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