Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Interview with a Terrible Gardener

One impulse from a vernal wood
May teach you more of man,
Of moral evil and of good,
Than all the sages can.
- William Wordsworth

At what level of garden kitsch would you draw the line?

Just before I got a bunch of old tires from a junkyard; painted them white; lined both sides of the driveway with said recumbent tires, and planted strawberries in each wheel well.

How many times do you re-dial a number when you get a busy signal?
Once, each time.

What garden plant or decoration do you consider the most unfortunately and sadly overused?
Ceramic fairies crouching beneath cement toadstools.

What’s the punch line to the funniest joke you know?

It’s elephants all the way down, my friend.

What is the worst invasive pest you can imagine threatening your garden?
The dog that craps on my garden path. It’s not my imagination that makes me think I’ve stepped in a pile of shit. It’s quite real. As for imaginary pests, I suppose the most awful would have to be the ghost of the world’s worst Elvis Presley impersonator (the old, fat Elvis), haunting my garden and singing Midnight Train to Georgia.

If you ran for public office, what would your campaign poster slogan be?
Vote for me. What’s the worst that could happen?

How do you see yourself as a gardener?
By looking into a mirror.

What’s your ten-year garden plan?
For me to survive ten years, and keep on gardening the whole time.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Joyous Winter Solstice

We finde it common (but not comely thou)
That, when a good Endeavour is begot,
Unless, at very first, it equall grow
With our Expectance, we regard it not.

Nor Wit, nor Patience, have we to conceive,
That ev’ry thing, which by Man be wrought,
Proportionable Time, and Means must have;
Before it can be to Perfection, brought.

Yet, ev’ry day, in things of ev’ry kinde,
Experience has informed us, herein;
And, that in many things, a change we finde,
Which at first, would scarce believ’d have bin,

For, though a Gosling will not prove a Swan,
Unruly Colts become well-tamed Steeds.
A Silly Childe growes up a Mighty-Man,
And, Lofty Trees doe Spring from Little Seeds.

Learne, therefore hence, that, nothing you despise,
Because it may, at first, imperfect seeme:
And, know, how all things (in some sort) to prise,
Although, you give them not the best esteeme.

From hence, moreover, learne not to despaire,
When you have just occasion, to pursue
A toylesome worke, or any great affaire:
Since, all things, at the first, from nothing, grew.

And, I myself will, also, learne, from hence,
(Of all my Paines, though little fruits I see)
Nor to repine, nor to receive Offence:
But, rather joy in what befalleth mee,
For, though my Hopes Appear but meanely growne,
They will be Great, when some shall think them none.

Emblem 46 from: George Wither: A collection of Emblemes, Ancient and Moderne, Quickened witheh metricall illustrations, both Morall and divine: And Disposed into lotteries, that instruction, and good counsell, may bee furthered by an honest and pleasant recreation.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Slang or Secret Code?

“He that likes to plant and set
Makes after-ages in his debt.”

This post has almost nothing to do with gardens. Apparently, as the season outside my door becomes cold and wet and precludes me from working in the yard, the spirals of my always fragile grasp on reality start to wobble into paranoia. Accordingly, this post is about my latest conspiracy theory, involving the word verification choices when you leave a comment in Blogger.

Is it just me, or does the word-verification text seem to be veering closer and closer to selecting real words? It seems to be evolving organically. I’m wondering if the server where all our blog posts live is developing conscious intelligence. (I hesitate to call it “artificial intelligence” because I often claim that word to describe my own pretentious attempts as scholarly blogging.)

So, back to the conspiracy, I’m sure Blogger retains the capability to block certain words, e.g. profanity, from showing up in the verification. If so, then they should tighten their algorithms up to also block words like this wordoid from a few days ago: mossesse.

Think of playing the game balderdash – think of the word verification letters as spelling real but obscure words. Take “mossesse”. It could mean a hip hop gansta who raps in Latin, “esse” being the Latin root of the verb “to be”... On the other hand, it could be a proper noun, let’s say, the Greek God of motivational speaking. Or the name of the guy in this emblem, planting a tree for the ages. You can call him Mo.

Another theory: what if the letters spelled out hip new slang and you’re the only one not in on the joke? Know what a “kittenhead” is? Or what a prostitute means when she refers to a John as a thirty-three? Well then. Check out Caleb Crain’s article “Pixies, Sheilas, Dirtbags and Cougar Bait: Modern Slang”(This article appeared in the December 29, 2008 edition of The Nation)

Now, while you might be an obsolete old fogey when it comes to hip slang, there’s nothing to panic about wrt/word verification. You don’t have to put on your aluminum foil cap just yet. But please humor me and keep an eye out for a word verification that says “iniatelaunchsequence.”

See, this is what happens when I have to play inside out of the sun. Instead of planting for the after-ages, this is the time of year that I delight in finding monsters under beds and ghosts in the closets, and learning fun facts like garbage-man-speak for maggots is “disco rice”. And now you and every other Joe Sixpack knows too. Try to get that picture out of your head!

Monday, December 15, 2008

'Tis the Season

"From perfect grief there need not be
Wisdom or even memory:
One thing then learnt remains to me -
The woodspurge has a cup of three."
Dante Gabriel Rossetti, "The Woodspurge"

The scientific name for this plant is Euphorbia pulcherrima (in the Spurge family, "very beautiful"). Imperialistically controlling the discourse, the common name we use today for this six-foot tall native Mexican plant with bright red bracts is Poinsettia. The name is taken from early US Ambassador to Mexico, Joel Robert Poinsett who “discovered” the plant in Mexican churches circa 1825, and first brought it back to the US.

Famously amnesiac about our historical misbehavior in this hemisphere if not on this globe, Americans simply ignored the Aztec name for these plants (Cuetlaxochitl) and so do you. Further south, in Chile and Peru, the plant was called the “Crown of the Andes”. Later, Mexicans called this plant Buena Noche because it flowers at Christmas.

By whatever name they’re called, they grow locally. Except for this picture of the Ecke Ranch, the other poinsettia pictures were taken in my neighborhood of El Cajon, CA. Eighty to ninety percent of all poinsettias in the world were born on the Paul Ecke Ranch, in Encinitas, CA, a relative stone's throw from where I live.

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about how plants can communicate – more specifically – how, like any form of communication, plants are apt to be misunderstood.

Let’s try to translate what Poinsettias are telling us. First, let’s take the Victorian conceit of the Language of Flowers (LOF). Because this New World native wasn’t known to your everyday Victorian, those fluent in the LOF were probably clueless about this plant’s meaning. (Remember that - should you travel back in time with some potted poinsettias to distribute, and OBTW, don’t shoot your grandfather while you're back there.)

Then, take the Doctrine of Signatures which holds that God isn't much of a kidder - especially after that other plant misunderstanding; the one about where not to eat apples. Knowing man would be subject to the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, early European practitioners of Christian metaphysics posited that God would tell us how a particular plant could help us based on its “signature” or sign of nature. I’m not sure what point of a poinsettia would mean under this interpretation, and neither is Google.

