knitting a scarf and hat, writing a novel

Knitting and writing: what do they have in common?

I recently stumbled on a book, a perfect holiday gift for those of us who love reading as well as knitting. Alice Hoffman, author of so many notable novels (I especially loved The Dovekeepers), joined forces with her cousin Lisa Hoffman, a master knitter, to come up with a book that weaves together fairy-tale-like stories with knitted accessories (instructions included) at the heart of the stories. it’s an inspired idea, indeed. The stories have their charm and the knitting patterns their varying degrees of complexity.knitting and writing: what they have in common

Here’s what Alice Hoffman says in the introduction about the connection between writing and knitting:

“To be a writer or a knitter, one has to be willing to take things apart and put them back together again. It’s hard work to do so, and it takes courage. Patience is required, and the willingness to start over if need be, to rewrite or unravel.”

How could I help but revisit a post a wrote a few years back in which I shared my own thoughts about what writing and knitting have in common?

I write, therefore I knit

The day I released my dog from her suffering, I took up knitting again. My daughter had been wanting a scarf patterned with Griffyndor stripes since Harry Potter enchantment overtook her, and my decision to start knitting that day somehow felt life-affirming. I could not settle my thoughts enough to write about the grief, or even try to imagine the hold it would have on me. No point in that anyway. Grief demands that you be with it. The word itself carries a weight, made a little heavier by the weeks of ministration to an ailing creature. To try and push aside grief, ‘get on with one’s life,’ misses the point. I could easily co-opt and modify words from a familiar song, Gospel in origin – so high you can’t get over it / so wide you can’t get around it – to give voice to my feelings. The only way is through. Be with it.

Which brings me to knitting. I remember learning to knit as an adolescent, something to occupy me as I sat with my family at night, watching TV. Or was it a fascination of sorts, something about a single strand of wool being shaped into a sweater or a scarf? Even the simplest pattern, no fancy cables stitches, can yield something beautiful. Even the most straightforward garter or seed stitch requires an attention to detail. There is a rhythm to knitting and purling, not a far cry from a meditative settling of the breath or the quieting of the mind needed when I sit down to write.

Is it a stretch to suggest that a story exists in a hand-made sweater? Or that the very act of knitting, steadying as it is, is akin to that state of receptivity when I leave my laptop behind, take a walk or a drive, always surprised, and delighted, at the way le mot juste will make itself manifest? Putting aside the pleasure I get from knitting, or my own suspicion that it serves as some physical manifestation of the same creative impulse that drives me to write, I find myself thinking about metaphor: the Fates weave; Madame Defarge knits; I pull out some stitches, too loose to my liking, redo them. Getting it right means seeing how the parts become the whole. Finishing it off means understanding that a hand-made scarf or hat, like a story or novel, can be less than perfect and still exquisitely cohesive.

Addendum:  So now the novel is out, published, and something of a triple crown finalist in three different contests. Since the catalyst for Just Like February was the AIDS crisis of the ’80s, from now until December 1st, which marks the 30th anniversary of World AIDS Day, the ebook edition will be available for 99 cents via all online booksellers.

 

The writing on the wall

My mother’s birthday was a few days ago. She would have turned 92.

Birthdays, holidays, sentimental moments make us think of beloved people gone from our lives.  But today she’s on my mind mostly because of something she said more than once. On almost any night of the week our tiny Brooklyn apartment would be filled with family sitting around the kitchen table, smoking, drinking, laughing, fighting.  An uncle would storm out.  He’d be back the following night.

That’s the way it was with family.

That’s not the way it is anymore.

What my mother said, more than once—her eyes watery, her heart softened by a drink—was they don’t listen to me.  More often than not, trying to convince a grown sibling that he was (possibly) being too reactive to a situation got her nowhere. She had advice to offer. She wanted to be heard.

We called them ‘lively discussions,’ not arguments, and family dramas, not politics, were at the heart of them. Today we can’t even sit around the table anymore, and I don’t necessarily want to, which saddens me.  I could argue that politics has made it more urgent that we sit across from each other and air our thoughts.  But what, in truth, is more important than the personal dynamics that hold families together?

We use our Facebook walls to spout words that are not even necessarily our own—neatly constructed platitude-filled appeals that feed personal indignation in their longing for a time when the order of things seemed ruled by an unquestioned morality. Just to be clear, I have no issue with what we think of as moral questions that give rise to healthy discourse. It’s the simplistic picking and choosing—e.g., share this post if you agree that we used to cite the Pledge of Allegiance without worrying about offending anyone—that makes me bristle.

