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Sunday, July 26, 2009

Working the Land

Once you get to a little clearing in the forest, you start cutting trees. Then you dig up the stumps and cull the boulders, rocks, and pebbles. Finally you're ready to make your garden.


I have a friend who has always been a gardener. In the early years of her marriage (husband in graduate school, two little children) they lived not in town with all the other graduate students, but on a farm. They always found some way to rent a house with enough cleared land for a farm. And my friend would grow the family's food.


Now, how did she come to know how to do this? I certainly didn't know (though, had I known her then, perhaps I would have learned).


We lived in two houses while we were in Tuscaloosa. The yard at the first house was only shade. Our lot had once been a stand of pines, and there were still pine trees everywhere. We could have sold off the timber and lived on the proceeds for months—if we had owned the property, of course.


After Baby Number 3 was born, we moved to a larger home, with a larger lot and five huge pecan trees that dominated the back yard. Since the squirrels were cannier pecan-pickers than we were, the only benefit we ever saw from those trees was using them to string clothes-hanging wires for drying the laundry. (And then there was the day when one of the trees was struck by lightening just as I was trying to unpin the sheets from the (metal) clothesline before a storm came. But that's another story.)


We did open up a little plot in the yard for tomato plants and maybe some peppers. We must have harvested something from those plants, but it couldn't have been much, because I have no memory of it. (We all see the fallacy in that reasoning, don't we? Given my memory of those days, we could have harvested bushels at a time and sold them to Del Monte and I still might have no memory of it. . . .)


My first real garden experience was with someone else's garden. Thelma, my mother-in-law at the time, was a country woman. She put in a good-sized garden every year, and she ate or put up all the food she grew. It was a huge and wonderful garden, and I, in my 23-year-old naivete, had no idea how much work her garden required.


My husband, Rolly, and I were between jobs (just home from Hawaii, not yet settled in Nashville) one summer, so he worked for his father, Morris, in the family dry-goods store. I don't know WHAT I did that summer. Did I sit around and read while Thelma worked? Sounds plausible, if embarrassing to admit.


At any rate, Thelma and Morris took a one-week vacation every year to go to Bethesda, a church camp in the east-Tennessee mountains, up near Sewanee. Our sole chore, while they were gone, was to tend the garden:  to water every day and to gather in the tomatoes as they ripened. (I think Thelma knew that it would not be in the best interests of the garden to ask me actually to tend it.)


So Rolly went to the store in Pulaski each morning, and I stayed in tiny Frankewing and played house, which probably involved a little cooking and a lot of reading. Each morning before work he would water the garden.


My job was to harvest the ripe tomatoes. The garden was about 20 by 50 feet. Tomatoes were planted in three rows, each 50 feet long. That's a lot of tomato plants. Because Rolly watered every morning, the soil between the rows was always muddy.


I would go outside every morning, stand at the head of a row, contemplate the mud, and imagine the effect it would have on my cute little sandals (or on my bare feet, if I were brave enough to squish my way through whatever bugs and worms were waiting to attack my little toe-sies).


I stood at the top of a row and peered at the tomato plants. Bending over, first to the left, then the right, I would look all the plants I could see from my position there at the top of the row. Peer. Peer. If I saw a bit of red within reach (on one of the first three plants of the row, say) I would certainly tiptoe through the mud to pluck that ripe tomato. But the rest of the row looked all green to me. I now know that any ripe fruit was, of course, hiding behind the flourishing green leaves, as tomatoes like to do. But how could I know that?


I saw no red tomatoes at all. I did wonder a bit that only the first three plants in each row were bearing ripe fruit. But I wasn't too eager to follow up on that thought, since it might have involved walking through the muddy path between the rows. The thought died on the vine, so to speak.


When Thelma and Morris returned a week later, Thelma found more than the usual number of ripe tomatoes, along with quite a few rotten or exploded tomatoes on the ground. I don't remember that she scolded me or even made any reference to my ineptitude. But she certainly never again left me alone with a garden.


Copyright 2009 Ann Tudor   

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Ann Tudor Announces Book

                 ANN TUDOR ANNOUNCES:
                 the PUBLICATION of a wonderful new book
                       and an INVITATION to purchase it
I am pleased to announce the release of HESITATING AT THE GATE: REFLECTIONS ON AGING, a collection of essays and poems on a subject dear to all our hearts: "Help! I'm entering the Land of Old!"
The wry and dry essays offer insights but no solutions. They might make you laugh. They might make you cry. They will probably make you think. The illustrations are mandalas drawn while I worked on the book.
Who will want to read these essays and poems? Anyone who has ever grown old, anyone who is currently growing older, anyone who suspects that growing older is in his/her future. This is also an ideal gift for your friends and relatives who have grown old, who are currently growing older, or who suspect . . . etc.
HESITATING AT THE GATE: REFLECTIONS ON AGING.  By  Ann Tudor. Toronto: Molten Gold (a division of Gothic Epicures), 2009. 96p. pa. ISBN 13-978-0-92000307-7.  Price: $15.00 plus $3 shipping & handling.
Ordering information: Anyone who receives this announcement can email me (
for details on how to place an order. Send a cheque to Ann Tudor and I will ship the book(s) to you. BE SURE TO INCLUDE YOUR MAILING ADDRESS.

