There are a lot of very heavy hearts in and around Chico right now. We’ve lost one of our own. Katie Kelley was taken from us far too soon, though she leaves behind a great impression on the town she called home. Katie played music, primarily her black Rickenbacker bass guitar, in a variety of bands. She cut a striking figure, statuesque and brilliant on stage. If you didn’t know Katie, her sheer beauty could intimidate; you might think she was inapproachable, or aloof. She was anything but. Katie was an absolutely generous and wonderfully funny woman. She was curious, whimsical, and occasionally goofy. Her smile and her laughter would light up a room, and she was wickedly smart – when talking with her, I’d often find myself nodding in awe, and wondering at the workings of that powerful, complicated mind…

The human brain wants reason, but there is no good reason I can figure for this. But there are lessons we can draw from loss, and the lesson I want to encourage is simply to spend time with the people we love while they are here. We don’t get to know when they will leave us. Our lives are tangled and busy. We grow tired, apathetic; we take things for granted. We assume there will be more time, until there isn’t any more time. I’m as guilty of this as anyone, and now my heart is broken.

Soil Therapy

I’ve been working through some of my confusion and pain by turning earth out in the garden. Spring is around the corner, and so it is time to organize seeds and prepare the beds. This year I went a little crazy on my seed order. If it all works out, the garden will be featuring several different heirloom varieties of the following: corn, squash, garlic, eggplant, cucumber, carrots, beans, onions, potatoes, sweet peppers, hot peppers, and of course, tomatoes. We’re also going to try out a few different grains this year, including: sesame, quinoa, amaranth, sorghum, and a weird grass called chuffa that produces a rhizome known colloquially as a “ground almond.” Apparently it’s a staple food source in vast swaths of Asia.

While I concentrate on the vegetables, Trish focuses on the ornamental plantings and the fruit trees. We’re going to expand the pomegranate and persimmon orchards, and she has been planting tulip bulbs all over the place. Those are fun surprises, because they lay dormant and hidden under the soil until the ground starts to warm, and then they reveal their forgotten hiding places by pushing through the earth, and then blooming bright pink, yellow, red, or sometimes black.

This is hard. I see her smiling face every time I close my eyes. I hear her unmistakable laughter emanating from the reaches of the yard. I wish she were here. I suppose she is, in our memories, in our dreams.

Farewell, Katie.

Bob Howard has been living, working, and writing in Northern Califonria since he moved to Chico in early 2000. In January 2011, he and his wife Trish relocated to Los Molinos, 30 minutes north of Chico, where they are the proud proprietors of the Double Happiness Farm. There they grow organic food, ornamental plants and trees, and generally work to enjoy the beauty of this great region.