Wednesday, December 29, 2010
KEITH RICHARDS AND GARDENING
The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (12/29/2010)
Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones in his addict’s journal, Life, writes: “Image is like a long shadow. Even when the sun goes down you can see it. I think some of it is that there is so much pressure to be that person that you become it, maybe, to a certain point more than you can bear. It’s impossible not to end up being a parody of what you thought you were.”
Highly intelligent and widely-read, Richards alludes to T.S. Eliot’s Hollow Men: “Between the emotion / And the response / Falls the shadow.” “This is the way the world ends / Not with a bang but a whimper.”
Of course, both Richards and Eliot drew their inspiration from Shakespeare’s Macbeth on hearing of Lady Macbeth’s suicide, “Life’s but a walking shadow.” The theme continues through Plato’s Allegory of the Cave to Genesis’s imago dei in which human beings are created as shadows of God, “image” in Hebrew meaning “shadow,” a form without substance.
As with Richards and Macbeth, we’re often burdened with what “we should’ve been,” “what someone else wanted us to be,” and “what we’d hoped to be,” “what we could’ve been,” but never were, so on in finitum. Its Eliot’s “striding shadows” unaware of whom they are.
Anxiously free-floating is difficult while letting rich soil run through our fingers, listening to the wind whistle through the pines, smelling a flower’s fragrance, or eating a warm tomato just off the vine. The senses reassure us by connecting us to our origins in the earth. Our five senses allow us to forsake the shadowed world of images, paying attention to those sensations at our finger tips. Gardening is the working of both muscles and senses.
The first connection is making compost. We can’t take our pretensions seriously when mucking around with compost, horse manure, coffee grounds, and kitchen scraps. The shadows take flight when turning a pitch fork in that moldering mélange, especially as the warmth and earthy aroma rise from that gardener’s stew. Composting is not a time for shadows and images. It’s a time to save our souls.
The next step in soul-saving is turning the decomposed mélange into the soil. Most of us spend our time in despoiling the earth, but improving the soil is one sure way we can improve the earth by enriching its fertility. Shoveling manure and compost into the soil takes us beyond our shadows, riveting us on the immediate.
Once the soil is ready with manure and compost, another way to move beyond Richards’ “long shadow” of self-parody is to plant seeds and wait around for them to sprout. What first appears is seldom what it will be fully grown, but all the while it is growing, it is growing into what it is, not what it should be. A seedling is always faithful to itself which is what Richards doubts about himself. Seedlings are good tutors to living.
Then comes caring. Lots of people don’t give a damn about the world around them so focused are they on themselves, settling old scores, rectifying old grievances, justifying old wrongs. Gardening pulls us out of that inner turmoil and centers us on the welfare of the plants. Our worth is tested by those things about which we care. While gardening doesn’t match loving someone else, it hints at the rewards of leaving our self-interest and caring for something or someone immediate, like the up close and personal.
Caring means tending to, such as watering, fertilizing, grooming, and picking weeds which are the pimples, warts, and blackheads of gardening. A gardener has to play attention to whether a plant’s wilt is from disease or lack of water, to yellowing and curling of leaves, to little nasties lurking under the leaves, and all manner of predators, flying, crawling, and slinking. They all require an outward focus.
Finally, there are the rewards which encompass the classical Greek virtues of truth, beauty, and goodness, the truth of the soil, the beauty of the flora, and the goodness of the fruits of the earth. Perhaps, Richards should take up gardening.
Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2011
Monday, December 20, 2010
TREASURING THE GIFT
The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D.
Although Christmas is often celebrated as the birthday of Jesus Christ, more accurately it’s celebrated as the gift of the Christ Child. Actually, celebrations can encompasses all “sorts and conditions” of believers. The idea is simple. Life’s a gift as are the sun, water, and soil. We treat gifts far differently than we do possessions because a gift means someone else thought well enough of us to give us a gift.
All gifts aren’t the same. Some are contemporaneous, others are legacies. We treasure legacies far more. Nearly everyone has them. I have my father’s pocket watch, my mother’s fountain pen, my grandfather’s carefully crafted, folding ruler, magnifying glass, and his one hundred and seventy eight year old legacy, oil portraits of my great, great grandfather and grandmother. They gaze on me everyday, that stern Norwegian ships’ master, Herr Capt. Poul H. Proms, saying, “Be smart about it, boy.” With a twinkle in his eye, my grandfather often quoted his grandfather to me. Gifted legacies are visible signs bringing to life presences from the past. Sir Isaac Newton wrote to Robert Hooke, “If I have seen further, it is only by standing on the shoulders of the giants.”
Possessions can be replaced but gifts cannot. The meaning invested in gifts makes them far the richer than possessions. As a matter of fact, a life lived in gratitude is far richer than a life lived as a possession. The meaning invested in the Christ Child for believers is the treasure of God with us, not against us. There are other gifts which all people hold dear, such as old friendships, loved ones, and mentors, enhancing the meaning of the present.
We can start with life itself. No one has earned it. It was given to us in trust. I have never met a person who was successful at living who in some way or another has not lived in gratitude and treasured something from the past.
The successful life is fundamentally the thankful life. The verb “to thank” is a transitive verb. It needs a direct object. It just doesn’t hang out there in a sentence all by itself. How sad it is not to have direct objects, leaving our subjects and verbs bereft of companionship.
One of the hallmarks of gardeners is gratitude for the sun, soil, and, water. They celebrate these gifts of life. In Flagstaff people are wont to curse the dirt and envy those in climes rich with dark, humus laden soil. Alas, envy is a sin without a reward, unlike lust or greed. It feeds upon itself, making the envious feel more miserable than before. However, with every temptation there is a means to overcome the temptation. In this case, it’s the shovel, such as shoveling humus into the soil. All it takes is a little “sweat equity” to make a rich soil lush with humus.
