I spent an entire therapy session on the bamboo. Not about how crazy it is—how wrong it is—that my husband, Paul, planted it in the first place, but about my reaction to it. The waves of anxiety that overcome me whenever I think about it.

It’s only four stalks. Our friend J. plucked them from his own garden, which is bordered by a massive wall of bamboo, after Paul was told by our local nursery that they were no longer permitted to sell the plant. Bamboo, they explained, had been ruled a prohibited (read: illegal) invasive species. I thought that would be enough to rid Paul of his notion to add it to our garden. As for me, just the word “invasive” makes me nervous.

But no. Paul accepted the stalks and enthusiastically inserted them into the soil at the corner of our patio abutting the house. His vision is that they will grow tall enough to disguise the rickety metal drainpipe that runs up to the roof. “You’ll see,” he says, “it’s going to look great.”

My vision is an underground nightmare, where a hungry throng of tangled rhizomes pushes horizontally through the earth, intent on surviving, on multiplying, on spewing its growth upward, upward, through whatever stands in its way. Our patio slabs crumble. The foundation of our house buckles. If bamboo made sound, it would be a relentless roar.

I do not believe I am overreacting. After all, we have been warned by numerous sources, all of whom, even J.’s wife, R., have confirmed that Paul’s plan is a bad idea. One friend reported bamboo busting through the sides of its wooden container. Another, a botanist, informed us of the difficulty, once the roots take hold, of ever fully ridding our garden of them. “It will lower the value of your home,” someone told Paul. “Why would you do that?” someone else wanted to know. 

R. said we have five years before it’s too late, and Paul and I have agreed that I can pull the bamboo after a year, unless it starts to cause problems before then. “The minute it breaks through the patio, I’ll take it out,” Paul assures me.

But I am not assured. Occasionally, when Paul isn’t home, I’ll go outside and tug at the shortest stalk, hoping it will have died but feeling instead its resistance. I could overcome it easily with a yank, but my loyalty to Paul wins out. It also wins out when I research ways to poison bamboo. I picture myself injecting some deadly chemical into the soil and waiting for Paul to discover that, sadly, his plants didn’t make it. Then I feel guilt, and betrayal, and I settle for a year.

I’d gone to my therapist to address my obsessive panic. But she didn’t help. In fact, her response made me feel worse. “What?” she exclaimed. “Why would he do that?”


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Eckleburg: What drives, inspires, and feeds your artistic work?

Ellen Urbani: When I was a single mother to two wee ones, I felt my brain cells dying every time I reread GOODNIGHT MOON (which I did about 87 times per day for years on end). As such, I wrote LANDFALL to rebuild my brain, to stretch my synapses and keep my mind alive and engaged with the world beyond diapering and breastfeeding and Elmo. My desire to exercise and feed my own mind is what inspires all my artistic work.

Eckleburg: If you had to arm wrestle a famous writer, poet or artist, either living or dead, who would it be? Why? What would you say to distract your opponent and go for the win?

Ellen Urbani: At a whopping 5’2″ and 110 pounds, sans foul play there’s no way I could arm wrestle anyone and win. Which means this tussle will require deviant methods. So let’s say I lick my opponent’s arm to knock him off his game: what I’m talking about now is not only which author I’d like to arm wrestle, but which author I’d like to sleep with, for one cannot go around licking people without following through. So it that case pit me against Jack Kerouac, for I love to be on the road, and he’d make a mighty attractive traveling companion.

Eckleburg: What would you like the world to remember about you and your work?

Ellen Urbani: Presuming anyone will remember me or my work, which is terribly presumptuous indeed, let them remember me for this:

I am kind to children, the elderly, and animals. Always.

I accept constructive criticism with an open mind and hearty soul.

I am endlessly grateful to those readers, lovers, and friends who have made it possible for me to live the life I imagined.

Ellen Urbani is the author of Landfall, a work of historical fiction set in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, and the memoir When I Was Elena, a Book Sense Notable selection documenting her life in Guatemala during the final years of that country’s civil war. She has a bachelor’s degree from The University of Alabama and a master’s degree from Marylhurst University. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times and numerous anthologies, and has been widely excerpted. She’s reviewed books for The Oregonian, served as a federal disaster/trauma specialist, and has lectured nationally on this topic. Her work has been profiled in the Oscar-qualified short documentary film Paint Me a Future. A Southern expat now residing in Oregon, her pets will always be dawgs and her truest allegiance will always reside with the Crimson Tide.