So here’s my guess. How about red relating to the pulsing heart, and pointy red leaves that encircle the diminutive flowers in the middle representing a bloody crown of thorns, or knife blades dipped in blood, neither of which is your typical cheerful seasonal message of peace and love. But my favorite fun fact about this plant is that by any other name, it can still kill you, which is a pretty hard message to misunderstand.

As a gardener, I tend to go for the Peace on Earth seasonal message. Whatever it means to you, I greet you seasonally.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Say What?

"Breathes there the man, with soul so dead,
Who never to himself hath said _______”
Sir Walter Scott, "My Native Land"

It’s final exam week. In recognition of all the students who were up early to cram for today’s exam, I offer the following easy multiple choice question. Fill in the missing phrase from Walt's poem above:

a. I’m lost
b. That’s not mine, I was just holding it for a friend.
c. This is my own, my native land
d. I’m not bad, just misunderstood
e. Hey you kids, quit playing on my grass
f. As God is my witness, I’ll never plant lettuce again.
g. Wait! I can change!
h. I’m sorry, what?
i. ______ (fill in the blank)

Disclaimer: While Walt probably intended “man” in the first line of the poem, in the universal sense (i.e. as all persons), my suggested answers apply mostly to men in the gendered sense.

If I was trying to balance things out, I should have added some girly choices, like, for instance, “You call me that again, I’ll cut you,” or “We have to talk,” or “I’m going outside to play in the backyard.”

My garden beckons, so I'm going out to play. BTW, this is a pass/fail exam.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

The Gardener Reads and Cooks

“Far away, down by the police station, a dog was howling at a moon no one could see, perhaps imagining that, summoned repeatedly enough, it would appear with food of some kind.”
Thomas Pynchon, Against the Day

I’ve been reading Pynchon’s book, Against the Day, and it has been challenging. There are about a million characters – some real, many legendary; some ghosts, many disturbing; some parodies, many composites. Many characters have memorable Pynchon names - like arch-villain industrialist and robber baron Scarsdale Vibe; or Lake Traverse, daughter of legendary martyred bomb-making anarchist Webb Traverse. There’s a guy named “Sloat.” You know what a loser he is the minute you meet him.

I got some “white wheat malt” at the home brew store last week. I ground about a half cup in my Kitchenaid mixer’s mill attachment. It’s not as adjustable as using my coffee burr grinder, but I was going for rustic: some of the grain ended up like delicate flour, some stayed in relatively large chunks. The night before baking, I took a little sourdough starter from the fridge, and refreshed it by adding about ¼ cup of the milled grain and ¼ cup of water. The next morning I had a puffy, bubbly, sour-smelling levain.

The trans continental stories unfold on top of each other, giving a philo-thin concurrency to some of the layered threads. Characters move in and out of place and plot, connecting and disconnecting over time. As if that wasn’t enough to confuse a Mensa Lit Crit with Tenure, there’s this thing about time travel and parallel worlds, and people who can do either or both. A couple of the major plots occur not on the reader’s world, but in a parallel universe, perhaps where WWI didn’t happen.

The book begins with a story of the five Chums of Chance, a Hardy Boys precursor from the Antebellum age, at the White Palace at the World Exposition in Chicago in 1893, and their exceptionally advanced faithful canine companion, Pugnax. The Chums of Chance is apparently a world-wide fraternal organization operating as a sort of Thunderbirds of the Victorian Age. The writing style is a delightfully fluffy confection (even down to repeated references to other “episodes” and adventures of the Chums). For example, consider the almost magical high-tech way the Chums travel: on an airship powered by steam.

Just when I’m settling in for a delightful period piece written in the most fluent “thrilling days of yesteryear” prose – weirdness starts to creep in. Wait. Did I just read that the Chums, another successful mission accomplished, took a shortcut home through a hole in the earth’s crust, encountered an entire civilization at war, and oh by the way, intervened decisively on the side of the “good guys”?

I almost started writing down names and the pages first encountered, to be able to pick up the thread pages/years/parallel universes away. I’ve doubtless dropped several stitches, but I think I’m getting the general idea.

Here it is. Pynchon clearly prefers the company of anarchists, magicians, charlatans, Marxists, Commies, con-men, crooks, grad students, theosophists, coal and silver miners, mathematicians and drug dealers/smugglers, to that of the tycoons, privileged children of nouveau riche posers, industrial giants, and dozens of other versions of The Man appearing before/after WWI as capitalist swine wearing clean clothes, miscellaneous “uncleansably rich,” dilettantes, hired guns, war profiteers, weapons dealers/smugglers. For example, one classic pair of adversaries are Edison and Tesla. Edison: bad. Tesla: good

Before you sit down to crack this book open, have a dictionary handy. For me, some new words were encountered, learned, and used before absquatulating. Some expressions with cosmic and/or microcosmic meaning are discovered (like the flashlight brand: Apotheosis Sparkless Torch). There’s a quest for Shambala, perhaps a map that leads there, perhaps not. Also, I think there may, or may not be, a weapon of mass destruction, and it may or may not be in my own world. I could be wrong.

I know I’m missing a lot of the jokes, but my favorite part about this book is that I often encounter such brilliant phrases, and such elegantly crafted sentences that they delight, without the need to understand whether they advance one of the zillion plots. Pynchon puts words together like flowers in a bouquet. There’s a group in London called T.W.I.T, or True Worshippers of the Ineffable Tetractys, made up of various “devotees of the nut cutlet.” He often over-stuffs sentences frequently with conflicting metaphorical meanings. He is the master of the run-on sentence that stands on its own as a delightful complete sub-plot.*

His sentences drip with meaning like bloody limbs on a battlefield, painting more and more shades in the sinister shadows, and throwing in the occasional actual vengeful ghost flickering at the edge of the picture. For example, one man’s rage is described as “a fluorescence of vindictiveness.” Elsewhere, he paints the sky in “almost familiar” shades of yellow:

“It was the light kept reminding him, yellow darkening to red to bitter blackness of the whirlwind brought among the sunlit, wildflowered meadows, thunder that began like the rumbling of sash-weights locked with old death-secrets of some ancient house back behind the sky’s nearly carpentered casementing and soon rocking like artillery.”

He carefully catches dialog that adds a layered richness to conversations: “Hope you ain’t having too many of those second thoughts that stop a fellow just as dead is if it was him down in the sawdust.”

When I baked the bread, I used the starter in place of yeast, and added the rest of the ground white wheat malt (about ¼ cup) in place of some of the flour. The bread has a gorgeous texture, and thanks to the white wheat malt, a tangy sourdough flavor. Now, if I could just persuade it to rise a bit more…

Pynchon’s book rewards careful study and contemplation of the rich pageant of life that he has either created, or discovered by traveling there himself and simply returned to report on. I have a feeling I’ll be re-visiting it again over the years – if I can just get through Moby Dick for the first time.

