The Wrong Lilies

The Wrong Lilies

Monday, May 30, 2011

Funny names

There is a lovely phlox that grows in my garden, whose name is ‘Morris Berd’.  Not only that, he is a particular kind of phlox, a ‘glaberina’ variety.  Morris (I just call him Morris) is a lovely light purple color, and very reliable and floriferous.  Actually, ‘floriferous’ is quite a word all in its own.  Not to mention ‘glaberina’.  Anyway, Morris’s name is so matter of fact compared to his loveliness, that it kind of cracks me up.  There are many, many plants, of course, named for people, as opposed to the many, many plants that are named for places.  I have another phlox, of another sort, a paniculata, whose name is ‘David’.  David came in a set of three, but only one plant made it.  I went through a phase of mad acquisition, and this particular mail-order company offered items mostly in sets of three.  “Well,” I thought, “I’ll just plant them in different areas in the garden, and see which area they liked the best.  I learned a lot, that way.  Some plants are not the least bit hesitant in telling you they aren’t happy, and some are definitely firm about it.  They just disappear.  They leave town, so to speak.  Well, the great thing to report is that one of the ‘David’ plants was located happily, and is very floriferous.  It’s also white and fragrant. 

I like white flowering plants enough that I’ve contemplated an all-white garden or at least an all-white bed, but it won’t happen.  I’m too much of a collector to draw the line needed to create such an area.  Besides, I subscribe to the tuck-tuck school of gardening.  No grand designs for me.  When we started this garden, we first set in the plants we had been carrying along in pots and which we sensed were just frantic to get into a nice, well-prepared bed.  Then, amongst those plants, as we went along, we just tucked something here and something there, trying to consider compatibility as much as possible, but sometimes just for a whim.

Back to names, I used to grow a lovely daffodil named ‘Mrs. R. O. Backhouse’.  This daffodil had a white perianth and a peachy-pink trumpet, and was very reliable.  So I conjured up that its namesake, Mrs. Backhouse, was probably this very pleasant English lady, back around the early 1900’s, with an upswept hairdo and a ruffled shirtwaist blouse and a light hand with scones. 

There are many other plants with people names.  Lady Banks’ Rose comes to mind.  Obviously an aristocrat.  The horticultural world is probably greatly relieved that I basically have no problem with the names applied to various plants, but I can still say I think some of them are funny!  Dear and reliable, like ‘Morris’, but funny.

Friday, May 27, 2011

It just isn’t fair

When terrible disasters befall, we tend to attribute them to some sort of personal attack from Nature.  How many times do you hear someone say that an horrendous event just isn’t ‘fair’.   Perhaps this is a characteristic of the human tribe.  We try to label events with causes or reasons.  And of course there are sometimes reasons why events occur.   There is scientific evidence that our planet is experiencing warming.  Melting polar ice caps and record-setting temperatures are just a few of the unusual events many of us choose to ignore.  Then there is evidence that we as humans have been poor stewards of our earth:  denuding tropical rain forests, building on wetlands, drilling for energy carelessly, polluting our air, our rivers, our landfills.  We ignore our world unless and until something happens.  If we accept that our planet is one ecosystem, that it is conceivable that a tsunami or meltdowns in Japan or an earthquake in New Zealand or tornadoes in the American Midwest affect us all, then maybe we need to hunker down and do some serious thinking.  Maybe we need to consider using the time, energy and treasure we are now expending on making war on each other to try to make friends with Nature again.  

What can be done?   First we need to give as much help as possible to the victims of violent natural events.  Then we can start with our own individual lives and try to be more thoughtful and less wasteful.  How can we change the world if we don’t change ourselves?  We can find kindred spirits near us and join with them to help our community.  When massive rebuilding needs to be done, as it will in Joplin and Tuscaloosa and many other areas, careful planning can make for more eco-friendly systems.  We’ve known for a very long time that certain areas are prone to tornados, others prone to hurricanes, others to earthquakes.   It simply does no good to hope they won’t happen.  If we plan for the very worst, and we are now seeing the results of the very worst possibilities, all over the world, then we can be better prepared.  Is it too late?  Perhaps, perhaps not.   

When our children were small and uttered those words, “That’s not fair,” we would simply suggest that the only place one finds ‘fair’ is in the dictionary.   That’s still true.

