Being enough

Plus: Yes, we have no bananas (redux); the tropical plant craze; and an old-fashioned adventure story

I wasn’t an outdoorsy child. I didn’t like being too hot or too cold or too itchy, and going outside puts you at risk for all those things.

The author as a young girl, in Christmas tights and tropical-plant shorts.

However, this seems unfair to my younger self. I did like building forts and burying treasure and playing under the bridge down the road, which was usually overgrown with nettles. I devoured My Side of the Mountain and Hatchet and other adventure and survival stories for kids. I helped my dad in the garden, when it suited me, and was outraged when my parents decided to build a bigger glassblowing studio in its place. (The garden was pushed back behind the studio but it was smaller, and I’ve always felt, inferior.)

The author as a young girl, standing in front of the “new studio”

So, I don’t know who told me I wasn’t outdoorsy but I internalized it and still believed it about myself even in high school, when I wanted to join the trail building club (but didn’t because the overlap with the school’s John Birch Society was too high), took immense pleasure in lake swimming at every opportunity, and went on my first backpacking trips.

Something else that absolutely was true about my younger self is that I didn’t want short hair. My mother insisted I would look “cute” if I got a pixie just like this girl Megan from my dance classes. I said I didn’t want a boy’s haircut. (I had some messed up anxieties about my gender as a kid! For a time I stopped going by Jessie because Jesse was the boy’s name in Free Willy and I didn’t want a boy’s name.) Anyway, my mother didn’t force it and let me make my own decisions about my appearance, and I wanted my hair as long as possible. (I was deeply envious of the little girls whose hair fell all the way down their backs.) And with only a few exceptions, long hair is what I’ve rocked most of my life.

Some things do change: I got a pixie cut last week. I’m ~outdoorsy~ now, if I wasn’t before.

Some things don’t change: Post-haircut I’m wrestling with some anxieties about not being feminine or attractive enough. I’m often worried I’m not being outdoorsy enough for my brand. And I still don’t like being too hot, too cold, or too itchy.

Thank you for coming to my ̶T̶E̶D̶ ̶T̶a̶l̶k̶ ̶ therapy session.


Reading list

This shit is bananas: Ever since learning the origins of the song “Yes, We Have No Bananas,” which I first heard in the film Sabrina, I have been really into the history and future of bananas, and this Popula story by Hea-Ream Lee is a beautifully written addition to banana literature.

Must read: I’m not an aspiring rare tropical plant collector—I like plants but I’m more into ones that make things to eat or are ridiculously hard to kill. But I am obsessed with this story by Gray Chapman for the New York Times about rare tropical plant collectors, which has just enough influencers, intrigue, and the implications of climate change to make it just about a perfect story.

Adventure story for the ages: Melissa Sevigny’s Atavist story is a long one to bookmark and come back to later, if you don’t have time to read it all now. It is an enthralling, amusing, moving adventure story about the first two women to run the Colorado River, and the only botanists to compile a plant list for the Grand Canyon before the Glen Canyon Dam was built. I laughed out loud when the group arrived at Lees Ferry after a tumultuous start to the journey while the waiting reporters slept, only to have to stage their arrival a second time for the cameras: “Then they devoured watermelon, too absorbed in the delight of fresh fruit to answer questions.” And, in case you’re curious, here’s how Sevigny found the story.

I have more stories tagged “Pinch of Dirt” sitting in my inbox but this is quite enough to be getting on with! Until next time, at least.


An announcement: It was pointed out to me today that sometimes my writing in this newsletter can be quite personal, and I’ve begun to wonder whether I want the musings of an afternoon to live on the internet forever. We don’t live in the heyday of LiveJournal anymore, after all! That is to say, I think I’m going to enable paid subscriptions and put the archives behind a paywall, to preserve an element of intimacy and keep things a bit more ~ephemeral~

If you’ve signed up to get emails, you’ll still get every Pinch of Dirt in your inbox for free, but after a week or so the online version will no longer be available to just anyone.


Pinch of Dirt is brought to you by Jessica McKenzie. Please forgive any typos, she’s just one human. If you enjoyed this dispatch, consider forwarding this newsletter to your outdoorsy friends (whatever that means!). Or you can click the heart button below, which will help internet strangers find this newsletter. <3

Loading more posts…