8.28.2008

Travelogue::Genoa Part II

Train Station
I sat awkwardly on top of my luggage. We huddled in the corner, shoved out of the way of the busy foot traffic which clicked and clacked across the wet marble floor. It was a blustery December morning. The Genoa train station, (il stazione principe) was filled with busy Italians who no doubt were all en route to some fabulous holiday destination in the Italian Alps. We were there under orders. We got to the train station a few hours earlier, around 11:00 AM. The Genoa youth hostel (ostello per la gioventu-it's really fun to say) closed that morning, and we were going on something our leader Jody had heard whilst in prayer. "Go to the train station the morning the hostel closes. You will know by 1:00 where to go." We had little else to go on, so we set off for the stazione.
An Aside
It was an interesting situation to be in, and as I look back, the whole story seems so outlandish that it's hard to believe that it actually happened. I'm trying to remember, to recreate the emotions of that time. Most of all I remember the fear & excitement that coiled in my stomach like a double helix, inexplicably bound up with faith. It was all so surreal, and it probably helped that we were still jet lagged. But the story is true, and happened just like I say.
Prayer in a Circle
We stood in a circle and prayed something like this. "God, here we are. Please show us what to do." We waited, eyes closed, listening. Hearing the voice of God in prayer takes humility, patience, faith, and discernment. You must also be able to risk being wrong, keeping in mind that God's 'spoken' word will never contradict His written word, and He most likely will not be telling you to a) build a multi-million dollar Christian entertainment complex called Heritage USA or that b) He will kill you unless your television audience pledges money. (Hello, Oral!) Anyway, as I said, a modicum of discernment. So, where were we?
We heard nothing initially. We would get together to pray every half hour or so, and the rest of the time, I read, or walked around. I remember an exhibit on creches, in true Italian style-almost all were in caves, with the Virgin Mary prominently displayed, faintly glowing with lasers shooting out of her halo. Well, maybe not that last part.
A Word Unheeded
At last, when we prayed, two or more of us heard inside this phrase, "Come away and spend time with Me." Interesting, we thought. And how nice. But not very practical, it didn't include angelic beings showing up with train tickets. So we pretty much ignored it.
One o'clock came and went and still we waited. For a sign, for a word, something that would show us not only what the next step was, but that we were not completely crazy to believe that God would lead us in such a mysterious fashion.
In the early afternoon a few people heard "Wait for my messenger." Which sounded very James Bond, and got all of us excited. I imagined a tall, distinguished looking man, sort of an Italian Sean Connery approaching us with a discreet envelope full of lire, train tickets and an address for a small but significant church revival meeting where we were slated to speak.
The Messenger
Around 7 PM, something finally happened. We were camped out beside one of those ubiquitous machines one sees in a foreign public place, for phone cards, change, tokens for the WC or to breathe the air about you. Whatever it was, it was broken. In all my free time (ha!) I had taught myself how to say in very poor Italian, "The machine is broken." A man suddenly surfaced, trying to use this machine. "Mi scusi, Signor, la maquina es rotta!" I said, or something like that. He turned to me. Somehow he could tell I was not a native Italian speaker. (I can't imagine how, I had the Godfather accent, the NYC Italian hand gestures and everything.) He began to talk to us in English, asking us what we were doing in his fair country. We explained that we were in his country to do Christian ministry work, and he began to get strangely agitated. He was a small man, and looked sort of like Roberto Begnini from Life is Beautiful. He began to tell us about his son, and how he tried to raise him right, taking him to church so that he would learn good values. His English was much better than my Italian but his wording of different phrases was a little odd. He referred to his son as 'The Son' & himself as 'The Father'. As he spoke of his son he shook his head sadly, hunching his shoulders in that characteristically Italian way, palms skyward, and said, "Because The Son will never love The Father as much as The Father loves The Son." After he left, my teammate Ben looked at us, shaken. He said, "Guys, I think that was our messenger."
The Message
We realized, in a rush, that this was the message that God had sent us. When we gathered together again for prayer, the words flew at us, fast and sharp, going straight to the heart. The jist was, "It took Me stranding you in a train station for you to sit still long enough to hear that I love you and that's all that matters. You have fretted and worried about your circumstances and haven't sought Me, your Father who loves you. Don't worry about the rest! Come away and spend time with Me! That's the most important thing right now!"
Come Away
We all scattered to different parts of the station for an hour or so. I wrote, cried and prayed, feeling at once humbled and lifted up by this incredible lesson. It was interesting to note that even though our circumstances hadn't changed and to the naked eye we still had nowhere to go, we all felt oddly light-hearted when we came back together, like some sort of progress had been made. It was around 8 or 9PM, and the main terminal was beginning to close. We were herded into a smaller waiting room. To wait.
Last Train
We came together to pray every hour or so, with the preface, "God, we are so glad that we are Your children, and it's enough to know that you love us. If You want us to leave this train station, we'd be fine with that." Or something like that. And the interesting part, is that we meant it.
Finally at 1:00 AM ("...You'll know by 1:00"!) the majority of us heard the word, "Rome." The next (and last) train to Rome left in eleven minutes (that's right, one-one-one) so we hurriedly bought tickets. It was with a light heart and a head full of The Monkees 'Last Train to Clarksville' that I ran, backpack careening wildly on my shoulders, the weight (and the wait) of the last 14 hours slipping off me, to catch the last train to Rome.
Love: a life-lesson
I still have train station moments. When it feels like God has stuck me somewhere so I can learn the lesson again that I am His child first and foremost. That with Him, relationship comes first, not anything that I can 'do' for Him. And shouldn't this be our model with each other?

