Friday, July 27, 2007

Dirt in Truth is Clean

“,,,saying, 'You must be the mermaid
Who took Neptune for a ride.'
But she smiled at me so sadly
That my anger straightway died.

If music be the food of love
Then laughter is its queen
And likewise if behind is front
Then dirt in truth is clean,,,”
- Keith Reid, Procol Harum, “A Whiter Shade of Pale” (1995?)

My refrigerator is, indeed, in my computer room. The first picture is the view behind me, from the computer keyboard looking into the kitchen. The picture doesn't show that the refrigerator in the right foreground is on the good oriental rug. My kitchen floor is being tiled. The two layers of 50+ year-old linoleum are gone, except, that is, for the coating of fine white dust left on every surface in the house. This whole process began when we discovered mold beneath the kitchen sink – a sign that water had been leaking beneath the linoleum for a long time.

Our “kitchen” is now the dining room table where the coffee pots and microwave are. Since the nearest water source is the laundry room, things are a bit disorganized, with dirty spoons and dishes sitting on table to my right in the computer room, next to unpacked groceries.

To make my morning coffee, I have to wash my mug in the laundry room, go to the computer room and open the frige for cream, then return to the dining room to the espresso machine. I have to go the long way around this circle because the kitchen is off limits. I also have to endure the extremely vocal protestations of my (just a tiny bit spoiled) cat who is barred from the back of the house because the patio door remains wide open when the contractor is here. This means every circuit is accompanied by a juggling act to keep the cat from darting between my legs to the relative freedom of the back yard.

My backyard sprinkler system that automatically waters early each morning is also turned off because the patio beyond the computer room has become a workshop. The wide-open door permits dust and flies complete access. The second Japanese maple may now be beyond saving. There it is, at the left of the last picture - a blur of dusty brown leaves. the first maple was probably already doomed before the work began.

My plants need water. My parched soul needs order, neatness, cleanliness. This is a difficult time. It’s not like I’m starving or anything, but I am thirsting for order.
Someday I’ll get back to the yard. I’ll clean up the dead and dying trees and replant the tsukubai with dichondra. I’ll find a neat, quiet, dust-free place to let my soul find some peace.

Meanwhile, as I sit at the computer, the last picture is my outside view, through the parched and dusty chaos of the contractor's temporary workshop. I have to keep believing that dirt in truth is clean.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007


Dear Sirs,
Can you tell me where to find a macro for a badge to display on my blog that says “Jesus loves you, but he doesn’t love love you. Or maybe, a small sticker that says, "What Wouldn’t Jesus Do?“
Beer Dieter

Dear BD,
Ahhh, What Would Jesus Drink. On a beer diet. you can lose up to 24 hours in three days. Be glad you’re not looking for a bumper sticker saying “Not as…” to slap on top of your “Proud to Be an American!” bumper sticker. It is, indeed, a hard knock world. ‘Nuff said.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Sock-Washing Mental Health Index

“…Nat, I say, don’t let them beat you down! You prove them wrong! When things get grummy, that’s when you have to hit all the sixes!”
Garen Ewing, The Rainbow Orchid, episode 9, strip 216

Executive Summary
I’ve invented a diagnostic tool for measuring a person’s CQ (Crazy Quotient) by determining the degree of crazy they devote to the sock washing practices. I call it the Sock Washing Ritual/Mental Health Index, or (SWR/MHI), and it enables diagnosticians to determine a person’s sanity by finding where they fit on Crazy Sock Scale (CSS).

Fifty percent of the (2) people studied in this research project reside in a private communal halfway house, and the other 50% are fully integrated into their community, although heavily supported by chemical depressants and other miracles of modern chemistry.

The institutional residents exhibit different symptoms, but share a similar, virtually paralyzing fear of losing socks in the wash.

One of them carefully ties the socks together into a knot before placing them in the hamper. My objection to this is that it seems to me that would trap toe dirt in the toe-side of the knot, preventing the dirt from falling out of the top of the sock as it tumbles around in the washing machine. The other asylum inmate, apparently having detected this very flaw in the logic of the knotted sock scenario, prefers to use a safety pin to connect the toes of each sock firmly together, presumably after wearing and before discarding socks in the hamper.

Then, at the other end of the CSS are locals encountered by the researcher outside of the grounds, who make it a practice never to wear a sock with it’s natural mate. Those crazy kids revel in the anarchy of mismatched socks. They flaunt their disdain of convention in public every time they step up onto their Segways. Or cross their legs sitting in those café chairs on the sidewalk outside Starbucks™, sipping their latte. Or recycle the soil on their green and living roof from toxic landfill,.. Smug hippy-wanna-bees, pathetically trying to prove your free spirit and distinguish yourselves from the rest of your compulsively-matching-sock-wearing cohort.