Everyone wants to be heard.

We all want to know that people are paying attention.

Last week brought a double whammy of despair to our country, with the most non-presidential of presidents at the helm. Thoughts and prayers, a given in the face of tragedies, gave way to editorials sounding the wake-up call to anyone still unwilling to connect the dots between the hate-mongering and lies of the man in the Oval Office and the violence his words and actions have given license to. What Has Trump Done to Us, America?, appearing in The Forward, got straight to the heart of things. I shared it on my Facebook wall yesterday, along with the hope that it might jolt anyone who does not see the writing on the wall into coming to their senses when it comes time to vote.

Transparent as my words are, they contain a not-so-veiled plea to cousins of mine who tend to vote Republican. Facebook, alas, may have replaced that crowded kitchen table as a place to air our viewpoints. Problem is, when you’re not looking someone in the eye it gets too easy to blow them off. Ignore the Facebook post. Delete the text. Voilà—the conversation never takes place.

They don’t listen to me, and I wish to high heaven they would.

And, yet, maybe there really is hope. How else to explain that in the middle of last week’s horrifying events 2,000 people attended a service at the National Cathedral in Washington to memorialize Matthew Shepard, the young gay man brutally murdered 20 years ago? His ashes would finally be interred. His life would be celebrated. And presiding over the service would be Bishop Gene Robinson, the first openly gay bishop in the Episcopalian Church.

The best of times, the worst of times

Today was a perfect autumn day. Crisp, cool air. Golden light.  The crunch of leaves underfoot.

Tonight, barely 7 p.m. and the sky is ink blue.  A crescent moon casts its spell.

To be in sync with the seasons is to be reminded that autumn is tinged with the stickiness of nostalgia. To feel melancholy goes with the territory. That rich palette of colors the leaves offer up is the gift we get before they fall to the ground. Bare winter trees are a different kind of beauty.

The ‘80s are on my mind a lot these days.  When I wrote about what feels like an ‘80s redux in current times, the New York Times hadn’t yet published its special magazine section, Losing Earth, focused on the decade 1979-1989 when the body of research re: global warming seemed to be taken seriously enough to bring (almost) international consensus for a strategy to reduce carbon emissions.  On top of that we have the urgent UN report.

I need to believe all is not lost.

On the personal side: I got married in 1984 and gave birth to my daughter in 1986. In the year between the most life-affirming moments imaginable came the death of my husband’s good friend and business partner, an early casualty of AIDS.  Maybe ‘imaginable’ is the operative word here. The heart of the novel I published earlier this year is a girl’s coming of age during the ‘80s. As the story began to percolate, I had a backdrop of extreme personal joy coupled with extreme sadness.

Funny how a writer’s mind works.

Sometimes you know something even before you know you know it. If I didn’t yet have confirmation of that decade as a profound time of innocence lost, the proof would come.  We were on the edge of the technology that would take over our lives.  That was then, this is now. The power to manipulate information is frighteningly easy. Take a quote out of context, give only half the statement.

I know there is no turning back but I need to believe that life-affirming instincts hold sway over the cynicism and lies thrown at us left and right.

I want to believe that a time will come when I’ll get past my resistance to using a verb that bears the name of the man in the Oval Office.

Maybe—just maybe—if enough thinking people take the time to look past the smokescreen of misinformation, there’s still hope that we can keep our planet from burning up and our democracy from self-destructing.  My daughter is much less hopeful.  She reminds me that I can’t even get Republican cousins to listen to reason and see the bigger picture beyond immediate, personal self-interest.  When families can’t talk to each other, what does that say about the country at large?

Entertainment is as much an escape as it is a reflection of our culture. Is it any wonder that Wonder Woman and Black Panther broke box office records? Now we have the spectacle of King Kong on Broadway.

I can’t say I have any intention to see the show, but I can say that King Kong himself is a fixture in my imagination. In the days before Netflix and streaming and DVDs, there was “Million Dollar Movie,” a weeklong chance to watch a film you loved over and over and over again. King Kong and Mighty Joe Young stand out as the two movies I watched more than any other. How could I, as a young girl, help but be fascinated by a larger-than life gorilla who may have struck fear in the hearts of natives on Skull Island but clearly had a soft spot for Fay Wray? How could I, as a young girl, help but be touched by a young (and then grown) Terry Moore calming her pet ape with a beautiful piece of music?

