Back 40

Well, I'm off tomorrow for the Back 40-it's the 40th anniversary of the Apprenticeship Program at UCSC's Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems; aka the Farm & Garden.

It's a whole weekend of stuff at the Farm, tours and Recollections in the Garden, Symposiums and the like. There's even a reception or two, which B & I will have to forgo, it's just so dang expensive. Saturday night's farm tour, dinner and music in the apple orchard is 60 bucks a person! Which is really too bad, because the food is going to be amazing.

Confessions of a Gluttonous Farmer

I think my 6 month Apprenticeship can be characterized as a time of hard work, afternoon naps in unlikely places (the grape vines in the Down Garden, the kiwi orchard in the Field), and long days of gorging myself with fruit and vegetables....the strawberries from the Field, and the peaches pluots and apples in the Up Garden-I used to navigate the perilous slopes of the Up Garden (that's the Chadwick Garden) with my pockets bulging with fruit. The Meyer lemons, the golden raspberries and tiny plums from behind the Chalet, I've never eaten so good! We used to walk the fields on a Monday morning, checking the crops and talking about what we were going to do during the week. I recall one day, moving from carrots to tomatoes to beans to corn, just snacking, tasting here and there, sampling pears and plums trying to see what we were going to harvest for our CSA & Market Cart. We ate from 8 AM straight until the lunch bell at 12, when we all stumbled into the Farm Center and loaded our plates with another amazing organic meal. Little wonder I usually would have a wee kip (read: "pass out") in a shady spot after lunch before hauling myself up to do it again in the afternoon.

Honesty (Lunaria annua)

In similar vein to the high school reunion last weekend, I am facing a certain amount of temptation to sort of.....pad the truth, a little bit, about what I've been doing for the last 5 years. "You were in the Apprenticeship?....... So do you have a farm?" is a question that's "cropped up" (ha ha) over the years. Going on to something great is sort of expected, and the pressure is fierce to look good and sound important. You can imagine the stress trying to produce a farm in the last few weeks; to join some noble gardening cause to which I can casually claim membership. In the end I decided to be counter-cultural instead and just tell the truth. I know, I'm such a radical.

I will produce photos of my lovely grounds at the Seamill Centre, and of my even more lovely daughter, which is the main crop I tend now. (And talk about going on to something great!) Aaahhh, sweet relief. Maybe I can even climb out of my blasted self long enough to see other people; to be "the salt of the earth", a sower and reaper, a fisher of men & women.


Laughing Hernias

Well, today B went under the knife. Laproscopic bilateral inguinal hernia repair. The patient is recovering well, much less gray and slurring than when he was first coming to. It was a little unnerving; they gave me his personal effects, watch, phone,wedding band and glasses. I carried them a trifle reverently, wore his wedding ring on the chain around my neck, and kept his glasses from getting scratched. It was a very routine surgery (the doctor had 4 that morning), but we were both a little nervous. We both succumbed to an attack of the giggles whilst in pre-op, when I was trying to help him get dressed in his hospital gown and bizarre leggings. I think the thigh-highs were there to help keep his blood circulating in his legs, they certainly showed off his slender ankles. I took numerous camera phone pictures of him struggling to get them on while trying to stay decent in his breezy gown. He posed for me Peter Pan-style; of course I am much too good a sick nurse to publish those here..... actually I can't figure out how to email the photo from my phone, or I'd be a'sorely tempted.


"Stay At Home, Mom!"

I realized something today-while at my 15 year high school reunion, I found myself telling people that I am a 'stay at home mom' BUT that I was also an organic gardener. I realized at church that I am totally buying into the cultural stigma that is placed on being a 'stay at home mom' (SAHM). Kristen's message was from the epistle of James, talking about favoritism in the church. She was encouraging us to not go along with what society dictates as acceptable, that we must love each other insteadof judging each other. I end up judging myself as a SAHM. Like I think it's not cool enough, or that I'm not 'living up to my education.'
So much of what B & I do revolves around me being a SAHM. He works 2 jobs, we've only got 1 car, and we're somehow making it, even though we live laughably below the poverty level. All so that I can stay home and G can be with one of her parents all day. But at the same time, I'm embarassed by it. I'm embarassed that I can stay in my pajamas until 11AM, that G and I can drop everything and have a tea party and walk to the pool. Maybe because it sounds so cushy, like I'm on easy street. It's ironic that we expend so much energy for something that I'm embarassed about. Especially since it's actually the hardest job I've ever had, and requires so much more wisdom, energy, patience, stamina, strength and humor than any job I've ever had.
Being a SAHM means that I am instantly "on", every morning as soon as my feet hit the floor, unless I get up way before G. I try to do this, just so I can have a bit of a morning without being at a two year old's beck and call. "Yes, your Grace!" I sound bitter, but I'm just being honest. It's definitely not all bonbons and Oprah. Having a baby totally leveled me, and being a SAHM is slowly and deliberately rebuilding me. How I'll look when the building is complete, the Carpenter alone knows.


