Saturday, June 26, 2010


The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (6/25/10)

Dirt is destiny. There is no nonsense about free-will when it comes to dirt. The French philosophers and litterateurs call it a donnée, a given, a brute fact. Free-will isn’t so much a fluttering around in the atmosphere of life, as a finch on the wing, as it’s our response to destiny, such as being born male or female in a certain family of a certain culture.

Some respond whining and complaining, some rebel, some make the best of it, and, sadly, some dither. Making the best of our soil means adding to it. In the High Country, our données are clay and volcanic debris, especially cinders.

Now, destiny isn’t determinism, the folly of a tidy rationalistic science, such as sociology or psychology, based on the metaphor of the machine with no sense of chaos.

There are three types of soil, clay, sand, and silt. Clay is the smallest particle, and, consequently, sticks together like glue but holds the moisture, hence pots when the moisture is cooked out. Sand is the biggest, really tiny rocks, and, consequently, the loosest and acts like a sieve to water. Silt is the best. It’s dirt washed down from the mountains into alluvial slopes and deltas. Silt contains all the nutrients accumulated on its trips down the mountains and rivers. Also, it is the easiest to work. We don’t have much silt in the High Country. It’s all been washed down to the Verde Valley and the Valley of the Sun.

We don’t have much sand, either, but we have something like sand which is much better, volcanic cinders. So, the thing we sometimes curse is a beneficence, a good thing, jammed with nutrients, erupting from the earth’s cauldron.

So, we have a gardener’s nightmare, clay and volcanic cinders, sans silt and sand, until one makes the best of dirt’s destiny. This may be why so many people living in the High Country are afflicted with back thumb disease. They dither or curse, neither of which is conducive to successful living, much less gardening.

First, mix the clay with the cinders to loosen up the clay. The word is friable or easily crumbled, at the slightest touch falling apart and flowing through the fingers. Now, some commercial establishments sell volcanic cinders with the undigested lava lumps removed, but the fact is that it’s for the pickings all over the place. Just don’t take your shovel and bucket into a National Park or Monument. Violation of Federal Statute. Surprisingly, some agricultural organizations as far away as Tucson come up to the High Country to fetch our cinders to enrich their soil, at least that’s what William Auberle, wit, bon vivant, ranconteur, boulevardier, man about town, and professor of sustainability at NAU, told me over canapés and wine at one of Harriet Young’s fabulous fētes galantes. All the while, our horticultural treasure has been underfoot.

Our dirt lacks another thing common to rich soil, organic matter, so we have to add it. Now, the fact is that we have organic matter all over the place, but it’s on top of the soil, not in it. Pine needles take a long time to break down into useful organic matter, but animal manure doesn’t. Don’t use the manure of domesticated carnivores, humans, dogs, and cats, because they might pass along microbiological nasties into the soil.

Of course, composting is the premier method of introducing organic matter to the soil. A surprising fact: organic matter aids in releasing the nutrients in cinders. Get a bin, add organic matter in a 3 to 1 ratio of carbon matter to nitrogen material, brown to green, and mix. Watch it cook, and when done, serve cold. Sometimes, in a moment of sloth, burying it will do. Just clear away some dirt, lay down torn up newspapers, kitchen scraps, coffee grounds and tea leaves, horse and steer manure, beer mash, and biodegradable refuse, and then cover it with lots of dirt and wait a couple of months or over the winter. Eureka! Arcady!

Ah! Destiny! It’s what you make of it!

Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2010

Friday, June 18, 2010

The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (6/19/10)

Reflecting the apocalyptic tenor of the times, Stephen Hawking, the British theoretical physicist, claims that space aliens someday might raid the earth for its resources. “We only have to look at ourselves to see how intelligent life might develop into something we wouldn’t want to meet. I imagine they might exist in massive ships, having used up all the resources from their home planet. Such advanced aliens would perhaps become nomads, looking to conquer and colonise whatever planets they can reach.”

He concludes that trying to make contact with alien races is “a little too risky”. He said: “If aliens ever visit us, I think the outcome would be much as when Christopher Columbus first landed in America, which didn’t turn out very well for the Native Americans.” He could’ve sited the arrival of British Petroleum in the Gulf of Mexico.

