A RECLAMATION PROJECT of sorts, our backyard garden is what makes
the little white house my wife and I rent in
Lincoln, Nebraska, a home. Before coming here for graduate school five years
ago, we’d lived in a one-bedroom tenement apartment that looked out over a
busy intersection in Boston. Now we look
out at heirloom tomatoes, stargazer lilies,
sunflowers, and zinnias. Nebraska was a
place neither of us had ever been before,
a place we could discover together and
make our own.
Our first full summer here, chatting over the fence with a neighbor, we
learned that the house’s former owner
had been a botanist, and that the entire
backyard and the empty lot next door
had all been garden. We soon discovered
remnants of his work everywhere. In the
chainlink fence grew the nub of a grapevine. Tulips and rhubarb and asparagus
sprouted in stray patches in the grass.
We cleaned up what could be cleaned up,
restored what could be restored, and did
our best to learn the lessons the botanist
had written on the land.
Some of the lessons were easy —grow
strawberries by the garage and you can
eat a handful on your way to the car. Others were more subtle and mysterious.
From the neighbor who’d told us about
the garden, we learned that the botanist
and his wife had had three daughters,
two of whom were twins with autism. In
the backyard, the twins had planted two
trees, a crabapple and an apple, so close
together that over time their trunks had
fused. The crabapple is big and bushy,
branches like the sprung-open ribs of an
I WAS STUNNED when I read Jeremy Miller’s “The Colonization of Kern
County” (January/February 2011) in
Orion. I spent my childhood years
growing up on an oil lease six miles
outside of Taft in Kern County. My father was an engineer for Honolulu Oil
Corporation. Miller writes of the grim
environmental and economic consequences of steam extraction of heavy
crude oil in my home county beginning in the mid-1960s, and the impact
it has had on my hometown. While I
was not surprised, a part of me was
shocked and grieved. I walked around
for several days deeply disturbed that
the land I had grown up on was heavily
polluted and somehow scarred.
I am a weaver, and I turned to my art
to help re-establish a lost sense of place.
The weaving I created is a re-visioning
of the territory of my childhood, which I
left behind in the early ’60s.
For me, there was an upside to being
a kid in the oil fields. It was big, wide-open country, a good place to roam the
hills, ride my bike, and go rabbit hunting
with my dad. This blanket is my answer
to the current environmental disaster in
the oil fields of my home. It is a map of
the lease, our house, our neighbors, the
shops, the ice house, the bunk house, the
roads, the trails, the cli= where we played,
the ditch with the pipes over it, the dust,
the resident animals. It is not a denial,
but a remembrance.
umbrella. The apple is long and slender,
its limbs rising vertically to catch what
sun they can. Our neighbor had to point
it out—two sets of blossoms, one white
and one pink —before my wife and I even
noticed. Now it’s something we look for
each spring, this dual blossoming, and
the quiet reminder that this place we call
home had a life of its own long before our
tenure here began.
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