Edinburgh; I Swoon

**best read with The Proclaimers "Sunshine on Leith" playing in the background**
Still feeling Potty........
JK Rowling lives in Edinburgh and I must say that it really is a most Potterish city. Most of it looks fairly normal at street level, but if you look up at the top of most buildings, there are the most bizarre gargoyles and fair maidens sprouting out of every gutter and corbel. It reminds me of the Muggle world with the magical world just around the corner, just barely disguising itself; breaking out in unlikely places. And the older, Castle side of town is fairly stuffed with bizarre curly-cue streets. Diagon Alley (and Knockturn Alley) all seem to be just out of sight, maybe through that courtyard over there.........
I think Edinburgh is in my top 5 favourite cities world-wide.
I list them in no particular order:
Edinburgh, London, San Francisco, Budapest, Rome.
Cities that did not make the cut include: Milan (Italian Detroit), Florence (City of Humanism & Hubris), Bradford (sorry, Krista!), and Exeter (what a sad place, bombed to bits in WW2, rebuilt absolutely horribly.) I of course leave out the obvious, namely Las Vegas, San Jose and Fresno.
The Stench of Hops & Barley
But Edinburgh: I was so completely transported today while I was out for a run. The weather was singularly uncharacteristic for late July, foggy, soppy, sprinkling and even slightly humid. "Hmmm," I mused," This is feeling Scottish." As I rounded a bend, inexplicably, the smell came to me-the distinctly Edinburgh smell of hops and barley and yeast. Like good beer and bread at a pub in Lothian Road. I tell you, it almost made me weep.
B and I have a great memory of seeing George MacDonald's The Princess and the Goblin performed as a pantomime a couple of days before Christmas at the Royal Lyceum Theatre right off Castle Terrace in the West End. We walked in the fabulous Princes Street Gardens and it began to snow. It was so unbelievably romantic, we forgot for a time the gangs, the Neds (non-educated-delinquents), the alcoholism & the sense of hopelessness that at times seemed to pervade the culture. Edinburgh will always have a warm spot in my heart, though, for this was the first city in Europe I ever visited-as part of a high school theatre company; performing at the Fringe Festival. If anyone's interested, it was Woody Allen's God:A Play. I stage-managed.
And by the by, a nod to Julian Pye, who took the most excellent photo of the gargoyle jutting off the Sir Walter Scott Memorial (that's the dragony looking one on the right.)
And finally a blog recommendation: reddotbluedot. Done by the most creative Jessica, an architecture student in Edinburgh. I want to hear what she thinks of Exeter's post-war architecture.............

Pottering Around

I am totally succumbing to Harry Hysteria. I am not sure how I will get through the next 2 days until Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the last of the Harry Potter series, comes out on Friday. I'll be there, voucher in hand, at midnight, with all the other HP crazies, waiting in an extremely long line outside Bookshop Santa Cruz......sans velvet cape, though. I mean, I do have my dignity. But the HP world is all in an uproar, because somehow the book has been leaked early, and there is already a review by the New York Times! Bad form! I refuse to even look, it's somehow worse than reading the last page first of a mystery novel. I'm trying to contain myself, but here I am, blogging about it, and will even put up some links to fan sites that I have been trawling through. I know! Fan sites! I haven't geeked out this heavily since.......the last book came out. I mean, yesterday grandma Sue came and took away little G-I was left blissfully and astonishingly alone all day. I surveyed the piles of things to do: compost to spread, gladiolus to stake, cornus florida to transplant, and I turned my back on it all, choosing instead to curl up with tea and Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, the most recent in the series. And it was as great as I remembered, even more so, because I wasn't reading with that fever-pitched intensity that I get sometimes, racing and skipping and trying to see what's going to happen next. I cornered B when he came home and recounted all my theories: all about how R.A.B., whose note Harry finds in the fake locket cum Horcrux stands for Regulus Black, Sirius' younger brother who dies when he tries to leave the Death Eaters. B listened politely and then gently changed the subject, clearly worried about my sanity.........
The worst part is that Saturday afternoon is my 15 year high school reunion, and I don't know how I can sit through it with the new Harry Potter book at home, unread. I think I might have to stay up Friday night and read it all through. This will almost certainly guarantee a raging head ache and the slight inability to see absolutely straight. I'm not sure this is the best way to face my former high school peers, with the 'Harry Hangover', but it'll probably keep me from obsessive navel-gazing about what-have-I-done-with-my-life, blah-blah-blah.


