Friday, June 26, 2009

Fish Saved by Gentle Persuasion

“You can do more with a kind word and a gun than with just a kind word.”
Al Capone

My perfect and adorable cat serves a function other than making it necessary to change a litter box weekly. She’s like the tiny rubber gasket on the lid of a pressure cooker. Holding her up to my ear while she purrs releases enough steam to prevent my head from exploding.

She also recently saved the life of a fish. She noticed something on the patio the other morning, and kept running between the windows facing the incident, being more vocal than usual. I finally took notice. Because I’m a half blind idiot, I thought it looked like a bird flapping around on the patio to get seed spilled from a bird feeder overhead. So, I got the camera to get a zoomed-in picture. Imagine my surprise when I saw this through the lens of the camera:

I shouted to my faithful spouse, who came running. We – and by we, I mean he – managed to get the koi back into the pond and save its life. This time of year the fish are making babies and that involves a bit of jumping around. I imagine he had quite a tale to tell about his escape from the pond.

We used to net the too-shallow pond to protect the fish from egrets and raccoons. One morning, the net had been torn and many of the more colorful fish were distributed throughout the yard, partly eaten. It was horrible and it made us decide not to replace fish or net. However, we later observed that there were survivors whose dark color confers some camouflage – like the guy in the picture. I moved some pond plants from the shallow end to the main pond to give them cover, where they have lurked in safely since the massacre.

The previous day, this fish-out-of-water event had been weirdly and dramatically foreshadowed.

I was hand watering in the sunny back yard, topping off the half whiskey barrel that houses a lotus plant and a few mosquito fish to eat larvae. When I refill the barrel, I generally use a heavy spray to aerate the water. I noticed a small movement on the grass adjacent to the water and realized I’d sprayed a small fish out and onto the ground. Before my girlie yuck reflex kicked in, I dropped the hose and heroically gathered the squirming thing in my hands, returning him or her to the water. For my trouble, the dropped hose turned on me viciously and soaked my shirt, which I thought was an unfair payback for my brave and selfless action, but once again I was reminded that life isn’t fair.

What any of this has to do with Al’s wise words about kind words isn’t clear, except that I have to respect his form of persuasion in the face of life’s unfairness. Perhaps my kitty’s annoying vocal attempts to persuade me to look outside were simply her version of Lassie - barking to alert Timmy’s mom that Timmy had fallen down the well.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Shrug it Off

“We should most of us agree, I think, that in the individual life of each of us there is much that, in the long run, one cannot do anything about. Death is a fact – one’s own death, the deaths of those one loves. There is much that makes one suffer which is irremediable: one struggles against it all the way, but there is an irremediable residue left. These are facts: they will remain facts as long as man remains man. This is part of the individual condition: call it tragic, comic or absurd, or, like some of the best and bravest of people, shrug it off.”
C. P. Snow, The Two Cultures: A Second Look (1963)

I was in the back room (hiding from pirates) the other day, when I came across the above quote that I’d dated April, 1989. I had been directed to this book by a wise librarian who said the (then) new publication of a book called “Innumeracy” (I think) was already written – citing CP Snow, who’s original book about the Scientific/Lay Person divide was written in the 1940s (I think).

Those plucky Brits, growing vegetables adjacent to their bomb shelters, grinning and bearing it through the Blitz. All I’ve ever withstood are the quotidian slings and dull arrows of outrageous fortune, like being woefully underpaid my entire professional career because I have tits. It’s a wonder I’m not bitter.

But Americans of a certain age have also made a passing acquaintance with the facts of life Snow recounts so depressingly. My Mom used to say “offer it up” when we complained of some hardship, some injustice at the hands of the sadistic nuns, or the occasional scraped knee. These days, my grown brothers, watching their small grandchildren stumble and fall, tend to say “Walk it off” or “Be a man,” (even to their granddaughters).

Watching the dragonfly make a monster shadow on the leaf where it rested, I was thinking of ranting about the idiots who deny global warming, who say Baby Jesus will take care of it, who drive big cars to compensate for their small anatomy. Then I thought I should be thinking about how we need to bridge that communication breakdown, not make it worse. However comma. I’m more inclined to want to marginalize the kooks by publicly laughing at their stupidity. I’m not sure I want to bridge any divide that separates me from the morons who say that, in the long run, one cannot do anything about the future. And not just because that’s a) redundant; and b) repetitious – the long run is the future.

