Monday, April 28, 2008

Paradise Lost

"Add what lacks... Make me more equal…

"…And thy fair fruit let hang, as to no end
Created; but henceforth my early care,
Not without song each morning and due praise,
Shall tend thee, and the fertile burden ease
Of thy full branches, offered free to all;
Till dieted by thee I grow mature
In knowledge as the gods who all things know,
Though others envy what they cannot give;
For had the gift been theirs, it had not here
Thus Grown...

"... So add to what
Wants In female sex, the more to draw his love,
And render me more equal, and perhaps,
A thing not undesirable, sometime
Superior for inferior who is free?
Milton, Paradise Lost, Book IX

Summer is here. It’s hot and dry. Strawberries are almost free – big fat ones that are as sweet and juicy as the smaller ones I recall as a child. Three green plastic baskets for $3. Avocados – both the thick and the thin-skinned ones – are going for $2 a bag. The net bags contain up to 2 dozen ripe fruits. (Take an avocado, spread it out on a piece of sourdough bread like butter. Chop and sprinkle a generous handful of fresh basil on top. Top the whole with a drizzle of olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. Mmmm…) Thy fair fruit, Milton counsels, let it hang.

And yet, somehow, amid all the riotous growth of Spring, I already smell early and violent deaths outside my back door. At the recent public festival at the Garden where I volunteer, I was stationed in the veggie garden where I re-plant two entire annual crops: cool season and warm season. I lost most of the winter veggies – cabbages, broccoli, lettuce and chard to rabbits or ground squirrels, or gophers. Theives in the night. In the four days between when we planted 2 dozen sweet corn starts and the festival, one third are already gone (foreground), and the second third probably won’t be there tomorrow. The remaining 2 rows are safe so far beneath one of our pvc-chicken wire cages in the background of this picture.

All morning at the festival, visitors’ questions involved impending pestilence and Armageddon-ish weather. What’s killing my early tomatoes? What are the ginormous butterflies, and why are there so many of them? (I’m told they are sphinx moths, and they really are the size of hummingbirds when they’re grown.) Is it true their baby caterpillars will hatch into those finger-sized green tomato hornworms that spit stink at you when you threaten to harvest “their” tomatoes? Why so many lizards? I referred people with baggies of diseased tomato plants to the Master Gardeners for diagnosis.

The unspoken worry of global warming, and local firestorms blows the hot wind around us, as we compare war stories. Those of us trying to grow warm-season vegetables near the edges of the burn zone have watched our neighborhood fauna change as rats, gophers, and coyotes move in from their destroyed habit. Our murder of big black gansta crows are gone, as are the blue jays – neighborhood bullies of the air. Instead, we have red-shouldered hawks, another species of hawk I don’t know, and the occasional eagle. With owls in twilight, these birds now have air rights above the back canyon. There are lots of places that have yet to burn, and water is increasingly scarce. Our water provider just sent us a notice of a public hearing to increase our rates by over 8%. Like the days of $2.00/gal gas, we won’t miss the water until the well runs dry. Someday, what we pay today for un-rationed water will seem laughably, quaintly, cheap. Like I feel about the war, I wonder how bad it has to get before we do something to stop it.

Sunday, returning south and turning inland from the North County coast where we spent a pleasant morning tasting beer, we spotted the tell-tale plume of smoke on the horizon – puffing dark gray of solid smoke clouds, cycling to lighter and white steam from the doused fire. As we drew closer, we could observe the fire was in one of the million small canyons running from east to west leading down to the sea from the mesas to their west. Such east-west canyons are veritable chimneys for the hot winds blowing dry desert winds all the way to the ocean. We were also able to see that the fire was a brush fire, not a structure fire. It also explained why the smoke changed from black to white again, and again, as the firefighters on the ground were directed by two hovering helicopters to new hot spots.

The rains stopped in early April, but it’s as dry as October. The fire season doesn’t usually begin until summer has begun to go out in a blaze of glory by October. In 2007 the fires were very close to us in October. In 2003 they burned parts of Scripps Ranch to 2 blocks from J&K’s house in November. To think that the fire season started in May is, let’s say, worrisome.

Today my garden may be the best metaphor for the lost paradise Milton describes. Today is the third day the temps reached triple digits. It’s 98 in my back yard right now, and I’m typing this before noon. There’s a deceptive Santa Ana wind blowing out of the scorching deserts, already strewn with the rusty wreckage of the lovely Spring wildflowers that lived and died so quickly a mere few weeks ago. K was beset with hay fever all day, and they say it’s worse in the Inland Empire. The hot wind is the opposite of a cool breeze: it sucks the moisture right out of your face, like a dry kiss with the breath of hell, and assaults you with pollen from a million short-lived species east of us who have already turned to dust.

1 comment:

Esther Montgomery said...

This really is a most astonishing and dramtic posting.

- Especially when I am reading it within the green-ness of rural Dorset (England).

But we are experiencing a parallel change in climate and in our flora and fauna. (Though we are fortunate not to have fires like the ones you describe.)

When I first saw Egrets near where I live, I got really excited. I'd only ever seen them before in nature films. They seemed very exotic.

Nowadays, I find the sight of new creatures and new plants is tinged with anxiety - for the ones we are familiar with are moving northwards too (but this time, it means away from us).

Esther Montgomery

P.S. Found you through Blotanical