The Amazing Sunflower

THE AMAZING SUNFLOWER

The natural world around us never fails to amaze me, and because of ongoing research, there is always some interesting fact to discover. Most recently, I read an article stating that sunflowers, on a cloudy day, turn to face each other for protection because they know rain might occur and cause harm. (The article went on to assert that perhaps it would be good for humans to show the same sort of protection to one another, an assertion that seems reasonable and palliative in the world we inhabit at present. That action is in our genes and we ought to pay attention to it, the way plants and trees, who are said to have no brains, do.)

I wondered what other fabulous facts about sunflowers I could garner if I went searching. Gardeners generally know that sunflowers turn to face the sun during the day, hence the French name, “tournesol.” To actually watch fields of sunflowers in southern France as they turn during the day is a delight.

Sunflower is the only flower with flower in its name. “Helianthus,” the scientific name of sunflower, comes fromheliafor sun and anthusfor flower. There are about 70 species of sunflowers.

What makes them turn?  Both their circadian clocks and genetically-driven growth rates. This is called heliotropism(solar tracking). Special motor cells at the bases of the flower buds shrink or enlarge as they absorb water, which moves their faces towards the sun. The stems of young sunflowers grow more at night, but only on their west side, which is what allows their heads to bend eastward. 

How did sunflowers get here? Sunflowers are native to the Americas, cultivated as far back as 3000 BC.  They were brought from the Netherlands to Russia by Tsar Peter the Great and used for the only sanctioned oil during Lent, then brought back to the USA by Russian immigrants. 

Other amazing facts:They have traveled to space. In 2012, US astronaut Don Pettit brought sunflower seeds to the International Space Station. You can read his blog about his gardening process. They have a history of healing. In Mexico, the flowers were thought to sooth chest pain. A number of Native American tribes agreed. The Cherokee utilized an infusion of sunflower leaves to treat kidneys while the Dakota brought it out to sooth “chest pain and pulmanery troubles.”

What is a sunflower’s petals not?  Because the ray florets lack either of the male and female gametes, it’s a neuter flower and has lost its ability to perform sexual reproduction.  The realflower is the brown patches present on the inner sides. The florets inside the circular head are called disc florets, which mature into seeds. The disc florets have both male and female sex organs and each one produces a seed. The sunflower looks like it does in order to attract insects and birds, which pollinate it so we animals get thousands of seeds. Thank you, Big H!

How are the heads organized? The flower petals within the sunflower’s cluster are always in a spiral pattern. Each floret is oriented toward the next by approximately the goldenangle*, 137.5 degrees, producing a pattern of interconnecting spirals, where the number of left spirals and the number of right spirals are successive Fibonacci numbers.* Typically, there are 34 spirals in one direction and 55 in the other; on a very large sunflower there could be 89 in one direction and 144 in the other.  Wow! Just like everything else in our ordered universe. Kinda woo-woo. I had never really studied a sunflower head intensely before, but after reading this fact, I looked and you can see the spirals and the artistry there. So totally amazing!

What is an interesting super-power that sunflowers have?  They can remove toxins, such as lead, arsenic, and uranium, from contaminated soil. (That’s probably why nothing, not even weeds, grows on the heap of metals-imbued topsoil we received last year, with the exception of sunflowers, seeds probably dropped by birds.) They were used after the Chernobyl disaster to remove uranium, cesium-137, and strontium-90 from the soil.

A quotidian super-power:  Once the flower heads are empty of seeds, they can be converted into disposable scrubbing pads for tough jobs. Who knew? Are you going to try it?

What are sunflowers symbols for? Faith, loyalty, and adoration. They also symbolize worship and faithfulness in various religions, and are associated with spiritual knowledge and the desire to seek light and truth. Incas used sunflowers to symbolize the Sun God, and brought them to temples for worship.

The sunflower is the state flower of what state?  Kansas

How tall can sunflowers grow?Due to hybridization, some are as small as 2’ tall and some, over 10’ tall. In 16thcentury Spain the record height was 24 feet, bested in 2014 in Germany by 30.09 feet. 

