Sunday, April 25, 2010

Exhibit A-Z for Not Having Lawn

I rest my case. I also rest my camera, poor thing is plum (crabapple?) tired.

Praire Fire crabapple, with a Fineline buckthorn flanking the path

Mystery white crabapple from Arbor Day, 1st year in bloom

Prairie Smoke, which so far only the queen bumble bees have been working on

Prairie Fire crab

Chokecherry, Canada Red (leaves come out green, turn plum)

Lots of plants

Lots lots lots of plants

River birch seeds

Tulips, yes, I do believe, tulips

Gold-leaved smokebush

Yesterday the wife and I hit the annual Spring Affair plant sale, sponsored by the Nebraska Arboretum (UNL). Crazy as always. 100s, likely 1000 bodies all at once hitting you with their cardboard flats, no one looking where they are going, slow people, fast people with little regard for others (me). Lovely, though. Lovely every year. I got the last of the milkweed.

Then we hit some nurseries. Found the most majestic weeping mulberry, but they wanted to charge $75 for delivery. Other local nurseries charge $10-20. Had the perfect spot for the mulberry, but the budget dictated I become like every other American and go to Home Depot and buy a $40 white-blooming crabapple instead. I'm sorry. I do buy the vast bulk of my plants from the local folks. Why am I defending myself to you? I bet you do the same thing.

Said local nursery also had a cool tree form of buckthorn. Wowsers.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Anal Scraping--Would You Do It?

Some evolutionarily younger caterpillars use their butts to warn off others. "To defend their territory and keep out intruders, the larvae can wear one of at least two hats: tough-guy bully or sophisticated orator. The former lets an intruder know who's boss with aggressive maneuvering, crawling up to the enemy, pushing and biting to try to evict it from a leaf. The civilized talker instead scrapes its rear on the leaf, sending out vibration signals saying the equivalent of 'You better leave now, or else.' These more posh caterpillars also use their mouth parts to drum on the leaf and scrape across the leaf's surface."

"'We conclude that the anal scraping movement is a modified component of crawling, and that instead of moving forward, D. arcuata walks on the spot, to talk,' lead author Jaclyn Scott of Carleton University and colleagues write in the April 12 issue of the journal Nature Communications." [Oh, caterpillars also moon walk! Sweet!]

"Another idea is that the vibrations from the scraping and drumming are so loud they attract birds on the hunt for meaty insects. And the resident has a little silken shelter and might be telling the intruder, 'I'm making a racket here so if you want to take cover you better take off.'" 

Full article here.

Happy Earth Day!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Let 6 Months of Mowing Hell Commence

Mr. Mows All The Time mowed this morning. He mowed on Wednesday or Thursday of last week. It hasn't rained here in I can't remember how long. So, how much plutonium is he using to justify mowing twice a week, as he will do until hell, er, the lawns freeze over in late October?

Yesterday my wife went to read on the garden bench in the morning. Read with an iPod even. She came in because our neighbor to the right began mowing his lawn.

Then as I was grilling dinner, the neighbor to the left mowed her lawn. Peaceful tranquility, let me tell you. I so enjoy the garden.

Saturday morning I was grading essays at the kitchen table, and slid open the porch door to some lovely weather. Within 10 minutes the back neighbor, on 3 acres, comes plodding along on his sit-down mower--WITH GIANT EAR PROTECTORS ON (like you'd see, oh, on aircraft carriers). What does that tell you? He had to mow his weeds, and I got to close my door and breathe my polluted indoor air.

This nonstop buzzing and whirling has me going insane. Two of my neighbors, including Mr. Mows All The Time, complete their 45-60 minute mowing cycles with blowing lawn clippings around. Mind you, we have 20-30mph winds quite often that cleanly and cheaply blow these clippings back on to the lawn.

Sometimes, I feel like the sooner we kill ourselves the better off the few of us left behind might be in the long run. That's a bad way to look at things, I know. Do people really enjoy mowing their lawn? Is this leisure time, connect with nature time, joie de vivre? Spewing stats at people does nothing--we have to feel the problem, emotionally. I need to figure this out. I'm tired of living an emotionally / culturally / socially constipated life.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Vomit Green, Lizard Green, Green Green

Here's a bit from the memoir, Morning Glory, recounting trips to the nursery with my Mom when I was a kid.

