Soon to be renowned!

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Spontaneous Combustion

Stand back!

Some years, the transition from summer to fall simmers and creeps across leaves like caramelizing onions. Slow, steady. Not too hot now, or they'll burn. A sweetness tenderly kindled and set free from harsher, earthy stuff. Lovely. Sublime. A fall that pairs well with smooth soups and mild cheese. Grab something light and crisp on the palate to sip alongside, maybe a nice pinot gris or Diet 7Up.

This is not that kind of fall.

Some years, fall sizzles and flashes and pops—those same onions left to smoke and char in the skillet while you dash out of the kitchen to officiate a bubble-bath-turned-battle-bath between your two children. Such an autumn goes well heaped on burgers or brats. This time of year, one might opt for a pumpkin-flavored microbrew to wash it down. Enjoy at your own pace, then go check on the kids in timeout. 

This is not that kind of fall.

Then there are the years when all of the foliage in the garden seems to spontaneously combust into outright flame. Where yesterday hung the green (if piqued) leaves of summer, now, suddenly, there is only fire. All livid scarlet and retina-searing orange. Autumn spreads by shock waves from one tree to the next. Knocks you off your feet. Blink and another blueberry bush is ablaze.

Here, unfortunately, the onion metaphor quickly breaks down, unless one invokes some newfangled molecular gastronomy technique involving acetylene welding torches and/or sorcery. (Now that's a cooking show I would watch). A fall of this severity does not pair well with food, unless you care to stand back and hurl marshmallows or raw steaks in the general vicinity of your witch hazel's seething embers and hope for the best. Any accompanying libations ought only be issued at high pressure, from great distance, via fire hose. 

This is the kind of fall we are experiencing: an explosion of fiery senescence; a good-riddance bonfire to the summer-that-never-was; onions blasted to ashen oblivion; one last apocalyptic hurrah...

And one heck of a good show. 

Now how do I hook up this fire hose to my keg of 7Up?

Friday, August 2, 2019

Plants are Terrible People

Caution: weird garden stuff inside. 

Finally! After three years and countless hours spent writing and editing, my second book, "Plants are Terrible People," is now available on Amazon, both in print and for Kindle/E-reader.

That's right, for all you who have been craving a dose of absurd garden miscellany to giggle about and ponder: go forth and get your fix.

This book took everything I had, and would still not have been possible without the help of my brother, Jesse, and mom, Jodi, whose editing insights were invaluable; and my wife, Roni, whose help with the cover graphics and support throughout the whole process was likewise priceless. My sincerest thanks to them and to everyone who read my first book, "Twenty Reasons Not To Garden (And Why I Ignore Them All)". Without you all, I would never have had the courage to see this insane project through to the end.

And to those of you who do choose to read this new volume: thank you in advance. Being a self-published author requires the support and patronage of people willing to take a chance with their time and money. It is my hope that this book moves you in some small way; to laughter, to commiseration, to surprise, to a fighting back of tears. This, more than anything, is the critical measure of success for a writer.

That being said, it feels tawdry to ask, but if you do partake of "Plants are Terrible People," or any other independently produced art out there on the great wide internet, know that it would do a profound service to the artist if you might take a few seconds to post a rating or review on whatever site you purchased from. These small acts of customer feedback are the lifeblood of all independent creators attempting to bushwhack through the online jungle of big money and big names. Your reviews are the slash of a great machete, clearing the tangle and rendering visible those small, lovely things that deserve to be seen in this world.

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.


Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Saving The Bees

One of the lucky ones.

This year, in a move 100 percent motivated by environmental sustainability and not at all by indifference or laziness, we decreed that Fencebroke Promontory's lawns, such as they are, should be allowed to run wild with white clover. This, in an effort to provide more forage for the downtrodden wild honeybees we've all heard so much about.

As a method for attracting more honeybees this has worked swimmingly. As an excuse to ignore the weeds in one's lawn, it's been fabulous (if not entirely convincing when held in defense against neighbors' dirty looks). Whether or not we are in fact "saving" the bees, however, remains to be seen. That's because I myself have accidentally stepped on no fewer than five of these noble pollinators when ambling barefoot through the lawn. My daughter: three. My wife: just one that I know about. My son: none so far, but he's due.

Not that we're keeping track.

And those are just the known casualties. How many more have been flattened under careless heals too well shod to feel the meek sting of a bee's dying outrage? Have my heavy old gardening clogs become weapons of oblivious mass destruction? Am I to be someday tried for apiarian war crimes by a tribunal of disaffected survivors?

It certainly seems likely.

But maybe I deserve such a fate. Because if anything, the honeybee has become more literally downtrodden under my watch, and my own bumbling bigfeet are the ones doing the trodding. As penance, I've tried imposing draconian lawn-usage rules for the family, but it is surprisingly difficult to play soccer on tiptoe, and the old "lawn is made of lava" trick works better as an afternoon game than a summer-long edict.

