Sunday, April 26, 2015

Sunday, April 19, 2015

A Gardener's Diary: Catbird, seat nearby. Rain, endless.

I think we have had rain for a week now; the days- overcast and dark- seem to run together. Since last night we have had a very steady rainfall. The weatherman on Channel 9 last night was predicting a couple of inches. As I see water standing in paces in the yard I have not seen water standing before, I think he may be right.

Standing water and red Piedmont clay are rarely a happy combination; the top little bit of the clay soaks in as much as it can and turns soupy and generally disagreeable to be out and about in. The grass- already running riot- is going to be a hot mess to mow, as my friend Brian would say.

But I am not complaining. A week ago I was laid low by pollen, so thick about that breezes pushed it into berms and dunes all over the yard, and into my eyes and nose. Surely this mini-monsoon will drown most of it. Then we'll just have the revivified late-bloomers to deal with.

So I've been indoors, mostly. The temperatures have been clement, so on a day like this I have been able to work at my desk with the windows open, listening to the rain fall. The sonic effect is worthy of a relaxation CD.

During a lull this afternoon I ventured out to run my dandelion picket lines. Only 29 captured today. They will cut loose at the first sunshine, now predicted for Tuesday. While I was out, wringing their little yellow necks, I heard a new bird call, loud and shrill, and it finally penetrated my attention. I realized I have heard it for several days running; a little research revealed it is the call of the gray catbird, mimicking a woman shouting, "Heeeere, kittykittykittykittykitty...Heeeere, kittykittykittykittykitty..."

It's a good fit for the neighborhood, as Roger Tory Peterson says, in A Field Guide to the Birds East of the Rockies (1st.ed, 1st printing, 1980, paperback; yes, I will sell it out from under myself), says the are partial to undergrowth, brush, thorn, scrub and suburban gardens. Bit of a flirt, too: Peterson adds, "Flips tail jauntily." We're a bit west of the boundary of its breeding and year-round ranges, on the breeding side, but as I see reports that ranges are moving north as things warm, we may be new turf for them. Now I know what to in the coming months. The gray catbird is the the twentieth species I've noted on this little half-acre since last fall.

We have a lot of Bewick's wrens in the yard most days. They like gardens, underbrush and thickets, all of which we have around us; they also like nesting boxes, and our neighbor, Mr. Doug, has a number of those across the way. They are fairly quiet little birds; we had a set last fall who liked to hang out in the woodpile and let meals crawl out of the woodwork without having to go out. The robins have been busy hauling off nesting materials from the compost piles in the back yard; pine straw is popular for inner padding.

One can only work at the computer so much in a day, so I've been working my way into Elizabeth Lawrence's classic, The Southern Garden. I have the 1990 trade paperback; I was finally able to get it yesterday when eight crates of books I called out from storage were delivered. I'll be a typing fool the next few weeks, getting them all photographed and written up for Henry Bemis Books' summer catalogue (if you'd like the current spring issue, just hop next door to Henry's website and fill out the order form; I'll be pleased to email you one). Our weather this week- indeed, this year- is just as she described in 1942:
In the Middle South the difficulty is not that it is too hot or too cold, or too wet or too dry, but that the changes from one extreme to the other are so frequent and so sudden. In summer we cannot depend, as England, on steady moisture, nor, as in our Southwest, on continued drought. Instead, weeks when no rain falls are followed by weeks when it rains every day...

Esquire's Charlie Pierce:

Is it a good day for dinosaur news? It's always a good day for dinosaur news!
Wylie came across the fossil in September 2014, while digging for marine animal bones with his father. Researchers from Southern Methodist University, who excavated the remains last week, have tentatively identified the fossil as a heavily-armored nodosaur. The specimen could be more than 100 million years old – but Wylie didn't know it at the time. "My dad told me it was a turtle," Wylie told the Dallas Morning News. "But now he's telling me it's a dinosaur."
Geez, Dad. You may never live this one down.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

A Gardener's Diary: You learns something new every day

I thought, as the flowers first appeared, they were grape hyacinths, but the leaves weren't like those of the ones in my back yard. Now I learn, thanks to NC State Cooperative Extension, I have wood hyacinth, also known as Spanish bluebells, in my front hard:

V & V

Vladimir and Vera Nabokov married 90 years ago today. By all accounts, theirs was an uncommonly happy union. LitHub- a remarkable new website- has this 1923 note from him to her, that may go some ways to explaining how that worked out the way it did:
"How can I explain to you, my happiness, my golden, wonderful happiness, how much I am all yours - with all my memories, poems, outbursts, inner whirlwinds? Or explain that I cannot write a word without hearing how you will pronounce it - and can’t recall a single trifle I’ve lived through without regret - so sharp! - that we haven’t lived through it together - whether it’s the most, the most personal, intransmissible - or only some sunset or other at the bend of a road - you see what I mean, my happiness? ... 
I swear - and the inkblot has nothing to do with it - I swear by all that’s dear to me, all I believe in - I swear that I have never loved before as I love you, - with such tenderness - to the point to tears - and with such a sense of radiance. On this page, my love, I once began to write a poem for you and this very inconvenient little tail got left - I’ve lost my footing. But there’s no other paper. And most of all I want you to be happy and it seems to me that I could give you that happiness - a sunny, simple happiness - and not an altogether common one."

Give this a thought. It might work.

A Facebook acquaintance (also an accomplished artist) of Waldo's posted this. While we're not generally much on this sort of thing- slap on a photo and you're back on a plane flight, looking at pages of those ghastly corporate motivational posters in Skymall- this one struck home somehow.

