Writings about

the many life lessons

unearthed when we dig

in the dirt . . . and pursue

a range of other interests

in the constantly evolving

garden of life.

Friday, November 30, 2012

These Blooms Aren't Seasonal

Not cold, nor snow, nor gray of day can keep good blooms down. This is especially true of one of my more unusual trees – the twice-blooming cherry, which is blooming sparsely but gamely as it always does in late autumn and often into winter.

Prunus subhirtella 'Autumnalis'

This effort contrasts with the tree's spring show, which I noted in this piece last year. That lusher flowering fits spring's plumpness, while autumn flowers appear reluctantly – apologetic for showing up when little else blooms.

No need for them to be that way. A look around the garden shows they are not alone.

While the cherry will drop its blooms by winter, the daphne is known to bloom every month of the year, even in snow.

Daphne odora 'Leucanthe'

The perennial primrose, red blooms amid green leaves, defies cold and snow, proving that delicate looks can belie an inner toughness.
Primula (species)

Meanwhile, the cherry continues to complement the snow, as its pink blossom-flakes fade slowly until they reach the color of snowflakes, then drop and lie under snows to come, eventually becoming part of the earth itself. An illustration of nature's dependable, reassuring rhythms.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Read All About It . . .

. . . in Living the Country Life.

This is train season for travelers heading home for the holidays, but for Rob Smith, train season runs all year long.

Climb aboard this link to a story about Rob and his lifelong passion for the rails, a passion expressed through his model train garden.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Technology's Demonic Appetite

I collect Web browsers the way I collect plants. Excessively, simply because I like them. So, I usually keep several in play – currently Firefox, Chrome, Safari, Opera.

Sometimes, they fight, and I wind up as collateral damage. Like the other night, when I somehow fell into Application Hell where certain apps would work only with certain browsers, and icons were ping-ponging all over my desktop. Apps wouldn't open because they were “in the trash,” my little Mac said. But really they weren't.

Caught in this web, I could only think of a book I read years ago: Why Things Bite Back – Technology and the Revenge of Unintended Consequences, by Edward Tenner (Knopf, 1996). 

Throughout my relationship with computers, I've believed that glitches were the user's fault – garbage in, garbage out – but is it possible that mysterious forces are at work?

In his book, Tenner quotes a computer expert as saying certain problems are “in the area of metaphysics” and that “strange things happen in electronics for which there is no reason.” That belief feeds popular culture, including the old Rod Serling Twilight Zone television series (I still love it) and the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey, featuring HAL, the sensitive, villainous computer.

To be sure, I felt mysterious forces were with – and against – me the other night as I worked for an unbelievably long time, eventually succeeding in casting out enough of the techno demons to gain some semblance of control: I could write, and I could browse. I had done what we all have to do from time to time: beat technology into submission.

Still, Firefox and Chrome continued jousting for primacy. At issue: which one would be the chosen one when I clicked on the Google search box. Firefox thought it ruled searches because Safari had deemed it “default browser,” but no, Chrome swooped in and snatched away that privilege time and time again.

In the end, Chrome won. I threw in the towel for Firefox. A rematch is not ruled out.

The next morning, I came downstairs, early as usual, and saw my stone grouping on the dining room table lit like I'd never seen before: rays coming in through the glass door, splashing the largest stone with vibrant colors.

Sisyphus, at his impossible task.

I was Sisyphus. Technology was my rock. Sisyphus didn't have a rainbow, and I was hoping mine would help me keep on pushing. 

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Grasses for All Seasons

The grasses are like aging faces – no longer fresh, young, new, they are beautiful nonetheless, filled with character that only comes with age and experience and a few dings here and there.

For almost a decade I grew most of my grasses in their current location, amid my field of boulders. The rest were scattered all over my garden, as punctuations here and there, among the trees and shrubs. Then, a few years ago, during a couple of cold, rainy days, I dug out the scattered ones and added them to the field. If  you've ever dug old miscanthus that have fingers of iron, you know it ain't easy. More than once, I was brought to my knees in trench warfare with clumps that put up a mighty resistance.

Not easy but worth doing. Consolidating the grasses created a field of changing faces.

It's a field of stones when the grasses are cut back just before new growth begins in spring. At the height of grasses' summer growth, the field is grasslands, largely obscuring the stones. They dry to straw color for autumn and winter, giving back some of the view of stones.

Arguably, now is their most appealing time. Now the grasses are, holding, holding, holding, before letting their blooms turn to mere fuzz, releasing their seeds to blow in winter winds. Before starting the cycle all over again.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Of Snow and Politics

Snow always reminds me of politics.

