Marty’s Garden: Bay City, Michigan

After an intense week on the computer, I am itching to paint. I sneak away from downsizing and memorabilia to begin a long-overdue freshening-up of my nature card line. I set the dining room table with paper, watercolor pencils, paints, pastels, brushes, a battery-powered pencil-sharpener, an electric eraser and a small dish of water and putter away the day in Marty Sielinski’s garden.

Every spring Marty rototills two or three garage-door-sized patches of lawn and flings handfuls of sunflower seeds saved from the previous year over the upturned soil. In no time countless two-leafed plantlets crowd the plots and start a race for sun. A month or two later, hundreds of blooms—delicate to sturdy, yellow to multi-colored, cookie- to platter-sized—sway three to six feet over the ground, jammed in tighter than clowns.

It’s a very pleasant place to spend some time. To the east, Colorado spruce, apple trees and an elegant elm rise above a wide rolling lawn, throwing shade away from Marty’s garden onto the house. Nor is there interference from the row of greenhouses to the south, the large rocky field that stretches west to a parking lot on a trafficked street, or the quiet nature trail to the northwest.

Under such gro-light conditions, sunflowers thrive; tarragon, mint and oregano merge into thickets and Marty’s second major crop—Early Girl, Big Boy, Roma and Sweet 100 tomatoes—soon hang with fruit. The fifty little transplants that begin life precisely spaced in neatly hoed rows, by August can’t be seen for the weeds. Despite this, and despite the resident groundhog whose large holes appear mid-patch, the Canadian geese that trample like elephants, long droughts or too much rain, by summer’s end, Marty and I each haul home a challenging harvest.

For more than ten summers—in recent years with my Min Pin Gracie—I have dropped by Marty’s garden to measure progress, help with watering and enjoy the gulls strewn across the massive evening sky all heading north. Cardinals and blue jays, sparrows and chickadees flit about nearby branches, waiting for us to vacate the sunflower buffet, but we sit out the sunset in white plastic chairs, drinking beer, watching the furrows overflow, until fireflies blink and mosquitoes begin to bite. 

I can go there now: Marty’s garden is a retreat I visit behind closed eyes.

MEMOIR WORKSHOP: Illustrations

Yikes! I promise to write about downsizing and instead I add to the piles! Oh well, I make or break the rules at my house and, after a dry year, I’m going with the flow.

About illustrations: Pictures, paintings, or old photos can enhance a memoir, or they can just gum up the works. I find it distracting to have to photograph something, download the photo, enhance it on PhotoShop and save it as a jpg or tiff or pdf. Since I know how to do this and including color online is free, I have added them. Nevertheless, memoirs often often don’t need illustrations; I hope to write entries that read just fine without them.