A recent Facebook memory helped me put this summer into perspective. Five Augusts ago, I was preparing for school as usual but also making sure I squeezed every last drop of fun out of that summer. In my post, I enumerated 18 morning workouts with my November Project friends, three 5Ks, one duathlon, my first trail half marathon at Devil’s Lake and one disappointingly cold and stormy Underwear Bike Ride. I served as an impromptu emergency taxi during the bus workers’ strike and somehow agreed to babysit my friend’s precocious 3-year-old at the Lincoln Park Zoo. Madison with friends and Pine Lake with the family. Lots of bike rides in between. But nothing compared to eight glorious days of pura vida in Costa Rica with my husband and sister, snorkeling, rappelling, hiking. And then there was this summer: the summer of NO.
No Jane’s Walk MKE. No Pride Fest. No Summerfest. No Bastille Days. No block parties. No running races or underwear-clad rides or sweaty-hug workouts in the mornings. No late summer night dancing at bars. No travels, not even up north. No weekly field trips with teens and children around Milwaukee and Chicago. And this is just my list. We all have a litany of “no”s of our own.
But despite this list of sighs, I keep telling myself and others that this has been one of my favorite summers – which usually gets me a raised eyebrow. Yes, my summer wasn’t as jam-packed with activities like it has been in the past, but it has been an active summer abundant with little joys and gentle lessons.
I spent every Tuesday and Thursday weeding, planting, watering, staking, pruning and transplanting with ten teens at two garden sites, growing almost 100 tomato plants, among dozens of other vegetables and herbs. Each day, I’d come home for lunch, soaked with sweat and caked with dirt, shoes full of wood chips, then return for the afternoon.
I watched for the first time red onions grow, tender green stalks for weeks then reddish-white bulbs finally pushing through the dirt.
I winced at sour cucamelons, which look like miniature watermelons and taste like cucumbers, and popped spicy nasturtium flowers into my mouth as a dozen adventurous children did the same.
I held club-like zucchinis aloft as passersby gazed in wonder, then lifted them over the fence with handfuls of fresh herbs, impromptu gifts to strangers.
I picked figs in a greenhouse and tore into their seedy red flesh and watched children enthralled by eggplants, collards and jalapenos, shouting out in innocent inquiry, “Mr. D, did you grow bananas, too?”
I grew new lettuces from the hearts of store-bought lettuces and learned how to prune tomatoes to give them sunlight and air, which made a huge difference with my tomatoes at home.
I ran with fourteen baby goats along Lincoln Creek and drove thirty miles each time to deliver ingredients to teens for their online cooking classes (who knew that their favorite, by far, would be the minestrone?).
When I wasn’t with the teens at the gardens, I was there on my own, tending and mending, sweating in silent reverie.
I danced in the same greenhouse as the one with the figs, this time at night at a twelve-hour-long music festival, the pulse of EDM and turntable lights bouncing off towering hemp plants and into my feet.
I learned more about the symbiotic environment of aquaponics systems and witnessed the symbiotic relationship between an urban farm and its neighborhood.
I rediscovered my love of biking – solo, with my husband or a friend, and with thousands of others on two relaxing Black is Beautiful rides designed to give Black protesters a breather.
On these rides and a dozen other peaceful protest marches, I discovered a voice I thought I’d never had. What on previous protests had been a weak, hesitant chant instead barreled out of my masked mouth with sadness and anger. No justice, no peace!
During some marches, I knelt in the middle of the street for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, the asphalt stinging my bare knees. This month, I witnessed guns being beaten into garden tools.
On one of these summer days, I walked slowly with the goat herder, valuing that slowness, and listened as he told me a story about aphids. A woman asked a farmer why, of the ten fruit trees on her property, only one was covered in aphids. The farmer asked her whether there had been an outhouse on the property at some point. She shook her head, but her husband, embarrassedly, pointed out that he had been peeing on that particular tree trunk for years, thereby creating a nitrogen-rich environment for the aphids. Shortly after, she wondered why there were so many ants on that tree. The farmer told her that the ants were attracted to the aphids, who were secreting the sweet honeydew they liked to drink. In return for the honeydew, the ants would herd the aphids and protect them from predators.
“There’s always a reason why something is the way it is,” the goat herder told me.
I know why the summer has been the way it has been, full of “No.” But why has it been one of my favorites?
It’s because I’ve said “Yes” to little joys and gentle lessons, said “Yes” to things that really matter. Soil, solidarity and symbiosis. Patience, growing and listening. Streets, feet and shouting.
And figs, zucchini and baby goats. My list of the Yes goes on and on.