The animation in the 1933 King Kong may seem quaint by today’s standards but it was groundbreaking at the time. The 1976 remake with Jessica Lange would give King Kong’s eyes a very human dimension but both versions leave indelible images of a woman held captive in the palm of what would seem to be a frightening beast. This is the moment where metaphor plays its hand. The 2005 remake with Naomi Watts shows a woman still captive but doing her best to communicate with her captor. Less screaming, more compassion.

The racism and sexism inherent in King Kong may have been lost on me as a young girl probably because it seemed more a story about trying to tame the untameable.  Of the eleven movies to date that call up that mighty gorilla, I’ve seen only the original and the two that follow its story line.  Whatever Broadway promises with its 20-foot tall, 2,000-pound puppet would seem to speak more to special effects than story. Call me a purist, but there is no way that the movie’s cinematic pinnacle—a primate seeing some means of survival in scaling the tallest building in New York City—can be adequately conveyed in a stage set. At the same time, isn’t it uncanny that King Kong’s latest incarnation comes at a time when survival and sexism are at a cultural zenith?

 

the holidays

Come late August there’s a noticeable shift in light that catches me off-guard. Little by little, the shortening of days so imperceptible since the summer solstice is suddenly dramatic. Leaves start to lose their lushness. The lazy hazy days of summer are about to give way to September, with its nostalgic echoes of back-to-school mode.  More to the point, I’m hit with an inescapable alert: The holidays are around the corner.

To hear the intonation of that phrase—‘the holidays’—the way I do, you have to be Jewish. You have to picture a mother taking off from work days ahead of ‘the holidays’ to shop and cook. Chicken soup. Pot roast. Baked chicken. Fish. To grasp what she meant when she said, the holidays are late this year, or the holidays are early, requires an understanding of days measured by the lunar calendar in a secular world ruled by the sun.

The Jewish calendar is in fact marked by four different new year celebrations—one for trees, one for the tithing of cattle, the springtime new year (Passover) we associate with freedom from slavery and the beginning of a Jewish identity. But the ten-day period of repentance between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur gets pride of place as the Jewish New Year marking the beginning of the world.  As a young girl growing up in Brooklyn, I would put on holiday clothes, meet up with friends at the neighborhood synagogue. Going to services was something you just did, whether or not you knew the full import of why you did it. My mother didn’t go and my father put in an appearance, if not for the full spectrum of services, always for the Yizkor portion in memory of the dead on Yom Kippur.

Thanksgiving, in contrast, was not a holiday we observed, except to watch the parade on TV.  What kind of American family, you might ask, doesn’t gather for a turkey dinner on Thanksgiving? I could say the Jewish holidays were all that mattered to my mother, and that’s mostly true. But there was something else at play—something beyond her comfort zone in the kitchen, with its standard Jewish fare handed down from generation to generation.

It’s called turkey.

I can’t handle that big bird, she once said to me, her face crinkled in disgust. Even the chicken she cooked had to be cut into pieces, nothing to remind her that it was once a living, walking creature.  If cleanliness is next to godliness, no chicken wing ever made it into the oven or soup pot with even the tiniest feather intact.

When I left the fold, moved into Manhattan, Brooklyn would call me back for the holidays as I knew them. Thanksgiving would be celebrated with city friends. One year, a cousin of mine who had started a Thanksgiving tradition of her own, asked me to switch things up, be with the family. It was a memorable gathering—a coterie of cousins smoking weed as we cooked, drinking exquisite wine, laughing. Finally the real reason she was so insistent: a cake with one candle, #26, in honor of the marathon I had run weeks earlier.

Families fall apart. Parents die. Rituals get diluted. You don’t have to be a Jewish mother to know that there are strategies more powerful than guilt to keep families together at holiday time. You don’t have to be too sentimental to long for something that seems further removed with each passing generation.

Come September comes the weeping for what’s gone and with it the reminder of how I’ve made the holidays my own, a mix of family and friends who know they can count on a good Jewish-style brisket for Rosh Hashanah and Passover. Chanukah brings my legendary latke parties. Then there’s that all-American November holiday when I roast, to perfection, that big bird my mother would not touch.

What did you read this summer?

Summer reading is a world unto itself. It’s not as if the love of books doesn’t have us immersed in reading all year long. But summer brings with it memories of freedom from school, with all that’s attached to assigned reading, textbook or otherwise.