Or from the last generation of genuine rebels: your mommies and daddies, who made a few mistakes, but got America out of a previous imperialistic land-grab of an unjustified war against a weaker opponent. Ouch, that’s got to hurt. But not as much as their current Schoolyard Bully-in-Chief, so pull your socks up and get on with life.

For all the dark dreams that haunt my midnight hours, I’ve got an up-to-the-nanosecond cure for neurosis wrt/sock washing. Take a deep breath. Simply let the socks run free of their mates in the hamper-washer-dryer part of their life cycle. Down time is nice, even for such perfect mates as those “Mary-Blue” ™, Holly Hobby girlie socks with lace on the cuff, as is the case with people too, incidentally.

Throw caution to the harsh winds of the hot cycle. Let the perfectly matched pair anticipate their impending joyful reunion, amid that warm pile of clean laundry being sorted and folded on the bed every Sunday afternoon. Snuggling up in the cozy sock drawer, waiting to be worn, they reminisce about their time apart, and tell stories about how the underpants misbehave in the washer. Good times.

Now, you wouldn’t be wrong to worry about the down side. These are uncertain times. There’s the risk that one of the pair will be sucked through that hole in the space-time continuum beneath the dark, hypnotic swirl of the dryer. There’s a similar risk that one or more of the lone socks will be blown up by terrorists lurking outside. Your socks: like the snows of yesteryear, may never return. Each time they say their farewells as they’re tossed into the hamper, they know it might be there last.

But isn’t that half the fun? Life’s risk makes it taste sweeter. I submit that my socks are healthier and happier for being separated when washed and dried, I know I am. You should try it. It’s so crazy it just might work.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Knowing vs. Not Knowing

Some things I wish I knew, and other things I wish I didn’t know, in no particular order:

a. What ever happened to my tenth grade boyfriend’s dad’s 1961 Studebaker Lark.
b. Why people say “verbal” when they mean “oral” as in, “You can’t (sic) enforce a verbal contract.”
c. The difference between sanitary sewers and storm sewers.
d. Why my Mom’s term of endearment for me was “Poopsie”.
e. Why my Mom’s term of endearment for Dad was “Matricidal SOB”.
f. Where to get some really good 3-D glasses, not those crummy cardboard ones that came with Happy Meals circa 1988.
g. What Iraq had to do with September 11.
h. Where I put the joint I was saving for a special occasion
i. What happens to us when we die.
j. Why no one in my family talks about Uncle Steve’s missing fingers.
k. Where to get a really good haircut without an appointment.
l. How to fake interest in somebody else’s conversation when you’d rather be starting a trash can fire.
m. How to apply makeup while driving and using a hands-free cell phone.
n. The difference between hackneyed cliché and profound insight, even when I’m drunk. No, especially when I’m drunk.
o. The best way to throw the bowling ball when there’s a 7 – 10 split.
p. Why the former head of the Catholic Inquisition wants to reinstate the Latin mass.
q. How to use a hands-free cell phone.
r. What ever happened to Joan Politz.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Strange Days Indeed

There's always something cooking and nothing in the pot.
They're starving back in China so finish what you got.
Nobody told me there'd be days like these
Strange days indeed. Most peculiar, Mama.
- John Lennon, Nobody Told Me

After Johan Wolfgang Goethe finished a book about his theory of the metamorphosis of plants, he said, "The happiest moments of my life were experienced during my study of the metamorphoses of plants, as the sequence of their growth gradually became clear to me.” Turns out, his unproven theory was crap, and contemporary botanists ignore it.

Which just shows to go that happiness and ignorance are not incompatible, and which further supports my own unproven theory that even if your understanding of nature is misguided and wrong, you can still derive satisfaction from messing around in a garden. I had some success with sunflowers this year, but I’ve got no theory to explain why so few germinate. Most peculiar, Mama.

Then, there’s the theory about the starving children in China that Lennon used to support his theory that we’re living in strange days.

Some years ago, I worked in a research institution where I met a Chinese postdoctoral fellow who was my age. We had obtained a 2-year visa for her to work in our institution, but she had to leave her husband and 2-year-old daughter behind as hostages to guarantee her return. As we became acquainted, we learned to our mutual surprise, that her parents had told her to clean her dinner plate because it was wrong to waste food when there were children starving in America.

Another theory bites the dust – unless you interpret her experience to support my suspicion that parents the world over employ fear and hyperbole shamelessly to keep their kids in line.

