Sunday, December 30, 2007

Pinetree Garden Seeds

Brochures and Catalogs: Forms of entertaining fiction published by nurseries, seedsmen, and tool manufactures.”
Henry Beard and Roy McKie, “A dictionary for Weedpullers, Slugcrushers & Backyard Botanists”
It’s that time of year. I’ve received 8 seed catalogs so far, and new ones come every day. I’ve folded page corners on each catalog and I’m already way over budget. Of course, I’ve forgiven and forgotten my failures to germinate or thrive from last year’s crop.

But there’s one new catalog that I’ve already ordered from and received seed from, and I want to share my happy experience.

Pinetree Garden Seeds is in New Gloucester Maine – about as far as you can get from San Diego and still be in the continental US. I usually like to order seed from places closer to home, and I certainly have enough to choose from without trying a new company. But Pinetree’s was the first catalog I received and their tempting offerings were too much to resist. So I ordered some stuff on line.

I received the seeds promptly, but first, within a few days, I received a letter and a small refund check. I had impulsively ordered seed potatoes to be shipped in March, but failed to note that they can’t ship to California. The check was accompanied by a handwritten note suggesting a company in, I think, Oregon, that might be able to ship to California. So my very first experience was that, instead of politely pointing out to me that I didn’t’ read catalog's restrictions, they kindly referred me to another company and refunded my money.

Then the seeds came, all but one that was back ordered. Then, yesterday, the last pack of seeds came. That’s a lot of trouble for an order that was originally less than $50. Also, the seed packets are printed with “packed for 2008”, indicating they’re fresh. Some seed companies don’t bother to date their seeds, presumably so they can sell them indefinitely. I’ve learned to my disappointment that the germination rate decreases substantially when I plant seeds from undated packets.

While I have no experience yet to tell me that Pinetree seeds are going to like my climate, I suspect the appropriate seeds I’ve selected will do just fine. I have found a wonderful company, responsive and responsible, and I’m adding them to my small list of favorites. Their customer service is excellent. Best of all, Pinetree Garden Seeds exemplifies the thing I like best about gardeners - they share their information and experience generously with other gardeners. That’s not just good business, it’s good gardening.

Friday, December 28, 2007

At the Quiet Limit of the World

"The woods decay, the woods decay and fall,
The vapours weep their burthen to the ground,
Man comes and tills the field and lies beneath,
And after many a summer dies the swan…

Me only cruel immortality
Consumes; I wither slowly in thine arms,
Here at the quiet limit of the world,
A white-hair'd shadow roaming like a dream
The ever-silent spaces of the East,
Far-folded mists, and gleaming halls of morn."
Tennyson, Tithonus

At first, with it’s image of death and burial, this poem seems like a bit of a buzz kill for such a festive season. But by evoking the sense of forever, Tennyson’s poem grants another kind of peace – the peace all gardeners will someday rest in.

When I was here, I tilled my garden, and I lived in it. But I dream that it will outlive me. I would be perfectly happy to believe that the woods will decay and fall long, long after I do. For man, the lifespan of a forest seem to approach the infinite, immortal, ultimate peace and stillness. Yesterday, I harvested some moss from the north shade of the house and planted it in tiny mounds with pretty stones. Today, here it is, sparkling in the morning sunshine.

In the quiet of the season, my garden sleeps, seemingly at the limit of the world. The small pots of succulents pictured above, delighted in the weak winter sun, seem match the images Tennyson paints, of heaven in the morning mists, and of some sort of peace beyond the lives of men who make gardens.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Today is the Best Day Since Yesterday

“Awake ye and come to our house
Come running – fly if you can

The doors throw themselves open
The name for this part is hearth

Today is the best day since yesterday
We share – a sense of rivers

Amazed at what we saw
We thought we were dreaming…”

C.D. Wright, “Girl Friend Poem #2”

Recently, I had some discussion with the handful of women I grew up with. We were six sisters against three brothers, unenlightened nuns in medieval religious schools, and the entire history of Western Civilization. We survived more or less sane well into our various and sundry dotages, and mostly without either heroism or martyrdom.

Now that the season precludes all but emergency gardening (hand watering as necessary to make up for Mother Nature’s lapses, replacing fences knocked over by rabbits who were hungrier than I thought etc) I rely more than ever on contact with my sisters to keep myself balanced. Conversation with geographically dispersed sisters in, chronologically, California, Michigan, Florida, Maryland, Oregon, Arizona helps us to beat the Seasonal Affective Disorder that afflicts some of us more than others.

I have come to believe that the subject our e-mail conversations matters less than the fact that we can do this. We talked about how it might be time to schedule our traditional biennial group therapy sessions/day spa and shopping excursions, aka, Sistertrips, more frequently. Planning these trips brings its own joy because – like our Daddy taught us all – anticipation of happiness is such a big part of happiness realized. We talk about which of us Mom loved the most; about who got special privileges like preferential use of the family car; about what makes each of us like our parents, for better or worse. About how we miss our folks.

We also talk about the varying degrees to which our families are making us crazy. About the stresses of having kids still in school, about having them on their own and far away, about how they are making the same dumb mistakes we made at their age.

Recently, I tried as best I could to duplicate Dad’s eggnog recipe (the best nog you can afford, and a lot of Southern Comfort in lieu of a little rum.) I had to recreate it because, though promised by one of my loyal siblings, they have yet to provide the recipe. While it doesn’t exactly suck to be me, I miss Dad’s eggnog – my drink of choice while sitting on the floor next to the Xmas tree, wrapping presents and listening to the Messiah. By the time I was singing along with the Amen – my favorite, even better than the Halleluiah chorus – I wasn’t missing the recipe as much, and most of the gifts were wrapped.

Whether we commiserate about our spouses, a rant about vulgar in-laws descending for the holidays, brag about accomplishments of our respective progeny, it helps to share. Inevitably, we conclude that our children are as likely to survive as we did, and to grow into interesting adults with their own traditions, and ways of staying sane. And we generally conclude with wishful dreaming – inspired by the above poem – of our next reunion.

One of the sensory pleasures of gardening I often forget is touch. I love the smells, and the light and shadow. I love to chew a tiny mint leaf or rub some sage on my hands and inhale it. But, this time of year, I find that I also miss the lovely texture of the potting soil I mix, adding some homemade compost with worms, some bone meal and blood meal. When I’m potting plants that won’t have a dedicated drip emitter, I love the way the tiny white crystals bloat up in water and become like tapioca, only clear. So, when deprived of these things by the season, I commiserate with my sisters and that is better, almost, than gardening, and than my nostalgically enhanced memory of Dad’s legendary eggnog.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Peace on Earth

“Many things grow in the garden that were never sown there.”
- Thomas Fuller, Gnomologia, 1732

Before I arrived at this blissful state – which is nothing more ambitious than universal tolerance of one’s neighbors – I fought and lost a war.