For us normal gardeners, how do sunflowers grow best?  They need 6-8 hours of sunlight a day to grow their best. They like a pH 6.0 to 7.5. They require 34 inches of water annually and if cut for a bouquet, will last 5-12 days. Cut your bouquet flowers in the morning so they last longer. Most sunflowers are annuals, and can re-seed themselves if the seed heads are left for birds to enjoy during the winter. Some perennial varieties exist and will grow flowers the next season.  You can deadhead them before the seeds start to form in order for more blooms to grow, but why? You’re a better steward of nature if you let them seed for our avian friends. If you want the seeds for yourself, wait until the seeds dry completely, then cut off the head about 12-18 inches down the stem. You can put a paper sack around the stem so the seeds can be caught, or you can pick them all out yourself by hand.  Then boil in salted water for 5-10 minutes, dry the seeds on a baking sheet, and bake at 325 degrees F. for 25 minutes or so. When cool, chew and leave spit-out hulls everywhere like you did in junior high. Hahahaha!

Human uses of sunflower seeds: They are a healthy snack food, with an ability to stimulate hair growth, promote heart health, aid in weight loss, lower cholesterol levels, and affect cancer cells. They provide us with alpha-tocopherol and B6, antioxidants, carotenoids and much more. ¼ cup serving contains over 200 calories. The seeds contain tryptophan, which increases the brain’s fabrication of serotonin, which then reduces tension and creates a relaxed feeling. The choline content plays a vital role in memory and vision functions. The seeds also, because of betaine and arginine , protect against cardiovascular diseases like high blood pressure. The lignans prevent heart attacks and atherosclerosis. Sunflower seeds help the thyroid gland maintain optimal metabolism. The fiber helps with digestion-related problems. They help reduce arthritis symptoms. It’s not good to eat too many, however. ¼ cup daily is about right, but remember those 200 calories.

What animals eat sunflower seeds? Besides livestock and birds, the seeds are also sought out by squirrels, chipmunks, garden mice, bears and raccoons. 

And finally, can you propagate sunflowers?Yes. Take your material from vigorous and succulent side shoots. A 4-6-inch-long stem with mature leaves and no buds or flowers will root best and produce a shapely plant. 

When I started my research, I knew very little about sunflowers, except that seeing them made me happy. That alone was enough for me until the article spurred my research. I’ve seen sunflowers all my life, yet realize I’ve taken them for granted. We do this with many mundane things, I fear. How interesting to study the commonplace and be astounded!

Here’s an addendum to spur your interest in the commonplace:  Flies have two compound eyes, each made up of 3000-6000 lenses, and a triangle of three simple eyes, called ocelli. Now, it’s your turn to find out more!

Golden angle: In geometry, the golden angle is the smaller of the two angles created by sectioning the circumference of a circle according to thegolden ratio; that is, into two arcs such that the ratio of the length of the smaller arc to the length of the larger arc is the same as the ratio of the length of the larger arc to the full circumference of the circle.

Fibonacci numbers:  In mathematics, the Fibonacci numbers for a sequence, such that each number is the sum of the two preceding ones, starting from 0 and 1. For example: 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55… This appears in biological settings, such as branching in trees, the arrangement of leaves on a stem, the fruit sprouts of a pineapple, the flowering of an artichoke, and uncurling fern and the arrangement of a pine cone’s bracts. 

All of the facts presented herein were found in Wikipedia and other online sources. 

Fair Sharing

When I went to the Tillamook County Fair Office to pick up my ribbons and rewards, I was excited to receive $15 in prize money. This may not seem like a sum worthy of excitation, but what it represents to me, is. 

In my teen years, our family lived on a 30-acre farm. My father also worked nights at the nearby lumber mill. We practiced subsistence living, not because it was trendy, but because we were very, very, very poor. My parents agonized every year, worried they could not make the place payment. 

Simply put, there was no money for anything other than the most essential of essentials, not even emergencies. If my sister Anita and I wanted to wear clothes, we had to make the money to pay for them ourselves. Our parents decided we would do that by raising sheep, which by the way, I detested. We had no say in the matter, which is really what I detested. I wanted to raise a pig because I saw they brought a bigger paycheck when sold, they didn’t stink like lanolin, we generated lots of green matter to feed them, and they were not stupid. One could have a good conversation with a pig. Not so with a sheep.