Reach out and touch someone: get smacked

Edward Hopper, Automat, 1927

From a fascinating Guardian piece on the new loneliness of social media:
The future does not come from nowhere. Every new technology generates a surge of anxious energy. Each one changes the rules of communication and rearranges the social order. Take the telephone, that miraculous device for dissolving distance. From the moment in April 1877 that the first line linked phones No 1 and No 2 in the Bell Telephone Company, it was perceived as an almost uncanny instrument, separating the voice from the body. 
The phone swiftly came to be regarded as a lifeline, an antidote to loneliness, particularly for rural women who were stuck in farmhouses miles from family and friends. But fears about anonymity clung to the device. By opening a channel between the outside world and the domestic sphere, the telephone facilitated bad behaviour. From the very beginning, obscene callers targeted both strangers and the “hello girls” who worked the switchboards. People worried that germs might be transmitted down the lines, carried on human breath. They also worried about who might be lurking, invisibly eavesdropping on private conversations. The germs were a fantasy, but the listeners were real enough, be they operators or neighbours on shared telephone lines. 
Anxiety also collected around the possibility for misunderstanding. In 1930, Jean Cocteau wrote his haunting monologue The Human Voice, a play intimately concerned with the black holes that technologically mediated failures of communication produce. It consists of nothing more than a woman speaking on a bad party line – as these shared services were known – to the lover who has jilted her and who is imminently to marry another woman. Her terrible grief is exacerbated by the constant danger of being drowned out by other voices, or disconnected. “But I am speaking loud … Can you hear me? … Oh, I can hear you now. Yes, it was terrible, it was like being dead. You’re here and you can’t make yourself heard.” The final shot of the television film of the play, starring Ingrid Bergman, leaves no doubt as to the culprit, lingering grimly on the shining black handset, still emitting the dead end of a dial tone as the credits roll...

Sunday, April 12, 2015

From the Fellowship of Waldos

A Gardener's Diary: Saturday sneezefest, and what's in a name?

English: Dandelions in a field
English: Dandelions in a field (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I was prepared, yesterday, to bill myself as the Malthus of Bizarro World- where everything is reversed, and my war on dandelions was proceeding in a pleasingly logarithmic manner.

I started counting my casualties first of the week, as beheading the yellow peril gets to be, well, pretty boring pretty fast.

And things went well this week:

4.07: 356
4.08: 284
4.09: 164
4.10: 76

I was pretty chuffed last night when I turned in. Less so when I looked out the window this morning. I'd been the victim of a sneak attack.

For one thing, the dandelions have clearly been cultivating allies, and the buttercups in the yard have suddenly opened up. This means new profusions of yellow, in which dandelions hide in plain sight. The dandelion-slayer must therefore be doubly alert. While most dandelions are brazen creatures of the soil, especially when they bolt suddenly and turn their yellow flowers into seed-spewing puffers, some are craven little so-and-sos, lurking close to the ground, This is particularly the case when they are in league with the buttercups.

More telling, however, were two other steps the dandelions took overnight. They got word- I have an informer in my camp, it seems- I was developing a major allergy outburst today: Niagara nose, one side of the head filled with concrete, endless sneezing, the whole lot.

"He'll be off his feed, let's blindside him" seems to have been the message passed from camp to camp, front yard to back.

So they went right to it and at it, and all I could see out the window today was newly-blossomed dandelions. I charged out, gasping only slightly at every new intake of pollen on this sunny day, and their final counterattack started: a new bout of canker worms. Everywhere I walked in the yard, I picked them up: hat brim, shirt, pants, shoes. Not to mention the increasingly wind-tangled filaments from which they make their way to the ground. Why don't birds go for these things? They could just swing through, beaks open, about four to five feet up from the ground, and make like the great whales snacking on krill.

I was momentarily set on my back foot by this multi pronged attack, but I am nothing if not a gardener with a will. In no time flat I equalled yesterday's casualty total. I had barely cleared any ground.

By the time I was done, I'd pulled 399 dandelion blossoms and buds- which look remarkably like okra pods before they go all smiley-face Mike Huckabee on you and you find out how quickly they can morph into an existential menace.

By the time I got the last of the little bastids- as my friend Boston Eddie would call them- into the bin, I was in full flow, nosewise.  Misery loves company, and now as I looked around me, I fond my irises- while doing well, mind-

-but as nothing to my neighbor, Doug's- right across the street!

The grape hyacinths in the front yard are a good three weeks behind their backyard counterparts, blossomed with brio and went their way:

And the ones up the walk aren't even this far along. "No photo for you," I snuffled, and I am sure what they heard was "Doh bobo fufhfu."

Another nearby neighbor has a dogwood so elegant not even the vandals Duke Energy hires to keep its lines clear have been able to do their worst:

Their oaks are farther along, too.

I was in a right funk, honking into a handkerchief on the front steps, when my neighbor, Mildred, ambled over.

"Did you plant that azalea?" she asked.

I had no idea what she was talking about, and not just because my ears were started to plug up from the storm surge of mucilage rising past my eyeballs.

"No. Where?"

"There," she said, and pointed. I could see it across the street this morning. I don't remember there being one there."

Mildred would know. She has been watching out the front windows for thirty-four years. If its knowable about this neighborhood, she knows it.