I'll tell you how the war went, but first a digression.

I live about 10 blocks from a dead end street called Mac Ronald. Really. My ex-urb has been upgraded by McMansions: bloated pink stucco edifices with protruding bay windows and non-functional ornamental touches with their price tags still attached. The nearby newer homes look like a bad case of adolescent acne, infesting the once rosy cheeks of my neighborhood landscapes.

I wouldn’t mind it so much if the new neighbors had good taste. But seriously: a round house sticking out of a lovely hill like the hilt of knife in your ribcage? It turns! Why? Well, because these patriotic Americans didn’t want to settle for 180 degrees, when they could afford 360. Or a bell freakin’ tower teetering over a morbidly obese single story shotgun shack, drifting away in a sea of faux clay roof tiles.

When I see scorched earth landscaping I know an old house is to be sold. First, fifty years of native and naturalized vegetation that once protected rural privacy must be replaced and re-landscaped to improve curb appeal. Once revealed from the street, the older, more modest, eclecticly funky homes must also get cosmetic surgery to tart them up like whores at an AARP convention.

But back to my war on literal and metaphorical rats that harvested my vegetable gardens.

Until recently, I tried to stem the tide of rats, mice et. al. Last week I told the guy who comes by weekly to kill the mice I didn’t want to renew his services. He says the coverage for poisoning gophers still has a year to run, and I and might as well have him continue in the front yard. (To some my front yard might be appallingly neglected. To me, it’s a habitat that supports smaller creatures like birds, bees and feral cats as long as the gophers are kept in check). I said ok on the front, but leave the back yard alone. Also, I did not tell him to be on the lookout for a gopher with dill-stained freakishly infantile opposable thumbs.

Now it’s time to negotiate some sort of mutual tolerance in my garden - I mean, in our garden. Perhaps sensing the seasonal karma, I refuse to continue poisoning the insurgents. That would defeat the purpose of growing things in the first place – to create life. That would be to fail to negotiate with the natives and jump straight to the final solution: the scorched earth policy employed by Mother Nature and her henchman Killing Frost. My lovely cabbages and hybrid purple broccoli are jet-setting arrivistes in the back yard, occupying the empty palaces of a once great empire, populated by strange natives who I have failed to understand. Genocide is not the answer.

Peace is what gardening is about, and, I am beginning to think, it’s what life beyond my garden gate is about too. People live and die, just like gardens and other creatures who inhabit them. Just like my vegetable and ornamental garden occupants have a season to live and to die, perhaps so do we as a species. And so too, the tumble-down old houses on Mac Ronald.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Saranwrap All You Can

“The first time I done it was a disaster. They all blowed off”
Tow truck driver who decorates his truck for Xmas, including lights and a tree

“Play it cool and Saranwrap all you can”
Scot Walker, “30th Century Man”

Riddles, wrapped in enigmas, and baked in a pie? The above quotes would seem, at first, to have no coherent theme, and certainly no garden theme. But wait, there’s more. I am experiencing a certain postmodern existential disconnect as winter closes in. My theory is that the gardener – separated from the garden by the weather – experiences subliminal withdrawal almost like an addict in rehab. Well, maybe not that serious, but I’m in a Saranwrap mood – wanting to preserve things I cultivated in order to maintain my connection to nature. I done tried, but my coleus has clear signs of frost damage, and official Winter doesn’t start until the day after tomorrow.

Stealing a brief hour from 2 to 3 pm last Sunday, I planted some sweet peas Ellen gave me, and I found some surprises. My dill was gone, eaten up from the bottom, neatly excavated by whoever lives beneath the freshly turned mound beneath the white rose in the fenced vegetable garden. It was there days ago – the death of the dill, Saran wrap would have saved it! We have the frickin’ technology! Neither the fence, nor the broadcasting of freshly chopped chrysanthemum foliage deterred the invader. My cabbage and broccoli starts in the backyard are still standing, but for how long?

Meanwhile, back at the Veggie Garden, critters have eaten about $60 worth of seed and about $40 worth of starts. Something big made a hole in the netting and feasted on delicate lettuce. Not to mention person-hours of blood, sweat and tears. We planted the last lettuce, beets and cabbage in the Veggie Garden last week. Today, the left raised bed had been murdered, blitzkrieged to tiny skeletal stems, remainders of the first hopeful sprouts.

How did we forget the other creatures? How did we see ourselves so apart from the world, so privileged above all species, so promised the land? It’s difficult for me to take in the murdered dill at home, the martyred lettuce at the Veggie Garden, and not feel like the tow truck driver, the first time he decorated his truck. By these standards, my gardens are a disaster.

But, the tow truck driver apparently figured out how to decorate and light a tree in such a way that his decorations wouldn’t get all blowed off. So, that’s one happy ending. From him, I must learn to accept the signs of winter telling me to depart from the back yard. Once more, I must learn to share “my” territory with nature and the other occupants. I must let the sprouts and starts of winter vegetables take their chances, even if a there is a great risk they will be harvested by night visitors the minute they stick their sprouting heads above their foxholes of mulch.

All that was forgotten Sunday afternoon: holding the pungent earth in my hands, planting the sweet peas, rinsing my dusty feet as I watered, tossing compost. I could feel the pull of the sun from farther toward the south in its effort to bring summer to drought-plagued Australia. Our fire seasons are over because of several recent rains promising some relief in winter. My garden may not be buried in snow like Kate in Saskatchewan, but its inhabitants know winter is now, and so do I. Let nature take its course while I stay indoors, stockpiling seed catalogs and imagining a perfectly decorated tow truck, defiantly, cheerfully pulling cars out of snow banks.

Monday, December 17, 2007

A Season for Forgetting

“Long ago you kissed the names of the nine Muses goodbye
and watched the quadratic equation pack its bag,
and even now as you memorize the order of the planets,
something else is slipping away, a state flower perhaps,
the address of an uncle, the capital of Paraguay.”
Billy Collins, Forgetfulness

My Mom once joked about how she couldn’t remember the names of her kids because she was trying to remember the Nicene Creed. Seemed a bit of mixed priorities to me, but her sense of humor was as strong as her faith.

Much is made of how gardens are great places to learn important life lessons: birth, death, renewal, reincarnation: all the garden metaphors that mean so much to gardeners. But gardens are also good places to go to forget. Sometimes, forgetting is a good thing. Short term memory loss not only makes it possible for me to keep meeting exciting new people, it allows me to wrap my own Xmas presents. And let’s face it, who needs to remember the capital of Paraguay when there’s Google?

