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.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

San Diego Fire, October 24, 2007

Local news copters were in the air yesterday (Tuesday 10/23) showing us pictures of smoke and fire, but frequently without captions to identify the location or time. If nothing else, this fire will give us fire file footage for the ages. Monday, the winds were too strong to permit either water tankers or news copters from flying. The helicopter in the TV news picture taken Monday night is actually a tiny toy controlled by Kareem to buzz the hapless cat.

The local television station coverage of the fires has changed. Like a lawyer chasing an ambulance, some of the big network anchors have appeared in town, wearing paper face masks and broadcasting in front of the same blackened chimney stumps on a block that burned Sunday night in Rancho Bernardo. There are also plenty of photo ops for officials at the Q (local nickname for Qualcom Stadium, the largest evacuation center) telling everyone how high their spirits are. Apparently, it’s newsworthy to mention that costumed clowns are roaming the stands to cheer up evacuees, and they don’t mean journalists. Michael Chertoff and the duck tape guy from FEMA were at the DES (SD County Department of Emergency Services) operations center saying with straight faces what a heck of a job they’re all doing coordinating things. Arnold hovers in the background in a short sleeve shirt that shows us how hard he’s working; and hometown Presidential hopeful Duncan Hunter shows up periodically at news stations to tell us how he’s harrying the Washington bureaucrats to help us.

The headline crawl at the bottom of the TV alternates between Spanish and English. Fuego Nuevo sounds much more ominous than new fire. We’re unable to confirm whether K&J’s house in Arrowhead Villa is safe, because the news from there is much more sporadic. Every region is focusing on their own fires. We did learn however, that the whole mountain has been evacuated, giving them some comfort that if not burned, their home may be somewhat safer from roaming bands of looters. Meanwhile, yesterday the gang drove up to Scripps Ranch and took a reprise of the 2003 photo: Kareem in front of the still-standing house.

Back to the TV coverage: This morning, the sincere and exhausted local news talking heads are warning us that rattlesnakes disturbed by the fire are dangerous, and that panicked wildlife from the undeveloped areas might be roaming our streets. Who knew? To be fair, many suburban dwellers, motivated by a need to help, might otherwise try to offer food to the wildlife and could end up being harmed.

Wednesday morning, the winds were beginning to change. The sunlight in our back yard is filtering through a white haze that covers the canyon so thickly the houses on the far side are mere shapes. The Harris fire which caused the evacuation of nearby Spring Valley and which is closest to our house, threatened to cross Highway 94 from the south. Last night, the voluntary evacuation area included neighborhoods in Rancho San Diego within blocks of our house, which is about 2 miles north of 94. While the fire still burns, we don’t appear to be in any serious danger today.

The air quality at our house is worse Wednesday morning than any time so far. The winds at our house, which determine the direction of the Harris fire, are SW at 3 mph. In the north of SD County, much of the smoke from the Witch fire now burning Camp Pendleton is blowing out to sea, and when it meets the onshore flow it moves right back in, but further north. Once the weather predictions come true however, most of the smoke that’s now out at sea will begin to blow back into San Diego. As of now – after years of complaining that LA smog is messing up San Diego – a glance at the satellite map shows that Orange County and LA are getting much of the smoke from San Diego’s fires.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Fire in San Diego, October 23, 2007

It began Sunday in Ramona, but we in San Diego didn’t appreciate it until Monday. The fire was being fanned by winds gusting over 50 mph, carrying burning cinders for miles, from rural farms into luxury hilltop homes and densely populated suburbs like Rancho Bernardo. The entire towns of Fallbrook and Ramona were under mandatory evacuation orders. Main north-south freeways are closed, making traffic difficult. People not ordered to leave are staying home, which mitigates the mess somewhat. These communities remain on lock down to deter looters.

The difference from the fires of 2003 were as dramatic as the smoke that blanketed the entire region. Communication was good, coordination of emergency services was excellent. Local media were doing serious live on-site reporting. Pets were being evacuated: everything from reptiles who were offered temporary homes in pet shops, to dogs and cats, to large livestock. By Monday evening, the Del Mar Race Track was full: over 1,900 stalls: filled with mostly horses, but some goats and two zebras. At the little farm three blocks down our hill, the corral where Elizabeth the camel lives with a few sheep and goats is filled with horses – more than we can count. The parking lots of the grocery stores are full of campers, RVs and bikes on trailers – all from outlying areas in danger of approaching fires. Horse trailers are entering fire zones empty and returning with horses.

