The Death of a Quercus agricifolia & Rosa's Poetry Archives: Jonathan Assink

I've mentioned a few times how our massive scrub oak is dying. We found out this summer, and we've been steeling ourselves ever since. It's particular malady is an advanced case of phytopthera ramorum, aka Sudden Oak Death. A lovely squashy old couch made it's way into our lives around the same time as the diagnosis and so much of the summer consisted of lying on the couch on our porch looking up through its branches; tracing the course of squirrel & stellar jay through its scratchy leaves and brittle twigs. That and taking little trips into its undergrowth, craning our necks around to see all its gaping cankers, oozing black sap. It feels so incredibly sad, this huge shaggy thing that has meant so much to us, has surrounded us throughout our courtship and married life, just silently dying, and there's nothing we can do. A few weeks ago I noticed that the leaves of one of the main trunks are almost all brown. When the canopy is all brown, we'll know its gone.
The Blight & The Bay
Phytopthera is a blight, related to the one that caused the potato famine in Ireland, which, coupled with the American Dust Bowl provides the best example of why not to practice mono-cropping. But I digress. So our oak contracted this disease through its proximity to the California Bay tree, which acts as a vector of the phytopthera, spreading to the oak through rain splashing from tree to tree. The sad irony is that when our oak is cut down, the only tree left in that area will be the bay tree and we'll have to keep it, as it will be the only screen we have from our neighbors.
The Wake
We decided that one of the ways we could enjoy our oak a bit before it goes is to invite friends over and eat out underneath it together. Thus, the first in our series of little dinner parties, commemorating A Good Tree. And we did eat outside, oak-arms enveloping us in the gentle Indian summer night. Joann, The Allens, Jonathan & Jon were all celebrants, presiding over the table filled with leek tarts, roasted veggies & other autumnal offerings. I guess they're all bloggers, but I don't think that's why I invited them. Anyway. A nice night. We'll have more as the months progress.
The Poem
Jonathan wrote a poem about our oak, which I thought was very nice of him. I promised to post it, so here it is.

Ode to the Death of an Old Friend

do you know you are dying
you don't look like you are
you look strong and healthy
your branches like arms
stretching to the heavens
maybe you are already on your way

do you feel the changes
maybe you are confused
maybe you think autumn is coming early
that it is the world
which is changing
not you

maybe you know
maybe you have heard
in the whispers of your visiting friends
in the feigning glances of passers-by
or in the wet eyes of your neighbors
or maybe you just know
as sometimes people do
take heart and know you will be missed
it may not be much comfort
but we will celebrate your last days
sit in your shade
and watch you sway in the cool breeze
and we will curse the sweet smelling assassin
who brought your demise
farewell old friend
you are leaving much too soon
-Jonathan Assink 2008

The irony here is that I have no photos to post as of yet of our oak. It's particularly ironic because Jonathan is our church's resident photographer. I'm a pretty wretched photographer, even with digital. It's not so much the aim, focus or f stops, (even if I knew what that was) it's the keeping of memory cards & charged batteries & camera & subject in the same place at the same time. But I'll try to post some pics soon. The above photo was disgracefully shanghai-ed from Heidi's blog, and much thanks (& apologies) to her. It shows B in our living room, looking very blurry after all that fine food.....


Little Whinging

There's so much going on these days, and it just feels like there's little time for writing, actually it's more like little room in my head for extra words and ideas. Last night for the first time in a long time I found myself in an utterly favorable place: G in bed, tea at hand, along with Dorothy Sayers' Busman's Honeymoon and Stan Getz & Joao Gilberto on the record player, with a comfortably scratchy rendering of Girl From Iponema. It was beautiful. And it lasted perhaps half an hour, and then I had to get up because something else needed doing. I don't like how autumn denotes change and therefore some sort of industry, back to school (i.e. work) and all the while the turn of the weather is calling me indoors to soups, slippers & sloth. I'm whinging, I know I am, and there's nothing for it except to immediately go and lie in bed and read. RX! Book! Bed! I go!


Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog

An Aside
Neil Patrick Harris (Doogie Howser) was in a made-for-TV movie that was filmed in Santa Cruz in the late 80's. He played a teen-ager who got in a car accident and had amnesia, or something. My best friend at the time, Stacy, went with her boyfriend to the open casting audition at the Dream Inn. She wasn't auditioning, just biding time, waiting around, when the director noticed her and had her read for a role. In the end she got the part of Doogie's girlfriend, with a few lines and a couple close-ups. Apparently, he asked her out, off camera. She declined.
I always have a little warm place in my heart for ole' Neil, because of this, him a movie star and still getting turned down by girls. Sort of an under-dog thing. And now he's gay. I'm not quite sure where I'm gong with that. Anyway, in Dr. Horrible, he plays the singing evil villain underdog with such finesse. I loved it. We don't get much in the way of teevee up here in the woods, so this was fine viewing fun.

