4th avenue


beans3

My hands remember
what mind does not: just so my
father planted beans.

As I’ve said elsewhere, I’ve long been fascinated by Green Men. I’ve only figured out recently that this may be because my own father was a Green Man.

It’s funny the things that set you to remembering.

The other day when I was in the cafeteria at work, I had a semi-meaningless conversation about pickles. That conversation sparked a memory so keen I had to write it down immediately.

My father planted a vast vegetable garden every year in the immense back yard of our rental property in Venice. He had no tolerance for flowers and, like as not, he’d pull them up if he needed more space for edibles.

Still, the garden he planted was a work of art: lovingly conditioned soil, weeks in churning and amending, row upon neat little row of carrot, onion, parsnip, red radish, bell pepper. Beyond those rows, beautifully rounded little mounds held cucumber, ringed round with carefully dug irrigation channels. The leaves of the cucumbers were hairy and pointy-edged, the stems thick and fuzzy, bobbing green in the summer breeze, yellow in the fall. The tomato plants on the other side of the cucumbers always started in orderly, well-staked rows, but by fall they danced in an entwined frenzy. Along the back fence, wire with a spiky top, banana squash climbed. Sometimes corn grew beside it.

Between the back fence crops and the tomatoes ran an arbor for string beans—a porous frame of wood and chicken wire during the fallow months, ten feet tall and perhaps twenty feet long. In the summer months, though, it became a green tunnel as the beans climbed up the sides and over the top. The sun shone liquid green through the leaves, and even in the hottest summer the earth beneath—near-black with fecundity and never dried completely during the growing season—felt cool to my bare feet. That soil made all things seem possible. I would wander up and down it daydreaming, getting a buzz from the green smell of the beans.

If ever there was a place my soul felt repose, it was there. I suspect my father felt the same way. He preferred spending time in his garden, in the green bean tunnel, to time with my mother and I. Perhaps that wasn’t so, just my perception, but it felt to me as if he couldn’t find a way to bridge the gap between that shining green light and the warmth of the hearth. After the day’s gardening, he seemed empty and at a loss. The demons that tormented him grew thicker in the air.

He’d nearly reached retirement age by the time I was born. When I was small, I adored helping him in the garden, just being with him. When I hit puberty, our worldviews had grown too divergent. At least two generations separated us, and only in the green space had we any hope of reaching across the decades. Even in puberty, the garden and that cool green tunnel seemed like a magic place. When the churning of my brain and growing body got to be too much, I’d return to it and wander up and down. I had this feeling, way down deep, that if I could just make it to the end of that tunnel, the true end, not the one I saw with my eyes, I’d be changed. Or maybe all my wishes would be granted. I never made it that far.

I’d see Dad in the tunnel, slowly walking up and down, lifting the bean pods tenderly in his hands to check their progress, seeing if they were ready for the ritual of the canning process. Mom and I were not allowed near the kitchen when the canning sacrament was underway. Mornings in late summer and early fall, I’d wake to the smell of green beans cooking, ready for the mason jars; or dill, alum, and vinegar boiling to turn fresh-picked cucumbers into the best pickles in the world. An astringent smell, but to me it held the promise of something delicious in the heart of winter.

I still see my father in that garden, and wonder what he found when he took the final walk to the end of that shining green tunnel. I wonder if his wishes came true?

There’s a quote from Vincent Van Gogh that reminds me of my father: “I am a burning hearth. People see the smoke, but no one comes to warm themselves.”

But there’s another quote from Albert Camus I like much better, and hope applies to Dad equally well: “In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.”

Green Men are found in many cultures. They are commonly a symbol of rebirth and regeneration, the spring greening that inevitably follows the dying of winter. I’m fascinated with them. I have two of them, one in the back yard garden near the peach tree:

IF

The lovely lady to the left of him is the Roman goddess Flora, and the lady on the right is simply named Ivy. The man himself is cast iron and ages gracefully, rusting in interesting patterns.

I also have a Green Man inside:

greenmancloseup-sm-1

He’s smaller, also made of metal, but I doubt he’s copper as the green of him suggests. I believe the “aging” on this one is artificial—but I still think he’s rather cool. I’d have more Green Men if I had the space and money (so it’s probably a good thing I don’t). I like the ones with serious and slightly sinister expressions, and I like them to be made of serious natural materials like metal, not these comical cast resin ones that you see here and there and everywhere (though I admit, Flora and Ivy are cast resin). Why am I so fascinated with these Green Man images?

