We are having a dinner party at my friend's house in Sonoma. We drove up from Berkeley in the afternoon, leaving the cool air of the bay for the dusty heat of the valley. There was an earthquake the night before and I woke and watched lights down the hill turn on and off as people went to their windows, pressed their fingers against the glass, and checked for fire or collapse before going back to bed. The day after always feels like a holiday. In the kitchen of the house on a vineyard, a girl is teaching me how to chop basil by rolling it up like a cigarette, then slicing it so that it unfurls in long ribbons. Another is washing arugula in the sink. Outside, a big pine table is set with hurricane lamps and wineglasses.

We are twenty years old. We are the truffle generation.

We bring the food out to the table and pass plates of heirloom tomatoes with sea salt and rounds of bread. Beyond the lawn, neat rows of vines curve up to a line of soft green hills. We drink Muscat made down the road. I swirl my wineglass until the liquid is pushed up to the rim and there is a whirlpool, a miniature tornado in my cup.

And somewhere, miles of mountain ridges and fault lines away, people our age are running through a desert, leaving a trail of bullet casings and skirting roadside bombs and dropping shells that go pop as they fall.

We buy organic apples and locally-grown kale and grass-fed beef. We drink fair-trade, shade-grown coffee and we trawl farmer's markets for golden raspberries in the summer and carnival squash in the fall. We harvest grain, we shore up against winter. At the Vietnam Memorial, a man placed a yellow rose and a can of beer at the base and then sunk to the ground, bent like he was praying, or on his marks and about to start sprinting. Wonder how long our wall will stretch. And wait. We rule out pesticides, sweatshops, and we try to make our lives as clean and pure as possible. So that something must happen. Because something must, must happen.

I brought a collection of Raymond Carver stories to Sonoma in my suitcase. In "A Small, Good Thing," a baker gives hot rolls to a grief-weary couple. After September 11th, my mom weeded our garden for hours until her hands were raw and bleeding. She culled jars of basil and fennel and left them on the kitchen counter until they wilted and were thrown away after days passed in newspapers and the radio always on.

In the spring, my friend Tom uncapped a pen with his teeth and drew three angular lines on a napkin.

"That's your plane?"

"That's the aircraft." He sketched out the rest of the diagram. "F-16s are built to be unstable, unlike earlier aircrafts." He drew a circle, "The center of gravity is here, towards the back, so that it will naturally nose up, not down." He drew an arrow from the nose that pointed off the edge of the napkin. I wondered how it did not point towards the sky and just keep going. "The control system has to constantly check it. If it failed, the plane would disintegrate."


He nodded and pushed the pen into its cap.

Dis-in-te-grate. Like a sugar cube in water, or like glass turning back to sand?

Nothing is clarion or burned away; the routines are still there. With cooking, all of the work disappears. The eggshells and the pits and the stems are thrown out and the hours of stirring and measuring have so little to show for themselves. Still, you cook and clean and hope that it will be a lattice to hold up the rest of your life.

I wonder if he is flying low over sand and watching his shadow cast over houses, over buildings, and waiting to see it disappear. As if he would see it the second before it happened, as if he would know when it was over.

We go to the Whole Foods in Sonoma to buy ingredients for the dinner. The market is gorgeous: it is too plentiful, almost, too golden and lush. If I could, I would live inside of it. The store would close, the overhead lights would shudder off, everyone would leave, and I would be locked inside all night. I would open all of the small jars of preserves and try some from each one, I would make pyramids of saffron and pepper, I would build a fire from the straw bushels and roast chestnuts, then I would eat yellow and red cherries, leaving a trail of the stones down the aisles. When I was tired, I would lie down on top of the sumatras and grapefruits and sleep.

When we walk inside, I do not think I am the only one who feels this way. I see a woman swoon over a frond of spicy fennel, I see a man swipe three samples of caramelized onion and gorgonzola. WASPs used to have rickety kitchens and fridges empty except for olives and bottles of gin. Now, there is a company that will send you Irish sod, so that you can grow herbs. There is a company in Scotland that ships cubes of ice made from lochs, to serve Scotch on the rocks. I looked at these ads, neat boxes on the side of a New Yorker profile, and wished I had thought to bag and sell dirt and water. I push my cart past buckets of dripping daylilies and vaguely pornographic squash and small pots of chili plants. I select a head of green lettuce that is cartoonishly green and still attached to a clod of dirt (the label says it is "hydroponic").

