Monday, March 31, 2008

Dramatic Foreshadowing

Last evening, we went to dinner with J & K to celebrate the last day of Spring Break. The sign on a yard two doors down from the restaurant had a rather disturbing explanation for why potential buyers shouldn't disturb the occupants.

Later, J & K decided to share a very delicious and rare bottle of beer: two people sharing one bottle reminded us of the sign.

Coincidence??? You decide.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Faith Vs. Reason in the Garden

“Therefore in only one respect can I extol those eyes and ears as blissfully happy (for the difficulty is terrible)—in being free from all the drivel with which someone later, for example, 2,000 years later, would be plagued and hindered in autopsy, for all faith is autopsy.”
Søren Kierkegaard —Journals, 1844

All faith is autopsy? Well, yeah, sure. It’s like, you know, a forensic attempt to get through the encrustations laid down through the centuries by legions of madly inspired followers to discover what the founder of any given religious faith actually intended. Just war theories aside, it’s reasonable to return to the source and attempt to figure out what part of “Thou shalt not kill” religious leaders have consistently failed to understand.

Some two thousand years after the death of the Christian prophet, a lot of drivel has accumulated on Christianity. The decaying compost I spread on my garden each year serves to enrich the soil and replenish it with active biological life that helps my plants to thrive. Unfortunately, the drivel piled on the Prophet’s original teachings, by mostly power-hungry and sex-starved old men running the church, acts in the opposite way. We are plagued and hindered in our attempts to nourish faith by the drivel of organized religion ranging from goofy to sinister.

An autopsy is necessary to find why faith no longer thrives in some minds. And in such a process, we may discover that faith may not put down roots that will reach past the nonsense and drivel of many contemporary religions. In the end, I’m convinced that reason is indeed the greatest enemy of unquestioning faith encountered in the garden battlefield of a curious and questioning mind. Unlike the process whereby decaying kitchen scraps and grass clippings nourish my backyard vegetable garden, decaying rituals and nonsense rules tend to smother true belief and leave behind an expanse of barren disbelief.

Curiously, one concept that fruits in such faithless soil is reason. Just as evil exists without regard to religious faith, good acts are still good. Autopsy your once-vibrant faith and you may find that what caused it to die was, ironically, belief in drivel in nonsense. And you too may find that blissful happiness can flourish in a mind freed of the choking drivel of most organized religions.

The lotus, symbol of purity, will rise again from the mud amid the beautiful and spare stalks of last year's lotus. Just like a horticultural degree is not necessary to grow a garden, belief in god is not a prerequisite to living a moral life.

(The pictures were taken at the newly opened Chinese Garden at Huntington Library and Gardens near Pasadena, CA.)

Friday, March 21, 2008

Spring Day

Along the Ssu River it's a fine day for blossoms
the landscape is endless and suddenly new
I recognize the East Wind's familiar face
a thousand pinks and purples and everywhere spring
- Chu Hsi(1130 - 1200)

Monday, March 17, 2008

Celebrate the Season

"It is found again.
What? Eternity.
It is the sea
Gone with the sun."
Arthur Rimbaud, from 'L'Éternite', 1872

"Thunder! Lightning! Swedish meatballs!"
Anne Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

"I keep my fingernails long
So they click when I play the piano
And I’ll keep them that way
Until the swallows come back to Capistrano."
Joe Walsh

Ever get the feeling your family would love you more if you didn’t insist on decorating the house for every goofball occasion which every manic greeting card writer ever imagined? Go with that feeling.

St Patrick’s day is the one day of the year we celebrate happy drunks: the rest of the year apparently conceded silently to mean and nasty drunks without so much as a wink or a nudge. Today, shamrocks cut from shiny green cellophane adorn hundred of household hutches housing Hummel figurines. This, I submit in support of my argument that we over-decorate for seasonal observances. The net effect of these desperate decorations is often to confer an unfortunate and forlorn mood rather than the celebratory feel you were maybe shooting for.

