Saturday, October 31, 2009


These past few cloudy rainy weeks have drained light from our days which shrink into blackness at either end. Black as blood pudding, which I have neither seen nor tasted, but clings to the roof of my mouth in vivid imagining. Black as the cat, like blindness. But, ah, what blindness does for the sense of smell.
I stood in the drive at the blackest moment of the day, 6:45 a.m. The porch light enlivened by a motion detector blinked on and off, then finally failed and plunged the dogs and I into blindness. The warm air became chaotic with information. First sleepy, then soapy, tidal, almost, as atomizing winds off the Pacific swept in hundreds of miles from the coast to this valley in the foothills. The new warmth after many cold days conjured spring, or a least the trust that spring will come.
A tannic bite driven out of the rattled Lombardy poplar leaves clips the end off October. Oh, oval October ends shattered and scattered in the gentle rot of leaves. How can this buttery rot smell so fresh? How can the bears’ footprints be made visible? How can the silent birds heaving sighs be heard through all this blackness but by scent?
Added in layers: still a pinkish rose; the chunky orange pumpkins just before decay; the folded warmth of the blanket still clinging to my hair as I stand in the dark garden asking how does birth eat away at death like worms, as worms? How does this degeneration access and disperse such a sweetness in such a blackness?
Where are my keys?
I fumble blindly in a darkness rich with information, except for the answer to the question:
Where are my keys?

Sunday, October 25, 2009


I have been told I am a slow eater, almost derisively. I had to learn to eat slow, just like I had to learn to eat fast, to keep up with my ravenous brother. Or maybe it’s the pace of this country where fast and food are nearly inseparable. After asking my shiatsu therapist once if there was a shiatsu yoga I got an unexpected one word answer: “Chewing.”
I know I swallow way more than I chew, still I get berated for eating slowly. And still I’d like to eat even slower, even though a little guilt comes over me - like a white butterfly over the cabbages though I know they are bad I find them hard to kill because they’re beautiful, besides I also find them difficult to catch-, a guilt for holding back the other diners from moving on to dessert, a guilt for not having the rapacious nature our culture with it’s insistence on ever greater speed adores.
After returning from California where we were trying to prolong the pleasures of summer, the frost had done in the garden, blackened dahlias, glads, squash and amaranth - I was sure it was over. But now the warm rains have returned giving us a second, if rather wet, summer. The Rosa ‘Bonica’ is in bloom again. Not just a few flowers, but full trusses as pink as May. Actually the whole bush is covered with flowers.

I’ve preferred fall foliage to flowers for as long as I can remember. Is there something more masculine about it that appeals to me? Or is it that my favorite colors red, orange and gold are displayed in such quantity that it’s hard not to absolutely jubilant. Even the forsythia, which trumpeted a yellow so loud last March you couldn’t help but wake up, then fell into a rangy and somnambulant green all summer long, shows color again. Bloody maroons, coppery oranges. And it’s signature color yellow; just a reminder, or is it a promise of what’s to come?

The apples have all dropped and been eaten by the bears, except for the 3 or 4 bushels we have stored in the basement. The pumpkins and squash have been rushed from the rot inducing rains into the basement. The last cucumbers hang from their trellises, of little interest now.

Some of the first things I planted last spring are still standing in the garden though. The Red Bor kale, not the best for eating, becomes more ominously elegant as the rest of the garden dies around it. There are still at least 30 heads of cabbage. I’m hoping the January Kings actually make it through to January this year, not getting drown by flood waters.

This beauty is Bacalan de Rennes, a French heirloom cabbage that I tried for the first time this year. She seems too fragile in her powder pale coloring and ruffled edges to withstand a great deal of frost or rain, but I want to see if she can. Her taste is so delicate I have just pulled leaves off and munched them in the garden.
One of my clients has a plastic “stone” in her garden with a Gandhi quote “carved” into it. It reads: “There is more to life than increasing it’s speed.” I used to pride myself on my speed. One friend used to even refer to me as a hummingbird, for the shear velocity at which I spent my day. But something more beautiful is happening to me as I age; I’m slowing down.
I caught a cold this past week; it was a doozy. I coddled and befriended it, once I got over the missing work melodrama in my head and settled down on the sofa with the remote control and watched movie after movie [ “Death at a Funeral” was my favorite; I love black British humor.] I indulged myself in a stack of books. Katherine Mansfield short stories, one of my favorites from my youth, and the new Lydia Millet stories “Love in Infant Monkeys”. I finally read “The Golden Spruce” by John Vaillant, amazing. I flipped through “ Gourmet” ( bye-bye, boo-hoo), "Garden Design” (yawn) and “Harper’s” ( the Index!) I almost began to wonder if there was a way to prolong this illness, except my back started hurting from lying on the lumpy sofa too long.
And that damn cabbage white guilt kept flitting around singing, “Wasted Days and Wasted Nights.”

