Part I. Grow

From my orientation essay, summer of 2016: “I don’t know… I just like looking outside and seeing things grow”.
I do, I like to see things grow. It makes me feel ready. I like knowing I helped them grow. It makes me feel like a mother.

I read something like this, once somewhere. Maybe I am mixing it up. I read that the beginnings of agriculture correlated with the beginnings of patriarchy. It was believed, once, that women were revered by their ability to create children, form them from within and give them unto the world. It was a solitary act. While our pre-historic parents absolutely fucked, it was not in order to create more beings. This act of creation was real woman’s work. This was the time before now, back when we wandered.

But then we grew.

At some point, we began to stand still. We began a stationary life and so we grew our own food. It was in that act of planting seed that a connection was made. Man thought. As I penetrate the earth with my hand and plant this seed that I leave behind, deep inside the body of this mother-earth from which I have been given life, so too might I penetrate this woman body with my member stiff, and too might I squirt (is it then a seed?) deep inside the body of this to-be mother from which life will spring. I, too, have a role. Thought the Man.

And now here we are.

It was either that, or watching animals do it that sparked the connection. Whatever it was, we were never the same.

I feel like a mother, looking out the window. When I walk by to water them, to touch them, to see them, I whisper.

I love you.

I love you.



I love you.

I love you.

Part II. Green

I bought a lot of books for the garden. Some came in handy and others came in handy less often. There are eight books in total, and all have green spines except for one.

My garden is growing green.
I have poured myself a glass of wine and it is called “Vino Verde”. This means “Green Wine”

I am lighting a candle and it is called “The Green Light”

I count all the green I can see, and make a list

17 green book spines

6 green plants and green plant debris

14 green pictures or paintings

1 green pillow

2 green blankets

2 green curtains

In the day there’s green of all colors. Vibrant scaly bright greens from the chard and basil. Softer timid dull greens from sage and kale. There was an electric acid green in the puddle that formed.

This green isn’t allowed on the roof, the landlord says.

Green is more of a miracle where I’m from. Back out east, the winter means dull tarnished browns and greys and whites. The world is washed out of color. Then, in the spring, the green comes. Budding on the dry branches, it is a shocking scene. I imagine babies blooming on the fingertips of corpses. Spring is exactly where birth and death meet, where brown meets green. It is a macabre season that I wonder about. I look at skinny dead-looking trees and see little green buds. They are like babies, growing out of the fingers of corpses Looking back, I remember how my greatest turmoil tend to ripen nastily in spring. It is a crude shock to the system. This spring was no different. I suffer, in the springtime. Often some part of me dies, while another part is born. This is a seasonal thing, reflecting the death and birth of the world, and the birth of green.

According to my book, the word green is kin to an old English word growan. Growan means to grow, or to cover all in green.

Here in the west the green never goes away, and it is so much, so all the time.

It is too dark to see any of the growing green outside right now. In the night, green is black.

Part III. Dirt

It lives now beneath my finger nails, between my fingers, smeared on my arms, stuck to my knees which are black with it.

O. So dirty.

In my mouth, my throat, I cough.

In my nose,

My boogers are black with it. (This is something fun when my nose is full of the dust of the dirt that is dry (so rare) and is winded and whisked off into the air and into my crevices and the insides of my nose are turned black with it. Every Kleenex (I use paper towels) smear is a smile on my face, every finger gracefully scraping the inside of my nostril to remove this charcoal black gem is a diamond in the ruff)

Last year, we bought bad dirt.

From Chapter Four “The Dirt on Rooftop Soil” from “the Rooftop Growing Guide”:

“Healthy soil is the keystone of all good plant production”.

“Every spring at the end of plant propagation season, and in the fall at the end of the container-garden growing year, rooftop gardeners wonder if they should throw out their soil. If possible, don’t”.

From my notes, April 6, 2017:

“I’m concerned about the quality of dirt. I’d like to start from scratch.

That’d be

A lot of work. But not too much work. We could do it”.

I tell you, this was a lot of work.

