Wednesday, December 29, 2010
Reprieve the tottering mansion from its fall!
Obscure it sinks, nor shall it more impart
An hour's importance to the poor man's heart."
- Oliver Goldsmith, Ill Fares the Land
Pictured at left is a glowing white mansion of a spiderweb, now long erased by the rain. This is the contemplative time of year.
Even the birds – mostly pale pink-hued house finches - gather around the big bird feeder for their morning meeting are going about their business quietly. The wind gusts restlessly and the rain beats softly on the roof. The garden was washed clean in last week’s rain, and today's rain is just enough to waken the fresh smells. The air is perfumed by the ubiquitous eucalyptus trees, and carries just the faintest lighter note of the narcissus flowers.
The narcissus bulbs – potted, brought indoors, and forced - rewarded the gardener’s faith and bloomed for solstice. They were banished to the patio when they beame tired and began to nod their heads. Today, ragged and way past their prime, they sit reprivingly just outside the door, smugly drinking the fresh rain and reminding me that they'll be back. As I stand on the covered patio, I catch heir fragrance - just right and not as overpowering as it was its full glory indoors - where they imparted an imposing and melancholy fragrance reminiscent of an old overly ornate, overheated funeral home.
Even the dying flowers seem to be reproving me smugly. They are far from dead. Instead of mourning the lost mansions of their prime, they are considering their accomplishments this year with satisfaction. They turn their backs on the gardener; they carry away stores of energy into their unknown future.
Meanwhile back inside, the season of mail order catalog abundance is over. The seed catalog season is now well underway. Gardening catalogs tantalize the gardener daily with their colorful pictures promising impossible fruits and flowers. And succulent vegetables bursting with tastes.
Outside my window rain falls promising nourishment to my garden and enabling drought-stressed inhabitants to stretch and recover strength. Inside, paging through these seed catalogs cozy and dry, my gardening ambitions are stoked; and it’s easy to forget I live in a desert where vines of sweet, fat pumpkins and heirloom tomatoes have to struggle to survive. Indoors and out, we all remember in our own ways this the price we pay for living in paradise.
As this picture shows, I learned much on Roadtrip 2010, even from bathroom graffiti. This puts me in the perfect mood for the perfect day at the rainy end of a good year. A meditation about how even the most glorious gardens provide only transitory splendors, eventually no longer experienced, only remembered; inevitably forgotten. Like the gardens we cultivate, we all end up as stories, remembered for a while and then fading like the narcissus. This year’s story has been hard, but it has been a very good one.
Thursday, December 16, 2010
While we forget, and are
Forgotten like a star
That shoots and is gone.
On this earth ‘tis sure
We men have not made
Anything that doth fade
So soon, so long endure.
- Edward Thomas, “Roads”, The Ickneid Way
We did see some monumentally disturbing signs of the times on our recent roadtrip. Here's a taste:
What about dinosaurs? BOLO: Dinosaurs!
"It is a common and just Observation, that when the Meaning of any thing is dubious, one can no way better judge of the true Intent of it, than by considering who is the Author, what is his Character in general, and his Disposition in particular."
We may have discovered an unknown species of dinosaur on the roadtrip.
Monday, December 06, 2010
I got everyone ink cartridges for their printers for Xmas, from a fancy mail order place somewhere overseas. Despite my prayers and the heavenly manifestation of a sacred ball of light in the television, I’m beginning to worry that they will not be delivered in time.
By way apology in advance for not having Xmas presents for all my dear friends and family, I offer this tip on some cheap land for sale in Montana. Apparently you can hunt deer and horses as well as dinosaurs on this land, so, enough said.
Saturday, December 04, 2010
The Great Boston molasses flood of 1919.
Yes, there is an approved form for that.
We use white rabbit hair that is dyed pink.
Genius lives on. All else is merely transitory.
The report called it an unidentified particulate.
We get that one all the time. The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology has a network of pollen counters across the United States. Each counter works under the direction of an AAAAI member and must first pass a certification course provided through the AAAAI.
