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  • Writer's pictureMetta


Updated: Jan 10, 2021

I was seeking a place to live, and was going through the list of homes that would fit my budget. That is a privilege in an area of the country with massive housing shortages. And I know that the history of my Whiteness supported that search and ultimately my finding a small house, through the access I have to loans, the kind of job I have, the historical access that came through the privilege of Whiteness my family has had. My family had access to the GI bill long ago that changed the trajectory of my family, changed our access we have had to generational education. And so much more.

So I found this small sunflower yellow house. This house had been on the market for more than a month, which meant the realtors stopped caring particularly about it, it wasn't "hot". It had always been a rental before me, and had a lot of work done before I found it. Another flipped house of the Bay Area. I walked in and it felt good in my body, something about the energy of the place, even with all the upturned feeling I had at that time having so recently moved to the Bay Area and feeling the strain of the way houses are pursued.

My house has no driveway, and has concrete and paving and rocks everywhere. The fence is in dire need of repair. There are strange iron pilings in weird places, the vestiges of decking that once covered a huge proportion of the yard. There are old signs of rat burrows under the concrete edges. The soil under the two trees in back (one apricot, one nectarine) is covered in heavy black plastic, with a layer of heavy river rocks on top. I didn't even realize they were river rocks (not having seen that as a ground cover before) and felt an ache for the river missing it's rocks. The two fruit trees are in dire need of pruning - I went through apricot season with tons of fruit that was nearly impossible to reach - it mostly fell down making jam on the ground as birds and squirrels knocked it down. Thankfully some area friends showed up wearing masks to take away and gobble up the reachable apricots.

Much of the other planting areas when I moved in were also covered in black plastic and tree mulch dyed black.

I want to get back to the soil. And slowly get it back to living and breathing again. When the pandemic lifted enough that the places I could test soil opened again, I had the soil tested. I took samples from the places I can reach as I started to remove black plastic and mulch. Thankfully not high in lead even though my house is from the thirties, the lead levels are indicative though of an old house with lead paint a while ago. I was relieved to not see more on the report. I'm not far from the Chevron oil refinery along the Bay, and I wondered how much was in the air that was falling down onto the back yard of the years.

It's sandy soil I think, this close to the Bay, my guess on part of how the soil is resistant to holding water. But also I see signs of years of lawn maintenance, and not certain how much fertilizer was used and what was done to the soil. The area under the trees has an old plastic filament everywhere, signs of sod that once was there. There are pieces of metal and plastic in relation to an old in-ground sprinkler system.

In the places where I can access the dirt right now, I planted sunflowers to stretch roots deep into the soil to start to open it back up again, and to also pull metals from the soil like lead, and to start rebuilding humus. I have a book "the Soul of Soil" that I'm going to reread, to remember. To get in touch again with the soul of the ground here. Marigolds and tomatoes, indigo, poppies, green beans, california native flowers, they are taking root. A lot of compost is needed, and in the next rains if they come in the fall (please God may they arrive), I'll start that process too of giving food back to the soil and the materials that build back up what holds moisture.

I dream of removing all the hardscaping, and spent one night staying up late looking at pictures of people using sledge hammers to break up concrete in their yards. I want the rain, when it falls, to soak back into the earth. To be back in cycle again. Rather than pouring out into the street and then through sewage ways. I want the water to give back to the water table. I want to use grey water, and give that back to the ground as well.

There are a lot of rats on this block. And a lot of rabbits that look like they were once the variety that is domesticated. Things are out of balance. Rodents are always a part of the environment. But when things are out of balance we are all out of balance with each other. The only predators are feral cats. I'm sad I can't have a compost bin because of the presence of the rats, they love any garbage. I admire that, seeing them as another of natures cleaning crews. But with a 28 day gestation period for making more rats, and my not wanting them to move back into my yard, or under my home, I have to move what could be good compost out through my "green bin". It breaks my heart to not complete the cycle of growing things back into soil back into growing things. There is a huge tom cat that stalks the yards here, I call him Mr. Big. He is enormous and ferocious looking.

When I got here all the change I wanted to make felt urgent. Sometimes still it does feel urgent, but I keep trying to remember to slow down. Over and over. Get to know this place. I come from intense people, and I also am White colonialist-settler and with that there is a tradition of rushing and changing and controlling, which is not creating a safe space for others or the world. I'm getting to know my neighbors of all kind, getting to know the yard, getting to know the neighborhood. I've moved so frequently and so fast, often living in places where other people move a lot too, such that I haven't made roots or ripped them back up as soon as some went into the ground. I'm trying to go slow on setting down some roots.

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