Some things, like the smell of library books, the feel of their plastic protective covers, are imprinted in memory. Before the neighborhood I lived in as a young girl had a library of its own there was the Bookmobile arriving once a week. Apparently they still exist in rural areas.  It’s a given—if you love books, you love libraries and summertime always brings my younger self into fresh view: walking home from the library with a stack of books in my arms. Sitting on a wooden bench outside the building in which I lived. Reading.  Hard to say when the need to possess overtook the need to borrow, but here I sit, in a home office with books surrounding me, most of them read, enough still in that TBR realm.

No surprise that my very first paid job would be in the newly built local library. I would shelve books, do clerical work in the office, graduate to checking books in and out at the front desk.

Summer days still have me reading outside.  Some summers are for tackling the big books, Anna Karenina one year. Others are for breezy beach reading or a mix of the light and profound. Not every book is to be analyzed in a way that teaches a writer something about craft. But I do learn something from every book I read: I learn what I like and what I don’t like.  Years ago, reading Sidney Sheldon’s The Other Side of Midnight, I was hit with how he ended chapters in a way that made you want to read on. It’s called pacing.  My current read, Despair, has me savoring the way Nabokov begins and ends chapters. The title, with its echoes of how the current state of the world has me feeling, had me hankering to read the book. As it happens, Nabokov’s use of the word is tinged with irony. The book is brilliant. Its wickedly dark narrative is as much a commentary on the nature of writing itself.

Just prior to this I read Sing, Unburied, Sing, which joins Jesmyn Ward’s earlier novel, Salvage the Bones, as a National Book Award winner. It takes a certain kind of writer to tell disturbing stories with lush, beautiful prose.  The book had me thinking of another novel, Go, Went, Gone by Jenny Erpenbeck. The novels are as different stylistically as they are in the stories they tell. And yet both resonate with a cultural undercurrent that speaks to the times in which we live. Both have a lingering impact.

Madeline Miller is another writer who makes her mark with a distinctive voice. First came The Song of Achilles and more recently Circe, both of which bring a very human dimension to the gods and heroes of mythology.

Years of summer breaks and end-of-August back-to-school mode are ingrained. With the approaching transition to autumn I get energized, ready to move full swing into a project. As a writer with a new book, my work for now is mostly getting out the word.  Speaking of which, if you follow me on social media, you know my novel has now been named a finalist in two contests.

If it made your summer reading list, I’d love to know what you thought. I’d also love to know what else you read this summer. If you haven’t yet read Just Like February, I hope you will.  And if you like(d) it, ratings and reviews on Amazon and/or GoodReads really have a way of making a writer’s day.

 

Rain rain go away . . .

This morning had me scrambling outside for a walk during a brief break from the rain we seem to be getting a lot of lately.  Scattered thunderstorms are a summertime staple, the operative word being ‘scattered.’ Rolling thunder. Lightning bolts cracking through the sky, as mystifying and beautiful as they are frightening. Pounding rain that comes and goes, too many days of which can dampen a person’s spirit.

I remember reading long ago about a tribe that runs into the rain instead of running for cover the way I do. This was pre-Google and I can’t track down the essay but I do trust the impression it left in my memory. Then there was MoMA’s enchanting Rain Room exhibition a few years back that had visitors walking through rain without getting wet.

In my day-to-day walks, I can handle light rain, almost welcome it on a hot, summer day.  I can even laugh, when I’m caught in a downpour, at my reliance on the hour-by-hour know-before-you-go weather report I check too regularly. Tell the truth—how many times have you heard or said these words: It’s not supposed to rain?

Rain rain go away
Come again another day. . .

We can’t help ourselves, can we?  We know there’s really nothing personal about weather.  We need rain as much as we need sun.  We can’t will away the less-than-welcoming forecast during a vacation on Ibiza. We can only hope for the one constant: everything, including weather, changes.

Children are on my mind a lot these days.  Truth be known, they’re always in my mind if not at the top of consciousness. But today, caught in a brief shower (despite the ‘beat the rain’ game I’m playing), I’m picturing immigrant children separated from their parents doing their best to come out and play, rain or no rain. I’m feeling what any decent person with a heart feels re: the heartlessness of an administration that has inflicted this confusion and pain on children.

I’m hearing a toddler crying in a courtroom and a judge embarrassed to ask if he understands the proceedings.

I’m seeing the helplessness on the face of a woman, one of more than 450 sent back to their countries without their children.

