Wednesday, May 27, 2015


The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (5/30/2015)


Dear Garden Optimist: 

I’m really pissed off about the stuff that falls on my garden, leaves in the fall, pine needles in the spring.  Just after I rake up the pine needles, weeds begin popping up.  They piss me off.  It’s not just one weed, it’s a whole gang of weeds that pop up one after another, starting in the spring right through to fall.  I can predict the buggers.  How can I be an optimistic gardener with dropping leaves, falling pine needles, and those damned weeds?  And then there’s that yellow gunk?  Stuffs up my head.  Hell, it’s like my highfalutin daughter, changing clothes and make-up three times a day.  I just don’t know what this world is coming to.


Dear Pissed Off:

It’s hard to tell what the world’s coming to: big bang, fizzling out, or Second Coming.  If we knew the future, we’d probably go into a deep funk.

Sounds like you’re pissed at your highfalutin daughter and are taking it out on your garden.  As for your highfalutin daughter, I’m mute, having a wife, a daughter, and a granddaughter.  If Freud didn’t know what women want, he’d be bamboozled by teenage daughters.  Between pine needles, leaves, weeds, and your daughter, it’s no wonder you’re dyspeptic.


Dear Garden Optimist:

          Now, don’t go giving me a lot of that head shrinky stuff about my daughter and women.  I want to know about pine needles, leaves, and weeds.  


Dear Pissed Off:

Okay. As for the pine needles and leaves, I assume you change clothes at night and in the morning.        

The needles and leaves are nature changing clothes, only it just drops them on the floor for gardeners to rake up.  That yellow gunk is a sign of new growth.  It’s called candling.  I hope you’re not some kind of primitive who doesn’t pick up after himself.  I knew a guy once who thought that picking up clothes was a woman’s job because his mother did it.  He’d been married and divorced seven times, and when I knew him, he lived in a hovel by himself.

Fundamentally, gardening is yin yang.  For every up, there’s a down, so stop griping.  If there weren’t any falling pine needles and leaves, the trees would be dead.  It’s important during those times to remember yin times, freshly picked tomatoes while you’re extracting a pine needle from your under your finger nail.  Carl Jung said, “Everyone carries a shadow.”  Raking leaves and pine needles and picking weeds is the shadow side of gardening. 


Dear Garden Optimist:

Okay. I get the ying yan idea.  Leaves and pine needles I can take, but it’s those damned weeds.  I’d swear there’s a weed of the week, starting in the middle of March right through to Thanksgiving.  You sound like one of them believers.  My daughter calls God a She.  What’s this world coming to?


Dear Pissed Off:


          God is more complex than He or She and certainly more than It, as the secular flatliners would have it.  When Moses asked God what He was like, God replied, “I Am.”     

          Alert gardeners use leaves for mulch and their composters.  Pine needles can be ground up and used for mulch and for paths.

          As for weeds, one man’s meat is another man’s poison.  Some people like dandelions.  Weeds are plants you don’t want.  Pick weeds early before they go to seed.  In the meantime, thank God you can pull weeds, rake pine needles, and smell fallen leaves.  It means you’re alive which, as Maurice Chevalier said, is a lot better than the alternative.  Also, enjoy you highfalutin daughter while she’s home.  She’ll be gone all too soon.

Copyright © Dana Prom Smith

Dana Prom Smith and Freddi Steele edit Gardening Etcetera for the Arizona Daily Sun.  Smith emails at and blogs at



Tuesday, May 05, 2015


The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (5/9/2015)

          Chheten Tamang was raised and lived as a young adult in a village of five or six rock houses in the Langtang Valley at about 12,500 feet in the Himalayan Mountains of Nepal.  Her ancestors were Tibetans who had crossed the mountains and settled in Nepal.  They had no written language.  When she came to America, she couldn’t read or write.  She didn’t know our Arabic numeral system, making it impossible for her to add and subtract, much less multiply and divide.


In Nepal she was a farmer, growing potatoes, barley, buckwheat, and vegetables, such as cabbage.  She was also a sometime porter for Himalayan expeditions, carrying one hundred pound packs for fifty cents a day, shod only in flip-flops (called Chinese sandals in Nepal) over ice-covered rivers.  Her father herded yaks in the meadows high above her village.  Her uncle wove woolen rugs, using the yak’s wool.  Her life was hard, simple, and rewarding.


With her son, Nirmal, she came to the United States as the wife of Wayne Gramzinski to visit his family and decided to stay, living in Flagstaff.  She is a remarkable woman, strong, intelligent, and affectionate.  Through The Literacy Center, Lori Crowe and I worked together with her for almost six years, teaching her American customs, reading and writing the English language, and mathematics.  Indeed, she has written several articles for this column.  For Lori and me, it has been immensely rewarding, chiefly because she’s such a wonderful woman.  Also, we have been beguiled by her Nepalese culture and family.  It has been almost as though we were cultural midwives giving birth to an American while keeping her roots high in the Himalayan Mountains.


          She can now read and write English, sometimes with unusual grammar, and with Lori’s tutoring she is beginning to master the basic elements of mathematics.  She has obtained a driver’s license and is working toward her citizenship.  She is the kind of person who will make an outstanding citizen, hardworking, intelligent, and ambitious.  It was almost as though she were on the cusp of finding her way to success, working and saving to send money back to help her family in Nepal.  With the help of friends, she funded the construction of the first bathroom in her village with running water, shower, and flush toilet for the villagers and passing trekkers.  Her brother was the builder.  She even dreamt of taking and passing the GED so that she could get better jobs.


          Then the earthquake struck Nepal, wiping out her village in the stroke of a landslide and killing most of her family and friends.  One of her sisters and her sister’s husband were killed in that landslide, leaving their children orphaned.  Chheten and Wayne hope to adopt those orphaned children and bring them to America, but there many more orphaned children in her extended family that need care.  These children were in boarding schools in Kathmandu when the earthquake struck, and now they have no homes and no parents to whom they can return.  It is almost as though they were lost in space.


          Chheten’s sorrow is so deep that it seems without bottom, unfathomable, too deep for words.  A once vital woman is now bent with sorrow.  She’s not merely grateful to be alive.  As a means of assuaging her grief, she wants to help what remains of her family and the survivors from her village.  The village will be no more.  Her father’s herd of yaks was wiped out, annihilated.   Thomas Wolf wrote, You Can’t Go Home Again.


          What remains is Chheten’s will.  She and Wayne own a house in Kathmandu which survived the earthquake because it was built with concrete and steel re-enforcing rods.  They want to add to it to make it into a hostel for those lost children with house mothers and fathers from the surviving adults of her family.


          One of the great cultural values Lori and I have learned from Chheten is the family, the sense of familial solidarity.  She and Wayne need our help so that she can care for her family.  She can be reached at (928) 266-0180.   

Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2015


Dana Prom Smith and Freddi Steele edit Gardening Etcetera for the Arizona Daily Sun.  Smith emails at and blogs at