Friday, March 20, 2020

A different kind of garden dreaming

Where to even begin? It's March 2020 and the world is a different place, but the natural world moves on. The daphne is still blooming, the daffodils are going strong, and buds on everything are beginning to swell and open. Spring waits for no one. And it's such a respite right now. To see every small thing, to notice, to honor, to take a breath, and be grateful for this one, small moment. 

When we are living in a continuous wave of crashing news, pandemonium, fear and danger, the simplicity of what's right in front of us: our breath, our feet on the earth, the flowers or trees or birds, give us grounding. I've been going to our parks, forests, and neighborhood walks to find solace and to catch my breath. 

 My favorite tree is blooming. (oh who am I kidding? I have a million favorite trees, but this is a favorite. It has been cared for so well through the years. Thank you Gus, for taking care of your tree for all of us to enjoy it.) 

The forsythia holds and emits the morning light. 

And the 50+ crocus we planted in the grass are blooming their heads off. 

I've yet to dig into the garden in these past days (that feel like weeks and months): frozen in fear, dismay, and kept inside by housepainters working on the exterior of our house. But I'm not sure what I'm going to do this year in the garden. I know it's becoming a major focus, both because it's seasonally time for it to be, and because I need it right now. We need it. I garden for myself, my love, my neighbors, and for all who walk past it. It's a place to receive and to give. It's a place to connect with the earth, my spirit, and to practice loving kindness. And I know I'm writing again here. So hello again. Hello. 

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Caught up in the spring gardening frenzy?

You know you're caught up in the spring gardening frenzy and all of its focus and excitement, when the first thing you think as you see this beautiful photo of the King of Pop, Michael Jackson, is "What's that plant?"

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Why Eugene Schieffelin was a jerk

It's November and as the leaves fall from the Harlequin glorybower tree in our garden, the bright magenta calyxes and vivid turquoise berries become more apparent against the grey sky. They're pretty, but only stay so long now that the starlings have found them.

Flocks of these invasive dirty birds descend upon the tree, gobbling up their fading fall beauty, the last show of color in the garden for the year. I raise the window to shoo them off, hoping to keep the starlings at bay for a few days.

I usually welcome birds to the garden, putting out food and nectar to feed and attract songbird and hummingbirds. I've seen bright yellow chickadees, red breasted robins, Northern flickers and the resident blue jays, to name but a few.

The European Starlings are nasty, brutal birds, known to snatch songbirds and their babies, like cannibals and to bully birds out of their nests in hostile nest takeovers. Not native to the United States, starlings were brought here by Eugene Schieffelin when he released sixty of them in New York City's Central Park. It was part of his effort to introduce all of the birds mentioned in the plays of Shakespeare to the United States.

When I see the starlings devastating the beauty of my Harlequin glorybower tree, I throw up the windows and shout "dirty, dirty birds" and they fly away. What I should be shouting is "thanks for nothing, Eugene Schieffelin."

I've written a lot about these trees over the years. You can read more here and here and here too.  
You can read more about jerkface Shieffelin here

Monday, June 12, 2017

When someone is damaging your garden

She was the last person I expected. Someone was damaging our garden. Breaking off branches. Lopping off flower heads. Pulling plants out of the ground. And then leaving them on the sidewalk or on the ground to whither and die. I imagined it being done facetiously by kids passing by. Maybe showing off to their friends, or just being inconsiderate and always needing to touch things.

But I learned it wasn't kids. And it was being done with anger and maliciousness.

I'd been working in the garden on a hot summer morning when she walked by with her dog. A neighbor woman I didn't know by name, but I knew her dogs name and recognized her from her daily walks. Never friendly, I always take these ones as a good challenge. To engage, open up, and find a little common ground and break through a gruff exterior to the sweetness underneath. I waved and said good morning, pausing in the waist high flower bed I was in, weeding, welcoming the opportunity to stand up straight for a moment, stretch my back and squint into the sun towards her. "It's a jungle in there" she said. I didn't note any humor in her voice, but instead, disdain. I laughed and agreed, because I really love jungles, and living in one would be a dream. I offered that in the hot weather we were having (weather is always a good safe topic) it keeps our house nice and cool.  She scoffed a bit, and complained how hot her house is. I silently reminded myself her house is bare of trees and shrubs, but lots of asphalt parking and creosote timbers forming beds for strongly pruned hybrid tea roses. She continued on her walk and I returned to my work, bent over deep in my jungle, attempting to rid the flower bed of unwanted spindly weeds and grass.

