Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The Leap of Plants

One cool day several years ago I had been sitting in the shade in our outdoor living room. This space is surrounded with flowerbeds. I was shivering a little, so I got up and lay on my back in the pea-gravel path between the main beds. The sun warmed me quickly, and shading my eyes with one hand I looked up to see the Bath pinks bobbing in the spring air against a deep maroon background of bloodgood maple. Some of the maple leaves were back lit brilliant red, while interior leaves were surprisingly green. Far above me towered the first shoots of the Cabbage Leaved Rudbeckia, soon to sprout blooms like tall brown Mexican hats. I nearly dozed off in the sun, stretched out like a cat. And thoughts wandered through my head...

While some plants are primarily for the eyes, some are made to pat. I can't resist giving tulip poplar leaves "five" as I pass them by. I had a Chinese holly which I had lovingly hand pruned to a jolly ovoid some three feet wide and two feet tall. It simple begged to be patted and hugged, and I spoke to it often ("Oh you FATTY!"). (I admit that I avoided patting it in bloom - it would then be full of honey bees.) The diminutive wild geranium "Biokovo" has dancing white blossoms with pink anthers. They require a light ruffling, like a gentle parental hand through a baby's hair. Blue fescue tussocks also seem to need a tousling.

And I believe that the plants are better for the handling and spoken word. I suspect that there is something almost shamanistic in having a green thumb, something that needs expression in word and gesture. God created great powers that move in the earth and sky - and these forces run through our veins and dancing motion. So too the quieter passions in the veins of plants, and their slow dance that is growth. Herds of sunflowers all grazing in one direction, like every herd of cows I've ever seen. The vibrant green shouting leap of tamarack trees, sunlit against a stormy spring sky. The trembling watery love affair of wind in aspens. Lines of pilgrim cedar trees, toiling toward some holy spot along ridges in pastures all over the eastern seaboard. Life. Plants may not be sentient, but their life draws a powerful response from some of their less rooted brethren - and I voice that response.

A bit loony? I suppose. I have loved the look and feel and name of certain brands of pencil. I have gazed in rapture at a certain early twentieth century stamp of Benjamin Franklin because it is the most perfect shade of orange my heart could wish. I have been on fire in the long golden light of the last moments of certain autumn days. I have had to remember to breathe when walking alone beside the green breakers of the sea.

And gardening, like painting, is a way for me to capture, to domesticate, some of that wonder. To plant lightning bolts in flower beds and raise them tenderly. This year Moomin Light has born the vast majority of the gardening burden here, keeping perennials alive through this drought, but I know that I will return one day to gardening as a chief means of expression, and a way of being with other living things, and in God's presence.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Sunken Journals

When I read old journals of mine, if I can get past all the angst and moaning, I find nuggets of lovely days.

But so many could be from someone else's life.

Today I read this one from an August twenty three years ago:

"We are up in the Blue Ridge Mountains, sitting in folding chairs overlooking Castle Rock Gorge. L is practicing guitar beside me. A black cloud is rolling overhead, but it has light on all sides, and is not interfering with the peace of this place, nor the singing of birds, nor the chirping of crickets. This is a still time. Often this afternoon I have longed to wander on and on, without strings, without destination. To see and drink this land."

It sounds like something we would do, and we used to go up the Virginia side of the Blue Ridge Parkway to Rock Castle Gorge fairly often when we were first married and living in Winston-Salem, but I can't recollect this day at all. It's like reading fiction.

Or this odd scrap, which says it was to be turned into a poem:

"Getting a Stick from Here to There"

First you pick a stick, a good thick stick,
broken from a pine to cross the stream
choked with yellow tulip poplar boats
and Frazier magnolia parchment scrolls.

There, on the magic island of stone and moss,
where the sun trickles down
on the alligator scaly weed,
and the wind blows fir smells
and cow smells alternately,
you find your lover a helpful stick,
and after sitting you return the way you came.

Then you play with a crayfish,
herding it with the stick,
catching it with frightened human hands,
straining and reaching round its back,
trying to tear its captor's flesh.
Mechanical toy, you gently put it back
and splashing your stick with glee
you sing a crayfish catcher song.

