Friday, August 31, 2012

California Hills in August

I'm almost too late to post a poem with this title in a timely manner, not that the hills won't look pretty much the same for another month or more. This year the grass is especially brown and parched, and we have lots of fires making the sky brown, too.

Over three years ago I posted this poem by Dana Gioia, which was the first time I wrote about him. Just now by putting his name in the search box at the bottom of this blog I discovered that it's come up repeatedly.

I understand that Gioia has returned to our fair and thirsty state after serving as president of the National Endowment for the Arts for a few years. I wonder if he gets out of town far enough these days to feel the summer as he so aptly conveys it in this poem.

California Hills in August

I can imagine someone who found
these fields unbearable, who climbed
the hillside in the heat, cursing the dust,
cracking the brittle weeds underfoot,
wishing a few more trees for shade.

An Easterner especially, who would scorn
the meagerness of summer, the dry
twisted shapes of black elm,
scrub oak, and chaparral, a landscape
August has already drained of green.

One who would hurry over the clinging
thistle, foxtail, golden poppy,
knowing everything was just a weed,
unable to conceive that these trees
and sparse brown bushes were alive.

And hate the bright stillness of the noon
without wind, without motion,
the only other living thing
a hawk, hungry for prey, suspended
in the blinding, sunlit blue.

And yet how gentle it seems to someone
raised in a landscape short of rain –
the skyline of a hill broken by no more
trees than one can count, the grass,
the empty sky, the wish for water.

©1986 Dana Gioia

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

a task of education

 The first idea that the child must acquire in order to be actively disciplined is that of the difference between good and evil; and the task of the education lies in seeing that the child does not confound good with immobility and evil with activity.

--Maria Montessori

girls digging for clams

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Love and Hate in the Garden

We thought we had cut the bottlebrush shrub down for good, but it was soon evident that he took it as a pruning for more vigor. That was a long time ago. Ever since this Callistemon showed us who is boss we have liked him even less, and try not to look at him except for about twice a year when we hack away at his skyrocketing branches to let more sun shine on our nearby vegetables.

We were doing that yesterday when I noticed the lone first flower of the season, barely opening, and it didn't seem so brash and domineering when in a tender phase. I let him into the house.

On the left is a photo of the amazing Early Girl tomato vine. My husband wanted to plant anything but Early Girls this year, because after 30 years of being The Best and most famous of our tomatoes, superior in every way, they were disappointing for five years in a row.

I begged to plant just one Early Girl, and she has turned out to be the largest of our ten tomato bushes, with the biggest and most perfect fruits, and the consistently wonderful flavor we expect. She did not want to be cast off, so she tried really hard this time - that seems the obvious message. I will never again even think of forsaking her.

In the tomato photo you can also see the tree collard emerging from the ground like a dowel on the right side of the staked vine, and leafing out on the left side.

It's great, in theory, to have a perennial leafy green vegetable always ready for the picking, but our garden is simply not big enough to accommodate such a meandering type. I don't think I had ever harvested one leaf, and he was suffering an aphid infestation again, so I removed Mr. Tree Collard. Above right you can see him before he went into the yard waste bin.

This is the Summer of Parsley. I like to let parsley go to seed and sow itself where it will, and in the spring there were lots of little seedlings which I stuck in here and there. They've now formed thick hedgerows in some places, I've got plenty to cook with, and new seed heads are starting to hang across the sidewalk.

That's not convenient, so I put those pretty sprigs into a vase with the budding bottlebrush. The parsley had been growing right under the shrub, so they weren't complete strangers. To all appearances they are getting along, and each has something to contribute to a relationship that is proving to be a boon to the household.

Friday, August 24, 2012

In the last minute of the first hour

My man and I laughed out loud over coffee and Wendy Cope's poems this morning. I've had time and memory on my mind lately so I especially appreciated a lighthearted treatment of the subject in this one:

A Nursery Rhyme

as it might have been written 
by T.S. Eliot

Because time will not run backwards
Because time
Because time will not run
                                         Hickory dickory

In the last minute of the first hour
I saw the mouse ascend the ancient timepiece,
Claws whispering like wind in dry hyacinths.