Some addled with ambition or conquest have even taken credit for the sun, claiming powers to manage it, but they have all passed into the annals of absurdity. There it is, this terrible, frightening, gaseous, flaming ball in the sky giving us light and life, peeking over the horizon early in the morning, promising life for the next day! One can understand why the Anasazi worshipped the sun, at Chaco Canyon organizing their buildings around the patterns of the sun and the moon. They understood a gifted legacy.
Called “a national treasure” by the Smithsonian, the Sons of the Pioneers’ famous close harmony about “water, clear, cool water” haunts us today. Idols from our history, formed in 1933 by Roy Rogers, they bear witness to a legacy from the past about the gift of water because if we treat water as a possession we lie to ourselves, an act of mauvais foi, “bad faith.” We’ve had a history of despoiling it while, in fact, it’s one of those legacy gifts that we’d be wise to treat as a treasure, holding it dear, since we can’t live without it. “Be smart about it, boy.” Treasure the gifts, especially the gift of life. Merry Christmas!
Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2010
Saturday, December 18, 2010
EXPERIENCING THE SMELL OF FLOWERS
When I was a little girl, I always followed my Dad to the town center. It took us about forty-five minutes by bus from our village. He went to town to visit his friends or to take me around town and show me the life of the city. There were candy shops, toys, clothes, and restaurants. The streets were always busy with
I loved to walk around with my Dad and his friends to the flower park. There are many kinds of flowers with colorful. My Dad gave me cotton candy and told me about the color and smell of flowers. He not only tell me one time, but he also repeat to me many times. I remembered it because I listened to him many times. But it is so funny! I did not understand him at all.
He showed me the color with red, pink, white, orange, etc., the different shape of flowers, iris, pansy, daisy and rose, and how to look close to a flower’s petal, how to connect in images. Iris look like mouths with the tongue, throat, and lips. Pansy looked so nice with the different color of the petal. The color made it as a butterfly. Daisy is with bunch of tiny petals white with color. It wasn’t easy to come close to a rose. It has many prickles. I got bleeding while I was trying to touch with roses. Each kind of flower had different look. This was not a big deal for me to think of them.
My father told me to smell them. It was not easy for me to describe aroma for him. Some of them have sweet, whiff lightly, intenseness. The level of smell also change depends on the color. Dark color has strong aroma more than light color. A wavelength of aroma also changed with each minute. They smell strongest at early morning or late afternoon. This thing my father and I did it slowly, each time we got together. I put all of my senses to sniff the flowers, feeling the soft of petal. A lot of people walk through life and never smell of flowers.
Butterflies flew around them. They say each up and down of butterfly’s wing changes
the world. But I did not see any change unless dinner was coming.
Day by day goes by, season changed every single second, spring is gone by and summer is coming. My father spent time studying the four seasons, practicing to get through the four seasons and circle of life in flowers. I learnt from him to empty my brain and let the aura of the flowers come in. Seeing the essence of the color and the smell of aroma, the aura changed with time as I practiced it. It changed from dark color with strong smell to colorless and fresh smell. It took me awhile to find out that colorless water with the sun will change to rainbow. Fresh smell is like spirit. I could not touch it. I could not imagine a shape, how it looked like.
Anyways, it brought me to a belief on something. It is as the aroma will expand all over the atmosphere. Later on, I grew up and understood that is the beginning of meditation. It makes sense to smell the aroma and see the aura, the experience of believing something I cannot see.
It is like climbing the mountain with different levels of aura. I like to study their meanings more to know about it. The flowers are out there and growing up every day in the wind, rain, and sun as the earth still spins in the universe. Understanding auras also explains human beings. It is simple as the air people breathe every second. I think not many people care about spirit. If we develop the spirit and be generous, we can feel the change. Actually, if we are quiet and do not change, we feel the change in auras.
Tam T. Nguyen has completed the Master Gardener Class and is a student at the Literacy Center where Dr. Smith is one of her tutors.
Sunday, December 12, 2010
A GARDEN AS A USED CAR
Dana Prom Smith
Approaching my 85th year, I’ve been thinking about growing old, especially after receiving an invitation to my 60th college class reunion. Old age took me by surprise. It’s something like that used car I bought when I was in high school. A 1929 Model-A Ford Coupe, it had no floor boards and was sans a right front fender; however, it had a rumble seat. It ran, but something always needed fixing.
Since we never look back on old age and there’s no future to it, I’ve become an existentialist. Everything is now. Given the alternative, I’m grateful for my creaky knee, arthritis, left-leaning, friendly-fire hole in my back, slightly damaged ticker, and Selma-gifted, racked-up left shoulder. Alive in good health, no longer suffering fools gladly, I always need fixing.
All of this is like a garden. Something always needs fixing. Two fixable problems are aphids and grasshoppers. Anyone who doesn’t believe in the existence of demons has never dealt with grasshoppers and aphids. Evil is random. It doesn’t make sense. We’ve all suffered for our sins and stupidities, but with evil there’s no quid pro quo. Random, demonic forces strike without reason. We ask, “Why me?” A bit paranoia helps.
However, we can strike back! NoLo bait spread throughout the garden before the grasshopper larvae hatch in early spring will lay waste grasshoppers; not instantaneously, but gradually; not merely over the season, but throughout the years. NoLo is a targeted weapon, sparing everything else, including human beings. It’s an eco-healthy malaise. Cannibals, grasshoppers eat their own who’ve fallen with NoLo, ingesting their fallen comrades’ NoLo. It’s an affliction that keeps on afflicting.
Actually, the grasshoppers aren’t attracted to the NoLo but to the wheat bran in which it is served, something like cyanide in lemonade.
Also, we’ve an ally in a fellow flesh-eating predator, the praying mantis, who could well be called the preying mantis. Waiting in ambush, when a grasshopper comes close, our friend grabs it with spiked forelegs and devours it with a gluttonous lust. An asymmetrical warrior, it’s adept at camouflage, looking for all the world like a leaf.
Praying mantises are mercenaries. They can be bought and sent into battle to devour the demonic. If gardeners are fleet of foot and swift of limb, they can grab a grasshopper in flight, squeeze it, feel the crunch of death, and then wash off the green residue. I, for one, prefer the mercenaries.