Now you follow the stream,
sun in the grass.
"This is a stick that says,
'I am a stick,'" she said.
One made, one found on the magic island,
and finally you lay them ,
side by side,
against a sunny bank.
When the trail grows narrow
and overgrown,
the stream is left behind.

I ever so vaguely recall that this was an afternoon at the Linville River, south of Grandfather Mountain on the Parkway, and I can even picture the bank where we left the sticks, the place where the trail narrows, but the notes go on to tell me it was in Virginia, again, over a hundred miles away at Round Meadow Creek. I wrote the notes while Laura was napping on a blanket in the grass. So I don't remember that October afternoon, twenty one years ago, at all.

Whose journals are these?
Photo of the Virginia Blue Ridge is from Allwork's Flickr photostream.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Berberis - Barberry

I spent most of my childhood in an old "white elephant" farmhouse up on a rise. There was a very thin front yard, with a drop down a six foot retaining wall into a fast, winding country road. Various beds and hedges held the top of the wall, from the Golden Chain Tree at one end, through the murderously thorned tangle of the multiflora roses, past the generous daylily bed, to the barberry hedge which finished the run to the huge slate steps. Across the steps was more barberry, deep purple with highlights of burgundy and red except one yellow green bush, like an albino in the row. Then the wall became only 2 feet tall and the hedge gave way to a pachysandra bed and the one hundred foot "wall garden," with masses of creeping phlox cascading to the ground below, perforated with daffodils and tulips, the peonie bushes, and several large hydrangeas for visual anchors.

As children we lived in fear of the barberry hedges, bristling with half inch needle thin thorns. The hedge and wall were at the bottom of the best steep hill, and our terror was to loose control of our sleds and fly face first into the thorny mass. In summer we rode red wagons down the hill (Calvin and Hobbes style) and the turn at the bottom was an adrenalin rush because of the barberry.

In the spring the cedar waxwings would pass through, ravenous from their migration, and they would strip the hedges clean of the bright berries, which covered the burgundy bushes like fat red grains of rice. Later in the season we would pick up fallen azalea blossoms and stick them on the thorns, to make it seem the hedge was in bloom. We would call Mom to the front porch, to see the strange sight.

Here in North Carolina I encounter barberry bushes in the woods, in all sorts of unlikely spots. I suppose they have been carried there in the gullets of birds. They seem right at home with neighbors of privet and silver berry, all gradually choking the woodlands with impenetrable bristles. Escapees, I call them. Illegal aliens. Like so many of our so called "wild" things (flora and fauna), they were brought here by accident or by gardeners and have since become part of the natural landscape. Dandelion, mullein, privet, ajuga, various willows, starlings, Japanese beetles, European hornets, nutria, bamboo, earwigs, kudzu. Some I could do without, others I would sorely miss. Would I miss barberry? It's hard to say...
Berberis thunbergii - photo from the Flickr account of sarcozona.
Bombycilla cedrorum - photo from the Flickr account of BOBXNC, the bush they are on is a pyrocatha - another thorny, red berry producer.

Friday, August 24, 2007

American Tobacco Historic District

A couple of months ago we went for pizza at the Mellow Mushroom in Durham. While we were there, we wandered and photographed the American Tobacco Historic District, where the restaurant is an anchor or sorts, across the street from the Durham Bulls Athletic Park.

This is quite a place, and I hope it gets the attention and use that it deserves. It is creative from the reuse of the old buildings, to the addition of new, to the interesting streams and waterfalls made of broken concrete slabs. We have yet to attend a concert in this space, at the round stage beneath the Lucky Strike water tower, but we will soon, I hope.

These photos are more or less in order, as you enter the complex from the Blackwell Street side (where the Mellow Mushroom is).

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Garden Scents

Garden fragrances! Smells hold memories. I recall putting on a carnation for some occasion, leaning my head down to have a sniff, and being *snap* back over a decade at my highschool prom. (That would be nearly three decades, now.)

I can at any time recall the strange smell of red monarda (beebalms) in the hot July sun (possibly from spending so much time plucking Japanese beetles).

