My Heart Broke This Morning

But I put it back together, again.

A few months and several decades ago, I drove for an hour and picked up three adorable but surly hens, right before the stay at home orders came down in my state. I’ve really enjoyed tending them and trying to win their affections, but last week I sat in a vet’s office, wearing my prettiest flowered mask, and cried my heart out as they took the sweetest of them away to be put to sleep.

Pros of wearing a mask while grieving: Catches the snot.
Cons of wearing a mask while grieving: Catches the snot and stores it directly against your face.

She was very sick. It was either very bad luck or very good luck, depending on how you look at it. All the rest of our chickens, including her four little chicks that she hatched out herself and adored so much, were fine. No one else caught the common, contagious, but not usually deadly disease. Just Erik the hen, who was still tenderly feeding her chicks even after she began to struggle with swallowing her own food. But there’s no treatment, and she couldn’t breathe anymore, in spite of one rather desperate surgical attempt to save her, so we had to do the kindest thing.

My dad and my sister are fighting over our aging family cats. My dad got angry and said some of the crueler things he’s ever said to me because I tried to reason with him on my sister’s behalf. He’s the only parent I have left, since my mother drifted away from reality years ago and never particularly liked me in it anyway. I was willing to forgive my dad a lot because he still kinda loved me, in his absent-minded way, but the reality is that I’ve always been expendable to both of them when it comes right down to it. I’ve always known that, so it doesn’t hurt as much as it probably should to be reminded of it again. It doesn’t help, either.

My single remaining grandparent is losing her memory and her hearing. I called to check in on her, but she couldn’t hear anything I said unless I just shouted a yes or no answer into the phone. She asked me five or six times when I was coming to visit next. She still doesn’t know when I’m coming to see her next, and neither do I.

My siblings are all beautiful, amazing people who are living their lives in different places, and I miss them terribly, but I don’t know when I’ll see them again either.

I haven’t seen my boyfriend in months, and the vague sense that he still doesn’t really understand why has been slowly making me doubt the seriousness and reality of what’s going on in the world even though I can see it clearly every day. I don’t know how to bridge gaps like that in judgment and perception. Maybe that difference in assessment wouldn’t bother a more confident person than myself, but I am not that person.

This year, this pandemic, and this political climate have felt like a sandblaster aimed straight at all the softer parts of me. The parts of me that want to build and make and love and tend are all aching and damaged and scared.

All my energy has been going into staying stable. I thought that was for the best, and that it was probably all I could really offer to my partners and family and friends. Just hang on with a grim grip, but keep a real smile on my face when I can, because I’m still genuinely so lucky to have everything and everyone that I do. Prep for the next waves of disaster as they loom on the horizon, but don’t have more panic attacks than are really reasonable for the current immediate circumstances. Try to keep up daily walks with my cohabitating partner and dogs, and to keep watering the garden even as the sudden and intense heat of our brief summer here tries to burn away all the green and tender things I’ve planted. Try to keep looking and moving forward, but not too far, or I’ll surely run into something hard or sharp in all this murk.

I woke up early this morning from such a sweet and comfortable dream, after months of non-stop stress dreams and nightmares. Before I was even fully conscious, my mind started reminding me of all the reasons why that dream wasn’t real and wasn’t even possible. It wasn’t anything fantastical, just a very pleasant dream about a person I admire, but my waking mind wasn’t having it. You don’t deserve that, it said. You’re not wanted, it said. Don’t be ridiculous, it said.

It was just a really nice dream, and it broke my heart to wake up and realize how hard I’m always working, even when I’m half asleep, to avoid ever reaching for something people might say I don’t deserve or going where I might not be wanted. I’ve been trying so hard not to ever make anyone’s day even fractionally worse that my art and my writing and my ability to take risks have all shriveled up, and absolutely no one is the better for it.

What a fucking waste.

My heart is pretty prone to this kind of breakage. It’s soft. I’m putting it back together and trying to make it stronger but not harder. Maybe a little more structurally sound, and more resistant to the idea that the only thing I have to offer the world is all the smallness I can muster.

Ruby and Peridot, two of Erik’s chicks, hiding under my purple sweater. They have all kindly allowed me to take over mothering duties in her absence.

Slogging Through My Worst Nightmare

I generally lucid dream. Even things that should be horrible nightmares usually aren’t much more than stressful for me, because I know that I’m dreaming and have some control. It doesn’t make being chased by zombies particularly fun, but it does take the edge off. There’s only one nightmare that I regularly have where I don’t know that I’m dreaming. I inevitably wake up from it tense and ready to run or fight, usually with a headache from clenching my jaw that lasts all day. I’ve been having it since I was a teenager.

The dream is pretty simple: A natural disaster of some sort has occurred, or is about to, and I can’t get my family to safety. We’re not blocked by a lava flow or anything. They just won’t listen. It’s worse than herding cats. I get my younger siblings into the car so we can drive away, and discover that my dad has wandered back into the house to look for a book or something. I physically drag him back out and my siblings have gone off on their own random side quests. I scream that there’s danger coming and they just don’t seem to understand, or they don’t believe me. Now that I’m an adult, my partners get added to the mix, always with the same results.

