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Posts Tagged ‘gardening’

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a man in possession of an upcoming vacation, must be in need of a week’s worth of chaos.

I don’t know why this happens, but it does. I’ve got a week’s vacation scheduled, I remind folks at work that it’s coming, I give ample warning about tasks A and B that must be completed before I can do task C, and then, as if it’s all a big surprise, everything crashes down in the last week—pandemonium, panic, hair-on-fire memos from management asking why task C is “suddenly” at risk—and I’ve got to pull a rabbit out of . . . somewhere . . . to ensure that we do meet our deadlines.

Toss into that week the unending cyclone of Fire and Fury. North Korea. Gaza. Iran. Pruitt. Cohen. Mueller. Net neutrality. Tax code reform. Immigrants. Amazon vs. Seattle. Trump vs. everyone. Even effing volcanoes.

Mix thoroughly, sprinkle it all with a layer of pollen the proportions of which have been absolutely biblical, bake at 350°F for an hour, and serve warm with a generous side of agita. Pairs well with angostura, over-brewed coffee, and tannic reds.

Every. Damned. Time.

Luckily, my irises, after extensive negotiations, have decided to bloom.

And I love my irises.

I grow the beardless, or Dutch, type of iris. They remind me of the Douglas irises of my youth, old friends well-met while hiking the back-country trails in the Point Reyes National Seashore, tramping through the hinterlands, munching on miner’s lettuce and sourgrass, breathing in the mixture of coniferous humus and salt-sea air like a tonic. Not normally one for flowers without fragrance, I make an exception for these happy flowers. In their deep, saturated colors and elegantly curved tricorns I find serenity.

I was upset by their unexpected (and inexplicable) delay. The mild winter? The effects of a changing climate? I don’t know. What I do know is that the blooms of late March/early April, those upthrusting spears surrounded by a spray of thin tapered leaves, they went on strike in February and did not come back to work until this week, when they all decided to show their colors and burst into static fireworks of cool purples trimmed with heady gold.

I never cut my irises for bouquets. I leave them where I love them, in the garden. When they get sad, I pinch them off to encourage a second bloom, and I sometimes trim the bent, broken, or yellowing leaves, but mostly I leave them alone and simply enjoy the fortnight of their display.

Perhaps they knew of my upcoming week of vacation and, knowing the week prior would be a hell, held off until now to help me go the distance without committing murder or career suicide (or both).

Regardless the cause, I’m glad they’re here this week. I need ’em.

k

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7 1/2

GodfatherLast week, I stood out in the rain.

On purpose.

Last week was a stay-cation, and I spent many hours out in the elements, reclaiming the gardens after a couple of years’ worth of accumulated neglect. It being February — and one of the wettest on record, to boot — more of those “elements” were liquid than usual, and most of those hours were spent in the rain.

Luckily, I had a new hat.

I was born at the sunset of the Hat Era, a time when everyone — men and women alike — wore hats in public. Hats were already passé when I was born, and by the time I was a lad, the only men who wore hats were fishermen, cowboys, and men in uniform. Alas.

I’ve always liked hats. Real hats, that is. Hats with brims that go all the way around. A hat has a purpose — to keep the sun out of your eyes, to keep your head warm, and to keep rain off your head and neck. Caps generally only do one of those things, and not well, either, not when compared to a real hat.

The hats I preferred were those of my movie icons — Bogie, Stewart, Fonda — hats with character, hats with style. No baseball caps for those guys. No urban-cowboy Stetsons. No no no.

The Fedora ruled with those men. Sometimes they wore a Homburg or a wide-brimmed Tyrolean. Or, if they were in a Western, a slouch.

The slouch hat has always been a favorite of mine. A felt hat with a flat, wide brim that slouches down over nape and brow, preferably with a creased crown for ease of tipping to passersby. Aussies tie up one side of theirs. So did the Rough Riders. The slouch has tons of character and is a top-notch performer in all things a hat is supposed to do.

But, as I’ve never considered myself as a guy who looks good in hats, I was a bit self-conscious, standing out in my suburban garden, rain pelting down, fat droplets pattering off the wide brim of my new slouch hat. I mean, it’s a big hat, by modern stylistic standards. It’s felted mix of wool and buffalo hair, black as night, with a slight curl on the back and sides of the 4 ½” brim, and a silver-buckled strip of leather around the crown. My wife assured me though that, contrary to my instincts, the hat suits me, and since she generally doesn’t like me to look the fool any more than I do myself, I trusted her assessment, and wore it most of the week.

A quality felt hat is almost a living thing. New, it never fits well, despite proper measurement. It must be worn to fit properly, and if possible, worn in the rain. You wear it, let it get wet, and then continue to wear it as it dries. The moisture loosens up the felted fibers and when they dry, they shrink up to fit your skull. If you don’t like the brim or the crown, you can steam it over a kettle and reshape it to your liking, which I did to remove the curl on the front.  After four days spending several hours out in the rain, getting the hat wet and letting it dry, it now is a perfect fit to the bony, pearish ovoid that houses my brain.

