Thursday, December 31, 2009


The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (12/31/09)

Stepping out of a warm shower stall on a cold winter's morn, stark naked, dripping wet, half-blinded by soap in my eyes, groping for a towel, meine Überfrau greeted me, saying, "You know, DP, your teeth are a bit dingy, like some old geezer's." I replied, "What's the matter with that? I am an old geezer, and, besides, I don't look at my teeth." The retort was swift and fast, "But I do, and you're not my kind of old geezer. Here's some whitening strips for your teeth. Dingy teeth age you. Besides, I want you to look nice. I love you."

Straightaway, whitening strips were thrust into my mitts, and I was told them to put them on my choppers. To put a blasphemous twist on Hebrews 10:31: "It is a fearful thing it is to fall into the hands of a loving woman!"

As I tried to affix gooey, slippery brightening strips to my teeth, I ruminated on the irony that women are always trying to improve on their husbands while men wish their wives would stay the same as when they first knew them. First, I thought that perhaps women were smarter than men, but then I concluded it's that damned managerial gene they get from their mothers. "If mamma ain't happy, ain't nobody gonna be happy."

"By the way, are you going to plant all those onions this year like you did last year? You know, you go overboard on tomatoes and onions, like twenty tomato plants and 405 onion sets. Really compulsive."

"Just think of my tomatoes and onions as brightening our taste buds, besides it was only 375 onions, and we ran out at that."

While my teeth were still brightening, stealthily I ordered my onions sets on the Internet to be delivered on March 15 for planting on March 19, the first day of spring when the days are long enough, 12-13 hours, to grow onions. Chastised, I ordered only 225 sets.

Around about January or February is the best time to order both onion sets and tomato seeds because the selection is greater. Wait until it's time to plant, and it's the dregs. There are lots of places to buy onion sets on the Internet, like Brown's Omaha Plant Farms in Texas,

Onions, like Caesar's Gaul, are divided into three parts, short day, intermediate day, and long day. Flagstaff is intermediate. Walla Walla onions are long day, coming from up north, and Vidalia's are short day, coming from down south. Three intermediate sweet onion hybrids are Superstar, Hybrid Candy, and Red Candy Apple. Onions are tolerant to the cold so they can be planted without protection when the temperatures are still freezing but the soil has thawed.

My Superstars from last year were so sweet that one of my dentist's assistants, Leona McGeary, ate one as if it were an apple without any serious side effects. We, Leona and I, barter onions for chicken manure, not dental work.

As with everything, success is in the preparation. Onions, being a bunch of tight-knit leaves, love nitrogen fertilizer which means blood meal and coffee and tea grounds as well as other nitrogen fertilizers. They also flourish in friable or loose soil and that means lots of compost and manure. If the soil is clay, it's best to dig in sand or volcanic cinders. Making a virtue out of a necessity, cinders in Flagstaff are readily available and are more nutritious than sand.

Since we are in a drought and onions need lots of water, the prudent way to plant onion sets is in a trench, ensuring plenty of water carefully conserved, not watering the whole bed, just the trench. Also, they should be watered regularly.

A week or so after planting, they should be side-dressed with a high nitrogen fertilizer and regularly thereafter.

The sets can be planted five inches apart so that around June 15
spring onions can be harvested by plucking every other onion. The remaining onions can be left to grow into magnificent globes, much to be enjoyed later in the summer and into autumn.

Think of onions as cuisine brighteners for dingy taste buds.

Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2010

Thursday, December 24, 2009


The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (1/12/10)

Visiting The Prelude Show of the Artists' Coalition at the Coconino Center for the Arts last year I felt as though I were on an excursion through alternate realities. Artists, like gardeners, are often slightly off the grid, and, therefore, entertaining, interesting, and often lit with insight.

Artists see things differently from the way most people see them, putting things together in fresh ways. While they don't create ex nihilo, out of nothing, as does God, as human beings, they fashion variations on God's creation. Creating in their minds' eyes, their vision remains unknown unless crafted. So art as an artifact is a craft as well as a vision.

On a journey of discovery, I tried to see what they saw as well as how they saw it. Some were angst, some libidinous exuberance, some remembered sorrows, some the joy of elegant form, and many private ironies. So it is with gardeners because they, too, fugue on themes divine.

Some appear as junkyard gardeners, their gardens littered with broken pots, leaking hoses, piles of compost, over-grown vines, and old benches. Amidst the chaos, isles of beauty appear, flowers seldom seen, cascading planters hanging from trees, tables laden with extravagant plants, and small, carefully tended plots of rocks, flowers, vegetables, and grass, all configured to see the ordinary extraordinarily. A garden is a Weltanschauung, to use Emmanuel Kant's word, a way of looking at life and the world, and these apparently chaotic gardeners use the beauty of their plots as means to survive in their worlds "without form and void."

Then there are gardens, carefully tended, architecturally crafted, everything in its place. Grass carefully clipped, flower beds fashionably curved, as places of ease and contentment, these gardens invite an afternoon snooze, a picnic with wine and bread for two, reading a favorite book, a place of safety. Fashioned out of chaos, these gardens are achievements, where gardeners aren't merely surviving, but prevailing. No absurdities, inconsistencies, and unintended consequences, they're predictable and reassuring without tumult or turmoil. As the ancient Hellenic cult temples set in the chaos of Greek history, their art is in the elegance of the form where chaos stops at the property line.