The smell of geraniums, while picking off spent flower heads or yellowed leaves. The smell of marigolds, or nasturtium blossoms. These are earthy fragrances - like portabello mushrooms. Nasturtiums and marigolds were brought to America to be smelled and eaten.

I remember strolling down NY country roads in June, to an embankment where wild strawberries grew. On the way I would pick one wild rose - the pink one called Rosa carolina - and walk along sniffing the sweet perfume. Girls wearing this scent held my attention in early teen years, perhaps as a consequence of those moments in the golden evening light. I would return with strawberry stained finger tips, the smell of the berries mingling with the rose as I continued to sniff my way back home.

As a family we have wandered in large rose gardens, seeing which of us can smell which roses - not everyone smells everything equally well. Moomin Light and I smell some roses in common, and others totally separately. Our kids are spread out over the rose scent spectrum, as well. Since many fragrances are caused by our neurological response to complex chemicals called esters, it's not surprising to me that we don't all pick up the same ones.

There is the haunting smell of a daphnia bush, caught from the other side of a pond. It took us nearly ten minutes one day in Duke Gardens to locate the source.

When we moved to this house we planted several large Lonicera fragrantissima ("the MOST fragrant") as an evergreen screen between lots, AND for the honeysuckle sweet scent.

Finally, how about something exotic and bizarre - like the numerous Victorian geraniums with scented leaves (I've sampled mint, peach, strawberry, amaretto, and even chocolate scented ones) or the recently popular pineapple sage? Just one more pleasure of gardening.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Tomato Feast

A feast for the eyes, then a terrific tomato sandwich for lunch. With salt and pepper and mayo - and salt and pepper potato chips and calabrese olives, and apple and artisanal cheese from Hillsborough's farmer's market, AND with good company and interesting bookish conversation, it's no wonder lunch lasts so long on weekends.

This tomato was my reward for driving past the big mega-station just off the exit ramp on I-40 before it enters the mountain pass from TN to NC. I aimed for the little station a half a mile further on, and was met by pumps from another decade, local people, real greetings, folks singing with the song on the radio, and a produce stand with many varieties of tomato, including this heirloom. I bought two, but the other didn't last 30 minutes after I got home.

The photo was taken by our oldest son - I found it on the camera and was so glad to see it.

Monday, August 20, 2007

La Paresse

I first saw this at the Ackland, in Chapel Hill, NC. It was labeled Indolence and I loved it at once.

It's a woodcut by Felix Vallotton, a Swiss born artist working in Paris in the late 1800's and early 1900s. Loving this led to a search for more work by Vallotton. Here I include more of the woodcuts, influenced by Japanese prints, which were the rage among the artists of the day.

His paintings (he did thousands of works in oils) are also full of these unusual diagonals and croppings.

But La Paresse remains my favorite. I love the economy of shapes and patterns of white on black. And it captures the lazy moment so well.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Reading Lessons 15-21

Part 3 (finis) - Lessons 15-21 that I wrote to teach my youngest son to read. Lessons 8-14, and 1-7 in two earlier posts.

15 - The hawk decided and plunged down to get his dinner. The wind whistled in his ears as he fell faster and faster. He turned his wings to catch the breeze and curve down on the chicken he had chosen. He could almost taste it. He was ready for the crash of claws and feathers and chicken when he snatched her. Suddenly the hawk spread his wings in panic and pulled up and away. He had almost flown right into the web of tight clear lines the farmer had stretched back and forth over the chicken yard. He would have broken his wings.

16 - The farmer had watched the chicken hawk, with his hands in his pockets. He had strung up the clear fishing line back and forth over the chicken yard earlier that week. He knew the red tailed hawks had come back for the spring, hungry from their long trip. He wove the fishing line back and forth in all directions, so there was no place large enough for a hawk to fly though. He hoped it would keep his chickens safe. He had seen wires over a pond at a zoo, to keep king fishers from diving to get the fish. He liked the idea.

17 - When the hawk dove to get a chicken the farmer had held his breath. Would it work? Would the hawk see the lines before it crashed, or would it get hurt? The farmer was a gentle man, and he did not want the hawk to get hurt. He liked seeing the hawks in the sky, and he knew they ate rats and mice that might eat his corn. He thought of the whole thing as a game, like the pig and pie game. He hoped he would win, but he wanted the hawk to… The hawk screamed and swooped upward just before hitting the lines. It flew in angry circles, screaming, and then flew away. The farmer smiled.