From my notes, April 8, 2017:

“My main concern is still dirt”

I like dirt. I have noticed when my hands are deep in it, I am smiling. It’s one of those smiles that are purely involuntary, and very small. It’s one of those true ones, not made or formed willingly, and not so large so as to be so clearly felt. It’s one where the awareness of it sneaks up on you. It’s hard to know how long it’s been there. I can’t think of another example of when this kind of smile comes along. This is my dirt smile.

I like the dirt. It smells good. It feels good. My mom sent me an article in my email once and it talked all about how it’s been really proven that the microbes in the dirt react with the microbes in your hand to react with the microbes in your brain to make you feel good. There’s a real true logical chemical, scientific reason for why dirt makes you feel good.

Well I like the feel of the stuff, on my fingers. I like that I can’t remember when I started smiling. That’s all I know.

This year we bought more dirt. At 15$ for half a yard, this is the cheapest bulk dirt I’ve come across. And god it’s good. I damn near dance every time I look at my plants, they are growing so fast and so strong and so well.

From my notes, May 1, 2017:

“This dirt is dope! It’s made from human shit! Holy Cow!”

From Tagro Website:

“Tagro Potting Soil is a nutrient-rich blend of 20 percent Tacoma biosolids, 20 percent high-quality maple sawdust and 60 percent clean, aged bark”

Last year our dirt was thick dense blackish. The plants couldn’t stretch their roots through it. They were stunted. Last year I spent a lot of time trying to remedy the dirt. I bought fish oil and feather mill and pearlite. I saved my menstrual blood. Every chance I got I’d be out there, digging in and around the plants, tilling the soil, on hands and knees, praying for it to become fertile.

We took that dirt away this year. Bucket by bucket, we hauled off the yard or so of dirt we’d had there. Because it was raining, and because a lot of the buckets didn’t have drainage, much of it was foul smelling wet soggy black sludge. It was raining. We slipped a little. We loaded it up into my boss’s old pickup truck, drove it to capital state forest and shoveled it off onto the side of the road.

I’ve gotten pretty good at unloading unwanted dirt in semi-obvious places in crowded areas in apparently inconspicuous ways. You just have to set your jaw straight, and go for it. Don’t look like you care about what you’re doing, or look like you’re doing what you should be doing. Probably no one else really cares what you’re doing, as you walk by with two five gallon buckets of foul smelling dirt in each hand, and dump it under the bushes in the park downtown during the marathon.

It’s a sweet little realization. There’s just a lot you can get away with.

Part IV. Hands

These are all the names given to the bodies to which the hands that have helped me belong:

Clare (mine, thin, short, stubby)
Sarah (short, pointed, kind)

Bryce (tanned, hard-to-look-at, nimble, thin)

Keegan (pale, long-fingered, kind)

Alex (long, thin, pointed, mystery)

Jasper (strong, knotted, pruned)

Brianne (wet, muddy)

Paige (wet, muddy)

Evan (gripping, pale, dirt-dusted)

Stephen (gripping, dirt-dusted)

From my notes, April 6, 2017:

“(I need to keep my nails short)”

Last year I bought a little scrubber for my nails. One with tough little bristles, on both sides. It would act like a tooth brush, and scrub the dirt from beneath this crevice and my nails would be clean. Now some of its bristles stick out. It doesn’t work as I wanted, but it feels good.

Selections from “The Myth of the Hand” Follmann, 2012:

“The hand is composed of many differing parts that represent and point to various attitudes, yet as a whole it seeks to serve as a synecdoche of the human self”

“The palm represents the static seat out of which the activity of the dancing fingers blossom. If the palm represents the lone mother, then the fingers can be viewed as her many active children”

“If the palm is the place upon which the individual is written, the knowledge and secrets of the origin of ideas, the fingers thus externally perform the ideas invented by the internal feminine.”

“The hand became a tool with which one could perceive the entire world. The hand became a vision of freedom that enabled these budding humans to discover the secrets of the world. Hands were essentially the first form of technology, the first tool”

Some people put gloves on their hands when they work in the garden. Marty did, today, and I watched her. They looked like good strong gloves. They looked good on her hands.