On deck in the batter’s box, the Easter decorations are rubbing their tiny pastel chickadee claws together in anticipation of their turn next to adorn the sorry-ass hutch. As soon as the clovers are stowed away, the eggs and bunnies come out. What’s next? National Swedish Meatball Day? The International Festival Honoring Hairless Laboratory Mice? Wait, let me answer that. Next is March 19, the Feast of Saint Joseph, the day when the swallows return to Capistrano. Swallow nests look like small upside-down anthills, mud cones, hanging beneath every ledge of every pre-cast concrete building in the industrial parks surrounding the Mission San Juan Capistrano, an hour or two north of my town.

You retain free will. Give up the hutches and their “collectible” contents, and most of all their pathetic holiday decorations. Establish an account on e-Bay. Somebody out there will surely buy the dozens of small ceramic buildings with ceramic snow on their ceramic slate roofs and ceramic Xmas decorations in their tiny ceramic windows. If not, you may at least claim to provide occupational therapy for wounded vets and brain damaged crack heads who would otherwise not have a sheltered workshop to work in, or acres of shelves of free-cycled fake Hummel figurines to dust at the resale shops on decaying main streets of small towns across America.

Do I need to get outside more, or what?

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Ask Terrible Gardener

Dear TG
I have succeeded beyond my wildest dreams with lettuce this year. My lettuce is so big that I can sit in my Adirondack chair in the cool shade of a lettuce leaf. My question is, how did this happen?
Concerned Gardener

Dear CG,
Your mutant lettuce probably resulted from a combination of global warming, too much water, and possibly something involving divine retribution for rampant overuse of Miracle Grow. I suggest you avoid planting Beefsteak tomatoes and stick with cherry tomatoes. If the same conditions prevail, the cherry tomatoes should be just about the right size to enjoy in a giant salad.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Good Day, Good Evening

It's night be the flame
And the red that colors the clouds
Good day sir Good evening madam
You don't look your age

What does it matter if your embraces
Make the twin stars bleed
What does it matter if your face is painted
if hoarfrost glitters on the branches

Of granite or marble
Your age will show
And the shade of the great trees
will walk on your graves.

Robert Desnos, "Good Day, Good Evening" translated by Amy Levin

A good day deserves a good evening, and the boundary between them is the sunset. Late afternoon sun illuminates the jonquil or daffodil (I can never remember what the difference is) but my enjoyment isn’t diminished because I can’t name this flower.

A good life deserves a good death – the kind of Happy Death French philosopher and novelist Albert Camus wrote of, where, at sunset, the sky splits open like an orange and the juice streams down one’s face.

Whether their grave is marked with moss-polished granite or frost-sparkling marble, gardeners probably sleep more peacefully in the ground they loved to cultivate than many others unfamiliar with the multitudes of life that lie beneath their feet. The light at the end of the day seems to me, to awaken awareness of all the gardeners that came before me and those who will follow.

I just planted my new Japanese Maple in the blue pot. It is “Sango Katu” and it has lovely red branches. It will be challenged to survive in this spot as the sun moves to higher latitudes. I can barely keep my two red maples alive beneath the shade cover. Even if it survives, it will never become the kind of great tree envisioned in the poem. But that doesn't matter. Whether a plot of earth houses a garden ripening with the possibilities of new life, or a grave where old life sleeps, moving shadows of great and small trees still walk across gardens and graves alike as the earth rolls beneath the sun.

Sunday, March 09, 2008


If thou art worn and hard beset
With sorrows, that thou wouldst forget,
If thou wouldst read a lesson, that will keep
Thy heart from fainting, and thy soul from sleep,
Go to the wood and hills! No tears
Dim the sweet look that Nature wears.
- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

I spent the afternoon in the backyard yesterday, for the first serious garden work this year. What a lovely way to spend an afternoon, especially after being away so long. Before I put on my Xmas gardening apron and went outside, all I could see was the work that needed to be done after months of neglect. But once I was out there, I got into the flow of cleaning up dead brush from beds, fertilizing the flowers and bulbs, and simply feeling the sun on my face and the dirt under my fingernails. The new mums are coming up beneath the skeletons of last seasons blooms. There are bulbs pushing up in places where I can no longer remember what I planted.