 

Despair is not an option.  If nothing else, wishing away the stream of lies (with or with the sex and videotapes) about everything, hoping to wake up one day and breathe a sigh of relief at seeing an end to the collective nightmare acknowledges the reality of how suddenly things can change.

Ten minutes ago it was pouring. Now the sun is out.  Change of the political and cultural kind tends to me more gradual, so much going on in the shadows, as the brilliant Rebecca Solnit reminds us in her reissued book of essays, Hope in the Dark. She tells story after story of an “inspired” activism, one that finds common ground between parties normally on different sides of the ‘us and them’ fence.  In lieu of the fall from grace paradigm that sets paradise as the bar for an ideal world, she posits the Coyote/trickster motif, in which there never was a fall or a state of grace but creation is ongoing in a world originally brought into being by “flawed, human creators who never finished the job.”

I may not feel much like singing in the rain these days but my spirit gets a little boost when I read about a caravan of grandmothers making a six-day trek to the Mexican border in support of migrant families being held there. Rallies are planned in strategic cities along the way.

Not for nothing, a new body of evidence suggests the crucial role of grandmothers in our evolution. In this emerging view, papa out hunting animals with his bow and arrow gets no more (possibly less) credit for our survival as a species than mama and grandma digging for those heard-to-unearth tubers.  Better yet, grandma, with her big eyes and wise heart, may hold the key to the communal spirit, not to mention nurturing, that allowed us to evolve as humans.

 

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That deeper thing called Voice

Today had me hankering for a dose of Bob Dylan. Not the ‘Freewheelin’ Bob reminding me there ain’t no use in wondering why or the Rainy Day Bob inviting me to toke up, get stoned.  Either of those classic Dylan songs would certainly take me back, maybe even reassure me of the power of protest, musically and otherwise. Both would affirm the hold he has always had on me, what with the lyrics that seem to trip off his tongue and the way he binds them to music in his inimitable way. It’s called genius.

The hankering I had was for a song from his homage to Sinatra album, Shadows in the Night. I’m a fool to want you, he sings. And the ache in his voice has me tearing up. Not that I need any reason to cry these days.

When the album came out a few years ago, some friends thought Dylan had really gone over the edge. Not the first time it’s been said of him.

Maybe I hear something they don’t hear.

Maybe they hear something I don’t hear.

“When you fall ill, people often send you CDs,” wrote Christopher Hitchens in a Vanity Fair essay that appeared early in the year  he died of a cancer that destroyed his speaking voice. “Very often, in my experience, these are by Leonard Cohen. So I have recently learned a song, entitled “If It Be Your Will.” It’s a tiny bit saccharine, but it’s beautifully rendered and it opens like this:

If it be your will,
That I speak no more:
And my voice be still,
As it was before . . .

I find it’s best not to listen to this late at night. Leonard Cohen is unimaginable without, and indissoluble from, his voice.”

Leonard Cohen had no illusions about how he sounded. He was a master of self-mockery.  In concert, he could anticipate the audience’s laugher when he sang “Tower of Song” and came to these lines:

I was born like this
I had no choice
I was born with the gift of a golden voice.

He was no stranger to irony.  And there is indeed some irony for a woman who loves the sound of music as much as I do to have Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen at the top of my singer/songwriter heroes list.

It’s not about voice.  And yet it always boils down to Voice.

It was the loss of his physical voice that got Christopher Hitchens writing so eloquently about “Unspoken Truths,” and the deeper meaning of voice.

Like it or not, Siri knows the music that moves me the most.

Eric Clapton. Bruce Springsteen. Buddy Guy. Roy Orbison.

Neil Young. Willie Nelson. Smokey Robinson.

Frank Sinatra.

Pavarotti.

Billie Holiday and Etta James.

Aretha.

Adele.

Rhiannon Giddens.

If there’s an evolutionary component to music, in the way it’s produced and performed, I can’t help but hear harshness and anger in so much of what younger generations listen to. All of which finds me yearning for more melodic voices of protest—

Joni Mitchell. Judy Collins.  Joan Baez.

Linda Rondstadt.  Bonnie Raitt.  —

not to mention those voices that are as pure as it gets,

Sweet Honey in the Rock

And, yet, for all the voices that move me (and the list goes on and on), it’s that deeper thing called Voice that moves me most.