The local stations were at it all day: we had reports and text crawls on five different stations – in English and Spanish. Crawls gave street names and house numbers of destroyed homes, directions to evacuation centers like Qualcom football stadium, bus routes canceled. People were dropping off donations at many community locations – everything from dog food to cots. Gang members in convertibles loaded with trick-or-treat candy for kids, mini vans with piles of blankets and pillows.

Mandatory evacuations were made in many areas for “precautionary” reasons, since one lesson of the past fire was that it’s easier for fire fighters and emergency personnel to work without having crazy people running around with garden hoses. Scripps Ranch was evacuated, but experienced little damage. Poway and Rancho Bernardo were not so lucky. Some areas are designated as “voluntary” evacuation zones – places where there’s no imminent danger, but where you might want to get out if you’ve got sick, elderly or young people who can’t move quickly and breath easily.

By Tuesday morning, there was fire in Otay Mesa and Spring Valley – within 3 miles of our home. We’re on the north east of the fire that’s creating a smoke cloud leading south and west. The picture of the helicopter shows my roof line in the foreground – we’re close to the fire and Otay Sweetwater reservoir where the helicopters are dipping their big buckets to drop on the nearby fire and behind the backfires. We’re all learning way too much about the lingo firefighters speak.

There is a wonderful pool of good will in the air, almost as thick as the smoke. Everybody is filled with a manic good cheer and a spirit of cooperation. Everybody knows it can’t last. Today, the news reporters aren’t clean shaven and the emergency coordinators and spokespeople are visibly exhausted. The flag at the California Department of Forestry fire station is flying at half mast.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Sharp, Not Solid

If man made himself the first object of study, he would see how
incapable he is of going further. How can a part know the whole? But he
may perhaps aspire to know at least the parts to which he bears some
proportion. But the parts of the world are all so related and linked to
one another, that I believe it impossible to know one without the other
and without the whole.
- Blaise Pascal, Pascal’s Pensées

This world, the eternally imperfect, an eternal contradiction's image and
imperfect image--an intoxicating joy to its imperfect creator:--thus did
the world once seem to me.
- Friedrich Nietzsche, “Thus Spake Zarathustra

Therefore one ought to take a little heed not to call that force which is only a pretty knack of writing, and that solid which is only sharp, or that good which is only fine: "’Quae magis gustata, quam potata delectant’: everything that pleases, does not nourish’."
Montaigne, Essays, Chapter XIX. OF PHYSIOGNOMY.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Pigeons’ Feathers in the Pillows

“Tossing about, she increased her feverish bewilderment to madness, and tore the pillow with her teeth… she seemed to find childish diversion in pulling the feathers from the rents she had just made…
‘Ah, they put pigeons’ feathers in the pillows – no wonder I couldn’t die!’”
- Emily Bronte, Withering Heights, Chapter 12)

Yesterday: perfect breeze, 70F & 30% humidity, a taste of dry thyme on the tongue of the breeze. In the breeze there was also the faint hint of the rain before it falls. Today the rain came, the softest most gentle mist in the air all day long. A few moments ago, the sun peeked out briefly, became disappointed and left, leaving a slight steamy aftertaste in the air.

Such primal autumn smells awaken my memories of carefree childish trick or treat fever. Trick or treat sounds slightly more ominously threatening these days, but it wasn’t always so. Aging in real time is like a gathering of shadows lurking in the corners of memory’s field of vision. Lives often become darker as we age because we slowly lose sensory peripheral vision.

Tunnel vision is so narrow and confining, and it requires much forgetting. Memories, and the smells that trigger them for me, are like secret messages in time, stretching across my life to relax out the kinks. From past to future: remember happiness? From future to past: remember health! Echoing from Paleolithic futures that never were, to irretrievably lost pasts that might have been: happiness is hard. From the drunken lame lyrics of a bad rock song to the music of the spheres: Go slowly. Watch, listen, touch, taste, and smell on every channel of your life in every moment of your life.

Memories awakened by autumn’s dying breaths are borne on the winds of time, and recall a time when I was really alive and awake, not burdened by awareness of the diminishing future. My eyes somehow soften at such reveries, widening to the range and clarity of my visions then. The big picture is lovely, melancholy, bittersweet, and happy. But mostly, it’s BIG – like all stuff is when you’re 3 feet high, and you count your life in single digits. And life is more deeply rewarding when you use every sense to partake of it fully. How the hell did I forget that?

