Thursday, December 30, 2010

cessations, part 2

The last verse of Deck the Hall with Boughs of Holly begins:

     Fast away the old year passes,
       fa la la la la, la la la lah!
     Hail the new, ye lads and lasses,
       fa la la la la, la la la lah!

Actually the old year passes one day at a time, but during the last week in December we have an illusion of accelerating toward an ending -- which, of course, is also a beginning. But the unknown lyricist does not sustain the themes of cessation or of starting something new. She doubles back into the holiday season:

     Follow me in merry measure,
       fa la la, fa la la, fa la lah!
     While I tell of yuletide treasure,
       fa la la la la, la la la lah!

Yes, it's always easier to linger in well-decked halls than to look ahead!

It was on February 28, 2010, that I posted cessations, part 1, where I had some fun talking about hiatuses (hiati?) and on April 16 I first attempted cessations, part 2, which, I then thought, would deal with the completion of projects. Many other thoughts of different kinds of cessations have disappeared into the fa la la la lah of fantasy and good intentions during 2010.

While we have some control over a hiatus or the completion of a project, year's end comes whether we're ready or not, and for many it's a time to take stock, evaluate progress, and look toward the new. I started this blog on January 10, 2010, while still in the afterglow of a Christmas celebration. In spite of an occasional hiatus, I feel that I'm still making progress. In fact, I may have completed a project -- a year of postings, which could find their way into a hard-copy book -- postoccupations 2010 -- in early 2011.

If this book comes to fruition, it will only be finished in the very arbitrary sense of having reached a year's-end milestone. Most of the topics will be threads to pick up and continue in 2011 if not beyond. Maybe I'll even essay to talk about real cessations beyond the artifices of hiatus and year's end.

Meanwhile, Google Blogger is the benevolent storage-and-retrieval device that makes all this possible. My loose threads are cataloged as 'labels' and my false starts are stored as 'drafts.' Fa la la la la, la la la lah indeed!

Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

fring weeds

In second spring I wrote about the spring-like season that follows the onset of fall rains in Southern California. Having decided that the terms first spring and second spring are too judgmental, I'm going to call it fring -- a lovely season in its own right, and not an imitation of the flowering that begins in March.*

In spring I like to spend a lot of time pulling rain-nourished weeds out of the parking strip. With fring's infusions of laundry water and rainwater, the  common chickweed, dandelions, petty spurge, and oxalis, along with an occasional wild carrot have returned in force. But that's not all, as they say in the TV ads! There are innumerable dichondra and allysum seedlings, as well as some healthy runners -- and occasional blossoms -- on the violets.

I firmly believe my diligence in pulling spring weeds has made room for more of the wanted plants that are now getting an early start on spring 2011. Haven't I read over and over that the best way to fight weeds over the long haul is to deny them room? Another bit of conventional wisdom is that weed seeds are always lurking underground, just waiting to sprout when a vacant lot or new garden bed is forcibly dug up. Thus I try to pull weeds with minimal disturbance to the surrounding soil.

Neighbors and passersby see me pulling weeds by hand in the parking strip and sometimes remark on my patience and diligence. I generally tell them it's occupational therapy for me, but in truth it's pure recreation -- a time for quiet reflection punctuated by amusing visits. When other activities call, I add handfuls of mineral-rich weeds to the thick mulch in our raised beds.

Recently a woman asked me why I'm always working in the yard. "Isn't this supposed to be low maintenance?" she asked critically, indicating the sign that identifies us as proud harvesters of rainwater. I tried to explain that one's source of water and one's choice of plants are two different concepts, but she rushed on with her silent husband and their two slathering German shepherds. My bleat of "I do it for FUN!" dissipated in their wake.

With laundry water at my disposal, I hope to keep the parking strip 'greened up' year round. Where the greenness of spring 2010 was mostly weeds, the greenness of 2011 should include a thick mat of dichondra punctuated by white, purple, and pink blossoms. These last will be the primroses planted from seed last year.

How will I explain the lushness to folks who don't know that water isn't really redeemed until it's used?

