Last year, I planted food for the first time. I mean, beyond my scrubby blueberry bushes and the blackberry I’ve given up and embraced. It seemed like the thing to do, in 2018, to spend the days following former Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ announcement of a “zero tolerance” border policy, the days in which children were officially, rather than surreptitiously, taken from their parents and caged in makeshift shelters, in Walmarts and tent cities, to spend those days buried to my wrists in the soil, giving something, at least, a chance to grow.
Trauma gets into your bones. It’s been almost two decades since I lived with the man who once beat himself insensible on the glass coffee table because I was doing better than he was at SSX: Tricky. Yesterday I had to leave the room when my spouse was frustrated with the new Mario game. There are thousands of children carrying the indelible imprint of trauma. Indelible in the hippocampus is the laughter, she said.
During the late summer of 2018, while California burned and Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, whose thesis was on young people’s coping mechanisms for interpersonal conflict, began meeting with her congresswoman in a last-ditch attempt to save the Supreme Court’s soul, I met the ash whitefly.
The ash whitefly is a food and ornamental crop pest first detected in California in the 1980’s. As late as 2010, it didn’t have a presence in the Pacific Northwest, but by 2014 it had established a foothold and last year’s dry, straggling summer, during which I had to mow the lawn only twice, was ideal for its ascendance.
I had planted Brussels sprouts. Their leaves remained crumpled, fisted around clusters of grey flakes which flittered away when I tapped the plant, died in satisfying clots when I sprayed them with neem oil, but never vanished altogether. The broccoli, shuddering, bolted upward, reaching waist height in weeks but never blossoming, shedding withered leaves onto dry grass no matter how often I watered. The beets never came up, and the potatoes quit. The onions – three varieties – shoved six inches of green stalk up, withered, and collapsed. I separated them, coaxing, and administered precise amounts of water daily with a can instead of a hose. The pumpkins and zucchini developed blossom end rot, making me the only person in the continental United States to ever plant zucchini and still have to buy them at the store. Two of the pencil hollies simply gave up and browned in the summer, and the dogwood’s central branch bore only scattered, sunburnt leaves. Two of the three heather turned suddenly dark brown, still covered with flowers, and took on a damp cast. And the quince, which I hadn’t even planted, in a sudden show of solidarity developed quince cedar rust.
By November, when Chief Justice Roberts and the President were sparring over the legality of refusing to allow asylum-seekers to present their petitions, and former Attorney General Jeff Sessions resigned abruptly, when the Blue Wave had come and gone, giving the Republicans something to oppose at last and bringing two years of damply ineffective legislation to an end with the first stirrings of the government shutdown, my garden stood bare.
The autumn harvest I had planned was gone, never happened, futile from the start in this climate. Horseradish is meant to be harvested after the first hard frost; it’s the 23d of January and we still haven’t had a hard frost.
This morning I went out to pull away some blackberries from what’s left of the quince, where fat birds are taunting the year-old cat. And I almost stepped on some beet greens. An onion or two is poking back out of the ground, having overwintered itself without my help. And the ends of the blueberry twigs look red and slick, ready to blossom and bear some random day this summer. Or fall. Spring? Who knows.
I’m still too raw from last year to plan a harvest, but I might have bookmarked a nice sage and onion tart recipe. Just in case.
PS I don’t care much for Bill “The case for more incarceration” Barr either and would cheerfully eat a tart to celebrate his resignation.