Thursday, May 26, 2011


Not being a great fan of patience (I cannot consider it much of a value, sometimes), I have had a lot of lessons in patience from my garden.  Or rather, gardens, for there have been more than one.  Our first garden was at our first home, and I learned the value of mulching by collecting grass clippings and mulching a long bed of daisies.  The daisies grow to about five or six feet; the grass from the grass clippings prospered as well.   Should have had the patience to learn about better mulch.  Oh, well.  Second garden was at another home where we had an acre and a half, large enough to make lots and lots of gardening mistakes.  Particularly not taking the time to prepare the soil before planting.  Third garden was in the foothills of Arkansas, a whole new exercise in patience.  Lots of shade, deadly armadillos, and rock only a few inches below every inch.  Lessons learned at every turn.  Now we have a Texas garden full of lessons learned and lessons still learning:  feed the soil first, mulch-mulch-mulch, compost times three, and finally, give the plants time.  But it is still hard for me.  I plant something new and exhort it to 'grow, grow, bloom, bloom.'  I don't want to wait until next year.  As one of my grandson's shirts reads, "All I want is what I want, when I want it, and I want it now."  Of course it doesn't work that way at all.  Plants know that what is needed is time to establish, time to acclimate, time to let us know what they need.  And then, impatient as I am, I am given the best lesson of all:  what happens when a plant is happy, well-fed, and ready to give its gift of beauty.  And every morning's stroll  becomes a reward for whatever patience I have learned.  For in gardening, as in life, patience may not be a virtue but it surely seems to be a requirement.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

A frisson of anxiety

So how many of us would admit that we experienced a slight frisson of slight anxiety because of all the hoop-la about the ‘end-of-the-world’?  How many checked the news to see how New Zealand was doing, as the ‘end’ was supposed to start around there?  There seems to be an element in many of us, myself included, who can know intellectually that some pronouncements are merely pathetic and yet can recognize the fact that maybe, just maybe, someone who gets their pronouncements all over the flipping press all over the flipping world might have a clue, just because of their pronouncements.  There are so many proverbs such as ‘saying doesn’t make it so’, that are trite and true, but even the expression ‘trite and true’ is a cliché, so where does that leave us?  Well, as humans it isn’t easy to ignore our fears about our own immortality.  And it isn’t easy to ignore the horrific events our poor planet has been experiencing recently.    Perhaps, though, there is one gift that we receive from the ‘end-of-the-world’ passage and from all the tornadoes and earthquakes and accompanying devastation.   That gift is our continuing to be.  That gift is the one we receive every morning when we wake - another day.  More time to enjoy the world we still have.  More time to make our lives what we want them to be.  More time. 

Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Names of Old Friends

Those who garden frequently give plants whimsical names:  Sweet William, hurricane lilies, naked ladies, pinks - there are so many.  And I'm fine with that, except ... my lot in life as a gardener has been a major case of curiosity.  I read about plants and then I want to see what they look like, and frequently I want to try to grow them.  And over the years, I've learned that if I am interested in a particular plant, I need to know its botanical name as well as its nick-name, or I may not find what I'm looking for.  There is one particular plant, a bulb whose name is rhodophiala, that I've grown for 40 years.  I fell in love with it because it grew and bloomed and thrived for me.  Of course, I later learned it does that for everyone!  But when I was given a start of it, it was called fall amaryllis.  Over the years, trying to learn its botanical name, I found it also called amaryllis bifida, school house lily, blood lily, hurricane lily, naked lily.  It took me literally years, and the internet, to finally figure out its personal and very own name.  Knowing finally that name did not make me love it any more or any less; I had its company all those years, through moves and adventures.  But every fall, when the fall amaryllis pop up and bloom, usually after a good fall rain, I say to them, "I know you."