No one listened to the budding MBA in me, however, so sheep it was. We also had taken 4-H since we were of age, and had learned to cook, sew, craft leatherwork, judge livestock, and identify weeds and crops. We also won ribbons and received prizes for this labor, besides showing our sheep and selling a lamb for profit at the Union County Fair. 

I remember after fair one year, I had made $60, enough for one new outfit at least, and shoes, I hoped. I bought those first, because my sophomore year I went for a couple of months with no shoes, my cheap Sprouse Reitz pair having disintegrated in the rain, mud, and snow, early on. I couldn’t even borrow a pair from my mother because my feet were so huge. My embarrassment was enormous having to wear nothing but boots over my socks, those cheap plastic boots normally worn over shoes. They flopped all around loosely when I walked, making slapping noises as I walked down the halls. I did all I could to be invisible to classmates during those months.

Because of this humiliation, I made sure from then on to always buy decent shoes first when I came into money, then underwear, and then focus on the outer realm. The only way I could do that was to enter items into the fair and trudge through another year of barely motivated sheep raising. 

That’s the reason prize money from the fair has meaning for me. It was the only thing that kept my sister and I clothed from year to year. I am so grateful to 4-H for having given us that opportunity. 

Now, I enter things in the fair because of the fun factor only. I like showing my beautiful and odd flowers and my mosaic glasswork because these things bring me and others joy. Besides, this time, it’s my choice how I’ll make my fair money and how I will pay my riches forward in some quiet way. (My friend LaVerna bought a corn dog with her winnings!) 

Fairs are important because anyone can share the fruits of their labors, and the joys to be found in preparation and sharing. I love seeing what other talents of our community are to be found at a fair and discovering who did what. That’s the joy of entering things in the annual fair. It’s rarely about the money, the acquisition of ribbons, or the fame. We entrants are sharing our soul.

LUNCH AT TWIN PEAKS
by Karen Keltz

My husband, Neal, and I were looking for lunch in Fort Meyers, FL, where we were vacationing, and went to a restaurant called Twin Peaks, across the road from our motel. 

It was abundantly clear what “twin peaks” stood for, since they hung right out there in our faces. Most “peaks” were embellished with giant jewels hanging down from the women’s necks, in case you missed their twin attributes at first glance. I learned later that Twin Peaks is described as a “breastaurant.” Each “girly girl” (as they are advertised) was wearing a little red and black lumberjack plaid bikini shrugglet on top, short shorts with jewel encrusted belts, and because, god knows they had to be cold, knee high socks and warm boots, like Uggs or lumberjack boots.  Hanging down from their belts was a purse like what men wearing kilts tie around their waists. 

(Later, my husband looked at the website https://twinpeaksrestaurant.comand exclaimed, “Good Lord, listen to this! It sounds like they are advertising prostitutes! ‘The Twin Peaks Girls are the essential ingredient to the perfect lodge experience. They are the beautiful faces that represent the brand and the reason our customers consistently come back for more. Equal parts friendly, engaging, and attentive, the Twin Peas Girls ensure every guest feels like a regular.’”)


TV’s, 100’s of TV’s, hung everywhere, all of them going at once. At each booth was a TV as well, so couples eating, instead of looking at each other, watched their TV screens. There were to be sure, some couples who disregarded their TV’s and stared at their cell phones instead. We sat right next to each other, shouted and read lips to actually communicate, while mood music like “Cocaine” blared in the background.

As Neal said, the decor was a cross between Hooters and Cabela’s, with antler chandeliers and stuffed animal heads along the walls, above the TV’s, of course. I told him none of the “finer points” about this place escaped his notice. 

To be fair, I have to say the food was delicious, though calorie-laden, with not much coming in under 1200 calories. The beer, coming in “man size” and “girly size” was also delicious. Apparently, you are not a man if you don’t drink 22 ounces of beer at a time. My husband, who is 6’ 4”, jeopardized his manliness by ordering the girly 10 oz. beer. We noticed also that the company bottles its ketchup with a “Bottoms Up” logo, featuring a woman’s rear end.

