Crossing to Safety

Bean & Bantam: One day's harvest from the garden, from six or eight plants.

We have this patch of garden, these apple trees, and those woods, to hold onto while we choose.  Sometimes, I think, that is taken for granted.

We have this place we call our own, to garden, to plant fruit trees and raise children and chickens, and we haven’t ventured here from all that far away.  We haven’t sailed across oceans, migrating as my Dutch ancestors did in the seventeenth century to America.   We haven’t traveled here from another home, driven by war. My grandparents did, my grandmother a woman traveling alone with her children, my mother and uncles, traveling through Europe by train during World War II, my grandfather away, in the thick of it.  I heard war stories as a child that would make your hair stand on end, but I haven’t gone through it myself.  I can only imagine the journey, and remember the stories about the attempt to cross the perilous and enter into safety, to shelter from bomb blasts under piles of suitcases tumbled into and out of a targeted train, picking a way through bomb craters, swims through icy rivers and long roads.  The risk, the danger, the war stories that, as a child I grew impatient hearing over and over from one particular grandparent, trying to settle in  for the long story, not being able to quite resign oneself to hearing it again.  Many of those, I’ve mainly forgotten, but I do remember some, mainly the ones from those that rarely spoke of it.  I’m lucky to be here.

With the recent news coverage of refugees in my mind, I’ve felt mixed about posting pictures of baskets overflowing with tomatoes and apples, about posting pictures of the extraordinary abundance this year.  Those that do not have a place to call their own, those even who are fleeing from war, their stories recall memories of stories long ago.  I feel just one or two steps removed, filled with empathy, unable to help in any real way, thankful for what I have, and a sense of horror for what others have lost, or risk losing, in their attempt to cross to safety.  A small boy in a red tee shirt and blue shorts, the same age as my son, indelibly etched in my memory from the news this week.   And, Matthew Price of the BBC tweeting about a walk from Budapest, for eight hours or more, with a Syrian mother, pushing her two year old in a stroller, her four year old beside her, holding her hand (and Mr. Price’s kindness in lifting him up onto his shoulders and walking the rest of the way with them, in the dark by the side of the road with other refugees).

As the seasons move forward, as the months and years go by, as we make our way through life, this land is ours for a bit, and to have that, to know where we will sleep and what we will next eat, we are fortunate, more than we may realize.

Bean & Bantam: Apples and plums from our own trees

In the garden, September is a leg of the garden journey, the month we travel into fall’s rush of leaves and eventual stark branches, and then on to winter and long nights lit by candles. September in the garden is a month of departures and slow good byes.  The lush garden season comes to an end this month; we do not extend the season with sheets or cold frames, or hoop houses (yet).  It’s been hot, and dry for the past two weeks.  The cucumber leaves crisped, then the pumpkin leaves.  So dry, that the sunflower leaves wilted, as did the morning glory vines I planted to climb up them.  I hauled the hose over, and watered what I wanted to keep: the sunflowers, the morning glories, the rainbow Swiss chard and the kale.  The beans are too far gone.  The potatoes need to be dug, the plants long ago withered.  I pulled ripe jalapenos into a basket, and a final harvest of tomatoes.  I went through the pumpkins, and cut them from the vine, leaving a generous stem end to cure and dry.  The tomato plants were blighted, the leaves entirely brown, so once the tomatoes had been picked, the plants were uprooted and piled into the wheelbarrow, the wire tomato cages and stakes pulled and stacked.  Next year, we need tomato supports made of  2×4’s, if we grow this variety again (Big Beef).  I am not joking, I need serious tomato supports.  A lone cherry tomato is left, ‘Supersweet 100’ an indeterminate sprawling plant, the leaves still lush.  The corn plants cut, or pulled.  Last year, we left the corn to stand through October, a spooky seasonal end to the garden, but this year I want them gone, to better reveal the row of sunflowers with morning glories climbing.

I was driving home the other night, and a car pulled to a stop in the other lane, full of teenagers, their heads craned to the lane far in front of me.  I slowed, and stopped, unsure as to what the problem might be.  A back door opened, and a teenager in a red shirt, basketball-tall and gangly, stepped out and looked at the road, looked uncertainly at me.  I made a “go ahead, be my guest” gesture with my hand, waving him into my lane, in front of my  car, where he picked up a turtle that I could barely even see, and brought it all the way across the road.  I smiled and drove on once the road was clear.  People can be so kind when they choose to.

If only it were so easy the world over, and among human beings, as complex as they are.   If only we could make consideration, or mercy, mandatory. We must all reach up, reach down, and reach across to others. We are lucky to be here.  We are all, in our own way, crossing to safety, some on much more perilous journeys.

