Saturday, March 27, 2010


Fruit trees are starting their annual flaunt. A couple of weeks ago, I gathered an armload of branches from my apricot and pear trees and brought them in the house. I pounded the cut end of each branch with a hammer, smashing it to allow the branch to drink in more water, and put them in a large crystal vase in my sunroom.

The regimen worked, as they're all decked out now in delicious slips of white and pale, pale pink. What a gorgeous spring spray! Meanwhile, the trees outside are hurrying to catch up. Only one of the apricot tree's branches is in bloom. I wonder if the trees can see their severed limbs in full regalia inside the house.

I like flowering trees, but their excess can overwhelm at times; I remember writing a poem years ago, accusing a full-bloomed tree of being a floosy. Last spring, I empathized with my flowering plum tree during an angry March storm:

Nubile red buds
beaded on plum trees branches
are wrestling with relentless waves of wind.
They don't want to fight.
They just want to plump up till,
one warmed sun day,
they explode like pink popcorn.

It's hard for me to take these petalled trees seriously. Some poets have. Ezra Pound, for one. His famous "In a Station of a Metro" became a manifesto for the imagist poetry movement and this powerful piece only had fourteen words:

The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.

Pound treated a blooming tree's gifts with more reverence than I. Maybe I should learn from him. Maybe I should realize how impressive these beautiful, transient disks of color are.

Maybe I should learn from language. For example, the word "petal" comes from a Greek word that means "leaf" or "thin plate." A whorl of petals on a flower is known as a "corolla," Latin for "little crown." At the base of some petals are nectaries, which secrete nectar and sometimes perfume. This all sounds elegant and dignified.

Maybe I should adjust my assessment of blossoming trees from being spring's harlots to being the season's royalty. Imagine: millions of delicate little Princess Di's...lined up coyly on branch after branch for the annual cottillion. Yes, I think I'll try this new, more reverent view of the petals that make spring such a rare and sweet time of year.

Sunday, March 21, 2010


Yesterday I got down and my mom's garden and in one of the raised beds in my yard. It was a day of planting, a day of putting in peas, lettuce, spinach and chard. It was a day of anticipation. Great things will come from those seeds.

The work of seeds is simply amazing. The tiny, inconspicuous, sometimes funny-looking bits of matter morph in positively startling ways. Years ago the hippie in many of us got us sprouting alfafa and bean seeds. How intriguing it was to watch the lessons we learned in biology classes unfold right in our kitchens on pieces of paper towel. We were treated to a peepshow of the miracles that occur under the soil's surface.

I thought about those miracles a lot yesterday, about the strength that will be required for a sprout to move aside the soil above it as it reaches for the sun. I thought a lot about the strength needed to push roots downward to set up the plant's foodlines. Made me curious, so I read a bit about roots. The Greeks and Romans figured out that roots provide plants food, alleging that they "eat" soil to get nutrients the plants need. I learned that roots will grow in any direction where there is the correct environment of air, nutrients and water. Roots grow downward, though, because of gravitropism.

Gravitropism is quite the cool concept. It means that roots grow down and stems grow up, because of the earth's gravitational pull. To demonstrate that, you can put a potted plant on its side and the plant will adjust itself so that it is growing "upward." It won't really bend, but just send new growth at a ninety degree angle from previous growth.

Astronauts checked out gravitropism by growing basil in conditions with minimal gravity (microgravity) in 2007. The plants grew correctly but didn't survive long, as their root systems got more moisture than they needed. School kids and teachers are invited to participate, after the fact, in this cool experiment at NASA's website.

Greeks, Romans, and astronauts: that's what yesterday's planting led to. It's fascinating to think about what goes on below the soil's surface and exhilarating to think about the miracles that are on their way, once those seeds sprout and pop through the surface. I'm in a state of glorious anticipation!

Heart-shaped bean leaves spring
brightly from the darkened earth.
Celebrate this birth.

from The Silence of Bright Star

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Perched on the Edge

Four days alone in a cabin at the end of the road on a cliff overlooking the ocean. Just me, the sky, and the surf. What a blissful escape! The time there really helped clarify some things.

First, I live on a ball, a ball that's covered mostly with water. That notion is almost impossible for me to grasp. How could a ball be covered with water? Gravity I get, yeah, but it's a tougher concept when the matter that's being pulled to the core sloshes. The transitory nature of water, not just its fluidity, but also its ability to be gas, liquid and solid, mystifies me to begin with. Water's here, then it's not. It's a soft, sweet brush on the cheek, then it's a treacherous slide underfoot. It's too apparent some months, then woefully non-existent during others. Water's kind of a genie, I guess, or maybe some mischievous sprite.

So, when I try to think that quixotic water serves as a cocoon for most of the planet, I just get perplexed. I guess it knows what it's doing, wrapping the globe like that, and has been at it for awhile. Just seems hard to fathom.

My second "big" thought was that I was perched on the edge of the continent. That's big stuff. I'm at the rim of a huge land mass! I'm exactly at the point where the continent ends and the sea begins, where geographic and territorial and political and emotional fences abound. Yes, I understand about the official boundary, so many miles offshore, but that's all legal mumbo-jumbo to me. What sticks in my mind is that the sea is eating away, over and over and over and over and over, at the rock that is North America. And I sit here watching it happen! Is that exciting or what? As climate weirdness continues, the excitement may not be that much fun.

My third pondering revolved around human sounds. For days I heard nothing but the sea. No TV, no CDs, no chain saws, no cars, no sounds but the crashing of water against rock, against itself, against the rolling sand of beach. I found myself talking out loud, just to make sure my ears were still accepting people sounds. And I found myself savoring this blissful ear-candy. When my late husband and I canoed in British Columbia's provincial parks, portaging further and further from roadways and restaurants, we went for three days when the only human sounds we heard came from each other. We heard no trucks. We heard no planes. We heard no others' voices. It was remarkable. Thought a lot about that feeling on this trip. In fact, on my third day in the cabin, when a small plane flew overhead, I was indignant. How dare that pilot impose that annoying engine sound on me! What nerve to make me listen to that intrusion for three minutes! After this grumpiness subsided, I observed that I may have been cloistered long enough and it could be time to return to my people.

I did so reluctantly, quite reluctantly indeed.