*Here’s one of those run-on sentences that condense an entire un-written novel:

“Because for all her winters got through and returns to valley and creekside in the spring, for all the day-and-night hard riding through the artemisia setting off sage grouse like thunderclaps to right and left, with the once-perfect rhythms of the horse beneath her gone faltering and mortal, yet she couldn’t see her luck as other than purchased in the worn, unlucky coin of all those girls who hadn’t kept coming back, who’d gone down before their time, Dixies and Fans and Mignonettes, too fair to be alone, too crazy for town, ending their days too soon in barrelhouses, in shelters dug not quite deep enough into the unyielding freeze of the hillside, for the sake of boys too stupefied with their own love of exploding in the dark, with girl-sized hands clasped, too tight to pry loose, around a locket, holding a picture of a mother, of a child, left back the other side of a watershed, birth names lost as well behind aliases taken for reasons of commerce or plain safety, out in some blighted corner too far from God’s notice to matter much what she had done or would have to do to outride those onto whose list of chores the right to judge had found its way seemed…Stray was here, and they were gone, and Reef was God knew where – Franks’ wishful family look-alike, Jesse’s father and Webb’s uncertain avenger and her own sad story, her dream, recurring, bad, broken, never come true.”

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Massive Dependence

“The Garden exemplifies the massive, but often unrecognized dependence of human creative activity upon the co-operation of the natural world.”
David E. Cooper, A Philosophy of Gardens

Several months ago, I salvaged some cheap bookcase wood from J&Ks housecleaning frenzy. Yesterday, I made a shelf for my bonsai/dish gardens to over-winter.

I used slices of the old pine tree that fell over this very spot about a year ago to make the uprights, and I used three long former bookcase boards for the two shelves. This shelf will probably self-destruct within a year, not only because the lumber is flimsy, but also because the slices of pine tree are riddled with termites. Meanwhile however, I now have a nice sunny southern exposure where the rock will provide a heat reservoir during the day to protect my babies from any cold snaps lurking in the dark nights of the next few months.

Some time back, I got Tech Support Guy to drill a drainage hole in an old fire pit. I wrestled it on top of the big rock behind the shelves, where it has survived for several years. It contains mother plants of several succulents I’ve propagated and used to populate other hot sunny locations. This is all part of my “Ten Year Plan” to make my backyard garden more “sustainable” in our increasingly hot and dry climate.

This spot would be way too hot during the summer for most of these guys, and it receives no irrigation except what I deliver by hand. Should the shelves survive this season, they’ll be a nice home for potted succulents next summer.

I readily concede my massive dependence on Mother Nature in this endeavor. These rickety uneven shelves aren’t meant to last more than about a year. Perhaps, with some cooperation from the natural world, they’ll last a bit longer.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Guest Entry from SE Michigan

Last Saturday you wrote: "One week ago, the Veggie Garden was filled with butterflies – big fat orange and black ones." I'm assuming the monarchs have finally reached your area. The interactive migration map at The Journey North says they were expected in San Diego after Oct. 24.

These were the only butterflies I knew by name as a child in Maryland, back when I could still recognize the milkweed they prize. The photo of them roosting en route is from the TJN site.

When I lived on the Florida Panhandle 30 years (!) ago, and despite the lack of data points on the referenced map today, they arrived en masse in the fall, as if they headed south until reaching the Gulf of Mexico and then turned right. I could not drive along the coastal highway without feeling like a murderer, as they got stuck in my front grill and windshield wipers and crunched under my tires. Honestly, the numbers put one in mind of a biblical plague — although an extraordinarily beautiful and harmless one. That was when I first learned of their epic migration and over-wintering in Mexico.

You, too, can help map their journey, either at the Journey North site above or at Monarch Watch. TJN says, "Large numbers of monarchs have now reached Mexico's overwintering region. By November 2nd, the tops of fifteen trees at the El Rosario sanctuary were covered with monarchs."

Monday, December 01, 2008

Truth vs. Faith

“Truth for him is faith, since he has faith in the truth; he sincerely believes in the credibility of all significations… The most diverse forms of expression – from mimicry to the “language of flowers” – are related to meanings – verbal or nonverbal – which are true, that is, believable simply because they are expressed… Thus the child, replacing truth with ordered belief, from the beginning confuses error and truth, bondage and liberty.”
Jean-Paul Sartre, The Family Idiot (page 128)

In his biography of Gustave Flaubert (quoted above) Sartre equated faith with truth. Or rather, Sartre said Gustave confused the two. Or rather, not so much confused them as considered them synonymous – with an unresisting, un-present, unfounded (hence, “idiotic”) belief in their individual legitimacy. For Jean-Paul, Gustave’s faith in what he was told made as much sense as if I believed everything I found on the internet because, well, they wouldn’t put it on the internet unless it was true, right?

But I like the part about the language of flowers as a form of expression. At first, I was thinking that the language plants and flowers spoke to people was non-verbal, that it was without words.

But the language of flowers is not non-verbal. Flowers mean things. Flowers can communicate things. Even J-P, when he says Gustave “pronounces sentences,” that “he repeats words or puts them together like flowers in a bouquet.” The trouble with bouquets of words is that they’re slippery. What you take unproven – on faith – depends on which flavor of “ordered belief” you subscribe to.

Like spoken words, the language of flowers could be tricky too, and just as subject to being misunderstood – faith taken as belief. For example, suppose someone sent you a bouquet which contained a pretty mushroom pictured here, a spring of white chestnut, and some lovely pink cyclamens?

Let’s start with the ‘shroom pictured here. (Image: Franck Richard). Even the Encyclopedia of Life admits it looks comfortingly like several edible species, “most notably the straw mushroom.” In fact, it is Amanita phalloides, aka “Death Cap”. According to in the ordered belief we call Modern Science, Death Cap is the most poisonous of all known toadstools, and because of its unfortunate resemblance to several species of edible mushroom, thus increasing the risk of “accidental poisoning.” Oh, dear.

Is the white chestnut sending a mixed message? According to the Doctrine of Signatures whereby signs of nature are assigned meaning based on the resemblance of a plant or a part of plant to a part of the body, White chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum) helps people “who feel resentful and bitter about the way their lives have gone.” Perhaps, bitterness and resentment are symptoms of homicidal accidents. In which case, the mushroom and cyclamen communicate a perfectly consistent message.

According to the Victorian Language of Flowers, sentiments were communicated by flowers. Cyclamen (Cyclamen persicum), for example, signifies resignation and good-bye. Regardless of who's resentful, bitter, or exiting, the sender of cyclamen is saying goodbye.

So, employing at least three different systems of expression - or ordered belief systems - the message of the bouquet would differ depending on whether the recipient liked to eat fresh mushrooms and/or white chestnuts; or on which system of communication sender and/or recipient favored; or whether either or both simply loved cyclamen and/or chestnuts.

Whether or not I have refuted Sartre’s criticism of Flaubert’s “credulity” in apparently believing everything he was told, I hope I have established that there are virtually infinite things to believe in and ways of ordering one’s beliefs. Whether we try to communicate verbally, through symbolism, one or more obscure and occult means, or other non-verbal methods, the one constant seems to be that misunderstanding is always likely, or at least possible. Unprovable truth ends up being as slippery as unfounded faith. Seems to me Satre didn’t know that some unprovable things are better taken on faith.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Each drop its home

“Settling white dew
does not discriminate,
each drop its home.”
Sõin 1604 – 1682, Trans: Sam Hamill

Recently, the seasons have been tired and cranky, like a fat baby who needs a nap. Working in the garden on parched afternoons, my breathing kept getting stuck on the inhale. I’ve been feeling fussy too. The approaching season has been desperately trying to break out of some cocoon, grappling in the arms that bind, wanting to fly into the cool air. Me too.