If we want to get ready for hostile space aliens, who according to Dr. Hawking’s 17th century Calvinism are as totally depraved as are we, then it behooves us to check out where they’ve landed before. Roswell, New Mexico, comes to mind where an unemployed ranch hand reported a sighting, or Phoenix, Arizona, where the witness was a scandal-haunted politician wanting to divert attention from himself. UFO landing fields have been dismal, either out in the middle of a desiccated nowhere or a smog-enshrouded urban bleak-scape. Indeed, some yards in Flagstaff are ripe for a UFO landing, bare, dusty, and scrubby, home to weeds and gravel.

I can’t recall a UFO sighting in such places as the famed Butchart Gardens in British Columbia, Canada, or any other places of beauty. Apparently, the best way to avoid a celestial Armageddon is to develop a beautiful garden. Space aliens don’t like beauty. As a side benefit, beautiful gardens will help prevent the eco-apocalypse predicted by horticultural doomsayers.

The first thing about a beautiful garden is design, and the first thing about design is tantalization. While there are straight lines in the creation, such as crystals, most are curved with a sense of wandering, like streams. Skyscrapers, flood control channels, and bowling alleys are all dreary straight lines. A curved line is far more beguiling, leading the eye around the next bend in the road.

The curved line is a symbol of potential power while the straight line is a symbol of power spent, just as a cocked arm is filled with potential power while the arm thrust is power spent, and, thus, impotent. In addition, to being far more attractive, the curved life is a symbol of potential power, the straight line being ho-hum and spent. There are no surprises in straight lines. They’re about as charming as a wagon rut. A meandering stream beckons the imagination.

If a garden is to offer relaxation and safety, it must tantalize the mind. There is not such thing as a relaxed boredom. Indeed, boredom is stressful and agitating and a prelude to the apocalypse because boredom promises no future, and a world without a future is an apocalypse. Life without mystery is life at an end.

A garden also is expression of life which is begotten in a fusion of water, soil, and sun. As Dr. Hocking suggests, the marauding space aliens are after resources, such as coal and oil, not life. Plunderers, like British Petroleum, are not creators.

The charm of a garden is in the textures and colors of plants and grasses, trees with various types of bark, shrubs with differing shapes, and flowers and leaves with appealing shapes and colors. In other words, the charm of a garden is random, verging on chaos, yet held together by a design rooted in mystery, the line leading the mind’s eye around the bend in the road.

A space alien bent on plunder wouldn’t look for mineral resources in a garden but for a bleak-scape of gravel and weeds or a desiccated no-man’s-land of asphalt and concrete. So, make a resolution when the spring thaw arrives to get out the shovel and turn some compost into the soil. Beat the Apocalypse and have a Happy New Year!

Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2010

Tuesday, June 15, 2010


Tam T. Nguyen

My Dad grew two kinds of coffee tree: coffea arabica and a liberica. Growing them was so exciting. My Dad sowed the seeds by himself. He made organic natural soil in the small container, and he put the seeds in. It is kind of easy! He told me: “You have to look to chose the right seeds by putting them in the water. If they are floating on the water, they will be not good seeds. Also take care of the moisture of the soil and seeds during time germination and growth of the beans. He showed me the seed coat, beginning stem reach to the sun, called hypocotyl, the first leaf opening to the sun, called cotyledons, and then foliage leaf. Seeing the first foliage leaf growing everyday about six months after he transplanted them to the garden. They cause magic for me to see all the tiny changes from the bean to the trees.

My Dad watered them at late night when the time drop off the temperature. We can save more water for them at night. All along the leaves need the water to help for photosynthesis, taking energy from the sun.

The coffee tree is big tree and height, too. They take long time before they have fruits, about three or four years. When they have the flowers bloom, they are so wonderful with the white colors and smell so sweet and heavy, like the jasmine. The coffee flowers self fertilized. They need the wind, but insects and bee help.

When the bees come up to collect the nectar to make honey, they built the nest at the branch of the tree. My Dad always come to next by, and sometime he left some sugar liquid for them. He told me, why he come near by many times to let them realize his smell. When he smoke them to collect the honey, they will not bite him. (It is smart. I thought about him).

