Thursday, December 30, 2010

Almost Perfect

Mars and I spent Christmas vacation with daughter-in-law Monica and son Bram in their home town of Santa Fe, NM.

While there, the four of us soaked in an early evening outdoor, hillside hot tub at Ten Thousand Waves -- "a unique mountain spa resort.....that feels like a Japanese onsen."

It was.....

Almost Perfect

Steam rising from bath,
under starlit winter sky -
ice cold kimonos.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Some Things are Forever

It was only late November, and I missed them already.

I didn't realize how much until Mars and I were waiting at a red light in our home town of Wethersfield, Connecticut and she commented casually "Oh, look at the dandelions."

And there they were. Four juicy, yellow, out-of-place flowers clustered in a diamond formation on an adjacent suburban front yard. It took all of my willpower to keep from speeding home, grabbing my fork-tongued weeding tool, returning to the crime scene, and forcibly extricating the offending weeds from their non-seasonal attempt at lawn supremacy.

Damn! That would have felt really good.

If the truth be told it was weeds and the act of removing them that got me into gardening in the first place, and the main thing that keeps still me at it -- year, after year, after year.

At first I thought that I was in it for the flowers and the vegetables. Before I knew anything about growing things I actually thought that it was the hand of man, properly applied - with some minor assistance from a fertilizer or two -- that brought floral beauty and fleshless nutrition into the world.

That I would lovingly place new seeds or seedlings into the warm earth; wrap them in swaddling soil; carefully provide them with proper levels of hydration; coax them into their toddler-hood; hover over their growth like a helicopter horticulturalist; guide them through their adolescence; support them into adulthood; and bask in their beauty and savor their flavor when they matured into perfection -- all the while experiencing an almost mystical connection with the plant akin to that of a doting parent.


It all begins okay. On a cool spring morning, made warm by the sun on my back and the exercise of my shovel, I can feel nature sifting through my hands as I gently place the fledgling flora in the rich planting medium that I have created from dirt, compost, and sphagnum peat moss. For a brief moment in time the once-and-future plant, and I, are one with nature. (Well maybe more like fifty percent. It takes two to tango. And in spite of my fanciful wishes I really don't think my partner is that aware of what's happening at all.)

Then it's all-downhill after that.

For weeks there are absolutely no signs of life from the seeds. Then all at once, multitudes of tiny leaves poke through the surface of the earth. All of them are in the proximity of the planting site, but none of them are exactly lined up with the taut white string with which I have carefully marked my future garden spot. All of them look slightly different from each other, but none of them look anything like the vegetation that I am hoping to grow.

Frozen by my inability to distinguish desired flora from insidious invader I leave them alone. Several weeks later, with no intervention at all on my part, a few of them turn miraculously into reasonable replicas of the illustration on the seed package.

The seedlings on the other hand either start growing immediately -- or die. There is not so much as a hint of me being needed. Then, if they are perennials, they reappear next year some place other than where I remember them being the season before.

But you can always count on weeds. They pop up over night - no long growing cycle. And you know exactly where they will appear -- in all of those places where you do not want them.

And, unlike my forced attempt at a spiritual communion with seeds and seedlings, my interconnection with these unwanted vegetative invaders has centuries of speculative evidence to back it up. It is of course the famous "hunter-prey" relationship.

As exemplified by the Cree Indians, it is "...the idea that animals are friends or lovers of human beings is the "dominant ideology" of hunting. The event of killing an animal is not represented as an accident or a contest but as the result of a deliberate decision of the animal or another being to permit the killing to occur. The dream events that Crees say prefigure successful kills are sometimes talked about as signs that this permission has been given. In waking experience, the decision finds culmination when the animal enters a trap or exhibits its body to the hunter for a killing shot." (

I am certain that this is as true of dandelions, as it is of deer.

Flowers come. And flowers go. But weeds, like diamonds, are forever.

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Real Christmas "Flower"

Over time two flowers have emerged in the American consciousness as the vegetative symbols of Christmas -- the Poinsettia and the Christmas cactus. And each one comes with its own apocryphal folk story.

