Thursday, June 19, 2003

At the top of the slope, in the corner, where our fence meets the street and the neighbor's fence, where the rosemary is growing in a great shrubby sprawl, there is a bench under the peppermint willow. I was just sitting there. It is a thoughtful place to sit. It was thoughtful of me to plant the tree there, place the bench, and clear the weeds, which have returned, but only as guests, not as invaders. It is a place that is secluded and yet with the most commanding view of the house and yard, the pool and the valley, the driveway and the garage, the magnolia tree, the children on their trampoline across the valley and up the hill, about 3/4 of a mile away.

It is a thoughtful place. I know, because when I sit there I think a great deal. The bench was cold, because the day is cold. The bench is gray, and so is the sky, but that is merely coincidence. There is a very subtle and mild smell there, sitting beside the willow tree, whose branches brush my shoulder, and the smell is almost sweet, faintly woody. I love that smell.

And it was so quiet, that the birds were in command of air and sound. They were singing and darting, hopping beneath the rose shrubs, bouncing on the slender stems of the cape mallow. I could hear only their songs, and the beat of their wings as they flew 'round my head.

I thought about going inside and writing about all that I had seen and felt and heard. I thought about moving away and returning someday to see the trees full and robust, to see the color of the house and the shapes and sizes of all I'd left behind, and I wondered if it would be as quiet, as still. I wondered if I would miss the thoughtful place, the views, and the smell of something I cannot find, but that I love.

Wednesday, June 18, 2003

Improving the Blog

New Features! Shiny Upgrades! More, Better, Gooder than before!

Yes, I am all excited about delving in to the inner chambers of Chicken Blog and figuring out, all by myself, how to add to the links and how to include "my nightstand reading."

I introduced "Winsome Ridge" and "Gator's Chicken Coup" before. I have added "Learning to Fly." It seems that sharing the story about Max and our journey to The Horse House caught Kelly's attention; she found Chicken Blog at the's just this great, big amazing web out there! Full of funny people, with similar concerns and needs, and cute kids, and dust bunnies. Later I'll get ambitious and add a few more websites that I frequently visit; some for laughs, some for insight, some for a little bit of everything.

On my nightstand is the book that I am currently reading, or reading most frequently. This nonfiction tale is a story about ambition and failure, love and triumph, and it really touched me deeply. The characters are dynamic, the settings genuine. "Jackalope" has a message, but it is delivered with humor and insight. I couldn't put it down. Really, the boys made me read it 3 times in a row, with character voices and regional accents.

Tuesday, June 17, 2003

More Flowers

Flowers: Part 2, for Anne

The calla lilies, the ones I can see from my desk in the family room, are desperate. They want to be pruned and to be rid of the snails and slugs that are mingling amongst the spades and leaves. The butterfly bushes are leggy and overgrown. They need pruning too, which is why one of them snapped under its own weight on the last windy day. Let's cut to the chase and admit that there isn't a species out here that wouldn't appreciate a nip and tuck, a little off the top, a snip around the hem.

As urgent, is the need of fertilizer; some compost or Miracle Grow. The two gardenias outside my bedroom door, the ones I meant to shelter and nurture for their fragrant blossoms and glossy leaves, are turning an anemic yellow, dropping leaves and wilting pathetically. Acidic fertilizer for the gardenias, iron for the roses, mulch around the cucumbers, peppers and tomato. Some villainous creature ate through our watermelon vines. There are two listless flats of lobelia and snapdragons, waiting to be tucked in to bed.

It isn't enough to love the garden and the hoe, it isn't enough to know how to prune a rose bush or where it is best to place carrots and beans. My best gardens, my highest aspirations, are always in my heart, but there are also many obligations and distractions on my mind.

I have all but given up on cut flowers. In a vase, gracing our kitchen table or cheering a corner of our bedroom, they are lovely and romantic. And then comes the first dusting of pollen, from a slightly lilting stargazer, then a leaf drops, the water clouds; it's time to get the fading flowers out, re-cut the stems, freshen the water. Tomorrow. I am on my way to the bank, then the market. What's for dinner? And before I know it there is a stale pond smell in the room, and the stems are fuzzy and black. Quick, before company comes, I haul the vase to the laundry room sink, and I promise I will clean it out very soon, maybe even take the remains to the compost pile for a proper burial. Inviting cut flowers in to the home is a commitment, an agreement that must be carefully considered. There are consequences and responsibilities that extend far beyond that initial thrill, the spicy aroma of carnations, the lovers' blush of the opening roses.

My mother was my first and greatest gardening influence. She planted thriving vegetable gardens, covered homemade cheesecakes with her home grown strawberries, and kept zinnias and roses blooming all around. I worshipped her ability to name, seemingly, every flower. And she assured me that some day I would know their names too. For a time she really loved fuchsias, especially the ones in hanging baskets. She said the flowers reminded her of earrings, or Scarlett's ear-bobs. I was in high school when she came home with a large hanging basket of fuchsias. Our budget was tight and she was rationalizing her impulsive purchase, and I questioned her choice asking, "Why would you want a plant with flowers that are just going to die?" She sighed, and thoughtfully shared, "Beautiful flowers are like sex; sometimes the passion is irresistible and you don't think of the consequences until later."