Friday, May 20, 2011


Continually, it seems, we are bombarded by the news that well-known people have chosen to betray their commitments in one fashion or another.  Financiers turn out to be committed more to cheating their clients than helping those clients prosper.  Spouses betray their commitments to their family and damage their children terribly.  Some consider anyone in their immediate area fair game for their desires.  Those who betray do nothing that is new.  Such betrayals have happened over the several millennia of the human race’s existence.   Perhaps it becomes somewhat shocking now because we as a society fancy ourselves as ‘evolved, modern, improved.’  Clearly we are not.  But there are at least two thoughts to hold on to during these recurring episodes.  Those who betray, although many of them receive inordinate attention, actually make up a minute fraction of the total world population.   If one adds up just the most recent five or six well-publicized events of this sort, and compares that total to the entire population, and even considering a fair number of non-publicized similar occurrences, there are still millions of folks out there living decent lives, doing decent things.  Returning valuables to their rightful owners.  Living faithfully for decades with those they love.   Setting examples to their children over and over.  The second thought is this:  we are not punished for our ‘sins’ but by them.  Substitute other words for the word ‘sin’ – faults, misdeeds, transgressions, selfishnesses, whatever.  Even those of us who reject the concept of ‘sin’ can agree that what goes around, comes around.  And it really does, sometimes with quite a thump.  Read the headlines.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Truth About Magic

Having been a great fan of fairy tales and magic always, I've come to a realization that there are many kinds of magic.  Not just the 'white' magic and the 'black' magic, but the real magic as opposed to the illusions.  For instance, my favorite fairy tales are those, like Cinderella, that have a grasp on the real world.  She is poor and badly treated, they meet when she goes to the ball all by herself (forget about the pumpkin coach), but the girl he searches for is her, no tiara or beautiful dress, just her, the real one.  The stories that turn straw into gold or lead into gold (a contemporary one would turn plastic into gold), they just don't work for me.  For instance, think how impossible gold window blinds would be.  First they'd have to have huge ropes to hold and adjust them, then they'd clang, and you just know that sooner or later they'd fall, probably while you were entertaining someone you wanted to impress, and they'd see the cobwebs behind them.  So I prefer the real magic.  The way that in real life, just as in good books and good movies and good plays, people meet and discover friendship or affection or both, and the world becomes a bit better.  Now, really, which is better, gold window blinds or a better world?

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Mrs. Austin's Jonquils

When I was a young mother, my mother and I would often take my baby daughter for a drive, and there was one place in the spring that my mother took me where there was a whole field of beautiful yellow jonquils, a truly awesome sight. The field was owned by an elderly lady, Mrs. Austin, who lived next door in an elderly house. I wanted very much to have some of those flowers, so we asked if she would sell some of the bulbs.  Well, first Mrs. Austin said to come back at a particular date, and when I called her, she had changed her mind, and it took about two years for her to settle on the date when we could come to get the bulbs. By that time, we now had a baby son as well as a toddler. My poor long-suffering husband was going to school part time and working full time, but nevertheless on the appointed day he took me to see Mrs. Austin and get the bulbs.   We had a very limited budget and I knew I could only buy a few. Well, it turned out that the man who usually dug Mrs. Austin's bulbs had not shown up that day, so my dear husband, on a hot Texas June day, not only dug  a very long row of bulbs across a field, but also had the honor of buying some for me, a dollar's worth, at 5 cents a bulb!

Those bulbs thrived and bloomed. They went with us to the country home we moved to and lived at for over twenty-eight years, they multiplied amazingly, and some went to friends and neighbors. I always called them Mrs. Austin's jonquils, because I had no other. When we moved from our old home place, I made sure that some of the bulbs went with me.  And I have to say that Mrs. Austin made it possible for me to spend every winter waiting for emerging bulb shoots, and every spring not only enjoying these wonderful bulbs, but also the memory of that rascally little old lady.  They don't make old ladies like they used to!

Do You Suppose?

Do you suppose that the same nice people who wouldn’t dream of shouting, shoving, or otherwise committing rude public behavior do not realize that persisting in cell phone texting during movies, carrying on personal conversations on their phone at the grocery store including the check-out line, or even worse, driving down the street while talking or texting, all amount to the same thing:  an horrific disregard for their fellow man as well as their own personal safety?

Do you suppose that nice people really think it’s OK to leave a supermarket basket or a great big trolley at the home improvement store smack in the middle of a parking space?  Is it really thought that those sorts of ‘thingies’ never roll across and bang right into cars?  Or even worse, people?  Or even much worse, children?   We spend a fair amount of time, when we are shopping, gathering up abandoned carts and trolleys and either carrying them to the store with us or parking them in the cart parks, which many times are simply a few feet from where they were left.  What a sad thing.