I usually have to spend some time in these dreams searching for and packing up supplies, only to discover that my loved ones have all scattered like confused chickens and I have to round them up again. It never works. We never get to a safe place. No one ever listens or acknowledges the danger that I can clearly see coming our way.

I am very literally living through my worst nightmare right now. This pandemic is a worldwide natural disaster, and people I love are not taking it seriously. My aunt flew home from a visit with my cousin and walked right into the house with my elderly grandmother after I repeatedly told her she needed to get a hotel room and quarantine for two weeks after going through several airports. My dad wouldn’t buy a chest freezer when I told him that he should be prepared to stock up on groceries for the family because he didn’t think there would be a stay at home order in their area. The order came about a week later. My grandmother is losing her memory and keeps going out on little errands. She won’t wear her mask. My dad won’t take her keys away. My siblings are adults now and are being much more realistic than their dream counterparts, but two of them work in essential businesses, so they’re still at risk.

Everywhere I look, folks seem to be finding their own level of “careful” and most of it falls far far short of the level that is recommended by experts. People I trusted seem to be bizarrely comfortable risking the lives of their friends and loved ones in order to not be bored or lonely. People whose intelligence I respected are of the opinion that this deadly and highly contagious virus probably won’t get them because… Well, just because.

I haven’t seen one of my two partners in months, and I don’t know when it will be safe to see him again. I haven’t seen my family since Christmas, and I don’t know when I’ll see any of them again. Every time someone in my local community group on Facebook proudly proclaims that they won’t wear a mask to the grocery store because they’re not a sheep, I see those hypothetical dates being pushed further away.

Pretty much the only way to keep all this off my mind is to focus as much as possible on other things. It’s best when I’m working hard in the garden, but I recently had a weird episode that drove me inside on a beautiful day. It was truly ridiculous.

I got scared of the wind. The weather was pleasant but windy, and I had the overwhelming sense that the wind itself was dangerous. The world felt dreamlike and unreal and I couldn’t keep my thoughts together. I couldn’t get anything done, and I wound up crying on my front steps because I didn’t want to go inside, but I couldn’t handle being out there. Clearly, spending months in my worst nightmare with no end in sight, even under pretty much the best possible conditions, is not doing wonders for my mental health.

There’s no particular point to this post, really. Except, perhaps, to beg you to wear your mask in the grocery store so that my only remaining grandparent is a little bit less likely to die before I get to see her again.

This is Steven. He thinks freckles are food. Don’t be like Steven. Practice social distancing.

The Weirdest Spring Continues

Hey, so, I dropped off the map again. Things are weird and I’m feeling super weird about it, but that’s true for pretty much everyone at the moment. Here’s a garden update, because that’s pretty much all I can manage right now:

I’ve continued to work hard on the garden, and my efforts have been rewarded, even though it’s still pretty cold and damp in Seattle. I can collect kale and herbs for scrambles some mornings, and I harvested my first ever broccoli the other day! I’ve always liked gardening, but I never used to put the time and energy into it that’s required to regularly produce edible results. I’m pretty proud of how well everything is growing, especially the herbs in my little handmade bed. (With the exception of one oregano plant that clearly just has a bad attitude.)

The corn even seems quite happy with its little bean and zucchini friends. Corn, beans, and squash are all plants that get along well and compliment each other, so people on the American continent have been growing them together for a long-ass time. It’s most often called Three Sisters planting, these days.

wp-1590213617614.jpg
Marigolds help keep plant-eating bugs out of the veggie garden, and they’re just cute. I’m not generally a huge orange and red fan, but I think these “strawberry blonde” marigolds are really striking.

wp-1590213615164.jpg
Sometimes you just have to garden in the rain while wearing a witch hat.

Please continue to stay safe, everyone, and for the love of fuck, cover your mouth and nose if you’re going to be in an enclosed public space or you’re planning to run on a jogging path or go anywhere else where you might breathe on others. No, it won’t hurt you.* Yes, it is the responsible choice as members of a society made up of other humans who also enjoy breathing and want to keep doing it. I am beyond disgusted by the childishness and selfishness that too many grown-ass Americans are displaying right now.

*Unless you have a medical or trauma-related issue with wearing a mask, in which case I’m sure you’re taking whatever other precautions you can to help protect the people around you.

The Resilience Garden

People are planting victory gardens again. Another name for them that’s gaining traction is “resilience garden.” I’ve spent the last few days pretty much from breakfast to bedtime in mine. I’m tired and sore, but it’s worth it. 

This virus isn’t planning to just go away any time soon, unfortunately. Normal daily life won’t be able to fully resume until we have a vaccine that’s widely available. In the meantime, it’s important to prepare for the long term consequences of this much disruption to the way society normally functions. It’s also just generally valuable for more people to learn how to produce and share food with the people around them, because food access, especially access to fresh foods, is pretty key to health and quality of life.

