Friday, March 15, 2013

White Wisteria

"Four ducks on a pond,
A grass-bank beyond,

A blue sky of spring,

White clouds on the wing:

What a little thing

To remember for years --

To remember with tears!"

~ William Allingham, from Flower Pieces and Other Poems (1888). 

Spring is not the season for looking back: that’s autumn. In spring, we’re supposed to wrap ourselves in metaphors of renewal, growth, awakening and, yes resurrection. Which is one way of looking at it. Another way is to be reminded, again as in every year, how ephemeral and brief the season of growth is, and how inevitable and final death is. All those things that didn’t come back. All those perennials that turned into annuals. All the things I enjoyed last spring that didn’t make it to see this spring. I'm also thinking of all the things that will make it this spring, but won't make it to next spring. The picture above is my white wisteria vine in flower last spring.

I’ve had this white wisteria vine growing on a tall, four-footed redwood trellis for about ten years. The vine has begin to flourish and fill in the trellis. The trellis on the other hand, as continued to list dangerously because (the left) half of it was put on solid ground as hard as the granite boulders adjacent to it while the other half was placed on top of a filled-in raised bed (right side). Big mistake. I’ve propped up the listing half several times over the years. We’ve retrofitted the trellis itself with metal straps so it doesn’t simply pull itself apart as is settles.  But it’s coming to the end of its useful life. It has already exceeded its aesthetic life, having become - as in this picture I took this morning - more of a lopsided folly than a serious trellis.

But the wisteria as it is now, lovingly pruned in January to encourage a final glorious display as a vine, will be seeing its final spring when it blooms in a few weeks. It tends to bloom later than others in my neighborhood because it grows in the shade of a large pine tree.

After the white wisteria blooms this one last spring, I’m going to tear down the trellis, cut back the wisteria vine and try to stake and train it as a smallish standard tree. This will open up the back patio area, but at the expense of about 2/3 of the growth of the wisteria. The primary stem is about the diameter of a ring formed from my thumb and first finger – just about strong enough to stand on its own with minimal staking. 

In picturing the wisteria, as it will be next year, I look at the doomed trellis and happy about-to-flower vine and feel strangely guilty about its ignorance of its impending fate. Fortunately, wisteria grows like a weed once established. Within a few brief years, it will be reborn as a sort of miniaturized tree with a lovely weeping habit, where it will be framed by the large granite boulder behind it. At left is an example of a purple wisteria from my neighborhood that is what I have in mind. As a bonus, I will be able to give it an annual pruning without risking life and limb by having to prop a ladder against an unstable trellis.

So even though I’ve thought this through carefully and realize this is a smart decision, I have no doubt that I will remember it as it is now for years to come, probably with tears. 

Thursday, March 07, 2013

We Don't Even Have to Have a Reason

Sandy: I want you to kill every gopher on the course!
Carl: Check me if I'm wrong Sandy, but if I kill all the golfers, they're gonna lock me up and throw away the key...
Sandy: Gophers, ya great git! The gophers! The little brown furry rodents!
Carl: We can do that; we don't even have to have a reason.
 - Caddyshack (1980)

My puppy is a vizsla and it turns out that besides low self-esteem and separation anxiety, one major characteristic of this breed is that they like to dig. And by dig, I mean using her webbed feet to gouge a hole deep enough to put her entire upper body inside and then to continue digging the leading edge of the hole thus making a meandering trench that can exceed 10 feet in length. We affectionately call it digging to China, even though if you dug directly beneath my front yard through the middle of the planet you would actually end up in Afghanistan.

Thanks to a colony of gophers, my front yard used to look like a miniature scorched WWI battlefield complete with craters made by small bombs, and the dirt thrown up around them by the impact. The good news is that since we got a dog, the gophers that have pretty much taken over the neighborhood, have moved to greener pastures. The bad news is that now my front yard looks like a miniature example of a once-pristine mountain somewhere in West Virginia, with great swaths of brightly blooming oxalis separated by tracks of excavated barren ground gouged out by a strip mining machine the size of an apartment building.