Not just because politicians too often try to pull snow jobs on voters, but because as a journalist I spent so much time years ago in snowy places with candidates vying for votes in presidential primaries.

On another level, snow serves as a visual cover for the detritus scattered across our landscape – the junked cars, casually tossed garbage, storm-ravaged homes and trees.

Thoughts of snow arose on the day after Election Day when it began falling on Connecticut around midday, as if to camouflage those physical blights – and mask the hangover from the long, nasty season of political campaigning.

No matter how many times it comes, snow always gets on center stage, pushed hard by tv weather guessers.

This well-timed snowfall signaled an end to the Season of Insults, insults not only among opposing politicians but also insults to voters bombarded by robo calls and tv commercials and speeches more like playground spats than useful political discourse.

On the day after the nor'easter dropped half a foot of snow on my land, mercifully spared from ravages of storms, I took a few pictures, just to mark the feeling of change. Freshness.

I know that fresh feeling will disappear with the melting snow: The physical detritus will reappear. And long-term sensible change in Washington? Fat chance. The White House and Congress will battle while the nation hurtles toward a fiscal and economic cliff; then, at the last minute, Democrats and Republicans in a divided Congress will come up with some stop-gap piece of  legislation to avert total disaster.


But they won't come up with permanent legislation on issues that demand thoughtful deliberation and decisive action: climate change, alternative energy sources, shoring up the nation's infrastructure, including electric power grids and cyber security.

Oh, but how they'll talk about doing something. How they'll bicker and posture.

Meanwhile, every time the flakes fall, I'll think of the snow jobs voters get.

Monday, November 5, 2012

I'm Done With Raking

Any day now, all the leaves will be down. And that’s where they’ll stay.

I’ve never loved raking, even as I found it contemplative and a ready source of compost fuel; each autumn, I dread the chore, one I dislike as much as any in the garden. Even more than weeding.

Over the years, I made my raking as efficient as possible, as I noted in this post from January. Over the years, I also have asked the question: Why do I rake?

I know why many people rake. As the venerable Farmers’ Almanac puts it, “Removing fallen leaves is vital  for the health of your lawn.”

Well, I do not have a lawn. Never have, never will. I do, however, grow mosses. And of course I have a garden. So, for decades, I have dutifully herded leaves, believing they detracted from the beauty of my spaces. Always reluctant, I was never obsessive  about when I got the raking done. Sometimes it was fall, other times it was spring. Periodically, I have skipped raking (I’ve gone as long as three years). During those times, I only swept leaves from paths and walks, relying on the wind to uncover the mosses. Eventually, I always gave in to the rake.

Here I go again: I quit again.

This time, I have more motivation than ever before. I increasingly want my garden to look and feel like a natural space. As much as any cultivated space can feel natural.

Arguably, any intervention – pruning, for example, or adding benches, ornaments, rugs for paths – prevents a space from being totally natural.  But letting the leaves lay does add a touch of nature. Too, allowing the leaves to decay where they fall adds nourishment to the soil, and will, I hope, smother a few weeds.

At the least, resting the rake will give me back a good chunk of time to enjoy the crunch and feel of walking in the wild, where only nature does the raking. 

Friday, November 2, 2012

Sandy, and Beyond

Power came back to my part of Connecticut last night.

The four-day loss of electricity was nothing compared to the heart-rending losses suffered by millions caught in the huge path of storm Sandy. Lyn and I  marveled at our good fortune, noting no property damage, just downed branches here and there, along with the usual spoiled food that must be thrown away.

The words and images about this catastrophe remind us again that awesome storms are great levelers: in some ways, the rich and influential are rendered as helpless as the poor and those of meager influence. Too, the non-stop reports illustrate how difficult it is to tell such a huge story, to show the scope of colossal destruction, misery – and fear about the future. The best that can be done by news media and by officials is reporting on and responding to pieces of this massive event; the whole of it is too much to digest. Where we go from here is daunting to contemplate.

But a storm like Sandy makes it impossible to ignore future possibilities. So, belatedly, planners talk of futuristic-looking sea walls to protect coastlines and updated electrical grids to avoid massive outages. Moreover, officials are daring to speak of climate change and its connection to record-setting temperatures and increasingly powerful storms. This offers a glimmer of hope that humans aren't totally bent on hastening our demise.

Meanwhile, illustrating the unusual nature of weather these days, two oddities occurred: in a brief appearance several days ago, light glowed in a color we’d never seen around here: a yellow ochre, like looking through mustard.

Then, the day after, the blue sky, the white clouds and the sunrays lined up as if to punctuate the aftermath of Sandy – and forecast the next big storm:

Early morning, western sky.