The supply system in the US that normally gets food to grocery stores and restaurants wasn’t prepared for the massive shift in demand caused by covid19, which is why grocery stores are struggling to keep so many things in stock. No, your neighbors aren’t hoarding flour or broccoli. Everyone in your city is suddenly cooking and baking at home, even the many many people who never used to cook at all. They’re eating every meal at home, and so are their kids, instead of having meals at work, at school, and on-the-go. All the food that was destined for restaurants, which are now mostly either closed or serving a reduced number of patrons via takeout, cannot be easily redirected to grocery stores to fill this gap.

The system we have in place for food distribution is inflexible and clunky, and while the food is still being produced, it just isn’t all getting to stores at the rate it’s wanted and needed. They will probably catch up, but we don’t know exactly what further disruptions are coming as the virus spreads. So, if you can, this would probably be a great time to learn how to grow some tomatoes, lettuce, or strawberries. Even fresh herbs grown on the windowsill can make a big difference if you’re otherwise working with frozen or canned items. It’s also a good time to be considering how to connect with and support the people around you, if you haven’t already, because the normally wide world has to shrink for a while to the size of your immediate community.

My rather inexpert herb bed construction. Mistakes were made.

But it came together.
Two types of sage, oregano, thyme, and lemongrass planted in the new herb bed
The whole front garden with strawberries, broccoli, beets, tomatoes, onions, peas, carrots, blueberries, and herbs

It hasn’t all been tomatoes and parsley, though. I also completely gutted and replanted a front bed that had been taken over by grasses and volunteer bulbs. Walking around, it always makes me happy to see other people’s beautiful front gardens, so I wanted to contribute to that as well. People seem to be putting extra mindfulness into their daily walks, and it’s really nice to be out there and see them smile as they go by.

More Quarantine Sketches

A wild rabbit has eaten some of my broccoli plants, which is very rude, but everything I’ve learned over the years tells me that rudeness is standard for rabbits. In spite of this setback, I’m still focusing a lot on the garden, and I’ve managed to keep up more exercise this week, which is probably helping with my overall mood. I’ve also started reading another Alma Katsu book, since I really enjoyed The Hunger. Besides, who doesn’t need a little additional horror in their life right now? The Deep seems pretty good so far.

Anyway, stay at home, take care of each other from a distance, and please enjoy these weird sketches.

IMG_20200402_210836_080.jpg
This is the look I get from my bunny whenever I walk into the room after hearing a random crash. He definitely didn’t do anything.

IMG_20200403_141247_565.jpg
Earthworm, moth, springtail, common garden snail, and woodlouse (isopod) sketches. These are all critters I’ve found around my yard over the past few months.

Coping Sketches

I’m not doing super awesome with this whole pandemic thing, honestly. I think we should cancel it.

I’m super scatterbrained and just keep forgetting what day it is and what I need to be working on, to the point that my blog post didn’t get written on Thursday or Friday, and then I kinda felt like it didn’t matter in comparison to everything else, but it does matter to me, so I’m writing it now.

I think I’m going to try to do a sketch a day for a while, because that was pretty fun in October, and it seems like a good way to get my mind off the wildly stressful stuff that’s going on right now. Today, I drew a Chinese mantis that I met quite a few years ago. She had wandered into my garden and was quite charming and friendly. This introduced species is very common in the US, and is even sold in garden stores for pest control.

IMG_20200401_192606_145.jpg

A pen and ink sketch of a Chinese mantis.

Losing Track of Time

This is all very weird and scary, and it is definitely messing with my head. I spent the whole week thinking it was Thursday, right up until Friday when I thought that it was already Saturday. I’m focusing on the garden a lot as the weather in Seattle finally warms up. Making some food and adding extra color to the world seems like a very good thing right now.

Please be safe and, wherever possible, take care of the people, animals, and plants around you.

Pineberry blossoms. They’re a white strawberry that tastes slightly of pineapple.
Morning glory seedlings and baby strawberries, because there will be flowers and eventually fresh fruits. Spring is here.
Cherry blossoms from our ornamental cherry tree. It doesn’t make much in the way of cherries, but it does look beautiful.
More cherry blossoms
Some new narcissus flowers that we added to the garden a week or two back. They’re almost in full bloom now.

A Nice Little Chunk of Nature

There’s nothing like the looming threat of quarantine to make a person want to get out of the house, so I tried out a new hiking spot, since that’s a pretty low human contact activity. It was very pretty and soothing.

A little bridge over a tiny creek

The forest floor eating a fallen tree

New growth on wild blackberry vines

Pretty white blossoms

Flowering currant, I’m pretty sure

More flowering currant

Hellebore flowers. These weren’t growing wild, but they were near the start of the trail.

Yesterday was My Birthday

My husband and I saw Emma yesterday, which was hilarious, and now I’m in Portland with my boyfriend. It’s shaping up to be an excellent birthday week. I didn’t come up with anything particularly clever to share here, so here’s a picture of me with a goofy bunny sitting on my shoulder.

This is what I get for ignoring Frodo while I work. He will not allow it.