A couple of dads had brought their daughters and I wondered what was going through those little girls’ minds about what they saw, and what lessons they were being taught about what it meant to be female. One father was ignoring his daughter altogether, engrossed in events playing out on one of the many TV’s.

The website describes this establishment as a place with lodge ‘mantality’ where men wear their manliness “like a badge of honor.” Everything is done with the intention to cater to men’s desires like the lumberjacks they are. I couldn’t help noticing that 98% of the men at both the inside and outside bars were soft and obese, not really fitting the “lumberjack” type the restaurant says it’s aiming for as a customer.

Although when I went to the website to check out the girly girl requirements, it told me I had an excellent resume, I think it’s too late for me to apply to work here. For many reasons. One, I’d freeze wearing pants with no legs and shirts with no fronts. Also, for me to fit the advertised requirements, the restaurant would have to be renamed “Twin Suspension.” And finally, nothing makes me more angry than to see women objectified with that “show me your tits” mentality, like some young show cow. 

However, if you truly are a “girly girl” you might enjoy working here. The only sticking point is that you’d have to put your brains away. You could still wear your glasses, though.

I love vacation adventures, don’t you?

SURPRISE!

 

That’s what plants in the garden are still shouting this late in the year. I am agog to find a stalk of gladiola blooming yellow, even after the frosts we’ve had. Wandering the yard after a long walk last week, I spied a tall stem of hollyhock sporting vermillion flowers amidst the other blackened stems and seed buds. Wha???

Then, in the herb garden was a blooming calendula where I’d planted seeds way last spring. Some sprouted and grew about an inch and a half and stayed there all summer. I dumped the soil from one of Neal’s grow pots onto the area, and a few weeks later, this calendula was where it should have been by June. Guess it helps to amend the soil from time to time.

Lavender is still blooming in the herb garden, as well as echinaceas up the front walk. What is going on, anyway? Back behind my Japanese Willow, the red dahlias that should have been here by September at least, have finally arrived, short and spindly, but here, nevertheless. I will dig them up and replant next spring in an area with more sun.

Obviously, these surprises can point out gardening lessons.

Even in the pouring rain, outside my bedroom window I can take delight in the two mounds of mauve heather. Every year I go out when it’s the least wet and cut myself some heather here and there to make some flower bundles for my tiny vases. Just today, my garden tour in the surprise of November sun netted me the vision of a hot pink blooming rose, royal blue lithodora, and the beginning dusky rose blooms of the baby hellebores that sprouted up this past spring.

Speaking of surprises—

Lots of us gift our friends with amaryllis bulbs at Christmas time, and they us, so we all can watch the beauty of Nature unfold into gorgeous red blooms. When it was done blooming, I placed mine from last year on the garage floor and ignored it where it sat without water in the dark most of the time until last week when I noticed—surprise!—a green leaf had begun growing. I found a pretty red pot, put the plastic white pot containing the bulb into it, refreshed the required amount of soil on top, fed it a teensy amount of fertilizer, and placed it inside where I can watch the miracle of growth again this Christmas. I love saying “Oooh!” and “Ahhh!”

My friend Sherryl gave me the idea for how I could give another surprise for Christmas to my plant-loving friends. Because she buys tulips from a company that sends only in bulk, 50 at a time, she shares with her friends. She plants a cluster of tulips, usually three, in cute flowerpots, then gives the recipients the colorful little garden-to-go as gifts. That’s a good idea because it circumvents inadvertently feeding those nasty rodents that like tulip bulbs for breakfast, lunch, and dinner when you plant the bulbs into the ground. I love foiling them! Nyah-ha-ha!

No matter what season they arrive in, typical or not, or from what provenance, I am grateful for the surprises the miracle of Nature provides me with. I hope this season provides you with an abundance of wonderful surprises as well!

 

 

 

 

CONFESSIONS OF A KILLER

CONFESSIONS OF A KILLER

Because let’s face it—if you are a gardener, you’re also a killer.

If you have weeds overtaking your grass, flowerbeds, and vegetable garden, what do you do?