"This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you." John 15:12

Next up: our travelogue continues in Rome.

8.20.2008

Travelogue: Italia::Genoa


Part One: The Dilemma
It was a misty evening in early December when we first put foot to pavement in Genoa, Italy. Luminous in the fog & fading sunlight,the city rose before us; tiers upon tiers of palazzos & piazzas, winding streets & whiskered old men, just waiting to call us 'bella' and rain down unwanted kisses on our cheeks. (I didn't find out that last part until too late.) We'd booked into the local youth hostel, which sat on the uttermost tier of the city. We had just enough money to stay there until we were expected in Ljubljana, roughly 3 weeks later, where we were going to be working with a new church, teaching evangelism and prayer. We didn't know quite what we were supposed to do in Italia for 3 weeks, the five of us, except travel through it before reaching Slovenia sometime right after the New Year. We ascended the crowded hills, our bus actually scraping paint off its sides as it navigated the narrow city streets; walls looming. A few hours later we found ourselves pacing in the courtyard, shoulders hunched against the wind that blew in off the Ligurian Sea. The youth hostel, we discovered, was closing for the Christmas holiday just 5 short days hence. ("Buon Natale! Now get out!") We couldn't afford to stay anywhere else, so we paced, trying to figure out what to do. We prayed. And prayed. Over the next couple of days we kept praying, walking around Genoa's innumerable circuitous streets and alleys and asking God what we should do. I seem to recall a brief side-trip to il palazzo di Christopher Columbus, where I filched a rose from his garden and said, fist in the air, "That's for the Indians, man!"
Librarium Sanctum
There was a definite bite in the December air, so we sought out all the public indoor meeting places we could find, in order to pray. It ended up being libraries mostly; I recommend seeing a city primarily through its libraries. I will never forget the quiet rooms and black & white checked floors in the library in the neighboring village of Portifino, which couldn't be more Italian if it had Isabella Rossellini riding by on a Vespa, jaunty red scarf fluttering, bottles of vino askew. These prayer times seemed to set the stage for our entire time in Italy, although we little knew what we needed to learn before we could be led by the voice of God. We sat on rocks looking out on the Mediterranean and looked south to Israel.
It's weird to have several different strands of thought that I'd like to develop and then find myself unable to write about any of them. I don't know if its because my brain is full of other stuff or because I find my writing getting more and more self-conscious the more people I know are reading what I say. (How many people will read this word? Or this one?) As nice as it is to have readers, I find that I write much better when no one's watching. A few days ago I re-read a few posts from the early days of rosa-sinensis, and I liked them far more than anything I've written lately. Even this is feeling too introspective and self-conscious! Okay, so here are some of the strands of thought.
1.) Our oak tree. Its death seems iminent. It has Sudden Oak Death syndrome. A few days ago I noticed large brown clumps in the upper canopy. I hope it lasts into the rainy season, I want to see the viridescent moss glowing just one last time.
2.) Compost. A few people have been asking me composty questions so I thought I'd do one post and just direct them to it.
3.) Last Sunday's talk at church. It brought up so much in me that I didn't know was there. It's interesting what gets dredged up. I guess I have a story that I need to tell, if I can find the words. I predict a circuitous route. Which will be something entirely new for me!
4.) How I finally figured out what all the hoopla concerning Death Cab For Cutie is all about. They're great. I ended up with a copy of Narrow Stairs, and wow, it is good. It reminds me a little bit of The The with a little Sonic Youth sprinkled on top. I don't know why. I don't really have enough here to make a real post. So maybe it doesn't need to be included. Too late.