One o'clock,
The street lamp said,
'Remark the mouse that races towards the carpet.'

And the unstilled wheel still turning
                                                          Hickory dickory
                                                          Hickory dickory

-- Wendy Cope             

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Lost in a very good dream...


Coming home from the mountains last week, I didn't have the usual thoughts of "That was lovely, but I have lots of things to do at home now and I can't wait to get started." No, this time I was mostly sad to say good-bye, and also couldn't find good words to go with my pictures.

But one of our guests up there managed in her thank-you note yesterday to take away my sadness with her response to the few higher-elevation days we shared. I'm making her my guest blogger today. (Her thoughts in brown.)

Mountain time is a time-out from time, 
like the timelessness of being 
lost in a very good dream.

little lupine plants
When we came down from Gumdrop Dome the ground under the forest was scattered everywhere with tiny lupine plants. I wonder what month I would need to be there to see the slopes covered with tiny purple spikes?

... the dilated twinkle of 100 billion stars in the night sky (which reductionistically would take 3,000 yrs. to count.)

Of our three nights at over 8,000 feet elevation, we had only one night's opening in the clouds to see the star glory. We missed most of the meteor shower -- still, we saw a few shooting stars. And we gawked at the Milky Way, and were happy that the air was unbelievably warm all during our stay, day and night, so that we could gawk longer.

overlooking a canyon
All the sweet consolations of fragrant fresh mountain air, delicious soft water, 
warm sleepy nights... 

...laughter, storytelling, hiking and/or trying to chase Mr. Glad up Gumdrop Dome (in a loony-tune cartoon, some of us could take a running start up a sheer vertical rock face, hauling a low center of big gravity, our momentum so great that we actually overshoot the summit –beating him to the base – but unfortunately, not in one piece).

swooping in to join the fray
...the terrible joy 
of ecstatic hummingbirds 

Sunday, August 19, 2012

I lie down in a pasture.

As my last post was contrary to my blogging principles, describing something Ugly, I now feel it urgent to put up Something I Especially Like.

Last night was one of those when I lie awake for hours in the middle of the time when I want very much to be asleep. (This morning I realized the problem stemmed from drinking very strong tea at an afternoon wedding.) Sometimes while in this predicament I manage to stop grumbling and to pray instead, and my favorite thing to pray is the 23rd Psalm.

20 to 25 years ago and even earlier I used to have the children copy out and learn a poem every month, and I ran across some of their work yesterday. I get sentimental looking at the handwriting and printing, knowing right away what poem was copied by whom. But I won't reveal that information. I'll just say for the record that this psalm was printed by a boy! (Click on the picture if you want a more readable version.)

a smell worse than skunk

How lovely to shop at a farmers' market and buy peaches and green beans fresh from the farm -- how icky to bring the produce into my kitchen and notice an awful stink! It is coming from the plastic bags that the farm stand provides handily just above the bins of appetizing fruits and vegetables.

The bags themselves make me sick to my stomach if I keep them around very long, so twice or three times I have quickly emptied whatever it is into a different (reused) bag, and taken the disgusting plastic with its smell directly outside to the garbage can or recycling bin.

What on earth is in these bags that can make them reek much worse than an old garbage truck? It reminds me of the horrible stuff you can get to use systemically on rosebushes to prevent bugs and diseases.

On every successive trip to that market, I have completely forgotten about the bags until I'm already loading one with beans again! Tonight when I got home I held my nose and took some pre-disposal pictures. Then I checked out the URL.

The only grocery bags listed on this website are made in China, but the bags say they are made in the U.S.A.

I think it was at Trader Joe's in San Francisco that I was given similarly odiferous bags that advertised themselves as completely compostable; printing on the bag instructed me to re-use the bag and then when I was finished with it to put it in my yard waste bin. (In my county, however, we are not allowed to do this.)

