May, 2007 Archive

The Wild Braid

Saturday, May 5th, 2007

At the Sierra Club ExCom meeting in March, Cal began with a reading, as is our custom. It was from a new book by and about Stanley Kunitz, The Wild Braid, A Poet Reflects on a Century in the Garden.

The garden is a domestication of the wild, taking what can be random, and, to a degree, ordering it so that it is not merely a transference from thewild, but still retains the elements that make each plant shine in its natural habitat.

In the beginning, a garden holds infinite possibilities. What sense of its nature, or its kingdom, is it going to convey? It represents a selection, not only of whatever individual plants we consider to be beautiful, but also a synthesis that creates a new kind of beauty, that of a complex and multiple world. What you plant in your garden reflects your own sensibility, your concept of beauty, your sense of form. Every true garden is an imaginative construct, after all.

I’m not sure if this is the actual passage he read, I was so struck both by the cover image of a bent-over hundred year old man gazing like a lover at his plants and by the recollection that Jan and I first set eyes on each other at a poetry seminar about Stanley Kunitz in 1966. Also distracted back then, I hadn’t paid attention to his writings since. But that book cover brought it together: the passage of time that we were planning to mark in our upcoming 40th anniversary celebration, not yet bent over, but transformed from children into grandparents. I mentioned the coincidence, there were appreciative murmurs, then on we went to discuss the budget.

While Jan made the guest list, mailed invitations, shopped for food, and spruced up the house, I prepared for the party by working in the garden, carving a new path in the adobe clay, trimming lower limbs of the pygmy oaks, transplanting bunch grasses. We were wedded in a garden in our backyard. Now this garden had turned into a setting I wanted to share for a while, just as I wanted to share the private space of marriage. When we arrived here nineteen years ago I knew this was a place I would transform and be transformed in. The change had come to pass.

The invitation to our celebration said “No gifts, but donations welcome to Santa Lucia Chapter of the Sierra Club or Environmental Center of San Luis Obispo (ECOSLO).” In the midst of the crowd at the drinks table, Cal handed me a package and said he was sorry to be violating the rule, but please would I open it. It was The Wild Braid.

Three days after the party I was missing classes, in bed with a sinus infection. Between naps, I wandered around in the book, finding poems about gardening and other outdoor experiences, memoirs about circumstances of their composition, prose reflections on their themes“bucolic retreat, cultivation, composting, decay, renewal, and the connections between horticulture and writing. They recalled my first scholarly article, “˜Fortunate Senex’: The Pastoral of Old Age.” Arranged like beds and terraces, I came upon photographs of the ancient sage among the trees and flowers and conversations that took place between him and Genine Lentine, his friend and caretaker during the time between partial recovery from a massive stroke and his death in 2004.
This morning I woke up at 5:15, still not healthy but eager to walk my trails at daybreak. Greeting the yucca, the hummingbird sage, the blue oak, seeing new blooms on the Columbine, I thought again of The Wild Braid. I’d only taken the first stroll through its garden. I’ll return to find paths I’ve missed and revisit familiar spots in changing seasons. Looking ahead, I knew I’d found a guide.

Post script–June 5

Last weekend, Jan made her pilgrimage to Tassajara, the Zen mountain retreat she’s visited every spring for the last 27 years. She was enrolled in a seminar which required her to bring along some poems. With my permission she took The Wild Braid. Upon her return she gave the book back and told me to look at the title page. On it was inscribed “For Jan and Steven–friends in the garden. With bright wishes, Genine.”

Native Plants in the Garden

Saturday, May 5th, 2007

  1. Bracken Fern, Pteridium aquilinum pubescens
  2. Toyon, Heteromeles arbutifolia
  3. Golden Current, Ribes aureum aureum
  4. Clustered Field Sedge, Carex praegracilis
  5. Lemonade berry, Rhus integrifolia
  6. Pink flowered currant, Ribes sanguineum glutinosum
  7. Fremontia, Flannel Bush, Fremontodendron California Glory
  8. Manzanita, Arctostophylus morroensis
  9. Bay Laurel, Umbellularia californica
  10. Fremontia, Flannel Bush, Fremontodendron California Glory
  11. Fuchsia flowered gooseberry, Ribes speciosum
  12. Holly Leaf Cherry, Prunus ilicifolia
  13. Western Redbud, Cercis occidentalis
  14. Point Reyes Bearberry, Arctostaphylos uva-ursi ‘Point Reyes’
  15. Fremontia, Flannel Bush, Fremontodendron California Glory
  16. Deergrass, Muhlenbergia rigens
  17. Manzanita, Arctostophylus morroensis
  18. Foothill Penstemon, Penstemon heterophyllus
  19. Calfiornia Fuchsia, Zeuschneria

