Sunday, November 22, 2009

Tastes in November

“I thought I had an appetite for destruction. Turns out all I wanted was a club sandwich.
Homer Simpson

I’m mostly inside these days, my obsession with the doll house once again activated by the cooler weather. I managed to get lights into the wisteria chandelier I’m making.

The purple beads themselves were acquired years ago - woven into a bonsai-sized tree with a twisted gold wire stem that looked pretty tacky. I got it at a festival in Pomona, and knew I was going to deconstruct the tree and use the branches for the chandelier. I wound several strings of white lights around the branches with floral tape. Here’s the first floor. Notice the inlay in the floor of the dining room at rear beneath the wisteria arch.

It’s November but it’s still summer here. This is the time of year when I usually decide there is no such thing as winter and I can garden comfortably year-round. Then, it gets cold and rainy and stays that way until March. It does cool down enough in the evenings that we've already had a fire and heard the furnace kick on in the early morning hours.

When I did get outside, I planted some recent acquisitions – this being the time of year to plant natives and drought-tolerant plants. In deadheading and cleaning up, I ended up with enough cut things to make a lovely arrangement at the side of the pond (below). I put the copper canyon daisy and my tiny pomegranate tree that was a volunteer in the Veggie Garden.

I got a ton of starts at the nursery yesterday for the Veggie Garden: snow peas, red cabbage, yellow cauliflower, more broccoli. I have to buy beet seeds, but found some golden ones to plant next to the red. Got some asparagus in six-pack starts, deciding against buying the bare root ones. We need things in the veggie garden that will last more than one season, so why not make room for the asparagus and see what they do, even if it takes them a few years to get going.

I found some lovely red lettuce and some spinach. We have some radicchio in the ground, but the outer leaves taste bitter and I’m not ready to pull out the entire plant to eat the heart until I get something to replace it – hence the lettuce and spinach. Spinach is my classic example of how something that tastes lovely raw in a salad (especially with bacon and a dressing made from bacon grease and cream curdled in the microwave and tossed warm). You can wilt it and it’s still edible, but if you cook it and eat your spinach like Popeye did, it gives you that squishy feeling when you swallow that my sister K used to say about eating canned peas: “It makes my head wiggle”. That was when she was a kid. She probably doesn’t say that these days.

I also got some shallots, and chard, but passed on the collard greens. I’ll only grow what I like to eat and cooking greens seems somehow sacrilegious. While I’ll stoop to growing chard, it seems to be taking things too far to cook collard greens or kale. Once, I went to a KFC in the hood in Oakland and they had a side called “mean greens” which sounded more appetizing than their international orange mac and cheesoid product.

The greens turned out to be cooked collard greens with some nasty hot sauce. It was like the cook decided if you were going to eat something with a texture like cardboard only slimy, you might as well spice it up with enough Tabasco sauce and salt to preserve an Egyptian mummy. Why not just eat boiled cardboard seasoned with ground up mummy powder? I’d rather eat grass: which I actually do every morning when I juice some wheat grass and drink a shot. Tastes awful but goes down quicker than Homer Simpson can eat a club sandwich.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Winding Safe to Sea

“We are not sure of sorrow,
And joy was never sure:
To-day will die to-morrow;
Time stoops to no man’s lure;
And love, grown faint and fretful,
With lips but half regretful
Signs, and with eyes forgetful
Weeps that no loves endure,

“From too much love of living,
From hope and fear set free,
We thank with brief thanksgiving
Whatever gods may be
That no life lives forever;
That dead men rise up never;
That even the weariest river
Winds somewhere safe to sea.”
- Homer, The Odyssey

I can see my mom on the resting on the couch one autumn afternoon like today when she was dying of cancer and I went to stay a few days to say goodbye. Dad asked her what she was doing and she replied: I’m fucking dying over here.

I wasn’t there when Mom finally died. One year later, I went to visit Dad to be with him on the anniversary of Mom’s death. Thus, I was there when Dad died, suddenly and without time to for either of us to be afraid. From hope and fear set free.

All these years later, there are few tears left to cry, and even thinking of them brings only a gentle tap of sorrow, like the velvet feet of my cat walking over me and waking me early this morning. There are few words left to say either, about how wonderful they both were and how idyllic our childhood home was.

Time dilutes sorrow. As loss recedes into the past, it slowly becomes buried beneath the present, like M-in-M’s back garden now covered in fallen leaves. But somehow, the memories remain – most of them are good, and many are profane.

No life lives forever, but I still miss you, Mom and Dad.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Monday, November 09, 2009

Don't Disappear

Don't disappear.... By disappearing from me,
you will disappear from yourself,
betraying your own self forever,
and that will be the basest dishonesty.