Then, we had good rain, on and off for two days. It was the largest single rainfall total in over 3 years – over an inch and a half in some areas. Today, the sun is back, the garden is looking wonderfully refreshed – like that baby waking from its nap with giggles and wiggles.

One week ago, the Veggie Garden was filled with butterflies – big fat orange and black ones whose names I don’t care about knowing. Who knows who they were, passing through the station I tended. Our bok choy had bolted. The lettuce simply laid down and withered – what the squirrels left behind, that is. Once-lusty red cabbage, purple broccoli and cool season starts perished in their prime – reduced to emaciated leafless skeletons.

Today, walking my cat through my backyard, we both breathed in the light-suffused cool air, and sat together on the stone bench, warmed by the sun. The morning dew lingered on each leaf, sparkling like diamonds. Although the pink muhly grass (Muhlenbergia capillaries) grass pictured here is not in my yard (it is at The Garden) this is what the dew looked like at home today. Finally, with the rain yesterday and the dew today, the autumn season has arrived back home.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Advice from a Lousy Gardener

“Lunar fluctuations affect Earth’s magnetic field, and its atmosphere, causing all water, including that in even the smallest living organism, to move in almost tidal fashion. This makes significant rainfall statistically more likely after a new moon.”
Duncan Crosbie, “Tips from the Old Gardeners”

Dear LG,
Something strange is going on outside. Last night, everything in my yard got wet. I have adjusted the automatic sprinklers so that only the most precious potted plants receive daily water. But last night, water just appeared everywhere. It was almost as if it was falling out of the sky. What gives?
Drought Gardener

Dear DG
Your senses did not deceive you. Water did indeed, fall from the sky yesterday. This unusual phenomenon is one of Mother Nature’s magic tricks. You know what snow is, right? When the temperature outdoors is too high for snow to remain frozen and white, it melts. This melting falling liquid snow is also known as “rain”. Neither you, nor your garden, has anything to fear from rain unless you are related to the Wicked Witch of the North and live in Oz.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Worlds of Garden Blogs

"Winds of the North! restrain you icy gales,
Nor chill the bosom of these happy vales!"
Erasmus Darwin, The Botanic Garden

I recently joined the "Urban Homesteaders Garden Ring" but I admit to having some misgivings. The site says:
“This ring is for garden blogs only! Any blog relating to gardening is excepted (sic).” Tough to get past that gaff. Then again, why should anybody care about spelling? Spell check can’t help us in the land of the homonym. In the land of the inarticulate, the voluble blogger is king, and damn the rookie spelling and grammar ahead. What if they actually DO mean “anybody with the exception of garden blogs” after all, and the joke’s on me.

I’m torn. On one hand, I want my blog to be the Next Big Thing, a jewel in the rough, a font of frickin’ wisdom wrt/thinking gardeners. On the other hand, I don’t want to promote myself. How vulgar. I’d rather be “discovered”. I flatter myself that I’m that oxymoron: very unique – just like everybody else. So, joining even grammatically-challenged rings and communities of bloggers who garden (or gardeners who blog) is a way to promote myself under the radar of other wannabe celebs seeking their fifteen minutes, looking for a book deal, or hyping their books or products in their blogs.

One thing I like to write about here is what I see when I squint into the sun some days, high on gardening. I’m unique like about a million other people communing with Mother Nature, many who can tell (or show) their stories with a grace and wisdom that I can only aspire to. On the other hand, I’d secretly like to think my blog compares to a “typical” garden blog, the way a Nobel Prize in Gardening compares to the smiley face sticker on the elementary school test magnetized to your refrigerator sometime in the past 30 years.

Besides, I’m too old to give a crap about My Face (sic) and to only marginally “get” why people would want to use their phones to type instead of talk to others. Nah, on second thought, I don’t get it at all. Seriously.

Whatever I expected when I started to blog, I got something completely unexpected – and better. I got to meet people all over the world who share their experiences with me. I joined the company of nice men and women who all know that our ability to garden, and to blog, places us at the extremely rich end of the bell curve of the other people alive today on this planet with us. One common theme I find in garden blogs is that gardeners are grateful.

In gratitude, we share things I can’t even begin to lump into a category like "flowers" or "composting", but which mine rich veins in the trains of thought I’ve hopped on while I'm gardening. I learn not just gardening tips, but rediscovered ancient lore. We learn to recognize all the primal allegories about men and gardens, and we share the truth of the ancient wisdom, the stuff that we think is too important to lose.

The best part is that we are Whoever we chose to tell others. Not only does nobody know if you’re a dog on this series of tubes, they don’t know if you’re fucked up unless you chose to say so. You never fall down, forget and pause in mid-sentence, lose your temper, or unintentionally look foolish. I’m only old if I say I am. Only in pain, ill, depressed, imperfect to the degree I want to say so. I’m in charge of my relationships on line, and I think it’s no accident that garden bloggers are, generally speaking, nice and compassionate people. (The picture is "Winter" by Giuseppe Arcimboldo (1527-1593) but the likeness to me is uncanny)

So, despite my vaingloriously pathetic dreams of wanting notoriety, it turned out instead that I got what I needed. I like to think my blog adds some spice to the savory stew of people who garden and blog about their happy vales (particularly, lately, those who grow their own food) and other miscellaneous people out there, surfing those interwebs, using the Google and whatnot. This is fun. That’s why I joined the garden ring.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Guest Blog Report

Fall is finally turning to winter here in southeastern Michigan. I am still covering my parsley at night to save it for Thanksgiving stuffing, but it may need to be harvested, now that temps are getting into the 20s overnight. We had a long, lingering fall this year, with unseasonably warm temps into November. That made it easier to do fall clean-up chores but also removed the sense of urgency about getting things done.
A few days ago, I intended to clean the gutters one last time, but the red maple out front was still clinging to half of its leaves. Now, the only thing decorating the trees is forlorn and abandoned nests, plus the occasional fluffed-up mourning dove or munching squirrel. My now-25-year-old English walnut trees keep the latter very busy and well fed.
My plants were dazed and confused by the weather, with bulbs sprouting and roses continuing to flower. The Tiny Monster geranium was still producing some bright purple flowers, and few of its leaves had turned bright scarlet yet, when it was surprised by the first light snowfall.
Today, it is cold and blessedly sunny. The wind yesterday was (unusually) from the north, bringing Michigan’s Thumb area heavy lake-effect snow. In one of those quirks of fate, the iPod is serving me Gordon Lightfoot’s The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald as I type. “Huron rolls, Superior sings, Michigan steams” indeed.
-Martha in MIchigan

Monday, November 17, 2008

Alphabetical list of things I don’t care for

"The love which me so cruelly tormenteth
So pleasing is in my extremest pain:
That all the more my sorrow it augmenteth,
The more I love and do embrace my bane.
Ne do I wish (for wishing were but vain)
To be acquit from my continual smart..."
Edmund Spenser, Sonnett XLII

Amazing Grace on bagpipes
Bra straps showing beneath sleeveless shirts
Crack whores unwilling to admit they need help
Dreadful sorry, Clementine
Ear hair
Financial statements from my investment company
German cooking equating mush with meat
Heartless bastards
Insolent cashiers
Jury duty with my so-called peers
Kindness of strangers in lieu of compassion from loved-ones
Laugher, when I don’t get the joke
Milk that’s almost, but not quite, sour
Nothing so much as having my vegetables harvested by vermin
Outrageous fortune, the slings and arrows of
Questionable taste in music, played too loud in the adjacent car at a long red light

Regrets keeping me awake in the dark hours of the night
Sticky silverware in restaurants
Tater Tots: an abomination of potato injustice
Unimaginative paint colors like Navaho White, never imagined by actual Navahos
Voters who think their civic duty does not require them to pay attention BEFORE voting
Women in the line at the coffee shop who overuse quoty hands gestures while waiting
Xtreme sports: spell it right, idiots
Yellow Jello, don’t ask
Zero tolerance from bigoted homophobes, especially those who are closet queers

What is the source of your continual smart?

