Saturday, April 24, 2010

Garden Gaze

What a joy it is, this time of year, to wander through the yard. Change is ever-present. All is flux. There's no stasis. Turn your head; there's a new bud. Turn your head; it's gone, its site marked by a Rubenesque blossom. Turn your head; the bloom's been displaced by a knob of someday fruit! No standing still this time of year.

It's important, now, to take garden observation seriously. Garden gazing is an art, one that can and should be honed finely. The forays must be done several times a day, on a set circuit, at an established pace, and, quite essentially, in a certain posture.

I remember my Slovenian grandfather making such treks around his small, but incredible yard. He had important duties to perform each day and was quite humorless about them. The lettuce beds, the nectarine grafts, the horse radish arena, the iris spears: they all required his rapt attention. Giggling granddaughters could come along, but only if they understood the solemnity of the trek and acted appropriately.

I would do my best to trail along, trying not to get sidetracked by the tempting shady porch or secretive club house or mysterious chicken farm out back. I would do my best to follow my austere grandfather and feign interest in his horticultural observations. I would do my best to emulate him.

And now, by gosh, I find I am a walking, talking, pausing, staring, bending, scowling, grinning, mimic of that garden trekker. I have become, in these vegetative expeditions, my grandfather. How do I know? Easy. It's the posture. It's the pace.

I walk slowly, with small, even steps. I bend down to chart a seedling's push through to the light. And, like my grandpa, I swing my arms behind me, allowing one hand to hold its mate. I walk along, hands clasped behind me in a slight stoop. The pose is so comfortable, so ideal for garden gazing. Putting hands in pockets would be way too nonchalant, totally inappropriate for this task. Putting hands akimbo would be absolutely brash and uncalled for. Letting arms swing loosely would be inconsistent with the measured tasks ahead, too casual, too unstructured. Carrying tools or other items would not be right, as the hands must be free to take care of any garden emergency. (If one were checking the lettuce bed, it would be acceptable to carry the large metal watering can in one hand, but the other hand must not make a fuss.) The best mode for garden perusal is, then, hands clasped behind, walking slowly with a slight stoop.

I find this posture absolutely perfect for tours through my yard. I like walking around looking like a little old woman keeping tabs on her small farm, because that's exactly what I am. I have seen the octogenarian down the street stooping through the expanse of her yard in the same way and I know that she has made connection with the great garden gazers of the world. We all understand that we must walk slowly, with our arms clasped behind us, rounding our backs, so we can fully explore the non-stop surprises of these exuberant spring days!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010


My dog Sadie and I just sat in the doorway of the sunroom to witness a ferocious spring storm. It was a superb performance. Gigantic roars coursed across the grey ceiling of cloud. I envisioned Jack saying something to really, really annoy the Giant, spawning these monstrous booms. They rolled across the high desert valley that hosts my city. I winced a couple of times, they were that fierce.

And the sparks! White hot rips of energy slashed the southern sky over and over and over. Only one was so close that I counted...just to make sure the huge shade-provider in my backyard would not be a charred stump come morning. My sighed relief met the one-two-three of a distant strike.

I'm thrilled to share this springtime treat with my dog. Her predecessor, angelic Aja, the slender yellow lab, hated lightning, hated thunder, hated fireworks, hated backfires, hated loud slaps. She'd cower in late June and July as the neighborhood punks flung their cherry bombs and Roman candles into the night sky. If she could have made a den behind the furnace or washer/dryer, she would have. Not funny, the loud noises, not one bit entertaining.

This dog, though, doesn't mind. Sadie celebrated her first New Year's Eve on the cliff's edge in our back yard, tracking local fireworks across the starred dome. Fascinated she was by these strange lights that moved. Noise? What noise? Sadie didn't seem to care. Tonight she was similarly intrigued. Hmmmm, quite a bit of wind. Oh my, seems to be some heavy rain. Yes, more of that loud, deep sound. Curious. This dog likes to observe, often with a bit of a scowl. Anthropomorphizing, I'd say she's doing some deep pondering. But I know her better than that. Deep thinking is not one of Sadie's traits. It's more likely that she was trying to connect the flashes and noise and wind and rain with the dispensation of dog treats or fuzzy toy animals. They could be connected; yes, they could!