Don't disappear.... To disappear is so easy.
It's impossible to resurrect one another.
Death drags down too deep.
Death even for a moment is too long.

Don't disappear.... Give me your palm.
I am written on it-this I believe.
What makes one's last love terrible
is that it is not love, but fear of loss.

Poem:Don't Disappear, Yvegeny Yevtushenko, 1987, Translated by Antonina W. Bouis, Albert C. Todd and Yevgeny Yevtushenko
Pictures: my mums, transformed into gold by the late November afternoon sun

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Guest Update from the Midwest

Just a quick post to illustrate the typically indecisive weather in SE Michigan this fall. The glowing maples show the height of their color on Nov. 1, and our increasingly frequent frosty nights have elicited a growing redness in the leaves of the dwarf azalea in the second photo. But daytime temperatures have also gotten up to 70 degrees this month, which has the bulbs confused. Beneath the azalea, note the tender, spring-green tips of a sure-to-be-disappointed daffodil. Poor baby.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Vacation Part 1: North Carolina

“She’s a quiet clapper in the bell of the prairie,
a girl who likes to be alone…
“The stiller she is, the more everything moves
in the immense vocabulary of being.”
- Margaret Hasse, Being Still (2001)

In mid-October, I went to visit J & R for Autumn in Asheville NC. Actually, they live in Marshall NC about 40 minutes into the mountains from the airport.

Winding through late summer hills in their final blaze of green, now following, now leading the shallow, fat French Broad River. We make a final crossing, leaving a rear-view mirror-full of Marshall.

Winding up through back public and private roads, waving to every car we pass. A sharp turn from this road into a driveway in need of more gravel, through some trees and around a corner into a high meadow. Welcome to Shangri-La. Later, our host stands at the far end of the porch, from which you feel like a sentry on look-out at a medieval castle at the top of the peak with a view of all who approach.

The driveway climbs toward the west, then abruptly right-turns into an open high meadow of natives grasses and wildflowers – an approach that can be overseen from these windows.

The driveway curves up the meadow and circles around to the east of the house. Here is the view of the top of the driveway, looking mostly east from the dining room.

We walked a path in these woods in the mist. The pines are unusual in that they were cultivated by a prior settler in this place. In America, anything over 100 years is ancient. Echoes from the Civil War seem to echo faintly in still in the air at twilight.

Later we walked through the open high meadow and heard the lowing of the cows on a nearby peak. We picked wildflowers, and the last of the cutting flowers. The next night it froze and killed the cutting garden. I was there at the exact moment the seasons changed.

The view from the house-wide covered porch facing west is of ranges of mountains, in different shades of purple The views near and far in every direction are more priceless than the clichéd punch line of a master card commercial. I walked part of my brother and his wife thirty-acre spread over the next few days.

We visited a nearby botanical garden and saw a row of trees burst into red flames. I cannot remember their name, but their beauty was unforgettable.

We drove the Blue Ridge Parkway and back into Marshall and saw the sun set from the Grove Park Inn.

Once in the “Historic” Grove Park Inn, thoughts drifted to the past. The hotel is about 100 years old and filled with relics reminding us of our past.

Back home, walking the 30 acre spread with the proud farmer. Turning a path into hardwood, we stroll by a tumbledown barn made from chestnut wormwood.

We passed a crumbling outhouse with a crystal door knob, and a four-room house with peeling ancient wallpaper, a tree through the roof, and a lovely crumbling porch with an overgrown view.

A world-class organic vegetable garden maintained by a world-class professional horticulturist. You can imagine the delicious food because I was too busy eating it to take a picture before dinner.

Autumn seems to be the season to remember. We who cultivate our gardens store up the bounty of the harvest that is bred in our bones. We remember the long days of summer, storing memories to warm us through the long nights of winter.

This is the season of remembering. I felt close to many of those strangers, friends, family members who are no longer here to see Autumn. We talked about friends and families who have died, who have moved on, who we barely had time to know. I loved the autumn colors, smells and sounds. I even enjoyed the gaudy fluorescent leaves and brazen purple berry clusters of the beauty berry at Biltmore. It seems to childishly shout out that all autumn isn’t muted, sometimes it’s brazen and drinks a bottle of red wine each night before the fire.

We have come of middle age, those of us who met as children. We are our families’ middle generation. Our collective, beloved parents and grandparents are long gone, our children and their childrens’ futures seems impossibly far into the future. But this season, we try to build a bride of remembrance. There is an urge to pass along stories, legends, family jokes, and love.

I enjoyed autumn with close family members to recollect, remember, and, to revel in the memories. And to pass along some wisdom I heard the day I returned to parched San Diego. Something I’m sure my parents once said to me: Thoughts turn to things. Pick good ones.