Saturday, August 30, 2014

Bubba Burgers

Bubba Burgers or freshly ground beef from the butcher?  That's the question. I retired two weeks ago and must begin living on a fixed income.  Swirling around my head are all the hard choices I must make, like what am I willing to give up vs what can't I live without.  This applies to tending the backyard garden as well, which was started from scratch a few years ago.  It looks finished now, all the beds are filled to capacity, but the urge to add more plants never goes away. How am I going to be content with just a tweak or two going forward?  I've already cut back.  I unsubscribed to a couple of online nurseries, including one offering a 35% fall savings coupon!  I recently averted my eyes from the bobbing white hydrangea blossoms that called out to me from the curb of our local nursery (just imagine the punch a row of pom-poms would provide!)  
Help finally arrived in the form of an encounter I had with my neighbor Alice and her dog.  I was in the garden raking up a fresh batch of autumn leaves, when she stopped to chat and check out the garden.  I haven't seen much of her during the latest (last?) growth spurt.  Our co-op encourages owners to develop their green thumbs. I've lived here over 20 years and Alice has always kept a small garden in front of her apartment, long before I took an interest.    But nobody has taken it as far as I have.  Most of my neighbors feel a little gardening goes a long way.  Some have called my garden 'an oasis' in response to the out sized effort on display. 

"I'd like to do more in my garden" Alice said.  She bent over and picked up her dog, a Yorkie, who immediately started squirming. "It's a lot of work." 
"It is," I answered.  Alice's shoulders relaxed slightly as she set the dog down again. "Well, it is beautiful."  The dog turned and joined us as we stared into the garden. 
"Thanks, I'm glad you like it. My wife says it's a great hobby, keeps me out of trouble".  I waved my hand over the late summer display.  "I really enjoy seeing how things turn out, seeing all the colors. Though, I didn't expect everything to grow so fast.  I'm now taking more things out than I'm adding" (As I spoke, I realized this might just be a way to cope with the lean times ahead.) 
"Me too", Alice said, looking down at her dog, who was now whimpering softly.  She stooped down to stroke her pet. "What? 
I felt a pang of sympathy for her, her little dog, and for her little contained stoop garden across the street.
Alice looked up. "I planted this little plant my friend gave me".  She stood up.  "Now it's too big. It's as tall as me!"  Alice tapped the top of her head to show me, the dog yipped. "I need to move it or to do something. It's looks like those grasses you have." She pointing straight into my garden-  "It's like those, they're ornamental grasses, right?"
I like Alice and all of her family.  They are steady, what you see is what you get working class folk.  She's close to my age.  I've watched her standing on the sidewalk in front of her apartment, garden gloves on hips, enjoying her handiwork.  In one of my beds, I cast round pavers decorated with the names of some of the neighbors, Alice and her late husband Bill among them. 
"Maybe you could get one of your kids to dig it out for you", I suggested.
Alice laughed, the dog jumped.  "I'm not afraid to get my hands dirty. I'm German"  She rubbed her hands together, relishing the task.
I pointed towards a corner of my garden, about 20 feet away.  
"See, that's where I moved some grasses that got too big.  In just two years they blocked everything. That's the hardest thing to figure when you plant.  The first year, nothing happens.  The second year. Bang"!  I was still waving my finger at the transplant bed. "It's do-over time".  
I looked at Alice, who was shaking her head. "It's expensive buying plants!"  
They may be small now, but who cares if you have to wait for them to get big."
I picked up on the thread, wanting (needing) to seem thrifty. "Oh Boy, it is. I buy mine online for about four or five dollars, never from a nursery.  (I lied, I have, especially when temptation got the better of me, but no more!)
Alice let the dog leash loop slide up her wrist and showed me cupped hands. "I like small plants.  I get to watch them grow, ten years, even.  I get excited being in on it. Pshhh, who needs to spend $30 dollars for something already grown. That just spoils it.  Nurseries take your money - and all the fun."
Her dog was pulling on the leash in the direction home.  It had had enough of our garden talk. Alice took a little step sideways, shrugged and waved goodbye.  I returned to my raking, the way forward made a little clearer by the mantra  in my head which matched the slow steady progress I was making.     

"Raking - Saving - Saving - Raking"

Monday, August 18, 2014


I like to look down mornings from our second story deck checking to see if everything is copacetic with the garden.
And there he was!  Oreo, the neighborhood black cat warmed by the morning sun was stretched out in the Echinacea bed. Channeling my ambivalence the mind flashed 'dead to the world or just plain dead?'  Oreo, suddenly aware of my presence opened his otherworldly pale yellow eyes and settled that issue.  How entitled, I thought as our eyes seemed to meet.
We have two cats, Oreo who is a male and a three legged white female cat named Casper. They follow the same routine most mornings, crisscrossing the back yard where I keep the garden. Both cats are what I would call semi-feral, meaning they are kept in at night, are fed regularly by the neighbors, and let loose outdoors during the day, where they are free to roam, and from the alarms that stream down from the trees in my backyard, stalk the birds and squirrels that live there. I'm not worried about the squirrel population, they taunt the cats.  Its the birds that really suffer. 
I have mixed feelings about cats.  They are amazingly complex creatures, and I have owned and enjoyed a few over the years, but I always kept them indoors.  Put a cat outside and his instincts will take over and they can do a lot of damage to the bird population.  
I remember a time when I was feeling really close to Casper, when some mornings she would scamper along side me as I went to get my car.  That changed unexpectedly one morning when she burst from the bushes and pounced on a pigeon. Feathers flew everywhere as she subdued her prey. Equally shocking was how calm she seemed afterwards, just waiting for me to leave so she could eat breakfast. 
I wish cats were nice like dogs, but they're not. Cat's are just like all true things, a complement of opposites, the Yin and Yang, the black and white present in all life.
I can't really blame cats for acting like cats, just as I can't fault cat owners for loving them as much as they do.
People overtime have dealt with the cats dual nature in different ways.  The ancient Eqyptians deified the animal.  In 2007, one dedicated birdwatcher from Texas even picked up a gun to solve the problem.  I guess I prefer the first method over the second.
I know watching Oreo and Casper make their rounds isn't going to get any easier.  I just hope I can stay as objective about them as I try and be with all who live here.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Summer Bummer