If you find slugs on the leaves of your precious plants or crossing the sidewalk, what do you do?

If you find ants and earwigs at the bottom of your artichoke leaves, what do you do?

If you find eggs laid on your broccoli heads, what do you do?

If grass is growing over your stepping stones so much you can’t even tell a stone is there, what do you do?

I rest my case.

“…in this world/you have to decide what/you’re willing to kill.” –Tony Hoagland, in his poem “Candlelight”

So this week, here’s what the gardeners on our small patch of ground have been willing to kill: We’ve pulled beets for canning and eating; called Eco Life to come dispatch our bald hornet nest; stepped on and snipped slugs; tossed out the possibly mosquito larvae-ridden water in the birdbaths and swapped for clean water; pulled weeds wherever we saw them (though not nearly enough); pruned back some errant raspberry vines; soaked the artichoke heads in warm salt water and then sprayed them to get all the ants out; and turning over a stepping stone, gasped and smashed ant eggs.

When you’re a gardener, you are making life or death decisions daily. When you hoe or pull weeds, you are telling them bye-bye. Some folks let them lie if there are no seed heads, and let them become compost right where they are. You dig and find slug eggs, ant eggs, and potato bugs. Stamp, stamp, squish, squish! When you prune, you decide what branches get to live and what ones don’t. Deadheading is more gentle, since what you clip off usually isn’t still alive, although if there are seed heads at the ends of stalks, then the promise of life remains. (If you find dried up heads and you want more of that plant next year, save the seeds and plant them in the spring. That’s how I get my hollyhocks, Sweet Williams, and marigolds. In the herb garden, the feverfew, parsley, and chamomile re-seed themselves. Dried seed heads from those weeds I’ve missed is how I get new weeds, too! Oops.) We spray Neem, insecticidal soap, and fungicide; we share pest management with other species, buying ladybugs and lacewings. We plant Whack-A-Moles. What’s more, we are not alone in our murderous intentions.

But don’t despair (unless you are a disciple of Jainism). You are ridding your gardens of thugs. (Now if only someone could come take out the voles making holes in the mole trails everywhere I look!) There is a saving grace: For everything you kill in your garden, something else more beneficial or beautiful gets to live and grow. We might yank out the pea vines or the fava bean stalks, but they have left lovely nitrogen for our other plant life. We have to pull up the carrots and beets, and dig the potatoes in order to eat them. Ridding blooms and branches of pests keeps our flowers and trees growing lovely and healthily.

Once again, we see how our gardens are metaphors for our larger lives. If we are carnivorous, we kill for meat. If we are vegetarian, we kill vegetables. If we are pescatarian, we kill fish. We kill to survive and to make our world a more beneficial and beautiful place.

HAPPENSTANCE

Happenstance

 

One of my favorite methods of gardening is anti-activity, the practice of disregard. Now, that’s not the same thing as neglect, which would mean not pulling weeds or watering, or any number of small things we do to keep our gardens lovely. Disregard is accepting what it is various plants and bushes decide to do on their own. Letting them be. Watching them insert themselves where they wish to, and not interfering.

 

We had to remove an infected tree from our hedge, so in the open space we planted a camellia bush and a red-twigged dogwood along the outer edge, scarlet runner beans on their pole trellises in front of those, and flowers in front. Hostas had already been there, and a poppy that came from who knows where. I found some flower seeds from last year and was gifted with some wildflower seeds, so I planted them all. Little sprouts are up now of those, but what has surprised me is that when I checked on this space after a two-week hiatus due to surgery, I found growing amongst the little flowers radishes ready to eat. What??? I don’t know for sure how they got there, and neither does my husband. As near as we can figure, radish seeds somehow were mixed in with the flower seeds. I love radishes and I’m enjoying this example of crunchy happenstance in my salads.

 

A long-standing disregard based on curiosity involves wild foxglove. I make bets with myself at the end of its season as to where it might decide to grow the following spring. I let the spent blooms lie where they fall so the results of the guessing game will be in my favor. If it’s a windy winter, though, the odds are no longer in my favor. The foxgloves’ decisions can either make for a great surprise in composition, adding height and pinkness to a section of a flowerbed, or disaster if it chooses a space where it looks awkward or it hogs a space where I want something else to be. That problem is easily solved, however, by a yank of prudent removal. The time for that, sadly, is now. Bye-bye foxgloves. See you next year, who knows where?

