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Posts Tagged ‘moving’



By Sandra Vallie



It’s hot, pushing 100, and I have to wait until it’s cooler to water the heat-sapped garden. Until it’s cooler, or dark, or 7 pm, the time the city allows watering – whatever measure I decide today is the tipping point where the amount of water soaking into the sand is greater than what the bone-dry overheated air is sucking up into itself. In the house, safe out of the sun, I’m anxious looking at the heat-limp plants across the yard. Corn leaves curled into points, drooping tomato plants and cucumber leaves flat against the ground. I know the plants are well-watered; some of what I see is self-protection and some a part of the taking up and giving off of water. As soon as the sun moves further toward the west and I carry water to the plants through the hose, the leaves and stems will fill with water and this limp spread of green will become plants again.


I’m from Michigan and this is my first year trying to grow vegetables in New Mexico. I pretty much planted the garden twice because I hadn’t learned that we can still have below-freezing nights even when the temperature in the day is 80 degrees. How much water is too much and what is enough. Why, when I asked the woman at the nursery about gardening in New Mexico, she told me to not even try. Half the plants I put in my son’s yard last fall didn’t make it through the winter, falling to the cold and what I haven’t learned yet.


For 20 years, I watched peonies, lilacs, tulips, hosta, coneflowers, azalea, iris, daylilies and butterfly bushes grow tall, wide, and fragrant. Lush. Luxuriant and juicy. Moisture in the air reflected the hundred greens growing around the yard and the air glowed. Lettuces, green, red and purple, came in the spring, followed by peas and beans that reached across the raised beds to share the poles supporting plants and pods. Tomatoes grew so fast and heavy they kicked away their cages. Cucumbers ran across the garden to the corn and climbed high enough I could pick the fruit without bending over.


I exaggerate. A little. Lush it was, very different from my yard here, each plant holding to its own space, as if each one feels it deserves only so much water and so many nutrients from the spare soil. I’ve never seen plants grow so slowly; at first it’s almost as if each morning they decide whether or not to push up, out, forward, just one little bit. As if they know that growing higher will put them closer to the sun and they’ll be hotter. My plants in Albuquerque work harder than plants in Michigan. In this place where there is so much space, where I finally feel I can be as big as I am, exuberant, joyful, expansive and – well – lush, my vegetables appear so tentative and afraid.


Cactus spread, although I don’t know that I’ll ever call them lush. There are several in the neighborhood I’m drawn to, even a couple I’m lusting after for their deep, almost hallucinatory red-purple blooms or their improbable flowers, yellow and ten feet above the plant their stalk grew from. Cactus, though, and weeds like the silverleaf nightshade, the most prolific plant in my landscape cloth- and gravel-covered yard, are what led me to write a few years ago after a visit: “Everything green here bites.” I know I’m never going to embrace a cactus or walk barefoot across the goatheads and foxtails to get to them. I yearn to load my arms with heavy-headed peonies and stargazer lilies that are deep enough to serve soup in, although I’m afraid I’d have to drain the remaining water out of the Rio Grande to do it. Before I moved here I asked a friend if I could grow roses in Albuquerque. “You can grow anything you want in Albuquerque as long as you can afford the water.”


The roots of my grandmother’s peonies I carried south are in pots out back, not growing. Soon, not yet, I’ll have to admit what I know and stop watering. I didn’t have time before we moved last fall to lift lilies or divide a few coneflowers. The rose bush by my bedroom window, though, is the same as the one that died in my Michigan garden a couple of years ago, my grandmother’s favorite. There are green tomatoes on the plants and sooner than I know they’ll be full and red enough for dinner. Lush is changing, from the huge bushes and plants that grew in the Michigan rain to the sound of water rushing through the garden hose, the sight of it spreading around the watermelon plants and at the feet of the raspberries, the corn leaves unfolding as the still skinny stalks draw up water from the soil, and the gratitude I feel that I have water to grow food with. The air may not be green from the plants, but the sky is crystal blue. While I’ve written this, it has become late enough to head outside to water and the first flowers on the cucumber plants have opened today in the heat.




