Tuesday, July 24, 2012


The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (7/24/2012)

Manager’s Specials are often chancy. I bought a Manager’s Special filet of salmon at the supermarket. I took it home into the kitchen along with seven packages of groceries just as meine ┼░berfrau was getting everything on the table for our evening dinner. It became one of our occasional arsenic hours. Gretchen’s bling snapped, crackled, and popped.

She said, “What’s the matter with you? Can’t you see I’m getting dinner on the table? Besides, that fish stinks. What on earth possessed you to pay good money for that? Get it out of here. Take it back.”

Gretchen’s noble nose is a fine smeller. Although my eyesight is holding firm, my ears and nose have lost acuity as well as my tongue. Even extra sharp, aged, Vermont cheddar cheese seems mild nowadays. I didn’t know the fish stunk and dutifully returned it the next day, getting a refund. On return, she admonished me, “Always smell the fish before you buy it.”

Such a thing as smelling the fish isn't always easy with commercial nurseries because, most of the time, a gardener doesn’t find out that a plant stinks until a year or so after it’s planted, and then it’s too late to get a refund. The chances are if the gardener returns the stinky plant, he or she will get a lecture on too much or too little water, too much or too little fertilizer, wrong kind of fertilizer, wrong microclimate, neglect, et ad nauseam et ridiculum. This means that the gardener is either guilty or stupid for ineptly caring for a stinky plant. Smart gardeners do research on a plant’s stinkability before laying down their good money. In terms of horticulture, smelling the fish means checking out the plant for zone 5. While commercial nurseries may dispense reliable information, it’s important to remember Caveat Emptor (Let the buyer beware!). As our late President Ronald Reagan said, “Trust and verify.”  Even citizens want to know whether or not a politician's tax returns stink.

One caution: what works in another clime doesn’t mean that it will work in Flagstaff. A favorite tree of my childhood was the California sycamore. I did the research, and the likelihood of its surviving a Flagstaff winter is next to nil, so I’ll just have to drive down 89A in Oak Creek Canyon to Sedona to get a whiff of yesteryear’s tree plus having lunch. It’s important to know when you can’t do something. I can still dance the fox trot, but forget the flamenco. I tried it once and got a headache.

Anyone who has spent a year in the high country knows that hardiness is required of both humans and plants not only to survive but also prevail.

Generally speaking, there are three kinds of plants that do well in the high country: noxious weeds, natives, and adaptables. Noxious weeds stink and should be eliminated. They tend to prosper in adverse conditions. Some weeds are beautiful, taking some gardeners in, such as the Dalmatian toadflax (Linaria dalmatica.) Like a lot of beauties, they mess things up. It’s best to check out a noxious weed list with pictures on the internet. See: http://cals.arizona.edu/pubs/natresources/az1482.pdf.

A few natives aren’t always comely. Newcomers sometimes mistake them for weeds. However, many of them are quite beautiful, and since they’re native, they’re hardy. An excellent resource is Busco and Morin’s Native Plants for High-Elevation Gardens. The longer I’ve lived in Flagstaff, the more I’ve gone native. It’s just smart gardening.

The next are the adaptables, non-native plants that will thrive in Flagstaff but won’t overwhelm the natives and screw up the flora of the high country. Oregon grape holly (Mahonia aquifolium) is a good example of an adaptable. I’ve had mine for eight years. They’re very attractive year around and haven’t tried to take over the garden.

Three good resources to find plants that don’t stink in the high country are: http://davesgarden.com/guides/pf/zipbyzip.php?zip=86004, http://cals.arizona.edu/pubs/garden/az/1256.pdf., and http://cals.arizona.edu/pubs/garden/az1255.pdf.

Of course, there are no guarantees in gardening but research helps in smart gardening, and smart gardening is more likely to produce successful gardening. Ask veteran gardeners.  Check with county extension.  Smell that plant. Sniff around the Internet.

Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2012

Dana Prom Smith along with Freddi Steele edits Gardening Etcetera for the Arizona Daily Sun in which this article appeared on 9/8/2012.  He emails at stpauls@npgcable.com.

Sunday, July 22, 2012


Chheten Tamang

My sister in Nepal had a traditional wedding. She was promised in marriage to Mingmar, a boy in our village. He was rich and a hard worker who owned lots of land. He was a farmer who grew potatoes, barley, buckwheat, and vegetables. His family had fifty yaks.

My father had 35 yaks. My parents wanted their daughter and their grandchildren to be nearby in their old age. They wanted family members around them, especially when they were too old to take care of themselves.

My parents and the boy’s parents sat on the floor around a fire pit drinking rice beer. At first my sister, Sondin, said “No.” She didn’t like this 24 year old young man. I think she had her own boyfriend. My sister cried, and I was upset because I didn’t like arranged marriages.

Both families agreed on a wedding date which was to be five months later. The man’s family has to buy the dress by custom. It was Korean material, silk Tibetan style chuba. They also had to buy a set of pure gold earrings. They were very heavy.

Both families prepared the food. It was rice, rice buckwheat bread, Tibetan tea, curried potatoes, and fried yak meat. There was no wedding cake, but they had many bottles of raksi which is a distilled rice beer. It is called chang wine. It is not so strong.

My sister wasn’t happy. She couldn’t marry the boy she loved, and she had to marry the guy she didn’t know. She didn’t want to go to bed with him, and she hit him with a spatula. There was no honeymoon, only miserable time.

The unhappiness lasted about a year. Then she began to trust the opinions of her parents and the lamas. All of my relatives in the village approved. After a year she decided to accept my mother’s wishes. My father did not have any say so in the matter. He just watched and herded his yaks.