I like the garden work. I help him to collect the dry branches for the cooking, to cut to make the shape of tree, and collected the fall leaves so fun. It smell so good when the weather changing. It is funnier when my friends, and I play the game hide and catch. I always climb so high. They rare to catch me until they had to yell that they lost and I climb down.

At the time I also learn the music of the trees with my Dad. The light comes up and go the through the tree. The light makes the mysterious because whenever the wind go by, it make the leaves moving, and he showed me the shade of the tree changed. He called them the arts of music. After therains, we see the different with the early morning sunlight. The melody of light change all day long.

Way back then, we live in small village so I do not have chance to hear the singer or see the music show much. All the feeling I have for music which one he taught me. The music for him is the sounds of wind, the color of sunlight, the smell of flowers bloom.

He also good at the homemade coffee bean. The fox eat coffee berry, but the coffee bean go through the digester of the fox. The fox like the sweetness but leave the bean. He collected them to make coffee bean. If he does not collect enough, he have choose by himself with really good quality fruit. The colors of fruits change from the green, yellow, red, and when they really right, they have really dark red. So he collect all of the fruit dark colors and big bean. He break the skin so carefully, take off the layers, first pulp and pectin (what the fox like), then remove the hull and epidermis and finally the bean. Then he mix them with the butter, wine, and salt quite awhile. It simple as the job for all of farmer. Other than that he taught me to be passionate about the music of the sunlight!

Tam Nguyen is a student at the Literacy Volunteers of Coconino County where Dr. Smith is her tutor.


The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (6/12/10)

I knew Galen Guerrette was a serious gardener when I felt the crunch of egg shells underfoot as I walked through his garden. They’re the mark of a true gardener, not just some horticultural fashionista screening compost to get rid of its undigested leavings. Gardening isn’t for the tidily sterile but those who embrace rotting and decomposition. Trees are nourished, amongst other things, by the decomposition of their own fallen needles and leaves. Synthetic chemical fertilizers eventually turn the soil sterile by salinization.

In addition to egg shells, Galen sports a black derby, as did the Sundance Kid, only smack dab in the middle of Doney Park. He claims his daughter finds them for him. No fashionably tattered, sweat-stained Stetson for him. I suspect that, quietly, he doesn’t give a damn what others think. Galen isn’t a noisy man.

Of French-Canadian ancestry, actually the Acadians of Longfellow’s poem, Evangeline, he was born in northern Maine’s potato country, raised in New Jersey, and served in the light motorized cavalry as mortar gunner in Vietnam for 1½ years. After his discharge, on the recommendation of a buddy in Vietnam from Yuma, he went west to Flagstaff to study geology with the help of the GI Bill at NAU.

After graduating but not finding employment as a geologist, he took up his father’s profession, contracting. It’s a conundrum whether he’s at heart a potato farmer, supporting himself and his family on the side as a contractor or a contractor, growing potatoes to remember his roots amongst northern Maine’s tubers. I suspect the former because his eyes twinkle when he points with pride to his potato beds. Self-identification isn’t so much a matter of time spent, but of devotion given.

A contractor’s dream, his garden is laid out in rectangles. Often called plots, he calls them cubicles. Scrap glass windows protect his cubicles on three sides. The east side is open. The prevailing wind is from the southwest. Wind is a factor in Doney Park.

Running alongside the cubicles is a water line to which he attaches both dripper and soaker lines depending upon the crop, drippers for squash and potatoes and soakers for asparagus, carrots, beans, beets, and greens. The soaker and dripper lines can be changed to rotate crops.

His soil is alkaline, mostly washed down from the mountains and cinder cones. He mixes vast amounts of compost and some sulphur to his soil which is composed of the ubiquitous volcanic cinders and red clay. Although he has a variety of vegetables, the apples of his eye are his pommes de terre. In the early spring, he digs several large holes, lays down some compost and dirt, sets out his potato seeds in a circle, and the covers them with more compost and dirt. As the potatoes sprout, he adds more compost and dirt, eventually ending up with a small mound while the potatoes develop below in the soft, fertile soil, creating a small backyard Acadia of his ancestry. First called Acadia by the explorer Verrazzanno, the land now called Nova Scotia reminded him the ancient Greek “idyllic land of fertile soil.”