Looking at old pictures of my back yard, like this spring ’04 shot with Dopey, I am confronted with a number of horticultural experiments that failed. I have pictures of many plants, lavished with high expectations, who perished from one of the four horsemen of garden failure: neglect, pestilence, flood or drought. Sure, I’ve learned from each failure, but I’ve forgotten more than I recall. I once tried grow a plumeria in a flower pot, but didn’t know it was deciduous, so when it lost its leaves in the winter, I tossed it out. Surely, you’re thinking, I could have bothered to open the Western Garden Book and given a glance at the entry for plumeria. To which I reply: don’t call me Shirley.

I have since learned a great deal about gardening from reading books. But I still seem to learn more by trial and error. My former fire-pit now filled with succulents is thriving on the big rock bordering the back vegetable garden. Perhaps you’re thinking I would learn better if the price of failure was starvation. Or if I had a better short term memory, or perhaps, a better system of making detailed entries in a garden journal. To which I say, don’t call me Perhaps. I enjoy forgetting failures as much as I enjoy celebrating horticultural successes.

Besides, there’s a long tradition of forgetting some important mistakes made by gardeners. After their parents were evicted from the original garden, according to our creation myth, Adam’s sons Cain and Able got to work at, respectively, cultivating gardens, and raising sheep. But when they each offered God some of their work products, God rejected Cain’s gift of a harvest in favor of Able’s baby lamb, or so the story goes.

Long story short: Cain killed Able. Which means, as Germaine Greer reminds us, that the whole human race is descended from a murdering gardener. Which makes my almost-forgotten plumeria murder not seem so bad after all.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Winter Shadows

"Face of the skies
over our wonder.

truant of heaven
draw us under.

Silver, circular corpse
your decease
infects us with unendurable ease,

touching nerve-terminals
to thermal icicles

Coercive as coma, frail as bloom
innuendoes of your inverse dawn
suffuse the self;
our every corpuscle become an elf."

Mina Loy, "Moreover the Moon"

It’s winter in the back yard – low sun, slanting almost sideways, making early afternoon look like late summer twilight. The moon is waxing, and the late sun illuminates the same old stuff, but takes a different angle, providing backlight over here, and spotlight over there. The new lighting makes familiar summer scenes look unfamiliar. Deeper shadows contrast with stark brightness, camouflaging flower pots into hiding places where phantoms lurk. The light flattens colors, making the scene resemble a dime-store paint-by-number picture - with too few colors and no gradual shading.

The unforeseen shadows and flattened colors make my afternoon stroll through the yard feel like a conversation between estranged friends, punctuated by awkward silences and sudden interruptions. The rhythm is gone, the sentences are incomplete. The summer smells are gone too – replaced by a chill and carried on strange humidity, that seems to almost clog the air, so unfamiliar had it become after a long hot dry season. The part of my brain that houses hard-wired instincts and coded messages seems to be whispering: curl up and hibernate, keep warm and cozy deep inside your cave, behind the bars of icicles. Let the moon wax and wane a few more cycles.

It is only by detaching from the garden for a while that gardeners will be able to enjoy the promised rebirth of spring, and the joy of re-discovering forgotten smells and visions. Meanwhile, coercive as a coma, seductive as sleep before a fire, the abandoned winter garden neither invites nor promises. It waits.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Xmas Light Don'ts and Do's

“Power, time, gravity, love. The forces that really kick ass are all invisible.”
David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas

To that list of invisible forces, add Xmas Spirit. After dinner one night last week, we went driving through the local “Candy Cane Lane” – blocks of insane people who conspire to put up more Xmas lights than their neighbors. Upon passing the 1.5 houses per block that has no lights, the stock joke used to be, that’s where the Jews live. Now, in a sign of the changing demographic on the not-so-new millennium, it’s either the Jews or the Muslims.

Anyway, driving through this fresh hell after dinner out one recent evening, I was subjected to K’s punchline: “Jeee-sus, Maaa-ry, and Joe-sef!” every time we passed a home with a crèche with JM&J up in lights on their front lawn. Which is bad enough on its own, but it’s worse in a six square block slow ride, a parade of autos with their lights out, when you’re having second thoughts about the second and third cups of wine and coffee for dinner.

But what’s worse, is putting Santa in the crèche scene. It looks pathetic: just don’t do it. Either make a stand for keeping Christ in Xmas or for washing him aside in a flood of tired generic “season’s greetings” from inflated snowman. But, Jesus Christ, stop having Santa kneel, cap-less, in line behind a shepherd or Balthazar, or Disney character.

I wonder what happened centuries ago as neighborhoods became more diverse. Did pagans and druids and what-not once campaign through the candy cane lanes of their pagan neighborhoods to keep Christ out of Winter Solstice?

Upon returning home mildly dazed by the lights, or by the high blood sugar after two mini-éclairs, or just simply relieved to make it, we decided to make our own Xmas light sign, and we opted for non-religious to avoid offending unbelievers, or as they prefer to be called, the “differently faithful.”

It took K all day, including a trip to three stores that weren’t Wal*Mart™ before he found the makings of the “L”. With due respect to religious parochialism, there’s something to be said for celebrating a generic Xmas where we wish one another peace on earth.

(Don’t make me spoil the joke by telling you. Hint: it’s in French.)

Sunday, December 09, 2007

What Do We Know?

"She tells her love while half asleep,
in the dark hours,
with half-words whispered low.
As Earth stirs in her winter sleep
and puts out grass and flowers
despite the snow,
despite the falling snow."
- Robert Graves

No snow falling in San Diego. But the winter rain for the past two days has been softly washing away my gardening mistakes. I woke this morning to the sound of rain on the roof and smiled to think of my tiny vegetable starts stretching their roots beneath the soil like a sleeper stretches her arms upon waking. Self, I said to myself. Self, let’s play a game of Wadda-We-Know, in the old Math Net sense of the word.

Ok, I know for sure that faith is ok unless it’s blind certainty disguised as faith. I know that before faith, there must be doubt. If you just believe it without even thinking about it, it’s totally not faith. It’s fundamentalist cant. It’s laissez-faire tolerance of disbelief, buried under a ton of self-righteous dirigisme beliefs. A steaming pile of certainties that smell worse than the imbalanced compost and the fossilizing heaps of dog poop in my back yard. I prefer when my doubt and certainty are more equally balanced; 1:1, like eggnog and Southern Comfort.

I do know some miscellaneous other stuff about myself, like for instance, that I love arguments that end: Shut UP. No, YOU shut up. Or that I’m easily distracted by seed catalogs these days, and I fear that if I want to remember one more plant-related fact I’ll have to make room by forgetting the name of my first best friend’s dog. It was Guess, son of You Know. That was circa 1954, before “you know” had quotes around it. We kids would love it when somebody asked the names of the dogs we played with.