 

Almost a decade ago, my friend Liz was overrun by rose campion (Silene coronaria)(also called bloody William—eeuww!) (deer resistant and drought tolerant!) and in a fit she ripped them all out and gifted them to me. They take over, she told me. Oh, gee, thanks, Liz. But you know, they haven’t. She has rich river silt in her soil. I have compacted clay and that has made all the difference. I like how they look, and the greyish-green of their foliage is a nice contrast to their vermillion blooms. Their spread makes a nice drift. And they LOVE to drift! I never know where I’m going to find them from year to year. Only if I look for the little rosettes in the fall do I have any hint of where they will take over. Just because they have grown in one area throughout the summer, there’s no guarantee they’ll be in the same place next year. Their little feet like to roam. I treat them the same way I do with foxgloves. I send them packing if I don’t like where they’ve plunked themselves down. When the blooms are finished, I either stack the stems where I want some plants to be next year, or I cut off the dried blooms full of seeds and plant them the following spring, in an attempt to force them to grow where I please. Sometimes that works and sometimes not. That’s what I call laissez-faire disregard.

 

Wild daisies can also be unwelcome brigands in a manicured, planned bed, but I let some of them stay if otherwise I’d have an empty space, or if I’m waiting for a late riser to come up. The daisy blooms and dies to ugly stems, and then I remove it and the other plant rises to take its place. Usually, though, I don’t keep them underneath open windows, because they smell like dog wee. Sometimes our open pasture is full of them, and then they are pretty to look at, from a distance. They grow in the soil under trees and bushes, so there’s that in their favor, too, especially if a tree or bush blooms at the same time. Then I get to view a complementary double palette of color.

 

I’m a fan of happenstance in my garden because it’s like getting a present from Mother Nature. I don’t know what it’s going to be or where and I look forward to the surprise every year.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FIELD REPORT FROM THE HERB GARDEN

FIELD REPORT FROM THE HERB GARDEN

 

In the few sunny days we had before another slew of rain slammed down, my sweetheart and I worked out in our various gardens, surrounded by plants and tormented by weeds. We slung away into the “dump it” wheelbarrow the grass that grew anywhere we didn’t want it. I heard the crows broadcasting to each other what we were up to, in case seeds they could purloin later were going to be part of our garden process. Swallows divebombed me because I was working mostly in the herb garden which is in close proximity to their houses, and the bird feeder is located right there. The golden finches, scarlet tanagers, and sparrows must have been salivating in the bushes, starving, because I never saw them.

But I was saving them from death by pruning the evergreen in the middle of the herb garden. I’ve long since forgotten what type it is, if I ever knew. I bought it because it was swirled upward like a Dairy Queen ice cream cone. That lasted only one year because I had no experience sculpting trees. Overestimating my talents, I tried sculpting it myself. The result was sad, indeed. In the ensuing years, I’ve been letting it grow back in hopes it would fill out and look like a real tree. We both tried, the tree and I, but the outcome has been less than we anticipated.

This was the year I had to do SOMETHING. I have noticed all the felines emerging from under the tree with smiles on their faces and feathers in their mouths. The tree provided the perfect hiding place, a little cave next to the trunk up under the bottom branches. There they bided their time until a bird was in the right position, and then, POUNCE!

The first thing I did after my loppers, pruners, and shears visited Mr. Sharpenator, was to sit down on my bucket seat and start eliminating branches, from the bottom up. There were enough feathers in the tree cave to have built a whole nest or two. Thank goodness I was spared seeing birdie skeletons! I raked everything out that had been lodged there. Now for 18 inches up from the ground, all around the tree, is nothing but open space. I like to think the tree likes the air flow now, like when you cut your hair and you feel pounds lighter and can feel the breeze on your neck. The shorn tree can feel the breeze on its trunk.