"The legend of the poinsettia comes from Mexico. It tells of a girl named Maria and her little brother Pablo. They were very poor but always looked forward to the Christmas festival. Each year a large manger scene was set up in the village church, and the days before Christmas were filled with parades and parties. The two children loved Christmas but were always saddened because they had no money to buy presents. They especially wished that they could give something to the church for the Baby Jesus. But they had nothing. One Christmas Eve, Maria and Pablo set out for church to attend the service. On their way they picked some weeds growing along the roadside and decided to take them as their gift to the Baby Jesus in the manger scene. Of course they were teased by other children when they arrived with their gift, but they said nothing for they knew they had given what they could. Maria and Pablo began placing the green plants around the manger and miraculously, the green top leaves turned into bright red petals, and soon the manger was surrounded by beautiful star-like flowers and so we see them today." (

"Legend has it the Christmas Cactus dates back many years to the land now known as Bolivia and a Jesuit missionary, Father Jose, who labored endlessly to convert the natives there. He had come across the Andes Mountains from the city of Lim nearly a year before. But he felt the people of this village on the edge of the great jungle were still suspicious. He had cared for the sick and shown the natives how to improve their simple dwellings, which leaked dismally in the rainy season. Most important, he had attempted to teach them the story of the Bible, especially the life of Jesus, though much seemed to be beyond their comprehension. He had told them about the beautifully decorated altars in cities during holidays, yet here it was Christmas Eve and he was on his knees alone in from of his rude altar. Then he heard voices singing a familiar hymn he had taught his flock. He turned to see a procession of the village children carrying armfuls of blooming green branches (which we now know as the Christmas Cactus) that they had gathered in the jungle for the Christ Child. Father Jose joyfully gave thanks for this hopeful budding of Christianity." (

Nice stories, but in reality nothing more than urban myths. For the real scoop on the one and only authentic Christmas plant just keep reading.

Robert and Brassica Oleracea were much in love, very married, and quite moneyless.
They were not dirt poor. They did have grass in their yard -- and flowers -- and vegetables. But Robert did not yet have the wherewithal to provide his bride of two years with even the most modest of engagement baubles. Nor did either of them sport a wedding band -- not out of disbelief or disdain, but rather financial necessity.

Brassica made light of this lack of finger ornamentation. She even gave Robert a tiny piece of bituminous, which she unearthed one day during her yard work telling him that this "diamond in the rough" (which she displayed in a small plastic case on one of their living room shelves) would one day turn itself the precious colorless crystalline stone that he so badly wished that she could have.

And she said that jewelry-less hands were actually a benefit to her, as she preferred nothing more then to spend her every waking hour submerged up to her wrists in soil, working the garden.

Indeed it was her heroic horticultural exertions that were responsible for their lush green lawn (the pride of their neighborhood), their flourishing perennial beds (equal to any professionally maintained botanical garden), and their vegetable crop (healthier and more productive than any farm, organic or pesticidal, in the area.) And he was her partner, devoting every available minute he had, assisting her in the yard -- and learning.

Of the three it was her edible plants of which Brassica was the most proud -- but also caused her the most frustration.

Proud because her tomatoes, carrots, squash, eggplant, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and turnips were the largest and the tastiest that anyone who ever measured or ate had ever experienced.

Frustrated because, as satisfying as all of her work in the vegetable garden was, Brassica felt that, deep down, all she was doing was reiterating someone else's creations. What she really wanted was a species of her own -- something that she had neither the time nor the money to develop.

Which of course is where Robert got his idea. Unable, as usual, to afford anything of significance to give his wife for Christmas, he decided to crossbreed a prototype plant which Brassica could call her very own.

He began his work with furtive trips to the library followed by secret late-night experiments in the dark recesses of their unused cellar. And ended with an unnamed and virtually indescribable blending of a cabbage and a turnip

It was ugly -- vaguely threatening looking and, at first (and second and third) glance, utterly unappetizing. Your first impulse was to turn it over and over in your hand, looking for some sign as to what should be eaten and what should be discarded. From one angle it looked like one of the Russian Sputnik satellites from the 1950's. From another view it appeared to be an unpainted wooden croquet ball with tentacles.

And it seemed to have three distinct parts: a bulbous orb, tubular stems and undersized leaves - none of which looked as if they belonged with the other two, or (taken by themselves or in combination) could possibly be edible.

But time was up. It was Christmas morning and his strange gift had to be ready - ready or not.

She loved it.

With tears in her eyes she removed the tiny piece of bituminous from the shelf and replaced it with her oddly shaped present.

"This will be our new diamond in the rough," she said. "Our very own coal Robby."

And so began the legend of the Christmas Brassica oleracea.
Happy Holidays!

Monday, December 06, 2010

Suburban Advent Calendar

Deflated snowmen,

unlit strings of colored lights -

Santa's home at night.