Next in our demonic litany is the aphid, an icky, soft-bodied, foul-looking manifestation of evil. It lies in wait underneath leaves, sucking out their life-juices and then emitting at the end of its alimentary canal sweet offal, favored by ants. As a matter of fact, ants farm aphids just to eat this gooey mess, commonly called honeydew.
Aphids signal their presence by yellowing, curled leaves and a plant’s withered death. Also, if they overgraze, they produce flying aphids, clouds of them, which spread to trees like aspen and drop their honeydew on cars, fouling the finish.
Initially counter-attack with a hose, nozzle attached and turned down, washing off the buggers underneath the leaves, sending them to a watery grave. If that fails after a couple of tries, then it’s time to use insecticidal soap, again blasting away at the leaves’ underside. Generally, one time doesn’t do it, the conflict being a war of attrition, wearing the bastard’s down. Also, if there are aspens in the yard, spray them, too.
Of course, we have allies, chief amongst who are lady bugs, green lacewings, and parasitic wasps, all of whom like to dine on aphids. Lady bugs can be purchased from local commercial nurseries but are best sent into battle in the evening hours, lest they fly away. Fickle, the best thing to do is provide them with an attractive bivouac, buying their loyalty by planting sweet clover, spearmint, sweet fennel, and Queen Anne’s lace, their favored confections.
As our gardens age, be grateful. They’ll always need fixing along with the rest of us. This means fighting the good fight, finishing the race, keeping the faith, persevering therein to the end, and laying waste the demons.
Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2011
Wednesday, November 17, 2010
SHOOT OUT AT THANKSGIVING
The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (11/20/10)
Several years ago meine Überfrau and I had a shoot out at Thanksgiving over the gravy. She’d asked me to make the gravy and stuffing, writing out the steps in gravy making. I compressed a few. The gravy clotted with free-floating radical lumps. “I just knew it!” she said, “You’re always taking short cuts. You’ve just ruined the whole dinner.” A former first-class flight attendant during TWA’s days of glamour and glory, Gretchen likes things done elegantly down to place cards.
A tense time was had by all. The gathering was composed of people who ordinarily don’t sit down together for dinner. We’d invited my mother-in-law and my former wife whom my adult children had prevailed upon us to invite fearing she’d be alone. We’d also invited two couples, a veganesque Wiccan priestess who ate all the mixed nuts and her husband, a carnivorous hummingbird feeder salesman who dislocated the pot rack while gazing down my granddaughter’s bosom. The other couple was an Assyrian Orthodox husband, complete with ancient indignations and orthodoxies, and his Sephardic Jewish wife from South Yemen who was glad to be alive. A malaise underlay the gathering until dispelled by Gretchen’s magnificent feast.
Some gardens suffer the same malaise, something is going on in the garden just below the surface, resulting in a garden that doesn’t thrive. The problem’s deep in the soil. Successful gardening is soil, and soil is “what you make of it.”
The best guests for a soil dinner are those strangely-worded mycorrhizae which aren’t discreet entities like a rock, but fungal associations or symbiotic relationships between the soil’s nutrients and the plant’s roots. Growing on the tips of a plant’s roots, they’re little strands of fungi that pass from just outside the root to inside it. Spooky looking, they resemble a diaphanous spider web or that gossamered stuff used at Halloween. They can’t be seen with the naked eye, lying well below our visual radar screens.
In corporate-speak mycorrhizae are facilitators and in psycho-babble enablers. Although they can be bought, it isn’t necessary because they’re in the soil already, but to function effectively they need soil amended with organic matter, such as vintage cattle, horse, or chicken manure and compost.
Some mycorrhizae are good and some bad, the good are called mutualistic and the bad parasitic. If the soil isn’t composted and too much artificial fertilizer is used, especially heavy doses of phosphorous, the mycorrhizae sometimes turn bad or parasitic. Ironically, sometimes fertilizing a garden with artificial fertilizer withers the plants.
As in life, good relationships mutually benefit everyone in the relationship. The plants take up the nutrients and release carbohydrates to the fungi all because of the mutualistic mycorrhizae. Everyone wins. The parasitic mycorrhizae suck nutrients out of the plant and don’t deliver carbohydrates to the fungi. Everyone loses.
As the middle men of a thriving garden, enabling and facilitating the uptake of nutrients, mutualistic mycorrhizae are the sine qua non of gardening. They improve nutrient and water uptake, root growth, and plant growth and yield. They also reduce transplant shock and drought stress.
Amending the soil with organic matter does something else. It helps save the planet, by replenishing the earth rather than consuming it and by cooling the planet through water conservation and increased foliage. Concrete, asphalt, and gravel heat it. It’s thinking globally by sustainable gardening locally. What better way to thank God at Thanksgiving than having a sumptuous feast of manure and compost for the earth!
The Sephardic woman from South Yemen and I got along swimmingly because we both spoke the same Sephardic dialect of Hebrew. She rescued the gravy, vigorously smoothing it out with a wire whisk. The stuffing turned out well. I followed the directions. “For just once in your life, why don’t you do as you’re told?” The shrinks tell us that men often marry women like their mothers.
“Thank” is a transitive verb. It requires a direct object. Remember your direct objects.
Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2010
Tuesday, October 26, 2010
HER OWN ROOM WITH A VIEW
The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (10/24/10)
After a migrating life, Susan Lamb Bean is standing still, the better to continue her journey. Her traveling life prepared her to stand still because now she knows what to look for. As a child, she moved often with her mother, 11 schools in 11 years, but she continued as an adult, going to three different colleges to get her bachelor’s degree in the Classical Civilization and on to England to get her master’s degree in Aegean Prehistory. Studying the ancient poets, she grew to envy the celebrations of their intimacy with nature.
She kept on traveling, working as an interpreter and writer for the National Park Service and the Smithsonian Institution, acquiring a vast amount of information as she honed her capabilities as a writer. Studying Latin and Greek taught her how to think, so she knew what to do with the knowledge she’d acquired.