Sunday, October 18, 2009


Today a group of Seattle area garden bloggers (SAGBUTT) met at the Lake Wilderness Arboretum in Maple Valley. I was delightfully surprised by the this volunteer run arboretum. It was amazingly tidy and had many interesting plants. But what I found shocking was the number of hardy fuchsias. The Northwest Fuchsia Society is developing a display and test garden there. I was taken by dark color of "White Knight Amethyst".

The garden also contains the largest collection of western azaleas (Rhododendron occidentale) in the world, over 200 kinds. This west coast native was collected and propagated by the team of Smith and Mossman between 1966 and 1981. Though most were changing color and dropping leaves a few sported some idiosyncratic fall flowers.

Others let us know we were heading toward spring spring with their large flower buds.

A 'Northern Hi Lights' deciduous azalea in the nursery also starts to bloom out of season. I couldn't help but drop a few bucks at the arboretum's fine little nursery, open sporadically through out the year. I imagine I'll drop a few more next spring when I head down to see the western azaleas in bloom. And definitely in the future falls when the hardy fuchsias start blooming again.

Saturday, October 17, 2009


I love orange groves, and cabernets. I love swimming outdoors in mid-October. I love pods of sea lions herding schools of sardines into which pelicans dive under the Golden Gate Bridge. I love to drive, and better yet to be driven. I love the dusty coastal smell of the peninsula south of San Francisco. Michael calls it “smoggy”, redolent with childhood memories both sweet and acrid. I, liberated by not having any childhood associations with this smell, find it “exotic” almost surreal. California is surreal. At least to me. How can someplace be so beautiful and grotesque at the same time? Like an attenuated super-model? So appealing and so repelling?
And yet the pleasures: a cabernet buzz, David-Hockney-braided-blue-shadows on the bottom of the pool, the Perfect Temperature. I guess I still have too much of the Wisconsinite in my flesh, in my very bones. “This won’t last.” Even know I can hear the slow silent movement of the tectonic plates. Yes, I cannot “chillax”, as the Californians say. Too much nordic inbreeding, I guess, making me the blond-haired, blue-eyed “monster of doing” that I am.

But, ah, the pool, the 80 degree lemon laden days.
Ah, the bloody cabernets. And lantana lolly-gaging over walls in non-stop bloom, and tibouchina flowering freely with no threat of frost. It seems like paradise. But maybe like Adam, Paradise isn’t enough for me. I am not enamored, like the Beach Boys with an “Endless Summer”. Still a wistfulness came over me like an 19th century consumption when we left California last Sunday. We were stepping out of our delusion that summer wasn’t over, and into the “dark” north. Frost had taken the dahlias, and basil and field grown tomatoes (the green house tomatoes are still going), while we were enjoying ourselves in that place that always feels more foreign to me than India. India actually felt strangely like home when I visited it two years ago.
I welcome the clouds and the rain. As the clerk at the Redmond gas station said, “We’ve had a good run; we can’t complain.” I wanted to complain, but I realized I love change. I voted for change. Maybe I also love the end of summer, fearlessly love the wistful melancholic celebration that is Fall, flushed orange moving toward skeletal. I am not afraid of the dark, looming tide-like and threatening on either end of the shrinking day. Not as afraid as I am of California, don’t ask me why.

The view from the tower of the De Young Museum in Golden Gate Park to the newly planted living roof of the California Academy of Sciences takes on a surrealistic feel, distorted by long evening shadows, an eagle's perspective, mirrored glass and a cabernet hang-over.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009


Fuchsia speciosa is a reluctant shrub in the Northwest, where it behaves more like a hardy perennial dying to the ground each year and returning from the roots. After our hard winter last year and without a protective mulch -- I like to call my forgetfulness “experimentation”-- I was surprised to see it return in late spring. And return it did, bigger and better than ever.

Fuchsia speciosa is a reluctant bloomer here. I barely begins to bloom before the cold sets in and shuts it down. But this year the prolonged summer is just what it wants. Warm sunny days and cool nights are following us all the way into October. It’s flowering in orangey abandon like never before.
I am not usually this patient with a plant. But as I have said I have a weakness for fuchsias. If it were any other plant I might have ripped it out by now.
I’m glad I didn’t.

Saturday, October 3, 2009


I'm not a vegetarian, but I couldn't resist kissing this cabbage. I grew 12 different types of cabbage this year, which amounted to over 120 heads. This one, "Perfection Drumhead Savoy" an heirloom from 1888, was by far the biggest. It has a bigger head than I do.

Thursday, October 1, 2009


One of my clients said this week, " I'll take 10 months of September, one of August, and one of December, just for Christmas." I couldn't agree with him more. Here in the Pacific Northwest September is the best month, yet I can't put aside my love of the "ah" months.
I love August (forgive my pronunciation) which finally offers some respite from the frenzy that started in April.
I really love October, the only "O" month; it lends such a lovely curve to the year. The morning and evening chill, closing the bright day in damp brackets, are welcome, begging for a few extra minutes in bed, or soup making at the end of the day.

The spectral presence of powdery mildew moves into the garden stealthy as fog. It surprises me every year, though it is as reliable as leaf drop.

This swelling and welted "Goosebumps" turns an orange as oval as October.