With no specific day, with no specific event marking it as extraordinary, I remember this from my childhood: tagging along with my mother to go to the nursery. Somewhere around the age of twelve or thirteen I did this several times over the summer, getting up “early” around nine or ten to tackle the manmade jungle among rows sheltered by half-translucent green plastic overhead.

Nurseries are strange places. The consumer itch for immediacy and razzle-dazzle meets the relatively na├»ve and simplistic beauty of plants becoming themselves. I’ve never known a good nursery to be modern and chic, either. By this I mean pulling into the parking lot and being wowed by clean, simplistic lines of design, the less is more strategy. In fact, I’ve never known a nursery that’s had a paved parking lot, or a parking lot that could accommodate more than a dozen or so cars. Even before you make it to the door—an arbor covered in clematis or ivy—the idea that your world is really not yours hits home. The pathways between the rows of wet-leafed plants from the morning watering are covered in thick mulch. When I went along with my mother on big shopping days, I had to pull the nursery-provided red-flyer along through the mulch. At first, being a skinny teenager wasn’t so bad—the wagon rolled along somewhat easily across the wood. Later, as the plants accumulated and as the black plastic containers grew larger, I’d find myself several rows over from my mother trying to diligently trace her snakelike path.

“Benj, where are you. C’mon up here so I can put these flowers in the cart.”

“I’m coming Mom.” She winces, turns not just her head but her whole body, and meets the cart halfway plopping the plants into the metal din of the cart.

“You’ve got to keep up with me. I need your help.” She didn’t smile, but turned back and faded into the turns of another row—I knew I’d never catch up with her. We’d have this conversation a few more times before the morning was out and eventually, planting in the garden, I’d either be forgiven and she’d let me do the planting, or I’d be rejected into the artificial air of my cool bedroom and video games.

The name of the garden center I remember most is, appropriately, The Garden Patch. It was a twenty to thirty minute drive because my mother didn’t like ones closer to our house. This nursery was off the side of a relatively busy, two lane county highway in the southern suburb of Shakopee. As cars pulled off into the dirt parking lot they had to make a considerable effort to slow down, so traffic behind became briefly bottle-necked. But approach the lot too fast and you might hit a pool of mud and get stuck, or knock out your shocks from the un-graded moon-like landscape.

This plant refectory reeked of dampness, protein, soil nutrients, stale un-circulated air and the people who worked the sticky brown cash register. Just inside the front arbor were two lines of twenty red-flyer wagons, lined up like shopping carts but tantalizingly playful. The first row of plants, small ornamental trees, pines and maples, shade plants, was relatively wide and open—inviting like a great hall or a mansion’s entryway. But once through, the rows split left and right and were so narrow no two wagons could pass by one another. My mother stood obliviously among them as I constantly had to angle out and make way for another poor child’s laborious route behind his mother.

But even though the load became progressively worse, there was a solemn joy and sense of purpose that emanated from the rows of artificially grown plants. My mother would thumb through stacks of annuals as if it were a recipe book, and I would patiently wait a few feet behind, if I’d caught up, fingering leaves of nearby plants, letting drips of water collect in the middle and slide down the tip, off into the mulch below. As Mom decided which plants would work in what amount of sunlight and in what soil and what time of year, I became mesmerized by the shades of green accented by the black plastic shadows: light green, dark green, silver green, frothy green, milky green, brilliant green, lizard green, vomit green, soft green, prickly green, green green… it was too much and not enough at once. Even the idea of all that life in such a small space is intoxicating and numbing.

How could all these plants thrive in this small space, and would they, like old lettuce in the grocery store, be tossed away if not bought before their roots outgrew their containers? When I walk through a forest or a dense park I always get dizzy—there’s too much to sense and observe that it becomes overwhelming. I can’t stop every few feet to observe a stone or branch because I’d never make it home in time for the next millennium; and if I stop for an hour or two just to take in the sense of one space and map it, really listen and look, I feel I’d miss 99.9% of what’s there.