Still and all, she needed a place, as Virginia Woolf wrote, A Room of One’s Own. The first room of her own was in her heart, a faith she acquired through the Roman Catholic Church and then in a house she shares with her husband, Tom, out off Lake Mary Road on the edge of the forest. Once she had a room of her own, she acquired A Room with a View, to use the title of E.M. Forster’s novel.
Beginning as a wildlife biologist Tom morphed into a wildlife photographer. His photographs, taken in front of their house, are featured for January and February in the Arizona Highways 2011 Wildlife Calendar.
The homily of a priest finally affirmed her ease with Roman Catholicism. “The greatest heresies are prejudice and bitterness because they close our hearts to one another and to love.” As Susan says, faith has given her a room with a view.
What a room and what a view! Perched on the lip of a draw in the Fay Canyon wilderness, Susan and Tom have the wild at their front door; however, their view is unique. As wildlife naturalists, they see nature as a sacrament in which a divine Presence emerges from the flux and flow of nature with a sense of the holy without the trappings of holiness.
The garden is fashioned after the wilderness: a rock garden with plants drawn from the forest. As the garden flows around the house, at each of its three levels, a wilderness garden is at the door. To understand the garden one must first understand the house.
Just beyond the entryway, a simply framed complex of rooms leads the eye to a top to bottom, clear across one side of the house, window of panes. On the left are the kitchen and dining rooms and a few steps straight ahead lead down to an airy living room. The rich wood of the walls with their Native American artifacts and wildlife art create a perfect setting to view the forest and the draw.
The gardens around the house are transitional spaces between the house and the forest where one can pass from the pleasant confines of the rooms into the mystery of nature.
Susan’s garden is not static, but evolving and emerging. She speaks of plants “traveling” from one part of the garden to another and of offspring “thriving” while parents and grandparents fade and disappear. The catalogue of plants seems without number, but a few are pussytoes, blanket flower, Woods rose, pennycress, St. Johns wort, golden columbine, quaking aspen, and Gambel oak. A few paces down slope, the “rabbitat,” a rock warren built by Tom provides a safe haven for the rabbits. The fact is that her garden is actually the forest and meadows where the geologist’s sense of “deep time,” the aeons it has taken to grow the garden, emerge as a sacrament of the Creator of “all things visible and invisible.”
Susan and Tom have recently written a book on their journey following the footsteps of Santa Francis: The Natural World of Saint Francis of Assisi. Susan writes, “To understand the natural world―to love its landforms and life forms―makes sacred ground of everywhere we are.”
Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2010
Photographs courtesy of Susan and Tom Bean.
Friday, October 22, 2010
DEEPLY SPIRITUAL GOOD TASTE
The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (10/21/10)
Renee Henry’s odyssey as a gardener began with her taste buds. Since her parents are foodies, she began her gustatory journey with a developed sense of haute cuisine, far beyond the average adolescent’s addiction to fast food’s “burgers and fries.” She knew what good food tasted like which eventually led her to home-grown vegetables.
Her parents, though gourmets, weren’t gardeners, save for a few herbs on the kitchen window sill. It took a move to Flagstaff and NAU where she began to connect with nature. She grew up in concrete and asphalt Phoenix where it’s easy to disconnect. She had tucked away in her heart a feel for the great outdoors, stemming from her happy memories of summers spent at a relative’s ranch in Gunnison, Colorado.
At NAU, she met the love of her life, Mick Henry, a forestry student at NAU, a man who had connected with nature as a youth in the small town of Mudgee, New South Wales, Australia. Mudgee’s an Aboriginal word meaning “nest in the hills.” She was in a place that reminded her of some of her happiest times as a child with a man who loved what she loved, a life connected to the soil, the flora of the land, big skies, and fresh air.
One of the catalysts that actually prompted her to start growing vegetables was the menu at the New Jersey Pizza Company which encourages parents to grow fresh vegetables to benefit their children. If God can inscribe the divine Word on tablets of stone, there is no reason to believe that a menu at a pizza joint won’t do, also. It’s always wise to keep on the lookout for the next inscription.
After they “got the message,” since their house in perched on a steep, precipitous slope, Mick and Renee began terracing. Starting at the top, they cleared away boulders and installed compost. As they did this, they also installed a sophisticated system for collecting rainwater to irrigate their terraced garden. The first and highest terrace is well-above the roofline of the house, accessed by a narrow path up the hill. Below it is a large plateau at floor level. After that there are several narrow terraces on a steep decline down to the street. Each of the terraces is planted with various vegetables, Swiss chard, tomatoes, and carrots amongst others.
Their garden became so prolific that their two sons, Ethan, aged 9, and Kyle, aged 7, wanted to sell the surplus produce at the Wednesday Flagstaff Community Market. They asked City Councilman Art Babbott, guru in chief of the market, if their sons could sell some vegetables there. He happily agreed, and, presto, Ethan and Kyle became independent entrepreneurs. Renee says they never have surplus raspberries. Her independent entrepreneurs eat them all at the vine.
Renee points out that one of the beneficial aspects of home-grown food is educational. Her boys know where food comes from. They are not disconnected from their origins. Along with a wider knowledge of food, they also have discovered just how sweet is a carrot recently pulled from the earth. Home-grown and locally grown taste best.
Something more profound also took place with Mick and Renee. The closer they grew to the earth, the deeper grew their spiritual experience. As they pointed out, the experience of burgeoning life and the goodness of the fruits of the earth lead a person to the spirituality of the soil. There is no disconnect. As Renee said, “Gardening evolved into a spiritual experience.” Significantly involved in the life of the Federated Church, Mick works with the church group, Christians for the Earth.
Scattered throughout the plateau are huge, recently milled timbers and immense logs which Mick has gathered from his work as an arborist. Making sure not to shade the gardens, he plans to build a tree house halfway up the bank so that they may not only dig deeper but also see farther.
If people savor fine cuisine, they’ll want to grow their own vegetables, fruits, and herbs the better to please their palate and satisfy their souls.
Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2010
Photographs courtesy of Renee Henry
Monday, October 04, 2010
SO MUCH MORE THAN TREES!