Do you suppose people do not know that there is no discernible line between good manners and professed religious faith, of any kind?   If there is a visible difference, if the two are not completely intertwined, a demonstration will be required.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Staying young while growing older

Being young is almost as difficult as being old.

When children are young, they count every birthday, even the halves.  “I’m almost five.”  “I’m four-and-a-half.”  That’s because children are absolutely certain that when they reach a certain age, they’ll have complete control over their lives.  No more naps.  No more vegetables.  No more unwanted baths.  They don’t know the secrets that adults carefully keep from them.  About how no one ever has complete control over their lives.  About how naps, vegetables and baths will become very welcome.  About how grownups still cannot eat all the candy they want.  About how Santa, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy somehow disappear as we get older.  Is it any wonder adolescents are cynical?  Then there is a certain point in most folks’ lives when the birthdays become more shock than a surprise.  “I’m already thirty, or forty, or fifty.”  And then one arrives at sixty, and then, well ….  Maybe we approach it all backwards.  Because in adulthood, every day, much less every birthday, is a gift.  A do-over.  Inside ourselves, we're still that child.  

So perhaps children should be encouraged to say, “I’m only five.” There's no hurry.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Not All Poets and Poems Are Mushy

For instance, I cite the poet A. E. Houseman:  

"Stars, I have seen them fall, 
But when they drop and die 
No star is lost at all
From all the star-sown sky.
The toil of all that be
Helps not the primal fault;
It rains into the sea
And still the sea is salt."

This is beautiful, profound and thought-provoking.  But certainly not 'sweet'.  So many seem to avoid poetry as old-fashioned, or lugubrious or, in the worst cases, unintelligible.  And there are certainly grounds for these attitudes.  But while that is true for some and many, it certainly isn't true for all.   A. E. Houseman, W. H. Auden, and Rupert Brooke, among many, can offer ideas that are wonderful distillations of thought.  Or there's Robert Frost.  And so many more.   How can one not love this by Emily Dickson:  "The pedigree of honey does not concern the bee; a clover, anytime, to him, is aristocracy."

Friday, May 13, 2011

It's Friday Again

It has been mentioned by the scientific community that the horrific recent Japanese earthquake was so powerful that it literally altered the spin of our planet and therefore altered time, albeit only by a few seconds.  But think about it.  If you add up the effects of all the earthquakes over a period of time, there may be a scientific explanation for the sense one sometimes has that time is going faster and faster, that days and weeks pass by more quickly than they 'used to'.  Everyone has their daily and weekly cycle:  Sunday breakfasts, the weekly chores of laundry and cleaning and shopping and gardening and errands and perhaps evening meetings and family get-togethers, all aside from the work-day work.  And depending on our individual personalities, some of us are able to live in the moment and focus on what is at hand, and some of us, actually most of us, are constantly focused on what comes next.  And it seems to me that I have to constantly remind myself of what day it is, and what is due that day in the way of 'stuff-to-be-done', and inevitably I look up, and it's Friday.  Again.  Time to get ready for the weekend, which will then be used to get ready for the week, which will go by more quickly than it should, and sure enough.  It'll be Friday.  Only now I guess we have a good idea why!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Our Friend Alexander

We call the author, Alexander McCall Smith, our friend, not because we know him well, except through his writing, but because we consider him a kindred spirit.  We discovered this writer quite accidentally.  I had, in a weak moment, signed up for membership in a mystery book club and could pick all these books, some of which I knew about and wanted to read.  But to get all the books I was entitled to, I also chose some writers with whom I was unfamiliar.   Well, the books all came, and I read all the ones I had heard about and time went by and the awful day came when I had nothing new to read.  So I picked up this book, The Full Cupboard of Life and I was hooked.  The first thing I did after that was find the beginning of that series, The No. 1  Ladies' Detective Agency and then I read them all in sequence.  Then I looked to see what else was there to read.  And I found and read those.  He manages to write several different series, I can't imagine how.  I won't list them here; that's for the curious reader to find.  Oh, my goodness, Isabel.  Oh, my goodness, Bertie.  But recently a lovely thing happened.  Alexander is based in Edinburgh, Scotland, but he tours the States from time to time, usually in the large metropolitan areas.  Recently, though, he was to speak at the Fayetteville, Arkansas, library and being somewhat familiar with that beautiful area, we gathered ourselves together and drove to Fayetteville, and actually met our friend in person.  And spent two hours, we and a couple of hundred other friends of Alexander, hearing him speak and laugh, and making us laugh.  Got to shake his hand and have a brief chat.  He writes mysteries, of a sort, sometimes.  And he writes about very serious subjects:  spousal abuse, the plight of orphans, children dealing with incompetent parents, and many other issues, but he writes about these subjects with a kind yet realistic view of humanity.  About the little kindnesses as well as the little mean and petty acts.  For us, reading Alexander's books is a great pleasure.  Discussing his books is a great pleasure.  Meeting Alexander in person was a gift. 