I would prefer not to.
It was like that when I got here.
Yes: vegetarians can eat animal crackers.
That would be Jacques Chirac.
These people are beyond science, logic and reason. They have strangled the fuzzy bunny of reason, backed over it with their under-inflated off-road tires of ignorance, popped it into reverse, and driven over reason’s flattened bloody corpse.
Although this poison is colorless and tasteless, the presence of arsenic has been detectable since the Marsh test was developed in 1836. So, no.
Once, if my memory serves me well, my life was a banquet where every heart revealed itself, where every wine flowed.
Thursday, December 02, 2010
All day I will love that remote country.
At times I will climb the peak of its lonely mountain
To stay and whistle until the sky grows cold."
- W. S. Merwin
I was over-thinking the things I learned on the road. I learned that a bare flat horizon of badlands feels much lonelier than mountains and places where the sky is very busy. I was trying to figure out why I like mountains better than open prairies. Then I remembered. I’m not a rugged cowgirl or mamma bear or other stoic frontier type. I’m a city girl who is trying to learn how to grow tomatoes.
The neat thing about the trip was that conversation was eclectic, thought-provoking and intermittent. Sometimes, we’d ride in silence for an hour. Or sometimes we’d have shorthand conversations: Need coffee? Pee alert level yellow! Look a squirrel! Mom! Stop wasting film on neon signs! (I have, in addition to low-battery anxiety, a need to take pictures of places. This often means taking pictures of signs. It was a road trip and we spent more time on the roads than doing tourist stuff. And yes, my biggest regret was not stopping at the SPAM museum. Probably the last chance this lifetime...)
At one of the silent, contemplative times, my train of thought was brought to a screeching halt as I was once again amazed by the scenery. Instead of seeing the Rastafarian rat - who presumably is a poor speller, and who presumably lives beneath the red neon sign above - I saw this manifestation of a certain copyrighted mouse whose iconic presence was a big part of my childhood.
The Disneyfication of legends and nursery rhymes seems far away driving through America in late November. Yet, when I saw this apparition in the sky, I couldn’t help but feel safe. Sort of like the bat signal only different. Mickey calling me home to SoCal. I’m hoping my snakes feel safe here too, because I’m sticking around.
Wednesday, December 01, 2010
Tuesday, November 30, 2010
Never give all the heart, for love
Will hardly seem worth thinking of
To passionate women if it seem
Certain, and they never dream
That it fades out from kiss to kiss;
For everything that's lovely is
But a brief, dreamy, kind delight.
O never give the heart outright,
For they, for all smooth lips can say,
Have given their hearts up to the play.
And who could play it well enough
If deaf and dumb and blind with love?
He that made this knows all the cost,
For he gave all his heart and lost.
Monday, November 29, 2010
In nature's simplest charms at first arrayed;
But verging to decline, its splendours rise,
Its vistas strike, its palaces surprise;"
- Oliver Goldsmith, A Deserted Village
What I learned on my recent 3-week roadtrip is something I haven’t worked through. I didn’t keep a daily journal, so I already have some trouble remembering when I saw some strange never-visited cities in the vast American heartland - Billings Montana, Rochester Minnesota, Albert Lea South Dakota; Coeur D’Alene Idaho, Missoula Montana. I have millions of pictures of the sights I saw. Putting into words the things I learned will take a while, and might be facilitated by forgetting some details.
But meanwhile, the single most important thing I learned is that you CAN come home again – just don’t expect it to look like the land you called home as you grew up. After living in this place for most of my life, I think I have finally come home.
I have been reading Tony Judt’s “Ill Fares the Land” which got me searching for the Oliver Goldsmith poem A Deserted Village quoted in Judt’s title, and in the title of this post. Which got me thinking about what I saw and did on our roadtrip home from Atlanta to San Diego via the northern cross country highways. What we ever did before mapquest navigation, urbanspoon, radar weather and other magical apps like Talking Carl, not to mention the legendary Nascar app and the mythical app to find Christian churches, I will never know. Well, I did know once, but can’t remember. Nor can I imagine travel without my iphone. We checked in via the Book of Faces and this will help me to reconstruct our trip and match cities to pictures. Of course J (my travelling companion) took pictures with an iphone and thus has them ready to post to Flikr complete with tags showing date and location of picture.