18 - The fox in the hedge watched the hawk lose the game with the farmer and smiled, too. He had also been playing a game with the farmer about chickens. The fox had won a few times, but mostly the farmer had won. He was a quiet man who thought carefully about things and got smart ideas to trick the fox. The last trick had been to put wires around the chicken yard. When the fox touched the wires it set off a loud alarm and flashing lights. The fox had been so scared he ran the wrong way at first - right towards the farmhouse. He grinned when he thought about it now.

19 - The pig knew the fox was in the hedge. The pig knew where everyone was all the time, except the farm wife. Somehow the farm wife was always where the pig did not expect her to be. She surprised the pig a lot. She often had that broom. The pig weighed more than 1000 pounds, and the farm wife weighed only about 100, so she needed the broom to handle the pig. Besides, the farm wife wasn’t going to get her hands muddy pushing the pig. The broom was the best thing.

20 - The farm wife looked out the window from the cool shadows of the kitchen. The breeze brought the smell of the cooling pie into the kitchen and she smiled. It was good to cook for people who knew how good her food was, even if one was a pig. And the game with the pig was fun. Most of the farm wife’s day was full of work, and she liked the little fun things that happened with the animals. She fed chipmunks in the wall of the barn, calling the cat lazy for not catching them. She liked to run at the chickens sometimes, scattering them all over the yard just for fun.

21 - The farmer looked over his yard and thought about the chickens. He liked to see his wife enjoy herself, even if she did it by scaring the big stupid birds. They were calming down from the hawk, and going back to pecking and scratching in the yard. The pig finished her slops and turned to go back to the mud. The farmer watched her huge body move away on little pink hooves, big triangle ears flapping flies off. He saw her lay down again and watched as her breathing got slower, and she started to gently snore. He knew she was dreaming of apple pie.

The End

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Reading Lessons 8-14

Part 2 - Lessons 8-14 that I wrote to teach my youngest son to read. Lessons 15-21 (the end) in the next post.

8 - As the farmer poured the slops into the trough, the pig came over eagerly. “Wanted some pie, piggy?” the farmer asked kindly. The pig grunted and started eating the warm corn meal slops. It was like warm corn pudding. The farmer always made it warm for the pig, and got it to the farm yard before it cooled. He knew the pig would eat it anyway, but he knew she liked it best warm. He was a kind man. He scratched her between her big hairy ears and hummed a song.

9 - The barn cat looked down on the farmer and the pig. The cat knew how to get things she was not supposed to eat. The pig had a pie once last month, but only because no one expected her to take it. Now the farm wife knew the pig would try to steal pies, and it had become like a game. The wife always won now. But the cat knew how to get things. She stole sardines off the plate. She got in the milk buckets when the farmer milked the cows.

10 - The farmer knew the cat stole milk sometimes. The cow would be sleepy and the bucket would be full of warm sweet smelling milk. He would turn his back to wash his hands before taking the bucket into the house to his wife. When he turned back the cat would be sitting beside the bucket, licking her whiskers. “Did you get a taste while I wasn’t looking, missy?” he would ask the cat. She would look up at him and lick her nose. She knew she must never let him see her steal the milk.

11 - A hawk’s shadow moved over the eating pig. The farmer looked up and shaded his eyes with his hand. “A chicken hawk,” he said to the pig. “You’re too big to worry about hawks, eh?” and he grinned at the pig and patted her huge pink back.
The pig pictured a hawk big enough to carry her away. It would swoop down on wings bigger than the barn roof. The huge bird would scream so loud the ground would tremble.

12 - The big hawk’s screams would make the house dance like it was in an earthquake. The pie would fall from the windowsill, and land right side up on the stones below. The pig would rush forward to eat the lovely warm apple pie. She could almost taste the hot apples and the sugary crust. But the hawk would snatch her up and fly her over the house roof, away from the pie. The pig shed a tear into her corn slops.