I like run-on sentences and off-message asides, interspersed respectively with short ones and laser-like, conclusory judgments. I’m learning to teeter slowly at the point of uncertainty, and getting comfortable with not knowing it all. More than 50 years after I learned to ride a 2-wheeled bicycle.

I’m pretty sure that the phrase “working in a garden” is an oxymoron. I’m not crazy about self-referential writers who put words in “quotes” as a sort of non-verbal warning that they’re hip and ironic. Sometimes it backfires and you just look like a jerk. You know who “you” are, website called Korean Food Recipes, that has a hot link called “dog recipes”.

These days, I am sure I could garden longer than the day has sun. I’m not as angry as I used to be before I turned to gardening. I buy too many garden books, and I’m probably not going to stop. I like when K makes pancakes and eggs for dinner and he flashes the V for victory sign and says, “I am not a cook”. I once had a friend named Susie Miller who was a dental hygienist, but I lost track of her, and I miss her. I would have liked to talk about our daughters growing up with single-mom moms.

I love it when people talk with good fake accents, using slang that matches their accent. Think Monty Python’s “Sorry Guv’nr. Gobbed on yer rug.”

There’s some stuff I that I no longer need to know. I bet it’s the same for you. Like, I no longer wonder what would happen if I forgot to change the cats’ litter box for a whole week. I don’t need to keep looking up to confirm that the clock over the desk stopped at 3:00 weeks ago, and it still says it’s 3:00.

Here are some things I’m uncertain about. I suspect that when two people try to do the same thing, it usually ends up not the same thing after all. I’m learning to contemplate the mystery of my existence, rather than to insist on the truth of my beliefs. I suspect that the need to download one or two tunes a month on iTunes is an addiction harder to break than heroin. That’s what I think, anyway.

Finally, the 2 most important things I’ve learned so far today. I love it when after a rain, a tiny raindrop on a leaf can contain a reflection of the entire surface of the sun. And I have (finally!) figured out my life’s work: to slow down and exist in the present.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Childhood Garden Memory

“Let us be grateful to people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.” 
Marcel Proust (1871 – 1922)

My maternal grandmother’s garden was her six daughters and one son, lovingly raised. My mother not only raised nine, she knew the names of every plant in the world; or so it seemed. My daughter once predicted that she would someday be explaining her mother’s automobile crash as due to attention I paid to roadside flora at the expense of attention paid to the actual road. A habit I got from my own Mom, who, by the way, was probably just as good a driver as I am.

And for all that, I have precious few childhood memories of my Mom’s or my Grandma’s garden. I remember when they widened University Blvd at Four Corners, they had to move 3 or 4 houses at the intersection of Lorraine (sp?) where the Safeway parking lot now stands.

What I remember is that upon finding out the houses were going, Mom, naturally, wondered what was going to happen to the unsuspecting hydrangea bush in one of the doomed front yards. One long summer twilight I went with her, pulling a red wagon with a shovel in it, the 6 or 8 blocks from our house to rescue said hydrangea. Upon being approached by a security guard – there had been “vandalism” in the empty houses – Mom persuaded him to let her rescue the doomed plant.

That bush thrived in our yard from that day on, and once Mom put some chemical on its roots to make the flowers turn from pink to blue, or back. She explained pH, about which I know more to this day thanks to her, than thanks to high school labs and freshman chemistry. It’s a good thing that I didn’t know then, the meaning of the word “volunteer” as referring to spontaneous gifts of plants in the garden. Such knowledge might have transformed my childhood memory into a sort of post-traumatic nightmare of extreme rendition and severe interrogation.

Recalling this memory makes me suddenly understand why I don’t retain more than cursory memories of straggly childhood tomato plants. Mom and Grandma lived frugal lives in lean times, and they raised large families on single incomes. But somehow I got the love. It is thanks to them that I now have at least a dozen Martha Washington, trailing ivy, and the other plain pelargonium plants thriving in my yard – not one of which I bought. Once I figured out how easy it is to propagate this forgiving flower, I gently purloined cuttings of each from roadsides in my neighborhood to procreate them in my yard.

My last sight of Mom was the day I pulled away from the parking lot of the adult independent living community where she died within the month. I could see her on the balcony of their third floor apartment, built on the site where my public school kindergarten once stood. She waved goodbye with one hand, and held a watering can in the other. She was on her way to water the small herb gardens she nurtured in window boxes outside neighboring apartments.

Imagine the kind of garden my Mom would have had if she lived now. Had my Mom (or her Mother) been able to afford the time or invest the money, I like to think the gardens they would have made for me to remember would be like the ones I make now.

Friday, December 07, 2007

A Harmonica Crushed in a Rat Trap

Though they are, they have eyes as piercing as gimlets, 

That shine like those holes in which water sleeps at night; 

They have the divine eyes of little girls 

Who are amazed and laugh at everything that gleams.
I would be plunged in pleasure still, 

Conjuring up the Springtime with my will, 

And forcing sunshine from my heart to form, 

Of burning thoughts, an atmosphere that's warm.”

Beaudelaire, Paysages, Landscape, trans by: Roy Campbell, Poems of Baudelaire (New York: Pantheon Books, 1952)

I wrote down the harmonica/rat trap phrase as I stumbled upon it recently, and now find I have absolutely no idea where I stumbled on it. I do recall that it made me smile, because I thought it the perfect illustration of dreams that have died an ugly death but won’t give up and go away. It also fits with my new favorite song: “How Can I Love You if You Won’t Lie Down” (I woulda said “lay down” but I suspect I’m being monitored by the Department of Homeland Grammar Security, and I don’t want to draw attention to my grammar, or the fact that I should be more careful about attributing quotes).

Xmas brings to the top of my cold mental soup greasy chunks of longing for material things like harmonicas destined to rust in the teeth of rat traps. I want more stuff. As a kid I never really wanted a pony, but all my friends were getting ponies, so I was pretty sure I needed one too. Nowadays I don't really want sparkling jewelry - the kind that sends women in commercials swooning into ecstasies of love. (Instead of a tag line saying diamonds are forever, I prefer the satirical commercial with the tag line “She’ll practically have to!”)

Now all my childish dreams like playing the harmonica and wanting a pony have been replaced. I want to forget what I heard on TV yesterday, in a news story about Iran. A widow covered in black sheets, walking home in the snow, telling the reporter she was worried bout what her children would eat tonight, and tomorrow.