Some dreams stay with you, instant recall, doesn’t matter whether a year or two or three has passed. Here’s one:

I’m onstage, apparently getting ready to sing. I belt out a song. My voice, strong and resonant, surprises me.

Ironic (or not), a passage early in Madeline Miller’s new novel struck a deep chord. For her dabbling in witchcraft, the mythological Circe is banned to a deserted island where, as it turns out, she learns to refine her skills. Those early days are very lonely.

“I burned cedar in the fireplace and its dark smoke kept me company. I sang, which had never been allowed before, since my mother said I had the voice of a drowning gull.”

My own singing voice isn’t that bad but certainly not as powerful and pleasing as it was in the dream. More to the point, there can be no magical spells without a voice to conjure them.

Cliché, cliché, and more cliché: we need to lift our voices more than ever in these distressing times.

We need to sing. We need to write. We need to listen.

As it turns out, when Circe is visited by the god Hermès, she learns something about her voice. You are no gull, he tells her. You sound like a mortal.

Aha! A god with a mortal’s voice—a voice that sweetens with each note of the lyre Hermes plays, the one stolen from Apollo.

Gods’ voices are, in contrast, like thunder and rocks.

 

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Trees. Bees. A flirting bird.

As morning rituals go, sipping coffee and reading are a constant, sometimes following meditation, sometimes a meditation of its own. Autumn and winter I have my indoor perch. Springtime and summer find me on my deck.  This week has me caught up in The Quantum and the Lotus, as perfect a follow-up as it gets to Richard Powers’s The Overstory.  It’s a brilliant novel and not the first time I’ve been awed by the author.  Anyone who can integrate a knowledge of physics and music the way he does in both The Time of Our Singing and The Goldbug Variations has my attention.  Anyone whose prose is lush and poetic gets right to my writer’s heart.

The interconnectedness of things, with its Buddhist undertones, is at the heart of his latest novel, so why should it surprise me that the book now calling out to me is a dialogue between a Buddhist monk and an astrophysicist born into a Buddhist family?

Hard not to marvel at the way the mind works.

Hard not to smile when distraction takes the form of a bird call. It’s a very particular call, a two-note flirtation. I can ‘t see the bird, and that’s probably his point. But my need to identify him has me searching the Internet.  This little bird, apparently a Black-capped Chickadee, issues a mating call that’s as close as it gets to what we think of as a catcall. How is it that the two-tone harmony enchants me when it’s coming from the bird and irritates me when I hear it from a man?

This particular chickadee appears to be perched somewhere in one of my Locust trees. Barely two weeks ago this Black locust was dripping with clusters of fragrant white flowers that had me realizing there were more trees of this variety on my property than I was ever aware of.  In the cyclical way that Mother Nature works, this may have been a particularly abundant year for those flowers. Or maybe attention to my surroundings is becoming more fine-tuned. Part of my motivation for leaving the city years ago to take up residence in the exurbian world was to be able to tell one tree from another. Sometimes local friends give me answers. Sometimes I resort to Google. Oak trees are easily identifiable but now I take pride in singling out a Hickory, an Elm, a Linden. A Black locust whose flowers fill the air in a way that almost intoxicates me.

The flowers have dropped but now I have my wild roses, another bit of flora I needed help identifying. For my first years up in Northern Westchester there were no wild roses on my property though I’d be captivated by the sight and scent of them on my walks. One spring just a few years back they landed on a Barberry bush alongside my driveway. That’s what they do, attach themselves wherever they see fit.   And that’s what I love about them most, besides their fragrance.

I’m not by nature a gardener but I do have a beautifully evolving landscape, a product of my husband’s vision, coupled with a gardening guru who does her magic. When he sees bees hovering around the Catmint my husband is happy. Doesn’t matter whether Einstein ever really said we’re doomed if bees disappear from our world; what matters is that enough people, including my husband, know there’s wisdom to this prophecy.

“A forest knows things,” says a central character in The Overstory. “They wire themselves up underground. There are brains down there, ones our own brains aren’t shaped to see. Root plasticity, solving problems and making decisions. Fungal synapses. What else do you want to call it? Link enough trees together, and a forest grows aware.”

Even if I grapple with comprehending a world in which everything I see and touch exists as an independent, immutable thing in contrast to a reality premised on interdependence, the combined wisdom I glean from a great novelist, a Buddhist monk, and an astrophysicist lead me in the direction of knowing things we don’t know we know.

Then there’s Shel Silverstein: “Once there was a tree. . . and she loved a little boy.”