The mad woman tossing feathers in the attic tapped into this sense of what Abe Simpson calls “the gathering darkness” – the insanity of growing old. Her troubled dreams were all of seasons past. Remembering what it felt like then, to live in the present. Or perhaps it was because she couldn’t explain why loneliness is like death. Or perhaps because she understood how very alone we all become. Pigeon feathers reminded her of the times before we move out of that first soft nest feathered with the days of our childhood. “Pigeon feathers in the pillows.” The place where you lay your head, and where you dream, often of the past, sometimes of future, but rarely of the present.

Go outside and take several slow deep breaths of the air. After you remember the falling leaves of yesteryear, take a deep breath of today.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Return of the Waterfall

"As we lay awake long before daybreak, listening to the rippling of the river, and the rustling of the leaves, in suspense whether the wind blew up or down the stream, was favorable or unfavorable to our voyage, we already suspected that there was a change in the weather, from a freshness as of autumn in these sounds. The wind in the woods sounded like an incessant waterfall dashing and roaring amid rocks, and we even felt encouraged by the unusual activity of the elements. He who hears the rippling of rivers in these degenerate days will not utterly despair. That night was the turning-point in the season. We had gone to bed in summer, and we awoke in autumn; for summer passes into autumn in some unimaginable point of time, like the turning of a leaf."
Henry Thoreau, “A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers”

After many, many “degenerate days” with an overloaded filtration system and an exhausted ultraviolet light filter, our pond was murky and opaque. While the fish are perfectly happy with the algae, we could hardly see them. Besides, the rock where the waterfall flows was choked with algae. Algae was so thick on the big rock that the local bees were farming it for protein.

The pond lady who replaced the UV light and the biomaterial in the filter said that most of our neighbors with “water features” in their yard insist on adding chlorine to keep the water pretty. Chlorine is poison to our neighbors the birds and bees (and, incidentally, to us). Because we use filtration and UV light to manage algae instead of poison, the residents of the canyon – those that can fly over the fence anyway – prefer to drink from our pond, and to bathe in our waterfall.

Replacing the biomaterial in the filter and replacing the UV light has done wonders. Our waterfall is back, and we can now see the fish. The bees, discouraged by the decrease in algae as well as the cooler nights, have mostly moved away.

And best of all, when I awake in the mornings, I can once again hear the waterfall – perhaps not as incessant or roaring as Thoreau’s rivers – but sufficient in these degenerate days to ward off utter despair.

Friday, October 12, 2007

The Mums are Coming

“Enlarge my life with multitude of days,
In health, in sickness, thus the suppliant prays;
Hides from himself his state, and shuns to know,
That life protracted is protracted woe.
Time hovers o'er, impatient to destroy,
And shuts up all the passages of joy:
In vain their gifts the bounteous seasons pour,
The fruit autumnal, and the vernal flow'r…”

Year chases year, decay pursues decay,
Still drops some joy from with'ring life away;
New forms arise, and diff'rent views engage,
Superfluous lags the vet'ran on the stage,
- Samuel Johnson, "The Vanity of Human Wishes" (253-260) (303-306)

This may be the best year for my chrysanthemums. A few years ago, I stopped ordering the fancy show kind each spring, like the fat white snowball I’ve always wanted to cultivate. Instead, I went for the cushion mums that bloom their brains out in quantity if not quality of bloom. Those are the kind now on sale in your local supermarket, the kind planted on the White House lawn behind the podium where Bush spoke yesterday about the “suffering” of Armenians in Turkey “that began in 1915.” Isn’t the passive voice amazing? Their suffering apparently sprang up without any cause, their genocide merely an unfortunate fluke of fate. I think Johnson would approve.

Now I’ve got plenty of each kind, and since I’ve rooted random cuttings, I no longer know most of their names. Many of my mums are planted in pots. But this year, because I’ve carefully enriched my soil with home made compost, I’ve begun to plant some of them in the ground.

Johnson says humans wish for fame or fortune, for beauty or knowledge, all in vain. The things we accumulate – from global power to collectible dolls – amount to so much compost.

Which would be the kind of bummer Samuel Johnson described in his poem, except for one thing. My mums drop some joy before withering away, like these early ones in a magnetic vase, reflecting their own light on a stainless refrigerator door. And they’re coming soon.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Vegetable Vengence

"The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed - and hence clamorous to be led to safety - by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary"
- H. L. Mencken

It’s barely the beginning of October and since I’m in the middle of the harvest, I’m already thinking about Halloween. And that makes me think of the scary stuff. In case we run out of real scary threats, we can always fear imagined ones. What better thing to fear than an uprising and revenge of the vegetables – the very ones I am delightedly killing and eating these days of bountiful harvests. After all, what we call vegetarianism, they would call cannibalism.

