Carted buckets of water from flooded irrigation ditches all around the bone-dry garden. My neighbour T helps me do this, since he planted many of the bushes and small trees I am watering. He is an African Johnny Appleseed who likes to propagate his favourite tree and shrubs all over the valley. Each time I have been away, I come back and there is a little English hawthorn or Chinese guava or gingko tree that has sprouted up out of nowhere. My style in planting is waterwise, drought-resistant and indigenous. T likes delicate foreign plants that guzzle water. We bicker away over spilling buckets of water in our shared garden like a married couple.
Renate Adler in Speedboat, a novel I read and admired in the 1970s, especially aphoristic smacks like this one: “Writers drink. Writers rant. Writers phone. Writers sleep. I have met very few writers who write at all.”
Liminal spaces. We don’t need ritual or religion or high powers until we are there teetering on the threshhold and clutching at the empty air. I read somewhere that after the Japanese tsunami and earthquakes two years ago, thousands of people crowded into Shinto temples and Buddhist sanghas and disused Baptist missionary churches, looking for something — invisible, ineffable — that might help in a time of devastating loss ( much as happened in New York after 9/11). We (those left behind, those who survive) need gestures and ceremonies to carry us through the initial stages of mourning, pieces of music chosen with care, candles lit, flowers arranged on an altar or at a graveside, words that have been used to comfort the shocked or bereaved since the beginning of time. We then pack away the clothes that will not be worn again, we look at old photographs and read letters and diaries as if they hold a new and burning significance. We need some final blessing or message. John Jeremiah Sullivan turned to his father’s old diaries recording efforts to give up smoking after his father’s sudden death:
How badly he wanted to change. Worse than any of us could have wanted that for him. (There was a notecard on the table by the bed, written when he was going to a support group: “Reasons to quit: 1. It worries my children.”) I flipped through one of the notebooks. He was writing about how embarrassed he was every morning when he would start to cough and could not stop, and he knew the neighbours could hear him through the thin walls. Turning the page, I found a one-sentence paragraph, set off by itself. When I read it, I knew that I would never look at the journals again. “If I should not wake up tomorrow,” he had written, “know that my love is timeless and fond.”