13 - The chickens saw the shadow, too. They screamed and ran flapping around the chicken yard. They were afraid to get eaten. They didn’t want to be some creature’s dinner. They wanted to eat bugs and peck each other forever in the warm sunshine. They wanted to sit close to each other in the roost and fall asleep in peace every night. They were running and flapping and losing feathers and screaming. They were all going to die! They were all going to be eaten! Help! Help!

14 - The hawk looked at the scene below. The chickens looked fat and tasty. The hawk circled lower. He saw the farmer and knew the man might have a gun. But he didn’t see one. The chickens sure looked good. The hawk swooped lower still. He was going to dive down and grab one. Maybe the big fat white one. No, that big round red one. Or maybe the black and gray speckled one. It was fun to think about it while he circled over the chickens running all over their yard.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Reading Lessons 1-7

I wrote these mini story chapters to teach our youngest to read last winter. Once he knew the letters and basic phonetics from sounding out words with me, I printed this, cut it in strips, and we did one strip each night until by the end he was ready for other books and starting to read on his own. I had done something similar for our daughter; it was also three weeks long, just enough to get her over the hump.

Lessons 1-7 in this post, 8-14 will be in the next, and 15-21 will be in the last.

1 - The pig lay in the mud. She was as big as a cow. The sun shone on her big pink muddy side. She wiggled her large triangle ears and grinned. She was cool on the bottom, on the mud, and warm on top, in the sun. She felt like two pigs. One made of ice cream, the other made of warm bread.

2 - The pig lay in the mud. She dreamed of baking like a big loaf of bread. She dreamed she was glazed with egg and sugar and baking golden brown. She took a deep breath. She could smell the bread baking, the smell of golden crust. She raised her big head and sniffed again. She smelled not bread but pie. She got up and trotted towards the farm house.

3 - The fresh baked pie was on the windowsill cooling. It was an apple pie. The pig looked up at it with her little pink eyes. Her big flat nose bobbed up and down, sniffing. Her big ears, with white hairs all around the edges, flapped with joy. She loved apple pie.
“Shoo pig!” said the farm wife. “This is NOT your pie! Shoo! Scat!”

4 - The pig grunted and tossed her big pink head, splashing mud on the side of the farm house. It almost got on the pie. The farm wife snatched up the pie and took it in the kitchen. She came back to the window.
“You’re not going to get that pie by getting it dirty. It’s NOT your pie! Shoo!”
The pig turned and trotted back into the farm yard.

5 - The pig lay down in the mud again, on the other side this time. Cool side to the sun, warm side to the cool mud. “I am a big cream pie,” thought the pig. “I am baking in the oven. My crust is getting brown. I will eat the pie with chocolate muddy sauce. I like the smell of coffee from the house, but I won’t drink coffee when I eat the pie. I’m a big pink and brown pie.”

6 - The pig lifted her head and looked back to the house. The pie was back on the windowsill. The pig got up slowly and snuck up on it. She was going to eat that apple pie. She could almost feel the hot apples in her mouth, the warm crust between her teeth. A broom came out of the window and smacked her on the nose. “Shoo, pig!” yelled the farm wife. The broom came down again - thwack!

7 - The farmer came into the farm yard with a bucket. He saw the pig sneaking up on the pie and grinned. Would the pig get the pie or would he have it with his lunch? It would be fun to find out. Then the broom came out the window and whacked the pig over and over until the pig ran away. The farmer felt sorry for her, but was glad there would be apple pie for lunch. He walked to the pig trough with the bucket.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Debd's Blog and Detective Work

A comment on one of my book reviews led back to Debd's thoughtful site of Eastern Orthodoxy, homeschooling, and books. However, the first time I visited Deb on the Run (now nightly reading for me) I was distracted by the photo at the top.

It's an image used by the creator of the blog scheme Deb is using. It looked like Cornwall or Wales or ...

Where was it? Subsequent visits to her blog fanned the flames - I had to know.

So I viewed the html source of her blog page and found that the scheme is called Ocean-Mist. Googling "Ocean-mist blog" led to some Internet info on the blog scheme and it's author Ed Merritt. Several more pages had questions from users of the theme, wondering where the photo was from, and guessing Cornwall. Further Google research found the phrase "Ocean Mist theme by Ed Merritt ported by Crimson, Photo by rexfarucao." That looked Portuguese, and certainly worth a check.

