Wednesday, February 3, 2010


By KJ Hannah Greenberg

At one point in my life, my husband and I purchased a home in a fairly upscale neighborhood. Although ours was the small cottage among towering McMansions, our domicile was our heaven, sanctuary, and laboratory. Our youngest child was born there. Our interest in sacred matters was nurtured there. My rebirth as a writer began there.

That revival came about through a process of weeding. Somewhere, amidst our intentional gardens and our wild flora, I found a piece of me that I had previously and wrongly believed ought to be discarded as no longer serviceable. When we moved from apartment to condo, when we transported from rental to sublet, when we had no backyard, I had focused my energies on greenhouse beauties, both real and figurative.

In other words, rather than allow myself to become vulnerable to the enchantments of motherhood, e.g. to the chromatic nuance found in moon flowers and in other funnel-shaped blossoms, I directed myself toward things academic. That is, I allowed myself passion for only those blooms which are easily identifiable in catalogs. I cared nothing for dandelion or for chickweed, or for any other potentially healing agent. Artifice sufficed until goopy faces and filled diapers returned me to sensibilities.

Whereas it’s difficult to pursue footnotes with a toddler howling in the background or with a nursling plucking at your blouse, it’s not impossible to double dig a row of eupatorium or to sow seeds for a crop of hormone-friendly wild carrot while the kids fling mud. When I could no longer concentrate on the third level of linguistic abstraction, literally, on “the gist,” of a passage about deconstructed prose, I was still able to discern between chokeweed and horseradish. During that period, in preparing lecture notes, I frequently confused ancient criteria for determining truth with contemporary skepticism, but had little trouble teaching my preschoolers to nibble daintily on the petals of lemon sorrel or to suck the sweetness from honeysuckle.

I am forever appreciative that my family had the opportunity to own enough land (albeit far short of even an acre) to watch groundhogs borrow after eating our plantain, to observe local deer tasting our wintergreen, and to spy on tiny spiders that made their way across the arches of our Dutchman’s pipe. Together, my loved ones and I learned a lot by listening to the warbling emanating from within our junipers and the chirping echoing out from beneath our spreading wild grapes.

Remarkably, such moments occurred many years ago. My babies are teens now and getting older. My family’s home is no longer in a hardiness zone with regular cycles of heat and of cold, but in an area classified as a desert. Today, I am not mystified by milkweed or bewildered by lavender. I know thyme to be a powerful friend against respiratory infections and I recognize aloe as an ally for skin ailments. I applaud the march of tiny hedgehog feet across grand stretches of asphalt and smile as lizards scamper on my sun-soaked merpesset.

I still encourage my children, though, to celebrate life’s diverse goodness. Yet, during this chapter, it is my teens who overtake me when identifying roadside artemisia or distinguishing a parking lot full of prickly poppy. My not-so-little ones see as commonplace a bud’s ability to restore and to teach and they take for granted that their mother dances not only with research on semantic veracities, but also that she documents her life’s answers in essay and in verse.

As for me, bereft of those times of sticky fingers, while gladly rid of that span marked by performance-based outcomes, I watch the hummingbirds, bright in their iridescent dress, drink from the geraniums sprouting in my office window. Beneath those fliers’ busy wings, I track submissions to trade publishers, to staid literary magazines, and to women’s journals. As I move words around on my electronic pages, I remain thankful that some time ago I learned to value those seemingly undesirable elements that were growing around me. Specifically, I remain grateful that someone taught me the worth of “weeds.”

KJ Hannah Greenberg and her hibernaculum of imaginary hedgehogs fly the galaxy in search of gelatinous monsters and assistant bank managers. Although Hannah had worked as a rhetoric professor, she gave up all manners of academic hoopla to raise children. Evidence of that endeavor can be found in Oblivious to the Obvious: Wishfully Mindful Parenting (French Creek Press, Spring 2010).

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