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April

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).

April at Dickinson House

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.

April at Dickinson House

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.

April at Dickinson HouseAlso 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.

April at Dickinson House

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).

April at Dickinson House

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.

April at Dickinson House

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.

April at Dickinson House

Scilla, my favorite. I also love the fritillaries but only two came up.

April at Dickinson House

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).

April at Dickinson House

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.

April at Dickinson House

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.

April at Dickinson House

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.

April at Dickinson House

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).

April at Dickinson House

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.

April at Dickinson House

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.

April at Dickinson House

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.

April at Dickinson House

The dark, on days when the sky is clear, doesn’t truly set in until ater 9 p.m.

April at Dickinson House

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March

Intermediate month. I have had much more energy because of the longer days (we go to summer time on the 29th, but already have +4 hours of daylight since the winter solstice). Planted seeds and transplanted seedlings. Polytunnel frame up. New printer bought; the eight-year-old workhorse finally gave up. Outbuilding cleared and cleaned (round one, surely more to come), in preparation for artists to use while in residence. But we are between things here: plans set (the house is booked from June to November) but not happening yet.

March 2015

Forsythia has emerged over the past week. First just the intimation of yellow on the branches; now fully out. I associate it with the architecture department at the U of M, which was the first place I found (and stole) it.

March 2015

The pheasant is here daily. I think he would come inside if we left the door open. He sits on the ledge for hours (he is there as I type this) but leaves if we go outside. In the mornings sometimes he comes and knocks on the bedroom window.

March 2015

Those tomatoes. Jonathan was enthusiastic and sowed many more than we will be able to fit in the polytunnel. But that’s ok: we can give them away. (If you are reading this, and are in Belgium, and want some tomato plants, let me know.) When I water them, they smell like summer. It’s not too warm yet (8-10° C) but when the sun is out it is more than pleasant to work outside.

March 2015

The peach tree has buds. I realized recently how little I send writing out. I often feel so far from a writing community and so unsure of the things I am working on that sending out falls lower and lower on the list of things to do. And then I observe my friends and peers publishing everywhere (or just talking about sending out, which is, after all, what one has to do if one is going to be published) and I feel so bewildered. I have no idea, at the moment, where to start. I feel I’ve built an iceberg of stuff (I have: I have dozens of essays and stories, probably several hundred poems) that is now trailing along behind me in the ocean. In the fall, I hardly wrote (a few poems, not much else) because of teaching. Winter felt very dormant, but since the light began coming back I have been writing a great deal again. But what to do with it all?

March 2015

Muscaria brought with us when we moved from England. The more traditional purpley blue. I also bought these ‘Cupido‘ variety (below) from Peter Nyssen. They are beginning to come up around the tree where we planted them, a promising cerulean.

March 2015

I’m listening to Sufjan Stevens’ new album Carrie & Lowell on repeat today. I think he has hit it out of the park with this one. Narrative and image. It speaks to much I have been thinking about over the past year: family and faith, ellipsis, death, resonance, melody. It’s also just plain beautiful to listen to. It should be available via NPR First Listen (linked above) for a week or so.
March 2015

The garlic planted in November is high, and the ones planted in late February are coming up. Joe’s boxes are holding up beautifully. We cleaned out the garage, partly. It’s all ongoing and labor-intensive. Actually, it feels like the work here will never end. We’ve had some good company for some of it, which makes it go faster and easier, and gives me a reason to make donuts and chocolate cake. I’ve found a way to make a perfect ‘birthday cake’-style chocolate cake, with a chocolate glaze. I will write that up one of these days. I want to attempt a marshmallow frosting next, but suspect that needs time and a consuming public.

March 2015

New leaves coming on the hydrangea. Last summer we tried pouring all our coffee grounds on them to change the color of the flowers from pinkish to blue, but it didn’t work. Maybe this variety aren’t susceptible to acidic soil? Or does anyone have a tip?

March 2015

Scilla, my favorite, favorite spring flower. We planted 100 bulbs. I think three have bloomed so far. Hoping for more. Will plant more this fall, too. These are also supposed to naturalize, so maybe one day this side of the yard (under the oak and chestnut trees) will be carpeted in scilla.

March 2015

The ponies still have their winter coats. They don’t ever seem to mind the rain (or snow); they just stand out in it. They’ve moved and are now in the front, where there are also two visiting sheep. At first the white pony bullied the sheep a bit but things seem calmer now. Before the ponies begin shedding I want to cut their manes and tails and make those paintbrushes I’ve been talking about for months.

March 2015

Coming to see if I have food. Sorry, girls.

March 2015

And running away after a look from the white pony. Okay, maybe not all is utopian among the four-legged mammals here. (Nor among the two-legged, just so we’re clear: it might look like an idyll, but there is garbage to take out and there are dishes to do and we have arguments and anxieties and no idea what we’re doing with all of this, most of the time, just learning and paying attention and hoping we’re doing it right.)

March 2015

Currant and raspberry bushes have new growth. Maytime work includes building a fruit cage. I hope we can get a lot of berries and make some jam/jelly. Also looking forward to multiple days canning tomatoes. I hope I hope.