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Remembering Mom and Dad

"A pistol shot, at five o’clock, the bells of heaven ring,
Tell me what you done it for. No I won't tell you a thing.
Yesterday I begged you before I hit the ground,
All I leave behind me is only what I found…
Take up your china doll, take up your china doll,
Its only fractured and just a little nervous from the fall.”
- Grateful Dead, China Doll
I was captured today, by the old black and white photo of my parents, taken together back before they were married. In the picture, they are young and their joyful gazes were so innocently happy.

Their smiling eyes seem to have that universally blank expression on graduates’ faces in a million high school yearbook pictures. They thought then that they would be brave enough to meet the future together with joy. They were practically children then, not yet tempered by the challenges of marriage and parenthood. They were in love then, and they both died on this day, in their mid-seventies, older, wiser, sicker, but still in love. Their youthful confidence in love and in life was justified.

Feeling my old self of today, I recognize I’m no longer getting better, just older. I’m sinking slowly back from parent role, and more into helpless child. I wonder at their bravery in the face of the unknown – those two young people who became my Mom and Dad. They promised they would face it together – whatever came. They did, separated in death by exactly one year.

Mom went first, “defeated” as they say, in her brave battle with colon cancer. Dad was sentenced to one year of solitary confinement, finding himself alone after a lifetime together. He died on the one-year anniversary of his wife’s death, dropping like a stone as he got ready to go to mass. He died of loneliness and a broken heart, like a shattered china doll.

As old as I am today, as young as their picture was then, they’re still Mom and Dad. Sometimes, I’m afraid, because I’m older than the kids in their picture, and I don’t know what to do, and they can’t teach me.

Other times, looking into their eyes in that picture, I find that I’m doing okay after all. Increasingly, I feel like the brittle china doll, I see that picture and pick myself up, “only fractured and just a little nervous” from falling through youth into my own old age. I’m still alive – and I’m still standing after all. Thanks, Mom and Dad.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Imaginary Conversations

“I am sufficiently instructed in the principal duty of a preface, if my genius were capable of arriving at it. Thrice have I forced my imagination to take the tour of my invention, and thrice it has returned empty, the latter having been wholly drained by the following treatise.”
Jonathan Swift, Tale of a Tub
Remember in high school when they were teaching different writing techniques and we had to read Johnathan Swift’s “Modest Proposal” about eating children to prevent starvation during the great potato famine? The classic example of satire. Still. The guy had a heck of an imagination, and he could write.

While I often resort to satire (my preferred method of laughing keep from crying) this season often finds me at a loss for inspirational humor. Instead, I find myself frequently engaging in the dubious practice of conversing with my feline, whose virtual absence of spoken response at such times in no way hinders the progress of our discussions. Instead, her silence bespeaks her solemn wisdom. Her participation in such talks is generally limited to a purr so low and deep inside her, that, due to my moderate deafness, I can hear only by holding the entire cat up to my ear like a telephone receiver.

Far from conveying a sinister undertone in response to my confessions, my cat’s conversational contribution – the low hum I interpret to mean her understanding and compassion – simply confirms my trust in her advice: mmmmmmm……

Rarely, in the course of such heart-to-ear discussions, I catch a spark of inspirational advice. More often, I find I cannot quite carry such thoughts through the doors of understanding, leaving them instead in the tub of sand outside the doors, where complicated realizations, cigarette butts, and wads of chewing gum are discarded by other seekers preparing to enter into self-realization.

In this season, forcing my imagination to take the tour of my invention, I too, am likely to return empty handed.

There was that one time though, when I thought I heard my cat actually speak. I think she might have actually said, “Of course you’re crazy, Weeping. Cats can’t speak.” Then again, I can’t hear. So, like the complementary diets of Mr. and Mrs. Sprat, the bad kitty and I make a perfect conversational pair.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Passive Voice, Passive Season

"Forests keep disappearing, rivers dry up, wild life's become extinct, the climate's ruined and the land grows poorer and uglier every day."
Anton Chekhov, Uncle Vanya, 1897

Passive voice is something I really like, provided it’s not aggressive, like Checkhov, ranting about how man is more of a destroyer than a creator. Using passive voice can be a way to cleanse a story of it’s angst. It wraps sad memories in a soothing blanket of distance, softening painful recollections of bad times.

It helps us to express difficult things without attaching blame: My friends, harsh words were spoken in anger. Mistakes were made. Toenails were trimmed. Hair was set on fire. Feelings were bruised, and so were soft tissues. Threats were made; carried out impulsively; and then regretted tearfully. Toast was burned. Promises were broken, and so were fingers. The Boze was dropped into the bath water. Ledges were jumped off from. Or were they pushed off of?

Gardening this time of year is like speaking in passive voice. Sweet pea seeds were sown yesterday in silent hope for a fragrant Spring. Tools were sharpened and tucked lovingly away. Frequent breaks were taken, the coming season was smelled in the breeze. My back was not burned by the sun. Tasks performed were more like puttering than active gardening.

At the end of the day, the first of my mail order seeds were sorted and put in the cool, dark, dry wooden tool box where seeds are stored. Mail order bulbs were delivered and stored in the bottom drawer of my fridge, cooling for 8-10 weeks before being planted. The smell of root beer, and my grandmother’s basement was detectible in the boxes of bulbs.

Today, it’s more like summer outside, and there will be more such days before the rains come and the leaves are done falling. But for now, I feel like I have begun to learn – as I do again each year – to wait passively until the seasons turn and I can play outside in the yard again on a regular basis. Meanwhile, bread will be baked. Doll house construction will be resumed. Seed catalogs will be perused by the fireside. And miracles will be worked silently, underground, by Mother Nature.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008


"Insanity is often the logic of an accurate mind overtasked."
- Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.

The word delirium is taken from the Latin root “delirare” which literally means to leave the furrow while plowing. So if one is able to break out of the figurative rut their life is following, it would be linguistically correct to say that person was going crazy, cracking up. Which I think might be a good thing, or at least not so much of a bad thing. Going crazy, I mean. Why?

Because delirium can be joyful too. I went to a wedding recently, and it was clear to me that the bride and groom were floating on a cloud of delirious love, buoyed up by the good wishes of the many friends and family in attendance.

