February 10, 2011

I grew up in Chicago, IL (right about here). my siblings and i had the run of the neighborhood. we ran through alleys, hopped fences, played ghosts in the graveyard, walked to the bakery for free cookies (being a kid was great!), and panhandled for comic book money on occasion (“ma’am, we need to call our mother but we’ve lost our quarter! we’re gonna be in a lot of trouble…”). for years my parents had no car, and we would walk to get groceries, walk to go to the library, walk to go catch a train somewhere farther (like here, my absolute favorite store as a kid!)… we’d often walk just to give my mother some time alone in the house (my dad called this going on a “death march,” which is an exaggeration for a lot of reasons, chief among them in my child’s mind being that we loved going on them and that we received cheap frozen treats from a dairy queen two and a half miles from home before turning around and marching back home rejuvenated by sugar).

i watched Sesame Street in the 80s, before Elmo showed kids everywhere that staying in your “world”/room all day interacting with a TV and a computer was way better than experiencing a vibrant urban working class neighborhood.

when i was 12, my parents moved to a suburb of chicago and my ability to get myself somewhere i might actually feel like being in the company of someone i might actually feel able to enjoy was severely curtailed.

when i decided (with my partner at the time) to have a baby at age 18 (we didn’t pull it off until i was 19), i wanted to live somewhere where we could walk  places (i didn’t have a driver’s license, and actually managed to avoid learning to drive while living in California until i was almost 24). we chose Portland, OR, and everything was great except that it was a bit gloomy and transmisogyny was rampant throughout the queer community (umm, maybe i should say “is?”) and my partner wanted to move closer to her family, so we moved just a bit south of San Francisco.

after my first child was born, i really discovered how interesting, beautiful, and fun both wild and cultivated open spaces were. we spent time up in Mendocino County where my then-partner is from doing things like this:

we went on hikes and blew the seeds of invasive, non-native plants everywhere (oops):

we spent time at creeks in nearby towns (Los Altos, for one) that were clean enough to play in (ahem, Portland):

and we started a big, beautiful balcony garden, still my favorite garden ever:

i imagined living in a place where we could afford to have a yard, and dreamed of all the things we would grow and how much strawberry juice would stain our faces and how many butterflies and bees would come visit us (and, of course, aphids and cabbage moths). i also longed for a bigger city, where (i imagined) seeing queer and trans friends would become such a regular occurrence that i would grow weary of having that in common with people instead of feeling like the very, very, very weird mama (who was nonetheless well-liked and well-treated). perhaps i thought things might be a bit like this moment during rio’s first time at the san francisco dyke march, when we turned around to see so many beautiful people in (possibly temporary) solidarity with each other (even i, as a bitter trans lady revolutionary, could appreciate this):

so, we moved to oakland, where we didn’t get the yard but we did have another balcony garden:

we met one of our closest mama-and-kid-tag-team friends on the street in Oakland, following her for half a block and then excusing ourselves and saying “umm, we just thought we might have some things in common? maybe we should be friends?” and so i had another queer friend who was also a parent (i have collected these friends in the past, and i am immensely grateful for every single one of them and hope to stay friends with them forever).

yet it wasn’t long before having no yard (still), having cranky, joyful-noise-averse neighbors, having to walk uphill a long way with two wiggly kids to get to a playground, and finding nothing even remotely like a replacement for our amazing, close-knit, oh-so-welcoming homeschooling community in Palo Alto grew tiresome enough that we started considering moving back. we could have our park day with other homeschoolers we knew and loved every week, we could go to our neighborhood health food store every day and talk about being posi-core with the fabulous people who worked there while they cut us up a tremendous stream of produce samples; in short, we could be at home, as we most definately had felt when we lived there, despite the lack of queer visibility and my own feeling of being out of place (a feeling i have since discovered does not go away anywhere except when i am alone with my kids in my house).

we didn’t do that. the kids and i would probably still be living there if we had, even though Portland had come to appeal to me more and more as an eventual place to live as people i had known for years through Riot Grrrl Chicago and Chicago Lesbian Avengers moved there and as i began to realize what a wealth of open space there was within and immediately around the city, and how truly walkable many of the neighborhoods were.

instead of Palo Alto or Portland, we moved to Mendocino County and lived in a beautiful little house in the woods on my former partner’s parents’ land. while there, my oldest child and i (with a lot of help from friends, most especially my kiddos’ grandfather) designed and built a chicken coop and raised a whole lot of chickens!

we  stomped in a billion puddles, dug trenches across the driveway to create lakes and moats (as well as to contribute to a huge flood that made a knee deep temporary creek through the meadow and into the woods), flew kites, played in freezing cold ocean water, looked for banana slugs and trilliums, and breathed deeply, listening for the rush of birds’ wings whenever they flew overhead (a sound i had never heard before or even once thought about, city girl that i am).

sadly, we also became lonely, as the few homeschooling families that seemed interested in friendships with us enrolled their kids in schools and queer friends from the city rarely visited. even before the rash of school enrollment began to spread, something seemed unsavory about every chance to get the kids together involving a 45 minute drive on someone’s part.

we moved again, which was a tough decision to make, reflecting on all the many people the kids had been close to in the places we had lived before, realizing we were leaving behind yet another place and yet another set of dear friends.

we ended up in Portland, OR, and walking everywhere again was wonderful, even when the “arctic blast” settled in, leaving us pulling a sled full of groceries and a toddler when shopping became a necessity. the snow was beautiful and familiar to me, magical and fresh to the kids. we were out in it as  much as we could be, although i would be lying if i didn’t admit that sometimes fingers, noses, and toes got a little cold, leading to whiny, sad meltdowns (i won’t say on whose part!). (please don’t ask how i managed to not take any pictures of us in the really deep snow… i have no excuse other than the best one: we were having too much fun playing)

i frequently miss our California friends (hi, folks!) and i also sometimes miss living with so much space (living on several acres that backs up onto a state forest is an amazing experience i’m glad we had… and i will never, ever forget the clear, starry nights!). but i also know that i’m not a farmer, and that the best thing i can do to make sure that wild and rural places exist for myself, my kids, and everyone else to enjoy (as well as for their own sake) is to not move to them. putting another house on a formerly wooded hillside in far NW Portland or breaking up a farm into 1/4 acre parcels (especially ones that are not going to be farmed, because of course we need a lot more small farms in this country), while perhaps personally gratifying to some, does nothing to ensure access to wild and rural places for all people (privatizing comes at the expense of the public) and does permanent damage to the integrity of wild places themselves.

here in the city, i’m looking forward to the slowly approaching springtime, when we can pick up this old habit of my son’s and help things grow:

One Response to “pollinate”

  1. Anna said

    Thank you for this wonderfulyumminess! I love hearing your voice 🙂

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