Thursday, August 30, 2007


Have we not stood here like trees in the ground long enough?
Have we not darkened and dazed ourselves with books long enough?

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

With the Digging and the Planting and the Bloigogobbinschmifernov

Yesterday I dug in 8 plants (I usually average a dozen, but I'm out of plants thank goodness): isanti red twig dogwood, butterfly bush, crepemyrtle, anemone, solomon's seal.... I am glad to be done for a while, plus it was quite hot. I dug before I taught, then came home and dug again after putting dinner in the oven.

But soon I'll have more plants. In a few days I'll visit one of the most unique and large nurseries in the upper midwest, located in a somewhat well-to-do suburb of a large metropolitan area. It is strange that this "nursery" is where it is: you wind your way through subdivisions of larger homes, sure that around the next corner is a soccer field with soccer moms and mini vans and dads fist fighting with refs, but suddenly a natural area appears off to the side. It looks like land that needs some good ole fashioned developin'.

A washed out dirt road winds off the main road, through "wild prairie," snakes into a dense wash of trees (god forbid you meet another car because this is barely a one-lane dirt road). Finally, you arrive at a very large roundabout with enough parking for five cars off to the side. The roundabout is not meant for cars, but for strolling individuals drooling at plants no other nursery carries, and in such vitality and number. The strange thing? Every plant--individually potted by a few folks (how do they do it) in some field behind the thick trees and perhaps behind the dry creek (it's a mystery to me people, where do they grow these things?)--every plant's pot is filled to the brim with weeds blown in and taken seed over the summer. When you get to the "checkout" (a makeshift tent) they yank the weeds out, comment on the wonderful selection you've made, and send you on your merry way.

I imagine I'll buy a few things. A few. I'm pretty much good for next year, see what comes back, see how what grows and when. But this place is such a horticultural jem--fresh, alive, dirty, independent--among the kempt green lawns. It's odd. It's like finding eden among a war zone. Or like that Star Trek episode where the Enterprise visits a dead plant, except for this one tiny green square where some alien has holographically recreated his married life before the planet went dead (and who apparently destroyed the whole planet because of the grief of his dead wife--a powerful guy. See the metaphor? Gardening is POWER). I've said too much.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Book Contests

Got a form letter saying I was a semifinalist for the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry. I've been a semifinalist or honorable mention in countless contests--even state poetry societies and guilds where they mail out "honorable mention" ribbons--and seem to be stuck there. Maybe lots of folks would love to be stuck this high, but honestly I'm getting tired of it. At first it WAS comforting seeing familiar names beside me (familiar as in I knew them, or more often, I'd become accustomed to seeing their names in close proximity to mine).

But then after a while, several of those names started drifting north. And now, those names win contests. Sometimes repeatedly. This is fine, you have to climb ladders--it's a healthy process--but I guess I must be afraid of heights. I am in real life, as in I make my significant other paint the tops of walls near the ceiling. But maybe I'm also afraid, or can't see, or don't risk enough, or god forbid am too lazy, to not do enough editing to make myself stand out more. But should that be the point? Make myself stand out more, for what? Just to hold a book in my hands that has my name on the cover? Isn't that sacrificing the integrity of my art? Blah.

I'm a writer. And I feel sorry for myself like every other writer and person and cat who begs me for his food at 10:30 at night. But I so eagerly anticipate the mailman every day, have even come to know the exact hum of that car's engine on the street, that when I get a rejection note I feel like I'm being unplugged a little bit more from the world around me. Maybe I can use that solitude to write more. Or maybe I can use it to whine on a blog that no one reads.


Landini Lily (Asiatic)

I'm in love.

Too bad they hate my clay soil.

And why are they dripping like pin ups?

Anyway, go here if the issue of carbon release in gardens appeals to you. Or here if you find garden catalog language disturbingly white male.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Oh no. Not again.

I'm not ready. I'm not rested. I feel terribly exhausted. Hear me? How does this happen? I didn't even have summer. I planned a wedding, had two significant family emergencies the week of wedding, did said wedding, moved, spent a weekend in OH, and will soon spend one in MN. Who am I? What are YOU looking at, punk? HUH?

To a divergence then. I always wonder what another civilization--human or alien--many millenia down the road would think if only one piece of our culture were to survive the ages. And I wondered the other day if that one piece could be this: Potty humor can not be avoided when one has been in grad school for 7 years, with number 8 just 24 hours away (but the last one!!!). Unclean! Unclean! I'm not crazy. Want a cat? Or five? Meeeeoooooww.

