Ashes, Ashes........

I spent a little bit of today hacking and coughing; squinting at the brownish gray-tinged sky. I think California has the worst air-quality in the country right now, and it's due to the incredible amount of wildfires that are raging throughout the state. Right now there are over 1,400 wildfires burning, and most are less than 50% contained. For a week now I have heard helicopters overhead, I assume on water runs to the nearby Pacific. At church today I looked closely at the black tablecloth before me and realized that all those little grey specks were ashes. It's been a strange sort of June.
Quercus, Ceanothus, Eschscholtzia: R.I.P.
The fire I've got my eye on is one that is burning in Monterey County, specifically in Big Sur, it looks like it's right where we were driving when we were there in the spring looking for wildfires, I mean wildflowers. Here's a link to that post, in memoriam. This fire is only 3% contained and has already eaten up over 35,000 acres. That's a lot of dead grass and oak trees. Apparently, the forest service just lets them burn, unless homes are threatened.......although, I guess I can't really blame them.
And so meanwhile, we look to home, and try to keep our Smokey the Bear Junior Forest Ranger skills up to date......


Rosa's Poetry Archives: Annie Dillard

The Man Who Wishes To Feed On Mahogany

Chesterton tells us that if someone wished to feed exclusively on mahogany, poetry would not be able to express this. Instead, if a man happens to love and not be loved in return, or if he mourns the absence or loss of someone, then poetry is able to express these feelings precisely because they are commonplace.
-Borges, Interview in Encounter, April 1969

Not the man who wishes to feed on mahogany
and who happens to love and not be loved in return;
not mourning in autumn the absence or loss of someone,
remembering how, in a yellow dress, she leaned
light-shouldered, lanky, over a platter of pears-
no; no tricks. Just the man and his wish, alone.

That there should be mahogany, real, in the world,
instead of no mahogany, rings in his mind
like a gong-that in humid Haitian forests are trees,
hard trees, not holes in air, not nothing, no Haiti
no zone for trees nor time for wood to grow:
reality rounds his mind like rings in a tree.

Love is the factor, love is the type, and the poem.
Is love a trick, to make him commonplace?
He wishes, cool in his windy rooms. He thinks:
of all earth's shapes, her coils, rays, and nets,
mahogany I love, this sunburnt red,
this close-grained, scented slab, my fellow creature.

He knows he can't feed on the wood he loves, and he won't.
But desire walks on lean legs down halls of his sleep,
desire to drink and sup at mahogany's mass.
His wishes weight his belly. Love holds him here,
love nails him to the world, this windy wood,
as to a cross. Oh, this lanky, sunburnt cross!

Is he sympathetic? Do you care?
And you, sir: perhaps you wish to feed
on your bright-eyed daughter, on your baseball glove,
on your outboard motor's pattern in the water.
Some love weights your walking in the world;
some love molds you heavier than air.

Look at the world, where vegetation spreads
and peoples air with weights of green desire.
Crosses grow as trees and grasses everywhere,
writing in wood and leaf and flower and spore,
marking the map, "Some man loved here;
and one loved something here; and here; and here."

All I can say is, "go Annie!" This is one well-crafted poem, and she seems to do it with ease, grace, and insight. She is absolutely singular in her writing style; truly, no one puts pen to paper like Annie Dillard. Her subject matter alternately fascinates & inspires me; although often I find myself completely creeped out by some insect or reptile with which she is enamored, and describing in great detail. Never a dull moment with old Annie, if it's not total eclipses in Washington state, it's ice floes around the Arctic Circle, praying mantis egg sacks, hung in the crook of tall grass stems, or gorgeous childhood reflections growing up in Pittsburgh in the 1950's. If you've never read anything by Annie Dillard, I recommend beginning with Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, for which she won the Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction in 1975. I really like her prose, as well as a lot of her suppositions about God, man and beast...... I've been wanting to post this poem for a long time. I read it to the Monday Poets Society months ago and then loaned the book to the Molly. It's been in my head ever since, and I've been unable to read much poetry because of it. Hopefully this has been a cathartic Poetry Archive post, and now, hopefully, I can move on.




