Thursday, November 30, 2006

Nasturtiums in November

As proof that it's been a long dry summer and a very warm autumn, many of my spring bulbs are getting ready to bloom. Last night, the weatherman predicted freezing temperatures, and I left my coleus to fend for themselves. Today, I have yet to venture outside to inspect the damage.

It's nice that autumn weather is finally upon us, and we don't have to rely on television commercials for cold medications and Christmas presents to feel like it's almots December. If only the flowers knew what the date was.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

A Long Lost Friend

Got Wheal in the Eye? What’s a wheal, you (might well) ask? If thou knowest not, seeketh thou to give succor to the unfortunate lady who has fallen into a “mother fit”? Then stop right here ladies and gentlemen! Such a deal JOHN GEORGE HOHMAN has for you. Actually, what he appears to have, is the secret to life, the universe, and everything.

This isn’t just the dubious word of a dead white guy. Turns out John George was modest to a fault. He generously admits that some of the “advice” was “partly derived from a work published by a Gypsy”, who, though wise in the lore of healing, apparently was also hip enough to self-publish.

Here’s an art and/or remedy that is familiar to those many unfortunate souls, tossing and turning through sleepless dark nights thereof. A remedy for somebody who is sick and the doctors cannot help. “Let the sick person, without having conversed with anyone, put water in a bottle before sunrise, close it up tight, and put it immediately in some box or chest. lock it and stop up the keyhole; the key must be carried in one of the pockets for three days, as nobody dare have it except the person who puts the bottle with water in the chest or box.” I can just see you slapping a palm to your forehead and saying “D’oh!” I know! Me too!

But wait. There's more. Here’s a twofer: A VERY GOOD REMEDY FOR MORTIFICATION AND INFLAMMATION. Which turns out to be a good idea, because just the other day a friend of mine was mortified to realize his fly was open, AND that what lay within was inflamed. First, find a good rabies lab; then get yourself some of the hair of the dog what bit ye. Ok, I made that last part up. Or did I???

Meanwhile, back in the Fifties...

...I’d like to shout out to my Formica Pattern F6941. Poetry drips from its tongue: “This innovative range has wide visual interest: subtle particulates; ethereal swirls; bold geometric contrasts; delicate veining; natural formations...” Which means there are multi-colored little interlocking and overlapping boomerangs on an orange background.

But if you’re in the mood for visiting a different long lost friend, here’s the citation to J-G’s tome referenced above, so you can go there yourself and waste a glorious morning. “JOHN GEORGE HOHMAN'S POW-WOWS; OR, LONG LOST FRIEND A COLLECTION OF MYSTERIOUS AND INVALUABLE ARTS AND REMEDIES, FOR MAN AS WELL AS ANIMALS. WITH MANY PROOFS Of their virtue and efficacy in healing diseases, etc., the greatest part which was never published until they appeared in print for the first time in the U.S. in the year 1820.”

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

My Garden in San Diego

Old Euclid drew a circle
On a sand-beach long ago.
He bound it and enclosed it
With angles thus and so.,
His set of solemn graybeards
Nodded and argued much
Of arc and of circumference,
diameter and such.
A silent child ;stood by them’
From morning until noon
Because they drew such charming
Round pictures of the moon.

(Vachel Lindsay, "Euclid")

I have lived in this house for almost twenty years now. But only upon retirement, three years ago, did it become my mission to grow here. In 2003, I retired to stay home, to retreat to my back yard and cultivate my garden. That autumn, my transformation to retirement marked the beginning of my back yard’s transformation into My Garden

My love of gardening recalls my childhood, where my over-busy mother somehow found time to secretly transfer to me her mysterious love of living things. She saw beauty in nature, and she transformed it with love, and she handed that super power down to me. She taught me that the world would be a better place if each of us took more care with what we alone did, and worry less about what mischief the rest of the world is making.

But, being a very busy wife, mother, and daughter-in-law, she gave me the theory but little application. I knew what I loved. I did not know how to grow it. Before undertaking to become a full time gardener at the age of 56, I had been bitten intermittingly with the gardening bug while I worked for a living. Perhaps the love is encoded into the maternal mitochondrial DNA. Perhaps it is a vestigial trait evolved to insure agrarian survival in times when hunting surrendered to gathering. Perhaps, the trait is expressed only after ageing past human reproductive period. Perhaps it is the catholic ethic of work first, then play. Perhaps I attempted to revert to childhood inspirations and re-create my mother’s garden.

Regardless of the cause: many lilacs and lilies of the valley were sacrificed so I could learn the apparently obvious: that I live in a dry desert, that I can still learn the seasons, and that I can have a beautiful, bountiful garden of my own.