A few weeks went by, and the damage to our street trees and plants along the sidewalk continued. It was frustrating. I wondered if pedestrians were being harassed by our plants, and took it upon myself to better prune and clean up along the walkways. We mowed, edged and blowed it clear. It cleaned up nice. It was nice before, in my opinion, but I wanted to be a good neighbor and make walking by good for everyone.

But then one day I heard it. The breaking off of branches in the garden. I caught my breath. This was the moment I'd catch the kids red handed. I'd march out there and give them a piece of my mind. Jerks. But then I saw her and her dog. The gruff neighbor who had scoffed at our jungle was the one doing the damage. I couldn't believe it. It was malicious and my hunch was right: it was being done on purpose. My heart sank a little. With sadness for what I thought was such a beautiful place, our garden, for all people to enjoy. It's a respite for wildlife, for visiting kids, and for us. And sadness for a person who walks this world with so much anger she rips at the things she passes. She wasn't a happy woman.

I was getting into my car the following week, and there she was on her walk with her dog. She saw me but pretended not to. I called out "hello there!" and waved, cheerily. She was forced to mumble something in return. I continued to engage with her. "We cleaned up the walkway really well over here! I hadn't realized it had become overgrown. And you know, I saw you the other day," I said to her. I imagined the blank stare coming my way from behind her sunglasses. I gestured to ripping and breaking while I continued, "I saw you breaking off our plants here in our garden, I want you to know I saw you, and I need to ask you to not do that again. If we need to prune things back, just let me know, but please stop it." She was dumbfounded. I smiled and wished her a good day as I got in the car. I meant it. I hoped she could find some beauty in her day, because her life must be pretty hard being angry all of the time. Can you imagine the dialogue that must go through her head? I wish her peace. The garden gives me enough of it to share with others, I'd just rather not do it through broken branches and lopped off flower heads, but instead through kindness, shared conversation, or a simple hello, neighbor.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

A gift the garden gave me today

I wrote a little something the other day to a friend, about the gifts the garden is giving this time of year.

 So much to be done. 
Having longer days, full of sunshine, to do it in.
It's coming alive, and so am I. I breathe deeply, hold, and exhale deeply.

If I do a long scan on the garden, the list of to-dos is endless. When I begin to pull weeds and unwanted seedlings (aren't unwanted seedlings weeds, et tu brute?) I can feel the anxiousness rise in my chest. My eyes dart a little further to the left and right, and the work is overwhelming. So much. How can I possibly get all of this done? In the past, I've just given up and walked away, telling myself my garden is a cottage garden, meant to be imperfect and flouncy. But that's giving in to it.

Yesterday I found myself head down in a bed full of weeds and errant tall grass (ugh!), and I talked myself down. "Stay in your lane, stay present, stay right here with only what's in front of you." And I smiled. These are life skills. When my workload is full, I stay with just one item on my list and focus only on that. And so it is in the garden. I stayed present. I smiled to myself. I only did what was immediately in front of me, and not with anxious frustration, but with gratitude for recognizing what was going on. The gift is to be present, right then and there. To rid just that 3x3 foot section of the numerous seeded daisies, grass and unnamed weeds (those ones with elastic roots). To feel the sunshine on my shoulders, the needed stretch in my tight lower back, and a life that affords me a work break to spend this time in the middle of the morning on a weekday in my garden. This gift was so much better than this morning's gift a stranger left in our parking strip: an overflowing dirty diaper.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

When karma delivers the unexpected

Two weeks ago one evening, AdRi jumped from her chair in the living room and out the front door. Two boys had ridden their bikes through our front garden, and not carefully, either. Of course they didn't stop when she called out to them, and the fritillaria that was preparing to bloom was toppled and smashed, plowed over by their flying-through-the-air BMX bikes. She brought in the blooms and they've been slowly opening in a vase on the kitchen counter.

Fast forward to last evening.

We were working in the garden, and heard the familiar sound of a lawnmower being pushed down the street. Two kids were offering their services, door to door, for mowing lawns. Funny thing, they seemed to not be coming up to our house with a sales pitch. Hell yes I want someone to mow the exterior of our house: it's a pain. We live on a corner, and beyond the garden, the only grass besides a small backyard patch is the unwieldy green mane in the front and side along the sidewalk. Being Spring in Portland, it grows about 5 inches a week. And I'm not overstating that. "$20?" they offered. "$10" AdRi countered. And they had a deal.