This is how it went down:
It was the heat of the summer, I was maybe 7 or 8.
We were bicycling through the Yosemite valley floor; Half-Dome and Bridal Veil Falls loomed overhead. I was riding on my dad's handlebars, my brother rode in front of us on his borrowed ten speed. It was a dry summer afternoon, the air was thin and hot, and smelled like pine trees, smoke, DEET products and mildew. Our campsite was typical, closely surrounded by other families having their "out-in-nature" experiences, in carefully delineated areas so minute we could hear each other's bacon frying in the morning, and whispered arguments at night after campfires burned low. We were not tent camping that summer, I believe it was an Airstream trailer-a silver bullet shot out of a suburban cannon, bound for Curry Village.
"We're Going To Crash!"
So there we were. On bikes. Me on the handlebars. My brother rode off ahead of us.
After following flat concrete for some time, we suddenly veered off the road and began to bump and pitch over forest floor. I'm not sure why. I was afraid. I remember my dad saying, sort of into my ear, because of our position, "Oh no! We're going to crash into the creek!" and sure enough, it looked like we were out of control and about to crash. I let go of the handlebars and held my hands up to my face, palms on cheeks in an "Oh no!" sort of way. You can guess what happened next. Yup, I flew off the bike and landed face down in the pine needles & other forest detritus. My next memory is my dad standing over me, still sort of laughing at me, asking if I was alright. I pulled my face up and tried to sit up. It was hard to see, my vision blurred by warm sticky stuff. It seems, I fell right onto a twig, which went into the area right under my left eyebrow. A quarter of an inch above my eye.
The rest of the story, the stitches at the infirmary and the markers and coloring book with which I was bribed all sort of fade into the pale category of After Event; not integral to the plot line, serving only to finish out the anecdote. There's only one remaining thing, though-
What He Said
See, my dad's version of this story is very similar, except for the following: he maintains that I let go of the handlebars and jumped off. We weren't headed for the creek, he never said anything about crashing, I just got it into my head that I should let go and jump.

Do I look traumatized in this photo? Because I was. My brother & step mom look like it's been a grand old time in the woods, but I look like I've been through the ringer. And yes, that is a Trees of Mystery T-shirt.
It's so hard not to be believed, or listened to. I think that was the hardest thing, growing up with this story, is that my voice was not heard, and even if it was, it was not believed. And that's what's so wonderful about Jesus. The hearing and the gaze held. He is the Arbiter of Truth, and the Compassionate Counselor, all at once.

Photogen & Nycteris

So G is off to Steinbecktown again, (we told her to bring us some souvenirs) and I for one really need the time off. I love her fit to burst, I know that, I know that, but every now and then it's good to get the space from her, so I can remember how much I love her, and what a gift and a blessing is my daughter.
I think it's been hard because of the heat. It's been in the triple digits and so we've stayed indoors, cowering in our little cave, trying to ward off the furnacey air currents that blast in every time we open the door. The lights are off, and the curtains drawn. B says it's to shut out the heat that seeps through our single-pane windows, but I think it's to hide from neighbors who want to come over and talk about how hot it is. I can't even hear anyone over the roar of the box fan anyway, and my plants are seriously thinking about folding up shop and going home to the Happy Garden in the Sky. There's a water ration, so we can only water before 9am and after 6pm. This feels like my new hobby, trying to manage everything around me that is affected by the heat.

And it's just been so dry as well. Last night it was too hot to cook dinner so we went downtown with friends.We stumbled around for a while looking for somewhere cool to eat before we gave up and flopped, rumpled and dispirited at Taqueria Vallarta with all the other too-hot patrons. I was somehow spoiling for a fight, like a character from Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing, although in a much less "Chuck D-gold Jewelry-ghetto" sort of way and more of an "Environmentally-perturbed-at-the-effects-of-global-warming-on-my-dinner-plans" sort of way.

