May Photo Shoot

Remember February in Northwest Washington this year? The snowiest month in 50 years? My rhododendron looked like it was all set to bloom when the snow hit.

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But this is May! Now and then a month comes along and demands the camera’s attention–please, no words. May is that showy month, so here it it is:

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Rhododendrons love the month of May!

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The iris, about to bloom, is one of my favorites.

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I don’t know which is more exciting–this plant’s name, Spotty Dotty, or this close-up photo of its leaves. We saw this little hybrid of the native Mayapple family at the Bloedel Gardens on Bainbridge Island. It will grow about 12-18″ high.

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Another photo from the Bloedel Gardens–a unique planter!

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We had calla lilies at our wedding, provided by the church women’s gardens. When we divorced years later, my mother, bless her soul, thought the calla lilies in my yard needed to go. I kept them, tucked in and almost over-powered by the red rhody, the voodoo lily and the fern.

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I wish I could include the skunk cabbage aroma here. You would recognize it! We saw these new leaves coming out so shiny and bright in April–but they’ll blossom in May.

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Rhodies and azaleas compete for space and my attention along the side of my house.

May reminds us that it’s a beautiful Earth, worthy of our protection. Is that possible? Can we take the difficult and costly steps to protect it? Edwin Way Teale (1899-1980), a naturalist, photographer and writer, said, “The world’s favorite season is the spring. All things seem possible in May.”

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Promises

The day I was born my mother was planting peas. No, she didn’t deliver me in a pea patch, but she might as well have. I lose my head every spring when I wander into my local nursery to check out the seed racks. I am normally thrifty, clear-headed, focused, and sensible, but when I start circling those racks of little packages with their lively, colored illustrations, I go into a trance. You could come rushing up to me and exclaim, “I think someone is stealing your car!” and I would say, “Uh huh….did you see these new White Night Hybrid Eggplants? Aren’t they absolutely elegant?”

I don’t believe in planting annuals, but every single flower seed packet was reaching for my hand when I ventured into the nursery early this spring–blues and reds, pinks and yellows. And veggies–green peas of all kinds and a gazillion kinds of squash, yellows and greens.

Each one of those packets held the promise of a delicious or beautiful harvest.

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To be honest, seeds are not even that satisfying to plant. You work to prepare and lay out your planting area, bend and sprinkle the seeds, cover them up, and the beds look the same as when you started. It’s not like weeding, where you immediately see the results of your work.

It’s in the promise of those package pictures.

My mother, when I was about 15 years old, gave me a garden plot to plant one spring, and suggested I design a flower garden. It was at one end of her vegetable garden, quite a large area. For some inexplicable reason, I chose to plant the whole thing in different varieties of delphiniums. Whites, blues, lavendars, and all the different blends of those colors–several different packets of seeds. I sketched out a diagram of what variety would go where. The delphiniums did grow and they developed lovely flowers, stately and tall. I think I might have added some stone paths, but I don’t have a clear memory of the results. What sticks in my mind is the plotting and planning ahead of time.

Maybe it was the promise that the planning gave me?

The oldest viable seed that has grown into a plant was a Judean date palm seed, about 2,000 years old. It was recovered from Herod’s palace on Masada in Israel. And the earliest fossil seeds are from West Virginia, about 365 million years old. They are from a fern-like plant. None of these involved colorful seed packets, by the way.

No such seeds in my garden this year. The Potter always likes an experimental vegetable, so he picked out two from colorful little pictures in a seed catalog–cylinder-shaped beets and a “Lime Crisp Cucumber” with light green skin. I’ve never had great success with either beets OR cucumbers, but the package descriptions promise that both will be spectacular. I was born under the promise of peas, so “spectacular” they will be!

 

Best Gift Ever?

OK, here’s a familiar question you might not have thought about lately–what was your best gift ever? No, not the gift of a massage on your birthday that felt good for at least the next two days. Nor the box of chocolates for Valentine’s Day last month that disappeared faster than ice cream cones on a sweltering August day. Your best gift EVER?

Yes, I hear some of you–perhaps the birth of a child or the support of a friend during a difficult time. And I, too, really appreciate the gift of those first days of spring when you can go outside in shirt sleeves–no coat! All good gifts, I grant you.

But my best gift ever? A roll end of newsprint my mother gave me back in the early ’70’s. Newspaper rolls, if you had a newspaper office nearby, were readily available free because the printing plants never used all the paper on a roll. They took them off the presses before they were completely empty, and they still had an amazing amount of blank paper on them. Publishers were anxious to give them away in order not to have to pay to get rid of them. I think this is still true, although some now charge for them.