After they finished, they may have been asked if they were the same boys who had ridden their bikes through our garden. They may have looked stunned and like two deer caught in the headlights of a car at midnight on a dark country highway. They may have said of course it wasn't them. We may have known it was exactly them. And we may or may not have two BMX bikes smash through our garden again. We'll see.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Earthquakes are a constant

22 years ago today I awoke early and abruptly, but familiarly. An earthquake was shaking my futon, and having recently moved from California, I knew exactly what it was. Strange though, I thought I had left those behind when I moved to Oregon. It was a light one, and I went back to sleep. But my phone rang. Students at the conservative Christian college who had never left Oregon were shaken and scared, bewildered by what had just happened, calling me as their residence director for answers or I-don't-know-what, support? It was Spring Break, and only a few were in the residence halls, but I calmed them down and explained it was a very small quake.

Having lived in California all my life, this "Spring Break Quake" was a wee one, in my books. My very first memory is of my mother chasing me around in my crib during an earthquake. My crib had wheels and the linoleum floor of my bedroom made the perfect racetrack for a wayward crib in the middle of the San Fernando Earthquake. That one, at 6.6, was a rocker, shaker and a roller, and we didn't live far from the epicenter. In my memory, I'm standing in my crib, holding on to the frame, and my mom in her nightgown is chasing after the crib as it rolls across the floor.

Duck and Cover was a familiar drill at school in earthquake preparation, instilling a fear of those big plate glass windows that gave us views of the Southern California sunshine and eucalyptus trees. At home, we ran to a nearby doorframe, most often awaken from sleep. If we weren't sure if it was an earthquake or not, I knew to look at a hanging light fixture to see if it was swaying: that was the tell-tale sign of an earthquake. After a rocker, dad would check the ceiling crack in the dining room to see if it had grown. I suppose it was our own personal richter scale.

In October of 1989, I was deep in the basement studios of the communication building at Chico State, working in an audio booth, manually slicing reel-to-reel for my radio production course. When I left my soundproof studio, the air felt tense in the hallways, and something had changed. I heard "earthquake" mentioned and knew it had been a large one. Most of my fellow students at Chico were from the Bay area, and the Loma Prieta earthquake of 1989 was a major one. For days, television news was constant and run from backup generators in the studios, the reporters wearing the same clothes and eventually becoming frazzled. Phonelines were down, and reaching family was difficult for many of the students. The quake was captured live on television during the World Series at Candlestick Park, and the images of the Bay Bridge buckled and warped will be forever in my mind. Aftershocks hit for quite sometime in the following months and years, waking me from my sleep with sharp jolts, and sometimes even rolls. My last California quake hit Ferndale in 1992, and even in Chico we felt it. Later that same year, I moved north to Portland, a land of moss, rain, thinking I had left the earthquakes of my first 25 years behind.

My first winter here, it snowed epic amounts, much to my surprise, and in the spring, the ground shook with a 5.6 earthquake. As I admired for the first time the giant magnolias blooming, I gazed up at brick chimneys crumbled by the quake. As daffodils and tulips bloomed in the vivid green environment I was newly experiencing, I saw the melding of my past and my present, and realized that the earthquakes had followed me. They will always be a part of my life.

Monday, September 08, 2014

Acceptance, body love, and self compassion. Also, I climbed a $%$&#* mountain.

I could write for days about my love/hate relationship with my body. My weight has been an all-consuming aspect of my head space my entire life. Dieting since a single digit age, I learned self judgement was harsh and acceptance by others would be gauged upon if I was a fat kid or not. Whether or not this was true of my external circumstances, it doesn't matter. It's what my mind internally told me.

Beginning as a young adult, I have gained weight, lost weight, gained weight and lost weight, numerous times. I have never been a skinny person. But I have been in the BMI rankings of very obese. Hell, I may be there now. I don't look at those rankings anymore. You name the diet, I have done it. I just know it's a lifelong struggle, and it's tied up in an emotional bundle with lots of strings and bows and tape around it.