Susan Lamb Bean
Here around Flagstaff, we walk among giants. Ponderosa pines frame our landscape, commanding most of our attention for much of the year. Small wonder that some people say the ponderosa forest is a monoculture, nothing more than a whole lot of trees that all look alike.
It’s true that compared to the soaring pines, plants on the forest floor can seem insignificant. In some years it may be late summer before masses of bright yellow flowers make us notice what’s right at our feet.
Yet whether we notice them or not, myriad little beings begin to emerge in the forest in March, increasing in number and diversity as the days grow longer. At first they’re inconspicuous, just ground-hugging, solar-collecting rosettes sporting modest boutonnières — bursts of white petals on alpine pennycress, Kaibab draba’s dinky yellow parasols, dwarf lousewort with its ruffly leaves and ruby snouts barely covering pale stamens pointed downward like teeth.
As the weeks go by, such low-profile flowers gradually give way to larger blossoms on taller plants in a rising chorus of color. By the time of the summer solstice, a hundred different species can have appeared, from locoweeds to lupines, bluets to buckwheats. Fortified by summer rains, warm season grasses spout flowering plumes of varied and complex architecture. More and more plants bloom higher and brighter to tempt passing pollinators: masses of yellow and purple members of the Aster Family attracting hosts of butterflies. The proliferation of flowers slows in autumn and the trend reverses, with one plant after another lapsing into dormancy.
The Flagstaff area is infamous for its erratic weather. The blooming season can last only seven months or as many as nine. Good years can bring two hundred different plants into flower in a square mile of forest, each of them unique in color, shape, and scent.
These sensational displays are not for us, of course. In synchrony with the blooming of flowers, fantastical creatures appear. Hopping, creeping, flying, wriggling, each insect visits its preferred flowers within a distinct temporal territory, a territory in time. Flowers have an impressive array of time-related strategies. Their windows of opportunity can be very limited: the few hours a fly can find an open crag lily, a moth’s dusk-to-dawn quest for an evening primrose in bloom. Fleabanes unfurl slowly each morning, freeing tiny beetles well powdered with pollen while trapped overnight. Pineywoods geraniums stay open around the clock but advertise nectar “for a limited time only.”
Along with their territories in time, wildflowers of the ponderosa forest occupy habitats — territories of place. It’s obvious that they self-organize into communities of plants with similar requirements: the sun-lovers in the open, the shade-lovers on north-facing slopes or sheltered by rocks or shrubs. Beeweed and rabbitbrush flourish in sunny openings that would be lethal for the fairy bells and catchflies glowing dimly down in cool, damp draws.
But the territory of a flower can be more revealing than whether or not it needs a lot of sun. Plants also offer us a tour of the continent. Some are defiantly local, such as Arizona clematis and Flagstaff pennyroyal. Others reflect more distant places. Rarely seen, Huachuca Mountain morning glories bloom here on sunny, rocky ridges where conditions approach those in the center of their homeland to the south. Single big sagebrushes appear here and there in the realm of ponderosas, but flood the Great Basin with a pungent gray sea. Spike muhly is definitely here, but more at home in the southern Great Plains. Blue flag, Iris missouriensis, is a characteristic plant of the western United State that despite its name, does not occur in Missouri.
The big ponderosas are older than any human alive and will be here long after we’re gone. They have a permanence that keeps us all rooted in place. Forest wildflowers — poised to match up with their pollinators within their far briefer territories of time — connect us in a different way, drawing us into the intensity of life lived in the present moment. Each flower’s brief but marvelous blossoming reminds us that the forest is indeed, so much more than trees.
Susan Lamb Bean is a Flagstaff writer and naturalist (www.susanlamb.net)
Photographs courtesy of Tom Bean.
Sunday, September 26, 2010
THE WEEDS AND FLOWERS
Tam T. Nguyen
My Dad feed the soul with flowers in the front yard of our house. He planted flowers: roses, daisies, hibiscus, etc. He took care them so carefully. He watered them and picked up the aphids for them. There was a job which I did not like: pull off the weeds. There are Bermuda, nut, and honey grass. My Dad would like me to clean them up for him.
Under the heat of the sun, the heat seems like it killed me with the sweat. It made my eyes spicy. No fun at all! I am thirsty with blurry eyes because I pull a lot of them. I tried to tell my Dad: “Even the weeds, they also have their own flowers. They are green. Why do you try to kill them? They looked nice, too. Although, we give the flowers name, they were also the weed for many years ago.”
This way I negotiate with him that he would let me free to run out with my friends to the field playing with them. He seriously looked at me: “I want you to pick weeds!” He looked scary! Then he left me there.
After the dinner, he wanted to talk to me. He told me he was sorry he was mean to me. Pulling the weeds he want me do that. It is not hard for him. He could do that by himself. But he wanted me to know how to do gardening. I just paid by sweating, and being feel uncomfortable when I could not have fun with friends. My selfish and lazy paid the price for the messy look at the front yard. The weeds are good when they stay at the forest. The natural laws will decide which ones survival or which one will be disappears.
My Dad says the weed invasive to the garden, they will take the water, nutrient and grown out so fast. I might not understand whatever my father told me, but I will understand him some days by somehow, sometimes by tear drop!
Knowing things by working hard, that was a lesson my Dad gave me. It was not easy to understand at that time. It took me for a while to realize about my Dad. I did my job because he had a power to me. I was so busy think about playing game with the neighbor kids. I just was a little girl. I did not enjoy the beauty of flowers. The flowers were simple for my thinking: colors, no spirit.
I did not understand about my Dad well. He spent the earth for flowers. I helped him to gardening work. My job did not make money or extra foods. Because all of flowers at front yard, he never sold them to take money, change for foods. Just watching the flowers bloom, feeling the subtle of them. It was non-sense for me.
My Dad is a father of seven children. He just gave us our daily bread, small house. It was no television, motorcycle, any technology. I knew my Dad is smart man. He could earn more money. He could do some job better than he was a farmer. He could make the front yard with a vegetable and fruits instead of flowers.