I turned to where she was pointing. Overnight,  a spindly overshadowed azalea I'd freed from adjoining boxwoods and more or less forgotten, so unpromising were its spavined limbs and shaded location, had turned into a beauty:

Well, that was cheering. I remembered I needed to tell Mildred I'd heard from one of this blog's readers, the self-styled "Old Jane in NC", about the yellow-flowered bush in Mildred's yard. I noted the other day that neither of us could remember what it is:

Jill commented, "I think the yellow blooming shrub is Kerria. Here in the mountains just north of Asheville, we are probably about 10 days behind you on dogwood, creeping phlox, etc. Again, thanks for the pretty pictures and pleasant conversation."

I looked up the suggestion. Jill is correct! What's more, the kerria japonica, or Japanese rose, is famed in music:
Besides "Japanese Rose," other common names for kerria japonica pick up on the fact that it is a member of the rose family. The common name, "Easter Rose" alludes to its early blooming period (during Easter, in some regions). The flowers' color accounts for the common name, "Yellow Rose of Texas" (with an assist from the song by the same name). Meanwhile, others commonly refer to it simply as "Kerria rose" or "Japanese kerria."
Others call it the Chinese rose; it is found there as well as in Japan and Korea. The name may also be an association with William Kerr, a Scots gardener discovered worked at Kew by Sir Joseph Banks early in the 19th century. Banks plucked Kerr up and sent him to China in 1804, Kerr became the western world's first plant collector, shipping home 238 varieties of plants over eight years, including the nandina, euonymus, begonia, and the rosa banksiae, wisely named for his patron's wife.  The kerria japonica cultivar bears Kerr's.

All of which, after I retreated indoors in search of more handkerchiefs, prompted me to pull down Elizabeth Lawrence's last book, Gardening for Love: The Market Bulletins (Allen, Lacy, ed, Duke University Press, 1987). Lawrence (1904-85) edited The Charlotte Observer's weekly gardening column from 1957 to 1971, and wrote a number of books beloved of gardeners, especially in the Carolinas. 

Elizabeth Lawrence

I read Miss Lawrence's columns as a boy; her style was always entertaining and- as I read more of her over the years- it was easy to see how she was almost equally famous in gardening circles as a letter-writer (her collected correspondence with Katherine White, The New Yorker's gardening correspondent,and wife of E.B., is fascinating; they got on much better by mail than in person). Eudora Welty put her on the mailing list for The Mississippi Market Bulletin, one of a number of state publications in which farm people traded plants. Her correspondence with people throughout the South through those publications, was the inspiration for Gardening for Love, which documents the now-largely-lost world of plant trading:
Reading the market bulletins is like walking through a country garden with sun on the flowers, in their very names: princess feather, four-o-clock, love-in-a-mist, bachelor's buttons, Joseph's coat, touch-me-not, kiss-me-at-the-garden-gate, ladyfingers, redbird bush, rainbow fairy,  pink sunburst. Sometimes the names have a darker tone: devil's shoestring; devil's-nip, devil's-walking-stick, graveyard moss, graveyard vine, and a good many others with demonic or funereal names.
Charlotte, North Carolina's Touch-Me-Not Lane, part of the heritage of gardening.

Many of these ring bells for me, from half a century ago: visits to family and friends often meant coming home with cuttings, or sprigs offered to hosts, and transplants from old home to new were part of moving- they were from the family old homestead, or some important connection (for years as a teen, I grew strawberries from starters my maternal grandmother gave me). And, as Miss Lawrence notes, the names were an infinite source of delight- and some confusion:
Love-entangled is an old name for nigella or love-in-a-mist, but as often happens when old names linger, the farm women have transferred it to another plant. Love-tangle vine is their name for Kenilworth ivy, an old favorite for  hanging baskets. Kenilworth ivy, incidentally, I have also seen advertised as Kettleworth ivy. It often happens that as plants pass from the hands of one gardener to another, their names change in odd ways, through oral transmission. Some of these alterations in spelling when they are written down are: Eli Agnes for Eleagnus; the Festive Maxine peony for Festiva Maxima; Ellen Bouquet amaryllis for the rose-colored crinum, Ellen Bosanquet; Virginia's Philadelphia for Philadelphus x virginalis; red star arise for red star-anise; rose-of-Charon; and watery spirea for the spirea named Anthony Waterer. I am reminded of the gardener who asked me to come see her "wiggly rose," which turned out to be Weigela florida, and of another who called the rose Etoile de Hollande, Miss Estelle of Holland.
One of Miss Lawrence's many correspondents was Mr. Kimery, who had an acre nursery at the Tennessee-Mississippi border; she describes the challenges of identifying many of his colloquially-named plants. One,
"The rose of Texas," Mr. Kimery wrote, "is double yellow. I sent you all I have. They will live. Hope so." I hope so, too, for the one I got earlier died before I had a chance to tell anything about it except that its thorns were sharp and numerous, which made me think it was the old brier, Harrison's Yellow (1830), common in gardens and of American origin. The yellow rose of Texas appears often in the market bulletins, but sometimes it is not a rose at all, but double kerria (Kerria japonica).
I like to think my neighbors and I- and correspondents in the market bulletins of the Internet- are keeping these old folkways alive a little longer. Mildred has made me promise to take some cuttings of her Chinese rose; my neighbor Cindy has offered me some of the hostas that have sprung up from recently cleared and restored beds at her front door:

I came to love hostas living in Seattle, where their colors fit the cool, often muted light of the Pacific Northwest, but where they are also an endless buffet for the endless supply of slugs. It will be nice to have some new ones to put out before long.