Locavores try to eat only food from within a certain mile radius. It seems possible, easy even: local farms for vegetables, seas for oysters and soft-shell crabs, and a pit trap for venison. But it seems like a new form of protectionism, of bolstering the trenches. In Britain, the Soil Association, an organic certification board, is trying to label fruit and vegetables that are airfreighted into the UK in an effort to reduce carbon emissions. This is wonderful, except that it means that fewer farmers in developing countries can export their produce. Gareth Thomas, Britain's minister for trade and development, said, "Driving six and a half miles to buy your shopping emits more carbon than flying a pack of Kenyan green beans to the UK." It is the same logic that has Swaziland, in the midst of a famine, shipping cassava to European countries for biofuel.

Whole Foods is not a farmer's stand with a sturdier roof. It was tangled in anti-trust suits from the Federal Trade Commission after buying Wild Oats. The corporate wrangling in the take-over involved confidential documents outlining "Project Goldmine" and dubious CEO politicking. But the market presents itself as small-town. The fact that it makes gobs and gobs of money seems to be a bit of an embarrassment.

My uncle Stu was frugal to the point of meanness. One summer, when my cousin and I were visiting him and my aunt Kassia at their farm in Oregon, my aunt threw out a head of lettuce. Stu picked it out of the garbage, removed the moldy outer leaves, and shook it in our faces while chewing on a gray leaf. He took us on walks in the verdant paths outside of Eugene and showed us how to find dandelion greens-peppery and sharp-and wild spring onions. He gently pushed aside the dirt from a mushroom and crouched in front of it, while we looked doubtfully at the wide caps, like elf houses. He was a forager. But for him, it wasn't political. And it definitely was not fashionable. He also hoarded soda pull-tabs and old computer parts and had a radar to detect police signals ("Because he got a speeding ticket once," said Kassia. "Because I was the victim of entrapment," said Stu.).

On the last day of our trip, Kassia took us to a peach orchard. We each got a crate and disappeared down the rows of trees, kicking the bruised fallen fruit. We yelled to each other at first, racing through the crabgrass. And then the shouts got further and further apart, quieter, until I was alone. It was hot and there was a buzzing rising and crescendoing. Running through the field, I was completely unaware of my body. The worries would come later-that my arms were too thin, that the half-moons under my eyes were too dark. My knees were scratched, as they had been for six years and would continue to be only for one or two more. I lifted a ladder and positioned it against a trunk and climbed quickly until most of my body was in the tree. I put the wooden crate down carefully and then reached, picking one, then another, choosing the heaviest and roundest first. I ate them, standing on the wobbling top of the ladder, looking at the lace pattern of the leaves shifting and shaking with my weight, thinking about the book where a boy makes a boat out of a peach. The branches were like rafters, like the vaults of a cathedral.

We were raised on stories about vegetables. My favorite book was about a mouse who snuck out of bed one night and danced to banjo music under bright yellow zucchini blossoms. There was also one called Avocado Baby, about a baby who above all loves avocado. At bookstores, the breadth of titles about neurotic vegetables is dazzling. The shy asparagus, the fretful tomato, the misunderstood artichoke. Our parents taught us early on to value our food, and where it comes from. We have plenty, we have everything. We can have orecchiette from Italy and kaffir limes from Indonesia.

We know the politics of food. In a cube of sugar, we see slavery, vast sugarcane plantations in the Caribbean, and elaborate stone mansions built in England on their profits. In a political science course, I learned that the Chiquita banana company in Colombia has evolved into a guerrilla warfare machine, with bananas as a sort of side business.

This is how we vote. We choose free-range, or organic, or local.

When my mom was hitchhiking around Europe, with a Vietnam vet who got jittery during thunderstorms and fell in love with her, she sent home a letter to her parents in Teaneck that ended, "Keep the peace, but up the revolution at any cost." My dad wrote for a communist newspaper in Berkeley, which he told me when I thought about applying for a job in the Foreign Service as a diplomat (the balls! the embassies! the black cars with mysteriously short license plates!): "Sorry, sweetheart, I think I'm still on a blacklist somewhere."

