Monday, November 12, 2012

Potatoes and daffodils

This afternoon I ventured into my garden, which has been neglected these last 10 weeks that I've been on sabbatical.  When I left, the late summer growth had begun to overwhelm the vegetable garden.  But now, it had taken over - bittersweet vines holding the gate closed, blackberry prickles catching my clothes, and weeds everywhere.  It looked like the potato patch would be a casualty of all that growth, but i picked up my garden fork anyway, and prodded the ground under the weeds.  And up came a potato, and another, and eventually I was able to harvest a small bucket full.  There are probably more, but tackling the weeds to get access to them can wait for another day.

The potatoes range from the size of my thumbnail to almost the size of my fist.  They are coated in dirt, but underneath I can see smooth golden skin.  Potatoes are one of my favorite home grown veggies - it's just so amazing that you can plant chopped up and slightly shriveled bits of left over food, and after the profuse but not very pretty foliage dies back, discover these great tubers under the ground.  Some I'll eat; others will languish in the cupboard till it's time to plant again.

Daffodils are the opposite.  The bulbs aren't anything spectacular to look at, and are a nuisance to plant.  Every year I order more, and then groan when the box arrives.  This year, I decided that it was time to quit short cuts and dig up the patch of grass where I've been planting them the last couple of years.  I had this great idea of having them naturalized, but didn't think about the ugliness as the flowers wilt and the stalks die back, at least if you follow advice and don't mow them over.

So the new plan is to dig the area of grass (a triangle about 15 feet long and 8 feet wide at one end), replant the bulbs there and add another couple of hundred, mulch, and over time put in low-groing perennials that will shoot up after the daffodils and provide summer color.

The digging is hard work, though not as bad as I anticipated (and certainly easier than dealing with the blackberries down the back).  And the soil is wonderful - brown and crumbly and full of worms.

Potatoes tend to be categorized on the useful end of the spectrum, and daffodils on the beautiful, but it's amazing how much beauty there is just in the earth, which offers its nutrients for plants to grow, potatoes and daffodils alike.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Useful and beautiful...

“Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, 

or believe to be beautiful.” 

William Morris

Twenty years ago, I lost almost everything I owned in a house fire. People were generous, giving me clothing and housewares - anything they thought I could use.  But I will never forget the coat.  It was winter; I could use a coat.  And so someone kindly went to the back of their wardrobe and found a coat for me: brown and cream houndstooth, circa 1960.  Today, I could sell it in a vintage clothing store; then, I remember looking at it and thinking, "But it's so ugly."

Beauty matters.  

I cringe inwardly every time I hear someone say at a craft fair, of a glorious knitted lace shawl with, yes, a hefty price tag, "But I could buy something much cheaper at Wal-Mart," or in a yarn shop, after pulling off the shelves fifteen skeins of wool and bamboo and silk and cashmere off the shelves, hand-dyed in a butterfly of hues, "Don't you have any of that acrylic they have at Michaels?"

Yes, but it won't be beautiful (at least not to my eyes!).

Usefulness is important.  But so is beauty.  It can bring joy and life and light, things that we often need most when our lives are consumed by the practical and the useful.  And of course, beauty and usefulness are not mutually exclusive.  Things can be both.

This blog was prompted by my own need to respond after Hurricane Sandy, layered over a three month sabbatical when I have been able to slow down, to see beauty, to feel the stirrings of creativity. 

But it was when I returned to an island devastated by flooding and downed trees and power outages, and wondered how I could help, that I thought of that brown and cream coat and wondered how to offer things that are both useful and beautiful.

I knit, and so the obvious thing was to knit for others, to knit things that are not only useful, but also beautiful, to give to those who have lost everything.  It's something I've done before, with a community quilting group in New Jersey, when we were able to make 150 baby quilts to send to new mothers affected by Hurricane Katrina.  Yes, it would have been easier, and likely cheaper, to buy baby blankets.  But there is something powerful about receiving something that someone has made for you, something that took time and effort  and has in its fibers the beauty of creation and of  human compassion.  This time, my local yarn shop is partnering, as we have a knit-a-thon over Thanksgiving weekend to make warm winter scarves and mittens and shawls and hats for people affected by the hurricane.

It's time to start knitting...