(Thank you, Heidi, for posting this on a paper elephant. It made my night.)


Consider the Nettles

I was at work today, in the playground area of the preschool where I teach. School starts soon, so there I was, with weed whacker (or strimmer, as it is known in the UK), gloves and Felcos. The air was close, wet, and cool. As I hacked away at a resisting clump of stinging nettle & blackberries, I was brought right back to YWAM's Seamill Centre, Scotland, in the Greenhouse Meadow, which once held the glasshouses for the Seamill Cooperative Home, the convalescent home for which the building was originally built. When you dig down into the soil of the meadow, you usually find broken window glass, remnants from the glasshouse roofs.
Nettle & Teasel
The Greenhouse Meadow is now covered with stinging nettle, alas, alas, and I really had no idea they could get so high, shoulder-height at least. Actually, they are one of the plants that are usually found in areas of previous human habitation, like fireweed and teasel (Dipsacus fullonum). Teasel was commonly used in the wool industry, to raise the nap on fabrics (or 'tease' the fibers.) Whenever we walk the train tracks from our house down past Roaring Camp to Santa Cruz we pass through the abandoned settlement of Rincon, now just a clearing, dotted here and there with large teasel clumps. Teasel is a sweet plant, and I always mean to plant some on the fringes of the garden. Nettles are another matter all together.

Today as I was hacking away at it, I couldn't help but admire it's smell, which is strangely quixotic, a blend of citrus, mint & something indefinable, sort of wet green plant matter. But they really are a scourge, and quite painful if you so much as look at them too closely. I don't care what anyone says, I know they're edible, that the taste of the young leaves is like spinach, and that a soup made from its young shoots is considered a delicacy in Scandinavia. It has amazing medicinal properties. But it hurts and is a major weed. The hurt comes from the plant's trichomes, little stinging hairs that stick in your skin and deliver all that lovely acetylcholine, histamine, and formic acid. But with all its herbal benefits, I'd say that if it weren't for the trichomes, it'd be on my list for the Abbey Garden in a minute. And did Eeyore eat nettles, or just thistles? Or both? I can't remember. Anyone?
Nettle Tea
Back in the Greenhouse Meadow, as the official
groundskeeper (or groondskeepahrr) I played around with different ideas on what to do with all that nettle. I found a book in the local used bookstore about strange organic home remedies in the garden, so I had my garden crew harvest big bucketfulls of nettles. We covered the buckets with black tarps and let them rot down for a few months. When we uncovered them in early spring the stink was just incredible. There is no comparison, except maybe to the droppings of a major carnivore. The book said it was because of all the calcium in the nettles. Personally, I think it was a sort of Picture of Dorian Grey experience, and the foul odor excreted by the rotted nettles was actually their evil nature distilled and hanging in the air around them. Except the plants aren't really beautiful enough to truly play out this Wildeian comparison.... Anyway. Where was I? We made a compost tea out of this concoction and used it on the outside planters, noses tucked well out of the way. The annuals loved it.
Thorns & Thistles
Today I ended up thinking about the Fall, and if nettles had these same hurtful properties in Eden, or did it change with the curse? I think of it in the same category of the 'thorns & thistles' God talks about as He curses man. Is it waiting for its redemption as well? If so, this makes it easier to feel compassion for the nettle, giant hogsweed, poison oak and all the other 'cursed' plants out there. I can see them all as my little brothers and sisters, as Chesterton wrote, we're all fallen; all waiting for the 'glorious liberty of the children of God.'
'For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God.' Romans 8:19-21




As the bridegroom to his chosen,
As the king unto his realm,
As the keep unto the castle,
As the pilot to the hem,
So, Lord, art thou to me.

As the fountain in the garden,
As the candle in the dark,
As the treasure in the coffer,
As the manna in the ark,
So, Lord, art thou to me.

As the sunshine in the heavens,
As the image in the glass,
As the fruit unto the fig tree,
As the dew unto the grass,
So, Lord, art thou to me.