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Some ideas just sound crazy

So some ideas really do sound crazy, particularly when it comes to gardening and the environment and all that.  So here's where it's important to stop, look, and listen.  For instance, being a staunch American, I'm very much a non-monarchist.  I mean, we went to a lot of trouble to not be a monarchy in this country.  You know, 1776 and all that.  On the other hand, should we disregard an individual's opinions just because they're held as a royal somewhere?  I cite as an example the writings of HRH Prince Charles of Great Britain concerning the environment.  He either co-authored or simply sponsored a very interesting book entitled The Elements of Organic Gardening with Stephanie Donaldson.  I read about this book and then ordered a copy and have found a great deal of it to be not only interesting in the way that someone with lots of resources has chosen to garden, but also in ways that can be applicable to little old us and our little old bit of garden.  We actually borrowed the idea of using old carpet to smother grass before developing a planting area and it worked very well.  We inadvertently had access to some old carpet and while at first my husband thought I needed professional help (and I'm not talking gardening) because of my crazy borrowed idea, when we had placed the carpet down and blocked out the quadrants and then covered them with mulch for ascetics, he reconsidered.  Parenthetically, we found it worked much better if we put the pile downward.  We ended up, when we removed the carpet after several months of Texas spring and summer heat, with a lot of dead grass and soil ready to be turned into lovely beds.  We left some carpet in place for the paths of our foursquare garden, and no grass has ever invaded there.  For those who bother to read the book, they'll get interesting suggestions on lawns, water conservation, and a number of other topics that are becoming critically topical on our swiftly-warming planet.  And I say, without a shred of disrespect, "Good for you, HRH."

Monday, May 9, 2011

Children and their Wisdom

When we became parents, we quickly learned that our children were ready and willing to instruct and inform us.  Of course, one wants one's children to grow up to be confident adults; it's just disconcerting to experience that level of confidence in the very young.  For instance, when our daughter was about five years old, she had borrowed my garden trowel to dig in the sandbox, and when she came in from play, I reminded her that the trowel needed to be returned to my garden trug.  To which she replied, "I brang it in already."  When I remarked that there was no such word as 'brang', she drew herself up to her ultimate skinny five year old height, and exclaimed in a manner entirely befitting a mature Elizabethan actress, "If there's no such word as 'brang', then why did I say it?"  I've no idea how I replied to that, but I rather think I was laughing too hard to muster a suitable reply.  At that time, we lived more or less in the country, and in the countryside there are always bugs.  Our daughter and her younger brother became quite familiar with all sorts of flying bugs and were quite convinced they could identify them all.  The brother in particular was very anxious about wasps and bees, and to him anything with wings was one or the other of those.  One day a poor moth was flying about, and the brother excitedly warned, "Look out, there's a wasp!"  To which the older and wiser sister replied, patronizingly, "That's not a wasp, that's a moss.These stories moved into family lore and we have a lot of fun reminding our grownup children of them, partly as a leveling effort when they say or imply an attitude of "Yeah, yeah, right, right," and partly because those stories evoke memories of how much we enjoyed those long-ago children.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Parenting the Natural Way