My father feed my soul when I was a little girl. He taught me how to know the weeds, flowers, and the wind brought the subtle of the flowers. Many things are going on with the world. They help me think about my Dad again. I understand my father is not crazy man. I am lucky to have him as father. I need to learn more to have knowledgeable of subtle. The garden pointed out for me an interesting. Everything needs a purpose, and purpose depends on the person put on it. My Dad wanted to have flowers only. I just wanted to run out with the friends so I had to accept the weeds. The front yard was full of flowers and weeds before I pulled off the weeds. My Dad say fruit and vegetables for the body, but the flowers and wind are for the soul and its subtle.
Tam T. Nguyen is in the current Master Gardener Class as well as studying at the Literacy Center where Dr. Smith is her tutor.
Tuesday, September 21, 2010
GARDENING AS CATHARSIS
The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (9/21/10)
Heather Bostian’s garden in Doney Park is showing signs of renewal after the devastating floods following the Schulz Fire last summer. As Heather said, “New wildflowers I’ve never seen before are growing in the front yard. They must’ve been washed down from the Peaks.” In a way, her garden is a metaphor for her life as a healer which began in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where her father was a psychiatrist.
However, the real genesis of her garden began at San Francisco’s American Conservatory Theatre where she earned a Master of Fine Arts in acting as well as a M.A. in theatre arts from San Francisco State University. Her garden is theatre; theatre is the sense of Aristotle’s theory of drama as catharsis or cleansing from pity and fear. Heather’s abides herself as a healer, giving people the power to cleanse themselves of pity for their circumstances in life as well as a fear that their pasts will keep repeating their grip in their future.
Save for her house, her entire property was flooded and is covered with several inches of dried mud, caked hard and cracked. It appears inhospitable, and yet from its deathly gray surface between the cracks new life is emerging. For Heather it is a metaphor for her life’s work, new life emerging from destructive set-in-concrete patterns of the past. Ironically, that caked mud contains not only new seeds but also fresh nutrients, once e-coli have expired.
The basic structure of her garden has remained the same, the trees and shrubs. A thicket of Colorado blue spruce, elm, piñon, and elderberry reach out from the side of her house forming a wind break which along with the house itself protects the front yard garden from Doney Park’s winds. Behind the windbreak is another garden with a bird sanctuary, grape vines, and a cactus garden. In the midst of the windbreak is the remnant of a waterfall and pool which the flood damaged beyond repair as though there are some sorrows which are irreparable and are best quarantined, or as Jesus said, “leave the dead to bury their own dead.”
Heather’s understanding of both gardening and therapy is as an integrating coalescence in which all the elements are a part of a pattern. For instance, her plantings are either edible or medicinal or both with such plants as sage, garlic, wild lettuce, kale, red cabbage, and elderberries. At first glance, her garden appears random, especially after the flood, because there are no neatly defined beds. After a long look at ease, a pattern appears: the back half of the garden is for those plants that can survive without much help, but the front part of the garden is for healing and nutritious elements. She plants them where they seem to do best, not where they ought to be planted by grid.
Simply put, therapy is often a liberation from the trammels of the past, those imprints, grudges, tragedies, and slights that hold people back from a renewal of their lives. Since we often embed these psychic blights in our flesh with a stiff neck, an aching back, a headache, knotted hearts into knotted flesh, Heather fuses her therapy with massage and hypnotherapy, touching both the flesh and the secret self, the soul.
Therapy is not only a liberation from the lockups of the past, it’s also a leading out into the light of the new. The word “education” comes from the Latin, ēdūcĕre which means to draw out or lead out. Even with its devastation Heather is planning to transform the ugly sandbagged berms surrounding her house into lovely, meandering planters for her medicinals and edibles.
A metaphor for renewal in which life is neither a squirrel cage, repeating the same old things, nor a slinky with slow improvements over the years, her garden is a journey, transforming the old into the new. While sitting on a patio still encrusted with debris, one can see the old reliables in the yard, still abiding. Also, in the cracked and hardened mud a new and surprising life grows out of the calamity with new shapes and forms never thought of before. What a metaphor for life!
Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2010
Saturday, September 18, 2010
WATER CONCENTRATES THE MIND WONDERFULLY
The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (9/18/10)
James Boswell in his Life of Samuel Johnson quoted Dr. Johnson as saying, "Depend upon it, sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully." Indeed, it does. After my troopship foundered and split in half at the base of sheer cliffs on the Alaskan coast, I waited for rescue on a disintegrating hulk for a couple of hours, knowing that I wouldn’t last in the frigid water more than five minutes. My mind was concentrated wonderfully. Happily, I was finally taken off by breeches buoy.
The recollection of that experience always brings me back to essentials, fresh air, clear water, and the sun’s warmth, the things that make Flagstaff so desirable. Of course, this is about gardening, that marvelous and mysterious fusion of seed, soil, water, and sun. The prospect of running out of fresh water is akin to the prospect of running out of either air or sun.
In this case, the issue is grass, one of the loveliest aspects of a garden, and one of the most problematic in Flagstaff. The problem is Kentucky blue grass (Poa pratensis), the grass most people favor, consumes lots of water. Although some people seem to suffer from a prodigal son syndrome, everyone else knows that drinking water is precious. Not only is water scarce, it’s also becoming scarcer and more expensive. The city is hiking the water rates, especially for homeowners.
But the problem at hand is the front yards of Flagstaff. Some people favor gravel as a means of solving the water issue. The problem is that it’s ugly, especially when decorated with cattle skulls or rusted-out plows. Worse yet, it heats up the atmosphere, turning yards into a reflecting ovens.
Lawns can be beautiful, cool-looking, neatly trimmed expanses of green. Sadly, they’re, also, ill-used and waste water. Unless, someone is into playing badminton, croquet, or lawn tennis in the front yard, Kentucky bluegrass lawns are wastes.