-John Taeder (1300-1361)
(photo credit: the inimitable Susie Stepka & her illustrious hydrangeas.)



We're staying the night down in Steinbecktown, and classically, I'm hiding in a half-darkened room, away from everyone. This is how I met my husband. He was reading The Sneetches aloud to the Elevens & Susie at a New Year's Eve party hosted by some friends of mine. He didn't really know anyone besides his small renegade group of friends who had crashed the party a couple of hours after midnight. So, they sat, in the corner, having plundered Tim's Dr. Seuss collection. From across the room, I saw them and thought to myself, "Now, that's something I would do!" So I went over to listen. And B thought, "Hey, who's that girl?"

But I'm not as introverted as some. I can carry myself through most social occasions, making small talk and schmoozing like a pro. But inside, I am becoming more and more tired until I have to slink away, on the pretext of a trip to the bathroom, or to 'look something up', or, like Raquel, 'to get something out of the car.' And I'm gone for hours. Usually reading, or in this case, writing. I loved nursing G because of this, and I'd always contend that God invented nursing for tired introverted bookish mothers. "G needs to eat!" I'd say, and we'd go off to some solitary place, book artfully stowed somewhere. One of the Harry Potters came out when she was only 5 or 6 months old and I stood in line at Bookshop with all the rest of Santa Cruz, quivering en masse with joy & expectation. I think it was Harry Potter & the Half Blood Prince. Anyway, I read almost all of that whilst nursing G, and I almost gave myself carpel tunnel holding that massive tome with one hand. And it was worth it.

Now B is an extrovert. Not a raging extrovert, but the difference between us is pronounced. And we are comical together when we're tired. A few months ago we came home from church and both agreed that we were totally wiped out, just completely tired. I slunk to our room to read and take a nap. I came out a few minutes later, to make tea and there was B on the couch, going through the phone book, calling people and making plans! I think he actually had the phone on speaker phone when I came in, and said to me, "Honey-I'm talking to _________, when can we get together with them?" Which only elicited silent & frantic hand gestures from me, mostly of the hand slicing across the throat variety. But I appreciate so much how he can sort of carry us through a lot of social situations, and I end up with people I never knew I liked, even loved. We introverts have a big capacity to love people and have meaningful relationships, just on a smaller, one on one level. And I think B is gleaning this from me. (Not that extroverts lack that love, they have it in spades. But maybe have the tendencies to spread themselves too thin? I don't know. Any extros want to explain themselves?)
But meanwhile, I feel like such a weirdo. A total fruitcake. Like Mr. Rochester in Jane Eyre, or Heathcliff on the moors. I think I'd definitely be a cat in some other animal life, somewhere between the 'crawl under the bed when company comes' type and the 'sleep on the couch and let you pet me' type. Just don't expect me to do any tricks.


Rosa's Poetry Archives: Antonio Machado

Poetry group at my house tonight. I really needed this, this gathering of women, the reading of words & critiquing of each other's work; all of us serving as sub-creators (as Tolkien so famously put it). Tonight I was reminded again of how God continually invites us into this role, and the mighty act of subduing creation.

It turns out I really needed the laying on of hands at the end as well as Pablo Neruda's 'Ode To My Socks'. Which was so funny and wise. But it's not Neruda who makes a guest appearance on rosa-sinensis, it's someone else that Rae brought with her, in a quiet-looking, non-descript little library book. Which leads to some adage or another about books and their covers.....

Last Night As I Was Sleeping

Last night as I was sleeping,

I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that a spring was breaking
out in my heart.
I said: Along which secret aqueduct,
Oh water, are you coming to me,
water of a new life
that I have never drunk?

Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that I had a beehive
here inside my heart.
And the golden bees
were making white combs
and sweet honey
from my old failures.

Last night as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that a fiery sun was giving
light inside my heart.
It was fiery because I felt
warmth as from a hearth,
and sun because it gave light
and brought tears to my eyes.

Last night as I slept,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that it was God I had
here inside my heart.

Antonio Machado

(and thanks to tintalasia for the lovely bee photo-keep it up!)

music for one apartment and six drummers

This is the first thing I ever watched on YouTube.


A Three Year Old's Eschatology

"Mommy, what will happen to us when we die?"
"We'll go to heaven to live with Jesus there."
"No, I mean what will happen to our HOUSE when we die?"
"Well, we won't need it anymore, will we? We'll be living in heaven."
"Yeah, heaven! And maybe there will be a dark cave there with no bears
and maybe God will have lots of movies in there!"

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.