The picture above may, at first glance, look like ripples in a cool, shadowy pool. It’s actually a picture of the low winter sun setting between trees, taken through the middle of a spider’s web. In this season where we dress up in good will and peace on earth, I wish I could buy the whole world a pony, or, if they prefer, harmonica lessons. Or perhaps even a diamond necklace to make little girls' eyes gleam.

As for me, as winter gloom descends and Xmas shopping days dwindle, I already want to conjure up the warm atmosphere of Springtime.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Nothing Undone

“It was a perfect day
For sowing; just
As sweet and dry was the ground
As tobacco-dust.

I tasted deep the hour
Between the far
Owl’s chuckling first soft cry
And the first star.

A long stretched hour it was;
Nothing undone
Remained: the early seeds All safely sown.

And now, hark at the rain,
Windless and light,
Half a kiss, half a tear,
Saying Good-night.”

- Edward Thomas, Sowing

My sister gave me some advice that’s worth noting. In trying to console me for the fact that my date for the Freshman dance all those years ago was t-boned by an ambulance running a red light the day before the dance, and from there my life pretty much went downhill, she said I should stop trying to be perfect. The bunny statue in the long light of this picture has a puzzled expression on his face as he looks at a sign amid the potatoes that says "harvest". Not such a perfect outcome from his point of view.

Her advice? I think that we “…would be well served to eliminate… the reverence that we hold for being perfect, always right, and in control. If its one thing I've learned the hard way over the last 10 years of my life it is that we have no control, that's an illusion. And I suspect that trying to control everything makes us less open - open to whatever is out there for us to take in.” The bunny agrees.

Now, granted, this sister is not always right, and in fact, some say she’s a wack-job. But I think she is here. Right that is, not a wack-job. I spent today planting my cool season vegetable starts: red cabbage, purple broccoli, some cauliflower whose name I’ve lost. A storm is predicted to start by tomorrow afternoon. Since the pictures of tiny plants sprouting from mulch aren't pretty, here's a picture of the cotoneaster in the long last hour of the afternoon.

The early seeds all safely sown, now I wait for the rain. And stop worrying about being perfect. That’s a relief on two counts.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

December Meditation

“Calm down, my Sorrow, we must move with care.

You called for evening; it descends, it's here
The town is coffined in its atmosphere,

bringing relief to some, to others care…

“… give me your hand, my Sorrow. Let's stand back;
back from these people! Look, the dead years dressed

in old clothes crowd the balconies of the sky.

Regret emerges smiling from the sea,
the sick sun slumbers underneath an arch,

and like a shroud strung out from east to west,

listen, my Dearest, hear the sweet night march!”
— Robert Lowell, from Marthiel & Jackson Matthews, eds., The Flowers of Evil (Beaudelaire) (NY: New Directions, 1963)

There shouldn’t be sadness in December, just because the sun sets early, beneath an arch of storm cloud overhead, like a long shroud trailing from the east. We had much more than the first gentle rain yesterday. We had downpours off and on all day. Too late to get the rotten logs while they’re dry. They’ve soaked up rain like sponges. Mmmmm, rain-soaked, rotten, wood sponges…

Xmas is coming! And yet. Melancholy lurks beneath the endless new car commercials, with faux snow (snaux) and giant-sized ribbons; behind the toy and game commercials appealing to the need of every one of us to buy whatever it takes to have as much fun as those faux families (fauxmilies) in the desperately jolly toy and game commercials. So, of course the one that makes me quiver like fingernails on a blackboard is the confluence of these commercial topics. The one where the family is reunited by their new family van; the one where they come together from their isolation and loneliness at the beginning of the commercial to an almost holy reunion blessed by the setting sun, watching Regret moving from the sea with a smile.

First, we see teenage daughter on her cell: “Did you SEE what she was wearing?...) Cut to surly adolescent, sitting on porch steps, declining to play ball with still innocent little brother (did the kid’s cowlick actually frown as his big brother absently kicked the ball from his welcoming hands and down the steps?). This action occurs while big brother never once looks up from texting on his own crackberry.

Mom pulls into driveway, honks horn and yells at family to join her. Even preoccupied Mr. Mom drops the dishcloth and troops out with the rest of the grumpy family. Surprise! It’s A BRAND NEW CAR!

Cut to next scene with Mom driving and Dad&Kids laughing in back sitting around a game table. Proceed to idyllic sunset on the beach, family looking out of the open hatchback and eating deep fried mayonnaise balls from the McFood drive-in. Sunset: bringing relief to some, to others care. Which would you chose to be?

The new car saved this family from lives of quiet desperation, shallow distractions, and isolated longings. The secret to happiness is a new van where the family can joyfully reunite, playing old-fashioned games and – between yet more commercials playing on the multiple DVDs inside the car – share a blissful golden sunset, and hear the sweet night march begin. Together again. God Bless Xmas.

Friday, November 30, 2007

From the Meticulous to the Sublime

"Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle."
Philo of Alexandria

Ahhh, it’s raining. Just enough for a first rain on a thirsty ground – soft and fine and less than an inch. Enough to soak in and begin to awaken the soil, but not too much to cause runoff and flood. It’s been years since the ground was soaked beyond it’s ability to absorb. Then, we saw tiny rivers on every hill, racing to the bottom and swept away to join the watershed's march to the reservoirs.

The view outside is a mess. My vegetable starts remain unplanted, sitting forelornly in the wheelbarrow on the bags of potting soil. That’s a shame because the first seasonal rain would give them a jump-start to stretch their roots and grow. The last of the rusty mums bow down their spent blossoms in surrender to the season. In every flower pot, straggly stalks and naked stems bend over into an unkempt mess. My carefully tended dish gardens have lost their meticulously trimmed miniature scale and now sulk – sodden, neglected, and overgrown. My disheveled mood matches the untidy garden, nothing orderly or neat, just scraps of spent verdant energy, capitulating into compost.

The feral cat that lives in the crevices of the big rocks in the back yard is coping with rain for the first time this season. We watched him/her grow up this summer from a skinny kitten to a svelte hunter – tormenting the resident dog and front porch cat by parading across the front yard where they could only follow her with their eyes as she climbed the olive trees to snatch baby birds from their nests and patiently out-waited field mice in the scrub.

Mountain lions have been spotted in parks in the middle of suburbs. Displaced by the back country fires, and hungry and cross, they prowl city parks looking for dinner. We should be kind to the wildlife, whether they lost their homes in the fires, or whether they have always lived among us in our backyard gardens and wood piles. The mountain lions are tranquilized, treated as necessary, fed and released back in the unburned mountains.