A few weeks ago, after training for months, I climbed the third tallest mountain in Oregon. South Sister has an elevation gain of over 4,500 feet, and the 12 mile hike was a beast. But I had trained for the 14 hour hike. The day after the climb, I did some reflection on what I had accomplished, and felt a huge boulder off my shoulders that I had been carrying my whole life. Most of that boulder consisted of shame. Instead, I found myself so proud of my body, my strength, muscles, endurance, and ability to climb a fucking mountain. Did you know I climbed so high I could see to California and to Washington, from the center of Oregon itself? And it was my body that got me there. My. Body. There is no shame in that accomplishment.

A few days after the climb, it was hot, and we went for a run. I chose a snug fitting tank top and shorts. It shows off my curves, but also doesn't leave much to the imagination. I looked at myself in the mirror before I left, and I said to myself, "That is the body of a woman who climbed a mother fucking mountain. Hell yeah." And out the door I went. Air on my skin, sunshine on my shoulders, that was the most confident run (okay, it was part walk too) I've done in some time. I didn't care about what anyone else thought, I just knew I felt good. That outing wasn't full of a mind wondering if my shorts were too short or if my arm fat jiggled or if my stomach was too big for the shirt. I was present in the moment. This, was a huge change.

I've been taking Pilates classes, sessions with a close friend and just the instructor, a woman I've known for over a decade. I absolutely love these workouts. They stretch, lengthen, and use a variety of movements that align the spine and strengthen my core. Some movements I can do like a champ, bending into advanced positions even. Some I can barely do, or not at all, either because my arm length or proportion or body ability or take your pick reason. But you know what? My inner voice on this doesn't give a rat's ass that I can't do all of the movements. If my past self, from a few years ago, were to be in this situation, the self-talk I would berate myself with for not being able to do a position would be so deafening I would have fled and never returned to the class. I would have internally flogged myself for my fat body not able to do what I could do if only I was skinnier. Instead, I recognize it for what it is: not all bodies are the same, and this body climbed a mother fucking mountain and so what if I can't walk my hands down my calves while balancing in a V position on a reformer with my legs up at a 45 degree angle? Check out what I can do:

This change in self talk is me, in my mid-40s finally experiencing body acceptance and self love. There will always be work to do, and being healthy requires self care, time, attention and prioritizing. I'm giving that to my body, and my mind is finally responding. It's coming through positive affirmations, not through shaming or negative self talk.

And by the way? I climbed a mother fucking mountain.

P.S. My upcoming column at PQ Monthly will chronicle my climb, the amazing group of women I trained and climbed with, and the story of getting to the top, despite altitude sickness. I'll share a link here when it's published. The women I train with are the Miss Fits, and we're led by the compassionate super hero, Nikki Becker.

P.P.S. If you're in the Portland area and are interested in exploring Pilates with a wonderful, insightful instructor in a sweet studio, visit Jodi at Bloom Pilates and Wellness.

Friday, September 05, 2014

The Hardy Hibiscus That Could

Five or more years ago, I found myself at a local nursery on Mother's Day. They had a nice selection of Hibiscus hardy to my Zone 8, and I began to swoon.

I had to have one.

It was cool and rainy, not at all yet into the warmth of summer, and the dream of hibiscus swirled all around my head. I had grown up with a giant red hibiscus on our back patio, and the blooms were the quintessential flowers to tuck behind your ear if you'd like to do a hula dance. Mahalo.

You would think I proudly carried that hibiscus home, dug a hole after finding the perfect spot, amended the soil, and planted it carefully. You would be wrong. It sat in its nursery pot on our back patio for two years. It appeared dead. I tried to not look at it. It was a sign of my gardening failure, I was sure of it. It shamed me every time I walked by it, but yet, I didn't trash it.

And then, after two years of looking dead as a doorknob, it showed growth at its base. Oh my god it was alive!

I finally planted it, in a full sun spot right in our front bed. It sat there, dying to the ground every winter, sending up stems in the summer, for two years. Never a bloom. Always a bridesmaid. It wasn't encroaching on anyone, and I let it do its own little thing for three or four years. Pretty leaves. Never big. Meh.

You know what's coming next, right? This year, it bloomed. And it didn't just do a little bloom, it produced massive, giant blooms, multiple times, for several weeks.

The blooms were as big as the plant itself. What a showstopper. It's amazing it didn't flop like those top heavy peonies. These hibiscus stems are strong, and hold their blooms up for all to see. "Pfffftttt to those peonies," I'm sure they say.

I don't know if the plant will get much larger. But I'm sure proud of what it did this year, and that I never gave up on it. Even after all of the neglect I put it through. I just needed to be patient.