These aisles, my mother’s patient discoveries, the weight of my cart, warm green light transfusing around it all, the thick smell of soil—a person might drown. Where is the car, the asphalt road, the brick and stucco buildings selling lawnmowers and chainsaws, the Minneapolis skyscrapers trumping the natural world around them a hundred fold. Where are the open, sterile spaces of man’s dominance that sets me free, the reliable highway arteries and overpasses and cloverleaves slapped down firm upon knocked down woods and open grasslands. In those nurseries I relished in the depth and intensity of life and becoming, of color and detail, I sank in the damp mulch and felt the bottoms of my feet warming in the insulation.

But just as much I craved the release of artificiality, as if among life and living I had held my breath until I passed through it—just as we’d do on the school bus when it passed through the Lowry tunnel downtown, underneath the Walker’s outdoor sculpture garden. Somewhere between the nursery, the car’s full trunk, and the plants huddled on the grass beside the garage, I exhaled and wanted to breathe in again, wanted to go back to the nursery. It was, in a strange way, thrilling—deprived of nature and over compensated with it. I couldn’t wait until early evening when we’d move through the garden slowly like maple shadows and find our way again.

Monday, April 12, 2010

His Wife -- Poem by Andrew Hudgins

My wife is not afraid of dirt.
She spends each morning gardening,
stooped over, watering, pulling weeds,
removing insects from her plants
and pinching them until they burst.
She won't grow marigolds or hollyhocks,
just onions, eggplants, peppers, peas –
things we can eat. And while she sweats
I'm working on my poetry and flute.
Then growing tired of all that art,
I've strolled out to the garden plot
and seen her pull a tomato from the vine
and bite into the unwashed fruit
like a soft, hot apple in her hand.
The juice streams down her dirty chin
and tiny seeds stick to her lips.
Her eye is clear, her body full of light,
and when, at night, I hold her close,
she smells of mint and lemon balm.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Bodies -- Poem by Jude Nutter

The foxgloves begin that flickering
descent away from themselves, out
of the visible world: all summer
the narrow sheaths of their flowers
unfurl and the bees, drawn always
by the suck of quiet blooming, arrive
at each slow secret as it rides there
on the thin flame of its stem. And every

flower is bruised hollow with light
and for a while they ignite like the naves
of churches. No wonder the bees
keep nudging beyond the smooth clutch

of the petals and into the widening emptiness
inside those flowers, on fire
with the only burning that counts.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

I Know Nutting!

Not much going on here. Wouldn't waste your time reading this post. Nope. Just same ole same ole. Trying to get along, trying to keep the grey-haired head above water. Running the rat race, for nothing.

Still not much happening. Someone mowed their lawn this morning. Annoying. Loud. Someone left their dog out all night. Ditto. Ditto.

Ho hum. Lots to do professionally, don't want to do it = career suicide. Would like a nap. Watch A-Team over and over or some other dumb 80s show.

Not much going on here. Still reading? This is my most cerebral post in years. End of semester brain-dead-ness alive and well (which means, I think, that I become a better teacher as I become more entertaining in class, i.e. chaotic, whimsical).

Oh. Anyone have any luck planting trees at an angle, on purpose? Or, anyone have luck pruning trees to grow in just one or two directions? Talking small, understory trees of 15-20' in height.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Pasque Flower Power Rangers

I am going nuts this week. Here's a blog post with two pictures. That's as eloquent as I can muster today. Which might be enough to get some of us through the day. I hope.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Poetry Book Giveaway

April is national poetry month, and I will be sending out free books to anyone who leaves a comment to this post by April 30 (your comment might also rank the books in order of desire / lust). I will randomly choose the winner (or winners, maybe one book per winner?) on May 1 if I'm not too busy grading finals. The below are some of my favorite books, one for obvious reasons.

The Wild Iris by Louise Gluck
Lush, lyrical persona poems on flowers, plants, times of day, prayers.

What the Body Told by Rafael Campo
Gay physician, father, Cuban-American, reinvents formal poetry for the 21st century in gritty and moving imagery.

Dien Cai Dau by Yusef Komunyakaa
The best poetry collection on the Vietnam War experience ever, and by a good poet to boot.

Indelible Marks by Benjamin Vogt
My first chapbook. It's ok. There are two poems I'd like to cut. The second chap, forthcoming this October, will be better.

Thanks to Kelli Russell Agodon for instigating this idea for poet bloggers (I am a poet / nonfiction / garden / environmental / whiney blogger).