Thursday, November 22, 2012

Giving Thanks The Hard Way

Wile E Coyote: Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Wile E. Coyote, genius. I am not selling anything nor am I working my way through college. 
Bugs Bunny: I... 

WEC: So let's get down to cases: you are a rabbit, and I am going to eat you for supper. 
Now, don't try to get away! I am more muscular, more cunning, faster, and larger than you are, and I am a genius. Why you could hardly pass the entrance examinations to kindergarten. 
[Bugs yawns] 
So I'll give you the customary two minutes to say your prayers. 

BB: I'm sorry, Mac, the lady of the house ain't home. And besides, we mailed you people a check last week. 
[shuts the door then descends into his home as Wile E. folds up the door and leaves] 

WEC: Why do they always want to do it the hard way? 


I wish they made scented candles that smelled like roasting turkey and sage stuffing because I’m not bothering with a turkey this year. I find the smell so evocative that I can remember details of thanksgiving dinners over 50 years ago with greater clarity than I can remember what I did yesterday. It's almost too hard to be thankful about stuff without the smell of turkey.

Today is one of those annual holidays that are as likely to invite depression as joy. You can’t help thinking about past thanksgivings and missing the people that made them memorable. For that matter, you (or at least I) may find yourself thinking dismal thought about what another turn of the entropic wheel will bring by next thanksgiving. The whole going around the table and saying what you’re thankful for routine can become a celebration of passive aggression. Or, possibly, introduce humor so burdened with bitter irony that the thoughts expressed hit the table like the inevitable anvil falling from the mountain to land on Wile E's head.

So I’m thankful to have my long-suffering Tech Support Guy. I'm thankful that I can touch type using all my fingers and not just my thumbs, that I can feed myself (mostly) without drooling, can still make it to the toilet before I pee, that I still take pleasure from working in the yard even though I can’t work as hard or efficiently as I used to. I’m also thankful for my large, rowdy, teasing and loving family; and finally, I'm grateful that I’m still around to remember those who aren’t here today.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Hoc in lacrimis ad finem veniet. (This will come to an end in tears)

“You expected to be sad in the fall. Part of you died each year when the leaves fell from the trees and their branches were bare against the wind and the cold, wintery light. But you knew there would always be the spring, as you knew the river would flow again after it was frozen. When the cold rains kept on and killed the spring, it was as though a young person died for no reason.” - Earnest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast

Pictured above is my century plant, aka agave parryi, on October 11 when I first noticed the flower stalk. I continued to take pictures of the plant a couple of times each week to document the speed of its bloom. I intended eventually to post a sort of time-lapse story of its glorious final days. 

The large agave pictured above on October 17 had grown all of its life beneath the canopy of a pine tree. We removed the pine this summer because it succumbed to prolonged drought and insects,  and finally a branch collapsed blocking the driveway. The round light shape at the base of the agave is the stump of the pine tree. I had dropped a baby agave there about 20 ago when we removed these sharp pointy succulents from our front sidewalk in an effort to make a trip to the front door more welcoming and less life-threatening. Once subjected to the full sun, the green leaves of the agave became a bit yellow with sunburn. Perhaps encouraged by the sunshine, the plant, decided it was time to bloom and die – in that order.

Here (above) it is on October 22. The electrical wires in the background are perfectly located to measure the breakneck rate of growth. This was about as far as we got before nature intervened. The weather turned cold. A century plant is said to bloom in late spring or early summer. This summer, San Diego had seriously messed up weather and it didn’t get really summer-hot until late September. (And by messed up weather, I mean we had mild spring temperatures from March through September, so you can see we had some rough days in paradise. In the Veggie Garden for example, our eggplants are just now producing fruit, and many of our indeterminate tomatoes are just now ripening on their scruffy vines.)
The agave couldn’t take the cold. Here it is on November 1, where it has lost several feet of growth. The plant is at the bottom of a long steep slope from the tip of our roof down through the yard into the street - that slope is perfect for directing the coldest nighttime air into the young shoot. It was just one night of just barely freezing temperatures locally: our thermometer said it was 35F.  But the growth was stopped in its tracks and then the tip simply fell off before I could get a picture of its young frost-blackened corpse.

I know the whole cycle of life thing gardeners are supposed to meditate on watching seasonal changes in your garden. I know that nature is often red in tooth and claw, and now I know nature is sometimes also black in stem and bud.

But I was really looking forward to enjoying the “once in a century” flowering. Century plants bloom once in their lives. The size and energy of the bloom exhausts and kills the parent plant. When in full bloom, these are impressive plants. The flower stem is often taller than a tree, and its shape reminds me of a carefully manicured Japanese black pine pruned into a giant bonsai. Then the flowers dry and turn brown and the stalk eventually dries out and falls over, and the flowers germinate into dutiful baby century plants surrounding the grave of their parent. 

That will never happen in my front yard, at least not for another century. So young, so fresh, so much promise. So dead.  I didn’t expect to be this sad this fall.