I don’t wear gloves.

It’s not because it is would make things more complicated (as it would).

It’s this:

After I’m in the dirt, and get along with other parts of my day, I like to see the dirt all day, the dirt I can’t clean off from my hands, my fingers, my little whorls and swirly devices that make up this part of me. I like to see it and know where it comes from, and I know I did it to myself. It is a solid connection that bridges myself across the many-lives I flicker through in a single day. It is grounding in that way. It is real ground painted on my skin.

I like to feel the splinters slip into my skin as I work. It makes me feel alive, because it makes me feel.

Too many things are dulled these days. I like to feel real.

A splinter is small.

Many splinters, they are still small.

But this does not need to be big to be real.

Part V. Water

It is raining, and then it is not.

Our garden needs water. The plants get very thirsty. Getting enough water to quench the thirst has been a spill-prone process. I used to haul two five gallon buckets back and forth. Back then, I didn’t have a shower component to my bathtub. I could only take baths. I didn’t take them that often, but when I did I would save the bathwater to flush my toilet, rinse my hair, or water my plants. The water gets cloudy.  Every morning I would submerge two dirty 5 gallon buckets into my bath water, and lug them dripping across my living room to set out onto the roof to pour into watering cans. As the garden grew, it grew thirstier too. Eventually we figured out we could buy a little metal ring for the kitchen faucet that would let it attach to a hose.

I stand on the roof, watering the garden for the second time this season, holding the hose head in my right hand and the hose body in my left, to tug along as I spray the plants. The spray is warm, because I use hot water on hot days. Cold water would surprise the plants. When the hose kinks, what I hold becomes flaccid. When the kink is unwound, the hose stiffens, grows hard, erect.

And because I use warm water, it feels like how a Man feels.

Interlude: The Complications

David Scherer Water <> Feb 23
to me

Glad you checked. I met yesterday with our roofers. I’m actually about to send out an email about the roof, the spring/summer plan, etc. See next email…

David Scherer Water <> Feb 23
to Martin

Hello roof garden enthusiasts,

In the next few days, I’ll be out on the roof garden doing some minor work on the sheet metal material.

This spring, when we get a week forecast for warmer non-rainy weather, I’ll be doing a thorough roof garden clean up, then repairing and patching vulnerable points. Before this happens, we’ll need the roof garden 100% empty of items. I wanted to give plenty of notice since some of you have a large amount of stuff out there. During the repair week, you may bring things into your apartment.

Because the roof membrane is fragile, when our repairs are done, a new pallet policy will start. Everything placed out of the roof garden will need to be on a pallet. Pallets can be the wooden kind, but since these rot in the rain and sun, I’ll be encouraging use of plastic ones. I have a number of these for the cause, along with a good collection of things that work in a similar fashion, milk crates and some liter bottle carriers. The purpose of these pallets is to get stuff off the roof, prevent leaks, permit rainwater to pass on its way to the drain and allow areas under items to dry. Starting this spring, we’ll require that anything placed on the roof be checked for sharp items such as loose protruding nails, screws or anything that could eventually distress or cause damage to the roof membrane.

Please start thinking about your stuff out there, collecting, giving away and removing your items that you don’t want. You may also want to start collecting stray pallets if you’re planning on putting stuff back out.

Question? Let me know.


David Scherer Water <> Feb 26
to me, 4, 17

These are good ideas and there’s room for flexibility. 

Some history, the other day, the roofer and I repaired a leak that was going into Radiance. It was coming from under a bag of dirt. He and I spoke at length about what’s next for the roof, what’s recommended and most of those recommendations and plans became the substance of my email sent 2/23/17.

The pallets I have are pictured. Also, I have about 12 milk crates and 6 bottle holder things so far. I like plastic palletting since it won’t rot, become mush or need to be replaced as often as wooden ones. 

