Tuesday, February 21, 2023

Attending to the Garden: Musings on the Coming of Spring

Yesterday morning I spent rather a long time doing something I had wanted to get at for years: transplanting a clump of wild gladiolus--the scions of a single plant I found under the nandina shrubs on the north side of the property in the first spring after we moved into the house.

I don't think I actually planted them in this spot, but thanks to our furry denizens (some of whom later nearly destroyed the entire patch after developing a taste for the bulbs) some ended up next to the sidewalk that extends from our back door to form a large square area within which a brick patio and our greenhouse have been erected. After said near-extinction, I thought I'd lost them again after the deep freeze in February of 2021, but they're incredibly hardy and keep coming back no matter what happens.

The wild gladioli in May of 2021(lower right)--after Snowmageddon 

Unfortunately, their growth had been so exuberant that they had obscured a large part of the sidewalk. I had thought for several years that they needed to be dug up and transplanted, and some lower-growing replacement needed to be found.

On a whim, I got out my garden/archaeology tools (my old Marshalltown mason's trowel and a soil screener), as well as my spading fork, a couple of nippers, a large rusty iron nail, a little Japanese twig saw, and a foam pad for kneeling), and went to work. This was probably not a great idea, given my current age-related joint problems, but the weather is warming up and I wanted to take advantage of the temperatures (in the high 60s yesterday, and 80s today). Indeed, I was rather sore by the time I had enough of the job done to quit for the day, but enjoyed the work--even though it turned out to be more arduous than I had expected. And I broke my spading fork. After that, I had to use a regular spade--pictured below, along with some of the other tools and my assistant, Molly.

It turns out that the bulbs had multiplied and bunched up right next to the concrete sidewalk, some even burrowing a bit under the three-inch slabs. I ended up using the trowel not so much as a digging tool, but as an excavator--taking me back to my days in the Long Island Pine Barrens, working on a site where some "Pineys" (itinerant travelers) had camped. A paint brush would have helped, but I was down on all fours and I was saving the effort of getting up until I was finished. In the end, some three hours after I'd started, I had unearthed the clump's components, laid them in the soil screen, piled leaves on top of them, and dowsed them with water to keep them from drying out overnight.This morning I performed bulb-triage, and divided the crop into bulbs-only, bulbs-with-short-leaves, large-bulbs-with-long-leaves, and little-tiny-bulbs-with-iffy-stems-and-leaves, and bits to be composted. I found places to plant all but the LBWLL group, and they'll have to be protected again tonight. They'll go into the front border and a little swath of border next to the porte-cochere, where a few canna lilies and volunteer wild onions have found a home. But that's for tomorrow.

The weather, after some very cold spurts, quite a bit of rain, an ice storm (which affected us very little), is now tempering out. The skies have been lovely, with evidence of the winds that we have grown to expect as we head to spring (now only a month away).

These days, when not scruffing about in the clay, I spend time musing on mortality, as one does when confronted with the brevity of existence. We've lost two close friends within the last couple of months, and I came into the house yesterday to the news of President Carter's entering into hospice, and President Biden's trip to Kiev on the first anniversary of that needless, wasteful war in Ukraine. The recent earthquake in Turkey brings back memories of much less violent events in my childhood, but stories that have emerged from that catastrophe are both horrifying and heartening.

I'm especially moved by Jimmy Carter's choice to forego further hospitalization and to end his long and inspiring life at home. This was a choice my own father made, when his thyroid cancer could no longer be treated effectively. I have been grateful ever since that my children and I got to see him in his own den, next to his ham radio setup, surrounded by books he loved and the family that cherished him. I wish everyone could come to the end of their lives in peace and relative comfort. For those who face war and disaster, there's little any of us can do but to support efforts to relieve some of the anguish. It feels incredibly inadequate, but it is something. And so is remembering them, and finding ways to end political violence and to mitigate natural disasters by building better and safer places to live.