Some gardeners don't seek to impose order on chaos or seek refuge amidst the chaos, but seek rather to protect themselves against the chaos. Buttressed by a no-man's land of gravel and fences, they resemble moated castles, defended against a hostile chaos without. Plots of beauty behind the fences, never seen save for those who live within, may be exquisitely beautiful, inner gardens of beauty, akin to medieval monasteries in which a faith under assault was protected.

Other gardens, which are usually near the end of the road, are neither examples of imposing order with everything in its place and a place for everything nor fleeing from disorder in which everything means nothing. Rather, they're examples of looking for patterns and rhythms in the natural world, contours in the chaos, such as communities of plants, such as pines, oaks, and penstemon. At the end of the road, they are leaving the disharmonies of urbanity behind them to find a harmony with the natural world. The silence of the forest and woods where there are no straight lines and jangling noises, where boulders aren't removed but used as pivots of design, offer a sense of fusion with the creation instead of an alienation.

Last, a no garden at all, the weeds and refuse of "I don't care," "what's it to me?" and "so what?" Nihilistic, a belief in nothingness, they're the art of the irresponsible the punked-out grunge garden, mumbling an inchoate "whatever."

Of course, all gardens are works in progress, never complete, never finished in which the gardeners' art is either disintegrating or unfolding, as gardeners reveal themselves as their gardens evolve. They may appear disorderly, but as any experienced gardener knows, failure is as much a means to accomplishment as success and, often as not, a better tutor. Of course, these gardens are all of us who are becoming rather than being and in becoming do it in the dirt.

Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2010

Tuesday, December 22, 2009


The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (12/22/09)

In a time when apocalyptic thinking is in vogue with dire threats of global warming, asteroid attacks, nuclear holocausts, desertification, coastal flooding, climate change, financial collapse, and terrorism, a "Doomsday Vault" near the North Pole seems appropriate. The Svalbard Global Seed Vault is the biggest and coldest seed bank in the world. Located just below the North Pole in Spitzbergen, Norway, it's large enough to contain four and a half million seed lots from all over in the world, stored at -0º F.

As a seed bank, it's insurance against a catastrophe which would wipe out food production world-wide. Fundamentally cold storage, it's a high-powered, super-duper refrigerator dug into the side of a permanently frozen mountain with a refrigeration unit to assure a -0º F. temperature.

Another Noah and the Ark operation, only with seeds rather than animals, the Millenium Seed Bank in Sussex, England, cold banks seeds from wild plants throughout the world just in case the wild plants are wiped out in a climatic Armageddon.

Surprisingly, Northern Arizona has a seed bank, too, not dug into Mt. Humphries, but cozily sitting inside NAU's Research Greenhouses. It's actually a maximum, industrial-sized, stainless steel refrigerator kept at -10ºF, supervised by none other than Brad Blake and Phil Patterson. They're saving seeds of ponderosa pines and several other trees in the mountains of the Southwest, preparing for the next catastrophic wildfire, parasitic infestation, or some as yet unknown plague. A bank without tellers or loan officers, the Research Greenhouses' refrigerated seed bank does, however, offer insurance on mortgaged futures.

Apocalyptic thinking differs from prophetic thinking in that it offers no hope, only mayhem, catastrophe, and destruction as in lethal injections, the Beast of the Apocalypse, Noah and the Ark, and Avatar. Prophetic thinking doesn't predict the future but rather offers hope for the immediate future, maybe even long-term, as when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., said, "I have a dream." His theme was "redemption follows repentance," instead of a nightmarish "Burn, Baby, Burn."

Brad and Phil travel the Southwest gathering pine cones from ponderosa forests for their refrigerated Ark, taking along with them an arborist to climb trees. Their seed bank contains ponderosa seeds from various and varied places in the Southwest as well as other pines, such as Chihuahua, Apache, and Southwestern.

The trick is to reseed a forest after a wild fire with seeds from trees native to the devastated land. If the forest near Strawberry or Happy Jack were devastated by insect or fire, it could be best reclaimed by seeds saved from that locale. The ponderosa pine can be found high on the San Francisco Peaks, the plains of Kansas, and the shores of California. However, ponderosa pine seeds from the shores of California wouldn't do well on the San Francisco Peaks. The principle is that all reforestations are best local.

Robert J. Flaherty's Nanook of the North would've survived if he had been transplanted to Savannah, but it would be doubtful if Tin Pan Alley's Vamp of Savannah would've survived on the shores of Hudson Bay in Arctic Quebec.

Brad Blake is American royalty, tracing his ancestry back Governor Bradford of the Plymouth Plantation by way of the plains of Kansas and the steppes of Arizona. Phil Patterson, MacTavish thrifty, is a flame-haired, jolly tall drink of water of Scot's descent. Both are savvy, keepers of the forest.

Now, not all of their work is tending to their apocalyptic refrigerator. Much is prophetic as in "If you don't replace all those invasive water-sucking Saltcedar trees (Tamarix ramosissima) along our streams and rivers, you're shrinking our water resources during a drought." Repent to be redeemed, going native and save water. They grow native and adaptable plants for restoration projects throughout the Southwest.

A pet project of theirs is the development of an aspen genotype garden on the NAU campus, the better to protect our aspens groves from drought or herbivores. They purpose to acquire genetic information to provide adaptability to the larger genome to help aspens cope with climate change.

Also, they provide research facilities for the faculty and students at Northern Arizona University.

Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2009