As for our local wildlife, as is our usual Thanksgiving practice, I took the turkey carcass and distributed it in pieces in the back yard where the cat – we call it “the Black and White Cat” – prowls. The next morning, it was gone without a trace. I just hope BWC got some of it, even if I strongly suspect some was harvested by skunks, raccoons and possibly coyotes.

Meanwhile, my cat sleeps in my lap as I type. Her chin resting on my left arm. We’re cozy and warm inside, and I’m sipping my second cup of coffee seasoned with Spicy Maya hot chocolate and Detroit Spices.

The rain blurs the distance into smoky shadow and the breeze carries the memory of fire. Rain here and now isn’t like the rain of my childhood – where it was hot and steamy and we could put on our bathing suits and cavort in the street. It’s winter and chilly and uninviting except to look at through a window inside a cozy room. It may be time to leave the garden to it’s silent slumber and make a pot of sublime soup.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Death of a Gardener

“Hands tremulous as cherry branches kept
Faith with struggling seedlings till the earth
Kept faith with him, claimed him as he slept
Cold in the sun beside his upright spade.”
Phoebe Hesketh, Death of a Gardener

A sad thing happened yesterday. A friend died, quietly and peacefully after a mercifully brief illness. I never actually knew her as a gardener. By the time we met in the garden, we were both retired, and she was slowing down. She was a teacher of gardeners, patiently naming plants and demonstrating a tough and quiet wisdom that could be mistaken for a grouchy unsociability in those who didn't know better.

She embodied the spirit of volunteerism in both its meanings. She was a person who performed services willingly and without pay, providing an example to others who may have come to the garden for personal growth but stayed to cultivate that passion in others. But she was also like a stubborn volunteer plant, flourishing in our communal garden without being planted or cultivated.

She had slowed down by the time I met her, but still had more energy and curiosity than many people half her age. She and her guide dog no longer walked the garden paths instructing and inspiring us with her insatiable thirst for knowledge and her example of patient service. By the time I became a volunteer, she preferred to work alone – sitting every Saturday in the information booth, greeting visitors and answering their horticultural questions.

Once I helped her on a guided tour of the garden, given to mostly blind adults. She showed them how to touch the soft fuzzy lamb’s ears, and to gently rub the leaves of scented geraniums and lavenders to release their fragrance. This opened a whole new world to me when I listened, touched and smelled, and the only way I can hope to repay her for what she gave me is to try to show it to others.

So many garden metaphors come to mind when I consider this remarkable woman. But there is one that comes to my mind now, as I begin to contemplate her loss in this golden autumn season when acorns are falling from the coast live oak tree. Dorcas embodied the gardener’s faith that the ground we prepare, and the seeds we sow today, will bear fruit in the future – regardless of whether today’s gardeners will be there to witness the next harvest. While she will be greatly missed, the volunteers that she inspired will continue her work for many seasons to come.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Something in Dirt and Water

Her work
Brings out of dirt and water
A whole thing, a hole where
The use of the pot is,
A container for the thing
Ursula K. Le Guin, from "The Writer on, and at, Her Work"

For all my pretensions to having some, shall we say, class, I like wine in boxed containers. I opened 2 wine boxes like a pro last happy hour: white zinfandel for Faithful Companion and Burgundy for moi. Took the little coin-shaped cut-outs where the spigot protrudes from the box, and presented them to FC in a dish when I gave him his plastic cup of ice chips and white zin. To smell the corks, of course. Today, I’m making white chocolate pumpkin fudge and a sharp cheddar pumpkin tort for tomorrow. Licked the pans. Delicious

Yesterday afternoon, I planted my 5 gal coast live oak betweem the dying pine tree and the big rock in foreground. I hope the tree, now exactly as tall as I am, will outlive us all.

At the Garden yesterday morning, I walked through a tiny part of the vanishing west that is burning away like the morning mist between the hills. In the air was the almost subliminal sound of thunder: the planes at Lindberg Field. When the marine layer is thick enough to reach into our inland valleys on cool November mornings, I could hear the jet rumble sounding like the deep background thunder of the world, funneled east to my ears beneath the low canopy of cloud cover.

We only pay attention when things catch fire. Now that the smoke is only coastal fog penetrating our yard and the garden, we can go back to ignoring our drought. And the vanishing unincorporated clutter of back country lives, stranded among condo developments in the valleys and McMansions on the hill tops. Local water officials voted to continue practicing denial about our water supply. Why ration water before the faucets run dry and before it’s time to pray on the statehouse lawn for rain.

The back entrance to the Garden is reached by a walk down a dirt path leading from a gravel construction parking lot at the neighboring community college. You emerge amid a clutter of abandoned plants, signs, an old flatbed trailer, some piles of compost or broken concrete, old fence posts and concrete planters. I walked beneath 100 year old California pepper trees and surviving eucalyptus trees. Only the strong have survived our sixth year of drought. I walked near enough to smell the native chaparral separating the back lot from the child care center’s playground. The chaparral was so fragrant with flammable creosote, I could imagine the cave torches for giant-sized hands that they make when they burst into flame.

These back country sites still exist, but it was nice to notice one and enjoy its own characters, smells and sounds as I went to planting cool season seeds of broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and a million kinds of lettuce. Happy Thanksgiving.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

White Chrysanthemum

A white chrysanthemum -
and to meet the viewer's eye,
not a mote of dust.

Matsuo Basho

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Kinesthesia in the Garden

“. . . I am trying to invent a new way of moving under my dress: the room squares off against this: watch the water glitter with excitement: when we cut below the silver skin of the surface the center retains its fluidity; do I still remind you of a locust clinging to a branch: I give you an idea of the damages; you would let edges be edges: believe me . . .”
C. D. Wright, “Crescent”

Kinesthesia is the sense of touch, of movement of one’s body. To me it is the secret to moving from a state of concentration to one of awareness, and that’s what my garden does for me.

Concentration contracts, narrows perceptions, clenches muscles, shuts out all other input. Awareness opens, widens perceptions, exhales cool refreshing sensations. By paying attention to the senses awakened when I move in the garden, sensory messages go directly from my muscles to my brain, without the interruptions and filters of words.

In my back yard, my capacity for awareness expands. I can stand between the earth and the sky and feel my connections, and my movements; I can let go of concentration and become aware - what Buddhists call mindfulness. For me, the goal of a garden isn’t the flowers that please the eye, or the fat tomatoes that please the palate. I soon grow tired of the colors, and the showing off – like these lazy mums sunning themselves on the rocks in the late November afternoon.

For me, the goal of walking around in the back yard, is kinesthesia – I feel what it’s like to be inside my skin, beginning with an awareness of my feet connecting with the ground. When I begin to feel what my toes feel, I can begin to see what my eyes see – just the colors and the light and shadow of each tint, without the names, or flowery descriptions, or metaphors.