8.13.2008

Rosa's Poetry Archives: Luci Shaw

Someone donated to the church library a book entitled "The Christian Imagination: The Practice of Faith in Literature and Writing"; edited by Leland Ryken. With reflections from JRR Tolkien, Frederick Buechner, Annie Dillard, George MacDonald, Francis Schaeffer, to name a few.
I decided that before I could in good conscience include it in the library collection I should be a responsible, discerning librarian & take it home and read it, much in the manner of my mother who would always take the first bite of whatever yummy treat she was serving us, "just to make sure it's not poisionous".
So I've been picking it up here and there to read different essays within, and all so far have been worth the read. I suppose I'll have to eventually give it to the library, since I'm sure other people want to read it-although it's been nice to consider the library as part of my personal collection; I always have had a hard time sharing, especially books (sorry B!)
Tonight I was reading an essay written by the inimitable Luci Shaw entitled, "Beauty & the Creative Impulse". Tucked in between the paragraphs I found a great little poem of hers that might have to show it's face at the poetry group one of these Monday nights. The more I read Luci Shaw's work, the more I like her.
And for some reason the picture of the maple achenes (the little brown winged seed things), pine needles and green lichen seemed to match the poem. Taken in Yosemite last weekend.

Diamonds That Leap

When the leaf fell and brushed my hand
I began to reverse the world. I asked:
What if this warped willow leaf, yellow,

scaled with age, could smooth
to a green blade, then flicker into
the knot of a spring twig, like

a grass snake's tail disappearing, slick
and chill, into his home? That one question-
it was a whirlpool, pulling in

others: What about a river?
Might its waters rush up these indigo
hills of Shenandoah and split to a scatter

of diamonds that leap to their rain
clouds, homing? Can a love
shrink back and back to like,

then to the crack of a small, investigative
smile? Could God ever suck away creation
into his mouth, like a word regretted

and start us over?

(-Luci Shaw. From Writing the River, Pinon Press, 1994)

8.12.2008

8.08.2008

Goldenrod and the 4H Stone:: August in the Garden


It's an interesting time of year, August in the garden. This year I've really noticed the hand-off from flower to flower: the early spring ephemera blending into the climbing roses, then jasmine, clematis, gladiolas and other corms in June. A few weeks ago, the asteraceae family started to wake up and now they're carrying the whole garden: yarrow, dahlias, daisies, mums, sunflowers and in front of my first attempt at a wattle fence are my nod to the prairie states: black-eyed susan (rudbeckia hirta), echinacea purpurea and goldenrod (solidago canadensis). And those little daisies with their unwieldy Latin names that I can never remember. I think they're commonly called the Santa Barbara daisy; anyone want to help with the Latin?

Since the soaker hoses are finally fixed and I've added compost, things are losing that sickly gasping look. I'm able to be in the garden again, guilt-free, now that I don't imagine the plants looking at me imploringly like Oliver Twist with his headmaster, gruel bowl extended, "Please sir, can I have some more..."

Blooper's Reel...I'm recording some of my biggest garden mistakes of the year, the bloopers reel, to learn from and because it's easy to only list the highlights, and leave out the failures.