- - - - - -
*Kurt Vonnegut defined six two-month seasons for areas of cold climate. He added locking between fall and winter and unlocking between winter and spring.
- - - - - -
On February 18, 2013, I found the source of Vonnegut's definition. I had thought it was an essay or speech, but it was in fact the novel Cat's Cradle (Chapter 119):
I had heard it suggested one time that the seasons in the temperate zone should be six rather than four in number: summer, autumn, locking, winter, unlocking, and spring. And I remembered that as I straightened up beside our manhole, and stared and listened and sniffed. There were no smells. There was no movement. Every step I took made a gravelly squeak in blue-white frost. And every squeak was echoed loudly. The season of locking was over. The earth was locked up tight.
It was winter, now and forever. (Reference, Wikiquote).

Friday, December 17, 2010

drops in the bucket, part 4

With rain predicted for the next four days, I'm taking a break from harvesting laundry water, a major preoccupation since early October, when I wrote drops in the bucket, part 3.

During these spring-like weeks, I've been seriously questioning my values with regard to the uses of time and water, and finding that these two valuable commodities have much in common. Both water and time exist in finite quantities, yet humans tend to treat them as if they were infinite.

My first response to a new water source was that I could add a whole new range of plants to the garden, and, coincidentally, early October was the time when our 99¢ Only store received a huge shipment of what they labelled as 'mini fern' -- nephrolepis exaltata. As soon as I looked up the Latin name, I knew that 'mini' referred mainly to size of pot (2"), though I suspect that the plants I bought were a 'mini ruffle' cultivar of the Boston fern or Victorian parlor fern grown extensively as a houseplant in the east and midwest.*

Now I have a dozen ruffly Boston ferns thriving in the front garden, thanks to generous applications of laundry water. These are planted in groups of three, with each group centered on an empty 3-4" plastic pot and surrounded by a deep mulch. I water the ferns by filling and refilling the empty pots and thus avoid wetting the mulch while encouraging the ferns to make deep roots.

I used to claim that I had six varieties of fern in the bed where these new ferns are prospering: three asparagus ferns (sprenger, meyer, and the vining emerald) and three varieties Kay had given to me (leather, sword, and rabbit foot). Of these, only the meyer and leather ferns remain, and I am quick to admit that the meyer is not a fern. My saga of removing unwanted asparagus ferns is related in asparagus ferns, parts 1, 2, & 3. Kay's ferns wasted away from neglect, but the leather fern has come back and makes a fitting memorial to her, along with a row of her California native irises.

Besides indulging in new plants, I've dedicated laundry water to maintaining and restoring plants that have suffered from my low-water regimen -- most notably violets, dichondra, sweet alyssum, and jade plants in the parking strip, as well as the convolvulus mauritanicus I've been treating as a bulb cover. Of course the food crops (strawberries, boysenberries, veggies) have always received high priority, while the herbs, cacti, and succulents mostly get by on little or no water.

Paradoxically, I am both saving and spending more water today than I was last spring. It's taking more control that makes this possible -- catching water as it goes by (whether from rainclouds or city pipes) and diverting it from the sewer/storm-drain system that would dump it into the ocean.

There's more to come about the process and the results.

- - - - -
*One of my favorite professors in graduate school had a huge Boston fern hanging in his office, and I remember watching it shed on his desk while we discussed the history of the English novel -- from Richardson and Fielding through Henry James -- and thinking that in California these plants could grow in the ground.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

larrupin' pie

Holiday meals always make me think of Steve's mother, Alice, with whom we shared many Thanksgivings, Christmases, and Easters (her personal favorite, I thnk).

Alice was not fond of cooking, though she did like to make sure people were well fed. Preparing the ritual feasts was a chore for her. She would put a turkey in the oven by 5:30 in the morning, and do a lot of tenting, basting, and fussing until the meal was finally served around 2:00 p.m. One year she added oysters to the stuffing, under the impression that this was a tradition my mother and I had followed.

Garrison Keillor has spoken of daughters-in-law not being trusted to cook Thanksgiving dinner -- especially the iconic turkey -- until they reach their late forties, and it's very true that a mother-in-law is reluctant to pass this particular torch. So it was with Alice. But when I finally proved myself as a holiday hostess, she was full of praise and would often describe a dinner or one of its components as "larrupin'."

Like swan (the verb), another of Alice's words, larrupin' is a multi-regional American colloquialism, but has gone upscale as the name of a pricey ($$$) cafe in Trinidad (Humboldt County), California, and its line of signature sauces.

Steve and I have kept swan alive in our dialog, but danged if larrupin' isn't in danger of slipping away. How I wish I'd told our daughter-in-law her Thanksgiving pies were larrupin'. There will be another time.
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POSToccupations by Frances Talbott-White is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License