Roberta and I motored out Highway 89 today to visit Judy, who lives with Pete on a sizable spread in the pinyon-juniper forest north of Flagstaff. We drove out to see the remnants of her garden, but Judy gave us the home tour, too.
I’ve decided: the expansive greenhouse is my dream home, lack of toilet facilities notwithstanding. Near sunset, we reveled in the warmth and moistness that abides in that protected space. “Do you just come out here and sit in the winter?” I asked. “I bring my garden books out, and dream about next season,” Judy replied. “I plan.”
Roberta and I came home with a bounty of greens, fragrant basil, lovely mid-sized yellow summer squash, red tomatoes and New Zealand spinach that has a bite as substantial as meat. Judy has a generous heart, with the sweet (but not saccharin) disposition that comes of living self-sufficiently in the countryside. You have to have a certain type of faith in the universe—and in your own capabilities—to make that happen, a no-nonsense faith that relies on your own action, not just on a vague dreamy hopefulness.
That sort of vantage point also comes of sitting just above the fray, like in a lifeguard chair, for example: not too far away from the action, but with enough distance to get an overview and a realistic picture of the situation.
I began dreaming about winter a week or two ago—even though it’s just turned fall—with a mix of anticipation and dread. All the unseasonable warmth this past couple of weeks means that the weather’s turn will be that much harder to take. Winter is usually a good time to work in my studio, gather myself in and take stock of my creative path. But especially with the specter of last year’s snowfall looming over us, I worry about the roof holding, whether we’ll be able to shovel the drive or drive to the store. It’s a grasshopper’s dilemma. We haven’t been idle, exactly, but we haven’t been working toward our own survival, either.
I was supposed to be packing for a trip to Santa Fe this afternoon (and writing my column), but the journey to Judy and Pete’s seemed much more enticing. Sometimes you just have to embrace an adventure, and have some faith that a different path will inspire the work.
Judy told us the story of living in a trailer on their land for the first two years, until they could afford to build the barn. Inside the trailer it was stifling hot in the summer and freezing in the winter. When they were ready to get rid of it, they gave the trailer to a Navajo silversmith who lives out near Cameron. They had a fine cultural exchange: he fixed a silver and turquoise watchband in exchange for a place to live. They can still pick out the trailer from afar when they make the drive north to Lees Ferry.
One telling note: Judy did not offer us even one of the horrid “boat” zucchinis that certain gardeners tend to foist onto visitors in a (warped) display of generosity. Rather, she made it plain that those overgrown zucchinis get ground up, put into bread or soup. No one even knows they’re in there, but now that I’ve revealed her secret all bets are probably off.
What else feels generous to me right now: the endlessly ticking clock; the words filling up the page before me; the nasturtiums blooming in the back yard, as many as I need to pepper up my salads, and some to give away; and the white-barked aspen trees in the back yard, with their twirly leaves that rustle in the breeze.
I’m looking for the generosity in winter. Winter is generous with cold, some years with snow, and always with time. Winter always seems to stretch out in a long expanse, endless until it’s over, and then I can’t remember anything about what it felt like.
Instead of remembering though, I wonder if it’s better to make contingency plans (Buy more firewood? Stock up on tuna fish and ramen? Move to Aruba?) and then take winter as it comes with a steady heart, an open mind and a confident faith in my own capacity for action.