This roll was a whopper–about as long as my leg, a little heavy, but it served me well for almost 50 years. I used it over and over with my children. We traced around their small bodies and made cut-out shapes that they colored. We made towns and roads and racetracks for their Matchbox cars. We made zoo enclosures for little plastic animals. More than once, in desperation, I unrolled a length on the dining room table with some crayons and said, “Go to it!”

And then I did it all over again my my grandkids. I also used it to wrap almost all my gifts over the years, especially for children, and then used markers to decorate the package. I even used it at Christmas as wrap, again with some hand-decorating.

But it had another splendid use. We got a “new” antique door for our bathroom that was almost all glass. Scary, huh? Be assured, we eventually covered it with a curtain, but before we got around to installing that, we covered it with a double thickness (think Charmin) of the newsprint paper. Friends who came that year for a New Year’s Eve party (including children) used markers to decorate it with messages and drawings–usually appropriate. That evolved into a tradition for a number of years, even after the curtain was installed. The paper went back up for that one night.

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Every time I took that roll out of the closet, I thought to myself, “This was my best gift ever, Mom!” She died in December at the age of 101, and the 50-year-old roll ran out two months later. I wish I could tell her–she’d love knowing that.

And what would she say about this best gift ever? I think she’d say something like this: Wrapped up in all that paper over all those years is the best gift of all–the love of family (in whatever form that takes) and dear friends.

In conclusion, an offering from a friend on the 1984 door . We’ll protect her identity here.

THE DOOR
Who could ask for more?!
A water closet supreme–
A throne sitter’s dream
May your ’84 time here
Bring relief & good cheer.

Russian Drivers and Gum Hold it Together

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It only takes a few days of watching the snow fall before we start remembering “The Worst Snowstorm Ever.” Maybe it helps us get through this one? Hey, we’ve survived worse than this!

I’m sure you have your worst ones. Mine was the year that my mother and I decided to take a seaplane from Seattle (where she lived) to Victoria. We’d always talked about it–this was the year! This was also a year when only elite people owned cellphones and weather prediction was not so predictable. Yes, there was a possibility of snow, unlikely to be a big event. A friend dropped me and my suitcase at the bus where I rode the 10 mile stretch to where I’d catch the ferry to Seattle. On the bus ride, some fine snow started. Should I turn around and go home? No, this wasn’t bad. And I’d be catching the bus in Seattle to Mom’s.

The snow got progressively thicker on the ferry ride between Bainbridge Island and Seattle, but my bus was waiting right in front of the ferry terminal! I had it made! I got on the bus and sat and waited. And waited. The seaplane plan was looking iffy. Finally the bus driver let me know that he wasn’t going anywhere–it wasn’t safe to drive.

Panic set in. I had to get off the heated bus, but then what? If I went back on the ferry, the buses might not be running on the other side either. I had no way home. I decided to walk up the street and find a phone and call a taxi–would a driver consider going up Queen Anne Hill, the biggest hill in Seattle, in this weather? If not, then what? I really couldn’t afford a hotel stay in downtown Seattle.

But the first open business I found was a small hotel that looked like even I might have afforded it for one night. When I asked to borrow a phone to call a taxi, the woman at the desk offered their hotel taxi. In only a few minutes, the driver was at the door to pick me up.

He was a tall, rough-looking Russian with a thick accent. He paused when I told him I wanted to go to the top of Queen Anne Hill. He would see what he could do. By this time the city streets were packed with snow and he drove like a maniac. I remember flying through intersections in the very center of the business district, regardless of the color of the traffic light–he let me know that if he slowed down, he might get stuck. Occasionally the wheels would spin, he’d utter some words in Russian, and then we’d get going again. No chains, of course.

He went up the back side of the hill, avoiding Queen Anne Avenue which went straight up. This meant winding around a bit more, but somehow we got to the top of the hill. I insisted he let me off there, even though Mom lived down the other side a few blocks. I remember paying him $25, and feeling so, so relieved to step out of that cab alive.

I walked down the hill in tennis shoes, pulling my suitcase behind me and leaving a crazy trail in the now ankle deep snow.

We never made it to Victoria, and I was housebound there for several days before being able to get out. As it began to thaw and rain, water began to leak into the basement through cracks in a cement wall,  and one or the other of us would get up during the night to mop up water. Mom finally patched some of the cracks with chewed gum which worked amazingly well. Many people on the hill and around the city had drainage problems in that thaw.