As we move from one season to another, my natural pessimism fades a bit. Things really could be worse, and attending to the accidental garden provides some equilibrium, at least for a time. But now I think I'll go and enjoy the company of The Beloved Spouse and our "daemons" (in Philip Pullman's usage). The rest of the transplanting can wait until tomorrow. 

End note: The Marshalltown trowel link included above is to a post on Owl's Cabinet of Wonders, from my MOOC period of existence, nearly a decade ago. I truly enjoyed the online courses offered through Coursera and other venues, and am glad I had the foresight to include some of the materials in the blogs. 

Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Welcome, Year of the Bunny!

One might have expected, given this sunrise on the last day of the Gregorian year 2022, that the new year might bring dramatic events. And in view of current news, it seems already to have done so. But since many of my formative years were spent in Asia, I developed a particular fondness for the Lunar New Year as celebrated in Taiwan and Japan. I tend to save any resolutions and reflections involving new beginnings until Chinese New Year, and this one has brought my favorite: the Year of the Rabbit, beginning on January 22. 

What I hope for in this new year might better be suggested by this view:

Or this:

When I was ten, we lived in Taipei, and I was pretty much a free-range child--allowed to go about the city with my friends, walking or using public transport and pedicabs to get around. We lived on Chung Shan Pei Lu, one of the main drags then, not far from a club frequented by GIs from various US services.  I passed it with a friend on my way home, just as a young serviceman and his pal came out. At the same time, a local fellow selling pets from a bicycle stopped to let us admire his wares. One of these was a small white rabbit, and I asked to hold it. The GI, who was maybe eighteen, said I reminded him of his sister, and asked if he could buy the rabbit for me. Being a trusting sort of person, and inordinately fond of small, furry creatures, I let him. My friend and I took the rabbit home, where he was promptly accepted by my family and named "Harry"--after the rabbit in Jerry Lewis's best film ever, Geisha Boy.

Rabbits, in the Chinese Zodiac, symbolize many traits I admire: peace, tranquility, empathy, rest, intellect, reserve. This year's element is water, which lends a Taoist/Heraclitian sense of process, flow, and reflection. The last Water Rabbit year I actually celebrated, 1963, occurred during my first full year back in the US, and was spent mostly with my Grandmother, who was the calmest, wisest woman I have ever known. But because I was fifteen, the year was characterized more by self-absorption than self-reflection; still, it was also a watershed year for a newly repatriated child on a new path toward womanhood.

In the sixty years between then and now, I've grown up, raised two children, outlived almost everyone in my immediate genetic family, survived numerous life-threatening events, and have finally learned to appreciate rest.

Several years ago, I discovered the quirky, smart, amusing, and informative British journal, The Idler. I subscribed for a while, but only resumed regular readership after I retired. Editor Tom Hodgkinson and his gang espouse a life of enjoyable work tempered by repose. The bi-monthly journal promotes philosophical thinking, artful leisure, and eschews soul-destroying capitalist ideas like constant, unrelenting work. Meaningful work, like husbandry, craft, writing, learning, teaching, music-making, and the like lie at the core of genuine idleness. Resting because you're exhausted by 9 to 5 life is not being idle--it's trying to stay alive.

I suppose that one reason I originally wanted to become a teacher was that it would allow me to read and write, with time off to pursue interesting projects. And so it did, to some extent. But it was still exhausting and, in the end, much less satisfying than it had been in the beginning. When the opportunity came to retire with a nice severance package and a bonus, I took it. Within a couple of years The Beloved Spouse followed me out into the Happy Land of Idleness, where we (mostly) toil not, but reap peace and quiet. We made it through the Plague without catching it, and have kept enjoying our hermetic existence ever since.

