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