But to get back to the blogging of RoadTrip2010: Two Californians Venture Across the Badlands in November. What were we thinking? I can attest however, that we are both outspoken, and posses (arguably intermittently vacant) minds, and that we laughed loudly.
As I read The Deserted Village, I saw a number of parallels between our road trip and the sights awaiting native of fictional Auburn who returns to his blissful childhood and finds it lost. Disclaimer: I have had my poetic license revoked for failure to distinguish cliché from wisdom, intentional torture of metaphors, and negligent spelling and grammatical fauxes pas. Nevertheless, I intend to post about the Roadtrip for a while as I digest the things to be remembered, forget the things to be forgotten, and try to blog what I might have learned and/or lost.
Saturday, November 13, 2010
The trip is still an adventure. I can't figure out how to upload pictures from my phone. Or I would post a bleakly beautiful view of an open pearls and snow falling sideways.
Tuesday, November 02, 2010
This last pain for the damned the Fathers found:
"They knew the bliss with which they were not crowned."
Such, but on earth, let me foretell,
Is all, of heaven or of hell.
"Man, as the prying housemaid of the soul,
May know her happiness by eye to hole;
He's safe; the key is lost; he knows
Door will not open, nor hole close.
"What is conceivable can happen too,"
Said Wittgenstein, who had not dreamt of you;
But wisely; if we worked it long
We should forget where it was wrong.
Those thorns are crowns which, woven into knots,
Crackle under and soon boil fool's pots;
And no man's watching, wise and long,
Would ever stare them into song.
Thorns burn to a consistent ash, like man;
A splendid cleanser for the frying-pan:
And those who leap from pan to fire
Should this brave opposite admire.
All those large dreams by which men long live well
Are magic-lanterned on the smoke of hell;
This then is real, I have implied,
A painted, small, transparent slide.
These the inventive can hand-paint at leisure,
Or most emporia would stock our measure;
And feasting in their dappled shade
We should forget how they were made.
Feign then what's by a decent tact believed,
And act that state is only so conceived,
And build an edifice of form
For house where phantoms may keep warm.
Imagine, then, by miracle, with me,
(Ambiguous gifts, as what gods give must be)
What could not possibly be there,
And learn a style from a despair.
Monday, October 25, 2010
- Homer Simpson
I’m not inclined to the dramatic today. Which is just as well, because nobody has called me Sir/M’am lately. Nor have I been making public spectacles of myself. Not that I remember, anyway. Which might be a clue, but I’ve also been undergoing a bout of cluelessness lately. Anyway, I think I am coming around.
Rain helps. It seems to water my soul after the long dry spell, with its promise of renewal. Rain is pattering down just enough outside to make me want to stay inside and make soup out of yesterday’s roast chicken. I could wax poetic about the rain and/or chicken soup, but I simply can’t compete with the eloquence of Homer Simpson, so you’ll just have to imagine the scene. Misty rain outside, and rich chicken broth inside.
While vegetable simmer in the broth, I clean the bird like my Mom used to do: two bowls, the carcass, a knife. She’d sit and pick the meat off the bones, carefully placing the unadulterated meat in one bowl, cut into bite sizes with the paring knife against her right thumb. The gristle, skin, and bones mostly went into the other bowl. The fun part was what became of the uncertain bits. Those would be popped into her mouth with the crispy skin. If you hung around, she’d pop a bit of chicken in your mouth too.
When Mom ate chicken, the bones would be left looking like they’d been out in the desert a month – they were so clean they were white. Mom died 16 years ago next month. That time of year, the first snow might be falling. I’m a long way from snow, but the gentle raindrops clinging to the pine trees look like snow if I squint.