I still don’t feel like it’s my “style,” but I like it, so I’m going to fake it until it feels right.

k

Typewriter

PS. I was thoroughly puzzled by the relationship between hat sizes and head measurements. A 22-inch skull is a U.S. hat size 7, which is a difference of 15; but a 23 ½ inch skull (like mine) is a U.S. hat size 7 ½, a difference of 16. What gives?

Turns out, the relationship between your head size and your U.S. hat size is, believe it or not, π.

Yup. Just as circumference/π = diameter, so Your Head Measurement (in inches)/π =  U.S. Hat Size.

I just love that.

k

Bogie and Bacall

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PlumsKnife in hand, I begin my work.

The plums are warm from their rest in the summer sun. I select one. Its dark skin, freshly washed, stretches taut over soft flesh. I slice down its back, then prize it open like a clam, revealing the yellow-green flesh and the hard, brown stone within. With a twist, I free the pit and toss it aside; the split flesh I keep.

Next.

Bees bumble by, drawn by the honeyed scent of open fruit. They helicopter down into the basket to sip at the fruit-flavored dewdrops. I take care not to disturb them as I select my next victim.

The hummingbirds zip in with a buzz, grouse at me for being too close to their feeder. I move with deliberate slowness, encouraging them not to fear.

In the spruce above me, a dove mourns. She weeps until her boo-hoo-hooing annoys her neighbors and the ravens chase her off with a flap of feathers.

My hands grow sticky with juice; my fingernails are stained by the blood of slashed skins.

The drying racks fill.

Split plums, dark-winged butterflies, packets filled with long afternoons and the sun of summer, they will warm my soul come winter.

k

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Misty MorningLate winter is my “difficult” season. Maybe it’s Seasonal Affective Disorder. Maybe it’s the combination of allergies and holiday letdown. This year, it’s also the ongoing can’t-look-away train wreck that is our electoral process. Either way, I’ve been depressed and unmotivated for the past couple of months.

Plus, as it’s March, I now have to deal with all sorts of passive-aggressive reminders—in ads, on billboards, and from the end-of-broadcast human-interest fluff pieces on the news—that, here in Seattle, I should be out there jogging, kayaking, hiking, biking, and tossing balls for the dog. It’s my civic duty, the expectation of a nation, that here in this region of stunning natural beauty I will be out, in it, enjoying every second of it that I possibly can.

Feh. (more…)

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The weather has turned cold here in Seattle. Nothing like what most of the nation is experiencing, to be sure, but cold nonetheless. The leaves that haven’t fallen are withered and frostbitten on their stems, and the remnants of Autumn’s glory now lie in patches of brown detritus scattered across the gardens.

Bloedel Reserve, Bainbridge Island, WAOn clear, cold afternoons, when the sky is a robin’s egg blue and the sun has just melted the frost off the shaggy lawns, I hear the machinery of modern yard maintenance fire up. Mowers, blowers, strimmers, and edgers set up a whirring, sputtering rumble that blankets the neighborhood as homeowners take advantage of a rainless November day.

For myself, I prefer to use manual tools when possible. The lawnmower, the strimmer, these I keep and use, but on bright autumn days I reach instead for the rake, the broom, and the shovel to tend my garden. I spend so much of my day working nothing but my mind–analyzing systems, cross-checking code, diagramming solutions, navigating interoffice politics–that the thought of surrounding myself with machinery and noise is abhorrent.

Before I step outside, I bundle up with scarf and gloves and quilted overshirt, but soon, as I warm to my task, these layers drop away. It takes me longer to tidy my garden than it does my more mechanized neighbors–yesterday, after a couple hours’ work, I only cleared out the patio and lower section of the back garden–but it’s a quieter time, and that’s what I want.

Peace. Serenity. Take in a clean, cold lungful of air and let it out in a frosty breath.

Repeat.

k

Typewriter

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On the third day we found her, lying in the rippling sunlight beneath the sweetgum tree, her brindled fur quilted amongst the swordleaf fronds, her head pillowed by her one white paw.

My father’s wish, whispered to the breeze, was that she might have climbed upon his lap one last time, but he did not blame her. It was not her way. Like him, she expressed affection in code, in actions to be deciphered, in words oblique, in lengthy silence.

We laid her beneath the sweetgum’s branches, down in the ground of her own choosing, and would wait to see her colors in autumn’s tortoiseshell leaves.

Swordleaf

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Iris in RainI kneel in the dripping ivy. A trowel in one hand, my other is deep in the soil, searching for the dandelion’s root. The root twists and writhes beneath my fingers, wet and tough, unwilling.

The rain taps across my hat’s felted brim, caresses my steaming back with its cool touch. The spring day is cold, but my work keeps me warm.

The bite of woodsmoke reaches me. I lift my nose and scent the air. My breath comes out a mist.

I grimace as digits plunge farther down into the black loam. The earth envelopes my hand, its serenity infuses me, my worries leach away.

I am the root, now. I am the plant. I am the garden.

k

Pine Pollen

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