2006 began our urban homestead when I broke ground on a garden, which now includes perennial fruits, flowers, & many vegetable varieties. We dream of solar panels, keeping bees and hens. Until then we'll continue growing and preserving our own fruits and vegetables, building what we can for our home, cooking from scratch, and crafting most days.
It was refreshing to get away for a few days; Vera and I returned from downstate Illinois late yesterday afternoon. It was almost 25 years ago that my family moved to Paris, IL after my dad took a new job. Between driving back up to Wisconsin to visit relatives and friends during grade school and high school and driving back south to visit my family and friends these days "I reckon" (to use to their vernacular) I've made the trip up and down I-94 and I-57 more than 100 times, wearing a deep path in those roads as well as the trails from college in Indiana to Racine/Milwaukee to do the same. Whew! It's all gone by in a flash. That trip, especially when I'm "solo," gives my mind plenty of time to wander. First there are the memories of my English teacher mother steeped in Shakespeare saying "Is it Rosencrantz and Guildenstern or Rosenstern and Guildencrantz?" every time we'd pass the sign for Rosecrans Rd. Then there are the mental pictures of singing along with local radio stations (especially oldies) when my mom and I would make the trip by ourselves. There are recollections of how many different ways my dad found to get from Point A to Point B over that time, including a couple of years when he decided that hugging the eastside of the Indiana/Illinois border was the quickest route. And of course I remember the butterflies in my stomach when we'd almost reached our destination (on either end) and I could see those I'd been waiting to visit. Now I find it more interesting to drive the long stretches of highway in east central Illinois, look out at the vast mono-cropped fields and imagine what they looked like when there were billions of acres of virgin prairie. My eye also catches the signs posted sequentially along the fence lines promoting gun owners' rights and corn ethanol. And I consider how those in the small podunk towns I speed through at the southernmost part of my journey make a living. It's most interesting to go back "home" and see how all, including myself, have changed. Though I wouldn't want to live in a small town anymore, there are advantages--people are familiar and therefore look out for each other, you can go into any store and run into a neighbor or someone else you know, and the filling stations have diesel readily available (unlike many neighborhoods in Milwaukee) for my current car because of all the farm trucks circling the area. My parents live on a good-sized lot on a peaceful dead end street on a manmade lake. As I looked out the second story window of my old bedroom one morning I realized for the first time how large their front yard is--without the trees that were there when I grew up, the space appears much larger. But as my eyes continued across the street and over the houses down the block I realized just how huge everyone's yards is. As an urbanite, with precious square feet of planting space on my property, it always makes me think about what an enornous vegetable garden I could plant had I all that space. The interesting thing is that I know a lot of these folks don't have big gardens, lots of children running around, or a backyard chicken coop that requires the expanse. There are a couple of swimming pools, but mostly I think it's that people want/need the space as a buffer between them and their neighbors. How interesting. I've become so used to being just feet from the next house--so close we can hear conversations from houses down the block and across the alley. And it doesn't bother us a bit. I just realized that being so close in proximity to those dwelling next door has a lot to do with how we live as more of a tight community in such a large city, whereas those living in a small town can see each other here, there and everywhere and therefore need more space between after hours. I understand it, but I'd still dig up the grass and plant a garden.
An old hospital cart I use to file my seeds.
On that note, I am set to start some vegetable seeds this weekend. I attended a seed swap last Saturday and came away with all of the seeds I was looking for this season. I passed along a couple handfuls of my own seeds as well. The great thing about a seed swap is that when you're able to know who the seeds come from, it's like having a little bit of each person in your garden that season. And what lovely souls we will have growing in our yard! I saw a few fellow Transitioners and experienced gardeners and met some new, extremely enthusiastic greenhorns. One woman I spoke to will be gardening at the Bay View Hide House community garden this year as well as on her balcony. She's never gardened before, but due to the economy and her job situation she's going for the gusto and jumping right in. I gave her my standard "what can you afford to lose" schpeel that I give to first time gardeners--think about how much money you can afford to spend and lose if nothing comes up. Though it's almost a given that something will sprout. We also discussed the fact that, despite--or perhaps because of--what's happening politically in our state, with the economy, or in our own neighborhoods we have to go at vegetable-growing even more aggressively this year. The government can't stop us from growing our own food so if we can control nothing else, we can have power over how we feed ourselves. We need our gardens more than ever and we need each other more than ever to share the abundance, knowledge, lore, and perhaps even a potluck. I am especially excited for this season because it's really the first time I won't be expanding my garden beds, which means I won't be spending so much time pulling up grass and constructing raised beds but will have extra hours to plant, nurture, stake, and grow. While I was in Paris I had a chance to sketch out my garden design for 2011 and am I psyched!