Last spring I made a huge mistake and bought a mint plant at the grocery store. It was an impulse buy, and even at the time I knew it was a bad idea to buy a plant from a grocery store rather than from a garden center. But I wanted to be able to make my favorite drink at home whenever I wanted, so I got it despite my better judgment. So that’s how I ended up with a pathetic little mint plant that’s never produced a leaf big enough to really use, although towards the beginning I was able to scrounge up enough smallish leaves to make this delightful mint julep:

Bourbon. Mint. Extravagant Instagram filter. What’s not to love?

Generally speaking, mint plants grow like weeds. Everything I’ve read says that you have to be careful to contain them (i.e., don’t plant them directly in a garden) because they’ll take over everything. I saw a good example of this when I was camping in West Virginia last summer: the entire riverbank was a forest of mint plants so lush they were almost bushes. But ever since I bought this stupid plant, it’s been a fight for survival.


Later in the summer, some guys power-washed my house and fence, and the residual chemicals all but killed my plants. This is what Minty looked like a little while after that:

Why do bad things happen to good people?

I really thought that was the end, but it kept on growing. For the most part, it only grew up (and up and up…) and didn’t fill out at all. The winter was especially rough for it once I had to bring it inside, because all my windows face sad, sunless north. Still, I didn’t toss it out. I’m not really sure why I didn’t. I bought it for making mint juleps, which I couldn’t make with it, and it wasn’t even very green. Just sort of viny and droopy.

I started hardening it as soon as the days remained consistently above freezing. The improvement was instant. And ever since then it has continued to improve, albeit slowly.

Could be worse. Could be better. Can you tell I made that fashionable trellis?

Don’t get me wrong – it continues to be almost completely useless to me. I should probably still get rid of it. But I don’t think I will. I kind of like it. It continually defies both me and its own odds of survival; it marches to its own beat. This scrappy plant is its own man. And that is a very admirable thing, even in a plant.



But I once heard something that I believe, … about how Leontius, Aglaion’s son, was going up from Piraeus along the outside of the north wall, and noticed dead bodies lying beside the executioner. He desired to see them, but at the same time felt disgust and turned himself away; for a while he struggled and covered his eyes, but then he was overcome by his desire, and running toward the bodies holding his eyes wide open, he said, “See for yourselves, since you’re possessed! Take your fill of the lovely sight.”

Plato’s Republic, Bk. IV.440A
(trans. Sachs)

    *       *       *

I’m still not exactly sure what I saw, and, after scouring local online news sources for over half an hour, I’m beginning to realize I will probably never know what happened.

I saw the firetruck lights first. The truck was parked in the road in the oncoming lane as I drove towards town. Two firefighters were milling around outside their truck. As I slowed to pass, I saw him – a contorted figure – lying on the grassy bank along the sidewalk. His head was turned so that his right cheek was against the ground; one arm was bent up, one arm was bent behind him, like he was hugging the bank, on his stomach. His knees were bent. It wasn’t graphic. Dead, I thought. That man is dead.

I don’t know if that man is dead. The firefighters weren’t rushing to resuscitate or move him, and the ambulance that pulled up shortly after was driving slowly, without sirens, without even lights on. But there has been no report of a hit-and-run in the area or anything like that, so maybe he did survive. Maybe he wasn’t even injured; maybe he was passed out. All I know is that I immediately told myself that he was dead even though I’d never seen a corpse before. Well, not human.

I’ve only ever hit an animal with my car once. It was night and a tiny white mouse scurried across the road. I tried to avoid it, but I felt the small crunch under my tire. Like most people, I’ve seen lots of roadkill. I’ve seen deer and raccoons and skunks and squirrels and cats. I’ve seen a poached and disembodied moose head. I always feel that it’s unfortunate that they were hit, but I don’t usually feel sorrow, as I know some people do. That’s why I was surprised when my eyes started to well up: I was actually really upset that I had killed a dumb mouse. In contrast, I have a distinct memory of me as a little kid crouching in keen interest over a partially decomposed mole that was in the driveway. I watched, fascinated, as ants marched over its body, and I stroked its head a few times with my finger because I felt like that was what I ought to do. I knew it was dead, but I wasn’t repulsed. Only curious. (I got a firm talking-to later when I announced to my mom that I had been petting deceased vermin.)