We do what we have to do in tough situations, and we learn that we’re stronger than we thought we were. Kind people offer help, a mother’s hug warms the coldest of toes, and even a wild Russian driver can be a godsend.

Walking on the Wild Side

Toshiba Digital CameraI have walked down my road every day for about 50 years. The “wild side?” Eagles, osprey, kingfishers, sometimes a seal. Blackberry bushes that reach out to grab. A crow picking at a clam he has just dropped on the pavement in order to crack it.

But the walkers are the wildest! So much fun! Most of them are friendly creatures. They make eye contact and smile and often say, “Hi!” or “Hello!” or “Good Morning!” Or they will smile and nod. If they’re on the other side of the road, they will often smile and wave. We’re all out there for the same reasons–to get some fresh air and exercise and enjoy the view. We’re in this together–we’re a team. On the holidays, I always get several cheery greetings from strangers, “Happy Thanksgiving!” or “Happy New Year!”

Occasionally a walker will make a crazy remark. I recently met a couple for the second time on our routes–we both had turned around and were headed in the opposite directions. “Look at that,” the husband said to his wife, “She’s there again! I think she’s a stalker!”

A very few do not make eye contact or smile. They’re in their own world and I respect that. They have their reasons.

I love the Angel Walkers and they’re among the few that I recognize. Litter Lady carries a plastic bag and a “grabber stick” and picks up scraps of garbage, even though she does not live on this road. I worry about her when I haven’t seen her for awhile.

Clippers Man is a tall older man who always has a dog on a leash and occasionally has a clippers in his other hand. As he walks, he reaches over to clip any blackberry vine that is intruding.

I enjoy the bikers, even though they’re a wilder and more dangerous bunch. If they’re coming head on, no problem. Sometimes they’ll nod, and sometimes they’ll greet me with a quick “Hi!” as they pass. They’re always going fast–I stay out of their way. I admire their speed, their muscle, their passion, and their fancy outfits. I am astounded that they have enough breath to be racing by and carrying on conversations with each other at the same time!

The cyclists coming up behind me are the dangerous ones. Some of them will give a “Heads Up!” warning, especially if they’re in a group, or some kind of verbal alert. Sometimes I hear someone cough or clear his throat. I appreciate that. But often, there’s no warning before one swishes by almost close enought to bump me. If I had, for whatever reason, taken a step to the left (part of the route I’m walking is on the right hand side of the road where the trail is wider), one or both of us might have gone down in a fiery crash….or at least a tumble.

I’m an introvert, so I don’t initiate conversations often, but occasionally I will visit with someone and we will walk together for a short distance. These are often amazing conversations–walkers often share a lot of themselves.

Today a woman knocked at my back door. “My husband and I have walked by yiour house for years and admired your persimmon tree. In fact, it inspired us to plant three of our own, but they’re just beginning to bear fruit. Would you mind if we pick your persimmons for you and then take some for ourselves?” I encouraged them to pick as many as they like, and shared some recipes with them.

After 50 years of meeting all these wild walkers (and bikers), I am convinced that a friendly greeting, just a quick “Hi!” and a smile can make a stranger’s day!

 

“We’re all just walking each other home.” — Ram Dass

“Gratitude is something of which none of us can give too much. For on the smiles, the thanks we give, our little gestures of appreciation, our neighbors build their philosophy of life.” –A. J. Cronin

 

 

 

Would You Buy a Hairy Plum?

Gardeners don’t distinguish between invasive and aggressive plants, but I do. My St. John’s wort is invasive. I planted just a few plants along the driveway, and they creep out of their space whenever I turn my back. The wisteria is also invasive.  I planted one plant and it has set its sights on the next county over. I think it has a good chance of making it. Actually, it is also an aggressive plant. They’re capable of attacking a house.

But kiwis are the tigers of the Plant Kingdom. they reach out, take hold, and hang on. They attack. Walk a little too close to a kiwi and it just might reach out and grab you. We planted a male and a female plant (you need both to produce fruit) on a large, heavy pipe framework, about 20 feet long by 5 feet wide by 5 feet tall. They quickly grew onto the frame, and then kept going. Sure, they produced lots of kiwis, but in the end, I was spending way too much time trying to keep them contained to their space. I finally had them removed.

My friends Linda and Pat have two plants that produce more than 1,000 kiwis every year. But Linda says, “They have attacked our blueberry bushes, marionberry plants, rhubarb, boysenberry plants, and keep growing over the top of the greenhouse and through the roof vents.” She says the plants are at least 15 feet tall and can be seen from Google Earth.