It’s like re-discovering a way of moving, a fluidity I understood as a child, but forgot as I gradually learned how to master concentration at the expense of awareness.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Remembering Mom and Dad

“I remember, I remember
The house where I was born,
The little window where the sun
Came peeping in at morn;
He never came a wink too soon
Nor brought too long a day;
But now, I often wish the night
Had borne my breath away.

“I remember, I remember
The roses red and white,
The violets and the lily cups--
Those flowers made of light!
The lilacs where the robin built,
And where my brother set
The laburnum on his birthday,--
The tree is living yet!

“I remember, I remember
Where I was used to swing,
And thought the air must rush as fresh
To swallows on the wing;
My spirit flew in feathers then
That is so heavy now,
The summer pools could hardly cool
The fever on my brow.

“I remember, I remember
The fir-trees dark and high;
I used to think their slender tops
Were close against the sky:
It was a childish ignorance,
But now 'tis little joy
To know I'm farther off from Heaven
Than when I was a boy.”

Thomas Hood, “I Remember, I Remember”

Monday, November 12, 2007

Surprise Party

I do not know which to prefer,
The beauty of inflections
Or the beauty of innuendoes,
The blackbird whistling
Or just after…

Icicles filled the long window
With barbaric glass.
The shadow of the blackbird
Crossed it, to and fro.
The mood
Traced in the shadow
An indecipherable cause…

I know noble accents
And lucid, inescapable rhythms;
But I know, too,
That the blackbird is involved
In what I know.

Wallace Stevens, selected from: “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird”

I don’t know which I like best about this poem – the beautiful, different ways, or the ability to see differences in the first place. Especially in such an unlovable sight - Audubon calls them the gangstas of the bird hood. The verses above are my three favorite ways. To see all 13 ways of looking at blackbirds, read the entire poem

November has been cooling and the coastal marine layer has migrated to my back yard - 20 miles east of the ocean, at the dizzying height of 22 feet above sea level. We’ve even felt a few minor drizzles here – it cools and softens the air, awakening drying sage as I hit the leaves with the hose.

Many, resident and visitor alike, decry our alleged lack of seasons. They are all wrong. Seasons change here too, sometimes with such a gentle soft touch that you might miss it if you’re not in the yard when it happens. Like missing the bus to work on the perfect autumn day and driving down to Rock Creek and kicking the brown leaves and savoring their aroma: the smell of Home.

The mums are throwing a surprise party. I’d forgotten what was where, and that’s part of the fun when they start to show their colors. No doubt about it, autumn is my favorite season for enjoying outdoors, even blackbirds.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Solitude Delivered From the Anguish of Loneliness

“Every deed and every relationship is surrounded by an atmosphere of silence. Friendship needs no words – it is solitude delivered from the anguish of loneliness.”
Dag Hammarskjold

Notwithstanding my fondness for the colors, images and poems about autumn, there comes a point when I realize I’m surrounded by the dead and the dying. Another word for harvest is murder.

Now, I expect annuals to die, immolated in a final blaze of glory. But what about the collateral damage? Oh, the vegemanity! My young vegetable starts, I hardly knew you. So young, so tender, so appealing to bunnies. I didn't have enough wire baskets to go around, so you can see the surviver inside the perimeter and the stumps of its companions outside the wire. They had so much to live for. Purchased Sunday, planted Tuesday, nibbled to the nubs by Friday.

But the universe makes the rules in the Garden. Here only change is permanent. Seeing the garden with compassion but without self-deception is like trying to see death but without fear. Here’s George the Scarecrow, decked out in his tux for the Fall Festival. I got a big Styrofoam pumpkin and put Medusa Gourd’s rasta hair in the top. This was before the Festival, originally scheduled for 10/27, but postponed to 11/10 by the fires.

Here’s headless George after the fire. The Garden was spared, but the fire was within blocks, and the winds were pretty fierce around the perimeter. We’re making the most of the change. Sometimes, we put too much emphasis on heads and not enough on hearts. George is perfectly happy headless, as he is at home all year, next to Medusa Gourd.

Medusa Gourd is visiting the Garden for the festival, sporting her rasta hair, somewhat thinned by all the commotion, but looking incredibly happy to be near George. They apparently preside helplessly together over the rabbits as they harvest by night.

Reunited friends again, Headless George and Medusa Gourd get it: solitude without loneliness.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Almost Exactly Like Gone with the Wind

"In masks outrageous and austere
The years go by in single file;
But none has merited my fear,
And none has quite escaped my smile."
Elinor Wylie

When I was young, I moved fast. I had people to see, places to go. I had important stuff to do. Once I stopped going places, and seeing people, and doing important stuff, well, I didn’t just stop being important, I stopped being fast.

Once, my reactions were so quick they seemed like coincidences. What I lacked in grace I made up in speed. Now, I move with the great deliberation of the unbalanced, the elderly, or the very wise. I’m still ungraceful, and I’m not very wise, so you see my situation. My reactions today were in the kind of movie slow motion you see when bridges blow up and the action hero leaps from the runaway train as it tips into the ravine, with blazing guns in each hand (the hero, not the train) and lands on his feet, perfectly balanced on the precipice.

I cleaned the waterfall today, and in the process, I fell in. Nothing seriously wounded, not even pride. Just one of those falls, like a giant sequoia in a primordial forest, pulling surrounding trees down in its wake.

I was standing atop the big rock in the middle of the falls, tearing out green goddess lilies, toad lilies and some nasty grass-like mat that had virtually swallowed the big rock. I had abandoned my shoes, and the water was only mildly cool, and I was perfectly balanced, and I moved one foot, and I reached slowly out, and I grabbed the last clump of stems, and I knew in a blinding flash there would be no stopping me. I was going down.

I had time to consider several options, to discard each in turn, and to consider the best way to twist and lean so my butt hit the big rock instead of my hip. I made a lovely splash as I slid down the rock and landed in the muck and roots at the bottom. Not exactly perfectly balanced, but more or less upright. I did however, hold on to the damned clump of stems.

I raised my clenched and muddy fist full of gooey brown toad lily leaves, and raised my face to the sky, and I shouted defiantly, “As God is my witness, I’ll never go hungry again!”

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Nature’s Indulgence

“There are days which occur in this climate, at almost any season of the year, wherein the world reaches its perfection, when the air, the heavenly bodies, and the earth make a harmony, as if Nature would indulge its offspring.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson

CNN reports that snow is falling on the Cascade mountains this morning. Meanwhile, back at the ranch: in my back yard, it’s 73F and sunny, with the vestiges of the morning fog lurking beneath bushes and low trees.