I can’t think of a way to make large beds work, but maybe there’s a way. I’m thinking about how movable, liftable, mobile things, in the event of another leak or needed roof repair, won’t requiring digging up a bed or moving a gigantic thing. We got lucky this time, with this leak, all I had to do was move a bag of dirt. Can a whole garden work with bags, pots and smaller beds? 

The other issue that causes the need for mobility relates to the effect of soil when in direct contact with the roof membrane. Tarps and plastic sheeting offer a buffer, but don’t allow drainage, breathing. Our roofer didn’t see a way to have beds or anything laid directly onto the roofing material. I recently saw a whole garden of suspended pots in San Diego, I wish I had taken a picture, there were hundreds of these pots with all manner of things growing. 

I could do the cleaning and patching earlier, even as early as next week, basically, the next time it isn’t raining. I could see doing the work in two shifts, moving items from the east side then moving things back, but the work of moving your stuff to one side or the other, like the work of moving your stuff into an apartment, would be yours. 

Unless we come up with another strategy, I think the current beds or piles of dirt laid on tarps would need to be relocated to movable containers, buckets, etc. before the cleaning and repairs. Short term, I think this will make it neater and easier to move it all during cleaning and repair, and long term it will be better in terms of ongoing mainatence. 

Yes, I can think of many other places to store things, but none as practical as apartments or doing the switching sides back and forth.  

Yes, this should take less than a week. 

No, there will not be a new roof, at least not yet, the new roof will be this new all items on pallets roof policy along with a clean, patched roof. 

Yes, skylights, decking or new roofing will come, but not this year. 

Yes, like everything in this building, there will be many iterations of roof fixing as we take this one step at a time. 

With everything off the roof, suspended on pallets, crates, modified tables, etc. I think there will be less disruptions in subsequent years since we’ll be able to move things around in order to conduct repairs and troubleshoot leaks. 

Yes, happy to talk in person too. I will be around all week.


David Scherer Water <> Mar 6
to 17, 4, 4, me

I recalled the safer method for hanging planters above the roof garden. It involved a bucket of rocks with a rope that straddled the parapet wall and ended in an S hook. In the second picture I have demonstrated this with a propane can. Originally water was used instead of rocks, but then someone realized that water can evaporate. 

Seems like buckets are a thing that you’re going to need a lot of, I recommend that you check in with Bonnie (the owner) and or Holly (her daughter) at the 5th Ave. They get rid of a lot of buckets. 

Let me know your time frame so I can set aside a few days to work in concert.


David Scherer Water <> Mar 28
to me

Like we talked about, the main question to ask, “can one easily move it if needed?” I feel good about a 5 gal. bucket with soil and plants, using that as a reference, use whatever, with a max. mass of around the weight of a 5 gal. bucket

David Scherer Water <> Apr 3
to Martin

Just a reminder, as we move thru this cleaning period of the roof garden, we will transitioning to a new era where all things on the roof will need to be raised by some kind of a non-reactive pallet-like thing that allows water to pass and the roof to dry. Approved pallet-like items would be milk crates and other light plastic things that are like milk-crates. I have a good collection of such things that you’ll soon see. If you have something on the roof now that you would like to retain, please bring it in for a few days. I will be removing all unclaimed items and cleaning the east end of the roof garden starting tomorrow.

David Scherer Water <> Apr 5 to me, 17, 4, 4
Hello Roof Crew,
Am I correct, that everything that’s on the west end of the roof is stuff you want to retain and everything that’s on the east ~75% is stuff that can go? If so, I’m going to email everyone one more time, but late run the week, clear the bricks and do some hosing/cleaning/sweeping, kind of hoping the forecast is correct and F-Sat-Sun is dryer.
David Scherer Water <> Apr 9
to me, 4, 4, 17

Hello Roof Gardeners,

I got 4/5 of the roof garden cleaned. You’re now clear for moving your stuff out of that last 1/5. Then I can clean that area too. As soon as the last 1/5 is cleaned, I’ll be meeting with our roofer to discuss replacing the roof membrane in 2018 or later.