I stood back and gave it a few more nips and tucks here and there and it looks reasonably the way I envision a tree of its species should look at its age. Its branches aren’t covering up the herbs in the four raised beds around it anymore, so the herbs are happier as well. The lavender doesn’t have to crouch and bend. The oregano doesn’t have to push and shove, then move to new neighborhoods. The herbs can now feel the breeze on their necks as well.

I expect better production from now on. I’ve already clipped and dried the parsley, so the rest of the herbs will have to up their game. The lemon balm and chamomile come next, and the tea leaves need clipped for drying whenever it stops raining long enough. I’ll be making black tea again, with cinnamon, orange peels, and cloves. So yummy! All that’s left to do in the herb garden is to get rid of a bit more uninvited grass, and to plant some herb seeds, both medicinal and cooking herbs, in the beds and pots.

The crows will get excited again seeing me out working, but I will foil their intentions this year, just as I did the felines, with preventative measures–white cloth covers pinned down over the top of the herb seeds I plant–until they are toddlers or maybe even teenagers.

Once the sun comes back in a long stretch, we’ll install the fountain in front of the tree so we can view it from the kitchen window, and the herb garden will be complete, with something beautiful and/or scented blooming there all summer long.

SMALL JOYS–THE GARDEN IN EARLY MARCH

“How could we tire of hope?

–so much is in bud.”

–Denise Levertov

 

SMALL JOYS

 

We gardeners on the Oregon Coast have had enough of winter and its rain, rain, rain, all too often combined with hail, snow, gale-force winds and freezing temperatures. Either we don our rain coats, pants, and hats, brave the chill and wet, and do the bare minimum of what needs doing outside, or we stand looking out our windows and sigh, feeling despondent.

 

Instead, to beat the late winter drear, we could take a step, or several, towards the small joys, while waiting for the great ones, and relish the impermanence of Nature. Behind my window beaded with raindrops, I see the beginning yellow blossoms of the forsythia and the peach blossoms on the quince. Two deep rose camellia flowers have bloomed for a month now on the small bush we planted late last summer.

 

I see the bare, crimson branches of the red-twigged dogwood, a welcome jolt of blazing red against a dripping grey sky. I observe also the leaves emerging from the ‘Dark Knight’ buddleia, with its promise of deep purple spears, smelling of honey, come summer.

 

The pansies and primroses bloom a happy hello from their pots on our front porch and the pink and cream-colored hellebores do the same from their bed tucked in behind the barberry bush.

 

In the back hedge, I witness the pinkish hue of the leafy arrivals of the snowballs, the honeysuckle, and the wild currants, all shouting, “Soon!”

 

The stalwart daffodils have withstood every weather indignity, several sometimes at once. Alongside them, the nibs of hyacinths and tulips chant, “We are rising—just wait until we rise!”

 

The birds at the feeders—the chickadees, juncos, and scrub jays, the swarms of robins on the ground and in the sky, and the hummingbirds as hungry for red blossoms as I am—assemble in the herb garden. Any minute now the acrobatic swallows will arrive to give birth and raise their babies.

 

Everywhere in Oregon now, you can hear frogs croaking in the sodden fields and ditches.

 

What a relief it is to look with alert eyes and realize something good is happening out there beyond our walls.

 

Indoors, hands that yearn to be stuck in soil instead busy themselves creating pieces of art for the garden. I create a gazing ball from an old bowling ball, attaching broken pieces of glass and mirror in a pattern that will reflect sunshine and blooms from spring through fall. My husband paints his own version of prayer flags that will festoon the pergola.

 

As Herman Hesse said in the last century, “It is the small joys first of all that are granted us for recreation, for daily relief and disburdenment, not the great ones…a thousand other tiny things from which one can weave a bright necklace of little pleasures for one’s life.”

 

Ahh!

An Answer

I revised this older post first written seven years ago because the message in it is relevant right now–and probably forever.

INVICTUS

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

–William Ernest Henley (1849-1903)

When my husband and I saw the film Invictus seven years ago, at the end of the film, the full-house audience stayed seated until the screen turned black. I like to think everyone was thinking about the message of the story or their memories of the time when apartheid was in full force, not only in South Africa, but here. Or maybe they were thinking how inequality still exists here at home with those who don’t look like us. I hope formulating their intention to change things kept people in their seats.