So, I’ve got winter outdoors, and some very nostalgic smells inside. Which leaves me with a very healthy “mission accomplished” feeling this afternoon. And which leaves me to conclude with another bit of questionable wisdom from Homer: All my life I've had one dream, to achieve my many goals. What Homer said.
Friday, October 15, 2010
Robert Louis Stevens, An Autumn Effect
Today, it’s hard to miss the arrival of a new season. It is coming on strong, bringing grey skies and softer lighting that at first seems to make things look dull and thick compared to the recent of the bright lights and colors of summer.
For those familiar with the almost unbelievably bright colors of autumn in New England, the sparse autumn colors of southern California seem at first dull and miserable in October afternoon lights. The few deciduous trees in my yard, like the struggling purple ornamental plum and the liquid amber trees drop their leaves with little fanfare: they fade from an unenthusiastic yellow to quiet shades of brown, and then one morning they’re gone.
So it rained, and brought a week of cloudy skies and drizzle along with cooler nights, shorter days, and less sunshine. We are beginning the season of mixed blessings. In exchange for the gardener’s relief from hot dry weather, the rains offer not just a relief from the dry heat but protect the exhausted landscape from fires that the wind blowing west. The first heavy rains not only wash off the parched leaves and branches, they clean out the deadfall, particularly from the eucalyptus trees which tend to shed and peel bark beneath their branches so they end up sitting on top of small hills made from their discarded growth. After the first rain, our driveway is covered with leaves and bark that sheds like snakeskin.
But if you can welcome our gentle autumn with subtle almost monochrome colors, there is beauty waiting for those with the a gardener’s intelligence to see. The sky seems bigger than it did in summer when the living earth distracted my glance, and new somber shades of blue and grey are used to make thicker and more ominous-looking clouds. They hurry across the sky, flirting with sunshine in the chill winds.
Then there are the colors of the eucalyptus trees - there are 600-700 different species, native to Australia but naturalized in California for about a hundred years. The eucalyptus tree is not deciduous, instead continually growing and replacing leaves. Also called gum trees, their bark peels and drops and litters the surrounding area that they are often (mistakenly) presumed to be allopathic. They are messy however, particularly when the first rains are vigorous enough to pare dead growth from stem and trunk.
I fondly recall my seasons in the north east US with their pageantry and rich colors. But I now find nothing more reassuring as the gardening year winds down here than the still art of eucalyptus bark painted in the colors of the landscape and as understandable as Steven’ picture of autumn.
Saturday, October 09, 2010
Henry Major Tomlinson, An Autumn Morning
I wish I could write like this author. Tomlinson was a veteran of World War I who was coping not only with post-traumatic stress of a war to end all wars, he was still young enough to remember the world that existed before his generation turned into soldiers; the world that was gone forever by the time the survivors returned home. The story begins in the Autumn of 1918. The war is over, but “life is real, life is earnest”.
Here’s how it begins:
“SEPTEMBER 28, 1918. The way to my suburban station and the morning train admonishes me sadly with its stream of season-ticket holders carrying dispatch-cases, and all of them anxious, their resolute pace makes it evident, for work. This morning two aeroplanes were over us in the blue, in mimic combat; they were, of course, getting into trim for the raid to-night, because the barometer is beautifully high and steady. But the people on their way to the 9.30 did not look up at the flight. Life is real, life is earnest. When I doubt that humanity knows what it is doing, I get comfort from watching our local brigadiers and Whitehall ladies on their way these tranquil Autumn mornings to give our planet another good shove towards the millennium. Progress, progress! I hear their feet overtaking me, brisk and resolute, as though a revelation had come to them overnight, and so now they know what to do, undiverted by any doubt…”
Walking on, he turns from the main road into a side street he last walked with his friend who never returned from war. It was “… a street which turns abruptly from my straight road to the station. It goes like a sudden resolution to get out of this daily hurry and excitement. It is a pre-war street. It is an ancient thoroughfare of ours, a rambling and unfrequented by-way. It is more than four years since it was a habit of mine to loiter through it, with a man with whom I shall do no more pleasant idling. We enjoyed its old and ruinous shops and its stalls, where all things could be bought at second-hand, excepting young doves, ferrets, and dogs. I saw it again this morning, and felt, somehow, that it was the first time I had noticed it since the world suddenly changed. Where had it been in the meantime? It was empty this morning, it was still, it was luminous. It might have been waiting, a place that was, for the return of what can never return. Its sunlight was different from the glare in the hurrying road to the station. It was the apparition of a light which has gone out…”
He sees a bookstore he used to visit with his friend. On impulse, he enters the store and sees the same old shopman who was always there. The shopman was pretty old school even before the war: “If you showed no real interest in what you proposed to buy he would refuse to sell it.”