Of course, the most disconcerting thing is that while still reeling from the last two local wildfires earlier this month, another fire broke out in the southern part of the county; alarmingly near the home of our pastor, and one of my most favorite old apple orchards in the county. Mr. Eleven got some crazy pics taken from West Cliff: calm, blue water with little white sailboats bob-bobbing along; except behind them across the bay is a mushroom cloud of smoke, which is apparently punctuated by exploding propane tanks and burning eucalyptus trees. Oh-and File Under Bizarre-o: today the heat turned into a very strange storm complete with lightning that struck in the same locality as the wildfire! Weird! Very weird!


Night walk at the MH creek with the Elevens It did a lot to sort of soothe my soul, or at least cool it off...as we sat on the sandy white beach, glowing in the moonlight, listening to the sounds of pebbles, sticks and handfuls of sand thrown variously into the dark water; I was reminded somehow of a passage from George MacDonald's Photogen & Nycteris. So here it is.

It's gorgeous, and I wish I could write like this. It feels cool and shady just to read it.

"Before her was a very long and very narrow passage, broken up she could not tell how, and spreading out above and on all sides to an infinite height and breadth and distance-as if space itself were growing out of a trough. It was brighter than her rooms had ever been-brighter than if six alabaster lamps had been burning in them. There was a quantity of strange streaking and mottling about it, very different than the shapes on her walls. She was in a dream of pleasant perplexity, of delightful bewilderment. She could not tell whether she was on her feet or drifting about like the firefly, driven by the pulses of an inward bliss. But she knew little of her inheritance. Unconsciously, she took one step forward from the threshold, and the girl who had been from her very birth a troglodyte, stood in the ravishing glory of a southern night, lit by a perfect moon-not the moon of our northern clime, but a moon like silver glowing in a furnace-a moon one could see to be a globe-not far off, a mere flat disc on the face of the blue, but hanging down halfway, and looking as if one could see all round it by a mere bending of the neck.....

As she knelt, something softly flapped her, embraced her, stroked her, fondled her. She rose to her feet, but saw nothing, did not know what it was. It was likest a woman's breath. For she knew nothing of the air even, had never breathed the still newborn freshness of the world. Her breath had come to her only through long passages and spiral in the rock. Still less did she know of the air alive with motion-of that thrice blessed thing, the wind of a summer night. It was like a spiritual wine, filling her whole being with an intoxication of purest joy. To breathe was a perfect existence. It seemed to her the light itself drew itself into her lungs. Possessed by the power of the gorgeous night, she seemed at one and the same moment annihilated and glorified."


Invisible Friend

This morning, G woke up pretty late, after a nocturnal episode that involved our bed and puke. It was not pretty, and it's amazing how awake you can feel at 5AM, changing sheets, comforting crying child, trying not to gag. So, come the AM and Miss G is still asleep. I vacillated between elation that I had a quiet morning alone, and worrying that she had dengue fever.

The morning continued: coffee, Charles Spurgeon's Morning By Morning, etc. After a while I started to hear her in her room, talking, so I went to see what was the deal. I met her in the hallway, as she was coming out of her room, busily slamming the door. "I found Jesus," she announced," He was hiding by my Diaper Champ." She gestured to the stuffed animal kitty in her arms, "But me and Jesus and my kitty want some breakfast."

So what do you do? I set them all up. Kitty was on the floor with a bowl of 'kitty-cereal' and apparently, Jesus really likes our chartreuse Fiesta ware (my own personal favorite) and eats organic Cheerios with bananas, like G.

It's so strange, she has a real invisible friend. I mean, an actual friend that she can't see. It gave me a little bit of a brain cramp. How do I respond? I mean, I really believe Jesus is there with her somehow, watching over her, teaching, guiding, loving and nurturing. And, I suppose, playing with her. And now she's pretending that he's crouched next to her diaper trash can, playing hide-and-go-seek.
You'll probably never hear that line in a Vineyard worship song.....

"Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part: then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known." 1 Corinthians 13:12

Still to come: A partial list

*update on both the church library and new coffeehouse courtyard garden.
*How it really happened: the true story of how I got the little scar above my eye
*an amazing Annie Dillard poem, if I can get my Annie Dillard reader back from the molly.........


A belated congrats to Camille of 327 Market, lately wed to Dutch, in the quaint lil city hall of this small, bustling burgh....we wish we could have been there, but we understand-the whole 6 guests only thing. Re-enactment? The chapel at MH holds a few more than 6......


Insects and Illness

I'm feeling spectacularly grotty today. Woke up with the de rigeur sore throat and fuzzy brain. G has been shipped off to the F.U.T.S. (Friends Up The Street) where she will have a much better day than had she been locked up with Moaning Myrtle, as I am styling myself today.

And where are all these little black moths coming from? They hop around on the cool cement right outside the front door, a little moth circus on the doorstep, telling me to step right up and watch their amazing feats as they flip in and out of my garden clogs and swing from the living room drapes. I think they make their way inside underneath the front door and so last night it was Professor Plum, in the living room, with a vacuum cleaner.

And what about the Mount Hermon June Beetles? We haven't seen one yet this summer. Usually by this time they are hurling themselves against our windows at night, sounding like someone is tossing pebbles, trying to get us to come out to play. I don't know much about them, except they're endemic to the Santa Cruz Sandhills, and live in the roots of the Ponderosa Pines that dot the sandy soil of our area. Ponderosa Pines look like they belong on a movie set or a child's drawing. They seem to plunge straight into the ground, like a telephone pole, and at first glance,with their dusty bark and scraggly grey green canopy, they are singularly unlovely. I mainly try to enjoy them in that "1960's Brady Bunch Go Camping" sort of way. They do lack the grace and movement of the redwoods and oaks that line our streets, but I'm trying not to be picky about trees, especially since many are burning down on the next ridge over. Counting blessings, and all that.

But the MH June Beetle (Polyphylla barbata) is a little bundle of buggy hilarity. They are so gangly and topsy-turvy in their flight patterns, and whenever one gets in our house, they careen around the room, banging into everything: T.V., lamps, your head, whatever. They always remind me of someone's drunken old Aunt June, bumbling around saying, "Oh deary me!" with lipstick stains on their teeth. Not to mention their feathered antennae, and the way they hiss at you when you stroke their striped backs. I miss them.


Lullingstone Castle & Tom Hart Dyke

I was making my circuitous way through Wikipedia the other day and came across quite a gardening personality: Tom Hart Dyke, heir to Lullingstone Castle, Eynsford, Kent. Lullingstone was built in 1497, (not 1947, like I originally misread. Which would still be considered old in California.....sorry mum!) It was actually mentioned in the Domesday Book, which was written in 1085. So that's sort of old.
Villas, Saints & Herb Gardens
Besides the oldest stained glass windows in England, a chapel named after a ridiculously obscure saint (St. Botolph, patron saint of Botox), and an entire Roman Villa, Lullingstone Castle was once home to quite a famous herb garden. This garden was designed by Eleanor Sophy Sinclair Rohde (1881-1950), a well-known garden historian, designer and herb-garden fancier. Apparently it was grubbed up to make way for an idea of the latest Hart Dyke, something called 'The World Garden'.....
In March 2000, Tom Hart Dyke, in the style of the great Victorian plant hunters, was searching for rare orchids in the dark and dangerous Darien Gap, in Panama, with a friend. He had already traveled the world over, collected plants from far and wide. I don't know if he ever found his orchids, but they did come across something that knocked a serious hole in their travel itinerary: FARC guerillas who kidnapped them and held them for 9 months.