I’m busy making signs for the Veggie Garden where I volunteer. Our fall plant sale was postponed from 10/27 because of the fire, and will now occur on 11/10. This is actually better from a vegetable gardener’s perspective because my tiny seedlings of lettuce, cabbage and Swiss chard will be planted this week. They won’t be much to look at, but they’ll offer the promise of things to come, rather than the worn out, mildew-tainted zucchini leaves and burnt tomatillo plants that I mostly removed last week.

The small home-made signs in this picture were from my backyard about this time last year. The Veggie Garden signs are larger and in color and laminated to last for the entire cool season.

The mums are at their most beautiful, ready to be picked for an arrangement at the festival next weekend. The day is beautiful and inviting, and the air is crisp and faintly fragrant with the rusty smell of withering summer crops and spent flowers. It’s hard to think I’ll be moving indoors soon to work on my inside hobby: the endless Art Nouveau doll house.

But on this beautiful sunny Sunday, that’s easier to imagine than snow in the mountains.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Overheard in San Diego

"I’ve lost everything! All of my beanie babies - gone!"

So, what’s sadder, that she lost the beanie babies, or that she collected them in the first place?

Tuesday, October 30, 2007


“This is how he grows;
by being defeated decisively
by constantly greater things.”
- Rainer Maria Rilke

My back yard is where I go to sort out my experiences in the world. Because the seasons require certain chores to be performed at certain times, gardening brings order to my otherwise disheveled life. In the garden, I’m able to gather the jumbled pieces of thought within me, and to update my head with the clutter of sensory things from without. It’s where my subjective mental landscape meets the objective awareness of the world. The other day, the spa finally reflected a clear sky, but you can see the ash on the water in this picture.

Returning from exile after the fires, we contemplate not just the damaged environment but how that damages us. (I should insert a disclaimer here that I lost nothing in the fire except some autumn-tinted mums that were halted in their tracks. I did not evacuate; I did not fall asleep in some strange place wondering if I’d ever make it home again.)

But I was metaphorically evacuated from the peaceful grove out my back door, and I was deprived of the meditative space where I escape from worldly cares. As if cleansed by the fires, I can see clearly how important my environment is not merely to contemplate life outside, or to seek inner peace, but to survive.

Our community rose to the fire’s challenge and we survived. Now, we have to rise to the longer and harder challenge: to recover.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

San Diego Fire, Sunday October 28, 2007

"All the day
had been a dreary one at best, and dim
Was settling to its close, yet shot one grim
Red leer to see the plain catch it estray."
Robert Browning, Childe Roland

We drove from San Diego to Riverside on Friday 10/26 heading north on I15 which had been closed sporadically earlier in the week. Passing Rancho Bernardo, we could see the hilltops where houses once were. This picture is near Rainbow. You can see the active fire making smoke in the background toward the east. In the middle, you can see the house on the hill was saved, but it appears that the avocado trees downhill in foreground are gone.

J&K were able to pick up some mail in San Bernardino that had been held in the SB post office downhill, while their home in Lake Arrowhead is still closed. We went to Tio’s for dinner just as the sun was setting, reflecting red in the smoke from the active fires to the west of Riverside – presumably in Irvine.

Some of the more creative topiary in Tio’s is filled with bottle caps, recycled small metal hardware etc. Not sure if you can see this guy’s anatomy, but there’s a delightful chrome faucet hinting at anatomical correctness. This might be a good strategy for people who lost real topiary in the fires. Or not.

So, our exiles are still back in San Diego with us. I was hoping to work in the yard today but the smell of smoke is too daunting. We keep getting warnings about air quality, and we were reminded that the poor San Bernardino valley is trapping all the smog and smoke, further confirming the Riverside boast: "Air quality you can see!"

On our travels Saturday, we did notice a friendly attitude yesterday, whether it was in stores buying extra socks for K or in Starbucks buying fuel for J. People in San Diego are on their best behavior, showing genuine compassion when J tells people that her home isn’t in the fire zone but remains evacuated and thus well within the looting zone.

People in Orange County Fairgrounds, evacuated from the surrounding mountains are receiving neither the media attention nor the kindness of strangers: they’re without everything except bottled water and baby diapers. It’s hard to be clever or philosophical about all this right now. There’s the same sense of exhaustion in people that I see in my parched back yard.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

San Diego Fire, Thursday, October 25, 2007

The fires began on Sunday, This is the first morning in 5 days that we woke without smelling smoke in the air. What you may not gather from national coverage is that of the half million people evacuated, most were ordered to leave so the emergency personnel could concentrate on fighting fire and not traffic or panicked residents. In the back country, they wanted the narrow winding roads through canyons and valleys empty so fire trucks could travel unimpeded. By this morning, most of these people were able to return home. Our place is a mess from the winds, but we’re otherwise fine

When they finally started checking IDs at the Q, the number of evacuees went from almost 5,000 to barely 400. Apparently, many people were drawn there by the prospect of good food and good company. The ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) went through scattering many homeless illegal people back into the shadows we prefer them to occupy. As Randy Newman said, “we care that the world isn’t fair”. It was particularly painful to the rich people whose hilltop mansions in the country may have been burned or damaged to have to undergo the additional stress of mingling with poor people. While journalists like to stand in front of smoldering ruins and tilting chimneys to report on the devastation, we'd rather not consider the many shanty towns in back country canyons where many of our agricultural workers camped illegally. Of course, because they don’t have identification papers with their addresses, they won’t be counted or served.

But the good news is that there is now a “Prayer Station” at the Q, manned by people in black pants and bright gold shirts who are trained in crisis counseling and grief counseling and prayer. They call themselves “God’s Bumble Bees”. No, I’m not kidding.

No information on Lake Arrowhead fires beyond the still mandatory evacuation orders. If his house is still standing in Arrowhead Villas, Kareem says it proves there is no god because he prayed to no god to save it. J&K are on their way to Riverside because UCR is open and they’ve got classes. Their colleagues have been taking their sessions, but at Teaching Assistants, they are in charge of their sections and don’t want to depend too heavily on the kindness of friends to cover for them. They’re making the 2 hour drive – almost exactly 100 miles from our door to the campus – knowing only that they can’t return to their home a mere 20 miles from school, but will have to drive back to San Diego for the night.

President Bush is in the house today, making aerial tours and standing in the same photo op places occupied by our state and local officials for the past week. One of the reason The Governator got his job is that when big fires in San Diego County exactly 4 years ago this week, his predecessor didn’t show up to feel our pain and his ass was recalled. Now that the fires in San Diego are winding down, perhaps officials will travel north to check out the Irvine Fire, the Malibu Fire, and the fires burning in the San Bernardino mountains overlooking Riverside.