Tender (adj): 1. marked by, responding to, or expressing the softer emotions
2. highly susceptible to impressions or emotions
3 b. having a soft or yielding texture : easily broken, cut, or damaged
5. a. sensitive to touch or palpation
b. sensitive to injury or insult
c. demanding careful and sensitive handling; ticklish
d. incapable of resisting cold : not hardy
6. delicate or soft in quality or tone
8. obsolete : DEAR, PRECIOUS
Tender (noun): 1. one who tends
As in a garden or poem or child. Poetry, motherhood, gardening–each involves tending to life. Each requires attention and love. Each is often tedious and frustrating. Each is slow and involves a lot of repetition. Each is much more about maintenance and care than production and sale. None have much value in capitalism. But the skills learned and strengthened in one carry over to the others: to embrace messiness and imperfection, to allow my own failure, my stunning impatience, and still persistently to remain tender and be a tender–of words, of children, and hopefully, of the land where I live–can be my small refusal to swim in cultural currents that demand speed, flash, and marketability.
I’ve been a mom for eighteen years and writer since I was a child myself, but I’m brand new at learning how to be in a healthy relationship with this particular place, originally home to the Patwin peoples. When we moved back to California two years ago I discovered the California Native Plant garden at our state park. Day after day as I walked the moss covered paths I fell in love with the plants I met–the deep reddish-brown bark of the common manzanita, the pale California Buckwheat blooms, the falling arms of the Valley Oaks, the pink profusion of the Western Redbud, and the sway of various sedge and wild grasses. So, of course, I started reading to learn more.
California, like the rest of the U.S. has a disturbing human and ecological history. As European powers and peoples (my ancestors) arrived they decimated native human populations and ecologies. Here in the midst of that ongoing history and at the point of climate collapse there are also restoration efforts. I began to seek out ways that I might engage in ecological reparations for this land and its peoples, in some small way.
Shortly, after joining California Native Plant Society I stumbled on this passage in an article by Nancy Bauer and saw that I could start with our yard.
Our suburban, urban, and rural gardens are fast becoming a last refuge for many wildlife species, such as songbirds, butterflies, bees, toads, frogs and other beneficial creatures, that have lost habitat due to human development. In some cases, cultivated gardens that offer a rich diversity of native plants may offer more resources, such as foraging opportunities for birds and other wildlife, than surrounding degraded wild lands. (Habitat Value of our Gardens).
In “Tending the Wild,“ M. Kat Anderson writes; The english language is laden with words whose forgotten meanings point to nature’s capacity for renewal and instruct us on how to live with nature. For example, the word resource, which now connotes ownership and production for profit, comes from the old French feminine past participle resourdre, which meant ‘to rise again.” The world horticulutre, which comes from the roots hortus (‘to garden’) and culture (‘to take care of, worship, cultivate, respect’) essentially means “to garden with respect.” So, I’ve also decided to pursue a certificate in horticulture and recently began volunteering at East Bay Wilds in November. (unfortunately on temporary hiatus because of covid surge)
With the removal of large non-native shrubs and getting Toyon, penstemon, and various grasses in the ground our long-term endeavor has begun. Next a few redbuds, sages, and more grasses. Then the removal of additional non-native plants and manzanita, bush mallow, and currants. Eventually, I hope to host a summer poetry reading series in the garden. And that house and yard might become a free writing-retreat space for poet-moms when our family’s away beach camping. To gradually extend my private practice of tending to my own yard, garden, children out in ways that also tend my larger community–that’s the dream.