A year into the Pandemic, Rachel Lloyd (Class of 2020) reflects on the coming of spring. This piece is a sequel to "Less Pomp, More Circumstance" (published here last June), which details Rachel's experience of having a driveway graduation.
Odilon Redon, The Chariot of Apollo (series)
Read “Less Pomp, More Circumstance” here.
A year later, my mother still plants tomatoes. But this year she’s more ambitious than ever. She wants raised beds in the back yard.
We have one bed in the front where we have always planted our tomatoes in the past, but this year she sees something we don’t. Looking out back, I see a sloping uneven plot, spikes of grass and fallen sticks and branches that blur into a woolly and wild wood. My grandmother sees a project that will be left unfinished, a distraction from her work; my step-dad sees a price tag and trips to the hardware store. But my mother sees a horseshoe shaped curve of raised beds, plumb full of produce, the drama of planted rhubarb, string beans hung from their stalk, dripping like crescent moons. Mostly she sees all kinds of tomato plants.
She is our idea guy. She has been all quarantine. While the rest of us emptied out, she had ideas for birthdays, the basement, new blinds, for cultivating community and virtual church and decorating the Christmas tree and celebrating the little things. It seems she won’t stop. A year of this hasn’t finished her. We look forward to more. We know we’ll need it. So, we encourage the beds. The tragedy is that they probably won’t be finished in time to plant this summer’s fruits. That will have to come next year.
But she hopes to make it in time. We have suffered enough through mealy tomatoes all winter. We ignored Joshua McFadden’s final warning: “P.S. Don’t buy tomatoes in winter. Love, Joshua.” We bought them anyway. Now it’s almost April, and with weeks still to go, we crave the angled shadows of tomato leaves in the sun, the lingering smell on our fingers after a harvest.
By February I had forgotten summer, but by early March I am beginning to remember spring. Memory alights one morning. A certain light tumbles through the skylight above my bed onto a spiderweb spun in the corner. The light has a quality of warmth and orange-ness. I cannot mistake this for the white winter sun. This is new. Apollo’s chariot has been freshly polished.
But for that month of pure winter my instinct to hibernate was strong. Now my instincts are changing. I have taken up running. The same route each day, a mask strapped to my face like a bridle. I am getting acne in strange places – the bridge of my nose, under my chin, beside my ears, at the hinge of my jaw, under my eyes.
This year, I am more ambitious too. I am cooking with the seasons. I am tasting the passage of time. By now I am missing the crisp citrus salad I made for Christmas brunch: bright supremed oranges and pink grapefruit with ribbons of sliced fennel. I am frantically pickling my radicchio before it falls out of season and the whole crop turns toward bitterness. I try to capture it out of time. I am excited for tomatoes. There is a recipe for Cherry Tomato Ragout with Polenta that I found in February. Too early for tomatoes, I thought. I made it anyway, and I was right.
I wonder about the first dish I’ll make for my family when we can gather again. I wonder which flavors will be fresh that day, which fruits heaviest in their skin. I try to plan ahead, but I realized in December, working hopefully on an appetizer recipe for scallops with an orange pomegranate glaze, that I will have to see what that season holds. Like so much now, I will still have to wait.
I wonder how to feel a thing like purgatory, how to tick out a time so out of time, and where to find the patience to wait out this last stretch, and if it is the last at all. I wonder how to bring myself to tears when finally, in an act of immeasurable human mercy and ingenuity and love, I’m stabbed in the arm and released like a branded foal, vaccine card and all.
I wonder how I’ll ever miss everyone, how I’ll mourn a number so large, if I’ll ever have enough time, though time is all I have now, all I have had for what feels like forever or maybe just a minute. I dream of blurry faces that look like everyone. Usually, we are having coffee and I apologize for forgetting their name. They speak my name so clearly I feel like I am being called up for execution. We drink our coffee as a wind screeches by and then I am waiting for a train. The blurry-faced friend-o-mine is across the tracks on the opposite platform. I know somehow that is the wrong train, that they need to be over here, where I am, on the train going this way. But I don’t call out. I am frozen stock still in spring air. I watch them board and manage a wave goodbye. Then I’m awake, wondering where my voice went. These are my spring-time nightmares.
Nowadays I think of Easter. I haven’t considered it much in the past. I can’t remember ever in my life being so in tune with spring. My step-sister made a poster for an art campaign to encourage people to get vaccinated. It features a syringe inside a bouquet of tulips. It reads hope is here. So, of course, I think about new beginnings and I plan a roast for Easter Sunday. I am waiting for what Annie Dillard calls “the real hot stuff […] the mind-melting weeding weather.” I dress aspirationally on cold days. Recently, I ate a peach half sweet. I can taste summer coming.
Anna Reishus, Hope is Here
One day, I look out and I see what my mother can, and the longing is so strong my mouth is sweetened with it. Annie Dillard writes, “we are raising tomatoes when we should be raising Cain or Lazarus.” The tomatoes have been dead for some time now, possibly four days possibly a lifetime. I think we should start by building the beds. Then, if we bury the seeds, they may one day rise.
With the bitter cold of February expunged, Apollo stands alert at the reins and I am straining at the gate, huffing and stomping my hooves. I need to run. I look around at my brothers, harnessed and strapped in. They are rearing and ready. They bray and kick at the clouds like dirt. The sky ahead is domed and still dark. There is a snap that rolls across my hide to the hinge of my jaw. We’re off before I know what’s happened.