planting time!

Actually, it's been planting time for about a month now ... and it's almost harvest time for some of the first things we planted! I've been mentally working on this post for several weeks, but as we know, plants don't stand still and so things are very different now than they were.
Last night, I was out enjoying the long twilight and weeding the basil bed when some walkers stopped to chat and admire the garden. It's been one of our favorite things about this adventure so far--being out there, working, makes us available and around and we've met far more neighbors the last few weeks than we had all year. Anyway, this particular man was admiring our bean teepee (truly, a work of art for which I can take no credit) and asking how one goes about building one. My totally serious response is that you just have to have the good fortune of great next door neighbors. Neighbors who, in this particular case, like to build, tinker, and grow things.
Which means that while we contributed a little of the financial resources, we simply watched out our window as raised beds were built, the school brought by compost to fill the beds, a bean teepee was constructed, and then slowly, plants were added. And even though we started our own seeds, some of which did well and are now in those beds, when half of them failed to thrive, we just piggybacked (again) off the abundance of seeds started next door. Need more soil for potted plants? Just look in the buckets outside their door. Need a hose? They've got an extra. Truly, I'm beginning to think of them as my own personal lawn and garden supply.
So yes, we owe a lot to others for the existence and beauty of our vegetable plots. But the labels? We're all over those. This was Finn's idea, after seeing something similar in a book.  I wrote, he drew, we laminated, then we planted, along with the first seeds to go in--radish, spinach and carrot. And today, 4 weeks later, radishes are ready, spinach is coming along, and carrots have sprouted.
So far, it has been an absolute joy, although I am learning about new levels of dirty in my kids. We've also decided we need a little child's bed, where they can dig all they want. We know that there are plenty of predators out there, ready to get a taste of our yummies, and we know that we don't know anything, really, about preventing diseases or insects. So it's possible that the vegetable harvest might not be all we hope for. But that's ok--the harvest of memories and knowledge and relaxation and family fun has already begun.  


Book Review: Matterhorn

So many people have written about Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War, by Karl Marlantes, in ways more knowledgeable (both about war and its literature) than I can that I am not sure what I can profitably add to the conversation. Vietnam, after all, is not my generation's war. And it wasn't easy, as a peace-lover, to read what is essentially a war story, an action-adventure novel. But as a particularly long novel, it was not only part of my evenings for more than a few weeks, but it has stayed with me in the way that good books do, which is enough of an excuse to write about it, or to read it, for that matter. And no one yet (that I've read, anyway) has discussed the spiritual themes in Matterhorn, of which there are plenty, considering that this is the story of a group of men both facing and causing death. 
Matterhorn tells the story of the (fictional) Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Division, whose mission is to secure a hill (Matterhorn, also fictional) close to the DMZ and Laos, before abandoning it and then taking it again. It has the immediacy of good journalism, in that it frequently made me want to turn to my husband and say, "Did you hear about this?"--it felt like something we should be discussing today. Brutal battle scenes with no shortage of carnage aren't exactly easy or pleasant reading, but the book also has a literary quality that frequently made me pause, reread, think and savor. Like this, for example, describing the mindless work that filled many days out in the bush (and arguably describes many days back in the real world as well): "They dug and chopped, finding the meaning of their actions within the small prosaic tasks, casting from their minds the larger questions that would only lead them to despair."   
It struck me throughout the book that many spiritual practices taken on by contemplatives or monastics are just part of daily existence for troops on duty: communal living, radical interdependence, submission to authority, fasting, extreme physical exertion, prolonged attention to a singular task, and all accompanied by the constant threat and reality of death. One result of such practices is the truth that tends to emerge, both about ourselves and our situation. It is no different for these Marines, who, of course, did not undertake this mission as a spiritual practice and who would not label it as such. But to know the truth about ourselves--our capacity for both good and evil--is the beginning of the gospel. As Frederich Buechner says in Telling the Truth: the Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy and Fairy Tale, “Before the gospel is good news, it is simply the news that that's the way it is, whatever day it is of whatever year.”  Or to put it another way, "You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free" (John 8:32).
One truth these marines face is their satisfaction and even enjoyment in killing the enemy. Lieutenant Hawke says in response to another character's despair at admitting this, "It's the people who don't know it who are dangerous. There's at least two million of them back in the world. Boot camp doesn't make us killers. It's just a f-kin' finishing school. … None of them have ever met the mad monkey inside us. But we have." Such admissions are not comfortable to read, and though I honestly can't imagine that I could enjoy killing, I've had enough glimpses of that mad monkey's chattering, self-serving ways that I can't deny its existence. 
And in the midst of all this ugly truth about ourselves, the one explicitly Christian character, Cortell, gives the best description of what it means to have faith that I've read in a long time:

“Ever'one here think it easy for me. I be this good little church boy from Mississippi with my good little church-goin' Mammy, and since I be this stupid country n-er with the big faith, I don't have no troubles. Well, it just don't work that way." He paused. Jermain said nothing. "I see my friend Williams get ate by a tiger," Cortell continued. "I see my friend Broyer get his face ripped off by a mine. What you think I do all night, sit around thankin' Sweet Jesus? Raise my palms to sweet heaven and cry hallelujah? You know what I do? You know what I do? I lose my heart." Cortell's throat suddenly tightened, strangling his words. "I lose my heart." He took a deep breath, trying to regain his composure. He exhaled and went on quietly, back in control. "I sit there and I don't see any hope. Hope gone." Cortell was seeing his dead friends. "Then, the sky turn gray again in the east, and you know what I do? I choose all over to keep believin'. All along I know Jesus could maybe be just some fairy tale, and I could be just this one big fool. I choose anyway." He turned away from his inward images and returned to the blackness of the world around him. "It ain't no easy thing." 
No, choosing to believe in the face of such darkness is never easy, as nothing about war--or life, for that matter--is. As a war, Vietnam stands in our nation's history as a symbol for all that can go wrong. As a book, Matterhorn stands as a testimony to that destructiveness, waste and senselessness, certainly, but also to the courage, selflessness and honor of many of its warriors. It's a compelling, absorbing read, and as long as you are willing to be disturbed, I heartily recommend it. 


On my table

There's something new on our table right now, something that makes me happy every time I see it. I started work on this little table runner in March, planning it to be for birthdays. I barely finished the quilting, and lacked the binding, in time for Finn's celebration (we used it anyway) and I just this week finished the binding.
Of course, I couldn't finish it and then promptly put it into storage, so it went on our table and cheered up some gray, cold days. So I'm now declaring it the birthday/rainy day/supposed-to-be-spring-but-feels-like-winter table runner. Everyone needs one of those, right? :)

I made it just like the seasons quilt hangings, with a method loosely based on one from Amanda Soule (who bases it on Patchwork Style). It's perfect quilting for me--quick, all about color design and not dependent on precision at all--and you might notice plenty of mistakes, especially with attaching the binding. (The puckering and pulling were terrible--any tips?)

But the good thing about this project is that it's intended to be used, more than just looked at. I figure that in time, the stains and spots from the birthday cakes and rainy-day-meals will outweigh the mistakes, but the memories from those cakes and meals will outweigh them all.