Communism is appealing, sort of: the idea of everyone being accounted for, everyone having a loaf of bread. There is a comfort to it, a country gleaming and clean - the government equivalent of Le Corbusier's glass and steel towers surrounded by lakes of green.

In an English lecture, a professor read a Walter Benjamin quote about the angel of history, "Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet." We know that history is a shipwreck of disasters, we know that when historians steeple their fingers and say progress that we should back away quickly, but still we don't want to burn everything down and rebuild it.

After college, my mom lived in a tree house in Hawaii for six months with her boyfriend. Her five brothers and sisters collectively took over three decades to get through college, perhaps the result of growing up with East Village parents displaced to suburban New Jersey. Every morning, my grandparents hefted their bed to the ceiling on great pulleys to clear the living room, and on warm Sundays they had grape crushing parties with their city friends in the driveway. My mom had all of the time in the world. She and her boyfriend farmed yams and slept in a house built on the massive limbs of a monkey pod tree. The monkey pod tree has branches that unfold horizontally and roots that stretch underneath the ground, as if it is trying to make a full circle. From their room, they could see the warm sea through a coastal grove of mahogany trees. They survived a flood that sent boulders crashing into the tree trunk, and wild boars who snuffed out their crops, and fevers that left them giddy and dreaming. When it rains, the monkey pod tree closes its leaves, so they were wet all the time. They broke up as soon as they returned home. But I can see her sometimes, driving up our street, or pushing a grocery cart, and know that she is halfway off the ground, watching the swallows hunting among the tamarind trees.

We are supposed to be broke and figuring it out as we go, by the skin of our teeth, by the seat of our pants. Instead, we seem so focused on protecting this body, this cage of bone and ligament, this blood pumping.

We are all trying to find a home for ourselves. The room for floating-getting a loft and poking around downtown-has narrowed. We want to be settled. My friends are now applying for or already have jobs in finance. They will outfit their kitchens with gleaming stainless steel stoves and porcelain cookware. On weekends, they will go to restaurants with slipcovered chairs and five different types of olive oil.

College is supposed to be sustained by ramen noodles and books. Doorstopper-thick texts of Leviathan and Tristram Shandy are supposed to keep us warm. Instead, about once a week someone cooks balsamic steak, or sea scallops, or butternut squash ravioli.

Still, there is something else: during the summer in Berkeley, we are all besotted with Planet Earth, the British nature documentary series. The best part is in the making-of, when the producers, who are disgruntled and grouchy and generally British, catch something on film and then are thrilled, open-mouthed, despite themselves. I can't quite believe it all-that there is so much, that it is so delicately and precisely engineered. That forests of coral grow in the sulphurous vents from the core of the earth and then ossify, that dolphins hydroplane while feeding, that there is a volcano in Ethiopia which has been erupting for over a hundred years. That the Cave of Swallows in Mexico is so deep that diving into it is comparable to jumping off the Empire State Building. There are still places that are not mapped. Masses and masses of them. There are worlds rushing up to meet us, if we look.

After the dinner party, I rinse knives under the tap. I hold a china cup and think about dropping it, the fault lines it would crack on, and then dry it and put it on the rack. A mass of night-blooming nicotania by the kitchen door is opening and I walk back outside. I stand at the edge of the lawn and feel dirt push up between the pads of my toes.

In three months, I will walk to the Mapparium in Boston with my best friend. We will walk into the library and enter the structure, which is a globe, three stories high, made of dozens of panes of glass held together by bronze ribs. When we enter it, we will see the outside of a globe, like the skin has been flipped. It will be dim but light will come through the glass and casts shadows, the outline of Senegal on my coat, the teardrop of Sri Lanka on the crown of her head. A glass bridge spans the space and we will walk across it, slowly, running our hands along the railing. We will stop at the very center and look up at the star sewing it together. We will stand with a constellation of Pacific islands above our heads. We will promise to lean on the railing of a ship in the Bering Sea and watch ice floes crash and crack apart. We will find the smallest mapped island in the Atlantic and promise to visit it. We will claim every foot.


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