As read through the New York Times these days, I notice articles focused on "laziness." The most beautiful of these is Elliot Kukla's "The Most Valuable Thing I Can Teach My Child is How to be Lazy" (Jan. 2022), a paean to quietude, warmth, and parental love. But the numbers of essays on "quiet quitting," resignation, laziness, work as a false idol, four-day (and fewer) work weeks, and the existential price of the American "work ethic" are piling up. They're also pretty compelling, after three years of hearing how well some people adapted to working at home, at their own pace, and accomplishing more.

This certainly hasn't happened for everyone, but I do hear frequently about people who, after the lockdown experience, have learned that they can make do on much less income, have become better, more frugal cooks because of inflation, and don't feel the need to go out to dinner, visit bars, go to theaters, or take expensive vacations. 

I've argued for many years, here and in other venues, that in order to save our planet for future generations, we really must learn to do with much less. My own life has become a long-term experiment in frugality, wastelessness, energy management, and designing a revised vision of political economy, and we have both been thriving in the effort.

Despite all of the bad news that has occurred in the first month of the Gregorian year, my only resolution stems from the character of "rabbitness" that flows out of the notion of the water rabbit.  If we could only slow down, stop striving for monetary wealth, become more empathic and tolerant, learn to want less and to place need before desire, perhaps we can effect more positive changes. I'm not convinced that doing so will change anybody's mind that's already mired in modernity, but becoming more bunny-esque seems a laudable--and attainable--goal for a newly-minted seventy-five year-old. 

I haven't seen our own resident rabbits this year, but expect to come upon them, emerging from the habitats we've been fostering for them. If we get the real snow (not just sleet) the weather-folk keep promising us, I expect to see a few bunny tracks when next I venture out into the Accidental Garden.

Happy New Year(s) everyone! 

Thursday, November 17, 2022

Looking Up

Pelicans migrating over Cooper Lake, Texas, October 2022

As autumn progresses into winter, I spend a lot of time looking skyward. This particular photo was taken just as we arrived for last month's sojourn at Cooper lake, and we weren't really sure what we were seeing. The magnified version (taken on a newish iPhone 13 mini) shows them a little more clearly:

They were caught on the fly (ahem), so neither photo is particularly well composed, but I was happy to get them--especially after we asked the folks in the park office what we had seen. American White Pelicans migrate over and into Texas for the winter, and these were apparently making a flyover on their way to lakes south of Cooper. 

While we were scouting the South Sulphur Unit of the park for future stays, we caught some pretty interesting clouds and cloud-contrail combos overhead:

Back home, I caught a hot-air balloon on the camera for the first time this year. They're a fairly typical sight over this area during the fall, but iffy weather has prevented earlier appearances. The annual festival is held south of us, in Plano (quite close to where my kids were raised and The Beloved Spouse spent most of his teaching career) during the last week or so of September, but it's too crowded for us, so we have to make do with what floats north.  Our dog Arlo used to bay like a hound whenever they fired up their burners overhead. Nylah ignores them.

The tree canopy is still pretty thick over our little "farm," which means that our access to sky is still somewhat limited. But I did see some pretty stuff overhead yesterday while I was taking Molly out for an afternoon squirrel-stalk.

These days things are somewhat less dramatic than they were at the end of August:

While I was looking for the above, I ran across the first shot I got of our baby Mississippi Kite (the one who fledged and flew for my last post). I'm not terribly quick on the mark these days, but at least his (?) colors are showing.

In general, I'm in a much better mood than I have been in some time. The ticker is working just fine, and the elections turned out far better than we had even hoped (although Texas is--well, Texas). Feeling as though we have dodged a bullet, we've entered a stage of equanimity that's become rare and unfamiliar. It was good to see that the "Zoomers" are coming into their own. This is particularly reassuring, because they're the ones who're inheriting the world we've made. Here on the farm, we're trying to do what we can to keep things from getting worse, at least environmentally, but there's so much damage that repair will take far longer than I have any hope of living to see. 

Still, things are certainly looking up. And that means that my Skywatch Friday post this week is much more appropriate than usual. Have a good one, People.