You’re also clear to bring out your pallets from the basement. I’m guessing Kirsten helped you get into the basement last time? If not, I can.

There are two repair projects that will happen over the next few months, so, as you place things, please keep the following in mind:

1. Olympia Sheet Metal will be installing caps on all sills and continuing sheet metal walls onto exposed areas such as in between windows, replacing the rotting wood. Not sure on schedule yet.

2. Once it gets hot enough and the moisture has dried, I will be doing a number of sealing and patch repairs.

I want to keep the area tidy for a lot of reasons, but especially so we can all move around without stepping on debris, especially debris that can hurt or wear down the roof membrane. 

I’d like it if we had a designated garden storage area and all supplies were kept there instead of spread out across the roof. I can bring up my metal shelving when you’re ready. 

Upon turning on the old black irrigation line, I discovered new leaks in the plastic pipe and so, I removed it. Next time I have a plumber here I can get a bid on a hose connection to the roof, but my gut tells me that getting this done right, will likely be somewhat expensive. Stay tuned.

As a reminder, from here on out, containers of dirt need to be small enough so they can be easily lifted and moved so we can get to areas in need of repair. Nothing can be stored on the roof directly. Everything needs to be separated from the roof by a milk crate or milk crate-like thing. 

Thanks for being gentle with the roof. Let me know if you have questions.


David Scherer Water <> Apr 11
to me

Just wanted to confirm that you’re not building new large beds. That is, anything larger than can easily be moved.

Sent from my telephone

David Scherer Water May 4
to me

Hi Clare,

Nice to see the roof coming along. 

I need to clarify the deal with dirt. Basically, soil needs to not get on the roof in large quantities, like amounts greater than an a few tablespoons. The reason relates to the grit and sand in soil that can work like sandpaper and wear down the roof membrane, plus the way soil has a corrosive effect because of its pH. Let me know if you want to borrow my shop vac. I’m thinking about the roof garden in the same manner that I think of the hall carpets. Sure, there’s going to be occasional spills and dirt is just part of the landscape, but the roof garden can’t be treated like the regular outdoors, there needs to be periodic sweeps and cleaning up spills.

Also, I’d like to complete the last leg of cleaning, the west end of the roof garden. Can you finish moving the stuff over in the next week or two?

After all my cleaning is done, I’ll be doing repair work out there (patching cracks and weak spots). To reduce the amount of moving I’ll need to do to get at those spots, I’d like to hold off on bringing much more new stuff out.

I wasn’t sure who’s on the roof garden committee, so, can you reply to this including all involved?


David Scherer Water May 4
to me, 17, 5, 4, 6, 4, 16

This all sounds great. Let me know when the west end is ready for me.

Please don’t hose off the roof. There are a lot of little holes still for water to leak into the building. Also, soil shouldn’t go down the west end drain, only water. Hosing just kind of spreads it around, doesn’t really remove much of it. The way we cleaned the 4/5 of the roof was sweeping and vacuuming. Feel free to borrow the shop vac (check the filter, use filter for dry vac, no filter for wet), but for small amounts, I’m imagining a broom and a pan will be easier.

David Scherer Water
to me, 17, 5, 4, 6, 4, 16

Hello Roof Gardeners,

The last part of my cleaning work is done. Up next (when I have at least a solid week of hot dry weather) will be some patching of places where there are weak spots or gaps. I mention this because, when that work happens I’ll need to move some of your containers. Some of them are too heavy for me to move. In general, being able to lift a container is our guiding principle for max. size. I realize this is a subjective judgement, but I’m skeptical if any of you can actually move a few of these on your own. I realize you may have only tried moving them when the soil was dry. Please reduce the ones that are heavier than what a person (who is not a pro weight lifter)(i.e. you) can move (not drag, but actually lift up, move and set down)(without injury). A few of the larger bread crates are bent from the weight of their planter. I suspect that these will break soon. Perhaps these can still be used but with lighter loads?

A few other notes:

1. I left the pictured watering can. If you really don’t want it, I’ll come get it. Everything else from the west end is gone.