Then, I thought I’d blog to speak out against the wave of domestic terrorism now sweeping our already violent country. Hypocrites who demonstrate their respect for life while condoning murder, deserve my contempt. I simply hate hate, and I simply won’t tolerate intolerance. If you outlaw abortions, outlaws will still have abortions. I know this from personal experience.

But then, I found something much more important to rant about: the San Diego County Fair is now underway at the Del Mar Fairgrounds. On local news the other night, the bubble-headed reporter at the fair asked a lady how she liked the newest midway treat: chocolate-covered bacon. The ginormous lady, who could have knocked Kirstie Alley over with a backhand slap, said it’s true she isn’t spending as much money at the Fair as last year, but she couldn’t resist the bacon. Antidote for bad economy? Chocolate covered bacon, she said.

Oscar Wilde said a gentleman is one who is never rude unintentionally. Accordingly, I think we can still claim to be a gentleman/gentlewoman and intentionally insult these fat rubes with guns and obese progeny. Should any insult so directed happen to inadvertently injure someone else’s feelings, I’ll hasten to apologize, instead of saying shrug it off you big baby.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Edumacation Paradox

“The most insidious influence on the young is not violence, drugs, tobacco, drink or sexual perversion, but our pursuit of the trivial and our tolerance of the third rate.”
- Eric Anderson

Went to a college gradumacation (sic) ceremony in the Inland Empire last weekend. Got the last hotel room in town – a “smoking” room, which meant that everything in the room smelled like an overflowing ashtray left out in the rain. The light in the bathroom, when turned off, flashed about every 5 seconds, like paparazzi flashbulbs going off all night behind the bathroom door.

The graduation ceremony was at 8:00 am, to make room for at least one subsequent ceremony. The early “Arts” graduation at least didn’t include Business majors, who are reputedly more rowdy, and their parents interrupt the ceremony with applause or bleating air horns. Vulgar barbarians.

The student valedictorian spoke about what she had learned in her average of 4.5 undergraduate years, including how to “pound shots of Jagermeister” which was pretty close to the top of her uninspiring list. The official speaker was a former chancellor who has an appointed position in the current presidential administration, somewhere in the range of the Assistant Undersecretary of Solid Waste at the Environmental Protection Agency. Inspiring in its own way I suppose.

I observed a man on a cell phone (everybody has cell phones, and everybody scoffs at the suggestion that we turn them off for the ceremony). He’s standing a row or two ahead of my seat waiting for the ceremony to begin. He’s trying to explain to the person on the other end how to locate him. He points over my head at the building behind us, “I’m here next to Pierce Hall” as if the caller could see where he was pointing. So you see why HE wasn’t in the graduating class.

Behind us, a group of three guys sat and mused about how they wished they’d snuck in an air horn to hoot when their buddy walked up to get his handshake. He wasn’t kidding about the sneaking in part. They searched ladies handbags before letting us enter the carefully plastic-fenced and guarded perimeter. The fence was not enough to stop Tech Support Guy with COPD from breaching as he located a shortcut he was able to negotiate despite having to stop several times to catch his breath. Not sure how said fence would protect the audience from a terrorist attack…

Apparently, a few years ago a disgruntled senior phoned in a bomb threat to avoid having his parents find out he wasn’t cleared to graduate because he’d failed a final course. Although he succeeded in having the graduation ceremony cancelled, his very act demonstrated the kind of maturity and decision-making skills he clearly didn’t master during his undergraduate period. During our ceremony, a suit in reflective aviator sunglasses sat facing backward at the head of each row: surveying the restless crowd for any sign of suspicious activity. There was a bulge in the suit jacket of the guy at the head of the row we sat near. I hope his concealed weapon was pepper spray can and not a loaded gun, but perhaps it didn’t matter, since no terrorist threat materialized.

Our graduates each received a PhD in Anthropology, making them a pair of docs. This, as I understand it, entitles them to a 10% discount at all Anthropology stores, something the clerk in the local mall store didn’t get, alas. One graduate proceeds to law school in the fall. The other will probably work at Starbucks: but at least the doctorate may be enough to score a starting position as shift supervisor.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Apocalypse Not Yet

“I bear a weight of terrors, and dark hosts
Of phantoms haunt my steps and seem to lead.
I walk, compelled, behind these beckoning ghosts
Down sliding roads and under skies that bleed…

“Far from your kind, outlawed and reprobate,
Go, prowl like wolves through desert worlds apart!
Disordered souls, fashion your own dark fate,
And flee the god you carry in your heart.”