As with many combat veterans, he doesn’t favor blood sports. He owns guns but doesn’t hunt. He’s even regrets killing the voles threatening his garden.

His wife, Andrea, his comrade in gardening arms, devotes her energies to a delightful flower garden in the front yard. For many years, she owned a private school, kindergarten through the 6th grade, called Carden of the Peaks. Both are Master Gardeners.

In addition to 35 years with his contracting business, GRC Construction and 15 years with her private school, Galen and Andrea have raised five children and have gathered 14 grandchildren. Swings Galen built for his children are now used by his grandchildren. Pictures of the whole gang are plastered all over a kitchen wall. But there’s more to Galen and Andrea. A bookcase jammed with books runs across one wall. In the dining room’s china cabinet, settings of English bone china and crystal stem ware betray a touch of elegance a few rods from horse barns and sweat stained Stetsons.

Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2010

Thursday, June 10, 2010


The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (6/10/10)

As an old friend of mine was being led away on a gurney for a cataract operation, the surgeon said, “You might see of bright light in the center of your field of vision.” My friend, a devout Roman Catholic, began chuckling, and the surgeon asked, “What’re you laughing at?” “Oh,” he replied, “do you mean that I might have a vision of God?” The surgeon replied, “Not in here you won’t.” After the operation, he said to the surgeon, “Well, I didn’t see God after all.” The surgeon said, “I should hope not.”

As Ecclesiastes reports, “For everything there is a season and a time, (3:1),” and being wheeled on a gurney into an operating room would seem an appropriate season for a vision of God.

My friend, a retired professor of philosophy, and I, an inveterate Calvinist, often have flourishing, non-polemical, theological conversations, because both of us know that we “see through a glass darkly,” to use Saint Paul’s phrase. It is important to know that one doesn’t know, that all of us live by assumptions and faith, and that we deal mostly with mystery which brings us to gardening.

Gardening, in many ways, is a journey into terra incognita, an actus fidei, to quote my friend. We may not know clearly where we’re going, but at least we’re on the way. As Abraham “went out, not knowing where was to go (Heb. 11:80)”, so, too, do gardeners. Sometimes things don’t work in the garden, and, then, there are those serendipitous accidents when plants thrive for reasons unknown to everyone. It’s called the unseen hand.

People often say, “I just can’t grow a thing. I must have a black thumb.” They tried, failed, and gave up. “O, ye of little faith.” There are many reasons for giving up, as in “a fool’s errand” and “a certain defeat,” but failure isn’t one of them. Sad to say, some failures are from ineptitude, as in not preparing, and, worse yet, some from sluggardliness and sloth.

For the sluggards, my aunt Emily, a myopic Fundamentalist with halitosis, was fond of quoting Proverbs 6:6 while poking me with her cane when she found me sleeping behind a giant eucalyptus tree, “Go to the ant thou sluggard; consider her ways and be wise.”

Gardening requires hard physical work, and if people are layabouts and laggards, they should own up to it instead of whining about having black thumbs. Several onerous activities, such as raking and gathering pine needles, shoveling compost into the soil, and picking weeds are part and parcel of gardening. A distinguished woman once asked me what she should do about her weeds. I replied, “Pick them,” to which she said, “Ugh!” Getting down and dirty on your knees is the heart of gardening and the prerequisite of beauty.

If we’re about to go out not knowing where we’re going, it’s best to take the proper equipment. As my grandfather, an oldtime mariner, was wont to say, “You’ll be needing a sextant, a compass, and a fathom line to make sure you’re beyond your depth.” While his milieu was the ocean, the gardener’s milieu, soil, needs to be deep as well, deep with organic matter and compost. The soil is the first item in the gardener’s equipment.

