a mythos, squared


I haven’t thought a lot about the word “mythos” lately. Why would I? We are living through a time that we have a word for, “pandemic”, but what it’s doing to our sense of safety, of community, of connection to those we love, well, that will have to be figured out in some meaningful way.

But yesterday and today we were working (slowly) on the greenhouse we are making, late in our lives, with the hope that we will be able to overwinter some of the tender plants that currently fill the pretty sunroom we built 30 years ago off our bedroom and where we will be able to extend the already generous growing season here on the west coast. In a way it’s too late. But in another way it’s a project we can work at and hang onto the scrap of hope that I feel when I think of it completed on the little rise of moss behind our house. For most of the first year of this pandemic, I’ve been able to sustain a sense of optimism about how the virus will be contained, understood, and that we will all be vaccinated, given new courage to enter the world that’s been beyond us for months, the world where we eat with people, embrace our friends and family members, travel to see places and people, visit the houses of those we are connected to. During the period of intense activity devoted to John’s recovery from bilateral hip replacement surgery and the injury sustained during that process, I didn’t have time to think too deeply about the future because the present took every ounce of energy I had. Now it seems impossible to me that I actually felt energetic because I’ve lost that source of optimism that nourished the daily work. Maybe I haven’t truly lost it but it’s very hard to locate these days.

But mythos? As I was getting bolts and washers ready for John to secure into the metal base of the greenhouse to fasten it to the wood frame we constructed, I saw the instructions for the kit we are using. We ordered our greenhouse from Palram and the one that suited us best was the Mythos. I’d forgotten it was called that. It’s simple, a 6 foot by 10 foot structure, with twin walls, UV protected. We made a floor of concrete pavers set into sand and there’s a border on two sides which we’ll cobble with beach stones. So it’s the Mythos, rising from the base, slowly, because we’re no longer young, and just maybe I felt a little rush of hope as John put in the first bolt and we held a measuring tape to both diagonals to make sure the structure will be square.

μῦθος, mythos: A story or set of stories relevant to or having a significant truth or meaning for a particular culture, religion, society, or other group. A tale, story, or narrative, usually verbally transmitted, or otherwise recorded into the written form from an alleged secondary source.

Our story is an old one. We wanted to make a home for ourselves. We raised our children. We wrote our books. We grew apples and kale and small French fingerling potatoes, their creamy flesh veined with pink. We had three dogs, now none. 30 years ago, even 20, when there was still time for it to make a difference, we’d have built a greenhouse ourselves, with wood and old windows. Maybe mixed cement in the red wheelbarrow you can see in the top photograph–it was used for mixing all the concrete for the footings of our house– and made a solid foundation. Now we are following the instructions to build a Mythos from a kit, opening the little bags of bolts and attachments, squaring the corners because we know how to do that.

I have three olive trees in pots waiting for the greenhouse to be ready. One of them is an Arbequina I bought last year and two are unknowns, tags lost on the half-price table where I found them in a local store. Symbols of peace and friendship, sacred to Athena, they are long-lived, even mythic. Remember George Seferis’s beautiful “Mythistorema”?

The olive trees with the wrinkles of our fathers
the rocks with the wisdom of our fathers
and our brother’s blood alive on the earth
were a vital joy, a rich pattern
for the souls who knew their prayer.
Let them be that. Let them grow as we age, let them ask us to say a prayer for the millions dead, widowed, orphaned, and let the Mythos shelter them on cold winter nights. Let the bolts we are sinking hold, let the moss repair itself, let the tree frogs find the olive trees, the snakes discover the warm of sunlight on concrete pavers, and let us all feel the beginnings of hope again.
mythos squared

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