22. Creeping Mountain Lilac, Ceanothus Joyce Coulter

  1. Holly Leaf Cherry, Prunus ilicifolia
  2. Coffeeberry, Rhamnus californica
  3. Shagbark Manzanita, Arctostophuylus rutis,
  4. Fremontia, Flannel Bush, Fremontodendron California Glory
  5. California Sagebrush, Artemesia californica
  6. Scarlet Bugler, Penstemon centranifolius
  7. Hoary leaf ceanothus, Ceanothus crassifolius
  8. Manzanita, Arctostaphylos densiflora ‘Howard McMinn’
  9. Black Sage, Salvia mellifera
  10. Black Sage, Salvia mellifera
  11. Holly leaved California Mountain Lilac, Ceanothus Mills Glory
  12. Calfornia Goldenrod, Solidago californica
  13. Leather Oak, Quercus durata
  14. Toyon, Heteromeles arbutifolia
  15. Manzanita, Arctostaphylos densiflora ‘Howard McMinn’
  16. California Buckwheat, Eriogonum fasciculatum foliolosum
  17. Coyote Mint, Monardella villosa obispoenis
  18. Clustered Field Sedge, Carex praegracilis
  19. Western Alpine Strawberry, Fragaria virginiana platypetala
  20. Douglas Iris, Iris douglasiana
  21. Western Columbine, Aquilegia formosa
  22. Holly Leaf Cherry, Prunus il15icifolia
  23. Deergrass, Muhlenbergia rigens
  24. Clustered Field Sedge, Carex praegracilis
  25. Purple Sage, Salvia leucophylla
  26. Coffeeberry, Rhamnus californica
  27. Foothill Penstemon, Penstemon heterophyllus
  28. Santa Susana Monkey flower, Diplacus rutilus
  29. Mountain Mahogony, Cercocarpus betuloides
  30. Big Leaf Maple, Acer macrophyllum
  31. Holly Leaf Cherry, Prunus ilicifolia
  32. Toyon, Heteromeles arbutifolia
  33. California Grape, Vitus californica
  34. Toyon, Heteromeles arbutifolia
  35. Holly Leaf Cherry, Prunus ilicifolia
  36. Bay Laurel, Umbellularia californica
  37. Coast Live Oak, Quercus agrifolia
  38. Oregon Grape, Mahonia aquifolium
  39. California Mountain Lilac Ceanothus Concha
  40. Toyon, Heteromeles arbutifolia
  41. California Strawberry, Fragaria californica
  42. Douglas Iris, Iris Douglasiana
  43. Snowberry, Symphoricarpos albus laevigatus
  44. Coast Redwood, Sequoia sempervirens
  45. Coast Live Oak, Quercus agrifolia
  46. Blueblossom Ceanothus, Ceanothus thyrsiflorus
  47. Black Sage, Salvia mellifera
  48. California Pitcher Plant, Lepechinia calycina
  49. Creeping Black Sage, Salvia mellifera ripens
  50. Hummingbird Sage, Salvia spathacea
  51. Coral Bells or Alum Root, Heuchera rubescens
  52. Western Columbine, Aquilegia formosa
  53. Purple Sage, Salvia leucophylla
  54. Purple Nightshade, Solanum xanti
  55. Yerba Buena, Satureja douglasii
  56. Yarrow, Achillea millefolium californica
  57. Coyote Brush, Baccharis pilularis
  58. Small leaf mountain Lilac, Ceanothus Julia Phelps
  59. Valley Oak, Quercus lobata
  60. Blue Oak, Quercus Douglasii
  61. Purple Needlegrass, Stipa pulchra
  62. California Mountain Lilac Ceanothus Concha
  63. Shagbark Manzanita, Arctostophuylus rutis
  64. Woolly Bluecurls, Trichostema lanatum
  65. Mugwort—Artemisia douglassiana
  66. Blue Elderberry, Sambucus Caerulea
  67. Catalina Ironwood, Leonusthamnus floribundus
  68. Small leaf mountain Lilac, Ceanothus Julia Phelps
  69. Spanish dagger/Our Lord’s Candle, Yucca whipplei
  70. Calfornia Buckeye, Aesculus californica