I am folding laundry. I am trying to fold laundry. Wallace is not content, and so the mountain of clothes on our bed is not shrinking. Sometimes he likes to be on his tummy. I lay him down in front of me and attempt to fold a few more shirts, but his eyes look so beautiful with the light coming in though our big windows that I grab my camera instead. The pile of clothing is in the background. I push it all off the bed onto the floor, and I manage to capture our baby boy during moment of peace — quite literally a moment — between sad faces. He then buries his head in the blanket and starts to cry. I pick him up, I nurse him, and I wrap him up on my chest. I scoop up the laundry from the floor and begin folding again.
I am walking down the path that leads to the chicken coop and the girls rush past me — running ahead, unplugging the electric fence — eager to greet the birds and check for eggs. The day is cold and dark and there is just one egg. A light blue egg, a shade slightly softer than Amabel’s coat. She wants to hand it to me but my hands are full with baby, compost bucket, camera, and letters to put in the mailbox. This is my recent condition: hands full. My two greatest mothering tools are my voice and my hands, but for the past two months my hands have been so occupied with our little baby man that I’ve had to rely on my voice with the girls and I’m feeling the strain. My voice isn’t tired; the girls are tired. Tired of me talking so much. Telling them what to do instead of guiding them with my hands. I long to put my arms around them, to do projects next to them — or to simply get a glass of water myself instead of asking them to help me again.
Jeffrey arrives on the scene. He takes the egg from Amabel and hands her a sheet of ice that he lifted off the top of the wheelbarrow. As I watch the girls examine the ice (we have no snow yet — but ice is a welcome sight), I am grateful that his hands are here to do the work that my hands long to do. I set the compost bucket down and somehow manage, with a baby wrapped up on my chest, under my down coat and thick scarf (“Mama, you don’t even look like you have a baby. You just look really plump!”) to take a photo of our daughters with their ice on the day after Christmas.
My November Guest
Her pleasure will not let me stay.
She talks and I am fain to list:
She’s glad the birds are gone away,
She’s glad her simple worsted gray
Is silver now with clinging mist.
The desolate, deserted trees,
The faded earth, the heavy sky,
The beauties she so truly sees,
She thinks I have no eye for these,
And vexes me for reason why.
Not yesterday I learned to know
The love of bare November days
Before the coming of the snow,
But it were vain to tell her so,
And they are better for her praise.
— Robert Frost
Some of my favorite photos on instagram are scenes of everyday life taken from above. Meals, projects, books, desk tops (the old fashioned kind), crafts — I love to see what other families are creating, reading, cooking . . .
Inspired by this view of the world, I’ve been documenting the tops of our busy tables — capturing a visual reminder of what occured before one project was cleared away to make room for the next. And I’ve found myself with a growing series of these images.
Most of my photos “from above” include little hands, which puts everything into context. These wonderful little hands were here, doing all these interesting little things.
Documenting helps me to notice the details and pay attention to the creative process unfolding every day all around me. And they notice when I notice. They notice that I’m interested in their projects and because of that, they delve more deeply into them.
Also, the view from above doesn’t look quite so much like a mess, does it?
We haven’t made any costumes yet. Although we’ve brainstormed a handful of times, and have plenty of ideas — the girls may just need to raid the dress-up basket at the last minute this year. In the meantime, we had fun staging photos for uncle James today, who is working on a Halloween blog post for the NonGMO project. I love a witch in an Irish Dancing wig!
As we were working in the garden today, Ellen said, “Mama, a nice thing about garlic is that you only have to buy seeds once.”
Yes indeed, observant Ellen. And actually, in our case, we were given our first garlic “seeds” from dear friends, the Meadowlark farmers, years ago. Just a few days after our wedding, Jeffrey and I took a brown paper bag full of garlic heads with us to Pittsburgh, and we planted the cloves, that fall, in a corner of our 20′ by 20′ community garden plot. Our first crop of garlic came up the next spring, when we’d been married for six months — and we’ve harvested and planted garlic every year since.
What makes garlic a particularly nostalgic plant is that a piece of each head harvested in July is planted back in the earth in October for the next year’s crop. In this way, the garlic that Amabel and I are separating today — running our hands over, counting, placing in the earth — these cloves have been growing with us for eleven years. As long as we’ve been a family, this very same garlic has been a part of our lives.
Sitting in the warm October sun, separating garlic, I especially love the smell. Not just the pungent, spicy scent that often fills our kitchen — but the smell of autumn soil. It isn’t a fresh, spring earth smell, with busy earthworms and bright light. It is a more mature smell: the scent of soil that has nourished six months of roots — greens, sunflowers, parsley, nasturtiums, scallions, cabbage, marigolds, carrots, radishes, calendula, dill, arugula — the roots of all these plants still mingling with dirt and insects. It is the smell of soil that has already given so much. This summer we ate it its fruits, used them to make pickles, made bouquets out of its flowers, blended its leaves into pesto, fed its leftovers to the chickens, provided food for the bees and butterflies and birds, soaked it into salve . . . all this from a modest patch of brown earth, now laid bare and ready to recieve cloves of garlic.
Jeffrey uses a broadfork to loosen the soil. I smooth out the earth and make 115 holes (roughly 12″ apart) for 115 cloves to snuggle down during the coming season of cold. As I put each clove into its hole, my large belly touches the earth. The girls cover the cloves with soil. Jeffrey covers the entire bed with straw. And now this garden bed, which was a jungle awash in the colors of an abundant season just a few hours ago, is blanketed with a thick layer of golden brown mulch.
This is the first of two beds we intend to plant, but the second bed is still filled with tomato plants, peppers, and celery that we can’t bare to tare out just yet. Will we plant a second bed with garlic before our baby is born? I do not know, but having one bed planted at least feels like a sort of insurance — or reassurance. I will sleep well tonight, knowing that we have put garlic in the ground.
Planting in October is a contemplative act. Garlic roots me here to our little place on earth and to our family. I think about years past as Canada Geese honk overhead; leaves fade and fall; and nearly everything around me has gone to seed. Planting now, in this season, feels like reaching deep into a future we can only just imagine. Spring, when the garlic shoots will emerge, is a whole winter away. I know this all too well, and so I linger with gratitude in the smell of the garlic and in the smell of the autumn earth.