Posts Tagged ‘native plants’

Back to School in Ethiopia and always

threegirls021Not long after we got to Ethiopia, my big sister got to go to kindergarten.  Her teacher was so fond of her, she even gave her a lovely, big doll. I was probably mildly jealous of my sister’s having such a doll, but I was REALLY jealous that she got to go to school and I didn’t. (I’m the one holding forth in the red pjs.)

Like a lot of Ethiopian kids I’ve met in the last decade, I could see perfectly well that theEBCEF025chance to sit and read books and learn was something special…and not something everybody got to do.

I wanted desperately to be in school.

determinationOnce we moved to Maji in the southwest corner of Ethiopia, my mom started to homeschool my older sister. We sisters always had great projects going on. (In this picture I’m the determined-looking one on the left.) My mom says that I would ask, “Do I have to go to school?” Since I was only four, she would say, “Only if you want to.” I’d say, “No! Mom! Say I HAVE to go to school.”

I wanted to be legit.

Right outside the fence was a school where I saw kids as old as 15-16-17 getting to to to school for the first time. Very few of them were girls.majischoolMy sisters and I would climb the cedar trees around our house and pretend they were stores. We had elaborate games around pretending that we were shopping or going to real school.

coregoneThis is the year my older sister did go off. To Real School. Boarding school in Addis Ababa. Now I was the oldest kid at home. EAL288

The next August or September, my parents put my older sister and me in a Jeep and off we went down the mountain to get on the Ethiopian Airlines airplane that would take us both to Addis Ababa. Everybody cried. I instantly learned about being homesick. But I also knew that for the first time I’d have classmates. A library. Homework.

Real school.

1 airplane748I’ll never forget standing under the shade of the airplane wing on the hot savanna waiting for the agents to finish their paperwork so we could take off. I’ll never forget the feelings of being off to school.

???????????????????????????????Now I teach writing in an MFA program. VCFA is as real as it gets (although it’s a low-residency program, so I guess it’s somewhat like the schools of my early childhood.) I’ve never stopped being a student, too. Right now, I’m a humble learner about native plants in my backyard and about crafting fiction and nonfiction at my writing desk…so glad for a world that lets me stretch my mind and never stop being curious.

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Starting as a clueless mess

The beginning of my rootedness wasn’t pretty.

old family (2)I lived in Portland, Oregon until I was two years old (look at the daffodils behind us) with a good and beautiful princess of an older sister and (eventually) a younger sister. But after my parents moved us to Ethiopia, I never lived in Portland again…until a couple of years ago.

1 blackberry massWe moved into a house that had been a rental most of its recent life, and the back yard was a mass of weeds including this blackberry thicket. 1 blackberryI loved trotting out to pick fresh blackberries.  I didn’t yet know–in the words of Oregon.gov–“Armenian blackberry is the most widespread and economically disruptive of all the noxious weeds in western Oregon.”

spidermenI’d had a vegetable garden before. When my kids were little, I wanted to share with them the things that had brought me joy as a kid–including my dad’s love of storytelling and tagging along with my dad to the garden in Ethiopia where he rhapsodized about the taste of dirt on a raw potato. Writing Lanie for American Girl, though, had gotten me interested for the first time in how plants could make a difference in your own back yard. I wanted to plant native plants. And I wanted to experiment–not do research and make meticulous plans. Performance anxiety, don’t you know?

1 bare spotThe back yard had those blackberries, ivy on the fence, a big bare spot, and several stumps. So I mostly started in the front–with some herbs and a few things my big sister (see beautiful princess above) shared with me.

Here’s how much I was starting at the total bottom:

–I didn’t know to watch my yard for sun and shade and not plant sun-loving plants in shade or vice versa.

–I lovingly spread wood sorrel because I thought it was charming–not knowing it spreads both underground and through pods that build up pressure and then burst, sending the seed flying several feet (and spreading the wood sorrel everywhere).

