Sunday, February 28, 2010


Last night, the last cabbage of the year bubbled down into a delicious curry.

It had started as a seed, as hard and round as a lead pellet, on the 7th of May last year. I started late, as did spring. The seedlings didn’t get into the ground until June 9th. A very late start for a rigorous plant that can take Spring’s changes with ease. A plant that actually benefits from the cool rain and bursts of warmth April and May offer. And sulks in the heat of July and August. Our farm is perfect for cole crops: broccoli, kale , kohlrabi, Napa, and cabbage all do very well in the deep moisture retentive soils of our late afternoon shaded field. Even in the hottest summer on record the cabbages thrived.
We must have had 120 or more heads from the small early ‘Gonzales’ to the mammoth savoy ‘Perfection Drumhead’ to the late winter lingering ‘January King’. When I was digging around in the ‘fridge for what to make for dinner, I found the last cabbage nestled into the vegetable bin among wilted green onions and some leathery lemons. I was inspired, as I often am by cabbage, to make one of my favorite dishes from Camellia Panjabi’s 50 Great Curries of India, the simple recipe which she simply calls: “cabbage with spices and tomatoes”.

My long love affair with cabbage probably started when I was an art student taking frequent train trips to Chicago from Milwaukee which passed through the kraut fields of Franksville, Wisconsin. The row after row of blue green orbs was as stunning as any Nam June Paik installation, or van Gogh painting Chicago had to offer. There was something about the way the rows peeled through my field of vision as the train sped by that was mesmerizing. But already then there was a deeper more penetrating memory an invisible memory, primal even, which had lodged cabbage so enigmatically in my mind. It is my mother’s creamed cabbage with caraway seed, a recipe that probably came from the Old Country with my grandmother. There is nothing like tender slow cooked cabbage whether it the creamy white and mellow like my mother’s, or fiery and lava red like Ms. Panjabi’s. There is also nothing like coleslaw, sauerkraut or a French potee.

But it is not out of hunger alone that I scour the cabbage section of every seed catalogue that enters the house for new cultivars or heirloom varieties. Cabbages are my roses. Their fetal roundness, they are where babies come from after all, just delight me like a ball does a dog or the full moon does a sufi.
When I woke at 4 a.m. this morning to let the black cat in, the full moon, veiled just by a hint of fog, a bone chilling , gothic fog, was already touching down on the tops of the trees lining the western bluff above the valley. It was a heavy pregnant moon. Full of expectation. A forceful moon splitting open the fist tight buds of the plums and cherries, like I split the last cabbage with the cleaver, before I shredded it and melted it by slow cooking into a delicious curry.

Sunday, February 21, 2010


When I step out the front door it is hard to believe. February. Can this be February? A giant forsythia in full bloom. Birds singing nesting songs as if it were April. Bud scales peeling, falling; it should be snow. I am adamant in my disbelief. I insist there is something wrong.
But then I succumb, at night I succumb. To the frogs.
Their song is so loud it becomes silent. Or silencing like the huge velvet drapes in a theater absorbing the audiences’ expectant murmurs.
When you live in a swamp you feel like a member of the Addams Family. Frog song becomes seductively symphonic, as do coyote yips, or the basso profundo of the barred owls. The blinding darkness, on cloudy nights, makes your ears larger, makes your sinewy joins vibrate with song. I can not go to bed without standing in the absorbing whirr of Spring’s arrival. For a moment, or two I believe. It is too real to deny.
As I lie in bed, “Finally,” I say, still winter weary, and a bit cranky with an alder pollen headache. The invisible frogs ringing like bells, fleshy wide-eyed and leggy bells, invisible bells of the blackness. Their song dropping meticulously, their song, like a strong rain on the skylight, lulling me to sleep. Lulling me into belief.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010


I'm too busy to be lazy.
But that doesn't stop me form letting other people do my work.

My friend and writer Debra Prinzing and I went to my friend Jon's for tea the other weekend. Debra caught it beautifully in words and pictures. Visit her blog Shed Style to see.