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About Sandra:  My fairly recent move from my job and life in Michigan to Albuquerque, New Mexico, has opened up the opportunity (for which I’m gut-wrenchingly grateful) to write in spans of hours instead of stolen minutes. Although I’ve written mostly poetry in the past few months, I’m enjoying the process of exploring different forms for different subjects. I’ve been fortunate to have a community of encouraging and creative writers in the Albuquerque Ink Slingers, a local Meetup group, and my husband’s graceful willingness to live and work in 100 degree temperatures.


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Digging in the dirt, they say, is relaxing. Putting your fingers into moist sand, part sand part clay, sandier the dirt, better the drainage, bigger the cottonwoods.

When we first moved to our house, Jim and I took a spring and dug up all the Bermuda grass. Growing like a network underground. They say, too, you can’t get rid of Bermuda grass, do your best then put cardboard down, dirt over that, start anew.

Jim’s wisdom less or more conventional, we built a screen, an old screen from a window with a two-inch frame. He threw shovels-ful of dirt onto the screen and I tamped all the clods out until each screenful was left with stubby hairy Bermuda grass, rooty and ugly.

We planted a native garden, and I forget the plant names. Except for Apache plume, something cotton, Snow-in-Summer, penstimens and sages. One sage we called “prairie,” but now I think of it as “rabbit” for how fast it multiplied. One year we had a section of Shasta daisies I was so proud of until I learned some people have fields of them.

In that yard are so many pieces of us. Our joint tamping like a native beat–ay, ay, ay, ay. Dirt and grass and seed, it’s indigenous to every one of us, I’m sure we’re all made of that if you break us down.

Roger’s buried there, in the front. Rudy, too. And there’s the peach tree we planted when Em was born. Both my girls came to us in the rooms with adobe walls, tall Mexican sunflowers the year Dee came, and with Em a transient season, a season of hope.

It’s hard leaving it all behind, and now as it approaches, the final sale, I can only cry and think this is natural, too. The dirt is still here, the ashes of my dogs long melded and turned to mineral. A plant will grow there even for the next family that comes. The peaches will be sweet, we made them so, and maybe even a Shasta daisy will grow in the spot I left it.

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I’m overwhelmed by the new house. It has a lot of land, which makes me feel like I’ve added a new vocation to my repertiore. Farmer. Or at least Caretaker. I see all the little elms that need to be cut or pulled up by the roots. And dead sunflower stalks from last season. Lillies that sat all winter in 100-gallon trash bins, the water rank. I’m supposed to put them out in the pond this month. We agreed to keep the seller’s 30-year-old bull snake, which is waking up from a hibernation of sorts. Soon there must be a baby rat for feeding.

And that’s just the tip of the outdoor-chore iceberg.

Do you ever feel like you’re trying to create a life that looks a lot prettier on the outside than it is on the inside? I’ve gone so many years watching other people, coveting what I presumed they had. And not just the material stuff. Not to say I didn’t envy the tangibles. I did. But mostly it was all the emotional benefits I imagined came with the stuff.

Will a bigger house and more land make me happier? Busier, perhaps. Maybe the demands of the new house will relegate writing and drawing to the realm of “hobby.” (Remember hobbies? Mom played poker while raising kids. Dad did oil painting after he retired. And he wrote a story of his early life, birth to age 14.) Either way it’s too late. If writing and drawing are passions, I’ve just given myself an even bigger test of how to fulfill them in my life.

Last night I finished a drawing I started Saturday morning. It’s a vato standing in front of a microphone singing. I don’t know who he is or why I drew him. He ended up with thick black hair slicked back, a la Eddy Munster

At this moment, sitting in my cubicle at work, writing about the new place, I think I’m pretending to be an artist and writer. It’s all part of this desire for the intangibles. I don’t want writing and art to be my spare-time hobbies. I don’t even like the word. Hobby.

Mom and Dad were happy with their lives. Why do I want so much more?

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