Wednesday, June 30, 2010


"Hark to the rush of the bird’s wings. Majesty, so close around us. They say the gods send u messages in their flight…"
Zachary Mason, "Guest Friend" from The Lost Books of the Odyssey

I can't interpret what the noisy birds are trying to tell me this morning. The error message seems to illustrate the relative paucity of inspiration I have received from my garden lately. The weather outside is doing its best to break the world record for being the stereotypical impossibly lovely springtime afternoon, but it feels like a cliché. The tomatoes are getting bigger but not redder. The sunflowers are stretching higher while greedily holding on to the promise of giant Van Gogh blooms. Everything is getting ready, but nothing is quite here: like a blank canvas, or one with only the ghostly outlines of the first rough sketch.

And yet I wait inside for inspiration, preferring to retreat to the doll house in the back room that nears completion (the house, not the room). Or if not actual completion, at least a state that approaches that briefest moment in eternity where all the lights work together at the same time – a state that races toward the entropy of total darkness the minute I put the soldering iron aside to cool down and plug in the lights for a test. Stupid doll house wiring.

I’m not quite sure what I’m searching for exactly, only that I feel the restless lethargy of someone who knows that as soon as I step outside and begin to sweat the garden will capture and channel my energy somewhere fine. It’s just that I can’t quite recall such a mood at the moment. I can’t muster the focus or the energy to tour the back yard only to observe all the things that need attention. Instead, I make another cup of coffee and browse the innertetz for inspiration - like playing with a Ouija board that delivers only a cryptic error message, and that does little to calm my twitching unfocused energy.

This is exactly the mood that gardening cures. So what am I waiting for?

Sunday, June 20, 2010

A Bitter Lesson

"Actions speak louder than worms."
Roddy Lumsden

The only part of my garden that suffered in my one-week absence was the compost pile that didn’t get watered. Most of the container plants were all positioned near a sprinkler set on a timer to give them 5 minutes in the morning and 5 more in the later afternoon.

The rest of my container plants, my veggie garden and other miscellaneous cultivated patches amid the general dry neglect were also watered by a timed sprinkler for a similar ten minutes a day. I discovered a luscious cucumber yesterday, and dozens of green tomatoes wanting only a bit more time to develop their sweet red flavor.

Instead of being grateful, or relieved, I’m feeling - oddly - betrayed. My traitorous plants thrived in my absence. I take this thinly veiled slap in the face (is that a mixed metaphor?) from the gardening gods as a message that I don’t give my garden the amount of water it needs. It seems, my habitual gardening efforts were actually holding them all back. Even the camellia, previously stationed at the edge of the irrigation system and looking like a goner, has begun to sprout new leaves and even a few buds. Terrific!

If my plants had shown me a few wilted leaves; some yellowing or shriveling; some bug-nibbled-around-the-edges leaves, there would have been a joyous celebration of the return of the gardener to the struggling garden. Instead, I feel only bitter disappointment that nobody seemed to miss me very much.

Perhaps a more generous spirit would find this a cause for joy, or at least for relief. Instead, I find myself feeling that I am not only superfluous, but actually, probably (almost certainly) detrimental to my plants. The ungrateful bastards! At least my kitties were glad to seem me come home.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Rapturous Monotony

“It is a terrible terrain
No mortal eye has seen
Whose image still seduces me
This morning as it fades…

“Sleep is full of miracles!
Some impulse in my dream
Had rid the region I devised
Of every growing thing,

“And proud of the resulting scene
I savored in my art
The rapturous monotony
Of metal, water, stone…”

Charles Baudelaire, “Parisian Dream, ”Les Fleurs du Mal (The Flowers of Evil)

As long as I’ve lived in the outskirts of the Sonoran Desert of the Southwest California, I have never learned to see it as lovely. Driving back and forth across the middle of this desert last week simply confirmed my opinion that the desert is an empty wasteland. Having lived in the urban east coast and west coasts of America my entire life, I am always amazed at how big and empty of human habitation the middle of the US is, especially in the high deserts.

I know my opinion of the barren desert is uninformed, biased, and simply wrong. But it’s mine.