According to Tom, the thing that kept him going was designing a garden in the shape of the continents of the world that featured plants from all his travels. So, I can relate, a little bit. I mean, I used to design gardens to keep from falling asleep during boring lectures like 'Business Aspects of Horticulture', super-yawn. But here in the jungle, at gunpoint, we find Tom Hart Dyke trying to figure out where to put the water features. Wow. Now that's a hard-core gardener. And so as soon as they were set free, he did. Check out the link at the top of this post, the gardens looks amazing. And apparently he's gotten some plants to flower for the first time ever in the UK. His blog is funny- lots of exclamation points!!! I can tell he's passionate about his gardens. I'd be interested to see how his designs actually play out in real life, not just on drawings etched in coconut husks, or however he did it.

And did I mention that this guy is barely in his 30's? I feel like a massive under-achiever. I think I'm older than he is, and have never been heir to an ancient castle, not once have I hacked through jungles whilst stalking wild epiphytes, been kidnapped by guerrillas or razed famous herb gardens. Sheesh! I better get busy.
An End Note To Esther:
Have you ever been to this garden? Kent seems nearish, at least to my American measurement of nearness. But so does Scotland, so there you go.


Apothecary Garden

I am rolling up my sleeves in anticipation of some work on a new garden, still in the design stages. The coffeehouse at church is shedding it's disco-tinged name ('The Brickhouse') and becoming 'The Abbey'. It's finally opening to the public this summer, so we're working on getting the courtyard seating open as well.
It's going to be heavily plant-inspired (yay!) and in keeping with the monastic theme, we're thinking of modeling it loosely (key word!) on an apothecary garden. I can't wait......


The Great Northwest Secession

"Worra Worra Worra", said the leprechuan to Casper the Friendly Ghost, "I've lost me pot of gold."
My heart! I don't know how it can hold all this sweetness and sorrow at once. My head! Och aye! The people, the parties and manifold partings of friends! A week's worth of merry meetings with all these lovely friends and sisters; ending in frantic waving from the porch, the car window and the departure terminal. It's all I can do to keep from quoting some of Jeremiah's laments: "This is why I weep and my eyes overflow with tears. No one is near to comfort me, no one to restore my spirit." (Lamentations 1:16.) I am instead choosing to be buoyed up by this little snippet from Proverbs, "....there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother." And it's not that bad really. I know it's ridiculously easy for me to paint melancholic pictures, and I obviously need a big dose of perspective here, but I will say that it's been a heartful, busy, driving sort of day, and 15 Forest Rd needs a revolving door permenantly installed.
Comic Relief
You never know what a day will bring. Monday brought Tim, our favorite Boiseian (what are citizens of Boise called? Boysies and Girlsies?) rolling into our driveway in his '82 camper, with four beat-up, one-speed Schwinns & a shopping cart strapped on the back. He was accompanied by Nate, Ben & Sam, members of The Great Northwest Secession, which is a great name. We met Tim back at the Seamill Centre, and had some great adventures together, like at the Ritz Cafe in Millport on the isle of Great Cumbrae. (It's an old post of mine about Cumbrae.....) We had a thoroughly satisfying night of chili, birthday cake and the Tim Tam Slam (do not try this without a skilled Australian.) We ended up sprawled around the living room: mandolin, djembe, ubiquitous ukulele, et al, trading songs and trying to sing Sufjan's 'Casimir Pulaski Day. A nice night. It sounds like they mean to be on the road until December, across the country and back, quite Kerouacian.....I set them on course yesterday morning towards Steinbecktown and Big Sur, and felt that I had done my duty as a Central Coastian. The travel blog so far has some good prose, here's the link. Tell them rosa sent you.....oh! And I got a CD from Tim's brother Nate-an official rosa salute!


'And after her came jolly June arrayed, all in green leaves, as he a player were;'

'A cloudless sky; a world of heather,
Purple foxglove; yellow of broom;
We two among it, wading together;
Shaking out honey, treading perfume.
Crowds of bees are giddy with clover,
Crowds of grasshoppers skip at our feet,
Crowds of larks at their matins hang over,
Thanking the Lord for a life so sweet.'
-Jean Inglow

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.