Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Not-So-Great Heron

"You would know the heron if you saw it... A queer tall white bird with soft feathers and long thin legs."
- Sarah Orne Jewett, A White Heron

What’s so great about these ginormous birds? They’re “protected” from predators: humans aren’t allowed to hunt them. Yet they are allowed to use my fishpond as an all you can eat buffed. Now I ask you, is this fair?

The bird in this picture was totally not worried when Tech Support Guy walked to the other side of the pond to take this picture. He (the bird) is taller than I am, although I outweigh him by a few pounds. As you approach his position, he stares you in the eye long enough to communicate that he can come and go whenever he wants and there’s nothing you can do about it. Then he shrugs his wings and lifts like an elevator to the top of the nearby roof, where he remains sneering down at you for a few moments before flying away, as if to say that you are literally beneath his notice. I submit that giving wildlife a protected status ends up turning them into spoiled snobs.

The heron couldn’t be bothered fishing for the small mosquito eaters that populate the pond. The few surviving koi/goldfish are all almost black. Anything that flashes any color is soon dispatched by the heron during the early morning and twilight hours, or by the raccoons et. al. who hunt at night. So our pond is a living demonstration in genetic selection to adapt to the prevailing conditions.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Here I Am

“When you can’t go any further, turn around, and you’re there.” Kermit T. Frog

The little ceramic bird now lives atop the old stone and tile table. Last year, I stuck a stem of rosemary in the hole in the center. Once open to allow for placement of an umbrella, the center hole has long since become clogged with dirt. Rosemary is one tough customer.

Speaking of tough customers, Tech Support Guy and I finally fixed the pond filtration that was plugged up, and the pond is once more cycling through the filter. The goop that came out of the clogged return pipe – part fish poo and part decomposing plant matter – compares to compost tea the way my Dad’s eggnog (equal parts Southern Comfort and store-bought eggnog) compares to store-bought eggnog.

TSG reached over and over again into the bucket sized pool to grab hands full of solid matter that were clogging the return pipe at the bottom of the bucket. He dumped the black stinky ooze into a five gallon bucket that I then carried around and dumped on various plants and pots. This routine was repeated until the force of the gravity-assisted water pushed the rest of the muck out of the back end of the clogged pipe. We then moved to that end of the no-longer-clogged pipe and back-flushed the filter. What came out of that into my bucket was more watery, but blacker and nastier.

Of course there was splashing involved, and spilling, and perhaps just a bit of horseplay. The result was that at the end of the day, we both exuded an aroma that matched the black gunk splashed onto our arms, faces and clothes. But we were so delighted with our success that we sat on the patio, waiting for the Advil to kick in, and admiring the motion of the pond, now cycling through the uv lights that will, within the week, eliminate the algae covering the back (shallow) end of the pond behind the turtle rock in this picture. We felt like it must have felt to make mud pies and get dirty in a playground: tired, filthy, and jubilantly admiring our accomplishments.

I won’t detail how exhausted we were, and how much longer it took us to accomplish this task than it did in the old days. And of course, there's more to do. The grassy water plant that is taking over the foreground of the pond has to be cut way back. I should get the water lily pots out and divide the bulbs, or corms or whatever, but that’s for another day – a day in which I will don the fashionable fisherman’s waders – a set of rubber boots that turn into overalls, completely enclosing me up to my chest and enabling me to enter the shallow but nasty pond.

But for now, I’m tired, dirty, stinky, and content. And I’m there.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Going, Going, Gone.

With a painful irony, I realize that even memories are not forever.

But he had hardly felt the absurdity of those things, on the one hand, and the necessity of those others, on the other (for it is rare that the feeling of absurdity is not followed by the feeling of necessity), when he felt the absurdity of those things of which he had just felt the necessity (for it is rare that the feeling of necessity is not followed by the feeling of absurdity).
- Samuel Beckett, Watt (1943)

When friends part, the experience can be joyous, or sorrowful, or bittersweet. Fondness and sadness mix in measure proportional to the closeness of the bond, and to the time and the distance apart. When family departs, it’s mostly sadness that descends, at least on me. Being parted from a particular woman in my family has pushed me down the old familiar spiral water slide of self-pity, to splash feet first into the muddy pool of despair. Ok, you may ask, isn’t that metaphor a little over-the-top? Perhaps, I reply, but doesn’t the gardener languish in winter – separated from her garden? And plus, I’ve been here before, and know we all not only survive separation, we grow.

Separating from loved ones - even as the rich dark chocolate of love may smolder into the bitter ashes of extreme distaste - is more painful still. My fragile mental equilibrium teeters and I get indigestion and acid reflux. Yuck. I once went to a female holistic doctor and homeopath. She said that all physical symptoms have mental counterparts, if not direct causes. What more proof does one need to know that heartburn comes from a bruised heart? My heart feels hot and fussy, unsettled and anxious. It would not surprise me to learn that those I am separated from suffer a collectively similar fate. But that which doesn’t kill us just makes us madder, and also I’m told, wiser. I assume the ex-vegetarian now consuming MREish cooking has experienced some similar symptoms.

Growth happens while we’re apart, almost like the exuberant growth in my backyard drenched by recent rains. Although I never went to summer camp as a child, I am familiar with the miraculous growth a child can achieve in a few short weeks away from home. Not just in inches, but in the look in their eyes - those of a person whose heart has also grown stronger. We grow up, we grow apart, we grow old. Just like a garden. Or, as Mom used to say with more clarity, “It’s the frickin’ cycle of frickin’ life.”