I’m a city girl, born and raised. If I want to get in touch with Serious Nature, I have to drive quite a ways out of town, and when I was a kid we never left town, unless it was to drive to Pomona for the county fair or to Disneyland in Anaheim. There wasn’t enough money for anything else, nor any time and inclination with my parents working hard. It just wasn’t in the program. As a consequence, I was 18 before I ever went on a real vacation, and as for nature spots? Mom didn’t see much sense in going places where you had to sleep on the ground and cook over campfires. She’d had enough of that “nonsense” in her roughing-it country girl days and found no romance in the experience. Why would any sensible human being want to give up modern conveniences?

So I grew up having to take nature where I found it. Fortunately, back in the olden days of Los Angeles, there still existed patches of it here and there. An immense vacant lot existed on my block on Fourth Avenue in Venice, for one. (It is now a public storage facility.) For another, my father planted a magical garden every year, a place of communion and nourishment. (I’ll discuss that another time, in The Green Man, Part II.) Occasionally, I got to visit my older brother in the Santa Monica mountains, where my nieces and nephews (all mostly older than me) would lead me on fantastical trips over the hill and through the woods following streams…until we popped out of the rough onto the manicured lawns of the Bel Air Country Club golf course. Then we’d hightail it back into the woods. These things were extremely important to me, as were long walks on the beach, about five blocks west of where we lived.

I loved the beach best when it was cold and rainy, partly because the things that drifted up on shore—the glass, the driftwood, the truly odd and puzzling things, were more interesting and less picked over by other beach walkers. Mostly, though, it was because I could walk there on cold days without much interference from other people, thinking my thoughts, communing with the vast rolling heart of the sea, feeling the chill pierce me to the bones. That chill always felt purifying rather than cold. I could not return from those walks with any black spots in my spirit. The wind off the sea blew them all away and gave me bliss in return.

That garden and that vacant lot saved my sanity during childhood; those walks along the sea saved my adolescence. Nature, my small neighborhood version of it, never failed to renew me. That, I think, is part of why I am so fascinated with the symbolic representation of nature: I want to recapture, to remind myself, of that need for renewal, that need to physically get out and get in touch with something green and greater than the mere mortal.

In my twenties I went on long hikes in the Angeles Crest. It’s a great, sprawling wilderness within easy driving distance of Los Angeles. Some of it, like Dart Canyon, is at a low enough elevation that on smoggy L.A. days the bad air penetrates them. You have to hike higher up if you want to avoid the city pollution. But on lovely, clear days Dart Canyon is a enchanted place, with maple and sycamore trees, waterfalls, the ruins of cabins and of a lodge destroyed in a great destructive flood in the 1930s. Higher up, there’s pine forest, ski summits, abandoned mines, and scrambling over big boulders to cross streams.

Those hikes were literally peak experiences for me: cleansing, renewing, exhilarating.

My favorite parts of any vacation, whether in this country or another, have been those times when I get into the countryside, touch the green, listen to the birds, feel the wind sweep through my spirit and blow away the black clouds. Nature is my touchstone.

These days—and in the long years of caregiving—that touchstone is mostly limited to the back yard. There wasn’t much time for anything else when Mom was alive; these days I still seem to be decompressing from that experience, trying to recoup my energy and my creativity. I’m far enough away from the beach that I’d have to drive, find parking, and my legs…no.

But the funny thing is, it doesn’t really take Grand Nature for me to get that sense of renewal. The Green Man is alive, curling in every leaf and bud; his skin is easy beneath my palm in the smooth trunk of my peach tree; he dances in the swaying branches of the white willow that volunteered to grow in my yard. All I have to do is sit for a few minutes, enclosed by walls and trees and wildish overgrown patches, listening to the birds, smelling peach blossoms, feeling the earth and grass under my bare feet…and the magic still happens. I am there. He is there. I am lifted up, I am renewed. Maybe the Green Man is watching over me, I don’t know. All I know is that I am grateful.

19 Apr
All I can legitimately talk about is my own process—in whatever. It’s presumptuous to assume everyone’s process will be the same. However, talking too much about one’s own process is talking too much about one’s self, so it’s something of a No-Win.

19 Apr
Conspiracy theory is just another form of denial.

19 Apr
I just realized I forgot to take the poem out of my pocket from Poem In My Pocket Day. But at least it’s in “my other pants.” 🙂

23 Apr
In May it’ll be two years since I last worked on my last novel. I’d say where did the time go but I know: down the whirlpool of caregiving. I was born to take care of people, apparently. My life has no other meaning. There’s just no time for anything else. I can’t help feeling much of the time as if my life, everything I valued about my life, is over. I’m so tired most weeks I wonder if I’ll make it through to the other side. There are good days, but most days I just grind it out as best I can. Some days, it just piles up. But I’m still moving.

And being free of caregiving means someone I love is gone. There’s no happy ending, as my friend Lisa says.