My potato vines are dying – just as they’re supposed to do when the potatoes are ready to harvest. I am reluctant to dig them up because I have a volunteer pumpkin that sprouted from the compost used to grow the potatoes. The pumpkin is white, and I’ll steam it, scoop out the meat, mix it with brie and breadcrumbs, some eggs and cream and bake it in the pumpkin shell into a yummy soufflé. There will be no need for threats to assure we’ll finish it.

So, today’s rather disjointed lesson is that I can enjoy my garden even though my composting skills are rough, and my knowledge of potato cultivation is rougher. And, as strange as it seems, Mama, when parents threaten their children to make them clean their plates, they’re just trying to warn kids that there will, indeed, be days like these.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

A Matter of Balance

"To my blessing now give ear.-
Scorching blight nor singed air
Never blast thine olives fair!
Drouth, that wasteth bud and plant,
Keep to thine own place. Avaunt,
Famine fell, and come not hither
Stealthily to waste and wither!"
- Spoken by the Chorus, Aeschylus, Eumenides, (458 B.C.E)

The snakes writhing on the head of my Medusa Gourd remind me of the Eumenides (aka, the Furies) coming to terms with Apollo in Aeschylus’ play. The Eumenidies are the classical yin, embodying feminine elements like darkness and primal flux. In the play, Apollo, naturally, represents the yang of civilized man conquering chaos with reason.

Once you look, especially in nature, you can see metaphors everywhere of the swing between the extremes – seasonal change between cold and heat, growth and decay, reason and emotion, darkness and light.

It’s finding the balance which takes the practice, and which delivers the reward. Like the classical yin and yang, my garden has shady places and sunny ones, and finding the right home for the right plant can be a process that takes years.

Zen Frog lives in a tiny dish garden that I move seasonally and as whim dictates. Earlier in the year, I harvested moss from where it thrives in the shade on the north side of the house. Some of it went into Zen Frog’s dish, where it looked beautiful in the cool Spring months. Now that summer is here however, most of the moss has since down and turned brown in protest.

The lesson for me here is that moss apparently embodies all those shade-loving and unreasonable feminine yin elements. The thyme-covered arbor above ZF’s head represents the sunshine of rational civilization.

What was I thinking, trying to plant moss and thyme together in one pot, and then plopping ZF down between them? It occurs to me that I might have planted a challenge that even the most placid inanimate object like ZF won’t be able to reconcile.

I would love to transplant the arrangement, struggling moss, thriving thyme, ZF and all, to a secluded spot beneath some shade where the opposing forces embodied in the planting can achieve harmony. The challenge is to find a spot where shade-loving moss can thrive beneath a sun-loving thyme-covered arbor, and ZF can sit there between them and meditate on the perfect balance between the two. I’m not giving up, and although he might look a bit exasperated in the picture above, neither is ZF.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Medusa Gourd

“And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England’s mountains green?
And was the holy Lamb of God
On England’s pleasant pastures seen?

“And did the Countenance Divine
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here
Among those dark Satanic Mills?

“Bring me my Bow of burning gold:
Bring me my Arrows of desire:
Bring me my Spear: O clouds unfold!
Bring me my Chariot of fire.

“I will not cease from Mental Fight
Nor shall my Sword sleep in my hand
Till we have build Jerusalem
In England’s green & pleasant land.”

William Blake, Jerusalem (1804)

This doesn’t have much to do with my garden. Unless, it’s from my garden that I learned the personally therapeutic and rejuvenating peace of mind gardening promotes. And how gardening tunes me into the world’s heartbeat, and how ill our planet is. The news on the fifth of July was dark: filled with headlines like “Fireworks Celebration Turns into Tragedy” and “Three Year Old Dies in Hot Car: Step-Grandmother Nabbed.” The whole world felt like a prickly cactus plant.

It seems as if beyond the green and pleasant land outside my garden gate, those dark Satanic Mills are everywhere. They produce base metal that man beats into weapons of mass destruction, The mills employ starving copper miners from Nigeria, overweight teamsters from Pittsburgh, immigrant working mothers from the UK. Everywhere there are prophecies darkly fulfilled, and promises desperately failed.

I was in this mood when I finished Medusa Gourd. Intending to plant the cactus in her head, I painted a beautiful maiden, her hair alive with waving twisting snakes, her seductive glance, beckoning peacefully from beneath a crown of writhing serpents. Once she was painted, I was reluctant to insert her cactus brain because I didn’t like to think how the weather and the water would eventually ruin her.

Reading Blake’s poem about Jerusalem, while creating Medusa Gourd made me pensive. Blake’s Jerusalem became a metaphorical place where mankind lives in peace, divorced from the dysfunctional marriage of capitalism and consumerism on which Americans have grown fat and bloated. Medusa Gourd took on the aspect of rampant American imperialism, and our war, and our fears, and our dark visions.