When in doubt, go native because native works best. When the forest is left alone to do its own thing, it seems to do pretty well, like native grasses. During our dry spells, they need to be watered only once a week to be kept green, and this can be done by watering them with rain water saved in a barrel. They require mowing once a year with a weed whacker after their seeds stems have finally cast off their seeds.
Three very attractive native grasses are Arizona fescue (Festuca arizonica), sheep grass (Festuca ovina), and creeping red fescue (Festuca rubra).
All three can be planted from plugs or by seed. In any case, the ground should be prepared by turning compost into the soil a few inches deep as would be done with any grass. If sown by seed, anytime of the year is all right, save winter, but the best is during monsoon and the second best is early spring.
Arizona fescue is a bunch grass, that is to say, it doesn’t form a smooth sod but grows in clumps which can be grown closely enough together to form a continuous green lawn. As such, it is not a turf grass which will bear lots of foot traffic, but generally front lawns are not heavily trod upon. It throws off a bluish haze.
The sheep fescue is also a bunch glass that forms attractive mounds and swirls, much like a turbulent pond. It’s green. A very interesting variation of sheep fescue is blue fescue (festuca ovina var. glauca.) It is distinctly blue and is best planted in plugs. Its uses are in edging and plots and even randomly scattered.
Creeping red fescue (Festuca rubra) is not a bunch grass, but a turf grass which spreads by seeds and rhizomes. It tolerates shade. If left to grow, it forms, as does the sheep fescue, whorls and cowlicks which are far more attractive that the usual military buzz cut from which front lawns suffer.
There you have it: more interestingly beautiful lawns on less water, less work, and at less expense. Less is more, go indigenous!
Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2010
Friday, September 17, 2010
GARDENING WITHOUT ADULT SUPERVISION
The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D
It all began when “Jimmy went crazy,” as Nancy De Blois describes it. To be sure, there was a garden in their backyard before Jimmy took leave of his senses. It was un jardin ordinaire, unconventional, mind you, a haphazard affair, just what one might expect from a differently wired couple. You see, Jimmy’s a well-known musician and performance artist, and Nancy, just as well-known, is an artist who fashions eye-catching mannequins and creates intricate luminaries, those lanterns designed to beckon a visit from the Christ Child at Christmas. To be sure, there were tomatoes and flowers, a circle with chairs and a table, and various things hanging from the limbs of old trees, but nothing to mark it as un jardin extraorinaire.
That is until Jimmy had his vision. It was no grand design accompanied by fiat, “let it be done,” but a vision evolving from looking at fifteen foot high metal leaf. From that a garden began to unfold, an evolution in which one thing led to another as though it were a garden fashioned without adult supervision.
Before we proceed much further, we have to understand that Jimmy and Nancy, as grassroots sustainers and renewers, create out of that which other people have cast-off and rejected, the new out of the old. With the exception of one or two items, everything else in their backyard is either a throw-away or a reject.
They had picked up the begetting leaf at ERIC’S. Now, don’t ask why they would buy a rusty fifteen foot steel leaf. That would require a study into the whirly-gig minds of people who’ve tipped over from conventionality into creativity. At any rate, it was leaning against the trunk on an elm tree when he awakened out of his dogmatic slumbers to creatio ex purgamentum (create out of cast-offs.) He set about removing the rust after which Nancy painted in the veins, and then he attached a Noah’s Ark of refrigerator magnets of various creatures both great and small with sharks at the base. Setting in his “garden theater” are figures of deer from Las Vegas, masks, female figures topped with military helmets, and pots and plants.
Once he had fashioned his masterpiece, he had to create a fetching path from the front yard to the back which he lined in ground with old-fashioned glass insulators from a telephone line which had been strung from Seligman to Lake Catherine, California, in 1929.
As the path rounds the corner into the backyard, it bifurcates into a short path that leads into a delightful, covered patio with chairs, table, and fire pit, surrounded by a low wall topped with containers of flowers and vegetables. These are largely Nancy’s doing. At the divergence are large containers of various types of tomatoes on some kind of jerry-rigged irrigation and fertilization system.
The other path, “less traveled by,” leads to Nancy’s studio past a huge dead tree trunk about twelve feet high with a mannequin perched in the tree’s crook. The dead tree trunk marks a point of privacy beyond which is the door into Nancy’s studio on the one side of the path and a large flower bed on the other. Nancy often sits outside the door creating her intricately beautiful luminaries out of discarded tin cans of various shapes and sizes while listening to classical music. Listening to a Strauss waltz, she felt she was dancing with the asters and cosmos as they swayed to the wind.
Her studio is a wonderland of mannequins, all shapes and sizes, all sexual persuasions, in various states of repair and renewal. Nancy is one of a select group of artists who repair and renew mannequins.
Jimmy’s favorite haunt is the patio where he can play his classical guitar while watching the ants scurry along the patio’s floor made of tiles from a closed-out retailer.
Not only are Jimmy and Nancy beguiling artists and conscientious custodians of the earth, they are also custodians of people. Nancy recently gave a kidney to her sister.
As Paul Jones, the city planner and educator, said, “This is the most creative garden in Flagstaff,” un jardin extraordinaire.
Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2010
Tuesday, August 31, 2010
The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (8/30/10)
NormaLee Roudebush, a third generation Arizona wrangler, following her father, spent her early years breeding, breaking, and training horses, including thoroughbreds, in the Valley of the Sun. She got her start gentling an Appaloosa, but only after being thrown three times. “True grit,” or as the Prayer Book reads, she “perseveres therein to the end.” As a single mother she raised three children and collected two master’s degrees along the way in sociology and education. She came to the High Country when the ranches, fields, and groves of her childhood were turned to asphalt and concrete.
In other words, she’s a tough as nails, wearing the sobriquet, “desert rat” with pride. She’s also kind, tender, warm-hearted, and thoughtful. Walking the halls of Kinsey School, children wave at her, greet her by name, and run over to hug her. They’re all her helpers.