Wait, wait, we're talking here about observations of parenting in nature.  Really, only about two instances involving birds.  Now, absolutely I'm no ornithologist.  In fact there are only a certain few birds I can identify, but a cardinal is definitely one of them.  And we consider, for various reasons in our family, the cardinal to be a good-luck bird.  When one is sighted, we all tend to sing out, to share the luck.  So one day several years ago I looked out the windows overlooking the deck of the house where we then lived, to see two little birds hopping up and down, very agitated.  Then I spotted a male cardinal (those are always the bright red ones) at the bird feeder.  I called to my husband and we stood there enchanted, as the father cardinal carried food to each of the small birds in turn and fed them.  The small birds were apparently fledglings, able to arrive on the deck rail from the nest, but not yet accustomed to foraging, especially from an alien feeder.  And they were as anxiously hungry as any human teenager.  And again the other day, I spotted a young cardinal in a crape myrtle near our feeder here, and again watched as the daddy took seeds over to his young.  What a wonderful privilege to get a little insight into the animal kingdom.  Cardinals are bright and colorful, and they may or may not bring good luck (but we think so).  But the most wonderful characteristic to us is that trait, be it only instinct, that makes them look out for their young as long as they need to.  Birds are supposed to have small brains, but maybe they have something just as nice or nicer.


Isn't the word 'ephemeral' just the most elegant-sounding word?  Of course, it means 'short-lived', so it needs to sound classy.  I love immoderately the so-called spring ephemerals, such as jonquils and tulips and hyacinths and small bulbs, but some do not like them because they don't last all the growing season.  Well, what does?  If you get right down to it, evergreen trees and shrubs are the only plants that stay the same.  Everything else is like us humans; they have seasons.  And just like our youth can be a wonderful season, so can the time in spring when ephemerals bloom, like the bulbs and the spring-blooming shrubs and trees, and when strawberries taste the best.  But just like us human folk, there is a summer of life, when, in this part of the world, crape myrtles bloom and all the tough summer annuals, and fresh corn.  Daylily blooms last only a day, but then there will be more.  Then in the autumn come the chrysanthemums and asters and harvest time, and in our own lives the autumn can be a rewarding time of life.   Ah, and then there's winter.  We humans get a frosting in our hair, kind of like the frosts that cause many plants to take a rest.  But winter can bring loveliness of its own, plant-wise and human-wise.  There are roses in mild climates, hellebores such as the Christmas rose, there is winter honeysuckle.  There are rewards in becoming mature and learning our identities.  Being an extremely fickle individual, I tend to love most that which is blooming right now or the event that is happening right now.  But being a gardener, I'm still looking forward to the next flower, the next season, the next ephemeral wonder.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

For Better Gardens

One of the real pleasures of gardening, aside from visiting one's garden and seeing what is going on, is reading and learning about other gardens.  The first thing to keep in mind is that if one encounters anyone who professes to know everything there is to know about gardening, then one should rapidly extricate oneself from the situation.  Because gardening is a process, and the love of gardening is a life sentence, and learning about gardening is never-ending.  That said, one of my most inspiring encounters with garden writing began with a writer by the name of Roland Browne, who wrote a book called For Better Gardens.  I have ready this book so many times.  Some of the wisdom passed along:  "It's not the humidity, it's the heat." and  "Gardening is not so much a matter of green thumbs as dirty knees."  And so much more.  Then there was a writer for Better Homes and Gardens, and this is many, many years ago, and I think, maybe, her name was Kitty Simpson. But I can still recite her rule for knowing when it is safe to plant tender plants:  "When dogwoods are in flower, when pecans hang their tassels out, and when the leaves on the grape are the size of a mouse's ear."  Now how could one forget that?  And there was a writer, whose name I did not record, but to whom I shall always be grateful.  He said that every gardener loses plants, and the thing to keep in mind is that lost plants mean more space to try something else.  In other words, accept what happens and make the best of it.  Gardeners should, for their own pleasure, read everything they can about gardens, and just like in everything else, keep what is true for them.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Practical Pessimism

I adhere to the belief in practical pessimism.  Or, as some of us describe it, realism.  There is a quote I like:  "The optimist says, 'things can't get any worse', and a pessimist says, 'oh, yes, they can!'"  The true pessimist or true realist looks for the worm in the fruit, the tear in the cloth, the dirt in the corner, the fallacy in the story, and makes a plan for a worst-case scenario.  Then, when the worm, the tear, the dirt, the lie or the disaster appears, they are prepared to do what is necessary.  If everything's fine, they're delighted.  Who wouldn't be?  They don't want problems, they just expect them.  The poor, poor optimists are so very certain that the universe is benevolent that they must spend a lot of time being disappointed and/or flailing around trying to grasp what to do.  Of course, we are all a bit of each.  Who of us doesn't worry, who of us doesn't want to expect happy endings?  Santa Claus and all that.  But I can't help feeling that if the ratio was about 80 percent pessimist, 20 percent optimist, one would be better prepared.  I keep working on my ratio, and it's really hard to do so on a fine spring day.