Here is how the story ends:
“I came upon a copy of Walden, in its earliest Camelot dress (price sixpence), and remembered that one who was not there had once said he was looking for it in that edition. I turned to the last page and read: ‘Only that day dawns to which we are awake...’
"I reserved the book for him at once, though knowing I could not give it to him. But what is the good of cold reason? Are we awake in such dawns as we now witness? Or has there been no dawn yet because we are only restless in our sleep? It might be either way, and in such a perplexity reason cannot help us. I thought that perhaps I might now be stirring, on the point of actually rousing. There, in any case, was the evidence of that fugitive spark of the early summer of 1914 still imprisoned in its crystal, proof that the world had experienced a dawn or two. An entirely unreasonable serenity possessed me--perhaps because I was not fully roused--because of the indestructibility of those few voiceless hopes we cherish that seem as fugitive as the glint in the crystal ball, hopes without which our existence would have no meaning, for if we lost them we should know the universe was a witless jest, with nobody to laugh at it.
"'I want this book,' I said to the shopman.
"'I know,' he answered, without looking up. 'I've kept it for you.'"
Saturday, September 25, 2010
For several years now, I’ve been planning to install a shishi odoshi, or “deer scare” adjacent to the old pond where we had one many years ago. Here is the site before I began: the water feature is in the deep shade beneath the palm leaf, and behind the potman on his little chair.
The shishi odoshi has a large bamboo rocker arm closed on one side and open to a small stream of water at the other. The arm is then mounted so it pivots at the balance point. As the tube fills with water, it slowly overfills and tips; emptying the water and making a lovely sound as the bamboo strikes the rock. The sound of the hollow bamboo tube, knocking on a large rock every time the tube fills with water, pivots, and tips to empty is strangely peaceful. I doubt that it scares anybody, but unlike every other standing water feature in my yard, birds do not seem to drink from this new installation, so maybe it does scare them.
We got a new shishi odoshi several years ago at a local craft fair, but I finally got around to beginning the project to hook it up. The challenge isn’t plumbing so much as excavating, cleaning out the overgrown spot where ginger colonized in the shade of an old palm.
The site held several years of accumulated weeds and dirt, rocks, as well as black widow and other spiders. This is one of the few tasks that I will only undertake wearing good garden gloves. When moving stones and rocks, gloves are necessary to protect my hands from being cut, and to avoid encrusting the cuts with dirt, but more importantly to protect me from disturbed spiders as I evict them from their lairs.
The water drip is fed from a small submersible aquarium pump inside a completely contained reservoir that re-circulates the water – we have electricity nearby to power the pump. Because of inevitable leaks and drips, the entire arrangement must sit on top of the reservoir. This assures that water is lost only to evaporation and not to drips that don’t return water to the reservoir.
By the time I was done with the preparation, excavation and placement of the reservoir, I realized the black plastic storage box was too small to contain both ends of the shishi odoshi AND the drip-line of the sounding rock I had chosen. Since I really wanted to use the hollowed out hypertufa pot as the source of my mountain spring, I was forced to choose either the shishi odoshi or the hollowed out rock itself. I went with the rock, and Tech Support Guy drilled a hole in the bottom for the tube leading from the reservoir. He also drilled a handful of small holes in the lid of the plastic storage box/reservoir to allow the water to drain beneath the rocks and return to the reservoir.
