December, 2005 Archive

Another Look

Friday, December 23rd, 2005

“What is a course of history or philosophy or poetry no matter how well selected…compared to the discipline of looking always at what is to be seen,” says Thoreau. (Walden p. 105) I tried to exercise some of that discipline this morning. Instead of going Christmas shopping I returned to the raceme of pink-flowered currant that I had looked at earlier in the week, now again illuminated by a horizon-hugging sun.

I noticed that the five petals of each blossom split into two layers, a longer outside one arching back and curling at its edges, and a shorter inside one that remained erect. The splaying outside layers gave the blossom its star shape. The inside layers combined into an open tube surrounding its golden pistil and stamens. I also noticed some changes since the last look:

seven of the blossoms were open instead of four. Five pink closed blossoms cupped a cluster of immature green buds at the raceme’s tip. As each blossom opened, it diverged from the central axis on its own outward stretching stem. The higher on the raceme, the more mature the blossom and the the more shrunken and curled the sepal which had enclosed it as a bud.

My revisited raceme seemed to be the oldest one on the shrub, its location best placed to gather the sparse sunlight and attract me with my camera. On other twigs I found younger growing tips. They revealed that flowers and leaves are originally enclosed in a single germinal container springing from the battered remnants of last year’s growth.

The subtle fragrance of Ribes sanguineum glutinosum, more leathery than sweet, occasionally wafted past but dissipated before I could satisfy my hungry nostrils. I wanted to be smaller, faster and more sensitive–like the bug that buzzed by me and dove into one of the blossoms. Then I understood that they had evolved to entice it into spreading their red and sticky seed.

I’ve often discussed with students the lines of Wordsworth’s “The Tables Turned” that inspired Thoreau’s preference of Nature over Culture:

Come forth into the light of things
Let Nature be your teacher.

Enough of Science and of Art
Close up those barren leaves
Come forth and bring with you a heart
That watches and receives.

I’m still trying to figure out how to do that. Returning to the same flower after a few days and noticing some changes, spending enough time to really look at it and allow the bugs to show up, taking as long as I need to find the right words–that’s a start.

On the way to the back door to clean the mud off my shoes, I noticed a patch of sunlight on the wall of my excavation.

While digging I find the life of the seasons in the mineral as well as in the vegetable and animal. A few weeks ago, this same ground broke the tip off the steel pickaxe. Now my spade sinks into the damp earth like a scoop into ice cream.

Ron Yamauchi’s Eulogy for Kenn Law

Thursday, December 22nd, 2005

I thought to do something different: bury Kenn not praise him. I think he would have liked that “ he liked things that annoyed most people, like that trancey music and spelling his name with 2 Ns. Being the world’s biggest expert. Forgetting things “ like 10 bucks. Being the vegetarian that can’t eat tofu.

But you could not stay angry at Kenn. I mean look at us – Here we are.

So I am just going to stick to my role.

Judy has spoken about Kenn’s professional life, Steve about Kenn as a friend and lover.

I’m here to talk about the Kenn that I knew, which was in some ways his most shockingly unexpected persona, that of the wholesome family man.

We three are not the complete experts on Kenn, but we’re giving briefing notes in the phases of his life. At the reception there will be more stories and hopefully lots of interaction. There’s so much I don’t know about Kenn as an artist, or art collector, just as some of you may want his recipe for broiled eggplant.

Kenn Law met Sharon Goddu (as she then was) in 1975. He’d have been about 21 years old. He’d returned to the Lower Mainland after some years as a hippie camp director and schoolteacher in Lund, BC, and was applying for a job as a child care worker. Sharon, one of the CCWs, objected to his hiring “ she said that there was something kind of intimidating about his charisma and energy “ she knew that he could change her life.

Well, he did get hired, so Kenn and Sharon became coworkers, then friends, best friends, roommates, and ultimately co-parents to her two young daughters, Rachel and Willow.

