Axis Reversed


When the poles first turned, and the newly righted globe bobbled in its orbit like a beach ball held too long below the surface, Florida was first to pop up on top. The north pole began to melt at the rate of sixty feet a day, and soon we were watching through a window of the Tallahassee Holiday Inn when the Gulf of Mexico and the mighty green Atlantic met at the Texaco station at University Boulevard and Seminole Path.

Second cousins on my mother's side offered us their guest room, so we headed for the red hills of Birmingham and dropped our bags. We meant to get farther, but the hard winter caught us there and locked us in tight. All along the highway north we had seen greenhouses that had been begun by municipalities, in hope that some place would be secured where vegetables could still be grown. A couple houses of hydroponic corn, a couple of soybeans, could keep folks going until the earth settled down, but the news every night showed one more cave-in. The snow was just too heavy, and anyway, Alabamians know how to build things cool, not warm. We moved into a Winnebago in the back yard.

Grandmother's house was just down the road, and a visit there got us several cases of preserves -- cucumbers and tomato sauce, green beans, wax beans, blackberries and pickled melon rind. The dates went on back to 1979 but we ate it all anyway, knowing that the woman who'd been dead for three years was still keeping us alive.

When the greenhouse down on 487 finally collapsed, I managed to get out there and bring back a crumpled zucchini plant, two summer squash, and some pea vines. I set them in the Florida room of the main house and then moved them out to the trailer when the boy and his friends carved a toy dog out of a baby squash. Cousin now accepts rent on the Winnebago and we pay for the water and electricity.

The supermarket is getting to be more and more depressing. Space is opening up in the aisles even where the Veg-All and Maxwell House used to be. I paid $4.50 for a dented can of Dinty Moore Beef Stew. The news says that the farmers of Alberta and Saskatchewan were trying out cantaloupe and okra but lost 40% of the winter crop to blight. How many more times can they try and fail like that before there's no more seed? No farmer in the world knows what to plant in her fields or what to expect from the seasons.

There are three acres behind the house, and I've picked them so clean of hickory nuts and acorns we'll have to eat the squirrels to keep them from starving. I took the kids to the park the other day and could find not one pecan on the ground. My drowned herb garden back in Florida chides me for leaving it behind. I sit in the evenings while the others are watching television and study the poor bedraggled plants I brought home from that fallen greenhouse. More depends upon them than would be comfortable to admit. I warm their water by tucking the can under my sweater before pouring.

In the mornings I push them up against the windows (watching for drafts, not too close) in the front berth where the sun comes in, and then move them back through the Winnebago following the sun. I sit by them and send mental messages, when someone's around, or talk to them outright when the kids are in school. I close my eyes and remember the brilliant sun of Florida, how it felt to the world so precisely delineated and firm. I send those thoughts to the zucchinis, the pea-vines, the squash, telling them to take my memories of sunshine and use them. Grow up strong and feed us. Keep us well until the earth settles down.



- Holly Pettit