When I came up from the garden a few minutes ago, intending to sit in the greenhouse for a few minutes, I found that John got there first. He was in the blue chair by the door, smiling. It’s quite cool here today, though there was sun earlier, nothing like the summery weather last week, and when I went out to open the vent and door after lunch, it was 32 degrees inside the closed greenhouse. A few minutes ago? 22. The fluctuations are so interesting. It’s often 10 first thing in the morning and it’s been as warm as high 40s. The plants are thriving. I have a tub of water in one corner and I like walking around to mist or water the flats of seedlings, the pots of salad greens, the beans.
Anyway, he’d got there first. Why didn’t we build this years ago, he wondered. We’d often talked about a greenhouse but somehow time was consumed by other work. Or travel. Or just the dailiness that was different from the dailiness now. (I think our house was cleaner when we knew people would be coming for meals or to stay for a few days.) Why didn’t we. I thought about it for a minute or two and replied, We didn’t need it then. He looked quizzical. But what I meant was, I at least didn’t need something to devote myself to quite so strenuously. We were seeing our friends regularly, we were flying to Europe for work and/or pleasure (and honestly, the work part was pure pleasure too), to the cities where our children live. We were saying one day, Let’s do a little roadtrip, and a day later we were driving to Lillooet just for the pleasure of the Fraser River at that place, or to the Nicola Valley for its memories and the scent of sage, or to Grand Forks for borscht, taking the Bridesville-Rock Creek crescent this time of year for the wildflowers and yellow-headed blackbirds on a particular pond. There was no fear of this virus or any other one.
This year I felt sort of desperate. After I finished the revisions for Blue Portugal in March, I was sad for all the things I loved and which seemed so remote from me. Even the grandparents I wrote about, long dead, seemed even farther away in time and place. While I was working on the essays, I could look forward every morning to spending time in Ukraine, the Czech Republic, and other places where some of my ancestors lived. I was on and in the rivers I’ve always been drawn to. I was walking with my children in their cities or here. Most days I could remind myself of how lucky I am in the larger scheme of things and I know this, I do. But knowing isn’t always a solace.
Yesterday I had my first vaccination, something I’ve looked forward to for ages, waiting for my age group to be eligible. I wore a dress, tights, all my silver and turquoise bracelets (there are many!), and I took a box of Ferrero Rocher chocolates to give to the woman who injected me. She was surprised and I saw tears briefly well up in her eyes. After I received my shot, I sat in the row of spaced chairs set around the perimeter of the hall where we were asked to wait for 15 minutes to ensure we weren’t going to have a reaction to the vaccine. People were sitting quietly. I was too but inside I was euphoric. It felt like something was actually shifting. I know of course that this isn’t the end of the virus and that we will never return to what we knew as normal. I suspect I will never walk through an airport again without wearing a mask. Will never feel comfortable in a market aisle with other people. But as I sat in the chair, I was elated. It’s the way I feel when I am in my little greenhouse among the plants. There’s hope in vaccinations and hope in green seedlings.
Late morning our Edmonton grandson phoned for a story. His grandfather read him Imagine A Night, the most stunning book about imagination and the kind of magic ordinary life can aspire to. Henry’s response was to talk about gravity and black holes. He’s 4. His father is a mathematician and his mum, a physicist, so perhaps we shouldn’t have been surprised, but it was so lovely to hear him find the words to explain gravity (in response to one of the illustrations) and then to riff on space, black holes, and how his favourite hockey team is the Winnipeg Jets because of their symbol. I don’t think symbol was a word I knew at 4. After lunch, his 5 year old cousin in Ottawa called for a story too. We’ve been reading Iron Hans and so we continued with that and he very adroitly recounted the story so far when I asked him where we’d left off. His grandad asked him what he knew about gravity and wow, he had the whole concept as clear in his mind as anything. And infinity (because his dad had just given him a badge with the infinity symbol on it) — he told us about numbers and lines without beginnings or ends and all about the number googol: a one with a hundred zeros after it, named by the 9 year old nephew of an American mathematician. He was so excited to tell us about this number and how it was almost infinite.
In the greenhouse there is no virus. There is no danger. In my mind as I moved a tray of peas out to harden off, I was thinking of two small boys held to earth by its own dependable pull, held to us by something as mysterious, and how much I hope they can visit this summer for more discussions about timely subjects, stars, little frogs, the hidden places where the lizards live under the rocks, and how floating in a lake might be the same as, or different from, floating in space.