So, we went across this high, dry grassland in Arizona that was formerly a vast floodplain, to visit the Petrified Forest (which, to my eye, is more like a petrified, scattered wood pile). According to the U. S. National Park Service brochure from the Petrified Forest/Painted Desert, trees growing on the banks of the once-numerous streams became fossils as the water dried up. “The trees, Araucarioxylon, Woodworthia, Schilderia, and others, fell, and swollen streams washed them into adjacent floodplains. A mix of silt, mud, and volcanic ash buried the logs. This sediment cut off oxygen and slowed the logs’ decal. Silica-laden groundwater seeped through the logs and replaced the original wood tissues with silica deposits. Eventually the silica crystallized into quartz, and the logs were preserved as petrified wood.”

The Painted Desert seems even more barren and lifeless to my gardener’s eyes than the Petrified Forest. The Painted Desert was also millions of years in the making. According to the Arizona Leisure Vacation Guide:

“It took millions upon millions of years for nature to create this natural canvas of unimaginable design that some describe it as a multi-colored layered cake. The Painted Desert draws upon the earth’s indecisive nature. From shifts in the earth’s crust brought about by temperamental volcanoes and earthquakes to complete inundation by fresh and sea waters alike, a veritable host of elements have breathed life into this area. Colorful sediments of bentonite clay and sandstone, stacked in elegant layers, feed off the setting Arizona sun in an ever-changing display of colorful splendor.”

One man’s colorful splendor is another man’s barren wasteland. I apologize in advance to those who see these places as variations on Mother Nature’s creative and diverse landscaping style, but the few stunted and struggling plants and wildflowers we saw simply reminded me how harsh the environment is toward growing things today. I don’t need to be reminded of this.

My preference for the transience of flora over the very literally glacially slow changes of desert environments may be another manifestation of my impatience, my temperament so intolerant of sluggishness; and my preference for soft, brief life, over hard unyielding stone. Or it may simply be that I will always appreciate ephemeral seasonal changes more, and simply resent the slow-motion geological changes that I can only witness as snapshots frozen in the moment of my comparatively brief existence.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Desert Driving

We managed to get through interminable Texas yesterday. Too many oil dericks, giant windmills, and billboards about Jesus and the approach of judgement day. If I could figure out how to get photos from my phone to blogspot, I could include one of the strangest images from Texas: at a roadside Dairy Queen, right next to the counter, a rack displaying bull whips for sale.

So we went through El Paso Texas, where the interstate highway follows the Rio Grande river for a few miles. This is the border between The US and Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. The lovely high black chain-link border fence is on the US side of the river adjacent to a flat cleared no-man's-land where green and white Border Patrol vans circle endlessly back and forth. Because the land rises on either side of the river bank, the people on each side have a lovely view of each other.

We spent the night in Las Crucas New Mexico. We may have escaped from Texas, but crappy country music followed us to Eddie's Place, the restaurant/cocktail lounge where we had dinner.

We are back on the road. We will go through Tuscon and Yuma Arizona and then home to San Diego late this evening. We cross the last time zone - from Mountain to Pacific time, gaining an hour, but we still have a 12 hour, 650 mile day ahead. It will be worth it though, to get back to the land where you can order martinis from a menu of a dozen exotic choices.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Going Home

We have decided to return to San Diego bypassing the high desert areas and heading farther south. We will not take Route 40/"Historic" Route 66. The rout will take us to Roswell NM tonight. The road ahead of us looks strangely familiar, but I have never been here before. Then we realize it looks like those pictures taken from storm chaser vehicles. There are virtually no other cars on the road, and open fields on either side, with the rare farmhouse a silo.

J graduated from Basic Combat Training at noon yesterday and an hour after we returned her to Fort Sill she texted us to say "We are shipping out at 23:00 no sleep necessary."

it was wonderful to see her but bittersweet to say goodbye for at least a other three months. She is in Fort Benning by now, beginning OCS.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Today Texas. Tonight Oklahoma

We made it safely through Arizona yesterday without having to show our papers. Which is a
good thing because I would have refused.