This past month, the Potter and I strolled through the Luther Burbank gardens in Santa Rosa, California with my son. We can thank Mr. Burbank, the botanist, for developing more than 800 varieties of new plants back in the early 1900’s, including the Shasta Daisy and the Russet Burbank Potato. He received seeds for a “hairy plum” from New Zealand and propagated them. They were never accepted in this country until many years later–marketed under a new name, “kiwi.” Kiwis actually originated in China, by the way, but then were introduced to New Zealand, and then to us.

We walked through the beautiful gardens and then under a long arbor.The walkway had a long display of photos from Burbank’s life and work. I had strolled the whole length of the walkway before my son called to me, “Look up!” Hundreds of kiwis hung above us on a heavy framework. It was well-trimmed–someone is clearly keeping them confined–but every here and there was a wild branch stretching out, reaching for an escape.

Here’s my son’s photo of me in front of Mr. Burbank’s kiwis.

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A Pebble in Your Pocket–or Their Shoes

Do you know what 528 pebbles look like? My friend Doreen gathered that many pebbles, each one picked for its unique color and shape. 528 beautiful little pebbles. She put them in a clear glass bowl, took a picture of them, and sent it to her representative in Congress with this message:

Here are 528 pebbles which I offer you to take to Congress. Remind your colleagues of the children waiting to be reunited with their families. Perhaps slip a pebble into a shoe of each Congressperson….the irritation a reminder to resolve this disgraceful situation.

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Please don’t let them forget these 528 children. Maybe carry a pebble in your pocket to remind you to think of them. Feel free to copy Doreen’s photo and message to send to your senators and/or representatives. It’s time to get these children back where they belong!

Hey You! Look at Me!

It’s an almost insidious sensation that catches me off guard every summer. I walk around the corner of the house. It’s late afternoon and there’s just a slight breeze coming down off the hillside above the house. Suddenly I’m almost knocked off my feet by a fragrance like none other–sweet, heady, it sweeps away any other thought in my mind and sensation in my body. I’ve never used mind-altering drugs, but it must be something like this.

I always come to a stop. It demands my attention. It’s the Little Leaf Linden tree up on the hill behind the house. It emits this lovely aroma as it blossoms for only a few days in late July. This year, because it’s so warm, it only lasts a day or two. Sometimes, when I have a window open, I can smell it inside the pantry, on the back side of the house. One year I swore that the next summer when this happened, I would move a lawn chair out into the gravel driveway the second I smelled it and just sit and take it in. And I did.

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And then the peaches! They’re the right color, so I reach up and feel their fuzzy, warm skin. Stone hard. Will I wear them out by pressing their skin to see if there’s any “give?” Then suddenly, after I decide I really must leave them alone for a few days longer, I notice a peach on the ground. They’re ripe! Half the peaches on the tree are ripe and begging to be picked–like right now.

Summer surprises! I suppose every season has its own, like the intense red leaves of the blueberry bushes in autumn reflecting onto the kitchen walls, casting a fire-like glow in the kitchen that always makes me catch my breath. The first sound of whirring hummingbird wings in the spring. The call of an eagle that demands I look up–that sound belongs to all the seasons, but it still catches my attention.

We can’t ignore the signs and signals going on in the world around us. They call us to act sometimes, like when we see a dead baby orca being carried for days and days by its mother, or by seeing refugees caged like animals. Or by the smoky haze that reminds us that our climate is changing–and it’s changing much faster than what is natural.

Other times we’re called simply to stop and take it in, relax and breathe. We learn to balance our fears and horror, and we learn to love the earth and “all who dwell therein,” becoming just a little more human as we do.

Necessary Losses

Have you seen the video of rescuers removing a plastic straw lodged securely in a big sea turtle’s nostril?

Have you seen photos of the vast islands (continents?) of plastic floating in the ocean?

Have you walked on a remote ocean beach and seen all the plastic washed up on shore?

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I’d seen enough. When China announced it could no longer accept all our plastic for recycling, I realized I’d become sloppy. I was buying way too many plastic bags and wrap. Sure, I often carry my own cloth bags grocery shopping, and I keep all my clean plastic bags to return to the grocery store for recycling. But I am no longer confident that much of that is actually getting recycled anymore.

Plastic bags last 10 to 20 years. Plastic cutlery? Between 100 and 1,000 years. Some plastics last forever.