(Funny story: when we saw the brother of the groom on the Monday afternoon after the wedding, he said he’d just returned from an afternoon of golf with his newly married brother. Some honeymoon! I’m not sure if the groom jumped out of the rut of his life on his wedding day, or jumped thankfully back into it 2 days later on the golf course with his brother.)

In order to recover some sort of normalcy following a delirium, say, that of working in the garden for the last time until Spring, you need to relax back into some semblance of normalcy. It’s raining today: make a vanilla vodka vicodin double tall latte smoothie, sit down, put your feet up, and watch the rain.

Watching the rain in the garden, I carefully consider my options. I can continue down the deeply furrowed rut of my life indefinitely. Or, once in a while, I can leap deliriously out of the ditch and scramble wildly across the field. Which is a crack up of an “accurate mind”, and which is merely joyful and therapeutic delirium?

And who cares?

Monday, November 03, 2008

Autumn: the Year, in its Prime Season

“… too soon
Rich autumn time, the season's usurer,
Will lend his hoarded gold to all the trees,
And see his treasure scattered by the wild and
spendthrift breeze.

What profit if this scientific age
Burst through our gates with all its retinue
Of modern miracles! Can it assuage
One lover's breaking heart? what can it do
To make one life more beautiful, one day
More god-like in its period?

Oscar Wilde. The Garden of Eros, 1890

In her prime, Jean Brodie wasn’t sentimental about chrysanthemums. Specifically, she said, “Ah, chrysanthemums. Such serviceable flowers.” I’ve always loved them, probably since I observed the care my mother lavished on her mums. Where I grew up, they were often annuals, and not necessarily hardy. Had she ever cared what others thought of her, Mom would have prided herself on her ability to coax them to life after their long winter’s sleep, covered lovingly with oak tree leaf mulch this time every year. But she didn’t give a crap what other people thought, so instead, she stole the few moments of time she could spare her large and needy family to do minimal gardening. She might not have ever noticed that I paid attention to those things she loved, and that she passed along to me her love of gardening together with her secret about the mental health benefits reaped by the gardener every season.

So, maybe that’s why, of all my maternal horticultural heritage, I like mums the best. For many years, I ordered a dozen 1” starts every spring from King’s Mums. I’ve skipped the past two years, but I’m due to try some others, maybe when their annual catalog arrives in the next month or two. The mums in these pics are the survivors, their names long-since lost history, the impermanence of labels, and my lame ass garden journal note skills. There were many victims who failed to survive the scourges of time, the drought, et. al. I’ve had more time to devote to my garden than Mom dreamed of. She had to make every minute count, where I can mess around, tweaking little changes here and there and documenting them in pictures.

Like Miss Brodie, Mom in her prime would have recognized Jean's unsentimental compliment, and agreed that mums are serviceable flowers. That never stopped her (or me) from loving them.

Maybe that’s why, the melancholy second week of November, I remember Mom with the sharpest mental clarity and love. This is the time of year she departed, and the time of year I remember her in her prime.

Foot Care And Gypsies Made By the Blue Yak

That Blue Yak: A Video About Foot Care And Gypsies Made By Me

That Blue Yak

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Legend of The Oak Leaf

“The tenacity of oak leaves gave rise to a folktale that explains why oak leaves are shaped the way they are. Legend has it that the devil once made a pact with a farmer. The devil stipulated that he could snatch the poor man’s soul that fall, as soon as the oak had lost all its leaves, which were then rounded with a smooth edge. The devil was beginning to look forward to October. However, November came and went, and by December, all the trees were bare except for the oak. Its leaves, withered and brown, held fast to their stalks. Spring arrived and, one after another, the withered leaves dropped off the tree. When the last of the leaves had fallen, the devil thought the farmer’s time had finally come. But when the devil appeared to collect his due, the farmer guided him very close to the tree and showed him that the tips of new leaves had long since started to appear. Upon seeing this, the devil flew into a terrible rage, venting his anger on the oak tree it with his claws. The leaves of the oak have had strangely lobed edges ever since.”
- From The Curious Gardener, by Jurgen Dahl, “Some Things About Oaks”

This theory, while not scientifically accurate (the devil has claws?) or botanically correct (if old leaves are torn, new ones will grow back torn?), carries within it a lesson about hope and faith and all sorts of dreams deferred, which is doubtless why I favor this theory over some dull tale about the life cycle of the oak tree, and also why I find it instructive when it comes to formulating a theory about why, say, tornadoes always strike trailer parks, or carnival clowns seem so closely related to serial murderers, or even why scary movies always come out at Halloween.

Constancy is rewarded over fiendish cleverness. Even after we all pack up the garden following the final garden party, decorated by Mother Nature in those bright and garish fall colors, even if we all doze fitfully through those lengthening winter nights, and we all stagger dimly through those short cold winter days: nature abides, seasons unwind, and leaves return.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Escape to the Meadow

All are lunatics, but he who can analyze his delusion is called a philosopher.
- Ambrose Bierce

This Victorian print, as interpreted by me, an amateur critic with an attitude problem, tells a sad story. The scene pictured is – to me – an allegory, each object representing a particular characteristic and fraught with dark symbolism. Consider this picture from the point of view of a person immersed in the scene.

The pink flower in the middle foreground is a passion vine, and contrary to what I thought, the name wasn’t chosen to invoke passionate emotions. It refers instead, to the euphemism used to describe the crucifixion of Christ. The name derives from one of the many scary visions of St. Francis of Assisi (1182 – 1226). He saw this vine growing upon the cross, hence the name Passion flower. Named by missionaries to South America “Flor de las cinco llagas” (Flower of the Five Wounds), the parts of the vine are said to represent the five wounds of Christ on the cross. The 16th century Jesuits who named the flower thought the ten petals represented the ten faithful apostles (two didn’t make it to the last passion of Christ). The corona symbolizes the crown of thorns, the five stamens the five wounds etc. Pretty gory, but those Jesuits spent a lot of their free time converting heathens using “extraordinary means” (a more contemporary euphemism for “torture”), so pretty flowers heavy with meaning probably helped them sleep at night.

In this picture, I think pink passion flower vine beckoning anxiously overhead represents something, or someone, clinging and trying to hold the person back. Unseen, but growing louder behind this person, I imagine the snarling hounds of hell, breathing loudly and coming closer. The vine symbolize a need that cannot persuade, and seeks instead to impose control.

The person is stuck in the swamp, perhaps on their hands and knees. The swamp in the lower foreground represents worldly responsibilities weighing the person down, and the other inescapable demands of the world, assaulting the person’s feet of clay. He is mired in the muck of the everyday.

Then, the person gazes into the distant meadow - seen in the background. He struggles, stands up. No longer mired in the swamp or held back by the anxious vines, the person breaks free suddenly, and runs across the grass. There he is, tiny, wearing a purple shirt, softly playing a small flute, his back turned to the clinging vines and the sucking swamps.

When one is mired in a swamp and literally choked by overbearing vines, what more peaceful place to visualize than a miniature model of a quiet pasture, amid placid sheep?