NormaLee’s not only the head honcho of the garden at Kinsey School, she’s also the only honcho. Having finished the Master Gardener Class, she decided to fulfill her volunteer hours creating a garden at the school where she is a substitute teacher. Starting out with hard scrabble, much of it detritus or debris, between two long rows of classrooms, she’s developing a flower and vegetable garden for the school children. The land lies on a slope and is subject to flooding during the monsoons which means mini-gully washers. However, she is indefatigable, this wrangler of yore, going back after every washout, restoring the beds and plants, resulting in a garden of small paths ambling up a slope amidst vegetables and flowers.
She began terracing, using old railroad ties she’d scrounged here and there. As with a lot of gardeners, she’s a scavenger, never throwing anything away and always on the lookout for stuff someone else has thrown away. She started creating soil out of the ground, best described as loose material, hauling out the big rocks to make a teaching circle for the children and then turning compost and organic matter into the remaining loose material, creating soil.
She’s also a finagler, having taken a grant for one project and extending it into three projects by means too complex for ordinary comprehension.
Wall-Mart, Warner’s, the School District, and the City all pitched in, giving her equipment, a composter, tools, and a shed. Also, she has the warm support of the teachers and staff at Kinsey, particularly the principal, Carolyn Hardy. However, she needs more help in funds, material, and sweat equity. Call (928) 773-4060 and leave a message.
In addition to being a wrangler, gardener, teacher, and mother, she’s also a volunteer landscaper at Kinsey School which is how she found herself digging in the schools’ dirt. She saw the need for a teaching garden. Her motivation is providing a garden in which the children, accustomed to concrete, asphalt, junk food, and packaged goods, can dig in the soil, letting it run through the fingers, rubbing a basil leaf in their fingers and smelling the aroma, eating a tomato off the vine, and picking a squash. In an age of electronics, cell phones, computers, iPods, and texting, grounding children to the ground may be one of the most crucial educational tasks.
Perhaps, even more important than connecting with the ground is teaching the children by example the process of creation, how to make something. Most children know how to use things, even use them up, but not much in how to create things, to have a vision and accomplish it. Everyday the children at Kinsey School can look out of their class room windows and see NormaLee fulfilling her vision of the creation, even helping her. It may not be ex nihilo, as did the Lord God in the creation, but certainly wrangling soil out of left-over dirt, making the earth bloom, creating life out of that which was rejected.
She does this, for those who are hale and hearty, with a bad back, wresting from the mute, dumb earth a garden that speaks to the children. The garden's metaphorical message is the meaning of beauty, food, creation, transformation, work, and in persevering “therein to the end.”
Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2010
Friday, August 27, 2010
A QUINTET OF GARDENS
The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (8/24/10)
Ann Marie Zeller’s garden is a quintet of gardens, each one playing off the others, elaborating variations on a theme, fuguing now and then to parts unknown, sometimes far from the beginning, and then returning to the beat and theme. A quintet is a conversation either amongst strings, winds, brass, or voices. It can be a conversation amongst friends or internally within ourselves amongst the various personae we’ve accumulated over a lifetime. In short, a quintet of gardens is the internal conversation within the gardener or, perhaps, within the gardener’s family.
The garden facing the street, the presenting self, as the shrinks like to say, is the garden that visitors first see, the one that Ann Marie first developed. Somewhat of a fairie garden, its tiny steps and flowering chives lining a narrow path pass under a huge, overhanging pine tree into the back yard. A feminine yard of yarrow and columbine, it welcomes the visitor in a fine lyric soprano, such as Dame Kiri Te Kanawa singing “Come to the Fair,” floating over the path, beguiling the visitor farther into the garden.
But there it ends. Once around the corner in the line of sight
is the wild side garden straight up a steep embankment where the treading is uncertain and the discoveries are those of an abandoned forest, pine, sumac, Gambel oak, tufts of grass, and drifts of this and that. Anne Marie’s daughters hide out in the wild side garden when they want to be rid of boring, responsible adults which means that it’s a garden with hormones out of kilter. It’s a garden of giggles, screams, shrieks, growls, and howls, especially in the dark of night, with the voice of a throaty cabaret contralto, a Tallulah Bankhead voice, trained on alcohol, tobacco, and drugs, beckoning the unaware out of their comfort zones into hidden but forbidden delights.
Smack dab next to the wild side is the stable side, a back yard that looks like what a back yard should look like with a strong baritone voice, something like Thomas Lampson, belting out, “God Bless America.” A proper backyard has to have a lawn, a big expanse of green grass on which children can roll and tumble, games can be played, and dogs can run in circles leaving a few yellow spots here and there. It is a backyard for an old-fashioned 4th of July picnic with Old Glory flying high, hot dogs and hamburgers, sack races, well-worn war stories, and some ruffles and flourishes.
Such a yard gives a sense of stability amidst the swirl of life’s conflict and demands, a refuge of comfort. Maple and fir trees form a backdrop while bearded irises, blanket flowers, yarrow, California poppies, red hot pokers, and lilies border the lawn. Over in a corner next to the house and the wild side are a fire pit, table and chairs, and an outdoor grill sheltered under a canvas canopy.
Literally, there’s a garden’s gate leading from the comfort zone into a garden of organized chaos, a place of vegetables, vines, fruits, a place of burgeoning life and fruition. There are no straight lines, but rather a meandering path amidst a cornucopia of goodness, a tomato plant here and there, a couple of artichoke plants, climbing grape vines, some towering dill, raspberries, huckleberries, mint, lavender, anything that can be eaten. One half expects to see a full-figured Mother Nature standing somewhere amidst the bounty holding out her apron, filled with the fruits of the earth. The only voice possible is a rich, lush contralto, a Marian Anderson singing a Negro spiritual out of the depths of a black American’s experience of the gospel.
Finally, a very small garden on the side of the house with chairs facing a lattice filled with sweet peas, a place of quiet contentment. A place to listen to the three tenors, Plácido Domingo, José Carreras, and Luciano Pavarotti sing “O Sole Mio,” “What a beautiful thing is a sunny day.”
Anne Marie’s garden was one of the two winning gardens in the 2010 Flagstaff Garden Competition. She enjoys visitors, but call ahead.
Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2010
Photographs courtesy of Tom Bean.