, and then I meander, green space to green space, on a quest for the irrelevant thing I am seeking. It gives me something to focus on, to appreciate, to hold in my hands. Small stones, twigs, bark varieties. Red things, grasses, seed pods, types of beetles. My mother would throw fits about all of my collections when I was younger, mostly because I would find bizarre places to keep them (for instance, spiders in the freezer). Perhaps she assumes age or time has allowed me to grow up past this need to collect little bits of the outdoors, and leave them in questionable spaces indoors.

It is not the case. Today I was out collecting summer leaves. And with a pile of them in the bathroom sink, I took on this project of the eyes. I don’t have much to say about my eyes, so I’ll let their green and the leaves speak for themselves.



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There is one old tree left at the end of the driveway. Not one stretch of space on our plot of land is otherwise the same as it was four years ago. I feel myself slipping, sometimes, dizzy with how fast this bit of time is passing and place is changing.

Four years. We were impulsive, but not unmindful of the weight of our decisions. We opted to skip a wedding with all its extravagance and expense and we settled instead on a court-house marriage and a mortgage. We found the perfect house- 600 square feet of roofed-over space on a large-enough wooded lot that also had an adequately sunned quarter acre for a garden. It was on a dead end, and saw no traffic. The small wild field next door attracted summer fireflies that twinkled over it in our earliest nights here, and it felt like the something new of childhood all over again, but lacking the cliché that this sentence conveys. I suppose that’s about as close as I can get to saying much about early love.

There were more trees, beyond the field. This was a city space, but one that I could always qualify with the idea that there were “more trees.” It was a mile from the university where I taught and worked on my PhD- we could walk to work, bike to the summer market. The house was in disrepair, which made it affordable- and allowed us a frame in which we could learn, plan, and actualize our first joint fixing-up of a space we would come to know as “ours”. We gutted it, and we’ve worked the four years to salvage and harvest and collect the materials needed to smother this little house with our color schemes and organizational bents. We dug beds into the clay soil in that well-sunned patch. We did our share of making things “ours”, but we anticipated some things- the things we bought the land for- to stay as they were.

I had never lived in the city before this. And I, quite ignorantly, did not recognize immediately that the place did not share the same logic as the woods I grew up in. In the city, trees are not respected, and they are not yours. Fields are not left alone. They are sold off. Roads are extended. As neighborhoods “improve” the majority of the “more trees” are replaced with tall wooden fences.

A house, twice as tall as ours looms now where the fireflies used to light. By the logic of this place it is “beautiful.” The bit of field land that could have been left, or at very least, allowed to remain green in their front yard was shot over with a thick layer of gravel. The stones pierced our old wood siding like shrapnel as they laid it out. They buried our fruit bushes, and now, even as a new fence has been erected between the gravel and our plot of earth- the stones seep under. The neighbors are kind, but they believe in big houses and gravel, and I have difficulty reconciling our difference, because I have always lived before this, in the privileged of the woods. I draw the curtains to the west, and I do what I can to remember the trees and the field. To forget the siding.

While construction for the big house was still underway the city, who owned the halves and quarters of the trees that sprawled across our property and city property on the east side of our house decided a new drainage system and a fence would better serve the borders between our land and theirs. And we didn’t have much say in the matter, as the “city” who owns “city land” dictates the rules and zoning. And trees, I learned, are unsafe to have in the city. It is a real concern here that, if left alone, they could fall over on someone’s house. I petitioned them to leave us a single old maple in the front yard- far from any structures. It stands alone now, with fences in most of the places where it used to find its brethren.

It is a city maple, unlike the trees you see in the forest. There is an old metal post at the northern side of the trunk, that the tree has folded its bark around. Its limbs are awkwardly unbalanced, as a primary branch was loped off early to prevent the tree from getting in the way of the power lines. But it is the last old thing on this plot, and I fought to keep it because I had this sense that we needed a relic. a bit of something that binds us to the past, and shows us that the world can grow old, and does not always need early replacement. Something to remind us, that there was a before, and that we probably could have left well enough alone. We do not, of course, listen well to this old unsymmetrical prophet: everything else has been removed or strategically covered over. And it is not, of course, all the fault of the city and the new neighbors. We have made it “ours,” remember? We have repainted the wood siding and replaced the windows. We changed the front door. We covered every internal surface with wood, tile, paint, cabinets, fixtures. I dug out the slew of pink flowers that covered the front yard and gave them away to neighbors, because I find the color repulsive. I covered the grass with mulch, and set up an irrigation system that directs the water down from our new metal roof.

And we planted. First, to settle in and make the claim that we were staying put– but then, we planted to make up for all of the loss. I planted berry bushes and native wildflowers. We put in trees. We ceremoniously twisted together a pair of young ash to celebrate our marriage. We scattered young heirloom fruit trees through the back plot. They may set fruit this year. but it will be a long time before they rival the old maple.

But rival, or no rival, our time is passing in plants. We impatiently await the harvest of the asparagus, put in four years ago. This will be the first year that we will be able to cut shoots. A peach tree went in this August, planted over the placenta from our first child. She was born here, in our home, in a summer of cicadas. I labored in a water trough in our yard amid all the late season growth — and for all my bitterness about the changing landscape, I must also at least mention, that the land we have left is beautiful. And while trees typically fall more gradually than is true in our city, without the shade cast from the high branches, the ground bears anew. And we have changed the cycle, yes, but we have not aborted the fecundity of the land. It is re-seeding and sending up shoots. This starting over, while it appears new, is actually very old. The land, the earth under all of our covers, also, is our relic.

And all I can do about it, really, is try to catch it and pen it down. Here it is, I suppose, connecting, and passing. And I try to keep up by translating it into a recombination of old words. These too, I suppose are our relics, made new, re-seeding. When I was younger I found some sanity in trying to make sense of time passing, and it’s high time that I learn something from my youth. And it was youth that gave me the time and motivation to keep record–I would document the raging emotions that came with being young and aware that I could touch the world, and that it, too, was touching me. The page was my creative and constant forum- and I rambled across it, blind and self confident and messy as hell. and here i am again.

hello.

it has been too long since I’ve written anything. and of course, I am aware that I am falling back to the lofty and useless poetics that separate me from authentic life while I’m trying so hard to just get at it. I’m not choosing the right words, and I lack a deep sense of what needs to be said. I’m more self-conscious than I used to be, and I do not trust words like I used to. But I have this sense, perhaps, that if I keep at it, I’ll get there. And the belief that there is a trajectory is what I need right now. And so I’m writing to find it. I’m seeking out relics for meaning. I’m slowing the dizzy down. Which is the best I can do right now.

hello.

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