*I wrote this a month before we became aware of how severe COVID-19 is, and how severely it would affect our daily life. The month was January, the year was 2020, and the world was different.
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I am drinking coffee on my mother’s front porch while she weeds her garden.
It is 8 a.m. The morning is warm and wet and a thin film of sand grits everything. My mother recently returned from the dog park, where her Shrek played with Georgie, a giant heterochromial Husky from down the street. The “dog park” is a fenced-in triangle between the nursery school and the women’s ritual bath. My mother, a traditional woman in her 60s, has found a tribe of sorts in the other dog owners, a group of 30-somethings with various piercings and tattoos who congregate boisterously at the dog park with freshly brewed coffee and joints to pass around.
My parents live in Pardesiya, a sprawling village surrounded by orange groves, a short drive from the coastal city of Netanya. The name of their village translates, like so many other names in this country, of things, places, people, to something god-filled, or at least god-touched. In this case Pardesiya means “the orchards of God.” Netanya means “given by God.”
I live in the Ella Valley — “God’s valley” — near the Gaza border. It’s a small country so everything is more or less near a border. In war season, I can see the rockets from Gaza being intercepted by the Iron Dome, or alternately, hear them explode as they land in mostly open fields. In the airspace above my bedroom, military helicopters practice night maneuvers once a week, lights off and flying extremely low to the ground. I imagine helicopter blades slicing neatly through my yurt. I imagine bombs exploding nearby. I feel old. My still-teenaged mind goggles at the ancientness of 36, and I feel tired, and scared. At the same time I feel excited about all the possibilities I’ve never investigated: maybe I will be a photographer, or a belly dancer in Bali, or a famous artist in Prague where I will drink vodka and smoke cigarettes and never see anyone I know ever again. Probably not, but the things I can do and be here and now, are, if not endless, then very very wide. I feel a stronger commitment to live up to myself.
I visit my parents once a week — a trip of approximately three hours on public transportation — and stay the night, as I am taking an herbal medicine class in their area and it seems a good excuse to have a night away from home. I am learning how to identify what the land has to offer. I am learning the different properties of each plant — and there are many — and how to alchem them into tinctures, lotions, potions, remedies. There is no such thing as a weed. Every plant has its purpose. Returning back to my farm, I feel the contrast of the two different climates inside my body, hot coastal dampness filling my lungs in the morning, cool desert air bathing me at night.
I am drinking coffee in the shade of my mother’s porch. Sand grits the backs of my thighs. My mother kneels on a cushion, orthopedic shoes denting the dirt behind her in a patch bounded by palm trees and a stone wall that houses a lizard. Her grey hair is caught back in a headband, and the morning light has given her a fuzzy halo. She is talking about her gardener, Almog, who has gone missing again. Apparently, he does this periodically: stops coming over when he’s supposed to, stops answering his phone, doesn’t return messages. He has a tendency to later reappear unannounced, without providing an explanation for his absence, or even mentioning it at all.
And also, he doesn’t weed, so I would have to do this anyway, my mother says, wiping her dirty fingers on the knees of her velour pajama pants. He says he’s scared of accidentally weeding out an actual plant we put there on purpose. He says too many people have yelled at him for that, for taking out the wrong weeds.
I sip my now lukewarm coffee, So he doesn’t come over regularly and he doesn’t weed…. What does he do?
Oh, and he also doesn’t use the leaf blower. But that’s because I won’t let him, my mother bends back down and yanks out a handful of chickweed that is intent on overtaking her snapdragons. Stellaria media: anti-inflammatory, and a good source of Vitamin C, a bunch of which is currently steeping in 100 proof alcohol in her yurt back home. Those leaf blowers are so terrible for the environment, and the noise, good God —
No, I asked what does he do, I look up, shading my eyes.
Well, you know, he helps me plant things, my mother says, gesturing to the garden. And also, the things he’s been through, so….well, he needs to disappear sometimes. I feel bad for his wife and their baby – you know he’s married right, this beautiful little boy – but he needs to go away sometimes. His father fucked him up pretty bad, and then he was in Jenin in 2002 which fucked him up really bad, and now he’s scared he’s fucking up his boy. He’s so beautiful you know, these giant brown eyes.
It isn’t clear to me if she means Almog, or the boy, but I don’t ask for clarification.
My mother pauses to adjust her headband and wipe her hairline, where sweat has begun to gather. Mediterranean skin, via Sweden via Canada via the States. Via Poland, via Hungary, via the Pale of Settlement via Spain via this land long before that. Pogroms and expulsions, annihilation and assimilation. The backstory for this garden in God’s orchard.
And I sip my coffee, though now it’s cold and almost finished, holding it in my own Mediterranean hands. I meditate vaguely on intergenerational trauma and the history of being a Jew. I think about the history of being part of any persecuted nation, and the ways I’m definitely fucking my own kids up. I don’t know what my mother is thinking about, but I give her a hand up. She sits on the porch while I make us both a fresh cup of coffee, and we sit and watch the garden together.