Monday, October 20, 2008

Blessed Pomegranate Fruits

"It was the nightingale, and not the lark,
That pierc'd the fearful hollow of thine ear;
Nightly she sings on yon pomegranate tree:
Believe me, love, it was the nightingale."
- William Shakespeare, "Romeo & Juliet"

The Chinese revere the "three blessed fruits," (Fu-Shou-San-Tuo) as representative of The Three Greatest Blessings. The three fruits are the Hand-of-Buddha (Citris medica) which symbolizes happiness; the Peach (Amygdalus persica), symbolizing longevity; and the Pomegranate (Punica granatum) which symbolizes fecundity and a hopeful future.

I found this beautiful miniature pomegranate tree this weekend at the nursery I visited to buy sweet pea seeds. It's probably the dwarf "Nana", and it is destined to become bonsai in a dish garden.

The pomegranate is not native to China however. It is believed that it was brought there from Afghanistan during the Han dynasty (circa 126 BC). A ripe pomegranate, half-open and showing the ruby jeweled seeds became the Chinese symbol of numerous male (!) offspring rising to fame and glory and generally possessed of great filial virtue.

Shakespeare used the nightingale singing at night to prefigure that the lovers would remain together, but possibly only in death. I prefer to reflect on the Chinese symbolism of filial piety. I could say that this little pomegranate tree means I'm all set for being cared for in my dotage - at least a little bit.

Monday, October 13, 2008

And Now - for Something Completely Different

“But if, in our world, there is any chance of becoming the person you haven’t yet become… will I know how to seize that chance, turn my life into a garden that will be completely different from my forebears?”
Muriel Barbery, “The Elegance of the Hedgehog”

Seasonal change is in the air, and something about autumn makes me think of life changes. Sitting on the porch with my morning coffee, my eyes keep drifting from my book to the yard, momentarily empty of birds. Our regular summer residents have left, presumably to move farther south. The inhabitants from the north who winter here have yet to arrive. It feels like my imagination and I have the garden to ourselves.

Breathing in crisp morning air, I imagine that I have been kissed by a radioactive frog, and to my surprise, instead of turning him into a prince, the kiss confers certain super powers upon me. At this moment, I have the power to become the person I haven’t yet become…

Suppose I had the power to cure everyone of all intolerance - including even lactose intolerance? Suppose I could make even terrible porn movies have interesting and engaging plots? What if I could free the world from the chains of male pattern baldness, say, or eliminate luminescent golf pants and make horrible plaids work together? What if my superpowers include the ability to raise the minimum wage in a single bound, repair potholes with a cute wrinkle of my nose, or assure that every opera ever sung will include a fat lady singing the final aria?

My reverie is disturbed by the vocal whining of my darling cat, who has discovered the injustice of me sitting outside in the sun while she languishes behind the screen – abandoned and alone. What kind of superhero would I be if, despite all my special new powers, I neglected the spoiled brat on the other side of the screen?

And sure enough, after correcting this injustice, with me on one chair and the cat settled on to the other in the sunshine, the world seems to spin smoother on its axis. I make a solemn pledge to use my superpowers only for good – whatever my powers may turn out to be, and whatever the hell “good” is. While I fully intend to maintain my secret identity as a mild mannered housewife with a gardening blog, I recognize that with great power comes great responsibility. Whatever I have become, I resolve to turn my life - and my garden - into something completely different.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Gorilla (sic) Warfare

“A youth in apparel that glittered
Went to walk in a grim forest.
There he met an assassin
Attired all in garb of old days;
He, scowling through the thickets,
And dagger poised quivering,
Rushed upon the youth.
"Sir," said this latter,
"I am enchanted, believe me,
To die, thus,
In this medieval fashion,
According to the best legends;
Ah, what joy!"
Then took he the wound, smiling,
And died, content.”
Stephen Crane

It’s been hot. Too hot to work outdoors. I’ve got bulbs to transplant dammit! Instead, I’ve been trapped inside, engaged in a life and death struggle with Yahoo, trying to figure out how to import an address book from another e-mail application. Combine me, non-intuitive technology, and hot dry weather, and my lack of patience becomes more conspicuous.

Age cannot wither, nor custom stale, my infinite impatience with technology. And yet. The sad truth is that, as rusty as my computer skills are, I am a geek genius compared to the other people in our volunteer group who may want to use this technology. Yesterday, I forced myself to slog through the jungle of unhelpful help screens, the dead ends, and unfamiliar jargon, and returned to base camp empty-handed and cranky.

If I complain too much about how Yahoo managed to turn my grumpy mood into blind rage, I worry that this post might be entered as evidence of my insanity at the coroner’s inquest – where they will try to figure out whether I jumped or was pushed. So, I’ll stop here and make another cup of coffee. Then, I’ll don my glittering apparel and return to the jungle to fight the Yahoo mail gorilla.

Monday, October 06, 2008

I Made Cheese!

There's a change in the weather
There's a change in the sea...
...So from now on there'll be a change in me.
My walk will be different, my talk and my name
Nothing about me is going to be the same.
I'm going to change my way of living
If that ain't enough
Then I'll change the way that I strut my stuff."
Billie Holiday, "There'll Be Some Changes Made"

The weather is changing, and I won't be able to work outside every day. This is the time of year when I try to find things to do inside, to change my way of living in the backyard.

I've been making my morning coffee iced coffee all summer. Today is the first day I made hot coffee. I also had to wear slippers or my feet would be cold: another change from my summer bare feet. So, in recognizing these signs of seasonal change, it's time for me to change myself from gardener to homemaker.

So, one of the things I've wanted to do is make cheese. I experimented with a simple recipe using buttermilk and raw milk. I added fresh chives to mask the sometimes rather bitter taste of raw milk.

It turned out ok, but clearly I need to work on it. I'm getting some rennet and citric acid, and I'll "strut my stuff" by experimenting with other kinds of cheese.

But for a first try, I was pretty proud of it. It was supposed to be mozzerella, but it turned out more like feta in texture.

It was good on last night's dinner salad. Maybe, if I can learn to make reliably good cheese, somebody WILL love me when I'm old and gray.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

A Good Day

“The Garden exemplifies the massive, but often unrecognized dependence of human creative activity upon the co-operation of the natural world… (The garden also exemplifies) the degree to which, more subtly, experience of the natural environment depends upon human creative activity. When combined, these two themes deliver the idea of the garden as embodying a unity between human beings and the natural world, an intimate co-dependence.”
David E. Cooper, A Philosophy of Gardens.

Got my new planted bed situated and planted some nasturtiums, sweet peas and purple hyacinth bean yesterday. I also planted garlic and onions at perimeter areas just on the off-chance the ground squirrels or rats, or whoever, will be deterred from entering the veggie garden proper. The garlic are both organic, from SSE: ‘German Extra Hardy,’ and Shveliski ‘Chesnock Red’.

I also got my first planting of lettuce going for the Veggie garden. I did a six-pack each of the following (mostly heirloom) lettuce seed from Seed Savers Exchange:
‘Amish Deer Tongue,’ ‘Bronze Arrowhead,’ ‘Forellenschuss,’ ‘Red Velvet,’ ‘Susan’s Red Bib,’ ‘Yugoslavian Red’. I also started a six-pack each of the following cabbages: ‘Mammoth Red Rock’ and ‘Winningstadt.’ Broccoli” ‘De Cicco.’ ‘Purple Cape.’