The poem “Invictus” hung on my classroom wall all my years of teaching, not only as inspiration to the students who may have read it but also for myself. Facing daily adversities requires something a person can grab hold of for strength, and this poem was my reminder that no matter what was done to or around me, I alone governed how I reacted. While we cannot control what is done to us, we are in control of how we respond. This lesson is not easy to learn, taking me at least 55 years before I REALLY got it.

Viewing this film also took me back to the school year of 1979-1980 when one of my students was a foreign exchange student from South Africa. Les was a good-looking, swarthy, sturdily-built lad and much in demand on the football field. In class, he did his assignments and was socially appropriate. He seemed so nice, I wanted to know why he embraced apartheid. Finally, the time came when I could ask him, when my asking would not embarrass him. How could a class of whites who appeared to be well-educated as his father was, for example, continue this racist division I asked him. I wasn’t making comparisons between his country and ours, I assured him, but I wanted to understand. When you know a thing is wrong, why do you keep doing it?

“If we do not keep separate,” he told me,” they will overrun us. They are many and we are few. They will destroy us. We will not have the country we know. Everything we worked for will be gone. I don’t harbor them any ill will. Most people don’t. It’s just better this way.”

I thanked him for answering me honestly. I didn’t debate the issue out of respect for that honesty. Besides, my little arguments would change nothing. But I understood.

Fear, then. Fear keeps us choosing to do the wrong thing. Later, after much reading of enlightened authors and my own life experiences, I learned we do what we do for two reasons. Our choices always boil down to these two reasons: fear or love. Always.

So when I saw Invictus, I thought about Les and wondered how he’d fared in the last 37 years through all the changes in his homeland. I wondered if he became the master of his fate, the captain of his soul. I wondered if his life has taught him well, and he now bases his actions on love.

On Being A Turtle

I’m just beginning to realize I’m a “slow” person. I take my time to think, to process everything I do before I move forward to action. Although I’ve been like this all my life, for some reason the magnitude of my overall slowness, with the exception of my (sometimes) quick wit in conversation, has just recently dawned on me. My energy level due to many birthdays is waning, causing me to be even slower, and that may have sparked my realization.

My mother told me that I started talking at the age of nine months. However, no one could understand me (I wonder what language I was really speaking? Or was that a function of how I heard things?), so I stopped talking and didn’t start up again until I was a year and a half old.

In high school geometry class, our teacher Mr. Gregory started off the period with a fast thinking exercise with which I could never keep up. So frustrating when I knew I wasn’t stupid and when other students would have the answer the moment after Mr. Gregory stopped talking.

When I was still in my 20’s, a teaching colleague asked me one day why I walked so slowly. I was undone. I hadn’t known there was a preferred pace of walking. I hadn’t known people were watching me walk. I hadn’t felt slow. What’s more, I didn’t really have an answer.

I love to write, but it takes me forever to come to a finished piece that is acceptable to me, and I assume, to others. Other writers can knock off an essay, novel, or poem quickly, but not me.

I have also realized that being slow has aggravated me in all areas of production, all my life, from my walking and exercising speed, to my writing, to personal relationships. While I love being connected with people, especially those who vibrate at a higher level, I function better when I have time to myself. I lose myself when I am constantly engaged with others, going from one event to another. It’s as if the muscle memory in my brain needs time to catch up because it’s used to my slower pace.

A quotation by Hans Selye, CC, endocrinologist, has provided me some explanation and comfort for my need of large amounts of free time and my slowness.

“Find your own stress level—the speed at which you can run toward your own goal. Make sure that both the stress level and the goal are really your own, and not imposed on you by society, for only you yourself can know what you want and how fast you can accomplish it. There is no point in forcing a turtle to run like a racehorse or in preventing a racehorse from running faster than a turtle because of some moral obligation. The same is true of people.”

While I enjoy prancing like a racehorse from time to time, the truth is that what I need to survive is a slower pace. Now I know why. While others are passing me by, instead of wishing I could be as swift, I plan to embrace being a turtle.