I’ve been reading about this book called the “Vege-Men’s (sic) Revenge”. It was written by Bertha Upton and illustrated by her daughter Florence about 100 years ago. Generally, it’s a parable of deep injury and holy vengeance. More specifically it’s a story about vegetables fighting the imperialist farmers who invade the independent kingdom of their vegetable garden.

From the viewpoint of the vegetable insurgents, we’re in a bloody war of harvest. So, it’s no surprise that I’m finding many other eerie parallels between then and now.

Poppy, a little Victorian girl, is kidnapped by Don Tomato and Herr Carrot and extremely renditioned to the Vege-men's land, where she is denied her habeas corpus rights. Polly’s story could be read as a parable illustrating why one party in a war should not torture captives from the other party, and casting a dramatic foreshadow over today’s war, like a ghost at a wedding.

Put on trial by her kidnappers, in vain Polly complains that she was just following parental orders to clean her plate. Despite this defense, the detainee is found guilty on behalf of her entire nation of farming fools and vegetarian madmen. Polly must suffer for what we have all done to vegetables, such as chopping them up in the blades of our blenders, boiling them in fat, and burying the seeds of their descendants in the cold dark ground.

The Vegemens’ King (a stereotypically lumpy potato) demands that Pious Polly be placed in a hole in the ground to learn how to “grow.” But when all seems lost, hope appears. Although she was not represented by so much as a parsley sprig for counsel, after her sentencing, Polly is befriended by a kindly cabbage, who reassures her that she’ll merely go to sleep and have a dream when she is planted. She has no choice but to trust the Cabbage when he says her punishment will not be torture. So. Polly is planted.

When her hair sprouts from the ground, it is covered with little “poppies.” Now, it seems to me, there’s some drug use happening in this vegetable tale. While I believe this to be a heavy-handed metaphor for a morphine dream, you don’t have to take my word for it. After the poppy reference, here goes:

“A Dervish dance by color made complete,
Only a tainted whirlpool now they seem,
The whirring sound becomes the storm-wind’s scream.
The yellow light
Is blurred to sight,
‘Tis like the nightmare of a troubled dream”.

Made my head spin just to read it, very much like a never-ending disturbing nightmare about juicing vegetables in a blender. As I type this, my fingertips are stained red from the pomegranate seeds I juiced this morning. Today we live in self-created terror, prey to a sterner, less whimsical but more self-righteous god. Like, say, King Bush the Second.

Then as now, our lives depend on our harvests. Who knows who may be cut down and thrown into the fire. If you sow war, do not expect to reap peace.

Monday, October 08, 2007

To everything there is a season

“And I gave my heart to know wisdom, and to know madness and folly; I perceived that this also is vexation of sprit.
For in much wisdom is much grief; and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow.”
Ecclesiastes, Chapter 1

Some autumn mornings, I can almost imagine I am back in the east coast early winter. Where I’ve lived for most of my life here in Zone 9, we don’t have the same seasons I remember growing up. But I got a déjà vu sense outside at about 9:30 this morning. Days are short enough now, 9 am sun slants in from a low angle from the east, I can smell autumn, especially when it’s the misty cool of the shadows near the pond, before the bees wake up.

What folly, to want to hold on to summer. One might even say it is a vexation of the spirit. By early afternoon the sun again angles, from the west this time, and my back yard garden succumbs to the hot blue glare in the cloudless sky, and is revealed for what it is: a desert. There is no denying that this is the season to “pluck up what has been planted” and to watch as everything slowly burns to death.

But the sorrow of seeing summer pass is tempered by the soft and gradual acceptance of season’s ending. Later in Ecclesiastes, the author reassures: “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, no wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest.”

I worked hard and learned a lot, and I had a great garden this summer, and I look forward to working hard and learning even more next year.

Friday, October 05, 2007


"Did you ever take a good look at yourself in the mirror?"
"No. Why should I hurt my own feelings?"
- Abbott and Costello

Once upon a time, I was employed as a human shield. My job was to protect pampered faculty from the slings and arrows of the outrageous bureaucracy of a large and prestigious university. I was good at it, although it was a lasting disappointment to me that the tenured have about as much respect for mere staff members as a street-sweeper has for a gum wrapper.