The other gardener in my life has been my Grandmother. My mother's mother. She is passionate for geraniums. I never liked geraniums, mostly because of their pungent smell. But she collects every color she can find, and shape and leaf variety. She would be walking through a mall, or passed a neighbor's home and sneak a snip, snap a stem. Her kitchen window or patio table was always covered in jars and glasses of specimens she had acquired and was nurturing to root and flourish. We teased her, "Keep a quarter handy, Grandma, you may have to call us from jail some day!" My Grandmother sympathizes with every failing plant, pale leaf, sorry bud, and neglected flower. And I have seen her bring plenty back from the brink.

Now her days are mostly full of caring for her husband, and so I try to keep her roses happy, ridding them of aphids, trimming the fading blossoms. I have even planted geraniums along our driveway. I pull the snails out of them and take away the dry flowers, wilted leaves. They do have a pungent smell, but they come in a dazzling array of colors, they survive heat and cold, dry conditions, wind and some neglect. They are doing very well, spreading along our once empty property and making this a more beautiful place.

Tomorrow, before it gets too hot, before other things call my attention, I will plant the snapdragons and lobelia. I'll amend the weedy plot of dirt with the good stuff collecting under the rabbit hutches, and hopefully I will take the time to water them regularly enough, even cut some flowers and bring them inside. And I should write myself a note, and tack it to my wallet, another on my calendar for Fall: Do Not Buy More Bulbs! I only got around to planting 1/3 of the hundred or more I brought home last Fall.


Lately I have been thinking about what makes writing interesting to read. I've been thinking about the things I most enjoy reading, or that affect me most. Interesting topics help, but I think "honesty" is what makes something engaging and worth reading. "Truth" is a little too blunt or clinical. "Honesty" suggests some emotion, some confessing, opening up and showing vulnerability.

It would be truthful to say that I like flowers. It would elaborate the point to say that I love flowers. But neither of these statements reaches a level of honesty that stimulates interest.

Flowers can be described in seemingly contradictory ways which is an attribute of them that I like. Flowers are fragile and audacious, delicate and bold. Flowers are elegant, sophisticated and refined. Flowers ramble and spread, clutter and sprawl, carelessly dropping seeds and opening their petals with abandon.

I love the face of a flower when the petals are painted, like a pansy's, and one can imagine it has a beating and affectionate heart, and confections under its pillow. I love the slow blooming, awakening of a tightly furled rose bud. It opens wider and wider, the color deepening or fading, but changing every day until it is as open and lush and as promising as it ever will be. Roses open like a precious secret that is gradually revealed. Zinnias reach for the sun and suddenly burst forth, brass blaring, color dazzling and with the volume of the night sky on the Fourth of July.

Every season there is a flower that is my favorite, or is it every time I turn around and see a new one blooming? My sweet peas are fading in the late Spring heat. Their once tender tendrils are brittle and browned, the seed pods are drying too. But I cannot pull them up. Not just yet. There are still a few blossoms, lavender, magenta and shell pink. They are still hanging on and delighting me with there delicacy and grace, and especially with their fragrance. Sweet peas are the smell of a fairies' tea party, of morning dew and twilights' goodnight kiss. In the Fall I'll plant their hard, round seeds again, then gather the flowers in Spring to love all over again.

Children should plant sunflowers and petunias. Sunflowers, because they are towers that defy the limits of expectations. Like children, sunflowers follow the light and willfully reach for the sky. Sunflowers have broad open faces that are packed with potential, hope and color. Petunias are varied and fragrant, colorful and happy. They are old fashioned and sentimental. They grow easily enough, but with tenderness and caring they can flourish and spread and be remarkably hearty. Petunias, like children, want to be loved and appreciated, and under your watchful, adoring eyes, they will show you how beautiful they can be.

I love flowers, from seed to fade. I love their smell and feel, and the way they fill a corner with color, or stand up to the wind and the rain. I love tidy little beds of violas and alyssum, and hillsides spread all over with poppies and bluebonnets. I love the small and clustered, blue flowers that cover the woody, stocky branches of the rosemary shrubs. I love the smooth length of a calla lily, with its gracefully opening spade. I love the way dandelions call to children passing by, "Pick me. Pick me!"

Look in to a flower's face, and find the world inside a world. Open your heart to the fascination of a tiny, pretty something, with a cycle and a process and a promise. See it beyond words and description. Be inspired to willfully reach for what seems out of your grasp.

Monday, June 16, 2003

It's just time for a picture.

The day is getting ahead of me. I can see it there, in the distance, taunting me: "I'm ahead of you! You are behind and following me and I am in front." I am thinking of eating the last concha from El Tigre Market and then using the mild carbohydrate rush to get far ahead of the day. Of course I would be risking a late afternoon sugar crash, with little chance of recovery.

The frog has it all figured out. He sat like that, his legs hanging below the water and he didn't care where the day was. Hanging out. Just living his frog life and losing track of time. Waiting for lunch to drop by his pad.