After I get the dandelion rebellion suppressed, of course. And the allergies under control. And, after that, perhaps a visit to Miss Lawrence's house and garden, a National Register of Historic Places site here in Charlotte, now part of the Wing Haven Gardens and Bird Sanctuary. 

Friday, April 10, 2015

Many happy birthdays to come, too!

From Brain Pickings, a post worth reading about today's birthday kid, writer Anne Lamott:

To be a good writer, you not only have to write a great deal but you have to care. You do not have to have a complicated moral philosophy. But a writer always tries, I think, to be a part of the solution, to understand a little about life and to pass this on.

A happy throwback

Do you miss being able to play along with Leroy Anderson's typewriter song? Now there's a USB keyboard for you:

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Re-inhabiting our own mind: the value of a liberal arts education

One of the defining works of my generation (born circa 1955) and, certainly, at my college- St. Andrews University- was Robert Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

Now an author called Matthew Crawford seems to have come up with a Zen for a new, more complex, era. This is an excerpt of a longer review: it is well worth reading in full. Not much any more do book reviews make me want to go out and buy a new book. This one does (an except can be read here).
Crawford's new book is far more ambitious. In Shop Class, he asked, "What is good work"? In The World Beyond Your Head, he examines how it is we come to interact with, or flee from, the world around us in the first place, and how perception and the self prepare one for participation in a world of work. Having already noted that labor affords a certain form of perception, in his new book he digs into the range of "affordances" — modes of skillful perception. When a great chef looks around a kitchen, she or he sees things as potential tools (or obstacles) in ways that others don’t. With skills, our very comprehension of the world is enhanced. It’s philosophy as an intervention in issues of the day. 
The World Beyond Your Head begins with a terrific introduction, "Attention as a Cultural Problem." The concern isn’t just the technological appendages like computers or iPhones that we’ve come to depend on; it’s that we can’t control our own responses to them. "Our distractibility indicates that we are agnostic on the question of what is worth paying attention to — that is, what to value," Crawford writes. Everywhere we go, we are assaulted by commercial forces that make claims on our mental space, so that "silence is now offered as a luxury good." 
That isn’t just inconvenient. It destroys independence of thought and feeling: "Without the ability to direct our attention where we will, we become more receptive to those who would direct our attention where they will." And they have gotten very good at manipulating our environment so that we are turned in the directions that can be monetized. But it’s really bad for us. "Distractibility," Crawford tells us, "might be regarded as the mental equivalent of obesity." 
We have become more vulnerable to this regime of manipulated attention, he argues, because we have only individualism as a defense. The Enlightenment quest for autonomy leaves us powerless against those who mount noisy appeals to our personal preferences, in service of manipulating us. Against this tendency, Crawford argues for a situated self, one that is always linked to (not independent of) the environment, including other people. We may not be in a bike-repair shop, but we are always somewhere. 
Long sections of The World Beyond Your Head deal with encountering things and other people. There’s even an interlude on "a brief history of freedom." I told you this was an ambitious book! 
Crawford first shows how highly skilled people learn to develop an intelligent use of space, filtering out what they can afford to ignore. Part of developing one’s skill is to know where to look, to "jig" the space to pay attention to what’s most important. And you learn what’s most important by paying attention to people whose skills are much more developed than your own...
Matthew Crawford, The World Beyond Your Head: On Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, March 2015), 320 pp. $26. 

  • ISBN: 9780374292980
  • ISBN10: 0374292981
  • Anne Lamott on entering the suburbs of old age

    From Facebook yesterday:

    I am going to be 61 years old in 48 hours. Wow. I thought i was only forty-seven, but looking over the paperwork, I see that I was born in 1954. My inside self does not have an age, although can't help mentioning as an aside that it might have been useful had I not followed the Skin Care rules of the sixties, ie to get as much sun as possible, while slathered in baby oil. (My sober friend Paul O said, at eighty, that he felt like a young man who had something wrong with him.). Anyway, I thought I might take the opportunity to write down every single thing I know, as of today.

    1. All truth is a paradox. Life is a precious unfathomably beautiful gift; and it is impossible here, on the incarnational side of things. It has been a very bad match for those of us who were born extremely sensitive. It is so hard and weird that we wonder if we are being punked. And it filled with heartbreaking sweetness and beauty, floods and babies and acne and Mozart, all swirled together.

    2. Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.

    3. There is almost nothing outside of you that will help in any kind of last way, unless you are waiting for an organ. You can't buy, achieve, or date it. This is the most horrible truth.

    4. Everyone is screwed up, broken, clingy, and scared, even the people who seem to have it more or less together. They are much more like you than you would believe. So try not to compare your insides to their outsides. Also, you can't save, fix or rescue any of them, or get any of them sober. But radical self-care is quantum, and radiates out into the atmosphere, like a little fresh air. It is a huge gift to the world. When people respond by saying, "Well, isn't she full of herself," smile obliquely, like Mona Lisa, and make both of you a nice cup of tea.

    5. Chocolate with 70% cacao is not actually a food. It's best use is as bait in snake traps.

    6. Writing: shitty first drafts. Butt in chair. Just do it. You own everything that happened to you. You are going to feel like hell if you never write the stuff that is tugging on the sleeves in your heart--your stories, visions, memories, songs: your truth, your version of things, in your voice. That is really all you have to offer us, and it's why you were born.