Thinking about that today was like a post-traumatic stress flashback. It’s odd that I would recall those stressful days, but for one serendipitous observation that triggered the memory of faculty disrespect for anything other than their own field of expertise. What happened was: I caught the laughing man rock looking up at me from his lowly spot in a dish garden. I think he’s wise to the real order of the universe, and he’s certainly “grounded.“

I recalled the day I bought that stone at a nursery years ago, back when I was still working for a living. I bought him one weekend because I had had a particularly stressful week, and seeing him looking up at me from a display on the counter, I suddenly realized that it wasn’t up to the idiots I worked with to determine who I was. That was up to me. Imagine learning that lesson from a small stone.

It still is up to me to decide my value in the universe. Thanks for the review of that lesson, laughing rock man.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007


"Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire" The Bible, St. Matt. 7:19.

Be careful about what you try to cut down this month in your garden. Is that an asparagus fern, or a fuzzy chartreuse octopus, spilling out of its cave and reaching vainly for the purple plant? Vines wither, the seeds scatter. Where are the juicy tomatoes of yesteryear?

Colors soften and retreat into gray. I received a final blast of colors in my vegetable garden harvest this morning: slightly mad shades of gaiety, like the last guest to leave your party – a little odd and a bit too loud. But the green and purple peppers and eggplants harvested today, are gloriously alive in a cooler color range to match the chill morning mist. The same shades of chartreuse as the asparagus fern in my back yard.

Another unexpected harvest in the back yard. What vanished creature laid a fossilized egg amid my large succulent dish? Does the planter look like a dinosaur nest on a rock in my back yard? What prehistoric time traveler was here? We do not remember.

This is the season of forgetting. But, unlike the merciless advice in Matthew, I will cut down only what Nature decrees in my garden.

I removed gourd vines, planted some beet seed and rounded up the gaggle of gourds to be left in a cool dry place to dry for about 6 months.

I grilled the eggplant with garlic in toasted sesame oil and when it cools, I will process it into baba ganoush. Thanks to the visiting Master Gardener who stopped to chat and gave me the inspiration. He was paid in kind: several pomegranates, some limes and the ripest purple tomatillos.

In my yard and in the Veggie Garden, every tree is allowed to stand as long as it wants, regardless of the harvest it produces. Such trees pay us in their dying flash of beauty, rather than fruit. And they will remember to return next year, appearing perennially at harvest celebrations to come.

Monday, October 01, 2007


As the life departs from the garden, dry and falling leaves reveal the skeletons of once-vigorous tomato plants, and shriveled skulls of squash. We have opened the “scary door”, and Twilight Zone music begins to tinkle ominously in the background. As the days grow cool and short, it’s becoming a darker ride.

And for some reason, this season change evokes to me the disparity between man and woman. Am I evolving into an evil old crone just in time for Halloween? And why am I so mad at a bunch of old Italian misogynists? It’s bad enough that they used Mother T to make the pitch about how birth control devices are evil and it’s better to die at 24 in your 8th childbirth, or passing your partner’s HIV on to your nursing babies. Yeah for sex!

But even more opprobrium should be heaped on what men have done to women. Here’s some good old time teaching that doesn’t exactly inspire me that the women in Christendom are treated better than distaff muslims:

“This great synod absolutely forbids a bishop, presbyter, deacon or any of the clergy to keep a woman who has been brought in to live with him, with the exception of course of his mother or sister or aunt, or of any person who is above suspicion.”
First Council Of Nicaea - 325 AD. Canons.

"15 No woman under forty years of age is to be ordained a deacon, and then only after close scrutiny. If after receiving ordination and spending some time in the ministry she despises God's grace and gets married, such a person is to be anathematised along with her spouse.
16. “It is not permitted for a virgin who has dedicated herself to the Lord God, or similarly for a monk, to contract marriage. If it is discovered that they have done so, let them be made excommunicate. However, we have decreed that the local bishop should have discretion to deal humanely with them.”
The Council of Chalcedon - 451 A.D.

So, to review. It's ok for a priest to bring his ho into the rectory, but nuns can't so much as change their mind about celibacy and return home. The elders of the Catholic Church are great fans of the ladies. Don’t think of it as a double standard about gender behavior so much as a divinely ordained plan. Turns out men are God’s gift to women.

Besides, who among us women is “above suspicion”?

(My apologies to the person whose pumpkin and candy corn diorama I've borrowed above. I failed to note who the photographer is.)