Thursday, February 11, 2010


My brother Herby and I flew into Phoenix last Friday. He from Wisconsin, and I from Seattle. They call us “ Snowbirds” there not because of our pallid complexions but because we’re part of a huge flock of Northerners that come by the jet-loads to the Sonoran Desert each winter.
We were actually going to celebrate my sister Peggy’s birthday. Nothing auspicious, just her 61st . We missed her 60th. It’s hard to believe that she’s that old already, she’s so lively and happy and full of energy as always. And still somehow mysteriously blond, though I thought she had brown hair in her youth.
My brother and sister, although they are my siblings, are also my oldest friends. Our rivalous natures have calmed down over the years, and we focus less on what we disagree about and more on what we have in common. One of those things is a walk in the woods. So we took a walk last week in Spur Creek State Park on the edge of Tonto National Forest.
I’ve been coming to the Sonoran Desert regularly for almost 30 years now. As the planet’s wettest desert it receives 3-16 inches of rain a year, which supports nearly 2000 species plants and many animals. Still it is hard to image it as forest, though there are trees, like the yellow palo verde ( Parkinsonia microphylla) and honey mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa). This forest is really more famous for the emblematic saguaro cactus (Carnegeia gigantea) which towers above everything else. They lend a grandeur to the desert like conifers do to the Northwest forests.

For many years I imagined I’d become a desert denizen like my sister who fled Wisconsin as soon as she had a chance. Why I chose the absolute opposite, the rainy Pacific Northwest I begin to wonder more with age. How quickly all the little aches and pains vanished after a few days in the desert. But the sun does not always shine there either, one day during my visit the skies were absolutely leaden. It made all the plants shine. And a hard rain fell, sweetening the air, bringing flowers into bloom in mere hours. Over my 30 years of visiting the desert I have grown so familiar with this place it is like a home away from home, partly due to my sister’s generous hospitality. And partly due to my insistent curiosity they wants to get to know the desert. I take every chance I can to get out into the desert even if it is just to walk the dog through the washes dissecting the subdivision where my sister and her husband live. Pale faced and blond I feel strangely out of place there, as strange as the agaves and cactus and aloes cluttering our kitchen window sill in the grave cold north. There is a desert inside me like a little twin that never developed and when I go to the desert he lives, but briefly.
I often dream of gardening there, I can’t help but wander my sister’s subdivision re-imagining the gardens. What they can grow! I remember my first visit back in 1980, I was stunned by the palms and orange trees, and bougainvilleas. Now they all seem boring to me like rhododendrons do here. As I got deeper into the native flora I started to develop a love for jojoba (Simmondsia chinensis) and Ocotillo (Fouquieria splendens). A few years ago Michael and I visited after a very wet winter and were wowed by the desert ephemerals.

But after years of developing an amateur botanist’s appreciation of the intricate and amazing Sonoran flora, I still get floored by the exotics, especially the aloes. On the last day my sister, my brother and I went to the Phoenix Zoo. Zoos make me feel a bit queasy at times. My own claustrophobia gasping for breath at seeing animals in confinement. Certainly zoos are more sensitive than when I was a child and gorillas were behind glass in a tiled cubicle. But I noticed I began focusing on the wild birds that flew in and out of cages robbing the caged animals of their food. I also couldn’t help staring at the aloes, dramatically in bloom far from their African home. It seems less cruel to displace a plant than an animal. That’s what I like about gardening, plants are so willing to please. Though I doubt I’ll ever plant an aloe in my garden here.

With my brother now retired and my sister close to retirement, life seems as fleeting as this desert weekend. Some things like our sibling rivalries are easy to let fly in the winds of time, giving room for our love to grow. As we walked quietly, well not really, through the desert remembering our youth and teasing each other about getting old, my appreciation for our decades long relationship which endured cloudy days and sunny ones became stronger.
He said, "Even the desert will bloom."
I think he was speaking metaphorically, but I believe the desert blooms for those with their hearts open.
I'm working on it.
Happy Valentine's Day.

Thursday, February 4, 2010


I've really been trying to enjoy the winter for what it is this year. And we've had it easy. With record warm temperature January's been more like March. What will March be like? I'm still happy to be off to sunny, arid Arizona tomorrow. To dry out a little, to warm up a little and to celebrate my sister Peggy's birthday. In lieu of a regular post I am offering this link to the 26 Minute Memoir blog started by my writing instructor and friend Theo Nestor. I posted there last weekend and ofcourse my peice includes flowers.