Oh well, I tried. I can only hope the little unlucky buzzers got a good sip of clover nectar before stabbing my daughter's toe and rendering her terrified of the very grass and world she plays upon. Seems like, for a bee, there'd be worse ways to go.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Unfinished Business

Wow, where does the time go? It seems like only yesterday I was apologizing for neglecting this blog. Now here it is, time to do so once again. My easy excuse for this episode is that I've been tearing my hair out trying to finish my next book in a somewhat timely manner. But since I've failed to meet even that low bar, it's not much of an excuse at all now, is it?

In any case, I am sorry. But I'm here now, so chill. This time around, to help mark the occasion, and in the spirit of unfinished business everywhere, I thought I'd highlight a few of the other projects around Fencebroke Promontory that have been neglected, ignored, or otherwise stiff-armed away from any sort of satisfying conclusion. Keep in mind, this is a very short list meant to represent an extensive litany of crimes against completion. Which means the list itself is incomplete and as such should probably be on the list as well. All right, we're off to a great start!

*Fencebroke's Namesake Broken Fence.

Pretty sure the plants are holding up the fence. 

At this point I think I'd prefer total collapse over this leaning purgatory of fencedom in which we've been stuck for months/years now. Ideally, the fence would just be replaced, a job we are perfectly capable of tackling ourselves. But in the stated interest of not wasting our entire summer on such a project, we opted instead to hire someone else to do the job. Or rather, we tried. So far, we have failed to crack the fencing contractor code, which requires that some as-yet-mysterious combination of personal charm, fenceworthiness, subterfuge, and scheduling riddles be met before anyone will actually take our money and do stuff. To this end, we are wasting our entire summer and failing to secure a truer fence. Woo!

*This pile of rocks.

Rocks! Got yer rocks here!

I suppose it depends on how you look at it. As a pile of unwanted white rocks inherited with the house, it's as "done" as it's ever going to be. As an unsightly driveway obstacle for going on two years now, it's top notch. But as something to be rid of, well ... could I interest anyone in a lovely pile of white rocks?

*The Spot Where Nothing Grows.

I give up.

This one ...  @#*!%^! ...  Spot.

*The Wandering Hinoki.

Put me in, coach!

Every baseball team needs a utility player; that one athlete versatile enough to step in for any position, but not quite awesome enough to earn a full-time role anywhere. This here hinoki false-cypress is my utility player. This one plant has been relocated a dozen times at least and fills in respectably wherever it's asked to, but never with such aplomb that it can't be unceremoniously scooped from the ground as soon as something better comes along. What a pro. Where will tomorrow's roster land it? In the veggie garden? Lending evergreen support to the apple trees? In some sort of harebrained, impromptu rooftop garden? You'll just have to stay tuned!

At least the watering can works like it's supposed to.

One of these days a convenient, efficient, and low-stress watering system for the whole garden will be at my fingertips, ready to be activated with a single flip of a switch—or better yet, maybe I'll be able to ask Alexa to do it, so I really feel like I'm large and in charge around here. "ALEXA! THE BLUEBERRIES ARE DRY, WHAT DO YOU HAVE TO SAY FOR YOURSELF?!"
<Hmm... I don't recognize that.>
No, I didn't think she would. So until that day she does, I've cobbled together a makeshift system of faulty soaker-hoses, rain barrels, overeager children with watering cans, leftover kiddy-pool water, and an uneasy truce with impermanence when it comes to plant mortality, in order to tackle the never-ending task that is irrigation.

Okay, I could go on, obviously, but since this list is kind of stressing me out as it is, I'm going to leave it incomplete and pretend it's not all that bad. 

Until next time thenand let's be honest, who knows when that will be—nobody work too hard this summer, and I'll check in the next time I feel an apology is overdue.

I would tack on a reminder here to keep an eye out for my new book, Plants Are Terrible People, which should be released very soon, but if this list is any indication of just how indefinitely things can get delayed around here, I wouldn't hold your breath if I were you. 

Monday, April 8, 2019

Spring To Spring

The apple trees are blooming again. Ditto the daffodils; same with the hyacinths. Great thunderclouds of pollen are once more billowing out from every tree on Earth to reconvene in my sinuses. That one #%#!@ dandelion is back to taunt me. The whole showery, flowery refrain of Spring is chirping along with the birds at full tilt. Our hemisphere has wobbled back to face the sun, and all the garden and nature beyond are conspiring to make us believe the world is the same place it was a year ago. As if, from one Spring to the next, nothing really changes. As if starting over was the same as never ending.

But it’s not.

The seasons would have us marvel how they bring us back around each year. How each Spring, the same flowers bloom, the same fledgling birds stumble from their nests. They ask us to trace the line of their circle and cry “Infinity!”, forgetting, of course, as seasons do, that while trees may bloom every year, the same flower never emerges twice. Those are not the same birds fledging; they are just more birds.