    7. Publication and temporary creative successes are something you have to recover from. They kill as many people as not. They will hurt, damage and change you in ways you cannot imagine. The most degraded and sometimes nearly-evil men I have known were all writers who'd had bestsellers. Yet, it is also a miracle to get your work published (see #1.). Just try to bust yourself gently of the fantasy that publication will heal you, will fill the Swiss cheesey holes. It won't, it can't. But writing can. So can singing.

    8. Families; hard, hard, hard, no matter how cherished and astonishing they may also be. (See #1 again.) At family gatherings where you suddenly feel homicidal or suicidal, remember that in half of all cases, it's a miracle that this annoying person even lived. Earth is Forgiveness School. You might as well start at the dinner table. That way, you can do this work in comfortable pants. When Blake said that we are here to learn to endure the beams of love, he knew that your family would be an intimate part of this, even as you want to run screaming for your cute little life. But that you are up to it. You can do it, Cinderellie. You will be amazed.

    9. Food; try to do a little better.

    10. Grace: Spiritual WD-40. Water wings. The mystery of grace is that God loves Dick Cheney and me exactly as much as He or She loves your grandchild. Go figure. The movement of grace is what changes us, heals us and our world. To summon grace, say, "Help!" And then buckle up. Grace won't look like Casper the Friendly Ghost; but the phone will ring, or the mail will come, and then against all odds, you will get your sense of humor about yourself back. Laughter really is carbonated holiness, even if you are sick of me saying it.

    11. God; Goodnesss, Love energy, the Divine, a loving animating intelligence, the Cosmic Muffin. You will worship and serve something, so like St. Bob said, you gotta choose. You can play on our side, or Bill Maher's and Franklin Graham's. Emerson said that the happiest person on earth is the one who learns from nature the lessons of worship. So go outside a lot, and look up. My pastor says you can trap bees on the floor of a Mason jar without a lid, because they don't look up. If they did, they could fly to freedom.

    11. Faith: Paul Tillich said the opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty. If I could say one thing to our little Tea Party friends, it would be this. Fundamentalism, in all its forms, is 90% of the reason the world is so terrifying. 3% is the existence of snakes. The love of our incredible dogs and cats is the closest most of us will come, on this side of eternity, to knowing the direct love of God; although cats can be so bitter, which is not the god part: the crazy Love is. Also, "Figure it out" is not a good slogan.

    12. Jesus; Jesus would have even loved horrible, mealy-mouth self-obsessed you, as if you were the only person on earth. But He would hope that you would perhaps pull yourself together just the tiniest, tiniest bit--maybe have a little something to eat, and a nap.

    13. Exercise: If you want to have a good life after you have grown a little less young, you must walk almost every day. There is no way around this. If you are in a wheelchair, you must do chair exercises. Every single doctor on earth will tell you this, so don't go by what I say.

    14. Death; wow. So f-ing hard to bear, when the few people you cannot live without die. You will never get over these losses, and are not supposed to. We Christians like to think death is a major change of address, but in any case, the person will live fully again in your heart, at some point, and make you smile at the MOST inappropriate times. But their absence will also be a lifelong nightmare of homesickness for you. All truth is a paradox. Grief, friends, time and tears will heal you. Tears will bathe and baptize and hydrate you and the ground on which you walk. The first thing God says to Moses is, "Take off your shoes." We are on holy ground. Hard to believe, but the truest thing I know.

    I think that's it, everything I know. I wish I had shoe-horned in what E.L. Doctorow said about writing: "It's like driving at night with the headlights on. You can only see a little ways ahead of you, but you can make the whole journey that way." I love that, because it's true about everything we tey. I wish I had slipped in what Ram Das said, that when all is said and done, we're just all walking each other home. Oh, well, another time. God bless you all good.

    A Gardener's Diary: As the worm turns

    Cankerworm on Leaf

    The last few days have been delightful out. It's been warm- into the low 80s- and mostly sunny, with a nice breeze.

    It has also been The Time of The Spring Cankerworm.

    "The little bastids", as my pal Boston Eddie would call them, climb up trees in late fall, lay their eggs, and play canasta still spring. Then the new generation, frisky and full of promise, parachutes out of the trees, suspended by long, virtually transparent filaments, a Normandy air invasion of Lilliput.

    But walk anywhere near a tree and you will find them all over you, as you walk through their slo-mo zip lines. I look up and see them dangling from the brim of my Stetson straw hat- at least they don't get into my hair that way. But I find them all over my shirt and pants, placidly making their way upward, as if to relaunch from my nose. Charlotte has been besieged by them for over twenty years, and still they proliferate, aided by the seemingly endless stands of tasty willow oaks (I have seven).

    They don't like being photographed, either. I tried to catch some in flight and they always seemed to waft out of range at the last sec, no matter how close I was. One, however, was slow on the uptake (or downdraft):

    A little above the center of this snap, see the little yellow stick-like thing? That's a cankerworm, about four feet above the ground.

    Dandelions? I'm their Pol Pot. Yesterday I deflowered 218, including a dozen or so that opened their bright yellow blooms in areas I had finished pulling half an hour earlier. In a bit, I am out to see how many have dared to show themselves.

    Tuesday, April 7, 2015

    A Gardener's Diary: Tuesday

    Weather permitting, 1 to 3 in the afternoon is Gardening Time. The rest of my waking hours are spent at a computer, trying to persuade people they really, really need to spend some money on one of my books.

    Today was a grey, Pacific Northwest sort of day; the left-behinds of a storm that passed through last night. We got a good soaking: my rain bin, parked under a leak in the gutter, collected 25 gallons.