2. I have four 12” x 8’ steel 2mm sheets. Combined with a few more milk crates, these could make ideal storage shelves. Not only am I eager to put these to use, but it would be great to reduce clutter so that everyone can get around without tripping on stuff, grinding stuff into the roof, etc.

3. Along those lines, it seems as if there’s a nice channel, a corridor going along the south side of the roof garden. If this was your smart idea, I commend it, please maintain this. It helps a lot to not have to weave, navigate, especially when shlepping supplies, tools.

4. Please clean up dirt spills right away. The dirt that spilled a few weeks ago has already turned to mud and some has spread itself widely. A lot of it can be cleaned up. Please clean it up ASAP. Dirt, specifically the sand in dirt, when tracked around will weaken the roof. Please don’t hose dirt away. It doesn’t actually hose it away, it just spreads it out. You may borrow my shop vac (use without the dust filter), but a dust broom will work too. Dirt and debris should not be sent down the west end scupper. It will clog the drain at the bend.  

5. Please don’t put planters against the walls. I’ve moved a few. There should be an air gap.

6. I have a few extra buckets if you want them. They’re behind the garbage cart (pictured).

7. The fig tree and grape vines will grow and eventually become so big that their weight will make it difficult to move. I think it’s fine for now, but as it gets bigger, we may need to do some radical pruning should circumstances arrive. So, for now, just a warning with an appeal not to add more permanent large plants / trees.

8. The roof garden looks great. Keep up the good work.


David Scherer Water May 23 (1 day ago)
to me

How about “too heavy” is a weight that you cannot lift on your own, move 10 feet and set down? I trust if you can move a planter in this manner, I will be able to manage also.

Hose and door mat are okay with me, but cardboard will eventually become mush from rain so move that as soon as possible.

Let’s install the shelves soon, let me know when you’re around, then we can store everything not in the basement but on the roof.

Hanging bucket? Like, 5 gal bucket? Seems dangerous and heavy. Do you mean basket? You’ll need something as ballast, like old dirt or gravel, rope (~30’) per each and one 5 gal. ballast bucket per hanging basket.

No, the line was totally broken, that needs to be re-built from the start. I can get a # next time I’m here w plumber. He’s here on Thursday

David Scherer Water Jun 5 (5 days ago)
to me, 17

Hi Clare, Sarah and are there others we should include? Page?

The hose system is up and running. You can drop off a payment for $80.50, the plumber didn’t charge for labor. So, this just for the faucet, connectors, hoses and valve. 

Since I don’t live on the roof garden, please keep an eye out for leaks. The source and shut off is in the laundry room. The next time you’re up there, take a look so you know where to go if it springs a leak. When the end of the season comes, let me know, I can bleed the water out and shut it down. We can also take the hose in.

When you’re not using your hose, please shut off the water at the stump valve (pictured).

I’m concerned about the green puddles. This is a new thing. What do you think is causing it? Fertilizers can be caustic to the roof membrane. I’d like to not find out the hard way if this is true for ours. Can you gently hose the green water away? 

Can we meet tomorrow to set up the storage shelves? I’ll be working in the building all day.

Are you still interested in doing hanging baskets? The counterweight to the hose is pictured and demonstrates the way past hanging baskets were rigged.


Technically speaking, there shouldn’t be a roof garden on the roof of The Martin.

There’s not supposed to be anything on the roof of The Martin at all.

Nor is there supposed to be anything in the hallways of The Martin.

I don’t know what kind of magic David’s weaving but I hope it never runs out.

Part VI. Grow

Every day when I look outside my garden has grown a little taller.

I measure their growth by what they block from view. Edge of wooden bed, now hidden. Corner of bed now hidden. Bottom of metal cone now obscured. Splotch on windowsill now hidden.

Good-bye, little screw in the side of the window across the way that holds some of that metal sheeting in place. Farewell, once visible smear of dirt on wall.

Obviously, this way of measurement only works if you sit very still, and don’t move.

But I do move.