I even took some of the plentiful moss from the ground beneath the big old pine tree, and smooshed it into some of the grooves in the tufa pot. I’d love to see the moss naturalize itself here. I have found that I get algae in the other tsukubai, and have to pour in a splash of Clorox in once in a while to keep it from looking greasy with algae. Since the tsukubai gets direct sun half the day, I think that may be the source of the algae problem. The new water feature is in full shade all day, so I’m hoping the moss will thrive and the algae won’t.
Later, I’ll try to install the shishi odoshi elsewhere in the garden, perhaps at a spot where it can be powered by a solar pump. But meanwhile, I now have an inviting cool spring bubbling qieetly over moss, near the place where the new stone table and benches will go, replacing the old decomposing stone table and benches - but that's another project.
Saturday, September 18, 2010
"Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of partiotism and exposing the country to danger."*
"Our government has kept us in a perpetual state of fear - kept us in a continuous stampede of patriotic fervor - with the cry of grave national emergency. Always there has been some terrible evil at home or some monstrous foreign power that was going to gobble us up if we did not blindly rally behind it." **
* Herman Goering
** Douglas MacArthur
Sunday, September 12, 2010
- Edgar Allen Poe, "Eleonora"
“My short-term memory is fine! What I may lack in attention span, I make up in…”
- A Pothead I have known
My lampshade pots are now in place, but many of the succulent cuttings dripping down the sides through holes in the top of the pots are not yet firmly rooted.
The grass in the top is a lovely but dangerously sharp striped variegated green and white grass. The transplant on the left got a major head start over the other because the grass in the right pot was previously planted in a place where it got less water. It should take off now.
The hanging man and woman, my potheads, each have a different grass. The coolest thing about the potheads is that when watered, the man actually cries since there are holes in the pot where his eyes were carved.
I’m thinking of calling them Eleanora and Benny. I name many of the inanimate objects in my yard. This tradition began with Simone, the 2 foot long rubber lizard/alligator that once served as J’s burglar alarm and who now lives on the rocks of the old waterfall, overlooking all the nighttime predators that have decimated my koi pond.
The best thing of all about this arrangement by the front sidewalk is that one of the few surviving drip systems waters them daily, making them lovely but pretty ignorable. The biggest potential problem is that the pots on the ground, purchased for < $20 at a lamp store are so dangerously thin and delicate; they can be tipped over by a heartfelt sigh of admiration within two feet. Accordingly, they are each staked from behind with pieces of tomato cage that, I hope, will keep them upright in anything short of a stampede of raging buffalo.
Tuesday, September 07, 2010
Sahih al-Bukhari (صحيح البخاري)
We just finished a lovely weeklong visit with family. Keeping good relations with relations is indeed better than fasting and prayer, but then again, even my appointment tomorrow for a root canal beats fasting and prayer in my book. What’s even better is catching up in ongoing casual conversations, eating good food, drinking good beer, making vineyard peach and raspberry jam with cardamom, and watching old episodes of Max Headroom.
Now it’s back to frugal eating and drinking, paying bills, and of course, to blogging. Today I’m making stock using some nasty looking soup bones and left-over carrots and other miscellaneous vegetables from the farmer’s market. Tonight we’ll have the last two gorgeous artichokes. Later this week, I’ll be making a veal stew using today’s stock.
Now, it’s also back to the interrupted yard project: removing ubiquitous Bermuda grass from the “dry” riverbed where the pond overflow drains if the pond is over-filled. I attain a certain Zen-like peace sitting on my rolling wagon seat and lifting baseball-sized river rocks, yanking out grass and debris, and then putting down a new layer of the hardware cloth that’s supposed to keep the grass from growing amid the rocks.
Summer may be over and school may be back in session, but there’s still plenty of mild weather ahead for me to finish the yard projects before the days become too short and chilly to entice me outdoors.