I learned that I could never transplant my imagination garden into my life now. Over the years, I not only failed to transplant the familiar plants my mother taught me to love. I failed to learn to decipher the subtle climatic warnings of summer and winter. I learned this is not the land of endless summer. The subtle seasons of Southern California plant hardiness zone 9a, would require the rest of my lifetime to master, and I have so much to unlearn about plant hardiness zone 7a.

I have learned that some things can survive transplanting from dreams into reality. There is peace where all shades of wisteria threatening to engulf several areas. My love for chrysanthemums is now matched by some skill in cultivating them as perennials here. My mother would love them and recall her own small mum garden outside the basement recroom window, carefully tucked in beneath a winter blanket of raked leaves. I have more variety, and have cultivated some that she only showed me in Chinese paintings. Cultivating your garden will heal your soul.

Monday, November 13, 2006


As St. Thomas Aquinas almost said, the people we love tell us what we are.

People live on in the memories of the loved ones they leave behind. There are still enough of us alive to remember today: twelve, and eleven years later. Some day, their memories will be diluted further in their descendants. But even at many parts per million, those departed loved ones are remembered.

Thus, our parents remain alive in the world, and what they taught us, others will learn.

To see a World in a grain of sand,
And a Heaven in a wild flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand,
And Eternity in an hour.
William Blake, Auguries of Innocence

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Drinking Alone

Outside the window, wind and snow blow straight,
I clutch the stove and open a flask of wine.
Just like a fishing boat in the rain,
Sail down, asleep on the autumn river.

Du Mu

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Banishing the Tinge of Gloom

The weather is cooling down, at last. Temperatures have been in record-setting ranges, reaching in the low 90’sF this past week. But no tinge of gloom shows here. The lettuce, which generally prefers cool damp weather, is thriving – thanks to the newly installed drip irrigation, and its carefully chosen location where the grape arbor shades it from the harsh morning sun. The seeds and starts planted three weeks ago on October 18, are happy.

Writing about balancing the sublime and the beautiful in landscape gardening, Thomas Whately once suggested that "a little inclination towards melancholy is generally acceptable, at least to the exclusion of all gaiety, and beyond that point, so far as to throw just a tinge of gloom upon the scene.” (Observations on Modern Gardening, 1770). I was feeling pretty melancholy on November 8, after the depressing exercise in futility that is our mid-term election. So I stopped by the garden to say hello, and to dispel the tinge of gloom.

Later in the season, when our glorious autumn fades into the brief gray days of winter, the veggie garden may indeed have its melancholy aspect. But now, with sunshine, mulch and water, the young plants are thriving in the warm sunshine. There is an international section including khol rabi, Chinese cabbage and Brussels sprouts. There is red and green cabbage and cauliflower, planted amid the dark red argula and the lime green butterhead lettuce. Three weeks after seeding, the root vegetables – carrots, turnips and beets – are optimistically sprouting and ready to be thinned. Soon, it will be time to research new recipes in anticipation of the harvest.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Flu Shots

Now available for the old, the sick, the halt, the lame. And the grouchy. We went to our HMO last week on the first day flu shots were available. No appointment necessary, but a bit of a line. At 59 I was the youngest person in line by about 100 years. Hump-backed women pushing men in wheelchairs. Limping ladies pushing their oxygen bottles. People jockeying their walkers from the sign-in line to the waiting-for-nurse line like a contest for pole position in a NASCAR qualifier.

The best part was the unintentional humor. Two scrawny ladies who would have fit right in at a lesbian golf tournament doing a poor re-creation of a long lost comedy routine: You first. No, you first. No, I insist. Thank you, but please. An elderly man arguing with his ossified wife that he didn’t want to get another shot and what was she doing, trying to kill him. Her reply was to grimly grip the handles of his wheelchair and silently, stoically, roll him from one line into the next. Perhaps she was trying to kill him. Something clearly was.

The male nurse asked the arguing ladies if they were a couple. His intent clearly, was to take them both together. They suspected foul play and each glared at the other in a silent, and clearly often repeated conversation about how people can be so darn judgmental. They went in as a couple.

When our turn came, and we got the same nurse, K repeated his 20-year-old joke that we were together, but he hoped his wife wouldn’t find out. I referred to K as my boy toy. Once in the exam room for the actual flu shot, the nurse confessed he didn’t have any suckers to distribute if we didn’t cry when he injected the shot. Following our predictable grumbling at this news, he said he’d draw a smiley face on our bandaid instead. I asked for a grumpy face, and I think mine is better. The man was an artist.