The next Google stop was "rexfarucao." A stock photo site had two photos by this photographer - both from the Azores. And Rexfarucao's Flickr photostream, all of which seems to be about the Azores.

The Azores? I had heard the name but had never looked them up. A Flickr search for Azores finished the job. They're incredibly beautiful islands in the Atlantic, under the government of Portugal. Click here to see a photo that demonstrates this is the source of the amazing photo in Ocean-mist. Then see this charming photo that shows the slow pastoral pace of some of the islands. Mullemulle has a wonderful Flickr photo set from an Azores trip. Or look at this wonderful Flickr set by Janica Franco, of faces from the Feira Quinhetista, on the isle of San Miguel. Explore many more photos of this amazing place at the Flickr Tag for the Azores.

In the harbor of Horta, on the island of Faial, there is a tradition of painting on the wall a flag for your ship/voyage. It is said to ensure a safe passage. Here is a passage by Jaoa de Melo (translated to English) about this.

Before sailing away, everyone must draw on the marina wall [Horta - Faial] a flag for a dream country, some sails filled up with the wind of love and doom, a geometrical or sophisticated figure, and write down the name of the yacht or sailing boat that went by, and leave messages and poetic phrases – for this will mitigate the wrath of the sea gods and grant the trip back home.

Many of these flags are captured in a Flickr photo set by Joe Taruga. The quote above is from that photo set, as well.

These flowers bloom famously all over the islands.

I dreamed and explored for several hours one rainy afternoon. It was almost like visiting - but now I want to go there for real. I don't speak a word of Portuguese...

While nearly every Flickr photo I found of the Azores had "All rights reserved," the photo above, from the Flickr Photostream of Vida de Vidro, was shared. Many thanks!

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The Toolshed

The Toolshed
Copyright Steve Emery - all rights reserved

The shovel, hung high on the wall beside the sleeping rake, looked down in the gloom at the trowels.

"Shhhhh, young ones," he hissed softly. "You'll wake your elders."

The trowels fell nearly still, with only an occasional muffled giggle to betray their location in the shadows.

"I wish I'd been properly cleaned before being put to bed," complained the spading fork for the hundredth time.

The shovel rolled his eyes. "If it's any comfort, the only clean tool in the shed is the unused Dutch bulb planter."

"And at least we're dry," added the fifty year old edging tool.

"Thank goodness they found me and cleaned me up before the snow set in," added the hedge shears, which had been left out for weeks beside the beech thicket. "I can still taste the sharpening stone and oil. Mmmmm."

The trowels all giggled at this, and mimicked the shears' sound of delight followed by a quiet belch. This set half the tools in the shed chuckling at the crude humor.

"Shhhh," said the shovel again, cautioning them all to whisper. He gestured towards the old rake.

The rake continued to snore softly, dreaming of small potatoes caught between her tines. The earth was warmer than the air, and smelled of the complex commerce of worms and microbes. Above the bed the wind whistled in the nearly bare maple branches, but below the rich loam it was still summer, a dream of warm days past, a dream within a dream. With a start she woke, and began to cry.

"Don't cry!" "What is it, dear." "Tell us your troubles, old woman."

"It was such a lovely dream," she said, drying her eyes.

Outside the winter wind whined over the shed roof. Inside, in the gloom, the rake told her dream. Then each tool reminisced in turn about their favorite sensation of the previous year. The axe spoke of the first bite into the sour flavor of walnut wood and the startling explosive feeling of splitting tulip poplar logs. The shovel mourned the loss of another quarter inch of edge, rubbed off on the concrete drive while moving tons of dirt and manure. The trowels compared all the different hands which had used them that summer, and what those hands had worn. The mower growled about grass which had gotten too thick and tall, remarking that more frequent mowing would have been better for everyone, including the gardener, who had often ended up holding his back and groaning. All the tools agreed that the gardener had done a deal of moaning, complaining and cursing in their midst.

"As if there were no one listening," sniffed the red handled trowel. One of the others made a rude noise and did a perfect imitation of the gardener's spluttering manner, running on about the shovel which had broken a third handle while digging up day lilies for dividing.

