Most of the month, I was gone. I was invited to teach at Saginaw Valley State University by Arra Lynn Ross, and because of the timing of that invitation I was able to attend AWP in Minneapolis (and see my family, briefly, around the edges of the conference).
AWP and the teaching I was able to do while in the US are their own things and I want to find time to write about them independent of this post, which serves as a reminder for my future self of what this space looked like during this ‘cruelest’ month, which in fact has not been a cruel one for me this year. But being there allowed me to return to Belgium buoyed by the reminder of why and how writing, writing in education, and the company of others who make texts as a major way of being in the world is important to me.
While I was gone, the trees came into flower. (The temperatures here were in the 20s, Celsius. In Minneapolis, the first two days of AWP, it snowed.) This is the peach (‘Reine des vergers’), which is an old hardy peach variety and which is supposed to be good here as long as it’s planted with a wall behind it and with a southern exposure. It has both (and whoever stays in room 3 this summer will have a view of it). The peach flowers were almost all dry by the time I got back to Belgium, but then the plum, cherry, and apple began to bloom.
Also in bloom: many varieties of daffodil/narcissus (I have never been sure of the distinction. Anyone?), hyacinths (both grape and ordinary), scilla, and fritillary lilies. The lilacs are not yet in flower but are full of buds. We bought another tiny lilac at a plantenbeurs (community plant sale) this weekend and it, too, has buds. I picked pale lilacs from a bush by the side of the road; protected from the wind, between buildings, it was already covered in flowers.
They are just plain jolly and having them in the yard reminds me of living in Nottingham (where there are lots and lots of naturalized and planted daffodils, bunches of which sometimes ahem made it home with me).
The garlic planted in November is high. The garlic planted in March is six inches tall. I planted zinnia seeds and onions around the edges of the raised beds. We reorganized and made pretty our private living area, suddenly aware of how soon people will be in this space. I sewed a curtain out of fabrics Amisha sent me. We visited good friends in Nottingham for a weekend right after I arrived from the US, and somehow I didn’t even feel my jet-lag (except for in the car on the way over). In the meadows I have observed the following: cosmos sprouts, calendula sprouts, anemones (red and blue), California poppy plants (no flowers yet), forget-me-nots in flower, dandelions, huge thistles. One nettle, which is amazing as they are everywhere here.
The muscaria are on their way out, but I noticed today that several are sending up a second round of flowers. April is a month for regrouping: washing the stones/tiles outside, moving the sheep around so they have enough grass, figuring out what needs to get done. The year is undeniably moving forward at this point, and everything just tumbles into the big room of Get Going.
Scilla, my favorite. I also love the fritillaries but only two came up.
All the seeds we started in March are now plants. Lots of these went to people on Freecycle and to friends; there were just too many (fewer failed than we expected). A good lesson for next year, or really for this summer, as we’ll continue to plant things like leafy greens, brassicas, radishes, etc., for rolling harvests. Four kale plants and two red kale plants waiting to go into the beds. We are thinking of getting rid of our artichokes, which are beautiful but which produce very little food (while taking up a good deal of space).
Our borrowed sheep (likely around til May) will happily eat all the dandelions we can pull and toss over the fence. The ponies escaped the other day when we were moving them from one place to another, and had a good old frisk, stopping (and refusing to budge) once they figured out the whole lawn out here is a salad bar. They are great weeders, pulling the dandelions out by the root if they can, and munching with gusto.
The fruit cage exists, almost: it has poles and a floor made of almost 8″ of wood shavings (to keep the nettles down). The currant bushes are in flower and full leaf; the raspberry bushes all appear to have survived transplanting and winter, and are busily opening up their red-tinged leaves.
The pheasant is still in town. The female is nesting near our gate, in a perfectly hidden and camouflaged spot. I hope we get to see the babies. Yesterday and today we noticed that the male has an injured right leg; he is not using it at all (the photo was taken before this). This isn’t the first time this has happened, but it always makes me a little worried. I put a lot of grain on the ground for him.
Unbelievably, teaching is almost over for the year. I have loved working with the students here, even as adapting to a new system, new hierarchies, new invisible laws, and new colleagues has been a challenge. I have felt so energized and excited to be talking about books, ideas, poems, pictures, and the connections all of these have to each other and to histories social, national, transnational, colonial/post-colonial, artistic, and personal. And it bears saying again—I have really had a great group of students. I’m sorry that my contract is ending after the summer (although I am, ungratefully, perhaps, a little tired of my commute at the moment).
Gérard (a.k.a. Monsieur Gérard, Lardybard, the Mooncat) is not doing well. At the beginning of the month he was ok but we can tell he has aged a lot this winter. He is 15 or 16 years old. In the last week he has really slowed down, and his superpowers (high jumping—he used to be able to jump from the floor to a hole in the ceiling in the outbuilding, and he would sleep there) are dwindling. He has been super affectionate over the past month or two, always wanting to sit near us when we are working (inside or out), and jumping into our laps whenever he can.
Forsaking any pipe dreams of an Edwardian wooden greenhouse (like Donatella’s), Jonathan and I designed, and he built with the help of his uncle, a greenhouse made of flexible piping, iron rods, wood, and agricultural/greenhouse plastic sheeting. Jonathan also built the coldframe, out of old bricks and a window. An anonymous mole built the molehills in the foreground. The doors were hung by Joren and Jonathan. The window at the back came from our local Ecoshop. The tomatoes grew from seed.
Even since these photos were taken, things have changed. There are so many more wildflowers (‘weeds’?) growing in the meadows, which are waiting to be weeded and tilled. We bought plants at the plantenbeurs and added them to the ‘English’ garden in front of the windows, with the aim of making that a more year-round thing, or at least of adding some more permanent structure to it. I stripped thousands of aphids off of our rosebushes by hand, using neem oil and vinegar and hoping it would work. Colonies of ants continued to move their white larvae around under the ground, and the clouds blew in and out of the window’s view on the landscape. The trees are much greener than they were even a week ago, and the water in the pond is gone (no real rain since March). We are waiting for the screen windows to be repaired, and that will, I think, be just in time, as summer is much closer than it feels.
The dark, on days when the sky is clear, doesn’t truly set in until ater 9 p.m.