We planted rye in the late winter when the rain pummeled the cold ground. The tiny seeds germinated as the track of the sun slowly crept further north with each passing day, my belly shadow growing larger on warming earth. Little seeds sent roots into the ground and tender shoots towards the gray sky while you practiced breathing fluid into lungs and opening ocean gray eyes. You were born in the spring of a pandemic, but neither you nor the rye seemed to notice.
Now you, Fiona Rye, and I brush our bodies through the tall grass together, your small head on my shoulder, eyes shut tight against the summer sun. I enclose your softly breathing body in my arms and watch the field undulate a fiery rust and dull gold in the gusts of wind. The field is an ocean, waves sending energy across the curvature we stand upon. The field is on fire, vegetal flames bending and shaking towards soil and sky.
Fire like the fires that burned in the streets of nearby Seattle and so many other cities across the country. Fires I felt so torn about at first: how was destruction and violence honoring a dead man? This was the first thought I had as a privileged white woman who cannot even begin to comprehend the anger and frustration felt by so many. (I do not think a bunch of white kids looting The Gap is representative of the justified anger I am talking about. That is just taking advantage of a situation.) There is so much real, justifiable, potent anger; not just about George Floyd but about living in constant fear and desperation. About the deep disparities in this riven country. About feeling powerless and unheard and sick and tired of meaningless talk. I am answered with more questions in the smoky wind blowing over my rural home: how can we rebuild our society if it is not burnt to the ground in some way or another?
After weeks of largely peaceful protests (which I have not attended but supported from afar, you, my newborn raising tiny fists into the air) the media has gone largely silent, focusing once again on surges of COVID-19 and Trump’s tax returns. I want to believe that the world is still on fire. Not physically but psychologically. That the momentum will not stop and this is the burning to the ground of the old ways. We can do it metaphorically and psychologically, not just physically, to make a lasting impact. I want to believe that with our voices and physical bodies we are enacting change. That enough bodies will make a difference. Bodies are such an important part of the equation; they are, and always have been, the main source of contention, of value, of what we perceive as difference.
You squirm and burp and spit up on my shoulder as I pat your back. We wade through the fiery field and circle around the perimeter of our farm. Up at the top of the hill we can see the Olympic Mountains and a tiny sliver of the silvery Sound. Down the hill we pass the pigs we will harvest for chops and bacon and ham. We pass the chicken huts where dozens of meat birds scratch thought the grass for insects. We pass the goats that turn the blackberry leaves and grass they eat into fresh milk we pour into our coffee or into our older daughter’s cup. Close to the barn the hens peck and cluck and I wonder if there is a secret nest of orange-yolked eggs among the stacked bales of hay. The plum and apple trees boast tiny globes of fruit in varying degrees. The grass is clipped short near the garden. Beds erupt with beets and carrots, pea vines, potato plants, garlic, onions, lettuce, kale and an assortment of berries. We are fed and clothed and safe.
You, Fiona Rye, were born on the living room floor. When the masked midwife asked if I wanted to reach down and touch your head in the middle of pushing you through the birth canal, I said, “No, I just want her out!” I knew I’d have plenty of time to stroke your dark hair in coming days, weeks, months but that’s not the reason I said that; after two nights and one day of intense labor (screaming, moaning, grunting) I was ready to be done with contractions and near constant pain and wondering how so many (mothers and others) could endure so much suffering.
Your dad might say at one point or another, seriously or sarcastically, that Life is Suffering. We’ve both dabbled in Buddhist philosophy and this is one of the main concepts. It doesn’t mean that we need to be miserable all the time. You and your sister are probably better teachers about that than I am with your present-mindedness, your storms of crying and infectious laughter, all energy passing through. But I wonder what the world will be like in terms of tangible human suffering when you are old enough to empathize, to harbor regrets and doubts, to be aware of your biases, to hurt or heal others. Maybe you are aware already. Maybe you already think and do and say things you wish you hadn’t. If you don’t, you will. Or maybe you will grow up in a world that has changed enough fundamentally to mitigate the damage humans do to one another. I hope that we can raise you in a way that you see humans as humans in all their varying shapes and shades. I hope we can raise you to be not just aware but passionate about every single person’s right to dignity and respect and health.
You were born in a time of pandemic and national protests. You were born in a time when the skies cleared and animals took back their home territories and more of the population realized that precious food can be a scarcity. You were born in a time when people of color were (are) being murdered without repercussion and voices are rising up louder and louder against the injustice. This is why I have hope amidst the shouting through masks. I believe you chose to be born into this time of upheaval and change. Of burning (instead of burying) the old ways so that we do not have to unearth them from the core again.
Let the ashes cloud the sky. When they fall to the ground they will fertilize the soil for new growth. May you tend the seeds.
Originally published on Jenny Goff’s blog, Saltwater to Soil