— Aldous Huxley, The Cicadas and Other Poems (1929)

Now it’s all well and good to subscribe to the ‘whatever will be will be’ school. But there’s your benign indifference of heaven, and then there’s your bleeding skies.

Time is the blindness of justice, the Scythe that harvests us all after our season. Time is the clock that started running when Eve tossed the apple core on the Path and God stepped on it.*

We’re all here such a short time, so sad. Coyotes prowl my front yard as the fire season looms. Our fate is to die. That whole thing about Paradise is a crutch to wave impotently at Death as he looms above us in the bed each night.

And yet, we have the saving grace of joy. We have the consolation of being able to laugh to keep from crying. What I love about this otherwise bleak vision of judgment day is the hope in the final line. Huxley spells god without the big G.

We who have all the time in the world have no fear of Time. We each carry the light in our own hearts that can shine on us while we’re alive in the world. I build my own garden in the world. The first picture above is the view outside my back door in September, 2004. The second picture is that view today.

*This lovely metaphor is from Philip Booth, “Time Was the Apple Adam Ate”.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

A Jester’s Garden

"...Earth gets its prize for what Earth gives us;
The beggar is taxed for a corner to die in,
The priest hath his fee who comes and shrives us,
We bargain for the graves we lie in;

At the devil's booth are all things sold,
Each ounce of dross costs its ounce of gold;
For a cap and bells our lives we pay,
Bubbles we buy with a whole soul's tasking;

'Tis heaven alone that is given away,
'Tis only God may be had for the asking;
No price is set on the lavish summer;
June may be had by the poorest comer..."

- James Russel Lowell, “The Vision of Sir Launfal”

Ahhh, June. Beloved Cliché Season. Grist for every poor poet’s fondest seasonal metaphors. Who am I to consider myself cliché-immune?

My three June wishes?
1. I would like to have an original thought in or about my garden.
2. I would like to have an epiphany or otherwise achieve self-realization in my garden.
3. I would like to leave the world a better place.
4. Two more wishes, please?
5. Sit perfectly still and meditate in my garden.
6. Negotiate a bargain for the grave I will lie in.

…. Although, the final wish sorta reveals the existential capitalism of my soul, eh? I don’t think Marx would spin in his grave if I defined “value” as some quantity other than legal tender. Like self actualization or inspiration. Perhaps I would value my garden more if it had a coherent design; if it was more sublime than cute, more conducive to thought than clever jokes or cliches.

Probably not. The value of my garden is more to be seen inside my head than inside my garden. Not only is it’s worth invisible to others, it is impossible to describe in words. If I tried using only words to explain my garden’s worth, I’d at least have to add different colors to different words, and special fonts to indicate mood, and italics to indicate slightly crooked thoughts – like Emily Dickinson said about telling the truth, but telling it slant. Come to think of it, I would need to include sounds of nature, sounds of my latest iPod playlist, maybe even sounds audible only inside my head. So I’d need all my senses to even attempt to describe the value of my garden, and even then it would probably involve more clichés than an attempt to describe a one-legged man in an ass-kicking contest.

I don’t have to spend my life, or sell my soul, or steal a solitary place to die in like a wild animal. I’ve got my garden to grow old in, and to tally my regrets before I die. First regret: the transience of Youth. You made me cry, when you said goodbye. Ain’t that a shame?

And yet. Heaven is free, and so is my garden. My cap and bells cost me nothing except a propensity to use lame metaphors in lieu of original ideas.

Besides, I don’t have to leave the world better than it was when I arrived. I only have to, on balance, do more good than harm while I’m here. Hence, the garden and its intrinsic value to me. June may be had by the poorest customer for free. It’s priceless.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Garden or Crime Scene?

Sometimes a garden isn’t so much as retreat as it is an attack.
- Ian Finley Hamilton

I could post crime scene photos taken in my vegetable garden of the before/after veggies I’ve seen cut down in their prime. Beans mostly, but eggplant and even peppers and tomatoes. Yesterday, I found an optimistic list of the warm season veggies I proposed to plant in the public veggie garden. Heirloom tomatoes, peppers, some interesting grain and ornamentals like giant cardoon. Why bother? They’re gone, all gone. I could post a graphic depiction of the timeless battle: Una Chicka vs. Hostile World. But again, why bother? If a garden is supposed to be a peaceful refuge from the slings and arrows of outrageous animal fortune, than what the fuck? Like Tech Support guy is wont to say: it’s a wonder I’m not bitter.