My sister and her husband now have three children, and they are in a boarding school in Kathmandu. They are planning to build a small hotel for tourists.

My other sister, the youngest, is named Tshering. She objected and married the boy she loved. She did not listen to anybody, especially her mother. Her husband, Pasang, was lazy and drunk and did not provide for my sister and their two boys. In addition to the little money her husband made she depended on relatives for clothing, shelter, and food. She was unhappy, and both of them drank a lot.

My sister had bad headaches, and when I was visiting, I took her to the hospital in Kathmandu. The doctors found that a bone in her back was cracked and begun to rot. The doctors gave her medicines to cure the rot.

Her son, Chimbel, his body began to swell. He had fevers and cried at night. I told my sister to take him to the hospital in Kathmandu. He didn’t get any better so they took him to the holy man, Rinpoche, to seek his blessing. He threw the dice. He told the boy his fortune.

Then he told them to buy white rice flour and water buffalo milk and red tika powder. Then my sister sprinkled them all around the pool of water surrounding the Budhanilkantha (Vishnu lying down). Next she wiped the powder from the Buddha and swathed her son with the powder. The boy stopped crying right away. Her son’s swelling went down. Then they went home, and the boy is fine.

I first met my husband, Wayne, when he was looking for my cousin. He had met my cousin the year before. He had taken photographs of my younger brother and sister, and he was giving them pictures. My brother brought him to our house to meet my mother. We offered him a cup of tea. He gave us his email address, but we didn’t know what to do with it.

He came back many times and asked me to marry him. We went to Katmandhu to get married. It was for love.

Chheten Tamang is a learner at The Literacy Center where Loni Crowe and Dana Prom Smith are her tutors, teaching her to read and write. Although she speaks several languages, she never learned to read and write. Dana Prom Smith along with Freddi Steele as his associate edits GARDENING ETCETERA for the Arizona Daily Sun and emails at stpauls@npgcable.com. This article appeared in the AZDS 7/21/2012.

Sunday, July 08, 2012


Freddi Steele

Every fall my neighbors’ towering Lombardi poplars and quaking aspens shed thousands of leaves, golden streamers of the past summer. Before long mobs of these crispy botanical chips skitter over the asphalt, nestling against my perimeter butterfly bushes and forming silvery skirts around them. During the winter when a foot or two of snow compresses them, or the subfreezing nights harden them, I wonder what happens under the leaves – what new life is beginning there. This spring I decided to find out.

In April after most threats of frigid temperatures have passed, I performed the ritual of spring cleanup, curious about what surprises of nature awaited. Light on my feet and always wearing gloves, not because of an aversion to dirt or icky things, but because of what biting, pinching, or stinging denizen I might startle, I gently peeled back the sheets. The top stratum was dry and crunchy, having been exposed to the elements for several months. Arachnids inhabited this section, particularly immature harvestman (also known as daddy long-legs) and grass spiders, not yet full-size, and vagabonds without webs. Overwintering ladybugs were also found here, along with their alligator-shaped larvae on the hunt for aphids coating the upper stories of irises and salsify. The layer of leaves hugging the ground was decomposed, and in some sections skeletonized into transparent, leaf-shaped silhouettes. This zone was the most exciting as mobile flashes of rust and steel – young centipedes up to an inch long – scurried for deep cover to the butterfly bushes. Other creatures including earwigs and red wrigglers darted, dashed, or slithered every which way to escape my invasion. Somehow they all had shared space under the leaves. It is also here that I expected to encounter the shyest of the shy – black widow spiderlings cloaked in their youthful white and orange stripes. Another good reason for the gloves.

Under leaves falling next to their source plants, other fauna awaited my visit. Dozens of shiny black ants, approximately 3/8 of an inch long, raced away as I removed deposits of lambs’ ears turned to matted fluff over the winter. Sometimes this natural batting insulated an ant colony, which boiled out of the ground as the adults carried off their brood, and just as quickly vanished into the ground. As I ripped up the abundant shoots under the wild roses, I discovered something otherworldly causing me to leap back in alarm. It was a delicate 1-1/2 inch long organic shell, with concentric rings traced around the abdomen - the molt of a hornet, perhaps from the one that had been buzzing me and the flowering white yarrow for the last week or so. Tiny green and yellow crab spiders, also known as flower spiders, rappelled around the wild rose canes out of harm’s way, alternatingly flexing their “claws” and tucking into petite green and yellow spheres underneath the roses’ bright green growth. They were undoubtedly waiting for flowers to bloom in order to ambush pollinators. Other insects sighted nearby and given a wide berth, included a paper wasp resting on its new nest at ankle level, and a red velvet ant evading the commotion caused by myself and the budding naturalists next door.

Spring happened a lot faster than my spring cleanup efforts. Grasses grew up to six inches a week, overtaking my efforts to have a beautiful and interesting landscape. I sped up my yard work, gently shaking the litter to return its residents to their origins before hauling it to the backyard compost bins. Only bindweed, dalmatian toadflax, and cheat grass were exempted from composting because of their tendency to outgrow and overwhelm native flora.

The shelter provided by the decomposing leaves of our high country’s deciduous trees acts as a nursery for immature insects and spiders. Often beneficial, and usually later found in the garden, these creatures require surroundings that mitigate our temperature extremes and provide protection from predators until they can appear in the open with a fighting chance. Given all that happens under the leaves we may not look at that yard debris in quite the same way.

Freddi Steele is a Master Gardener and a former naturalist with the National Park Service. This article was published in the column GARDENING ETCETERA in the Arizona Daily Sun 7/7/12.  Dana Prom Smith edits GARDENING ETCETERA. His email address is stpauls@npgcable.com.