Friday, August 24, 2007


It’s one in the morning and the rain has become a soft sprinkle. It’s brighter now as the darkest clouds have emptied themselves and moved on. The damp is sweet—standing among the beds it’s not the clean purified air of ozone, but the rich and thick aura of a nursery or greenhouse. My feet stick to the water pooled on the sidewalk, the dry grass begins to drink water from the new mud beneath it. Lightening fingers the eastern sky but there is only silence and stillness and a sense of immeasurable fullness. This is a benediction.

Kneeling down I reach through darkness and hold a balloon flower, the last of the purple from a plant of white. Every year it produces both colors, and a marbling of both on several flowers. Surrounding it are the crumply, shriveled, newspapery blooms that last only a few days in the August heat, blooms that have held bees inside them as the wind rocked them both gently. My arm gathers a spider web. My head tingles with drops of water from leaves above, a few already turning yellow.

This is prayer. This is a gathering and a release. My breath is the soil and sky passing between us on the way to something else—I don’t need to know what that is. This is faith, the same faith I have when I pull soil around a new plant’s roots or stand by the window looking at green storm clouds on the horizon. The same faith I have when I wake and go to sleep.

Benedictine monks, who live a life of large silences and small pleasures, find solace and even fulfillment in the simplest acts. Sweeping a floor, preparing a meal, trimming roses, making a bed, moving boxes—they believe these are all glorious acts of thanks, faith, and prayer that give glory to god. And it is appropriate that the most mundane acts in our lives can become the most exulted and spiritual, can provide such instantaneous insight that the whole of existence drops to the side like molted skin, and for a moment we see how we are meant to. Maybe there is also something to be said for monotony, repetition, a schedule, so we can grow from and through them, learn to see the way every other living thing sees. This is, of course, an act of humbling—and an almost impossible thing for a human to do. We are not easily humbled. We are at the pinnacle of the planet’s hierarchy, but we are also the greatest of caretakers because of our emotional capacity to forgive, forget, and love unequivocally. Perhaps it is easiest to be fully human when we are alone. Perhaps it’s also the easiest when we have nothing to lose.

In this damp night I can see little, hear nothing—the only sense I’m left with is touch. It is primal and dutiful, tender and ferocious. I have such capacity for the most brutal and most beautiful acts that I am a walking contradiction. I negate myself. I cancel myself out. I am free for a moment to be the rain, the flower in the stillness, the soil soaking in the sky. I drop down into this small moment and release any sense of expectation or self-consciousness—the simplest acts are movements in a great faith that there is more, and it’s right before us. This is now. This is purposeful. This is my prayer.

Exhibit A -- The Garden

Since moving into our new home in early July, I've been distracted. Blissfully distracted. Nurseries adore me. So does my credit card company. Alas. Below you'll find images of my first ever garden. You enter through a gate on the east side of the house by a japanese maple I will soon replant and whose soil needs amending (hence it's feeble look).

Then you go through an iron arbor by a clump river birch, wind your way past louisiana iris, coneflowers, an up top some butterfly bush, sedum, black-eyed susans, penstemon, catmint, then ya all come down the other side by assorted prairie grassses, a crab tree on a standard (or on a steeeek), then at the bottom again you find a bog garden of sorts with cardinal flower, chocolate joe pye weed, some more grasses, lots of smelly bee balm, more iris, and by the deck more butterfly bushes.

Around the back yard you have LOTS of trees I've planted in less than 30 days, to date: prairie cascade willow, clump river birch, single trunk river birch, crab on a steeeek, tree althea (flowers oh so beautifully all summer), bald cypress, october flame maple, autumn blaze maple, autumnbrilliance serviceberry, a weeping white birch out front, and something else I'm forgetting. I consider this all research, mind you, for my memoir. Can a person get grants to go buy plants?

And I'll have you eco people know I've been using only (well, mostly, let's be honest) organic fertilizers et cetera. I refuse to spray my yard with crap to pollute my drinking water. Also purposely created a massive garden so I'd A) have less to mow--still takes an hour though, I hate being converted so easily to suburbia--and B) less grass means a friendly micro eco system. I've already seen all kinds of birds I never saw at my old place--red house finches, yellow finches, cardinals, even blue jays and one solitary hummingbird.
Eventually, I'll post a laboriously detailed list of plants I'm hoping make it through the winter--namely all of them. I have too many that will need to be babied, even though I've tried to xeriscape as much as possible and put plants in their own little micro climates accordingly. See how detailed I am? I do 10 minutes of research on each plant before I dig to be sure.
And, not saving the least for last, my "hobby" has been aided much by someone who knows who she is. This included about 100 loads of mulch in wheelbarrows and buckets in 95 degree heat, a few dozen trips with a stepper stone in each arm and planting of said steppers, and the comment "at least you don't sleep with hookers, do drugs, or kill kittens." Still, you never know what a gardener is planting out there....

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Quel Surprise

Ok. I fold. Baaaaaa. I'm a sheep. Here I am.