    The ants are hard at work, building new communities all through  my front and back yards. The red clay of the Piedmont is so hard it has already started to crack, but the ants are implacable: they drill right up through it, creating ant condo complexes and shopping malls with dozens of entrances and exits over a few square feet.

    The seven willow oaks in the yard, all 30 years old and 65-70 feet tall, are leafing out. That vague greenish yellow haze that envelopes them has give way to leaf buds, and pollen. Long strings of it, draped like Chinese lanterns from every branch. A walking allergy collection, I am in for it the next week or two:

    I usually have some tasks in mind when I head out. I have two adjoining yards I work on- an acre in total, both of which sat, unattended except for mowing, for a very long time. My yard was neglected for a decade; the next door one, for about six years. Vines and creepers are everywhere, and up into the trees; another neighbor contributes to the disarray by neglecting what he has planted in the past, while fussing over new trees he planted last fall. From him we get lots of flowering weeds whose seed bow in the wind over to us; I have spent the last week separating his grape vines from two of my neighbor's border trees; the vines were up 20-25 feet into them, firmly attached by their little aerial rootlets. The neighbor may have once had some wire to support them but it has long since given way to the tangle that follows long inattention, and the two trees were so much more attractive a prospect for the vines.

    Today, however, Task 1 was Dealing With Dandelions. I am the ISIL of dandelions: today I beheaded 356. I find the best time to tackle them is when the flowers first come out; their brilliant yellow is an easy target. I walk around the yard snapping them up and, every fifty or so being a handful, dump them next to Mother Compost, the first of my my three piles (when you have seven willow oaks and a quarter-acre wooded lot next door, you need three piles). Mother Compost is the first and farthest along, about nine months old, and decaying nicely.

    Next up? The potato patch. I discovered, years ago, potatoes are ridiculously easy to grow. Cut them up, bury them, and when the above-ground greenery dies back, dig them up. In the depths of this dreadful '14-'15 winter, grasping at some hope of warmth again, I let some smaller russets sprout on a pantry shelf, put them out a month or so ago to harden, and today I cleared a small bed against the back of the house, one that gets sun nearly all day. In went a row of six potato cuttings, and an equal of garlics cloves I let sprout in the pantry. Part of me worries, without articulable reason, I have waited too long and the spuds and garlic have gone off. If that is the case, I will get some new ones and start over, for a fine end of summer crop.

    "Spring is over so fast," my across the street neighbor, Mildred, remarked the other day. We both wish the colors would last longer. Maybe we have a heightened sense of the passage of time: we have 145 years between us, and as we slow down, time speeds up. Today I thought I'd get some snaps for the diary, and maybe print a few out for Mildred and me to gaze upon next December, when the darkness seems never-ending and the TV weathermen exult over the prospects of ice storms.

    So I wandered around the neighborhood, camera in one hand, shears in the other. I keep a vase of flowers in my windowless bathroom; the red camellias I have enjoyed the last few weeks have run their course and it was time for a new arrangement.

    There was much to choose from. Mildred's azaleas are coming out; as are my neighbor Cindy's; I took a couple of snips of the reds, and some red and pink camellias for the foliage and contrast. I stopped to pull some vines out of the pink camellia, and, while rooting around in it to find the big vine and behead it, I came across a fine example of the nesting art, complete with a fringe of moss around the remarkably ovalized straw inside.

    I walked over to snap Mildred's dogwood. It is a fine specimen, one that has grown roundly in its location; getting sun all day.

    In the foreground, the lilac and the Chinese rose have seen their best this spring, but a week ago, ya shoulda been here.

    I only have one dogwood, on the edge of the wooded lot next door. The trees there have grown densely over time, crowding each other out and either growing tall and spindly before falling victim to storm winds, or sideways, outward to try and get the sunlight. The dogwood is a one-sided tree, stretching out over the driveway to get some afternoon light. The long, narrow lot behind it, dense with foliage, cuts out nearly all the morning sun.

    A visit to Mildred's yard is a visit with Mildred, and we celebrated the ongoing gifts her husband left in the plantings over the thirty years they shared in that yard. Some violets are peeking out in their across-the-street narrow, wooded, next door lot, sort of cross-street nature corridor with ours.

    We couldn't, for the life of us, remember what this is called, but it sure does brighten up an overcast day:

    -as does a patch of thrift. I've never seen it climb a fence before. I guess that is what "vigorous habit" means.

    We strolled over to look at William's azaleas, scattered through the woods. Planting them in wooded settings is an inspired choice. When St. Andrews University, my alma mater, was being built in the late 1950s, a donor gave them truckloads of azaleas: so many, they couldn't find places for all of them around the new buildings and so started putting them out in the pine groves that meandered through and round the campus. By the time I arrived, fifteen years later, hiking the wooded areas meant coming across sudden explosions of color, ten feet or more tall. The only thing to rival it is the corridors of mountain laurel one hikes through on the North Carolina portions of the Appalachian Trail.

    We chatted about the usual things- the weather, the curse of the spiky balls the gums across the street produce in such excess, the tendency of the neighbors in the newer subdivision down the street to take the speed limit as a suggestion- when suddenly Mildred cried, "Ah!" I looked over and there were two vivid- and hardly common- common yellowthroats perched at her birdbath.

    And if that wasn't enough! Three eastern bluebirds dropped in as the yellowthroats- thirst slaked, flashed off.

    The bluebirds seem to like the neighborhood; I first saw them March 26, after a heavy rain forced up a back yard of gasping worms. But the yellowthroats are a first, and push my neighborhood bird list up to sixteen.