Ultimately, Sharon moved her family up to Desolation Sound, north of Powell River. Kenn told me he blamed himself for making the Sunshine Coast seem so alluring that he’s sent his precious daughters into a pre-technological world of cold water, oyster digging, and bear evasion.

Later, the girls came of age and started to attend Simon Fraser University. This is where I came into the picture.

Rachel and I worked on the student newspaper together, starting around 1987. She was very friendly and nice, and invited a bunch of us to a party at her place, an old house in Burnaby they called the Pender Palace. And Rachel introduced me to Kenn.

He made a striking impression: tall, broad shoulders, with the shaved head and a menacing expression. I also remember that he was incredibly curt with me. It could be that he was angry about the music “ there was this sloppy jam band playing, I believe they were called the Gonch Messiahs “ we know that he was particular about music.

But I also think he really didn’t like me. He was still reserved years later when I was dating Willow. Now that I am a dad, I really respect his frostiness towards whippersnappers who were hanging around his daughters. I don’t believe he really trusted my intentions until 1995, when we got married. And of course he did all these super-elaborate flower arrangements for the reception.

After that, he was a wonderful father in law and grandpa. He’d come over and cook us big meals, accompany us to shows, coo over the babies when they came, bring us coffee in the morning when we were up all night with a newborn, buy them clothes, volunteer at their school. I’m glad that Sophie and Flynn are almost 6 and 9. They will keep real memories of their Poppa Kenn.

As for Willow and myself, Kenn’s still a real presence in our lives.

This morning, I woke up, looked in the mirror upon which he’d written Go Beyond and Choose Happy in phosphorescent paint, see the tattoos he’d cajoled me into getting together, walk past the kids’ room he decorated, went to the kitchen he painted, ate bacon from the frying pan he left here, drank coffee from one of his mugs, put on the shirt and shoes he gave me, and walked to our car through the garden he planted, from the house he helped me paint.

I know what I’m supposed to feel about that. I ought to be taking consolation from the gifts he’d given us, to feel grateful that we got to know him for a considerable portion of his life. To acknowledge that his life was lived more intensely, passionately, dangerously, creatively than the theoretical average person for whom one day is much like another.

But that math doesn’t make sense to me. Heightened ability to give and to feel should have earned a reward. Those who don’t waste life, should get more years, not less.

I guess I am starting to come out of my shellshock over his quite horrible and protracted death, and into realizing that I am without my friend. He loved gossip, furor, huge emotional scenes. If anyone should be here, with us, it would be Kenn.

And if you’re a religious person, maybe you think he is here. If so, I envy your consolation. For myself, I say, Kenn “ forget the ten bucks. I’ll always owe you. Goodbye.


Wednesday, December 21st, 2005

I read this yesterday in the SLO Tribune

“The ingredients are now in place to produce a huge wave event,” said John Lindsey, Diablo Canyon weather forecaster.

…Wednesday’s waves are generated by a storm 1,100 miles to the west and will hit the coast more directly.

After attending the Christmas pajama parade at Ian’s nursery school with Claire this morning, I celebrated the winter solstice by driving to Morro Bay to look at the waves.

During a stop in town I took in a deep breath of sea-smell–much further ashore than usual. Driving down the hill, I saw a crowd of cars at the foot of the Rock. I wondered if people were there for the Salinen Indian Winter Solstice ceremony announced in this morning’s paper or like me, to welcome the waves at the end of their long journey. Then I saw the blasts of spray above the breakwater.

The heavy camera and tripod made me self-conscious among the dozens of people there with palm-sized digitals, but they added to my sense of purpose. As I rounded the corner toward the open ocean, I heard the crashes echoing from the hollow stone bowl overhead and felt the ground shake. I was reminded of those disaster movies, when the thunk of a landslide or a mortar round makes your pelvic bones rather than your ear drums vibrate. The atmosphere was a mixture of church and amusement park, reverence and sensation-seeking. It may be like this for the solstice ceremony too, as it might have been during the parting of the Red Sea.