March 2015

The willows still look very sad after their seven-year trim. Another thing to hope for: that they grow back for this summer. They should, says the arborist.

March 2015

Dark blue delphinium, bought in Ghent to remind me of Beeston, is coming back, too. Ashes for nourishment. Planted a peony corm in the garden in front of the house and crocosmia next to the door. Crocosmia remind me of Beeston, too, and peonies remind me of home and the U of M again. I have been working on an essay (loosely taking its form from Mary Ruefle’s “I Remember, I Remember”) about flowers and memory, and just here have found three more to write about.

Article

and your very flesh shall be a great poem

Delaware and Philadelphia | Her Book tour 2013 | August“This is what you shall do: love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labour to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence towards the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown, or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons, and with the young, and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school, or church, or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul; and your very flesh shall be a great poem, and have the richest fluency, not only in its words, but in the silent lines of its lips and face, and between the lashes of your eyes, and in every motion and joint of your body.”

— Walt Whitman, 1855 Preface to Leaves of Grass

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winter-spring

winter turning to spring at Dickinson House

We wanted to find hellebores for you for our class present, she said. But there weren’t any in the shops then. So here is one from my garden. This is how February began: with the arrival of winter flowers in a pot. We had a big fire in the fireplace that day. Earlier that week it had snown and the arborist had come to cut the knotwilgen. He stood in the trees and the branches fell around them, and at the end of the day it looked like straight-line winds had come through. Apparently the trees will regrow by summer already, so it won’t look so bare.

winter turning to spring at Dickinson House

Now we are busy with cleaning up the branches, chopping the large pieces into logs for the fire after they cure. The small branches will be kindling or mulch. Jonathan also trimmed the shrubs around the perimeter of the land, and the trimmings will be mulch, too.

winter turning to spring at Dickinson House

One Saturday, he built this raised bed. We will plant squashes and pumpkins in it and let them run around. It has sun all day long. Next to it is an apple tree that Harumi and Jon helped us plant in November, and a pile of logs waiting to be split and stacked.

winter turning to spring at Dickinson House

There is a male pheasant here who has gotten very comfortable with us. He walks up and sits by the window for long periods, or even comes over to see what’s going on when we work outside. No pictures here, but it is really a pleasure to get to see him all the time. I came across the female once when I was walking through the meadows, and she was not happy about that. So I’ve been staying out of them and hoping that they will nest here (but maybe not in the meadows, which have to be cleared and planted soon).

winter turning to spring at Dickinson House

The ponies are out of the paddock, eating the grass, which is starting to grow. The winter was colder here this year than last (a good number of days with hard freezes; a few days with snow, although never with significant accumulation), but it’s still a maritime-ish climate.

spring is coming (?)

Also starting to grow: snowdrops (first one spotted in early February), other bulbs (volunteer tulips; daffodils planted by Jon and others by us; scilla). A few daffodils are quite high already, but most are just an inch or two out of the ground. When I was first in England I was so amazed by the swathes of daffodils, snowdrops, and other bulbs that bloomed in late February/into March. I think I will always associate these plants with living there, and in particular with walking from Albion House along the canal to Sainsbury’s during the first visit I made there.

winter turning to spring at Dickinson House

Some of the snowdrops have a green mark on their interior petals.

winter turning to spring at Dickinson House

Today I dragged brush into piles and then began outlining the flower garden in front of the house with old bricks taken from Jonathan’s maternal grandparents’ farm. It felt so good to move and be outside. The sun was truly warm. We will build some coldframes soon with more bricks. We already began growing tomato, pepper, and cauliflower plants, and the tiny sprouts are in black boxes in the kitchen (for now). March plans also include a hoop house.

winter turning to spring at Dickinson House

Garlic planted in November is coming up now. Fast. Like the tomato sprouts, it seems like you can see it grow. I will plant more soon, so that it matures after the original planting. This weekend we will get chicken wire and build a fence around the place with the raised beds that Joe built. The cats discovered one bed which had no winter plantings and used it as a litter box, dammit. So that will have to be cleaned out, and then we will hope that the wire keeps the cats away.

winter turning to spring at Dickinson House

Jonathan’s aunt gave us artichoke plants and current and raspberry bushes. I forgot to trim these back. They remind me of William Morris textiles.

winter turning to spring at Dickinson House

Cherry tree and neighbors’ barn. A lot of all this is trusting things will happen if you set them in motion. Like planting bulbs, garlic, fruit trees, and berry bushes in November. Just wait and see. (Or like deciding to open a writers’/artists’ residency. And then doing the work, getting the word out, and waiting to see if anyone will show up.) I hope we will have a few blossoms on the fruit trees this spring, although maybe not because they were moved in the fall. But maybe.

winter turning to spring at Dickinson House

Seeing this, and the green at the base of the Japanese anemones and of the delphiniums, it becomes possible to believe that last summer was real, and that it will happen again.

winter turning to spring at Dickinson House