    I came home and, inside, got the vase refilled for some wake-me-up color blast tomorrow morning:

    Yes, I read Donald Kagan's The Peloponnesian War in the bathroom.

    Working solo, at home, is a pretty solitary business, and there's times I wish for some company to tell what I do all day, and ask if it makes any sense. But bookselling is, in many respects, a pretty damned boring proposition, especially if one is not drawn to the magical search- almost never fulfilled- for all thirteen errors that make a true first printing of The Great Gatsby. Or, in more contemporary terms, to try and get someone else's opinion of where I ought to put more social media effort: Twitter, where I have vastly more followers; or Facebook, where I have far fewer, but those I have are more communicative and visit my business's website more often. For most of my friends, these are MIRB talks- My Eyes Roll Back.

    So it's nice to get outside, when I can. I am six weeks into the book business, and it is slow going building the kind of market reach that will prompt one or two people to buy a book per month: once I hit that modest goal, I  won't worry as much about the moths in my wallet and the echo when my bank's teller opens my account balance. Getting out clears my mind from the hyper-rational side telling me- pretty persuasively- why the "it will all work out" side is nothing but codswallop.

    Getting out- having the time, during daylight- to do stuff, is a wonderful gift, and has the added advantage of being free and requiring little travel. For the first time since I was, maybe, fifteen? I have the time to pay attention to what is going on around me. I can watch bulbs come up from the ground, note the appearance of another species of bird in my yard, talk with my neighbors. In her wonderful book, Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith, Kathleen Norris writes of a women's Bible Study group in the Presbyterian Church of her tiny, windblown Dakotas town:
    When I dared to speak, I said that my favorite passage in the chapter  had always been Mark 4:27, because it speaks so eloquently of an ordinary miracle that the farmer "should sleep, and rise night and day, and the seed should spring and grow up, he knoweth not how." That seems to apply to so much that I do, I said, commitments that I make when I have no idea what I'm getting into, and somehow they grow into something important, before I know it. My marriage, for instance, I said, and the women laughed, knowingly. It also reminded me, I told them, how mysterious are so many of the things that we take for granted. We know how to plow a field, and how to seed it. But germination and growth are hidden from us, beyond our control. All we can do is wait, and hope, and see. "Only last Saturday, a woman interrupted, "at the Lutheran fall bazaar. The place mat was real different. I saved mine." She drew it from her purse and unfolded it. There was a picture of a wheat field and a quote from Martin Luther: "If you could understand a single grain of wheat you would die of wonder."

    Monday, April 6, 2015

    A foot in three centuries

    Such recognition brings with it a guarantee that within a short period, months often, the honoree will shortly shuffle off this mortal coil.
    It happened again earlier this week when Misao Okawa of Japan died at age 117.
    Okawa succumbed to heart failure surrounded by relatives at a nursing home in Osaka, just weeks after celebrating her last birthday.
    Okawa, born in Osaka on March 5, 1898, was recognised as the world’s oldest person by Guinness World Records in 2013, meaning she lasted a surprisingly long time in her role.
    Guinness World Records all but lays out a map and GPS coordinates for the Grim Reaper each time it recognizes a new world’s oldest person.

    Jiroemon Kimura, Okawa’s predecessor as the world’s oldest person, held the title for 177 days. Before Kimura, Dina Manfredini’s reign lasted just 13 days.
    Gertrude Weaver of Camden, Ark., who at the age of 116 years and 271 days, is Okawa’s successor. Weaver appears to be the daughter of a man born into slavery in 1861.
    This evening The Washington Post reports Gertrude Weaver died this morning, five days after becoming the oldest person in the world.

    The inheritor of the title is Jeralean Talley of Inkster, Michigan, aged 115. Born in May, 1899, Ms. Talley will also hold the unusual distinction of having been the oldest person in the world twice. She previously held the honor from March 2013 to July 2014, until Gertrude Weaver's age was officially established.

    Friday, April 3, 2015

    A dubious honor, though one recipient enjoyed it to the hilt

    Cotton Boll Conspiracy- one of the best blogs around- has a characteristically intriguing, and more than a little wistful, look at what it means to become the world's oldest person:
    Want to know what the kiss of death – literally – is? Being named the world’s oldest person. 
    Such recognition brings with it a guarantee that within a short period, months often, the honoree will shortly shuffle off this mortal coil.It happened again earlier this week when Misao Okawa of Japan died at age 117. 
    Okawa succumbed to heart failure surrounded by relatives at a nursing home in Osaka, just weeks after celebrating her last birthday.Okawa, born in Osaka on March 5, 1898, was recognised as the world’s oldest person by Guinness World Records in 2013, meaning she lasted a surprisingly long time in her role. 
    Guinness World Records all but lays out a map and GPS coordinates for the Grim Reaper each time it recognizes a new world’s oldest person. 
    A previous record holder, the Frenchwoman Jeanne Calment, turned 120 in 1995. Asked for her vision of her future, she replied, "Very brief." Calment lived to be the oldest person in modern history, and defied CBC's rule by holding the title of world's oldest person for the longest run every- 9 years, 7 months.

