podcasted into the past

Anyone who thinks it is quiet outside the city has not spent much time around cicadas...

Before I was pregnant with Baki, I was able to read in moving vehicles without any trouble at all. It was one of my gifts, like being able to fall asleep anywhere, that I was always grateful for. Well, that changed, and it was inconvenient because I spent a total of 3 hours a day on a service bus, commuting to and from work. Knitting came to the rescue (I made a lot of socks in traffic jams). Then, I got an iPod and started to download podcasts and suddenly I was knitting and listening to podcasts while commuting, all the while feeling quite smug at how “productive” I was being.
I do not miss commuting at all, amazingly, but we do have something of an equivalent in the garden now that it is summer. Every morning, from 630 to 830, Ali and I water. One of us does the top of the garden and the other does the bottom. It is work that occupies my hands, but leaves my mind free, and since I have Kaya with me in the sling, I do not have to have my ears open. I listen to a lot of different things, but most recently I have started to listen to the A History of the World in 100 Objects podcast from BBC Radio 4. I had read about the book made of the series, and Ali’s sister sent him a copy of it (neither of them read much fiction, but are wildly enthusiastic about reading history). Since I have basically surrendered all of my reading time to George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire books (I’m on book 4 now, and am actually glad that there is only one more of the anticipated 7 available, since I have other books I’d like to read!) I decided to listen to the programs as podcasts. I like to hear how the objects are described before I look at pictures of them in Ali’s book, and I love listening to radio programmes. It takes me back to the days when we used to gather in front of my father’s enormous shortwave radio. This was in Nairobi, and when I say enormous, I mean as big as a tv set! Once a week, we all sprawled out on my parents’ bed to listen to Letter from America by Alistair Cooke, a role model for any correspondent, to be sure. So, to make a long story short, these days as I water, I am strolling through history.
Other times, it is my own history I walk through. Listening to All Songs Considered a week or so ago, they played a track from the new album by Tinariwen (which you can hear ) and the desert sounds took me to a place not so far from the band’s homeland of Mali.
I had been working at a newspaper called the Earth Times. One day, my boss called me and asked how my French was, and how would I feel about going to Mauritania? The trip was charmed from the start. I Fed-Exed my passport to the Mauritanian embassy and when I called to check that it had arrived, the receptionist told me she doubted very much that I would get the visa on time. She had my passport in her hand as she spoke and fell silent for a moment. “This passport was issued in Istanbul?” she asked. It turned out, she was Turkish; I had my visa in plenty of time.
I was traveling in the company of a Norwegian representative of the Lutheran World Federation, Njell Lofthus, to visit greenbelt projects in the desert. Villagers were planting a variety of mesquite in the dunes to stabilise them. It was right up my alley; my dad did a story on desertification in the 80s, and the issue had captured my imagination. Mr. Lofthus was eager to get into the desert, and the night that I remembered as I watered the garden, he was on his hands and knees on the floor of a tent in a pale blue boubou, engaged in a game with a child who squealed with delight. Outside, the drums were being tuned, a lengthy process which involved burying them in sand just so. When they were ready, the drumming began, and everyone streamed outside into the cool evening to dance. I had been swathed in a gauzy veil, and it fell from my head as I joined the dance, but everyone said, “Ca va! Ca va!” and I let it go. Then, the dancers came, and we stood aside as they swept over the sand, their boubou swirling, their feet barely seeming to touch the ground, their eyes seeming to focus on the stars above.
Tinariwen’s music is different, of course, but something in its way-out mellowness evokes the vastness of the sea of sand, as it was called. They are on tour right now (dates at the) and I bet they’d be amazing live.

Impermanent address


I’ve been listening almost obsessively to the King Creosote and Jon Hopkins album, Diamond Mine. It is so gorgeous that after playing it for the first time from start to finish, I was so bereft at having to stop hearing it that I just went right back to the beginning. It’s very much about King Creosote’s home of Fife, in Scotland, which got me thinking about why I write these letters. It is, I believe, a way to pin this garden down in time and to let it last. We do not have a title deed for this land, after all; technically the land is the property of the treasury. What we bought was the right to use the land. This may change (in fact it is likely to, as laws concerning this type of land have been changing) but I have become comfortable with the tenuousness of our hold on this place. It seems almost strange to think of owning land. And although we work hard to shape our garden and, especially during these hot, dry summer months battle the elements to do so, I know full well that when we lay down our tools, the forest will reclaim our land. The garden, it seems, is on loan.
It is not unlike the way it is with children. I sometimes surprise myself by looking at Baki and feeling no sense of ownership; he just seems like a little person who has taken up residence with us for a while. Then I realize that this us the truth of it. Our children are no more ours than the garden. It’s an odd shift on the way I think about having a family (and, incidentally, I have come to think of our garden as our middle child, now in its third year). It is like the day I realized that having a child did involve unconditional love, but that I’d be giving it, not receiving it.
Expectations, it seems, are best kept flexible.


I saw it from afar, as I was watering the bitter melon- a bit of red peeking out from between the leaves of one of the Momotaro tomato plants. We’ve been eating tomatoes for a couple of weeks already, but I’ve been waiting for the Momotaros. It’s a Japanese hybrid that is apparently a popular market variety. I saw it in the Territorial Seeds catalog back in 2009, and somehow ordered them too late to plant them last year. So it was very exciting to be growing them at last. The plants have gotten huge, with enticing clusters of hard green tomatoes. We ate that first tomato for breakfast with a bit of olive oil, and I’m pleased to report that it was very tasty and, as the seed catalog had promised, very sweet.

We’ve more or less eaten all the corn on this bed, and for some reason it didn’t grow all that tall. I planted some beans under them, though, so I’ll leave them standing for a while. The nicest thing about this bed is all those morning glories- three different kinds. It is one of the many spontaneous eruptions in the garden that so often outshine plantings that we have carefully thought out.



More than one person has asked me if it was love at first sight when Kaya was born. I’d have to say that it wasn’t. I think my first reaction was relief, to be honest, followed by various forms of disbelief: although I’ve done this once before, it is the hardest thing in the world for me to believe that an actual human can come out of my body. There was the weeklong physical train wreck period and there was also a period of complete emotional chaos, where Kaya was the calm eye of the storm and I was flapping around him.

We wake with the sun now, so that we can water the garden before the heat of the day. Once I’m sure Kaya has had his fill of milk, I wrap my sling around myself, slip him in, and we’re off. This is the time of day when I have it all: Kaya is with me, Baki is sleeping, Ali is watering as well. I sometimes listen to podcasts as I work, and I see all of the plants, one at a time. I looked down this morning, as I have so often over the past few weeks since we’ve started watering every morning, and I sighed. It might not have happened the instant we met, but there’s no denying that I’m besotted now.