Bummer.  It's late July and it feels like my garden doesn't need me anymore.  It's in full flush:  The Buddleia bushes are covered in purple, the Coreopsis is lit with a thousand suns, my Joe Pye weed is casting long shadows over the Lobelia Fan-Salmon in the rain garden.  I've hit the garden wall, a spectator to the forces of nature that will pick the winners and losers of the season.
Some plants grew bigger than I planned for, some smaller, leaving gaps.  Last I looked, a Hyssop was about to ingest the Allegheny Monkey Flower growing too close to it's feet. It seems I'm powerless to stop the gardens headlong plunge into the dog days of August.  All I can do now is cede control, like an archer loosing an arrow into the blinding sky.
How rampant and aloof the garden looks to me now.  All my planning, planting, and nurturing has been usurped.  I'm not in control anymore.  How did I go from primary care giver to grower non grata.  Looking at the bed of Echinacea, all tall and haughty in the noonday sun- PowWow Wild Berry and Butterflies Cleopatra Echinacea craning to see over the shoulders of Magnus, I remember them newly delivered on my doorstep, looking so vulnerable, like Easter chicks nesting in their little online nursery cartons.  How ungrateful, what conceit!
And what about the promises made by my beautiful Clematis Comtesse de Bouchard?  I was the perfect gentleman last spring, even putting in a new arbor for her and sister Lady Banks Rose.  What did I get for all my caring?
From the Comtesse, barely a peck on the cheek so far from a few pale Rose pink lips. And where are all those soft yellow blossoms her sister all but guaranteed?  Nada.  Who says the Lady doesn't have thorns.
I'm left feeling like a jilted suitor, caught up in a Midsummer Night's bad dream; forced to watch the frolic of others; left to deadhead, prune, maybe stake some tender perennial before a thunderstorm or to clean up after it passes.  
It's just a downer being pushed to the sidelines, orphaned from the spring storm of creative energy that spurred me to build concrete curbs, shovel well-composted topsoil, and dump so many wheelbarrow loads of gravel.  There was a time when what I did really mattered!
Gone are those fresh April mornings when I cast new wildflower seed mix upon a freshly made bed.  I watched as Agrostemma githago, Centaurea cyanus, Cynoglossum amiable, and Clarkia elegant doubles mix sprouted as one.  We linked arms to turn back the local squirrel gang.  Together we romped through the sun drenched meadows of my fervid imagination.
This years garden robin may still nest, the sparrows cheep and chatter, the Cardinal sing Tra-la-la, but I'm adrift, feeling the pain and loneliness of Nature's indifference; the victim of some sort of cosmic practical joke-thank you very much.
I can't wait for fall so I can get back to work!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014


A wise old man lay on his deathbed, surrounded by his students who were beside themselves with grief at the thought of his passing.
Outside, some of the local women had gathered to hang up the morning wash.
Suddenly, the old man sat up. The young men fell silent, sure the master was going to bless them with a few final words of wisdom. 
Instead, the old man cupped his ear and leaned closer to the window so he could better hear the gossip being shared outside.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Moved by Heaven and Earth

How To Build A Birdbath

Last winter I cast a concrete birdbath in the garage using a plastic party bowl and 4" PVC pipe for my molds.  I mixed three 60 lb. bags of Sakrete ready mix concrete in a plastic tub using a garden hoe and trowel.  I used a 4 ft. section of 1/2" steel reinforcing re bar in the PVC base mold for extra support. Once the concrete started to set, I scooped out and shaped the birdbath vessel. Once the Sakrete has cured for a few days, I used Cement All, which is a rapid setting non aggregate cement, to adhere shells, pebbles, and a few odd nuts and washers to the birdbath.  
I dig a hole for the column and set it in fast setting Sakrete.  Once the post was set, I used a concrete construction adhesive to glue the two pieces of the birdbath together.

It's a good thing to have a DIY mentality to help balance the creative process.  As I was working last winter with my hands in concrete in my unheated garage, the other half of my brain provided me with some relief in the form of a trove of free associative images of the glorious ascent, during the coming season, of Thunbergia hybrid Sun Ladythe flowering vine I had chosen to grace my new birdbath. 

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Astral Projection

"unlived life does not sit idly by on the shelf, it will turn around and bite you."

Marie von Franz, Jungian analyst