I couldnt tell how much of the water’s angry turbulence was natural surf and how much was due to meeting the artificial impediment of piled boulders.

The slight offshore breeze lifted scarves of spray from the tops of the breakers, and the wild air they pushed before them made a playground for the gulls.

I could feel it blow as the explosions of water on rock grew more intense.

After one of them brought a shower down over the camera, I packed up and left.

Spring in December

Saturday, December 17th, 2005

The rains have been slow this year, only two since June. But the native garden I’ve been cultivating since 2001 has matured. Last spring I removed the drip irrigation system I’d used to get it established, and except for one ground soak, I refrained from watering during summer and fall. All 68 varieties survived and most have remained green, proving their adaptation to arid conditions, subsisting on fog, dew, and bits of moisture their roots capture deep in the parched clay soil. Buds were fattening on a buckeye I’d planted a couple of years ago and another had started to leaf.

But this made me nervous. With so little water in the ground, would they deplete their energy with premature growth? I checked my authority on California Natives, the website of Bert Wilson, proprietor of Las Pilitas nursery, and found that Aesculus californica is “tolerant to drought but needs regular water for the first few years.” Remembering Bert’s general abhorrence of watering, this warning seemed urgent. I hooked up the hose and gave the two little saplings a normal season’s worth of precipitation.

The next morning, Sunday, I was gently awakened by the gurgle of rain in the downspout on the wall by my bed. I put on a wool sweater and hat and went out to enjoy it. I climbed the ladder to the roof and cleared the gutters of curled Eugenia leaves and spikey liquidambar seedpods. I rooted up dandelions that had sprouted in the front yard. I transplanted ten bunches of Idaho fescue stored in pots after I’d cleared them off the hillside I’ve been excavating with pick and shovel to make room for an extension of Jan’s office. I cut huge clumps of deergrass straw and spread the leaves and seed stalks on the muddy paths. I filled the wheelbarrow with raked leaves and sprinkled the crackling residue on the spoil I’d been dumping alongside the house to raise the ground level. The porous mixture absorbed the water puddled on the dense clay, protected my shoes, and made a deep-textured carpet of autumnal tweed.

I knew that the thirsty plants would respond quickly to the rain, and next morning I went out to look at the new growth.

This is ribes sanguineum glutinosum, or pink flowered currant. The specimen between the neighbors’ towering second story and our roof has grown 10 feet, as fast and as tall as the Redwood next to it. Another in total shade under the fence, which I planted to replace a vigorous non-native tree I cut down, has only reached two feet, but is also showing new leaves. The two in back, on the steep north facing slope where there’s very little soil, have reached about four feet. Bert says “This Ribes is more drought tolerant than most of the drought resistant plants of the trade, but in a native garden plant towards the wettest section… .”

Plants for a Future, a British permaculture site reminds me that sanguineum and glutinosum stem from the latin words for “bloody,” and “sticky,” and informs me that its fruits are edible though not tasty. From Native Plants of Montara Mountain I learn that this Ribes belongs to the Grossulariceae family, which contains currants and gooseberries. The vivid language invites a bit of rearrangement

Leaves: alternate, palmately-lobed, hand-like, soft, veined, with edges curving under.
Flowers: pink, five-petaled and stamened, funnel and star shaped, racemes in hanging cascades at ends of branches. Calyx fused to the pistil.
Fruit: Fleshy, red berries ripening to dark blue; developing below the calyx lobes in clusters, with tan seeds inside.

It includes two beautiful words I pursue in the Dictionary

Raceme: An inflorescence having stalked flowers arranged singly along an elongated unbranched axis, as in the lily of the valley…from Latin racemus, a bunch of grapes.

Calyx: the whorl of sepals…collectively forming the outer floral envelope…enclosing…the developing bud

Compared to these technical descriptions, how little of this plant have I described or perceived, even with the assistance of the camera. I need another look.