A splendid evening, this. Rain still wallops my sunroom's metal roof. I like the snare drum sound that makes a light drizzle seem pretty darned fierce. I like the wildness of spring weather. I like sharing it with my sort of thoughtful dog, Sadie.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Red Rock

A recent trek through the red rock country of southern Utah changed me. Such a voyage always does. I'm struck by the intensity of the landscape, by the miles and miles of ooooh's and aaaah's, by the blessed scarcity of human fabrications. No need to build a temple in this country; there are hundreds of them made of rock.

Spring trips to this country were frequent occurrences for my late husband and me. We always found new places to camp, spots where we could savor the harsh landscape. At the Goblins, an unearthly spattering of odd-shaped stone columns, we camped on dark red sand, sand so hot we had to put blankets down so our dog could walk and sit comfortably. We loved this spot when the sky gave up its light: lying on a picnic table at our campsite, we scanned the Milky Way for hours.

One red rock trip took us to the north rim of the Grand Canyon, an incredible area, graciously free of the myriad of tourist machinations of the south rim. There we found huge rolling meadows flanked by thousands of aspen, the biggest aspen we'd ever seen, with trunks too big for us to wrap our arms around. One evening, while camped right on the rim of the canyon, my husband asked me where the popcorn was. I told him it was in the cupboard above the stove in our camper and asked why. He said "We need it for the show!" He had set lawnchairs up, facing west, at the canyon's edge. We watched an incredible sunset show, as the earth rolled. The movement of deepening shadows was actually visible!

On another red rock trip, we traversed Monument Valley and were given a tour of fossilized dinosaur tracks by a charming native American ten-year-old girl. Garbed in a frilly dress, white anklets, and black patent leather shoes, she was demure and very courteous. She revealed to us "secrets," like the fact that her family doesn't share locations of good dinosaur tracks with her uncle, because he digs the fossils up and sells them so he can buy liquor. She was very restrained as she described the fossilized droppings of prehistoric creatures. She shrewdly offered to sell us jewelry "made in the old ways." Oddly she didn't have change for the twenty I offered her, so I ended up buying more jewelry.

Yet another red rock trip found us at a summit overlooking the Escalante landscape. We spent the night there, after watching a spectacular sunset, and found ourselves face-to-face with elk at dawn. Their breath steamed our camper's windows as they peered in. The dog went crazy! A flock of wild turkeys also joined us at that high place.

On this trek, my daughter and I found spots where western movies had been filmed. "Head 'em off at the pass!" has new meaning for me now, as I've seen one of the passes that has typically been used to shoot such scenes. We were shocked, passing through Zion National Park, to find ourselves inside a mountain for a long time, as we drove through an amazing tunnel. Windows along the route flashed unbelievable scenes of gargantuan rock walls. We were both awestruck at the route the tunnel had taken: it bore through a perpendicular rock face that was one wall of an incredible canyon.

A book we found showed an intriguing diagram of erosion's effect on the area's landscape, tracking from the highest (and least eroded) of the sites, Bryce Canyon, to the lowest (and most eroded), the Grand Canyon. Capitol Reef, Escalante, and Zion were in between. The diagram made lots of sense to us. We sang our praises, more knowingly, to the wonders of wind and water erosion.

Red rock country offers stunning vistas, but it also gives up delectable small treats as well. One rock face that we explored was home to two different families. A small den was tucked in a crevice and its residents (probably fox) had scattered leftover bones in front of the den. I found a tiny jaw with four teeth. Above and to the right of the den were some cavities eroded by wind. Birds had nested in these holes, tucking in small sticks and grasses to make a comfy home for the newly hatched.

I'm enamoured with red rock country. Its shocking beauty and numerous treasures keep drawing me back. I'll go again, I'm sure!