Wishing safe travels for all, and that all may cross to safety.  Fall abundance in VermontBean & Bantam: dehydrating apples

Bean & Bantam: Sun dappled shade, dappled chicken
Sun dappled shade, dappled chicken

Fear and Compassion

Ten years ago, I walked by a screaming man. I just walked right by. He was standing outside a car with a back seat full of young children and screaming at a woman in the front seat.  I was with my husband, who was at that time my boyfriend. We had just come out of the grocery store, and to get to our car we had to walk right by this car full of children, the man yelling. I didn’t notice the children, I didn’t even look. My instinct was to ignore, to not get involved, avert my eyes out of self-preservation. After all, there had been a murder suicide outside this very store in the parking lot a while back, fresh in my mind as a reminder of who knows what could actually happen.  And, I didn’t want any part of any crazy drama, so the quicker I could get by this stranger and his public display of anger the faster I could forget it. So I stepped away, I walked on, unscathed, to let those people sort out their own bad situation.

My husband-then-boyfriend stopped once we had passed. I tugged him on, thinking about how he’d never lived in city, he’d never learned not to look.  It’s safer to not look.  He kept looking back, his fists clenched. He pointed out to me that there were kids in the car, and that it wasn’t right, this yelling, I think even more so with those kids in the car. I felt my fear flare up, that he might actually say something or do something and get hurt. I tugged him on, I pulled his hand towards our car, I might have even got behind him and pushed a little, and we left.

I wonder what my husband might have said or done if I hadn’t shushed and pushed and pulled him away to the safety of our car.  Would it have been at all effective if he had said something? Was I wrong to stop him, so that no one stood up for that woman and those kids sitting in the back seat seeing her get lambasted? No matter what the cause, to stand screaming at her, in front of children seemed so very wrong. If I hadn’t stopped him, would my husband have told the screaming man to knock it off? Could we have done more than call the police to report a public disturbance? And what were those kids learning if no one stopped… were they learning that it was acceptable to scream at someone in public and that no one would even blink an eye let alone stop to help someone in need? Maybe we should have stopped and asked the woman in the front seat of that car if she needed help. At what point do you take action rather than let fear stop you from acting?  Is it better to steer away from a situation like this that you know nothing about, unless you observe someone in danger of getting physically hurt?

In looking back, I feel a sense of regret and even shame. There seems to be an increasing lack in this world, of compassion and mercy and reason.  It doesn’t seem to have always been this way, but I may just be noticing it more and more.Is this just something that happens when you have a child: you start to notice the growing capacity of the world to harm what you love?

It seems to me to be a struggle to know when to act, and how not to get tangled up in something more than I can handle. I want to help, but I have a fear that it might invite trouble. Acting to help takes a sort of courage, even for something as simple as stopping for a lost dog in the roadway. It’s a small act of compassion, and so easy for some to drive by a dog in the road and assure themselves everything will be ok, because to stop means committing to action: stopping the car, potentially looking foolish to other drivers, approaching the dog, finding a tag, making a call, deciding what to do and where to take the dog if no tag. Before having my son, I would regularly stop my car for lost dogs running in the road, read their tags and call their owners, reconnoiter the neighbors, drop them off at animal control if no tags. It takes time, it makes for a messy car, but it’s a relatively small investment and without too much potential for drama. Now however, I don’t feel like I can safely load an unknown dog in the car with my son, so I’m far less likely to stop (and serendipitously, haven’t had the opportunity since), but I carry a leash in my trunk just in case. Our cat came from the side of a road, a kitten who was meowing piteously, mouth wide, eyes wide, recently dumped.  I initially drove by and noticed the meowing. I turned around for a second look, stomach sinking.  I drove by, turned around again, hoping almost that the kitten would be gone but it wasn’t.  I swore at myself and stepped out of the car, and the kitten ran up and somehow climbed up my long coat. He’s our cat now, an excellent mouser. Our former cat Joey had just died recently, so the kitten was a timely replacement. Sometimes these things can work out well. I also was able to get a stray cat and her seven kittens adopted, with the help of another.  Small, tiny acts of kindness. Of course, stray dogs and a cat are little baby step actions of kindness and compassion.  I’m still working out how to recognize and help when it’s people that are at stake, and what I might be able to do in my own small way.

It’s something that I have had to figure out slowly, that line between fear and action, in helping and not getting in over your head. It’s something that has to be negotiated each time the opportunity to act is recognized, sometimes lightning fast.  But I think that is where the possibilities in life are: in the negotiation we do each day, on the edge of action and the precipice of hope.  And so long as I can negotiate that line and take action, however small, then I feel I’m on the right track.

“The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.” Howard Zinn

Your experiences and insights welcome in the comments below.

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