    CBC wonders, rightly, about the mixed feelings one must have reaching such a solitary point in time:
    Jiroemon Kimura, Okawa’s predecessor as the world’s oldest person, held the title for 177 days. Before Kimura, Dina Manfredini’s reign lasted just 13 days.Gertrude Weaver of Camden, Ark., who at the age of 116 years and 271 days, is Okawa’s successor. Weaver appears to be the daughter of a man born into slavery in 1861. 
    In all seriousness, one wonders if holding such a record is all that enviable. Beyond the fact that most of the extremely elderly have lost at least some of their faculties, there’s also the reality that by the time you reach 115 years-plus you’ve long outlived all your contemporaries and likely your children. 
    Okawa, who was married nearly a century ago in 1919, had been widowed for 84 years. She was survived by four grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.
    Still, the record shows an extremely long life has its benefits. Madame Calment, for example, "[b]orn in Arles in 1875, recall[ed] working in her father's shop at age 14 and selling colored pencils and canvases to Van Gogh, the Dutch impressionist who depicted Arles in several of his vibrant paintings...physically active all her life, rode a bicycle until she was 100, and until 1985 occupied the several large rooms of her apartment on the second floor of a classic old Provencal building in the center of Arles... She moved that year into a nursing home, which is now named after her." 

    Jeanne Calment at 20 (1895)
    For her 120th birthday, she "dined on foie gras, duck thighs, cheese and chocolate cake."
    Yet, as CBC notes, one's closest kin rarely complete the last laps of the marathon with them. The New York Times reported, "She has outlived her husband, her daughter and her grandson, who died in a car crash, and has no direct descendants."
    Even less fortunate than Madame Calment, however, was the family of an Arles notary, Andres-Francoise Raffray:
    Andre-Francois Raffray thought he had a great deal 30 years ago: He would pay a 90-year-old woman 2,500 francs (about $500) a month until she died, then move into her grand apartment in a town Vincent van Gogh once roamed. 
    But this Christmas, Mr. Raffray died at age 77, having laid out the equivalent of more than $184,000 for an apartment he never got to live in. 
    On the same day, Jeanne Calment, now listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the world's oldest person at 120, dined on foie gras, duck thighs, cheese and chocolate cake at her nursing home near the sought-after apartment in Arles, northwest of Marseilles in the south of France.She need not worry about losing income. Although the amount Mr. Raffray already paid is more than twice the apartment's current market value, his widow is obligated to keep sending that monthly check. If Mrs. Calment outlives her, too, then the Raffray children and grandchildren will have to pay. 
    "In life, one sometimes makes bad deals," Mrs. Calment said on her birthday last Feb. 21. 
    The apartment is currently unoccupied, according to local media.Buying apartments "en viager," or "for life," is common in France. The elderly owner gets to enjoy a monthly income from the buyer, who gambles on getting a real estate bargain -- provided the owner dies in due time. 
    Upon the owner's death, the buyer inherits the apartment, regardless of how much was paid.
    Jeanne Calment hung on until she was 122 years and 164 days old, dying August 4, 1997, nearly deaf and blind, but a character to the end. The NYT obituary noted:
    Jeanne Calment, born a year before Alexander Graham Bell patented his telephone and 14 years before Alexandre Gustave Eiffel built his tower, died today in a nursing home in Arles. At 122, she was the oldest person whose age had been verified by official documents... 
    The French, who celebrated her as the doyenne of humanity, had their own theories about why she lived so long, noting that she used to eat more than two pounds of chocolate a week and treat her skin with olive oil, rode a bicycle until she was 100, and only quit smoking five years ago... 
    Jeanne Louise Calment's claim to fame is the Feb. 21, 1875, listing in the birth register in Arles, the southern French city where she began her days and ended them. 
    She was 12 or 13 when she saw Vincent Van Gogh in Arles, and she said later that he was ''very ugly, ungracious, impolite, sick -- I forgive him, they called him loco.''
    She married a cousin, Fernand Nicolas Calment, in 1896. As the prosperous owner of a store in Arles, he was able to support her in style, and she never had to work. She played tennis, took up roller skating, bicycling and swimming and took great pleasure in joining the hunting parties he organized. She also studied the piano and enjoyed the opera. 
    Her husband, 46 when World War I broke out, was too old for military service. His business survived the Depression, but a dessert of spoiled preserved cherries killed him, but not his wife, in 1942. 
    They had one child, a daughter, Yvonne, whose marriage to Joseph Billot produced a single child, Frederic Billot, in 1926. Eight years later, Yvonne died of pneumonia, and Mrs. Calment raised her grandson in the family home. He became a medical doctor and died before her, in an automobile accident in 1960. 
    Mrs. Calment rode a bicycle until she was 100 and walked all over Arles to thank those who congratulated her on her birthday that year.At age 110 her increasing frailty forced her to move into a nursing home. ''She complained about the food in the nursing home, which was sort of like baby food,'' Mr. Robine said today. ''She said it always tasted the same.'' 
    At the age of 115, she fell and fractured two bones, and her memory began to fail. But she retained a tart wit. ''When you're 117, you see if you remember everything!'' she rebuked an interviewer five years ago. When somebody took leave by telling her, ''Until next year, perhaps,'' she retorted: ''I don't see why not! You don't look so bad to me.''
     Jeanne Calment at 122, making her last filmed appearance.
    M. Raffray's widow was still paying on the flat in Arles when Calment died. Gracious to a fault, she remarked, "She was a personality. My husband had very good relations with Mrs. Calment.''

    When M. Raffray called round to see Madame Calment, she was fond of telling him she was busy, "competing with Methuselah."
    The Times obit concluded, "...She may be most famous in France for her many bons mots. One of them was: ''I've never had but one wrinkle, and I'm sitting on it.''