Earth Day at 50, during a Pandemic

The Pentagon orders 100,000 body bags. Forty-five refrigerated trucks to hold corpses dot the five boroughs of New York City; a tent hospital opens in Central Park; and heartless mass burials happen in freshly-dug holes the size of football fields on an island named Hart in the Bronx, on the western end of the Long Island Sound, the body of water that separates Long Island from Connecticut and where I used to go to the beach as a child growing up in a village named Mineola.* 

Instead of a fat sports section since all sports leagues are shut down, the Boston Globe sports eleven pages of obituaries on Easter Sunday. My older daughter . . .

ls-8And so starts Chapter 5 (which I wrote a week ago) of my monthly work-in-progress, Leaving Suburbia for the Peace Corps**. I thought of it yesterday as I planted, yet again, as I do every time I hear bad news.

Yesterday’s gut punch was that the governor of my state made a decision to reopen additional select businesses in Georgia rather than actually do what’s needed first based on scientific recommendations. Those nail salons and bowling alleys and gyms (and more) open this Friday, with sit-down restaurants to join in next Monday. This in a state that has tested only about 1% of its population for COVID-19 or its antibodies during a global pandemic, where we know transmission can and does happen as a result of asymptomatic carriers.

I am three days away from having participated in a Zoomeral*** (online funeral) for my father-in-law, who died of the coronavirus; I see my mother behind glass at her senior living facility; and I feel like I’m dodging attackers in a dark alleyway any time I attempt to pop into a supermarket for a quick necessity.

I’m flying through bars of Ivory with all the hand-washing (and am figuring out how to make what’s called a tippy tap hand washing station outdoors, such as what some folks in African villages are doing). I bleach every doorknob and light switch each morning, and as a result, every piece of clothing I own has a bleach stain on it (which I count as an historic artifact).

I wear and share my homemade masks, and I take the long, hilly way any time I ride my bike to deliver them because it’s impossible to pass walkers and runners on busier, flatter roads without having to thrust myself into speeding motor vehicle traffic in order to maintain social distancing — and there’s a limit to how much of that risk I’m willing to take right now. A virus testing site I pass on bike sits idle each and every time, and I am told by the workers there not to take any photos of the site because they “don’t want people to know it’s here.” (I take a photo from public space). I am confused.

And so I plant, in the spaces I had cut and cleared and covered with the expectation I’d be leaving June 2 for Philly for staging and then Entebbe International for Peace Corps Uganda (the departure date for which is now pushed to September 30th the earliest).

And the funny thing is that once I started planting again, the garden took off like wildfire. The clearing of it, combined with the time to tend to it and the mildest spring I’ve ever experienced here in metro Atlanta, has led to daily abundance at a time my family really benefited from it.

In-ground beds, an elevated planter, and even a clementine box overflow. Plus, the Sharing Garden I created by the curb for passing walkers has begun its first harvest of radishes, and I’ve received messages with photos attached of children picking them as well as notes in my mailbox from people I do and don’t know. I am digging up clumps of lemon balm and cutting sprigs of rosemary to share this week. (If interested, see my Lemon Balm and Pistacchio Pesto recipe.)


3C093FC9-DEAE-487F-88B2-FB84E385280ATomorrow is the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. I was in a play in 1st grade on the first Earth Day in 1970. I was a tree, and my one line was “Please prop up my branch; it is about to break.”

And now, 50 years later, we were about to break. But we haven’t.

Our air feels clearer right now than it has been in years; there are bikes laying on their sides on driveways where they have never been before; the birds are louder (or just seem that way); I know more of my neighbors today than I did six weeks ago; the kale babies are waving and we have our first tomato. Plus, I join artists everywhere in being newly inspired and feeling a responsibility to document these times creatively (I’m working on a poetry collection titled The Masks We Wear, a poem from which titled and there will be blackberries will be published in The New Yorker).

Things are bad.

Things are good.

Things just are.

And so I plant.

For more ideas about starting a Victory Garden, see my current free Substack newsletter

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For more stories, tips, and recipes about growing food, knowledge, and community, see my book, Food for My Daughters, available globally. All proceeds help provide food for those in need.fullsizeoutput_30c7

* featured in my book, Traveling at the Speed Bike

** if interested, see Chapter 1 of Leaving Suburbia for the Peace Corps: Truth? I’m Scared.

*** I’m currently working on an article about Zoomerals for The New York Times

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