There are millions of people out there just like me. Caregiving is the unrecognized and unacknowledged crisis in this country

My friends tell me my creativity will come back, that everything is cyclical, and I believe them, but it’s sometimes hard to see that from here. I keep trying. “I’ll just read a chapter a day, or part of a chapter.” But something always happens. And writing from scratch? Unthinkable at this point.

Okay, enough of the self-pity party. I took the time to reread the first chapter of that last novel and tweak it. Holds up well.

23 Apr
In the deserts of the heart
Let the healing fountain start,
In the prison of his days
Teach the free man how to praise.

tp://bit.ly/ZnFRWA 

25 Apr
Jacob’s Dream was playing in the cafeteria so I just had to tell everyone about the Lost Children of the Alleghenies: http://bit.ly/ZPZC4t 
Everyone was properly riveted and scads went to You Tube and the links I provided.

26 Apr
Back at the ER this morning. Mom got an IV of antibiotics. Now we’re waiting to see if we can go home.

27 Apr
Even in stressful times there are compensations in this world: hearing David Sedaris sing the Oscar Meyer bologna song as Billie Holliday. Laughed so hard I cried. The guy in the car next to me looked concerned, like I might be having a fit. I was. The good kind. 

27 Apr
So my printer and my dishwasher went belly up the same night.  I’m sure there’s a pattern there but I’m too tired to figure it out.

29 Apr
Leaving Mom on mornings when she’s not doing well are heartbreaking but if I didn’t leave on those mornings I would have long since lost my job.

29 Apr
I find it absolutely hilarious that Hitler was a vegetarian. Even funnier? The ardent vegetarians that try to backpedal that fact. I know many fine human beings who are vegetarians but there’s a vocal minority that do seem to have something in common with Nazis.

30 Apr
“Dammit I’m mad” spelled backwards is “Dammit I’m mad.”

3 May
I guess the house is officially mine. I’ve just had my first plumbing disaster. This time it was the 50 gallon water heater that went belly up.

3 May
John Hancock Life Insurance is dicking around about paying me the money they owe me. I guess that’s why they have cock in their name.

4 May
It’s a morning for people saying stupid ass stuff and I am not in the mood to be nice about it.

 That tenderness of a few days ago is still there but having a harder time swimming up from the cesspool.

 That’s in the nature of this process, though. If you don’t like the mood you’re in wait an hour and it may change.

8 May
Now I know what was wrong with the opening of that novel: I put a gun on the mantelpiece and never used it again (figuratively).

 How many years did it take me to figure that out?

 I really love that opening (and it works in so many other ways) so I’ll have to find a way of using that “gun.”
 Although I do seem to recall another writing truism about using that gun to murder your something-or-others…What was that again?

8 May
My old, beloved neighborhood that I grew up in, has become the Shrine of the Unknown Hipster. You may have heard of it: Silicon Beach? I literally grew up on 4th Avenue near Rose, the very heart of Hipsterville now. I way preferred it when it was the ghetto: funky, beloved ol’ Venice.

9 May
You don’t get to be a crone just by getting older. There’s a experiential component to it. And man, is that a bitch. Which is also a separate thing from being a crone.

13 May
I’ve just come up with the last line for my novel, Carmina. I guess it’s a real story now.

13 May
Well, at least I made it down to the final 800 submissions. :-/ Probably just as well. I don’t have time for a writing career right now.

14 May
John Hancock Life Insurance, the company that isn’t giving me ma money, mistakenly informed the state of California that Mom is deceased—but only on one of numerous policies they have in her name. The others are still in force. Also, they told us a few months back that no other policies existed. Now all of a sudden they’re breeding like rabbits. Do not use John Hancock EVER.

15 May
Social Medea is the name of my next band.

15 May
I’m halfway through chapter six on the read-and-clean final of that novel I didn’t touch for two years.

Green Men are found in many cultures. They are commonly a symbol of rebirth and regeneration, the spring greening that inevitably follows the dying of winter.

I’m fascinated with them. I have two of them, one in the back yard garden near the peach tree:

Photobucket

The lovely lady to the left of him is the Roman goddess Flora, and the lady on the right is simply named Ivy. The man himself is cast iron and he is aging gracefully, starting to rust in interesting patterns.

I also have a Green Man inside, in my room:

Photobucket

He’s smaller, also made of metal, but I doubt he’s copper as the green of him suggests. I believe the “aging” on this one is artificial—but I still think he’s rather cool. Here’s the grouping in which he sits, right next to Freya and the prayer sticks, which you may remember from past entries:

Photobucket

Truth is, I’d have more Green Men if I had the space and money (so it’s probably a good thing that I don’t). I like the ones with serious and slightly sinister expressions, and I like them to be made of serious natural materials like metal, not these comical cast resin ones that you see here and there and everywhere (though I admit, Flora and Ivy are cast resin). Why am I so fascinated with these Green Man images?

This post is really about Nature.

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