Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Beneath the Surface

The Chief Lou has taken a few days off work to help get some things finished around the house. So of course, this morning we went kayaking. And then we stopped on the way home for giant cheeseburgers and garlic fries. So, of course after that, we couldn't possibly go to the hardware store, we had to take a bit of a nap. That's the best way to work off a cheeseburger, according to experts. Cheeseburger experts, that is. I am, of course, a cheeseburger expert. I've eaten cheeseburgers on at least three continents. Word to the wise: do not eat cheeseburgers in China that come from unauthorized cheeseburger dealers. Not worth it. I digress. This is not about cheeseburgers. It is about far more important things than that. That's saying a lot, mind you, coming from me.

As our cheeseburger comas receded late this afternoon, we recharged and balanced with a bounty of summer fruits: nectarines, strawberries, honey dew melon (I digress again, but when I purchased this particular melon, the darling man checking me out suddenly shouted "Honey dew melon! Any honey will do, Melon!" I very nearly kissed him.) Some assorted cheeses: Havarti with dill, double cream Brie, Manchego and buffalo Mozzarella with flat breads and crackers. Fresh pinon coffee from New Mexico, and the waning sun. And then we went and dug up half our yard. This is really what I'm talking about.

Everyone was puttering after dinner in that satisfied, sleepy, summer sunsetty kind of way. I stood with mug in hand, thinking about New Mexico and how I love it so, and surveyed my back yard from the deck. That happy, satisfied, I must dig up that bamboo shoot right now feeling just washed over me. I'll be like Ina Garten, I thought. I'll take my coffee outside with my shovel and talk to an invisible audience about the gastronomic delights of summer while I putter about in the garden in white linen and never break a sweat or get dirty. I will be backlit and hazy and beautiful in the setting sun. And that bamboo shoot in my flower bed is driving me crazy.

The bamboo shoot was about the size of a pencil, maybe a little taller, but certainly no wider. I have new leather work gloves and a shovel recommended by contractors. I have gardening clogs that have a pattern like Monet's Water Lilies. I have a belly full of fruit and cheese and sunshine and delicious desert coffee, how can I go wrong? My first shovel full of dirt came out easily, and maybe the second and third. And then I hit what felt like stone. I dug around a little bit to see if I could get underneath it, but alas, finally had to stoop and pry out the landscaping boulders that have been artfully placed in the flowerbed. Roar. I am so strong, I am mighty, I lift large rocks in my leather gloves and sassy gardening clogs. I am strength personified, one with Mother Nature as I just heave this here stone and slip a little bit and have to stop and hike up my pants and try again and Sweet Baby James, there's a city under my flowerbed!

A complete subway system of thick, hard roots crisscrossed around and disappeared out of sight. You know how they use bamboo for floors and furniture and eating utensils and stuff because it is so hard and durable? Yes. Well. My shovel told me I should get an axe probably. Instead, I got reinforcements. "Um, Lou? Can you come here for a second?" He loves to hear these words, you know. He knows it means I'm up to something and that "a second" could last anywhere from a few minutes to fourteen years. The monkeys love to hear this, too. They know there will be two parents involved in something strange and consuming and they will be able to "help". The Hooligan came screeching out in his underwear and my flip flops, with the jBird hot on his heels, on a mission, demanding "Show me where you need me to dig."

We never got the axe, but we did involve two plastic trowels and tiny claw rakes (Hooligan: "Look, I have badger claws!") some sort of pick-axey, double headed digging tool, a lot of hands, and some serious elbow grease. My annoying bamboo shoot led to three or four others which led to a cluster of other tiny ones which led to "oh, what's that doing over here?" and so on. We dug up about thirty feet of this underground bamboo city from under about a third of our yard. It was better than cheeseburgers, I tell you. To finally dig out enough around the root to get a firm grasp and pull, watching it peel up like giant hairy zipper from the ground, to feel that sweet release as it pulled away, to find another intersection and follow it where it goes. All eight hands and a tiny bulldozer plowing and digging and tugging and reaching and excavating together. Great family times. "Hey, remember that time we stayed up way past our bedtime digging up the yard?" That's wonderful and an after-school special all its own, but that's not what this is about, either.