Rosa's Poetry Archives: Guest Poet, Ellen Bass

This one is by Ellen Bass, taken from her most recent collection, The Human Line.
(Thanks, Eleven for the recommendation....)

The Woman Who Killed My Cat

I didn't have to hug her. Even
in that first moment when shock
grabbed me by the scruff
and I hung there,
there was still a kind of choice.
And so much time, the seconds
stretching wide as though I'd gone
beyond the pull of gravity.
When she looked at me with the fear
people feel facing other people's pain-
even more since she caused it,
nicked the tawny blur darting
from the curb-I could have
held myself back.
And my elderly neighbor was there
holding the empty fur
that, if I didn't look
on the right side of her head
where the bright pool of blood
has seeped from her mouth,
didn't look dead, looked
as they always say,
like she was sleeping.
I could have turned to him instead.
But she kept telling me how
sorry she was
and I couldn't help myself,
wrapped my arms around her.
Of course she had to return my embrace.
And maybe she needed this too, to be forced
against my grief; a woman
who'd gotten up that morning, like me,
not expecting to kill anything.


I Start In The Garden And End In Vienna

I have avoided writing about the garden for some time now, although I am in it everyday. I think it has to do with the heat and the desultory fashion in which I have gardened of late. I saunter through, whacking at a digitalis gone to seed, fiddling with the soaker hoses beneath the thyme that is throwing it's raggedy flowerheads to the skies above. My verbascum is all tall and wiry and comic-looking, with it's bright green seed pods like little Christmas tree balls brazening it out in July. Somehow I keep up the facade that the whole place is meant to look like a sculpture garden made out of chlorophyll.

I don't know what I am expecting it to look like, I have to stop gardening self-consciously. But I will say without any sort of reservation that everyone should come by and take a sniff at our lemon verbena, (Aloysia triphylla), which smells more like lemons than lemons do. It's not even in the citrus family-which is, I think, Rutaceae.

A little word on plant names. They all used to be different. Every now and again you'll catch a gardener sighing over quixotic plant family names of days gone by: Umbelliferae, so named because all the plants in the family have the signature umbrella shaped flower inflorescence. Or Labitae, the salvia family named after it's characteristic two- lipped petals. I can see what they mean, these old names are usually lilting and evocative.

The International Botanical Congress (or the IBC, as I fondly know them) set forth the taxonomic system based on the work of Carolus Linnaeus (Carl Von Linne) the Swedish father of botany. These people mean business. The International Code of Botanical Nomenclature is nothing to sneeze at, dating back to May 1, 1753 when Linnaeus threw his first botanical punch. And apparently we're all abidng by the Vienna Code, taken from the decisions of the XVII IBC in 2005. Well then.
Let's look at Umbelliferae: The IBC took the first plant in that family that Linnaeus classified (Apium), known as the 'type genera' of the family and gave it the suffix -aceae. The result: Apiaceae, the carrot family. In this case it ends up being quite a descriptive and useful moniker-the apis mellifera, aka Western honey bee is a major pollinator of this family. Of course you can see why the IBC did this; dusty millers and butterfly bushes litter the landscape from shore to shore. One man's Bleeding Heart is another man's Dutchman's Breetches, while the taxonomic system is adhered to across the world, and each plant is assured one name only-in this case, dicentra formosa, wherever you go. Still, these people are busy constantly reclassifying plants until you're not sure if you've got a larix larix or a pinus larix. I assume things change as people discover more genetic background on individual species; also plants are constantly being introduced to the world by breeders and plant hunters. It all seems more than a little ponderous and complicated, but I wouldn't expect the naming and ordering of the planet earth to be anything but.
Sons and Daughters of Adam
And so we carry on our first father's work of naming and cataloging creation, a seemingly unending task. Creation is so mutable, pliable and (to a degree) open-ended that we are able to enter into what JRR Tolkien referred to as the role of sub-Creator as we hybridize, graft and breed plants. As we have been created in the image of God, we have still about us the tinges of divine creativity; what we do with that creativity is entirely up to us. This is unfortunate, I sometimes think, (think bombs, urban sprawl and the California Raisins) but I suppose the free-will thing is better than it's alternative. (I am no Calvinist.)
And I will end this now with a quote from someone else who was not a Calvinist, George MacDonald, whose loving, joy-filled and child-like writings have lifted me time and again. Bring it home, George!
"To know a primrose is a higher thing than to know all the botany of it; just as to know Christ is an infinitely higher thing than to know all theology; all that is said about his person, or babbled about his work."