We stopped for lunch in Gallup NM. If you ate harboring fond memories of road trips along what signs now proudly proclaim as "Historic Route 66, get over them. Gallup now has their own Wal*Mart and Home Depot. We had lunch at an Applebees, " eatin' good in the neighborhood". But all local color was not lost. Tech Support Guy had a reubin sandwich and the wait person asked if he would like
it well done. Better still, my Marguerita was served in a brimming 12 oz glass. Drinkin' good in Gallup.

The other bizzare event was passing a man dressed as a Fransiscan monk (including a rope around the waist of ho long brown robe) and carrying a life-sized cross on his shoulder. As if this wasn't weird enough, he was spotted in the high desert east of Albequerque at 6,200 feet elevation, where I was gasping for oxygen.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

On the Road

We spent last night in Flagstaff Arizona at the dizzying altitude oa 6,500 feet. This was not particularly enjoyable for Tech Support Guy who suffers from COPD. We are now on Interstate 40 East and down to 4868 feet, 1485 meters. I love the apps on my iPhone.

We passed through Winslow, which according to the Meteor Crater channel (1620 AM) is "The City in Motion". We passed through Winslow in the time it took me to write this sentence. There is no Starbucks in Winslow.

Nor is there a bilboard ordinance. Billboards may the chief source of revenue in Winslow.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Good Luck with That

“In a mucked up lovely river,
I cast my little fly.
I look at that river and smell it
and it makes me wanna cry.
Oh to clean our dirty planet,
now there's a noble wish,
and I'm puttin my shoulder to the wheel
'cause I wanna catch some fish.”
Greg Brown, Spring Wind

This is not my regular everyday post about gardens. I found somebody else who feels the same heartsickness about the oil spill that I do. I have no idea if these people are crazies or journalists. But I also don’t know if I’m crazy, so we're all in good company.

“Louisiana will be the new Bhopal…. This is what it means to get the government off the backs of big business…. You wanted deregulation? You're soaking in it. “
Read the full post here.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Breathing Warm and Slow

“It was a quiet morning, the town covered over with darkness and at ease in bed. Summer gathered in the weather, the wind had the proper touch, the breathing of the world was long and warm and slow. You had only to rise, lean from your window, and know that this indeed was the first real time of freedom and living, this was the first morning of summer."
- Ray Bradbury, Dandelion Wine

We have a family of Peregrine falcons in our neighborhood. A dead-topped pine tree by the front driveway gives a view of the El Cajon valley to the north.

A small canyon to the south provides a lovely updraft to the power lines, where they can survey the wildlife in the otherwise uninhabited (by people) canyon out back. Although Tech Support Guy can hear their cries from indoors, I have to sit outside to be sure I’m hearing their screech rather than hearing-aid feedback. Strikingly similar. The falcon sounds I find here aren’t the screeches I’m hearing out back, which remind me more of the petulant sounds my vocal cat makes when she’s being ignored.

Although the calendar might disagree, summer has arrived.

The house finches, spoiled by multiple bird feeders, have grown fat and lazy. This guy permitted me to approach quite closely before he made a leisurly two-hop take-off from the arbor. The finches have a very distinctive cry as well.

The antics of the finches are driving the territorial Anna’s hummingbirds to attempt suicide in my tsukubai. Either that, or he’s having a cool-down before engaging in vigorous climbing and precipitous dives to court the ladies.

On Memorial Day, my Easter Lily was still hesitating to open.

It waited until this morning before the first bud opened. The fragrance would be cloying in a perfume, but somehow in the summer morning air it smells just right.

This is a wonderful time of year to spend a cool morning outside with a camera and a cup of coffee and a good book. The first 7 lines of T’ao Ch’ien, Reading The Book of Hills and Seas, agrees:
In the month of June the grass grows high
And round my cottage thick-leaved branches sway.
There is not a bird but delights in the place where it rests.
And I too – love my thatched cottage.
I have done my ploughing:
I have sown my seed.
Again I have time to sit and read my books.

Martha in Michigan can take heart: rabbits can’t eat books.