I also got fresh, local, grass-fed chicken eggs from Angus Acres, a small homestead chicken farm in a suburb less than ten miles from my house. The names of the chickens are on the bottom line of the egg carton label.

A perfect fall day, with sweet air, warm sun, dirty fingernails, and much accomplished. This was one of those days in my backyard where I felt the unity and intimate co-dependence between my garden and my heart. A really good day.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Remember Me, but ah!

"When I am laid, am laid in earth,
May my wrongs create
No trouble, no trouble in thy breast;
Remember me, but ah! forget my fate,
Remember me, remember me, but ah! forget my fate."
- Henry Purcell, “Dido’s Lament”, from “Dido and Aeneas”

Yeah, yeah, I know. The season of autumn has descended on the Northern Hemisphere. Stuff is dying all around me and change is in the air. So, I could post some melancholy seasonal whine about how gardens are just reminders that everything is temporary, and that everything ends. Some totally awesome seasonal buzz kill after the parched wild summer. But I won’t.

Instead, I meditate on the parable of seasonal change as Summer jilting Autumn, the way Aeneas jilted Queen Dido. She died alone, like Mother Nature in Autumn. But More particularly, I try to avoid her fate and enjoy what's now. And now, it's Autumn. I'm darn sure not going lament about Autumn's pathetic, lonely fate once Summer blows town.

So heed Dido's warning and remember Summer fondly, not mourn her passing. Meditate about spending less time observing the solemn passing of the seasons, and more enjoying the present. Winter may be moving in on Autumn, but I'm I'm paying attention. I am memorizing Autumn.

I’m more interested in the good stuff; in the golden hour of the day; in one final blaze; one red moment. This is the time of year to enjoy how Mother Nature ages gracefully. Done this way, growing old isn’t so bad. Nature has cloaked herself in the fiery splendor of autumn – even here in my sweltering desert, Summer bows out gracefully to Autumn.

Likewise, I meditate on the garden. Summer's youthful garden is cloaked in a million shades of green. Now, is is old and red and brown. Summer's departure eventually leaves the aging Gardener cloaked in the fiery colors of autumn. I'm trying to avoid Dido’s mistake, but not her lament. Don’t just forget my fate, but also remember me. The fortunate learn to enjoy getting old before they die.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008


"Then weltering seas of filth
And ever-rippling dung: and plunged therein,
Whoso has wronged the stranger here on earth,
Or robbed his boylove of the promised pay,
Or swinged his mother, or profanely smitten
His father's cheek, or sworn an oath forsworn…"
Aristophanes, “The Frogs”

It’s come to my attention recently, that forgiveness isn’t a bad way to go, even if the above isn’t guaranteed, or even possible. I don’t have to practice turning the other cheek very often, because I’m generally such a sweet, upbeat and simply charming person. I’d prefer to make myself into a joke, rather than to face conflict and open hostility. It’s my way of avoiding uncomfortable mojo. It’s what makes me such a sucker for passive aggression – I’m easily wounded by the invisible bad vibe.

So, even though I preach forgiveness, I have promised myself to stop making excuses for the bad behavior of others. It’s all I can manage these days to forgive myself. One thing I know is there’s no way out of here alive. If the show ends when the curtain falls on my last performance, why not go out doing something that feels good to me. If I can be anything I want to be, why not be kind, tender, and forgiving? Then again, why not have some fun and be rude, disagreeable and generally unlikable?

My answer is that perhaps there is some great wheel turning at the heart of the universe, and we’ll all be back again and again, or at least until we get it right. Perhaps there’s some cosmic dice game and the odds are on the House. Maybe karma works.I'll always pay my boylove just in case.

I’m ducking an important issue here: whether there is such a thing as unforgivable behavior. Of course evil exists. We should speak out when our silence gives power to those who hurt us. And like any good parent correcting any misbehaving child, all grown ups should call other grownups on unacceptable behavior.

Good exists too.I say I’d rather generate a forgiving vibe than an angry one, and it seems to be my life’s work to live up to that.

I’ll be in the garden if anybody needs me.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Yes You Can

"Settling, white dew
does not discriminate,
each drop its home."
- Soin (1604 - 16820

I’m at the age where I can spout sturdy clichés like they were pearls of wisdom. Example: you can’t go home again.

A couple of weeks ago when I was back east. I drove through the neighborhoods where I grew up, and where my child was born. For so long, these neighborhoods were home to me. And yet I frequently got lost driving down so many memory lanes, either because I’ve changed or the places have changed. I couldn’t find home.

A few days later, back in California, I was sitting outside reading a book while my cat sprawled on the cool patio. I looked up and found – home. It was only in returning to the town (where I’ve now lived most of my life) that I found what I’d been looking for in those old neighborhoods where I grew up. I found that I had returned home.

Another cliché is the one aunts and uncles used to say when we were kids they only saw every few years: my how you’ve grown. There on the patio with my cat and my book, I found myself thinking that I’d grown a bit more since the last time I was home.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

What I Did on My Vacation

Went to the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia. Took the ski lift to the top of the mountain and checked out the view. Gnats were deadly, and I sweated so much my hearing aids shorted out. The good news was that, unlike ski season when the lift never slows down to load and unload, they stopped the chair so old fogies could sit down and get up without fear of being dragged to their untimely death.

Went to a pottery studio near the Shenandoah. Blue Ridge Pottery is just down the hill from Skyline Drive, on Goose Pond. More deadly gnats at the pottery studio, but I loved the pottery tree stump amid an unkempt garden.

The old Civil War Inn adjacent to the studio is undergoing yet another renovation to make it into yet another bed and breakfast where rich white people can visit between "antiquing" ventures. If I lived in that climate, this is what my yard would look like. We did a lot of eating and drinking and talking of politics, with predictable results: nobody changed anybody else's mind about anything.

Despite the gnats and other wildlife, we enjoyed seeing deer in the woods near our luxury condo. My brother tried to run them down, being a resident of Virginia where deer have overrun the suburbs, including his yard. Despite looking like Bambi and his doomed Mom - quite exotic to my Californian eye - deer apparently have no natural enemies in Virginia except serious gardeners.

Although I didn't make the day trip, the progeny went to Monticello and brought back a picture of Thomas Jefferson's garden. Not terribly impressive this time of year. Back home, I'm already late starting my lettuce and other cool season seeds. Planting an entirely new vegetable garden twice each year has become such a habit to me, it's hard to imagine living in a climate like Tom, where you can only plant once each year.

Kicked back and enjoyed nature. I liked the fauna, and the flora...

...and I should mention, I liked the beer. We toured a brewery, ate at several brew pubs and soaked up a great deal of the atmosphere along with the beer.

We went to the National Aquarium in Baltimore. I loved the tropical rain forest because it wasn't quite hot and humid enough walking along the harbor in the drizzle in Baltimore to make me homesick for the dry air of California. The dank furry thing amid the tree branches looked to me like a piece of old torn shag carpet that had been left out in the rain, although a docent insisted it was a sloth who had just become a father. She insisted that the mom and the new baby sloth were hiding somewhere nearby. More old carpet most likely.

The best part of my vacation? I sat on the porch one rainy morning and read a book.