(Read more from original site: Yellow Wood Sorrel (Oxalis Stricta), Lawn Weed Identification & Control http://www.better-lawn-care.com/wood-sorrel.html#ixzz30hL5U8zV)

–I was ignorant about and therefore tolerant of a few other yard thugs, too.

–I thought Portland was rainy year-round.

–I didn’t know there were water loving herbs and dry-loving herbs, and it wasn’t smart to plant them in the same small spot.

–I couldn’t recognize what was coming up in my yard the first spring including…grass.

–I BOUGHT MINT and planted it.  Yikes!

Barbara Kingsolver writes in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, “Many bright people are really in the dark about vegetable life”–and tells of a friend who asked what she meant when she said, “The potatoes are up.” When Kingsolver explained, her friend said, “Wow. I ever knew a potato had a plant part.” When I was working on Anna Was Here, I knew many of its readers would never have set foot on a farm.

Anna+was+HereKingsolver says, “Now it’s fair to say, the majority of us don’t want to be farmers, see farmers, pay farmers, or hear their complaints. Except as straw-chewing figures in children’s books, we don’t quite believe in them anymore.”

I knew about potatoes because of my dad’s vegetable garden when I was growing up in Ethiopia.

But I was still starting from scratch with anything but vegetables–and the beginning wasn’t pretty.

 

 

Come on, Mother Nature, give peace a chance

On Saturday, I was honored to speak at a young author’s conference in southern Washington, and was it ever special. These days, it takes almost heroic effort to pull off such things–teachers, parents, kids all choosing to be part of a reading and writing event instead of all the other things tugging at them. On the way home, my sister Cathy and I stopped at Hortlandia. I wanted to look for native Oregon plants. Writing the Lanie books woke me up to what a difference we can make with native plants that support native insects eaten by native birds–and now I have a garden to play with.

1 weeds (2)Alas and alack, one of the plants I bought shows up on some lists of noxious and maybe even invasive plants, which sent me back to trying to learn more about the weeds in my back yard–like this one.  More and more I realize that the things in my back yard are unwanted.  I’m learning all kinds of new vocabulary from “vigorous” to “pushy” to “thug.”  My weekend reading made me see in a new way that invasive plants are crowding out Oregon native wildflowers and ground cover because they are just so bold and strong and overpowering, and I should be doing my bit to not add to the problem.

Eeek.

???????????????????????????????I like moss.  I’m happy to live with a lot of things other people call weeds.  I’m having fun playing with the stones I dig out of my dirt.  But a lot of the weeds hanging around my back yard are the really bad ones that will bully other plants around–and now I know I need to learn more about weed identification and weed pulling.

Come on!  Why can’t at least some of the weeds that have invited themselves in be nice native plants that will behave themselves?  Why are ALL of them the bullies?

t189The only hopeful thought of the day is a metaphorical one.  My friend Ann Porter in ND introduced me to Betty who grew up in Ethiopia without all the coaxing and tending of reading habits that goes on in the United States.  No reading teacher.  No library.  No tutor.  No ELL teacher.  No special stories crafted just for her interests…and yet that seed of reading fell, anyway, and she ended up loving to read…and her reading opened doors for her to eventually get an advanced degree…and now she’s running a marathon so that kids in Ethiopia can have more. books.

Bertuan KebedeThis teacher of a new Ethiopia Reads school explained to an interviewer that she has made it a mission to protect young girls from the practice of forced marriage. “Being a woman in this society, you aren’t supposed to speak. Being a teacher, I now have a voice” Girls who are not in school are frequently forced to marry as young as 12 years old. Kololo opened this school year with children as old as 12 years old starting in kindergarten and first grade. “I’m helping the girls by empowering them. If they are educated, they can be heard.”

This week, I’ll fly out to Denver…and from there to Kansas and NYC where Ethiopia Reads volunteers have organized events to help us keep going on our efforts.  I’ll leave the garden and yard weeds behind for a while and think about reading seeds that, thankfully, grow in the strangest places.