As she digs, the dog more or less fills in the trench behind her with the dirt excavated from the front. The finished product looks like it had been plowed with a rototiller operated by a drunken blind man on speed. The front yard is continually being re-graded and re-planted by the dog who can do this until her lovely pink nose turns black and she’s snorting and coughing from the dirt she’s inhaled. Charming.

The other day though, things took a darker turn: she caught something. I’d figured that the moles inhabiting the front yard had long since all evacuated the area. I may have been wrong. I don’t know if the mole she generously delivered to my feet was a corpse abandoned months ago by gopher refugees fleeing for their very lives, or whether the happy puppy had just murdered it. I was not in a mood to conduct an autopsy.

To be clear, while I am an enthusiastic gardener who enjoys almost all the flora I have in my yard, I have a rather uncomfortable relationship with fauna. Bugs are yucky, those tiny ants are demons from hell. When it comes to anything bigger like gophers, ground squirrels, tree rats and mice, the sound I make upon encountering such fauna can best be described as that of a little girl in a lace encrusted gown hosting a tea party for her teddy bears, who is suddenly interrupted by a pack of ninja warriors silently wielding those sticks connected by a short chain.

So imagine my reaction when being presented with such a lovely gift by my enthusiastic dog who only wanted to offer me a token of her unconditional love. My instinctive theory, formed in an instant of blinding clarity, is a corollary to the ten-second rule about food dropped on the floor. Clearly, the quicker I could dispose of this thing, the less likely I was to be infected by yersina pestis.  After using one of the many hopeless commands to drop it that she apparently understands to mean “let’s play”, I finally managed to work the prize from between the puppy’s beautiful white teeth and toss it outside the fence and across the driveway into the deep ground cover of the unfenced part of the front yard. I may have broken the sound barrier in my haste to make the yucky dead thing go away.

This heroic action was, of course, followed by a complete breakdown of all pretense of control, and a very long sentence consisting mostly of vowels, while compulsively wiping my hands on my pants. At the same time though, the small part of my lizard brain capable of a more nuanced and reasoned response was slightly proud of my heroic initial reaction. It makes me confident that should ninjas ever crash my tea parties, I will save the teddy bears first. 

(The first picture is from the cherry tree in my front yard. The second picture is the western redbud in the Water Conservation Garden.)

Monday, March 04, 2013

Melting Misanthropy

“... I particularly well remember; it was a lovely afternoon about the close of March... I presently fell back, and began to botanise and entomologise along the green banks and budding hedges... and I could hear the sweet song of the happy lark; then my spirit of misanthropy began to melt away beneath the soft, pure air and genial sunshine..." 

No, I don’t have any qualms about talking about one season melting into another while there is a nasty winter storm ravaging parts of the rest of the country. San Diego is a weather world to itself where the miseries of a true winter storm are almost never realized. While I may miss the signs of spring from my childhood like forsythia or lilacs, I don’t often long to return there and pay the price of having to endure winter to earn spring. Here, I may not have to wait for snows to melt, but even though our seasons may not be as obvious, we have dreary unmistakable winter that is now beginning to melt into spring’s optimism.
Here, spring comes in halts and starts, bringing lovely perfect temperatures and sunshine and the smell of clean green growing things one day, and cold dark clouds and rain the next. Today offers a taste of spring but with the cool tang of coming rain before the sun moves further south in the sky and squats directly overhead searing everything in sight. There are so many things out my window that need my attention I am drawn outside and ready to dig in.

The longer days are a relief, and with the promise of even longer afternoons when we move to Daylight Savings Time in a week. The end of winter usually finds me with a pessimistic spirit that has seemed tired and cranky and needing a daily nap. But those feelings are indeed beginning to melt away in the soft morning light of a brighter season to come.

 And if anticipating all the wonderful things about the end of a long dark winter and the coming of a promising bright spring were not enough to lift my sprits, J leaves Afghanistan in less than 30 days.