I was so intent on cutting back old growth around the old blue wheelbarrow, that I lost my balance as I scrambled up some rocks, and I tumbled down the back stairs beneath the crooked arbor at the back of this pic. As I lay flat on my back, wiggling my fingers and toes to make sure I wasn’t dead, I looked up at the sky, and there I saw the sweet look that Nature wears, and I could feel the good feeling that makes me want to spend every summer day in the yard. It was even good last night to soak in a tub of Epsom salts and almond oil and feel exactly where I landed when I fell. Gardening shouldn’t be treacherous, but since I don’t get a thrill from riding roller coasters or climbing up faux rock walls in some gym, working out back is thrill enough for me.

Now that it’s March, I’m getting some deliveries. Yesterday the glory lily bulbs came. Soon, I expect to get the onion sets and seed potatoes. I’m going to wait to plant other veggies until things warm up for good, but there’s plenty to do meanwhile. This is a perfect day to work on cleaning out pots and planting bulbs – pretty low risk. That should keep my heart from fainting, and my soul from sleeping, while giving my sore muscles time to heal.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Total Crisis Panic Button

"The tradition of the oppressed teaches us that the 'state of emergency' in which we live is not the exception but the rule. We must attain to a conception of history that is in keeping with this insight. Then we shall clearly realize that it is our task to bring about a real state of emergency, and this will improve our position in the struggle against Fascism... The current amazement that the things we are experiencing are 'still' possible in the twentieth century is not philosophical. This amazement is not the beginning of knowledge--unless it is the knowledge that the view of history which gives rise to it is untenable."
--Walter Benjamin, "Theses on the Philosophy of History," (Spring, 1940) trans. Harry Zohn.

Ummm, excuse me? What business does a gardening blog have stomping through the muck of politics? I’m glad you asked that question. Apart from a vague and sometimes futile effort to be more green in the portion of my “lifestyle” that doesn’t involve gardening, I rarely stray from my garden in this blog.

Although I prefer to blog under an alias signifying sadness and pain, actually I’m a pretty up-beat citizen. But mad predictions about Fascism? Made in Germany in 1940? You might think those were scary times, albeit with little apparent relevance to gardening. I think these are scary times too.

My blog has a mission statement: I think, therefore I garden. So today’s quote isn’t about gardening; it’s about thinking. Benjamin is fomenting violent revolution against The Man. (When I first saw that expression many years ago, I thought it was “fermenting” violence, which imparted a hint of sweet intoxication to the war. Too bad.)

Here’s what I think. Advocating the violent overthrow of a mad man leading his nation into global disaster, is as crazy as advocating chemical warfare in my vegetable garden. A final solution is always so tempting in the midst of an interminable warfare. The news in the world beyond my backyard gate is dire. The wars continue, and I am beginning to realize that people die in wars.

Just like I now realize the poisons I used to kill the bugs could end up killing me. I have lost 3/5ths of my cabbage. Yeah, that’s a measly 2 shrunken red cabbage heads out of five. The white flies took the others, one-by-one. I tried washing them away with soapy water, but they outnumbered me, they overcame me. I could declare war and spray them all with pesticides, but I’m trying peaceful coexistence instead. Ironic: I can barely bring myself kill tiny flies, and yet I’m managing to kill the entire planet.

And one final thought: run for your life! Or, try to stop being afraid all the time. The hand sanitizers at the grocery store are tacked to a post near the shopping cart coral. We may not be able to find Bin Laden, but by God, we’ll kill those invisible viruses with antibiotics. (Hint, antibiotics kill bacteria, not viruses).

We’re afraid of germs we can’t see with the naked eye AND we’re pounding the Total Crisis Panic Button in insane terror fomented by our own leaders. This is amazing to me. Why should I sweat over some small crumb-sized bugs in the cabbage any more than I worry about masked gunmen on the highways and byways? This is no time to panic.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008


Turns without reflections
to the curves without smiles
of shadows with mustaches,
registers the murmurs of speed,
the minuscule terror,
searches under some cold cinders
for the smallest birds,
those which never close their wings,
resist the wind.

Paul Eluard, translated by Amy Levin

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Pancakes or Waffles?

Looking for something profound to say this lovely Sunday afternoon, I stumbled upon the following post at Adventures in Self-Loathing. The entire post is worth reading.

"Tiny: ...Can you make waffles without the iron?

"Me: No. Those are called pancakes."

All I can say after that is, Dude, you just blew my mind.

Now, I'm going outside to play in the sunshine.