I’d already made two good changes over the last few years–using my own shopping bags, and recycling as much as possible. Both of those have become routine and super easy. But somewhere along the way I’d grown weary of washing and re-using plastic bags. That all changed when I discovered that the Potter, this man who is proud of the thick layer of dust on his dresser and can keep a tray of cinnamon rolls on his kitchen counter for weeks at a time, was actually washing out and re-using plastic bags.

This morning at Safeway, the woman ahead of me in line had each of her produce items in some odd-looking bags. I asked the checker about them.

“Yes, they’re becoming quite popular–re-usable mesh bags. You can find them sometimes in the produce section (for purchase) or buy them online.” I will watch for those. I’m embarrassed that it’s taken me this long to discover them.

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Replacing plastic wrap? I bought 3 sheets (different sizes) of non-plastic wrap online. It did not come cheap ($18 at Etee, no shipping fee), but can be washed and re-used time after time. They work well–not quite as tight as plastic wrap, but my food doesn’t sit in the frig for a long time anyhow. And I’m using my plastic containers a lot instead, especially see-through containers that I’ve bought with food in them.

Just this month Seattle outlawed all use of plastic straws and cutlery in food service. Every time I go to a fast food restaurant, I’m asking politely if they have paper straws. I know our city hasn’t made that switch yet, but it makes sense to let them know that there are some people out here who are ready to eliminate those turtle torture tools.

From everything I’ve read, it’s easiest to implement one change at a time until that practice becomes routine and easy. Then it’s time to make another change. The EPA is relaxing lots of clean air and water standards–it’s up to us!

Does this save the world? Of course not! It doesn’t even make a dent. But like that woman ahead of me in line at the grocery store, I’d like to maybe influence a little bit of change. Big changes start small. We can’t all do the same things, but we can do something.

I’m interested in any ideas you have found that work well to eliminate plastic, especially at the grocery store. Shop the farmer’s markets instead? Resist buying anything in those stiff plastic containers? There’s a comment section somewhere on this page.

Someone recommended a book to me once, Necessary Losses. It was a popular book some years back about dependencies and grieving that we need to give up in order to move forward and grow. As a world we need to give up a lot of plastic not only to move forward, but in order to live.

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Photo credits:

1 – <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/”>(license)</a&gt;

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3 – <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>(license)</a&gt;

 

 

Spinning Gold out of Air

If you had told me that I would pick up and read The Alchemy of Air, a book about….well, basically about chemistry and fertilizer, I would have laughed at you. Not only did I read it, but it was the best book I read in the last year.

I’ve belonged to the same book group for about 40 years. We have increasingly been reading more challenging, non-fiction books. Sometimes I long for the old days when we could read books like Bridges of Madison County (yes, groan….we did!) or a Harry Potter book. On the other hand, I am reading books I never would have attempted otherwise. Last month we read Sea of Glory by Nathaniel Philbrick. This swash-buckling tale about Charles Wilkes, the volatile leader of a highly successful, but disastrous exploring expedition in the early 1800’s was a page turner.

But this month’s book was even better. The Alchemy of Air, by Thomas Hager, is about two German men, Fritz Haber and Carl Bosch, both brilliant–but flawed. In the words of the author, “This is the story of two men who invented a way to turn air into bread, built factories the size of small cities, made enormous fortunes, helped engineer the deaths of millions of people, and saved the lives of billions more.” Both men received Nobel prizes for their work. Haber, incidentally, was Jewish, and that fact played a lot into his drive for success in a country that, even before the rise of the Nazis, made it difficult to succeed if you were Jewish. His compromises ultimately put him into some unfortunate situations.

Much of the book dealt with early 1900’s German history, but some of my favorite chapters centered on the early and frantic guano trade along the South American coast. Yes, the book is about fertilizer! It’s a story of pulling fertilizer out of the air, the stuff of fairy tales. But fairy tales end happily and this one was hardly that. The Haber-Bosch process did produce fertilizer for crops (today it’s used all over the world), but it also produced gunpowder and high explosives, poisonous gas, and a problem we all face today–nitrogen pollution. The author also views the obesity pandemic today as a result of this process. He points out that there is no shortage of food, but there is a problem (due to wars and natural disasters) of getting it to the people who need it.

I appreciated the short chapters and the readability for a non-scientific person like myself. I found it hard to put the book down. This was a history I did not know–and  the others in my book group admitted the same thing. I am even looking at my vegetable garden and the plants in my yard in a different way.

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