The hostas....I seriously miscalculated how much shade I have and the hostas all came up and then turned brown and crackly. In gardening parlance that means dead. The western bleeding heart (dicentra formosa) is looking pretty bad too, which I think speaks more to the oak tree above it being pruned last summer than anything else. So that's not my fault. But it still looks grotty.

The peonies.....I never got around to fixing the irrigation system in the garden, and tried to overhead water everything every few days. The peonies were a casualty, I've never grown them before and will probably not try again in this county, not without a really great watering plan, or a neighborhood boy to stand there with a watering can from noon until five.

The vegetable garden.....I've eked out a corner for some veggies, but I'm not really a veggie gardener. I spent a lot of time feeling guilty about this, esp. because I came into gardening from an "edibles" perspective with lots of thoughts about community development, food security and sustainable agriculture. I have a certificate from UCSC's Center for Agro-ecology and Sustainable Food Systems (one of the top programs in the world), but I am a lousy vegetable farmer. I always blame it on my location, but honestly, I have a hard time being motivated. The perennials are way more interesting to me, and I love supporting the local farmers in my area (over a 100 organic farms in SC county alone!) who are much better at producing amazing food than I am in my piddly little 6 ft. of space. So this year, I dried to a crisp a few heads of lettuce and slowly starved some basil and a few tomatoes. One tomato is fighting back, and has valiantly put out some hard green little fruit, but he is no match for me! By the way, I would still love to do some community development work, somehow growing food, (that desire hasn't gone away & it's still a thing I want to do), but not in my own garden.

So over all it's been a good summer in the garden and I've really loved my little space to plant in. It's going to be so strange & sad to see the oak tree go-it's got an advanced case of Sudden Oak Death brought on by phytopthera ramorum. I hate so many things about it, like losing all the lovely dappled shade that my hydrangeas, western bleeding heart, hellebores and wild ginger need. I'm not quite sure where they will get moved to, probably to the no man's land on the side of the house, we'll see....

Lathrop, here we come!.....And now we're off to Yosemite for a couple of days. We're camping tonight in Lathrop, CA. Of course I've never heard of Lathrop (on I5 near Stockton), so when I looked it up online, I was directed to the town's official website, which announced that today they are spraying for the West Nile Virus. Lucky me!

8.06.2008

"No door or window of his being had a lock to it. All of them were always on the swing to the wind that blows where it will. Upon occasions when most people would seek refuge from the dark skies of trouble by hiding from temptation and difficulty in the deepest cellars of their hearts, there to sit grumbling, Polwarth always went out into the open air. If the wind was rough, there was nonetheless life in it: the breath of God. It was rough to blow the faults from him, genial to put fresh energy in him. If the rain fell, it was the water of cleansing and growth. Misfortune he would never call by that name; there was no mis but in himself. So long as God was, all was right."
-George MacDonald (Paul Faber, Surgeon)

8.04.2008

(SFX: All Her Favorite Fruit, Camper Van Beethoven)

Nectarines are, to me, the quintessential summer fruit. Like the character in Bradbury's 'Dandelion Wine' who waited, ear tuned, to hear the first strains of the rusty lawnmower (evoking all the sounds and sensations of a summer morning), each time I bite into a nectarine and the juice gets all dribbley down my arm, I am in the summer. In fact, when we were living in Scotland, trying to decide if we should stay permanently, one of the factors that decided things for me was the lack of juicy, ripe fruit. (Being on the same latitudinal lines as Moscow meant that most fruit was of the hard unripe variety. And avocados were usually $5.00 a piece!) When we got home, the Elevens left on our kitchen counter a big box of ripe peaches, plums and nectarines from the farmer's market downtown. I stood in our kitchen, 3 months pregnant, weary from the long plane ride, and wept, nectarine juice running down my sleeve and chin. As far as summer stone fruit goes: apriums (1/4 plum:3/4 apricot), pluots (3/4 plum:1/4 apricot), are interesting, and plums & apricots themselves get a close second, but the nectarine is where it is at.

8.02.2008

Two Truths And A Lie: A Meme

Which is which?

1. My favorite fruit is a nectarine.
2. My great uncle was a knight.
3. My first kiss happened in another country.

I tag: Franny, Jon, Camille and the Other.

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.