Tuesday, December 13, 2011

and some rays of hope

bare evans bali cherry at early sunset

I love working outside at twilight this time of year.  A couple of weeks ago I was putting away the rain barrel, shutting off the outdoor tap, taking up the fencing around the garden and a bunch of other little 'shutting down the garden' odd jobs.  I was working hard and sweating a bit, and noticed it was getting dark.  I looked up, and there were some crows gathered in the cottonwood tree, cawing.

Some say that's a bad omen- and maybe it was, given the news we got of Gita's cancer not long after.  

But I enjoy the noise of the crows- as awful as they sound- they're still active and undeterred by the cold.  They bring a little life to the winter landscape.  The same way-- I like the melancholy light of the winter sunset.  Sad, but beautiful.  A little reminder of what we had in the summer and will have again soon enough.

I was pruning the roses this weekend and had the same sort of experience- of being lost in garden work- everyone else; family, neighbors, was inside with the lights on, Xmas trees lit up.  I was cutting the rose canes and weaving them in with the blueberry bushes and cherry tree to keep the rabbits and  mice out.  I looked up and saw the end of a beautiful sunset on one side, and the full moon coming up on the other.  I stood quietly for a moment, in awe of the simple beauty of this everyday thing.  In the middle of the city, it felt like I was there alone with two of the great forces of nature. 


It hasn't been all sublime outdoor experiences these last two weeks.  Just the opposite.  Gita had her first chemo treatment at Mayo and I found out just how hard it is to care for a seriously ill wife and two small kids.  Friday was hard, but Saturday was a little bit better, and by Tuesday- today that is- she's almost back to her normal self.  

We have to do this seven more times.  Seven more times of Gita being injected with poison, becoming incredibly sick, and a slow recovery.  Each time she'll get weaker they say.

Then a mastectomy most likely, followed by radiation.  She's a healthy young woman, they say- she can take it. So they're giving her everything in their bag of tricks.

I appreciate the doctors at Mayo.  They've been thorough and  very honest with us throughout the process.  This really is the best medical treatment my wife could get.  
At the same time, it seems to be that cancer treatment hasn't really advanced much since I watched what it did to my mother, 20+ years ago.  The same procedures- chemotherapy, surgery, radiation.  For all of the advancements that are supposed to have been made in the fight against cancer, it's still the same sort of barbaric-seeming stuff.  More akin to something the Spanish Inquisition would have invented.  First they poison you, then cut you, then they burn you.  Of course at the end, you're still alive, at least if they did it right.

How this came to be, I don't know.  It's out of my hands.  I have to trust them to heal my wife.  

We've had a couple of snow falls since the last post.  It has already started to melt, but there's no question that it's winter now.  The kale is still soldiering on though.  There's no sign yet that they've given up. 

I like to leave the kale standing through the winter.  Partly because I like to keep  harvesting it-- or more correctly- Gita keeps
harvesting it for curry and saag until we finally get some below-zero weather that finally browns it up.  Usually that's some time in early to mid December.  The other reason to let it stand is to be food for the rabbits.
I know most gardeners don't want to do anything for the rabbits, and like I mentioned earlier, I'm trying weaving rose thorns into the blueberries to keep them out.  

But in the veggie garden, there's no damage that the rabbits can do from now until some time in late April.  That's when I put the rabbit fence back up.  In the meantime though- from some time in November until spring the rabbits leave behind something valuable in the veggie garden.  Rabbit pellets (or poop if you prefer) are wonderful natural fertilizer for the garden  with an NPK ratio of 2.4-1.4-0.6 (comparable or better than the sought-after chicken manure, but a lot less work).

Gardening organically means trying to establish a balance in the garden, creating a 'food forest' as the permaculturists like to call it.  I like to think of our little eighth-acre yard as being a part of a regenerating urban ecosystem, with foraging rabbits, hawks, owls and semi-tame cats as predators, and our yards and gardens at the base of the pyramid, feeding the fauna, and taking something back from them as well from time to time.

It's good to build resiliency into the system by harnessing natural systems, especially in times like these.  As oil becomes harder to extract, as the financial shows itself to be more and more corrupt, as the fabric of the larger society begins to come apart- it's good to know that the rabbits and the fruit trees will be there.  The greens will end up being far more useful than the greenbacks sometime in the near future, I think.

