By Kate Jenkinson-
My final months as a teenager were spent living out of a tent and washing my clothes in a river. I was employed on a farm located in a town of two hundred that was 2,362 miles away from where I had grown up. During the day we harvested in hundred and four degree heat and wasted hours in and around a slowly flowing river.
We ate dinner as the sun sank, pulled on jackets and jeans so there was not enough exposed skin for the mosquitoes to bite, and washed our dishes in a water basin that functioned as a sink. And then we walked.
The dirt road from our campsite to the lavender field was half a mile. Each night we would saunter down it using the last minutes of the day as our flashlight. These walks were silent – they were ritual, they were important. We had spent our mornings and early afternoons working away in this field but we could not get enough of it. The closest I have ever gotten to addiction was those lavender plants. My skin crawled and I swear my palms would sweat if I was away from them too long.
Five of us would make these treks together.
Jenny was like a lace tablecloth handed down from generation to generation. On our first night together, she told me that she was a lifelong dancer from Silver Springs, Maryland and made sure to mention that this was the town that the Fleetwood Mac song was written about. She had long blonde hair that hung around her hips and swayed when she walked. It was not often that she spoke, but when she did, her voice filled the space for just a moment before turning into a fine mist and floating away. You know what they say, “nothing gold can stay.”
Madeline was like a rocking chair that obnoxiously creaked everytime it moved. Jenny was from the same town as her, but when Madeline mentioned the Fleetwood Mac fact, it felt obnoxious rather than endearing. She was loud because Jenny was not and she often spoke for both of them. Madeline had a short bob and patch work tattoos crawling up her arms. I wanted to mention that I was impressed by how much ink she had despite only being twenty years old, but I was often afraid to ask her anything out of fear that she would never stop talking.
Eliza was a mug of tea and honey. She had grown up in Raleigh, North Carolina and was the closest thing to a hippie I had ever encountered. I rarely saw her wearing shoes and she had a silver ring on the second toe of her left foot. She hung beads from her car’s rear view mirror and played The Grateful Dead whenever she drove. In college, she was studying forestry and would frequently disappear to cloud watch at random points in the day.
Kiva was a modern day renaissance woman. She was in the process of teaching herself woodworking and drove a pickup truck. Her childhood was spent on a plant nursery in Wisconsin before she moved to Southern California. In honor of the nursery, she had a tattoo of prairie grass on her left arm. When she wasn’t working at the farm she was a barista and she knew a lot about espresso. She never spoke out of turn and was an incredible listener.
And then there was me. I never went anywhere without a glue stick just in case I ran into a situation where it would be handy. I impulsively got tattoos and I cut my own hair. If I could get away with not showering for a day, or two, or four, I would. In the future, I wanted to publish books of photography and short stories so I carried a film camera everywhere and compulsively wrote in a journal. I hated telling people that being an artist and author was my dream job because it felt like a childish goal to have. My go-to response was “I don’t know” whenever anyone would ask me about my career aspirations, which was probably more childish than admitting to my desire to be an artist, but deflection always felt safer than honesty.
In any other situation, we would never be friends, but here we were united by our love of lavender. So we would walk to the field each night and sit in between the rows of French varieties. When we were sitting, the stems were taller than we were. It made us feel like we were in a forest of purple blossoms.
It is nearly impossible to communicate what it was like to lie amongst these plants. We spent our days sweating over it; cutting, bundling, hanging, and processing. But at night we would lie with it. The ants would creep over our stretched out ankles and the bees would sing in our ears. It was almost as if, for those two hours that we would spend in that field, we became a part of it. As if we had sunk into the earth and briefly became dirt.
I so badly wanted to become dirt. I wanted to be a part of that field forever. I wanted to aid in the growth of the lavender and get burrowed into by the ecosystem of insects that occupied it. Do not mistake my words, I did not want to die. I simply wished that I had a sense of purpose like the dirt had a sense of purpose.
Eliza would play Mort Garson’s Mother Earth’s Plantasia as we became one with the field. She insisted that the lavender needed to jam out with us, and what was better than nineteen seventies ambient music? Since the music had no lyrics, we would speak over the songs. We exclusively engaged in vulnerable discussions because we all knew that once this harvest was over we would part ways and nothing that we had said to one another would mean anything after that. I would talk about growing up in Pennsylvania. Eliza would tell us about her relationship with her family. Usually someone would pass a joint around.
When there was no more conversation left in us, we would walk over to the neighbor’s cows. The fence dividing the two properties came right up to the edge of the lavender field so it was a pretty short journey. We would stick our hands through the fence and hope that one of the cows would lick them. I only got lucky once. Sometimes the cows would try to play hard to get and ignore us when we came over. These were always the most frustrating yet exciting days; as humans we love what we can not have.
