Rye diary: The final days

As a diarist, I would never make it. Hat’s off to you, Mr. Pepys.

This post has been a long time coming. Earlier, I picked all the rye that looked ripe.

rye seed heads harvested

I set it in the shed, the way I should set my poems in a drawer. A few weeks later, I rolled out the seeds, and over the next few days tried to clean all the bristles out. I haven’t cooked the rye yet, because I can’t tell whether I got the husk off. Ah, novices.

I still had the stiff stalks and a vigorous crop of weeds growing up between them.

dead rye stalks

And I still wanted to plant a new crop of winter rye—one that, this time, I would dig under in spring.

The problem? Yellow jackets. Early on in the summer, I noticed a constant activity of flying, stinging insects, and I realized that yellow jackets had an underground nest at the edge of the rye patch. One website said that yellow jackets are ferocious and will kill you and should be exterminated immediately. Another website said that if you could leave them alone, they would leave you alone. But how big is that nest, and is it under my rye patch? Digging no longer seemed like a good idea.

Finally, with a pair of grass clippers, I cut down the stalks. Along the way, I pulled some verbena–seeds from a plant pulled years ago, seeds that had stayed dormant during the years of the rampant roses and now, with the ground cleared, are cropping up everywhere. I tried to avoid the random parsley, the come-back sage, and second-generation strawberries. And when I pulled one feathery plant, thinking it might be angelica, I found a tiny carrot!

carrot on the table

Then I gently, timidly, raked the soil, spread some more seeds, raked again to get them under a little dirt, and covered the patch with the old straw.

Now, while the rest of the garden goes to shambles, the rye patch revives.

new rye coming up

All the while, I’ve been thinking about those yellow jackets, the verbena, the carrot, and writing. I want those stinging neighbors to stay underground—but in writing, I want to excavate the whirr and barbs. It’s also scary. I’m still learning how to be brave. In writing, I want the dormant stories and feelings to surface like that verbena. And yes, I’m hoping to renew and grow greenly, hoping to pull up a carrot.

Rye diary: Day fourteen, what feeds us

Slowly, the rye is ripening. Or just staying damp. It was raining softly when I took this photo.

rye patch

Note that tall stalk just right of the center. Here’s a closer look:

headless rye stalk

That intricate, jewel-like seed head seen in earlier photos is gone. Just gone.

This is the mystery: The rye heads have been disappearing. You might think they’d fallen off from their own weight. But the ground shows no evidence of fallen seed heads. Something must be coming in the night and dining on the rye.

And trampling the center of the patch.

Maybe multiple creatures: one that rampages through low, and one that attacks from higher up.

I say attack, but I’m trying to mean feast. I had nurtured ideas that I might be able to harvest my tiny crop of rye and make something of it. I could cook the berries like rice, or grind them into some trace amount of flour to use in muffin. Now, that looks unlikely. By the time it’s ready, it will be gone. But it seems I’m pleasing my uninvited guest.

It’s got me thinking about what we feed and what feeds us. When you’re in your day, how do you nourish your writing? And how does it nourish you? The rye patch reminds me to make better choices, to feed and be fed by what’s important to me.

And to take time to enjoy the few stalks left.

rye seed head close up

Rye diary: Days eleven, twelve, and thirteen

I confess that I spend all day watching the rye stir and lean in each slight breeze. But it’s when I zoom in, pay close attention, that I notice the changes.

Here is the rye on June 29. You can see that small grains are beginning to form.

It’s hard to see (apologies on my lack of photography skills), but on July 6, the kernels are becoming plumper, so that the surface is bumpier, less tidy.

Now some of the rye is falling over, and some of it has aphids. The seamy, seedy (!) side of the patch. But this evening, I spotted one ladybug, a small red gem.

And that is my reward for close attention. I’ve been reading about how close attention can lead to reverie. In my case, I’m hoping for stronger, more startling metaphors. In the meantime, I get practice looking, and the joy, occasionally, of seeing.

Rye diary: Days eight, nine, and ten

As I walk past the rye, sometimes I have to stop and just watch it. The smallest breeze makes it sway, which is one reason it’s so hard to take pictures that aren’t blurry.

This morning, a mizzling rain falls, but I’ll share photos from some earlier days. I’ve wanted to draw grand, insightful parallels to writing, but lately the rye has felt more like a meditation, a graceful and ragged silence.

Day eight:

rye with bloom and expanding spikelets

This was last Sunday, June 16. See how the bristles are spreading? I was thinking of a parallel with writing, how to grow in my work, I need to open up. It’s true, but it also sounds cliche. But the rye is beautiful in a tattered way.

Day nine:

Tuesday, June 18. An early morning rain left the rye jeweled. It’s so tall and slender, I imagine that a really hard rain could take it out. So on my way to work, I stop to capture this one picture. I’ve been doing a little research, and I learned that, for soil benefits, you’re supposed to till it under much earlier. But this sowing was more for beauty.

Day 10:

rye patch

Thursday, June 20. Another blurry picture. I’ve focused (!) a lot on the seed heads. Sometimes I like to look at the whole patch, down into the slender forest of it.

Rye diary: Day seven

A lot has been changing, and I have not been fast enough with my camera. You can see that the winter rye has grown taller.

backyard with rye patch

The seed heads grow larger and more defined.

close up of rye seed head

This is why I planted the rye in the first place—for these jewels. And now they’re starting to bloom!

Still scraggly looking, but it’s a work in progress.

On day five of the rye diary, I talked about free writes—how all the writing I’ve been doing in my notebook feels like a scraggly patch, leggy and with nothing standing out.

The seed heads beginning to develop made me think of work, or more exactly, energy. The energy it takes to make these intricate structures, and the work I need to put in to make a few notes or a free write into a first draft—even a rough first draft—of a poem. This past week, I started that work.

My writing group was going to meet, and I wanted to have something to bring, at least a reasonable facsimile of that rough draft. I took a little time away from homework for poem work—going over some of those earlier writings, grouping them together, splitting them apart again, pulling out lines or paragraphs, going back, starting over, trying to make two or three poems into one, going back again, until I thought I had one idea I could work with.

Emphasis on “work,” because I realized how much I needed that, how easy it is for me to lose confidence when I’m not in the thick of it. The meeting was later postponed, but I’m grateful to have a poem started, grateful for the reminder that immersion and attention nurture the writing, and grateful for this funny little patch of winter rye.

What do you do when you feel rusty or fallow? How do you start on a poem?