Why would I want to carry around a bag that makes me smell like a toxic waste facility? There are plenty of bad smells around on the earth without me contributing more by being that Green, and after all, a significant aspect of our environment is olfactory. Many people these days would like it if we all went perfume-less. Would they really be o.k. with everyone toting their anti-perfume around town as they did their errands?

Somehow it didn't occur to me to talk to the farmers about the offensive bags. I did find that at the other end of the table, above the peppers, they offered a traditional bag that now seems innocuous by comparison. So next time I will try to avoid the sickening ones, maybe bring paper bags from home to weigh my beans in, and I will be bold enough to ask the farmers if they aren't bothered by that foul smell?

After I had removed the bags from the house, the stench still clung to my hands, but thank goodness I had just opened a bottle of geranium-infused soap at the kitchen sink. I lathered up and the air began to smell like flowers. Now everything is nice here again, and I can end this post on a sweet note, in the category of Things I Like.

Friday, August 17, 2012

...a cloud or a tree

on Gumdrop Dome

There is in me no wizardry of words.

I speak to you with silence like a cloud or a tree.  
         --Czeslaw Milosz

rain with glacial erratics (those strewn boulders)    

higher on Gumdrop
our Sierra lake near its outlet

Thursday, August 9, 2012

I consider my difficulties.

My current difficulties stem from these realities:

1) The world is so full of a number of things
    I'm sure we should all be as happy as kings.
     This rhyme has played in my head a million times since I learned it as a little girl. Maybe even then I suspected in my childish way the layers of truth in the sing-song, the irony of too-muchness.

2) I have been traveling a lot, and that brings me into contact with even more numbers of "things," like real people, people in books, ideas in books, and new places I've visited. This summer, for example, I sat on airplanes for more than ten hours, and many of those hours were spent in the company of Alain de Botton as I read his book The Art of Travel. As I drifted off to sleep at night in a house not my own, I was soaking up the coastal delights of George Howe Colt's childhood summer place, The Big House.

In the spaces between these literary adventures my more physical self was learning to reach right instead of left for a stirring spoon, and to relax in the hot tub of the Eastern summer atmosphere.

3) I need -- o.k., I feel the need! -- to write about at least some of the experiences in order to process the information and be restored from the overload/exhaustion of so much excitement. As Alain and I were musing together over the meaning of our travels, I scribbled notes in the margins and made a list in the back of the book of all the blog post ideas that were generated from our "discussion." Every night for a week or two I have spent at least fifteen minutes writing and rewriting in my mind, in the dark, my review of the Colt book.

Even Archimandrite Sophrony is reported to have said, "Arrange whatever pieces come your way." I don't know what the context of this quote was, but the urge is a basic, human, compelling one, and applies to just about everything I know.

The Milky Way
4) When I am on the trip, just returned from a trip, or packing my bags and boxes to set off again, there is less time than ever for this kind of writing, and also less mental energy. When I hear Thomas Mann say, "A writer is somebody for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people," I feel that I am certainly one of those. I could coin my own saying: "A homemaker-writer with a large family is somebody for whom writing is even more more more difficult than it is for other people."

I hope I am not complaining, by using the word difficulties. I could say challenges, or pieces. Or thoughts, as in "Bring every thought captive to Christ." In my mind I have more challenging pieces of thoughts and prayers and connections to be made than there are dust bunnies floating up and down the stairs.

This morning it all seemed too much, as I add another item to the list of things that make us happy as kings: We are going to the cabin! There will be stimulating conversation on the way, as our numbers will be doubled by the presence of our dear Art and Herm. (That will add pieces, to be sure.)

Stars will shine crisply in the black sky at night, and in the mornings chipmunks will scurry in the brush below the house. Humans will eat cookies and bacon and drink coffee on the deck while we watch the hummingbirds squabble, and we'll paddle our canoe quietly over the lake.

(Past posts about our Sierra cabin: 2009  2010  and  2011 )

Though I have picked up only a few pieces here to tie in my bundle, it's been quite comforting. Now I can face my lists of more practical things like dinner menus, shopping needs, and what to put in my book bag. That won't be too difficult.