Monday, May 2, 2011

A Tale of Two Cats

So at first there was Sylvester, a gray and white cat, not young, who had belonged to first one house, and then another, and when folks moved, Sylvester stayed.  He became a friend to most of the neighborhood.  Then we came and he let us join him and we learned to love him dearly.  Months went by and we noted a cream-colored cat hanging around.  We named him Cream and then found out he was Charlie, a feral cat who also happened to be a friend of Sylvester's.  We started putting out lots of extra food and were fascinated to watch the sharing ceremonies the cats went through where Sylvester always ate first, then moved away and Charlie Cream would then eat, too.  We entertained a fantasy of 'taming' Charlie so that he would feel safe and cared for; we hated the thought of his suffering in extreme weather.  But our plans were not to be.  One day there was no Charlie at meal time and we never saw him again.  Then, even worse, one day there was no Sylvester.  We thought his absence was merely a bit of roaming on a mild fall night, but we never saw Sylvester again.   We searched and searched.  We lashed ourselves thinking about what we might have done to prevent the losses, which of course did no good at all.  We were privileged to know both cats, and to be taught lessons of sharing and companionship that many humans have not yet learned.   They will be remembered.

In Praise of Compost

Well, it occurs to me that the subject of compost is a perfect intersection of flowers and philosophy.  Those who compost know the tremendous satisfaction in taking what others call 'garbage' and with the mighty help of nature turning that 'garbage' into wonderful dark compost that closely resembles soil and is more nourishing than non-composters would ever believe.  One of my grandmothers, when I asked her how she grew such wonderful flowers and vegetables in an apartment complex flower bed, said that she planted a row of food scraps and a row of seeds.  That memory came back to me when I became a serious gardener after we retired.  Oh, we had tried over the years to garden, but time and energy were siphoned off to family and jobs and we didn't take the time to learn enough about gardens.  Now we have these three big oak trees, two in front and one in back, and they generate a lot of leaves for months and months in the fall and winter, then they turn around and drop oak tassels in early spring.  So we have learned to take every leaf and shred it, dump every vegetable scrap from our kitchen and dead wimpy plants from the garden into our heap, and let everything go back to nature.  And that's the philosophy part.  Because watching leaves and scraps and debris turn into rich plant mulch that protects and feeds is fascinating.  And surely this is part of the grand design of our planet.  Trees in the forest drop their leaves which turn into food and shelter for the tree roots.  The prairies used to do the same thing, when we used to leave them alone.  There is a mystical satisfaction in growing flowers and food that feeds our senses and our table and lets us participate in this circle of life.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

There's a Cat in My Garden

As a fairly fanatical gardener (my family would say 'very fanatical'), I am constantly defending my beloved plants from critters:  squirrels and foxes dig, slugs and bugs bite -- you know how it is.  But one critter is so, so welcome:  our beloved cat, Max.  Max is a rescue cat, found in a local shelter by our daughter and presented to us on Christmas Eve in 2009, to fill the holes in our hearts left by the loss of our Sylvester.  Max was distraught when he arrived.  His is a shy nature, and he had gone from whatever abandonment had put him in the shelter, to a vet's office for shots and neutering, back to the shelter, then in a carrier with our daughter to our house, and thence to us.  He literally didn't know where he was.  And for the first two weeks, neither did we.  Letting him settle in, we left him alone too much.  We know that now.  But we found he loved to be brushed and that calmed him like nothing else.  And over time, although he'll never be a lap cat, he has learned to love being hugged and brushed and tummy-tickled.  And when he craves attention, he does this charming thing.  He sits and waves a paw.  Melts us every time.  And here's the thing:  Max is polite.  Unlike many other fellow creatures, he knows the meaning of the word 'No'.  And here's another thing.  Max is empathetic.  When one of us is poorly, he stays close.  He knows.  His domain is my garden and he rules it.  He paces it, he finds nests among the flowers and loves to play hide and seek.  He dispatches snakes (he has no concept of good snake/bad snake).  He gives us reproachful looks if we do not have the sense to go out into a glorious sunny day.  He has become a beloved family member and taught us so much about love and patience.  Now if he could only deter those squirrels.