One night spent in the field was different from the rest: it was Jenny and Madeleine’s last night on the farm. The next morning they were starting their drive back home to Silver Springs. They had been on the road since March of that year, it was now nearly August, and they were tired. We shared an unbreakable bond in this regard, and it made saying goodbye difficult.
We headed to the field early that evening so that we could eat dinner in the greenhouse and stare out at the lavender while we ate. The meal was delicious but I cannot tell you what we had made.
“What are you going to miss the most?” I asked everyone. Kiva, Eliza, and I were not departing quite yet but we only had a week left and time felt like it was swiftly slipping away from us which was contributing to our sentimentality.
“The afternoons spent at the Sheagles Nest,” Kiva responded, referencing the river that we swam in everyday. “I did not expect to love the river rat lifestyle so much but now I am not sure how I am going to get by without easy access to one when I go back home.”
“Honestly, I am just so excited to be going home that I haven’t even stopped to reflect on what I may miss. One thing I will not miss is how limited the food supply is here. They certainly do not splurge on ingredients,” Madeline voiced.
There were a few moments of uncomfortable silence before Eliza attempted to redirect the conversation. “I am going to miss all of y’all,” she started, “I genuinely have not felt such a strong sense of home before coming here. I also will be very heartbroken to leave the lavender fields. I have gotten so accustomed to their peace, their beauty, and their scent.”
While we dined, it began to rain. Conversation broke off so that we could all sit and listen to the droplets strike the plastic roofing. At first it was soothing. The transparent walls made it feel like we were in the center of the storm but were sheltered from any actual harm. Eliza asked if anyone wanted to run through the rain with her. We all expressed interest but changed our minds once the rain turned to hail.
Even though it is the same weather phenomenon, hail in the summer feels drastically different than it does in the fall or winter. Having lived in the North Eastern United States my whole life taught me how to handle a hail storm, but I froze up here. My fork stayed on my plate. Eliza went to the door that we had left open and stuck her hand, palm up, into the storm. She collected a handful of pellets and then dropped them onto her tongue one-by-one. We watched them melt but we did not say anything.
Once the hail let up, the lightning started. We all gathered by the doorway and watched it strike down onto the mountains surrounding us. Kiva and I held hands. It comforted me to know that I was not the only one who was afraid. Although, afraid is not really the right word to describe how I felt. I was also excited. It felt like I was privy to a natural spectacle that I was not supposed to see.
The rain had slowed down enough for two of the lightning strikes to set the trees that they had struck on fire. It was still sufficiently wet so the fires did not spread, but the two trees that were hit burned to the ground. We were moved by how cruel nature could be. Despite this cruelty, there was a strange peace to be found in the destruction. It was eerily beautiful to watch something so sturdy and old char and then crumble.
By the time the storm ended, we had forgotten about the meal. It seemed so much less important than the spectacular show that Mother Nature had put on for us. We cleared the table with the intention of heading back to our tents. We had dishes to do but we forgot all about our chores once we left the greenhouse. The storm had left an exquisite mark across the sky. I had never seen anything like it and doubted that I would again. It was gold, pink, orange, and blue. We dropped our plates onto the ground and then ran to the lavender field. We danced between the rows of French varieties, now mostly harvested. There was no music, but there did not need to be. Eliza’s skirt fanned out around her. Kiva continued to smile while tears streamed down her cheeks.
I grew still and just watched everyone else dance. I sank to the ground. I held wet dirt in my hands and then let it fall between my fingers. I once again became one with the dirt but realized that I did not actually want to be it. I was not having a profound epiphany where I suddenly discovered my purpose in my life. I just came to understand that I did not want to just sit back and watch as people laughed and people cried and people danced. I wanted to do all of these things with them. Is that purpose enough? I did not know, but maybe I did not need to.
I hopped over a few rows of lavender and made my way to Eliza. I twirled her around. Jenny was sitting down now about ten feet away. She was watching us intensely and fingering some dirt. I was wondering if she was having the same realization as me. Or maybe she was thinking about how she actually did want to dissolve into the dirt and let us dance over her. So much of her life was spent observing those around her that I had to assume that this was her preferred way to engage. Maybe she really did not need to be the one crying or laughing or dancing as long as she was present for it.
Or maybe she was not thinking about anything at all.
Once the sun was low enough that we could barely see one another, we walked home. We were feeling bold so we tried to find our way back to our tents with nothing but the moonlight. Jenny was the only one who spoke on the walk. “I will miss the wide open sky the most,” she whispered. Just as the sunset tonight had disappeared, her voice did too. I guess it really is true – nothing gold can stay.
I have always hated summer but this one was magic.
Kate Jenkinson is a young artist and writer who grew up in the Philadelphia area. They have created their own zine entitled "Homegrown" that explores how the environment impacts creativity. This is their first time formally having their writing published and they are overjoyed to become a member of this creative community.