channeling the ghost of emily dickinson
an ode to spring
Welcome to tiny gardens. I start out with a little lyrical horticultural prompt for you, and then get into what I’ve been reading and working on this month.
If you want to: preserve spring
What you will need: a large book, the ghost of Emily Dickinson, to embrace your temporary membership in the exclusive club of the living
Spring is so short. Nothing brings me a sense of pre-nostalgia like seeing the first snowdrop flowers. They’re beautiful, they’re enlivening, they’re sad and almost sinister. Swapping out “spring” for “youth” is one of the most common metaphors in our language, so please join me in doing so in this line from a 2016 Regina Spektor song that I think about when someone urges me to not take something for granted: “Enjoy your
youth[spring]/Sounds like a threat/But I will anyway.” That’s basically what those little gorgeous daisies are saying on the first day it’s warm in Brooklyn. A few days later, they droop with frost. One more both touching and aggressive spring/youth swap for you, from the Bible, Ecclesiastes 11:9: “ Young [Spring] people, enjoy your youth [spring]. Be happy while you are [it’s] still young [spring]. Do what you want to do, and follow your heart's desire. But remember that God is going to judge you for whatever you do.” 👀
You can’t preserve the essence of spring, and it’s almost a sin to try. Emily Dickinson put it better than I ever could:
A Light exists in Spring
A Light exists in Spring
Not present on the Year
At any other period —
When March is scarcely here
A Color stands abroad
On Solitary Fields
That Science cannot overtake
But Human Nature feels.
It waits upon the Lawn,
It shows the furthest Tree
Upon the furthest Slope you know
It almost speaks to you.
Then as Horizons step
Or Noons report away
Without the Formula of sound
It passes and we stay —
A quality of loss
Affecting our Content
As Trade had suddenly encroached
Upon a Sacrament.
Even when she lost that Light, Dickinson still made detailed, well-labeled botanical journals like the one at the top of this newsletter (courtesy of the Houghton Library at Harvard University). As you can see, they still capture some small record of her Color, even 170 years later. They’re not hard to make. Just collect go outside, collect your specimen, and make sure it’s dry. If it’s wet, you can press it gently in a paper towel or leave it out in your still-heated living room for a few hours. Then you stick your piece of flora in a large book and forget about for a few weeks. I was going to advise to seek out archivist glue to make your own journal, but the New York Botanical Garden itself says Elmer’s is just fine.
Things I wrote in March
I think plant care apps are dumb. Houseplant care didn’t need to be disrupted!
I discovered a sentence I wrote is the example on the online thesaurus for how to use the word “sodden.”
I didn’t write much else, but I did create a six-course mushroom feast, saw giant lizards and tiny snakes and so much more at the Long Island Reptile Expo, and planted wildflower seeds in my community garden.
Things I liked in March
To stay on theme: I love the NYC Microseasons newsletter, created by Erin Chapman and Allison C. Meier. They identify the tiny changing atmospheres in the city and record them beautifully. The last issue was about the a species of frog that live in Staten Island and Alley Pond Park.
I don’t know how I came across The Upstairs House by Julia Fine, but I am so glad I did. Read if you like: Shirley Jackson vibes, esoteric writer gossip, the struggle of a mother to maintain her identity. A fictional version of Margaret Wise Brown, the author of Goodnight Moon, plays an important role. It made me want to finish this New Yorker article about her that I started in February.
I listened to the new season of Serial twice, because the iOS podcast app mixed up the episodes as I listened (I know, I know, I should figure out how to listen to podcasts on literally any other app). But it stood up both times! I know it’s not revolutionary to say that any season of the most famous podcast of all time is good, but I loved the way they explored the eye-in-the-sky tradition of “objective” journalism and the consequences that this paradigm has in real life.
I visited The New York Earth Room twice this month. It’s an apartment filled with dirt. Possibly a meditation on cities, the importance of pared-down nature, or the cost of NYC real estate. The artist didn’t specify. I smelled the dirt and touched it and generally enjoyed myself. The curator said he got a soil analysis done at Rutgers and the dirt is teeming with microbial life and is more electric than average.
I will stop everything I’m doing to read the latest issue of the newsletter bookbear express, in which a semi-anonymous “young woman in STEM who also likes the liberal arts” processes how best to live her life. These lines from the last issue struck me: “In order to change, I had to accept that other people aren’t fundamentally responsible for my emotional state. I’m responsible for my emotional state. I think I’ve realized this most acutely through writing, which is so individual and painful—no one can really help me with it. It has to be self-generated. Other people can help you edit, and give you feedback, and read over your drafts, but it has to come from you.” As someone who asked at least three friends to look over the first draft of this newsletter to let me know if it was a dumb idea, that resonated.
I saw The Play that Goes Wrong and laughed the whole time! Highly recommend for a joyful afternoon!
A late addition: this newsletter came out in the evening because I spent the day exploring Soho. I wandered into an art gallery and came upon the work of He Xiangyu. He draws the roof of his mouth, and the results are breathtaking. Here’s part of the museum description: “He Xiangyu began his series Palate Project (2012-) almost a decade ago when he moved to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, from Beijing. As he began to learn English, Xiangyu started to try to draw the roof of his mouth—a particularly impossible part of the body to see for oneself. Using his tongue as a guide, Xiangyu transcribed the tactile sensations of his palate into drawings.” Here’s some examples of the project.
I hope you have an excellent month. Smell the soil, try to drawing the inside of your mouth, and savor everything.