"Shhhh!" said the shovel on the wall. "Don't remind him."

On the potting bench was the head of the other shovel, with his neck still choked by the butt end of the broken handle. None of the tools knew whether the gardener would try a fourth handle or give up on the shovel altogether. It was a sobering thought, and they all pondered it in silence.

Eventually they all drifted off to sleep, the old rake snoring softly, the trowels restless as children, and the tree saw grinding his teeth. They dreamed of spring and the gardener's warm hands and warm words when he reached for them for the first time in the new season. The watering cans dreamed of cool water sprinkling hopefully on rows of newly planted seeds and into holes in preparation for perennials. The work gloves drifted in and out of dreams of mulch and wheat straw. The shovel fell asleep last, looking at his fellow on the bench. He dreamed that the gardener fitted a smaller handle and gave the other shovel over to his children, to start another generation of gardeners. His smiling snores joined the others in the earthy cold of the wintry potting shed.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Bug Walk II

Older son and I went for another bug walk. I had been seeing cicadas on the ground on day walks, so I suspected we would find them on the ground at night. They don't eat after they emerge - they live a week of song, mating, laying eggs, and then they pass away.

At first the walk yielded little but a tiny grasshopper, several field crickets, and a big Saturnid moth up in a street lamp's glow. I was wondering if it would mostly be about the exercise. But then we found this big creature. One of the largest toads we've ever seen, just sitting in the road, enjoying the heat of the pavement. We took its picture and shoo'd it off the road. It hopped short distances but surprisingly fast.

Then we found several cicadas, pictured here. They make a racket when you pick them up (if they are male, which three out of four we found were - oldest son is holding this noisy fellow). The last one, with the white markings, was by far the largest and loudest, and his stridulating organs (noise makers) were differently shaped and on a different part of his back than the others. He may be a different species.

The cricket is a camel cricket (cave cricket). There were many of them, hard to even see by flashlight beam, all in one small section of the neighborhood, about a quarter mile stretch of road. Normally these guys stay in places like the crawl spaces of houses. We have photos of three different individuals, this was the largest and most marked.

Finally the huge find of the evening was the luna moth. It was on the road - they also don't eat after they emerge from their cocoon. It let us lift it off the road, then it flew off my hand and onto my back, climbing up to my shoulder. Finally it flew up into the street lamp nimbus, where it flew round and round, with us trying to get photos of it in flight until our batteries ran out.

We'd have happily done the walk just to see either the toad or the luna moth alone.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Garden Startle

Gardening is not always restful. In fact, sometimes it can swing us rapidly from flight to fight and back again.

Once, several years ago, I was weeding (surely seen as one of the most tedious and dull activities on the planet - I remember getting quite eloquent on this score when discussing weeding under my breath as a child "laborer"). I've mentioned before that our gardens are made almost entirely of raised beds, held together with dry-stack stone - no mortar. With my mind in a numbed state from the job at hand (ever notice that weeding can be a totally non-verbal task? It is, in fact, best performed when you allow your mind to slip into a more right-brained mode, not identifying things by name. In this way you can see the plants which are "squatting" in your beds (no right to be there) more easily. They just "pop" out at you. Is the suspense building as I take all these tangents?) I find weeding can be like valium. (Children can't appreciate this because life has not yet put them in need of tranquilizers; kids believe adults have over-rated tranquility.) I noticed a bit of buried soaker hose had moved in the bed so that two bends of it stuck out from between the stones.

Wait a minute. I don't use soaker hoses. And why does this black hose have scales? Hardly believing what I saw (and with my pulse already doubled in the usual human reaction to long creatures with NO LEGS) I picked up a nearby straw and gently poked the hose. As expected it swelled up. I did not actually hear a hiss (where was the snake's head anyway?!) but I felt as if I had. I involuntarily took several steps backward and let out a loud, "Woh-ho-ho-ho!" Here in front of me was an isolated piece of live snake, just five inches or so, with no head or tail. Like a sentence fragment.

After the brief adrenaline rush, my reason stepped back in and reminded me that glossy black snakes, in this part of the world, are beneficial.

