Listened to Elizabeth Kolbert’s The Sixth Extinction while working out by the snag clearing blackberries and horsetail. At some point she suggests that you look out at your yard and imagine it with only fifty percent of all the plants you see. This is approximately where we are headed in a moderate climate change scenario. I thought: I don’t even know what plants are here, how would I know if they were gone? I can name only a few of the species in our yard. Most only by their common names, and some of those I am trying to eradicate. Part of me believes that I should try to know this piece of land as deeply as possible and in that way I will come to understand everything else. And if not everything else, than at least this one piece of land. Another part of me is simply not methodically inquisitive enough for this philosophy. I like to know things. I like to know practical things. I like to know the names and habits of things. I like to know a place deeply, but not necessarily deliberately. I like the way I know Tahoe—the way it smells before a storm and after a storm, how snow sounds in the dark, the way sand smells, the names of plants and where they grow and what they indicate…. I like the way I know Maine—the sounds of the house, the sound of the tide coming in and the tide going out, the smell of May and the smell of October, the light on the field after nine o’clock in June, how it feels to jump off the dock after mowing the lawn. I know these places because I grew up in them. They are in me. Can I know another place as well? I do not feel I know Olympia this way, and I am not of the nature to endeavor deliberately to cultivate a relationship. I lack curiosity. I have wonder, but I am not hungry to know why things happen. I may be past the age when I will be able to remember plant names. I may be too anxious, now, to absorb my environment simply by being in it. And so what will I miss? What plants and animals will disappear from my backyard without me even noticing? Perhaps I should push myself to an inventory, to a naturalist’s daily observations of temperature and light and animal events. In it, would I note when the neighbors mow? When I find another bottle or a needle in the hedge? Do I mention the constant freeway noise? Will these things be important someday? Or just the sapsucker in the snag, the jays who have been gone for a while but were outside the bedroom window this morning, the white spider eating a honeybee in the hydrangea, the weed in the rock pile that is much taller than I am, the length of the spikes on the plum tree in the side yard, the broken branch in the purple plum tree, the opossum who we haven’t seen for ten days…. What gets noticed has the chance of being missed.
Today I tried to see into the past using Suffolk County, MA’s online record database. Only made things murkier. I now have specific dates for entirely ambiguous transactions. There seems to have been some kind of shell game involving 124 Myrtle, the house on Greenings Island, and a third property I have never heard of at 33 Mount Vernon. Quit claim slight-of-hand. I did learn that Greenings came at the cost of 124 Myrtle; my father traded Emery Rice his interest in one for the whole of the other. Two things happen suddenly as a result: 1) I recall that after Alex graduated from Shady Hill, my father moved into the basement apartment; and 2) the loss of Greenings is compounded—it is as if Greenings also contained Myrtle. And both are lost. What is an apt metaphor? The whole field mouse found inside the belly of the rainbow trout my mother once caught at Meek’s Creek? If the trout were understood to be the future and the mouse the past. One eaten by the other. Both dead.
PS: Plugged my dad’s name into Google and turned up two men who seem much more like the man who would be my father than the man who is my father. Felt strangely undermined in my efforts to individuate.
Trash day. This week, recycling. It is supposed to get hot, though yesterday the prediction overshot the day’s actual high of 77. Just in case, I changed the bedding yesterday in preparation: just sheets and a thin cotton blanket. I remember visiting Boston in the summer and lying perfectly still under just the sheet so as not to generate any excess heat. Mum must have advised me on this, because I would have been too young to reason it out for myself. I would slide my hand under the pillow to find a cool spot, would try to conserve the experience, only allowing myself infrequent dips into the cool. Sometime in the night I would turn the pillow over for a moment of relief. The room smelled like brick and plaster and the pink tea roses from Mr. Nick’s. After so many cold summers in Oysterville, the heat here is surprising and marvelous. It seems as if it must be a fluke, but last summer was hot, too, and no one else seems amazed. I love it. But the lawns will need to be mown soon again and that will be miserable. I’ve started watering in the evenings even though I know it is wasteful. June is in the driveway awaiting a shipment of seam compound from Jamestown Distributers. Today I’ll put the fourth coat of varnish on the new tiller—halfway there. We might be ready to launch in a week. Sailing before long. Work in the yard consists mostly of pulling weeds: ivy, blackberries, thistle. The thistle is terrible because of hay fever, but not hard. Ivy is the most gratifying. I love to see the shapes of the trees emerge, and the dappled sunlight loosed on the yard in the evening. But, really, it is the least urgent and I only do it to give myself relief from the harder work of blackberries…and writing.