I'm stuck in strange sleep patterns now-having to be up and at'em for little Miss Morning Person who wakes up with whole sentences rolling out of her mouth. "I want to see Daddy!" "Hi Mommy, I waked up!" "I want some smoothie/cereal/orange juice/strawberries/toast" I grunt, some sort of mono-syllabic affirmation, and stumble to the kitchen. I am reminded, strongly, of an early point in my relationship with B. I believe it was a Saturday morning, which in my childhood home was devoted almost solely to sleeping in -(mom), and muchas cartoonas for my brother and I. That's all. We were all separate, and did not bother each other. But this Saturday morning, I got a phone call at about 8:30, it was B. He began to tell me all about his dream the night before; all about it's spiritual allegories (the end times) I hung on to the phone like I was repelling off the couch, instead of sitting hunched over. "Uh," I managed,"I'm not much of a morning person!" Silence on the other end. "Oh!" in a surprised voice," My first inclination is to find someone, and talk to them." Eek! Since then, we've both learned to temper our own craziness; I am much less inclined to be grumpy. B doesn't expect much of me until after 9. We're trying to work together, pooling our strengths that God has given us, and trying to learn from Him.

Read Your Way Through the Garden: Choice Tomes From Garden Literature

  • A Book of Salvias by Betsy Clebsch
  • Botany for Gardeners by Brian Capon
  • Making Bentwood Trellises by Jim Long
  • RHS Encyclopedia of Plants & Flowers
  • Rose Primer: An Organic Approach to Rose Selection & Care by Orin Martin
  • Start With the Soil by Grace Gershuny
  • Sunset Western Garden Book
  • Sunset Western Landscaping Book
  • The Book of Garden Secrets by Patent & Bilderback
  • The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Botany
  • the Gardener's Table: A Guide to Natural Vegetable Growing and Cooking by Richard Merrill & Joe Ortiz
  • The Gardener's Year by Karel Capek
  • The Hutchinson Dictionary of Plant Names: Common & Botanical
  • We Made A Garden by Margaret Fish

lotsa latin: rosa's botanical & etymological ruminations

  • vespertinus: flowers in the evening
  • vernalis:spring
  • veni vidi nates calcalvi: we came, we saw, we kicked butt. This was printed on a T shirt I bought at Abbot's Thrift many years ago. It encircled the NEA symbol. I wish I knew why.
  • superciliaris: shaped like an eyebrow ex: sturnella superciliaris, the White-browed Blackbird
  • rosa-sinensis: species of Hibiscus: Hibiscus rosa-sinensis. Lit. Rosa of China, so named by British plant hunters.
  • placentiformis: shaped like a cake ex: discocactus placentiformis
  • nudiflorus: flowers before leaves show ex: flowering quince, magnolia
  • nivalis: growing in or near snow ex: galanthus nivalis (common snowdrop)
  • muralis: growing on walls
  • mirabilis: marvellous, wonderful
  • formosa: beautiful ex: dicentra formosa, a.k.a.western bleeding heart/dutchman's breeches/lady in a bath
  • carpe vitam: get a life
  • Carolus Linnaeus: Latinized name of Carl von Linne (1707-1778), Swedish naturalist considered the father of plant taxonomy. Whatta guy.