It's about this: that one, annoying, pencil thin bamboo shoot disturbing my violas. It was beautiful, but out of place. It was this small intrusion on my landscape, sprung up there beside the rocks and through the flowers. I have this settled world; a tidy, small plot of ground I cover. I walk my paces, I paddle along the surface in the sun, I eat my cheeseburgers, bloom occasionally and try to keep the peace. With flippant hubris and a pair of dashing gardening clogs, I had this plan to just remove this one thing out of place. This one, tiny thing. This delicate anomaly which happened to be connected to a vast and ancient network that runs throughout the whole yard, just underneath the surface. In our excavations, we found evidence of previous attempts: great fattened canes which had just been cut down at the ground and covered with mulch. "They moved the headstones, but they didn't move the graves!" Sure, it had prettied the place up a little bit, but didn't remove the problem, and in fact, made it worse by aggravating the plant to grow further roots and spring up elsewhere.

Look beneath the surface, that's where the truth lies. It lies in vast networks, ancient and strong; sometimes with its point of origin so far away, it's unrecognizable. This is my inspiration. I trade my shovels and claws and tiny bulldozers for pen and keyboard, paper and screen and I dig. It's a communal effort, it's hard and sweaty work. I get dirty and blisters on my hands. But this is my goal, with all this scribbling and chittering on the keys, to find the sweet relief of finally getting a handle on that firm root of things and pulling it, like a great hairy zipper from its home. To expose it and uproot it and see how it all connects. To not just trim unsightly things out of view, but to find their source, examine them and try and strike some balance in the landscape of things.

"Um, you? Could you come here a second?"


  1. "Show me where you need to dig!" My FAVORITE line. So sweet, so truthfully daughter-like. I love that...

    The very first time I read your blog it was a post about "In This Economy." Ring a bell? I fell in love with your perspective & writing style then, and I feel it all over again this morning.

    a) What a luscious gastronomic appetite you have.
    b) BAMBOO. Whether it's a blessing or a curse, depends on your yard I suppose. LOL Good luck.
    c) Yes... digging for the truth, mining it out, feeling that release when you find some... Wonderful! Keep it up. Such a worthy mission, and you are so good at it.
    d) I am eternally annoyed by TV domesticity. Cannot stomach it any more. LOL The Ina Gartens and Martha Stewarts of the world are inspirational, perhaps, but are also as misleading to homemakers as porn stars are to, well, everybody.

    Really beautiful piece today, than you!! Have an awesome rest of the week!! xoxo

    1. Thank you, darling! I think you and Margi are the only two people in the world who have read that piece!

      a.) I eat like a horse. I eat all manner of disgusting things and then try to balance it out with good things.
      b.) I love bamboo, but sadly we have inherited some very poorly tended bamboo and it is encroaching on our foundation and other things that it will eventually damage. I may grow to hate bamboo when we are done digging it all up. I will certainly only love it in pots from now on.
      c.) Thank you, dear. It is less a mission, more a compulsion.
      d.) I completely agree with you on this. I am, however, both dreamy and a sucker, so I always envision these unrealistic photo-shoot scenarios even though I know better.

      Bless you, Marie! Thanks for reading so enthusiastically! xo

  2. This is exactly what I love about you.

  3. Tiny hands and a mini digger, I love it. It reminds me I need to get my head into my clump forming bamboo and thin it out. Always a family effort as I loose my head to a different world, a jungle, and leave my backside in my garden relying on my girls to pull out the thinings and me when we are done!

    Thanks for this post, it has given me a little push to dig into the pile of book I have brought home from work for research but have been dutifully ignoring for weeks.

    Love your writing it always makes me smile.

  4. Someday, I'll stop commenting and saying lame things like "your words make my soul sing." Until then, though, just know that your words make my soul sing.

    And I'm a little nervous about hairy zippers. Yeowch!

    Your digging and pulling and excavating and showing the world the wonders that exist beneath the surface is just so... well, I suppose it's just you. But it still gets me every time.

  5. I'm sincerely thinking of framing this. There 1000 things in here I could stand to be reminded of on a daily basis.


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