Garden

Fathers Day

Friday, June 14th, 2002

Atop the Citadel.  A perch on a flat piece of grassland 30 yards from the lone oak noticeable from all over poly canyon. Last time I was here a Yom Kippur years ago it was too windy to stay; now a gentle sea breeze in the oat grass, the last sun on my pants a weakening gold.  It will get chilly but I have a down vest, windbreaker and sleeping bag.  I’ve been snacking on cheese and gorp.

Fathers Day lunch was delicious barbeque.  I had to carry Oma up the stairs then her change her horrendously stinky diaper, but then she was fine and quietly watched the baby and ate with gusto.  Ian is the glowing center of joy for all the old and youngish folks, bringing us together in delight and concern.  Jan and I had a great Sunday morning and I phone Mary L. to discuss working on the book again.  Yesterday was graduation.  I felt (a little) honored rather than humiliated and invited to a party at the house of Bob and Sarah.  Afterwards Jan and I took a hike up a new trail in Reservoir Canyon where the flowers were splendid: yuccas, Obispo lilies, California fuschia, fairy bells, lizard tails, buckwheat and monkeyflower. Sun dropping to the horizon.

This morning I washed the windows.  I concluded that the poppy seeds are hurled as projectiles off those formerly pink launch pads.  I sat on the bench and planned to wait for the hurl.  I was thinking about sleeping out tonight when I heard a weird click, looked to my right and saw what I thought was a grasshopper leaping through the poppy patch. Click and leap.  Then I realized it was what I was waiting for: the poppy seed dispersal.  Sure enough, where the grasshopper landed, about five feet from the path, there was a split seed hull.  When Jan came home a few minutes later, I asked her to sit next to me and told her what happened.  She said, “that’s why they’re called poppies.”  Is all seed dispersal ejaculation?

9 PM  I’m awakened by the train whistle from a deep snooze.  Hollister’s top protrudes above the line of fog.

After I returned from taking Oma home from the party, a beautiful read haired woman came out on the neighbor’s new driveway and greeted me.  I said something about the weather.  She said Brian died a few days ago, under “special circumstances.” Turns out he drove up Cayucos dam road and shot himself because the rare form of liver cancer he was diagnosed with is incurable.

The train at Stenner is now very loud.  I look back at the spot by Rockslide Ridge where I watched and heard it a month ago.  The moon is a thick crescent and Venus is to the west.  I brought the star chart, but am sleepy.  No other stars.  My mission here is to get to Caballo and reshoot the central campus and Brizzolara drainage at dawn.

Backyard Solstice

Friday, June 21st, 2002

Things turning brown with no watering.  Not the holly-leaf cherry and the bamboo, which remains after the removal of the hot tub.  Too much noise, maintenance, energy.  But we’ll miss it too. The side yard with redwoods remains damp, the front yard still showy with native blooms.  Next door gardeners have been digging and planting for the last two days, talking cheerfully, playing the radio.  The grounds are being transformed from a wasteland of ivy to varied panoply of large shrubs and trees. Brian arranged for all of this before last Tuesday.  They become his memorial.  His widow doesn’t come out but her light is on at night.  They came here from San Jose, after he sold his lucrative business and she retired as police officer.  Planned to have children.  Another young widow joins Amena and Barbara B.

Kenton’s camera back arrived yesterday, the lens I ordered today.  Together they weigh five pounds.  The shutter action, the zoom lens, the image stabilizer.  I’ve been told by Mary I must shoot slides.

Summer quiet back here.  Wind in the pines on top of the hill sound like ocean, finches like canaries.  There’s time to work on Polyland book

Backyard afternoon

Monday, November 21st, 2005

The furious bluster of this morning’s Santa Ana wind gave way to a whisper of breeze perceptible only in the flutter of mimosa leaves on the silk tree and the shimmer in the tall palms across the street. I suck in deep breaths of the soft dry air, shaded by the hillside from the hot November sun which lights up Poly Mountain across the valley and the treetops around me. The quiet is broken by a loud, scolding, mechanical noise, like a ratchet on a gearwheel. I get up for the binoculars and then remember: hummingbird.

Since no machinery can get in here, I hired a landscape architecture student and his crew to hand-excavate a 13 by 17 foot hole in the steep bank to make room for an addition to Jan’s home office. The day they were supposed to start, he emailed me to say it was too big a job. Our contractor friend said, “that’s alot of digging, it’ll be expensive to have my guys do it.” A couple of days later I realized that it would make a good project for me in the last few weeks of my early retirement recess. I could go at my own pace and enjoy a sense of steady progress, benefit from the exercise, test my newly strengthened back, and get acquainted with the dirt and rock I live on. Last Thursday I went to Home Depot with Ian and found a plastic cart with a scoop nose perfect for hauling spoil and a small spade with a handle we sawed to a length that would reach from the ground to his nose.

After ten minutes he decided he didnt like the work, but it suits me fine, especially during this week of dealing with the vagaries of my 89 year-old mother-in-law’s move into an assisted living facility as a result of a fall.

The top ten inches of ground are composed of adobe clay soil that breaks up into light chocolate brown pea gravel that turns to dark sticky mud when wet. I uncover buried irrigation pipe and roots to cut with loppers. Then comes the yellowish-tan hardpan, a dense but penetrable layer that grabs the point of the pickaxe and doesnt want to let go. Then blue-green or wine-brown chert, in some places yielding, like the hardpan, in others brittle and shattering into rock gravel when hit, and in others hard enough to clank, send a shock up my arm and knock the tip off the pick. When I hit this stuff, I look for fracture lines and feel triumph when it breaks.

I just got off the phone with a student who asked me to supervise a senior thesis in Natural Resource Management on the restoration project planned for a steep bank in Poly Canyon. Along with the preparation I’m doing occasionally for upcoming winter classes, this reminds me of the world I’ve been away from since June and makes me glad to return. Early retirement for more than one quarter would be too much, despite the luxury of free time. No part-time project is as compelling as teaching, whose steady stresss I retreat from and desire.

The light has changed, departed from the treetops here and weaker on the mountain, where the lengthening shadows increase contrast but reduce brightness. The large black one creeping over the Buena Vista neighborhood–could it be Bishop’s Peak?

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.