So, instead of cactus, I got some artificial plants and a small blue bird for Medusa Gourd’s hair. I confess it wasn’t just the thought of ruining my creation by watering a live cactus. I was also worried that the mythical Medusa Gourd might come to life, and that she might take on Medusa’s magical properties and turn to stone all who gazed on her. Which would probably be a bad thing to have outside my front door.

Or would it?

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Decorating Gourds and Planting by the Old Pond

“Here among the mountains, the pinions of thought should be strong, and one should see the errors of men from calmer height of love and wisdom.” - Ralph Waldo Emerson

After coffee this morning, we went to the neighborhood hobby shop and paid $18 for a wood burning kit. What I mainly wanted was the wood burning part, and I probably won’t play around with the nicely stenciled designs on balsa wood that can be glued together to make a CD holder. The gourd I plan to make into a head, needs to have a face. You can see the pre-cut gourd on the table at the far right, with a small basket inside the open braincase. A nice project to keep me cool inside on a three-digit July day. And certainly less heavy lifting than those big fat rocks yesterday.

Adjacent to one of the largest boulders in my yard, is the spot I recently cleared and replaced a more inviting border of seat-sized rocks. it’s easy to imagine it as a miniature mountain, and to reflect on my errors about gardening. I’ve moved the rocks, raked the dirt, and temporarily placed some potted Bird of Paradise plants removed from the front door garden where the shishi odoshi might someday go. But what is my short term plan for this spot?

No sooner had I cleared out the space next to the old pond, than I spent the evening looking through bulb catalogs at tulips, peonies and other completely unsustainable plants that would look lovely in that spot. As Goethe said, “misunderstandings and neglect occasion more mischief in the world than even malice and wickedness.” Such a misunderstanding of my soil and climate conditions could cost me hundreds of dollars, and hours of time, and leave me with perhaps a single season of bloom before nature reclaimed the spot. I have certainly gardened like that in the past; frequently with predictable results, and often worse than intentional malice or wickedness.

So, I need to see this spot from the calmer heights of wisdom, or at least rationality. What this spot needs is not so much plants that will thrive under neglect, as plants that will survive in the dry shade without undue attention. I’ve got some different salvias I flower pots that would look good there and would probably appreciate the loose sandy soil. In the past year or two, I have just begun to move carefully nurtured plants from the controlled environment of pots and containers to the real ground – what there is of it between decomposing granite boulders.

The objective is for me not to misunderstand my plants. Rather than trying to change the environment to fit their needs, I need to look for a home that suits their disposition. It seems to be the height of love and wisdom to chose a plant that suits the conditions as they really are – not among the mountains, but in this case,in the calm, dry shade.

Monday, July 02, 2007


“Give me a lever, and a place to stand, and I will move the world.” - Archimedes

…and a place to sit and rest, and some good knee pads, and plenty of water to drink. And an iPod to drown out the voices in my head, which might otherwise persuade me to enroll me in their murder-suicide pact. I find it also helps to take my rage out only on inanimate objects. Gardening is good, digging is better, moving heavy rocks is best.

Lately, I moved some BF rocks. It’s taken several weeks, because I can only work one day, then I have to rest two. My knees, shins and feet are covered with bruises and scrapes that make me look like a poster for spousal abuse – from the knees down.

Those rocks are big, and the last time I moved them I was ten years younger. The first picture is from July, 2003. I have a large crow bar is taller than me and weighs probably 30 pounds. I was going to move the entire raised bed area back: closer to the big rock beneath the pepper tree that hides the filter for what we call the old pond. But one border rock wouldn’t budge, and after excavating down six inches without finding the bottom edge, I wisely decided to let that rock stay where it was and work around it. My karma thanked me graciously.

We may put our new bamboo shishi-odoshi there – where our first (bamboo) one once stood about 15 years ago. The one in the first picture (barely visible behind the bench and pine tree) is a crappy resin one that never sounded right. The guy at the bamboo store where we bought the new one called it a "deer-chaser", saying when he used the more accurate translation of "deer-scare", it tended to discourage buyers. Which reminds me of the commercial for Scott’s lawn fertilizer-and-poison where they say the product “eliminates” insects that make your turf yellow. I suppose customers prefer to picture a tiny moving van, packed with all the insect colony’s belongings, moving their household to live on a nice organic farm in the country. Or, would that require them to use the verb “evict” instead of “eliminate”?

I also plan to put in some thyme between the rocks, move my freesia bulbs and perhaps add some more. It will be a few more weeks before I’m done, but I just had to document the labor already invested. I have a lovely vision of the finished product, and I really do rock.