What I need to say to bring myself to the present

Oh, and isn't THIS the right topic?

First, I must pretend it means

bringing myself more presents

'cause everyone likes presents.


I have to waste time being superficial and clever

and avoid going in for as long as I can.

Then I have to go in anyway

and answer the question.


So here's the answer:

I need to say to myself,

let go.


I need to say:

move into chaos with good grace

and see what comes from it.

Maybe nothing will come.


Are there goals?

Not yet.

Chaos is not about goals.

Chaos is about waiting.

I need to say:

Teach yourself to wait,

because if you don't

the Universe will step in

with its own version of

teaching you to wait.


What do I need to do to bring myself more present?


Go heavy.

Feel my body.

Be in my hand as I write.

Watch my fingers wiggle as they form words on the page.

And as I look at those overgrown, damaged knuckles

I realize, to my surprise,

that these are my mother's hands.


What do I need to say to bring myself more present?

Feel, I need to say,

the roots of your feet sinking slowly

into the Mother Ground.


Acknowledge these roots, I say to myself,

so you can stand firm,

sure at last that you belong

in the world.



Copyright 2009 Ann Tudor   

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Change/Don't change. Change/Don't change. Etc.

Two steps forward, one step back—

or is it the other way around?

Steps forward are hard to sustain;

after a couple of them you have to stop and get your breath.

And sometimes while you're stopped,

you forget how to make that forward motion,

so when you start again to move,

it's backward that you go.



Is this what we mean by changing? Practice the above long enough and you'll find yourself staying in exactly the same place.



"Push, pull or get out of the way" was the motto of my father's Bringhurst High School graduating class. No backward steps for that group of energetic rural Hoosiers!


The external versus the internal. The wide world exists, with its geopolitical messes, its unabashed and unrepentant and unbridled capitalism. But do we have to live in it every moment? Can it not be reconciled with (or replaced by) the world of internal vibrations, healing prayer, conscious growth? Peace?


I am so tired of reading fiction. Either it's well done—and then it's depressing that I wasn't able to write it. Or it's badly done, and it's depressing that it could find a publisher when it's so uninteresting or so badly written.


Recently I had a dream of a manuscript--but it was the wrong one. There were two camps: those who liked it as it was and those (including me) who knew it had to be changed. Our group had a copy of it and was prepared to change it. The typewriter we needed to use was in the large house, the old doctor's house, on the corner of my street. My group went to the house in the middle of the night.


We had a key. We entered and started up the steps. The last person in line had forgotten to close and lock the outer door. I turned, from half-way up the steps, and reminded her that the other group would be following us, stalking us, trying to stop us. She was young and inexperienced and hadn't realized. So she closed the door and we all continued up the steps. We went to the third floor, where there were two rooms in addition to the hallway. The typewriter was in the room on the right, but that room also had a sleeping two-year-old child in it. I knew I couldn't type there, for fear of waking the baby. So I hefted the typewriter and moved it, surrounded by my supporters, to the room on the left.


The typewriter had an electrical cord, but actually it was an old standard, about ten inches tall, with a shiny black case. Definitely a pre-Selectric typewriter, this one had letters fastened at the end of long extensions that arced up when the appropriate keys were struck. In all, a heavy, cumbersome apparatus that very much inhibited the speed of the typist: if you typed too fast, the extensions would jam in the air before they reached the paper.


Nonetheless, this was to be my instrument for the rewriting of the manuscript. We took it to the second room and set it up, plugging the cord into the wall outlet.


Before I was able to begin typing, however, the second door in the room opened. I realized that we hadn't thought to lock or bar it. Standing there were a member of the "other" group and a security man. I hadn't expected the building to have a security team.


He wore a brown uniform. He was not tall but was as broad as a linebacker, with a squashed square face and a stylized moustache consisting of a thin black line that ran just under his nose and beyond the corners of his mouth.


His piggy little eyes took in the scene and he asked what we were doing.


I said boldly, reaching into my pocket, that I had a key, hoping to prove by that that we belonged there. But to him, that was simply another sign that we were trespassing. Not only were we in the house illegally, but we had an illegal key that had allowed us to get in.


And then I woke up. No resolution. No way to complete that essential reworking of the manuscript. And this reworking—you have to understand this—was important. It was not frivolous. It had wider implications.


Does this dream hold an answer to the question? If it does, I can't see it (but then, I'm notoriously bad at interpreting my dreams). The question is: "what will become of me if I don't continue to change?" But perhaps the question is really: "what will become of me if I do continue to change?" In either case, the only course to follow is Rilke's advice to a young poet: don't worry about the answers. Just live the questions. Just live the questions.


Copyright 2009 Ann Tudor