Then I thought of our beloved ugly toads! (We sometimes go out at night and find several of these so-ugly-lovely beasties in the driveway and under the street lamp. We love them.) Was the snake eating them? A brief wave of passion flowed over me. ShouId I kill the scaly trespasser? Was he poaching toads on my preserve? (Oh my, I picture poached toads on toast.) A shudder ran up my spine at the horrible and too tactile thought of trying to pull the interloper out of the stones.

But reason again prevailed (or was it cowardice?) - let nature take its course!

Moomin Light long ago stopped stepping into the dense centers of the flowerbeds to deadhead or pick. Too risky.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Travel - Sigh - Home Pie

We don't do so well when I am away on business. From the early days of our romance, in our teens, we've really been two parts of one person.

For Moomin Light this has become the flag of my absence. She explained it here.

And this sort of thing has become my symbol of getting back. I made this the night after the end of nearly three weeks of trips.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Fragile Things - Neil Gaiman

Fragile Things, by Neil Gaiman, was my latest concentrated listen, over 10 hours, while driving to and from Knoxville, TN. It was read by the author, which was just right. The two dozen or so short stories, poems, and one novella, work a linked and continuous sort of magic on you. The idea that stories are important to us as people, in many complex ways, appears frequently, as do a few characters that span stories, and a number of other important motifs.

Those of you who liked Stardust will find this is quite different. Some of these stories venture over the line into light horror (often just over a hedge from fantasy). Some have despicable characters. Some get explicit sexually. All are compelling and get under your skin. All made me think. Some I will carry with me a long time. None, even the tough ones, ride uncomfortably in my mind - though some are harsh to recall. I'm glad I listened.

I would caution that anyone head-over-heels in love with the Narnia books should avoid the tale The Problem of Susan. This is one of the most explicit tales, and while I loved even the darkest of the others in this book, and I understand some of the motive behind this tale, I wish it had been left out.

Beyond that, though, most of the tales are told from solid flesh and blood perspectives, have fascinating premises, and are satisfying bits and pieces of various worlds. There is plenty of humor of various kinds. Many of the stories turn reality inside out in interesting ways. Others are odd twists on classic short stories. Study in Emerald, for instance, is a parallel tale to the Study in Scarlett by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle - which I had fortunately read recently, so each tale echoed in my mind. The poems need to be read aloud to appreciate them properly (as with most poetry).

The book begins with the lighter, sweeter tales, and then gets more meaty and serious, with the most potent (and difficult) stories later.

The novella at the end will have you rethinking your definition of "monsters." And, since it also plays games with who and what are fragile, and it revisits some characters from earlier tales, it's a fitting place to part from this interesting collection.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Kittywink, Cwab, Tumsel and Linsel

My car (the Kittywink, or the Winkycat, or just Wink) has a pet. I got it for her years ago, in PA.

Cwab used to be bright red with metallic threads, but the years have mellowed him to this slightly pink shade of gray. He has always been this flat, lying behind the back seat, looking through the windshield.

It used to be there were so many green 98 Camrys in parking lots that I would check for Cwab inside before inserting my key. Time has altered that.

As for the Kittywink's name, when I got her, about 9 years ago, she reminded me of the graceful lines of a sea bird at rest on the open water. A kittiwake, I thought. Mentioning this to our kids, daughter got it mixed up in her six year old mind and it came back out "kittywink." It stuck. The other names have grown up around it.

Names have a way of changing, the way our cats started out Tamlin and Santolina, and have ended up Tummy and Lina, when they're not being called other things like, Turkey and Sleeky, Tumsel and Linsel, or Chuffly and Missitymuff.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Fish and Portulaca

Ever notice, reading books written over 50 years ago, that there seem to be a lot of flowers and plants no longer in cultivation? Ever seen a moss rose? How about purslane? Both are flowers I've read about but never seen.

Or have I? Turns out both are just earlier names for portulaca, here shown growing like an unruly hairpiece on my birthday fish planter. Moomin Light got these (fish planter and plant - she took this photo, too) for my birthday, which I moved to April this year.

Oldest son used to call these flowers "buttercup coppers," still my favorite name for them.

Second photo was taken by me two weeks later. Still blooming.

And this one over a month after that.

And this one a week later still...