Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Utility vs. Beauty

“The landscape gardener attempts to establish a sort of hierarchy of nature, based on much the same principle as that which distinguishes a gentleman by his incapacity to do any useful work. Directly it is proved that a plant or a tree is good for food, it is expelled from the flower garden without any regard to its intrinsic beauty.”
Reginald Blomfield, The Formal Garden in England, 1892, as quoted in The Royal Horticultural Society treasury of garden writing, Charles Elliott, Ed.

As a genteel retired person of leisure, I prefer to refer to it not as my incapacity to do any useful work; but as my failure to find any use for work. I am not exactly the 99%, having a pension and health insurance; both vanishing privileges of the working class I no longer belong to. I belong in the sane class of gentlemen as the bird in my distant birdbath. These days, I spend more time splashing around and having fun, than I do trying to clean up.

If this were a blog that strives to contribute to the discourse of ideas, I’d be saying WTF, or words to that effect. If this was such a blog however, I’d have to forgo reading Chinese poetry and resume reading The Nation, something I can only read after the caffeine has diluted my blood system sufficiently enough to give me the energy to get mad without stroking out. These days, my coffee lasts barely long enough for me to get some news (by which I mean news) and some politics (by which I mean what passes for news). There are enough people out there, most of them more literate than I (well, in all modesty, maybe not most) who can better express my discouragement with what passes for governing and leadership.

Instead, I think I’ll take issue with Reginald who, back in 1892, was whining about people planting flowers instead of fruit. Let’s assume he was speaking with his tongue lodged firmly in his cheek when he proclaimed there is a landscaping “hierarchy of nature” wherein a plant is chosen for it’s beauty which is inversely proportional to its utility. In case he was serious: apple trees flower, Reginald. They are useful and beautiful and would never be expelled from my garden – if I could grow apples, that is. So go suck a fruit I can grow in my yard – a lemon.

Unless of course, you are like me and waiting for your delicate Meyer lemons to ripen. The fruit on Eureka lemon trees are now ripe. Problem is, tough Eureka lemons have a rind as thick and gnarly as a gardener’s elbow, and only marginally more appealing. The hybrids like Meyer lemons will not ripen until early in the new year. Meyers have a dainty rind suitable for marmalades or other candied fates. The fruit on my dwarf Meyer is the size of a golf ball and solid green. They’re so adorable; they look like baby limes.

I would sooner expel my few flowering chrysanthemums from my yard than my lemon tree. My lemon tree is useful as well as beautiful. So thanks, Meyer, for maintaining these two traits that I - as a gentle old person of leisure - no longer bring to my garden in measurable quantities.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

This Year's View

Alone on a river tower my thoughts full of sorrow
The moonlight like the water, the water like the sky
Where is the person with whom I shared the moon?
The view isn’t quite the same as last year.

- Chao Ku, Reflections at a River Tower
(From Red Pine, Trans., Poems of the Masters: China’s Classic Anthology of T’ang and Sung Dynasty Verse)

About this time last year, I was embarking on a cross-country road trip with J.

Today, J is in Afghanistan, listening to the Taliban preach and pray over loudspeakers.

So, yeah.

Monday, October 17, 2011

A Lovely Vacation

“This time she came upon a large flower-bed, with a border of daisies, and a willow-tree growing in the middle.
‘O Tiger-lily,’ said Alice, addressing herself to one that was waving gracefully about in the wind, “I wish you could talk!”
“We can talk,” said the Tiger-lily: “when there’s anybody worth talking to.”
Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass, 1872

The life of a hermit in a hut with a calligraphy pen and some green tea has its charms. I could live high in the pointy Chinese mountains writing haiku and listening to the soft hiss of falling snow. At least for a while. And at least if I had a good wireless connection. I have recently decided however, that life is simply about finding people worth talking to.

Having spent some time with interesting extended family members recently, I realize that I am just another social animal like the rest of youse (sic) guys. I enjoy talking about what we blandly call politics, because these are interesting times and we were in an interesting place. There are many tasty topics that provide food for thought, and discussion, and disagreement. One of my brothers who didn’t make it to NYC last week, once famously refused to agree to disagree – just for the sake of keeping the conversation going. It’s just as well, because his opinions are stupid. I say that, of course, with all respect due to those who don’t happen to share my enlightened and informed opinions. The best sign I saw from an Occupy Wall Street protester was: The worst thing about censorship is XXXXX.

I proved to my satisfaction that I can’t stay up drinking with the youngsters until 3:00 in the morning. I surrendered to the chocolate on my pillow at 1:30. The next day, some of us strolled through Soho and had lunch in an Italian restaurant in Little Italy. The restroom in this place complied with ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) as well as my above brother complied with the rules of civil conversation. And by this I mean that the restroom was about the size of the window on your browser, and that my brother is stupid.

So, now I’m back home looking for botanical conversations with my plants. And considering the alternative, that’s a good thing: because either my plants can talk to me, or I’m hearing voices in my head. Given these choices, I’m going outside to say good morning to my morning glories.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Ten-Four, Eleanor

"SOCRATES (loftily): Mortal, what do you want with me?
STREPSIADES: First, what are you doing up there? Tell me, I beseech you.
SOCRATES (Pompously): I am traversing the air and contemplating the sun."

- Aristophanes, The Clouds

I’m traversing the air to NYC where I might join in the demonstration and get my protest on.

Then, I’m off to Detroit where I will contemplate nothing more complex than a good book and some good coffee, and maybe a political demonstration about local school board politics.

Then, I’ll traverse the air back to California and contemplate sewing with a twin needle. Neither pompous nor lofty. Just fun.