PS- regarding this picture- the kids are so happy to have mom home all the time now.  They know that she's sick and that they have to be 'extra super good' because she doesn't have much energy.  But they're happy just to have her home, energy or not.  They mostly like snuggling with her anyway.  That's our silver lining for the week.


  1. You have an amazing way with words. And, I'll try to remember this gardening theory, if I'm, erm, 'blessed' with as many rabbit pellets covering my lawn next spring as I was this past spring.

    I'm continuing to keep your family in my thoughts and prayers. Take care.

  2. Hello,

    I just want you and Gita to know I have been thinking of you since you broke the news of her cancer diagnosis. I hope the awful treatment works and she lives decades and decades. Thanks for the update and for talking about all the still-there beauty in your life. I also love crows and their raucous cries. --Jodi

  3. Thank you Amy and Jodi. We feel fortunate to have so many good people in our lives.

  4. I have been a long time Mpls "lurker" to your lovely blog drawn by a shared interest in urban farming w/ 2 small kids in tow. I was so saddened to hear about this misfortune your family has to deal with. Your descriptions of Gita lead me to believe that she is a strong, upbeat person - just the type to triumph. I can't wait to read about your family rejoicing after Gita gets the "ALL CLEAR" from her docs!!!

    Good thoughts and much healing from NE Mpls.


  5. Sorry to hear about the bad news. Very tough. I agree with you about the treatment still being he same after twenty years. My grandmother passed away from breast cancer.

    Have you researched the gerson therapy? It treats cancer with food. They have documentaries on Netflix about natural remedies for cancer. There's an amazing movies called fat, sick and nearly dead.

    Also, please research this great site:

  6. Here is the site http://www.earthclinic.com/CURES/cancer.html

  7. Hello Jeff Z
    My prayers to your family and Gita. I found your website in the comments section of Club Orlov and decided to write because you are nearly my neighbor.
    We live in Duluth Minnesota on a tenth of an acre of land in the city on the hillside. We have planted nearly every square inch of our lot in fruit trees, raspberries, currents, vegetables and flowers. Because of the steep front lot we have installed terraces to better use the area.
    We always tell our neighbors that we hate to mow the lawn and are trying to eliminate every blade of grass on our lot. I have extended my interest in gardening to the Duluth Community Garden Program to promote gardening throughout the city. I am an architect by trade but often get discouraged by the lack of thoughtful consideration of the eco-system and environment in buildings.

  8. Thank you all for the comments and the wishes. I'm amazed at the outpouring that this post has caused- both in comments and in emails off of this site.

    I don't accept advertising on this blog, so comments are my compensation for doing this a few times a month.

    Leigh Ann- she is a strong woman and we're feeling confident. It's good to get outside encouragement though. Thank you.

    Dan- I looked up the website and it has a lot of good advice to offer. On the advice of my stepmom's sister-in-law we've incorporated some of that advice already, though in tandem with allopathic treatment, since we've already started it, and also at this point we want to have the best possible chance of her living a long time for the kids.

    Unknown Dan-- Glad to hear from someone in the architecture profession (and maybe a landscape architect at heart) Good luck with the hill lot. What a gorgeous place to live. The growing season is too short for me, but I always love driving to Duluth and the North Shore and am always amazed that this is the same state.

  9. I don't know very much about the process, but I can see that is very tiring and difficult: and with so much at stake.

    You will be in my prayers.

  10. Well the song of the blackbird is mighty clear
    On a mornin' such as this
    And all those useless pains & fears
    Those things that I won't miss

    And the Morning Glories and Queen Anne's lace
    Baptized by the wind
    These inspirations are my saving grace
    In these times we're living in

    Make a hard man humble
    Make a proud woman hide
    Her eyes from the light of day
    When all the crops have withered and died
    And the soil has blown away
    The ground is so dry
    The river's on its hands and knees
    And I hear that tune in the breeze
    The crow is callin' and I hear him well
    Up in the red bud tree
    Any the stories that you've lived to tell
    Pass 'em down to me

    Whisper the truth
    Into your childrens ears
    Let them know
    Let them understand
    Let them hear
    The song of the blackbird is mighty loud
    Through the evening mist
    The moon is up and it looks so proud
    Lookin' down on a night, on a night like this

    Dry - William Elliot Whitmore

    Hey Jeff, I thought you might like the lyrics to this song by William Elliot Whitmore. I am not one for prayers, but you and your family are in my thoughts ... Peace, Andy

  11. Hi Russel and Andy-
    Thanks for the kind words and the song. I'll have to look that one up.