In addition to the standard tools, such as shovels, rakes, and hoes, water, as a tool, comes next after soil. Gardening occurs in that splendid fusion of water and soil, a fusion scarce in the universe, and a fusion in which human beings were first formed or from which they first emerged. Whatever came to pass, there would be nothing but desolation without that fusion.

The secret’s in managing that fusion. Many plants are killed or thwarted by too much or too little water and by hard soil devoid of organic matter. Plants are more likely to thrive in rich soil with the right amount of water. Mariners need an ocean. Gardeners need soil and water, and as mariners respect the deep, so gardeners respect the soil by enriching it, and water by using it wisely, so that the mystery may endure.

Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2010

Friday, June 04, 2010


The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (6/3/10)

Julia Child, the late mother goddess of home-cooked French cuisine suffered from cilantrophobia. She once told Larry King that cilantro and arugula "have kind of a dead taste to me." Indeed, if she ever found cilantro on her plate in a restaurant, she "would pick it out if I saw it and throw it on the floor."

While she may be right about arugula, there is a remedy for her cilantrophobia. The Oxford Companion to Food reports that the aroma of cilantro is comparable to “the smell of bug-infested bedclothes," an odor I recall creeping out of my straw-ticking mattress while tracking miscreants and saboteurs in the Alaskan wilderness. Other cilantrophobes compare the odor of cilantro to hand lotion or soap suds. Pliny the Younger (61 to 112 A.D.), a Roman Senator noted for his well-written letters, wrote that the word “coriandrum,” the seed of the cilantro plant, comes from the Greek word for bedbug, “koris.”

The culprit, according to The New York Times, is "modified fragments of fat molecules called aldehydes." These fat molecules are used in making soap, and many insects make them to attract or repel other creatures. Thus, cilantro’s smell is akin to the aroma of bedbugs in the throes of concupiscence, a thoroughly disagreeable association. But what to do? Chop the cilantro! Chopping the leaves allows the “leaf enzymes the chance to covert the aldehydes into other substances with no aroma."

Having cleared the stink hurdle, the next issue is growing cilantro, which is relatively easy in Flagstaff and the High Country because it’s a cool season herb which doesn't like high humidity. However, transplanting cilantro is a little chancy because of its long roots. Hence, buying cilantro plants at a commercial nursery may be a waste of money.

First off, cilantro can either be grown in a pot or a plot. If pots are used, they should be deep enough for its long roots. The pots should be about 18 inches wide and 10 inches deep and filled with potting soil and organic fertilizer. Before seeding, moisten the soil and then mix the seeds with some sand. After sowing the seeds, mist the soil. When the first cuttable leaves appear, cut only part of the crop, and then, rotating the pot, harvest another part of the crop each time cilantro is wanted, eventually going back to the first cutting. Don’t use pesticides!

Cilantro is a fast-grower so the tasty leaves aren't around very long before the plants go to seed. If a gardener wants a continuous crop of leaves and is planting in a plot, the seeds should be sown every few weeks for a continuous supply. The seeds should be sown about ¼ inch deep, a few inches apart in soft friable, well-composted soil, and watered regularly. The plants flourish best with morning sun and afternoon shade. They’re good companions for spinach, beans, and peas and repel both aphids and spider mites.

If they go to seed, the mature seed is called coriander and can be harvested and dried. Before they’re dried, the seeds have an unpleasant aroma, but, dried, the seeds have a lemony citrus flavor. So the cilantro or coriander plant produces both an herb in its leaves called cilantro and a spice in its seeds called coriander. So, cilantro’s good for salsa as well as pesto.

Pliny the Younger also wrote that coriandrum originated in Egypt which is confirmed by its presence in the tombs of the Pharaohs. The Scriptures in Exodus report that the coriander seed is similar in appearance to manna. Thus cilantro was used earlier than basil in Mediterranean cuisine.

Cilantro is good for the body as well as the palate. It helps with the pain of arthritis as an anti-inflammatory in addition to serving as an aid to digestion and as a carminative, releasing flatulence. The most surprising medicinal use is with heavy metals, such as mercury. The chemical compounds in cilantro bind with heavy metals, loosening them from the tissues, and releasing them through elimination. So, in addition to getting the gas out, eating cilantro gets the lead out.

Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2010