Meanwhile, back at the real world, things are pretty wacky. Dick Cheney blamed Richard Clark for not catching the whole 911 thing. The man behind the curtain we were supposed to pay no attention to for the last administration is now ubiquitous, not to mention full of shit. No (undue) disrespect.

Meanwhile, back inside the house, I’m listening to Eddie Vedder saying if you have more than you need, you need more space. That wisdom consoles me. Ahhh, entitled aging boomers, protected from the recession by our defined benefit health care and pensions. Scolding our grown children for their failures in raising our frightened, over-protected and under-educated grandchildren. Forget that I was the generation that invented the term “latch-key child” (or Douglas Copeland, one or the other). Why should I bother to clean out the carport or the back room when I can always rent a personal storage pod to stash my overflowing stuff. For that matter, as long as I can get more stuff, I can always replant my veggies.

Social commentary is generally sort of a sideline to my gardening blog. And although I’m usually sweet as a spoonful of honey on a warm Spring morning, I sometimes find myself ranting about the insult du jour. Some days, it’s just to hard to ignore what’s happening outside the gate as I cower inside my garden, looking for some place to bury my treasures against the coming rough days.

So going outside to hand water this afternoon was equal parts of genuine peace slash contentment, and impotent rage at the essential cruelty of an uncaring universe. Good thing I don’t have a job.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Music to Garden By in Times of Drought: Interview with a Terrible Drought Gardener

“Mind and experience are like water and earth co-operating—neither of which alone can bring forth a flower.”
Jon Wortabet, Arabian Wisdom, [1913]

Kent Brokman: What are you listening to these days as you garden?

Terrible Drought Gardener: That’s a long story, Kent. Recently, my iPod screen got wet in my apron pocket, as I bent over a tub of water lilies to trim some mums, and wicked up enough water to burn out the screen. I did not know this because the pod kept on playing, not that it probably would have mattered. The result is that I now can listen to it but without knowing what play list or how music was selected. I just turn it on and mess with the controls until music starts. Buck Owens after Martin Denny? Existential! After two swings and two misses at getting the Apple so-called “genius” people to locate my on-line appointment, I was considering whether or not to try to baptize it (the pod, not the geniuses) again in the hope that it would be born again. Cooler and more secular heads prevailed.

KB: So, what’s this we hear from San Diego County Water Authority about a Stage Two Drought Alert?

TDG: Gardening in a stage two drought alert is a challenge for the expert and careful gardener. So, I’m sure you can imagine what a pain it is to a terrible gardener like me. I worry whether I will get to a point where I have to triage and sacrifice some bushes in their second year of settling in, still fitting in a one gallon pot size. Will some of them have to die, like say, the stupidly impulsive miniature weeping cherry tree at the left of the lantern in the above pic, or the juvenile Alphonse Karr bamboo way out back? Will the slow and steady baby’s tears in the tsukubai garden (above) shrivel before the creeping thyme can spread to shelter them and gradually replace them? I have no lawn left to kill, no martyr to the cause of having a 1.5 Million population in a region where there’s enough local water to support 100,000. Between the gophers and the rabbits, the thirsty coyotes and the drought, this may not be an ideal summer to garden.

KB: Excuse me, coyotes?

TDG: Yep. Coyotes strolling through the front yard at midday. Lean and parched looking themselves, I’m considering luring them into my backyard to feast on the rabbits and gophers. The water features may draw them naturally, especially now that the old dog is barred from my yard since I got tired of picking up his poop. Come for the water, stay for the rabbits and gophers. The damn gophers have now invaded a rocky section of the garden at the shallow end of the big pond where I moved my precious bearded Iris, thinking the rocks would deter burrowing animals. BTW Kent, my water features are ok as long as they aren’t spraying water into the air. I’ve bypassed the waterfall, and the small “old pond” filtration system (behind the big rock in the rear of above pic, at the end of the brick pathway) has managed to eliminate the trickle of water there. That leaves only the tsukubai water(pictured above), which is a small flow that drops barely 4 inches into the black stone bucket.

KB: Good luck, TDG. And may the drought bring new lessons and wisdom about water and the cooperating earth.