When my Betta fish died, I dutifully brought the bowl into the bathroom so I could flush poor Bacchus down the toilet. I had every intention of scooping him out with the little net myself. I wasn’t afraid, but as soon as the net nudged the corpse, I could feel the dead weight, and it surprised and horrified me. That was the first time something made me truly scream. I didn’t mean to scream, and I didn’t know why I did.

Besides beetles, I’ve never loved bugs, especially leggy ones. When I was a kid, I even used to take cruel pleasure in flooding out entire ant colonies with the garden hose on high stream (which actually kind of concerns me to this day). Although I object to inhumane treatment and killing of animals, I don’t object to the killing of animals in general: I’m omnivorous and I don’t think that in itself is bad. But a few weeks ago my coworker was about to swat a mosquito hawk and I inexplicably and instinctively burst out “NO DON’T KILL IT!!” I instantly felt silly, but I stuck with it. I had some vague notion that we should let it live because it eats mosquitoes (although “mosquito hawk” is actually a misnomer, something I was also vaguely aware of). It also reminded me of daddy-long-legs, which my parents always told me you shouldn’t kill because they’re harmless. But other than that, I don’t know why I reacted so violently.

After recounting these memories, I wonder if it is exposure alone that has caused my wildly differing reactions to death. That’s why I could pet a dead mole when I was five but couldn’t scoop up a dead fish when I was fifteen. But I suspect exposure is not the only reason. Circumstance seems to be an important factor, especially my own role: seeing roadkill doesn’t affect me deeply, but making it does. Death constantly vacillates between revulsion and spectacle, and the subject hardly seems to matter in many cases. I feel pretty strange about possibly having seen a dead man yesterday, but I honestly felt more strongly about the mosquito hawk in that urgent moment than I did when I saw that man sprawled on the grass.

And I’m not sure what to do with that.



Summerly flashback—
somebody just cut into
a fresh strawberry.

Found this beauty in the strawberry delivery at work. Conjoined fruit!


I’ve always felt that my family is something of a matriarchy. My grandmothers, mother, aunts, sisters, and female cousins all held especially prominent roles in my childhood and upbringing. In honor of Mother’s Day, then, I thought I’d share this haiku that connects (at least in my mind) this line of amazing women with one small fruit.

My great-grandmother, Nana, when she was eighty-six, died when I was two. I can’t even imagine being eighty-four years older than another human being. She had suffered a stroke, and ultimately pneumonia took her. Although I have little memory of her, I do remember visiting her in the hospital towards the end. She was in her hospital bed, sitting up, with a meal tray in front of her. With my toddler’s etiquette, I spotted a strawberry on her plate and asked if I could have it. As any great-grandmother would, she obliged and handed it down to me, and I gratefully partook. I’ve always felt a little guilty that I ate Nana’s last strawberry.

My sister, cousins, and I would spend many summer days at our grandmother’s house when we were kids. A line of trees separated her property from her mother’s – Nana’s – old property. Around late June, we would cross through the trees into the yard that used to be Nana’s and scour it for the tiniest wild strawberries you can imagine. They were very tart and wonderful, and so, so small.

One of my favorite snacks to have at my grandmother’s house was giant strawberries dipped in powdered sugar. You had to be sure not to inhale or laugh while you ate them, or you’d end up with lungs full of powder and a coughing fit that only engendered more laughter; but that was half the fun.

Strawberries mean youth and ripe old age and matrons and laughter and sore lungs.


Several months ago a dear friend of mine, knowing of my love of poetry – haiku, in particular – told me to write a haiku every week and send it to her. I was able to fulfill her request for only a few short weeks, and I’m afraid to say the haiku were mostly bad. It’s been a while since I’ve graced her with another bad poem, so instead of carrying on in this way, I’ve decided make a category for original haiku here, for whenever I write a decent one worth sharing. I came up with the idea last night when I was falling asleep and happened to write one in my head. I managed to get it down before I drifted off. Since haiku are very short and should contain everything about themselves within their three lines, I will be titling them only by number. Below is ‘one’.

A fair wind rises
Raises a glass to Nature
Takes a sip, then leaves.