And we continue to grow after being parted, even if we never reunite. There’s a song called “Someday I’ll be forgiven for this.” One of the lines is “Someday you’ll be forgiven for this.” A lifelong believer in the healing powers of forgiveness, that’s the only treatment I have for my burning heart now. Well, that and Tums.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Circle

“Trust in the circle.
To end is to begin.”
- Charmaine Aserappa, In a Japanese Garden

Sitting here on this crisp, fresh day, I feel infected with Spring Fever. The old wheel of the seasons has ground creaking into Spring. This is the season that I most want to take up verdant residence inside my head. Spring opens wide the windows of the cramped sour winter cabin of my brain and lets the breeze blow out the cobwebs and dry autumn leaves from my mind.

Spring renews my trust in the circle. This is the form of immortal life that comforts me now, a thick mossy covering over my original conception of everlasting life - Our Return to the Garden that Christ promised – where our souls would go upon leaving our compostable bodies. Either way: reincarnation!

I read somewhere that in his Autobiography, W. B. Yates says he sought to express his poems in “metrical forms that seemed old enough to have been sung by men half-asleep or riding upon a journey.” I feel old like that in winter. I go into a kind of hibernation and dream like a man half-asleep on horseback on a sacred journey.

Spring wakes me up. Spring starts a new circle in motion.

Bao Yu, is the central character in A Dream of Red Mansions, his name means Precious Jade - reportedly for the piece of jade he held in his mouth at his birth. This 3” ceramic pot has been sitting on a eucalyptus tree trunk next to the driveway for years. I stuck a piece of jade in years ago and have completely neglected it since. No water sprinklers reach it, forcing it to be stunted but tought enough to survive. Here in the afternoon light, is my very own precious jade, glowing with vitality and smug self-importance.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Gardening for Mental Health

“I have tried to write Paradise.

“Do not move
Let the wind speak
That is paradise

“Let the Gods forgive what I
Have made
Let those I love try to forgive
What I have made."

- Canto CXX, The Cantos of Ezra Pound

Here is an almost empty shop, without a sign, but with a table that includes (pretty sure) the necessary equipment for me to rule the world. It looks like the left over detritus from a mad scientist's lab, old ham radio gear, including to the left of the tall piece of equipment, a hand keyer to send Morse code.

Now, I'm no expert, but after carefully studying the picture at great magnification, I postulate that the tall item in the center is a secret mind control device that would enable the skilled operator to dial in the brain frequency of any nearby brain, and then to gently adjust the brain waves in several different directions. I know it will require a bit of practice for me to master thought control, but I promise I will only use my powers for good. Or mostly for good. For me, that is.

Still, in case some combination of radioactive mutant villans, DHS, and those girls who were mean to me in high school conspire to foil my plan for world domination, I will still have the brain wave machines secreted in my underground hideout. There, I'll crouch at night, twiddling the dials, petting the kitty asleep on my lap, and laughing maniacally as I work. First I'll adjust my own brain waves to enable me to understand why some people find the taste of olives desirable, to sense danger before it strikes, and to remember to turn off the soaker hose before I go back inside at the end of the day.

Then again, perhaps not. Perhaps I'll go back outside while the white wisteria blooms are still so fragrant the scent might knock some sense into me. There's winter's mess to clean up, and that could take days.

So. It's either world domination or gardening…

Friday, April 02, 2010

Return of the Tourist

“Light the first light of evening, as in a room
In which we rest and, for small reason, think
The world imagined is the ultimate good…
Out of this same light, out of the central mind,
We make a dwelling in the evening air,
In which being there together is enough.”
- Wallace Stevens, The final Soliloquy of the Interior Paramour

I’m back in So Cal after about a week on the east coast. I arrived in time to see the cherry blossoms in bloom in Washington DC. Déjà vu, Momma.

Although I’ve lived here for most of my life, I grew up in suburban Washington. We used to walk around the reflecting basin at this time of year. We’d pass people with cameras, framing a shot that took in cherry blossom boughs overhead with the Jefferson Memorial in the background. According to a statistic I made up for this post, 93.8% of tourists with cameras take the same picture. As we passed them, we would smugly mutter, “Been done.” So my cliché-compliant pictures serve to remind me that I was a smartass once. I’m a much better person these days – much wiser, much more modest, and barely any older.

I spent a few nights with family, then a long day walking around the Mall, stopping in museums like the Freer Gallery where one sister’s inner goddess was revealed. I’m sure that’s never been done, because nobody else ever goofs off in museums. According to the results in an exhaustive a Pew Research Study of museum visitors I made up for this post, nobody else in the history of the Freer Gallery has ever taken this shot.

I dumbly wore new shoes for the trek around the Mall, from the Capitol Botanic Gardens where there was an amazing orchid show, to the Smithsonian, riding Metro, and limping to the “historic” Williard Hotel for cocktails. I’d forgotten how everything that stands still for more than ten minutes in Washington DC ends up with a brass plaque memorializing famous historical events. One sign said “On this spot in 1766, British forces clashed with rebel militia, who, upon realizing they were outnumbered 7 to 1, heroically handled the battle the way a dog handles stress: since they couldn’t win, eat the British, or roll around on the ground and tickle then, they pissed on the brick below this plaque and walked safely away.” Ok, I made that up too. But I sure enjoyed the cocktail hour seated in a nook in the lobby, watching the beautiful people without blisters on their feet stroll importantly to and fro.