Pussy Willows Blink

I stand beside long metal racks of seed packets at Home Depot, mesmerized by the photographs and artwork, the many, many words, the specificity. How many kinds of carrots are there? I want to buy all of them. I imagine starting my seeds in old egg cartons and milk jugs, nursing them through germination to the birth of green. But I don’t have the space or the right amount of light or the tolerance for clutter in our tiny house. I dream of having a greenhouse for my magic kingdom. But that is a different life.

I’ve already learned the hard way that if I have outdoor work to do, barn chores, animals to feed, stalls to muck, gardens to weed, a harvest to collect, a fruit tree to prune, seeds to plant, suckers to pinch or flowers to deadhead — I will never write. This thing I’m doing now, typing. This is the thing I would be able to avoid. Easily. All those other life forms are so much more compelling. They have needs. 

When I lived on a farm, for so much as the bleat of a goat I could backburner the alphabet for months. My natural state is unplugged. But I’ve made this commitment to myself to write. Not because I want to, really. Because I must. If I leave all these thoughts for later, much later, forever later, they ferment, odiferous gas forms behind my eyes and then when I least expect it, I explode. So, I must do this surgery on myself, extract these words.

To get through days alone in a room with Microsoft Word, I keep seeds from last season in my desk drawer, seeds I didn’t use, seeds I gathered from bean pods and squash, enough seeds to plant a garden so big I could never possibly manage it. The time I spend perusing seed packets in stores is disproportionate to the amount of time and space I have for gardening. But still, I’m drawn to the seed racks in Walmart and Whole Foods, the supermarket, and my local nursery, just to see which brands they carry, to compare the nomenclature and graphic design, and scout for new types of plants. Often, I buy a packet of borage just for the blue.  

These secret shopping trips unfold in the afternoon when words fail me, and I need a break from sentence structure. I work from early morning until I feel a scrim dropping between me and my brain, details go fuzzy, my clarity casts long shadows on itself, and I am not the sharpest knife in the drawer. That’s when I pace the rows of retail plants, shrubs, ornamentals, natives and exotics, annuals, and perennials, reading the tags, touching the leaves, wishing they were mine. The garden in my head stretches from here to the horizon, a vast expanse of effortless beauty that belongs to me. Like a herd of perfect cattle or a flock of geese on a pond, it makes me happy.

Plants. At the park, I stop to study unfamiliar flowers, mounded ferns on the riverbank, the orange bark of madrones. Pussy willows blink silver in the sun. I notice a green halo on the trees. In the community garden last year’s kale is stout and puckered tight with winter growth. Rose canes bud dark red. But the weather is playing tricks with light. Frost will singe these brave beauties. Spring is not here, my desk calls to me and I must return home to feed the alphabet. 

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