We may stagger and spin along with the planet, we may turn our faces to the warmth of the returning sun, but we do not live on the endless line of a circle. Ours is rather the bounded space within, where air and time and luck are not replenished. Once any of these is exhausted, we either stop spinning altogether, or are hurled off to trace another line whose shape we can’t comprehend. Life itself goes on, goes around again, for however many seasons it may, and there is comfort to be found there. But we ourselves have only the one season that is a life.

Our life.

Because we are not the apple tree, the perennial bearer whose cycles mirror the seasons indefinitely. We do not get another Spring. Each of us is but a single blossom. This is our one chance to unfurl and flower, to sing in scent for the bees, to grow within us whatever fruit may follow and then drop, spent, to ground. None of us knows how long we have on the branch, which perching bird or gust of wind will cast us off. But we do know the season can’t last forever.

One year ago, the sun’s angle in the sky as it dawned outside my window was about the same as it is now. The day would have been as long. But as far as I’m concerned, this is where the resemblance ends. Because one year ago I woke to the news that shuddered up and down my soul and hasn’t stopped since. It shouts from a cave in my chest and runs loose in dreams and idle moments and stolen memories.

My brother is gone.

How could anything be the same, ever again?

No, the world is different now. And in truth, it is so with every passing moment for every person on Earth. So much can change in the space of a heartbeat, in a morning glance towards a phone with suddenly too many messages. How much more becomes strange and unrecognizable from Spring to Spring? No chance realignment of the Earth and its star could change this. No periodic confluence of cherry blossoms and chickadees could reassemble the petals fallen in seasons past.

What these things can do is remind us.

This is our one life, our one and only season here, our one bloom.

So make yours beautiful.

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Under The Snow

Sing it with me!
A northwest gardener could be forgiven, upon waking to a scene like this, for enjoying a bit of a freakout with his morning coffee. When it's the second time in a February week he's woken to a scene like this, one might also allow a good useless twenty minutes for hyperventilating at the window, gazing out at the soft white ruin, and imagining the worst. 

If, furthermore, our northwest gardener previously allowed himself to be lulled into a false sense of security during the procession of mild winters that prefaced this scene, and if he used that confidence to pepper rare plants of marginal hardiness throughout his garden, well, then, why not get out the weed torch and go a little post-apocalyptic psycho trying to melt all the snow with that there flamethrower? 

And who among us, northwest gardeners, when cold-slapped in the face with a scene like this, would not think immediately of the unprecedented number of "hardy" overwintering vegetables we planted this year, which were only weeks away from rewarding our hard work, foresight, and patience with delicious early spring crops of broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and the like? Would not most of us then, having no better outlet for our frustration, launch into an alarming, unhinged rendition of "Under The Snow", sung and choreographed to the tune of everyone's favorite submarine anthem from The Little Mermaid?

And finally, I suppose, if this (entirely hypothetical) northwest gardener was actually employed as a professional horticulturist and really, really ought to have known better than to beg the wrath of the gardening gods by opening his garden beds to a heretical cohort of New Zealand shrubs, Taiwanese evergreens, and unprotected brassicas, I'd say a little humble pie might be on the menu for breakfast.

So I'll have that. And another pot of coffee if you please. It's shaping up to be a long February.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Kinder-Garden Planning

I recently sat down with my favorite seed catalog to begin the arduous process of planning the garden for the coming season. It's the same old dilemmas every time: which crops where; which seeds when; how many times to try growing parsnips before invoking everyone's favorite definition of insanity—figuring it all out can be a true labor of love ... but also a labor of indecision, insomnia, and joyless, iterative cost-benefit analyses.

'Love' sounds better, right?

Don't get me wrong, I feel incredibly grateful that I even have a garden to plan. The ability to grow food to share with friends, family, and community is an utter privilege, so by all means, someone please slap me across the face with cold winter's carrot the next time I seem to forget that. It is only through outrageous fortune that I'm able to vacillate back and forth between potential winter squashes as if I were witness to a riveting, if unusually gourd-heavy match at Wimbledon. At the same time, if someone came along and offered to take over the planning part for maybe just one year, I would definitely hear them out ... 

Oh hello, what's this, now?

Well well well, what have we here? 'Someone' must have heard my passive aggressive cries for help. From the looks of it, someone named 'Daisy', who was possibly growing tired of Daddy muttering under his breath at page after page of lettuces when there were important Candyland scores to settle. 

That's right, this year our daughter Daisy stepped up big time to take one for the gardening team. I found this gem of a garden plan tucked away inside a mess of apparently backlogged kindergarten assignments last week. Look at it; it's got everything we need, and labeled to boot! 'B' is for broccoli; 'L' is for lettuce; 'A' apple; 'K' kale. One presumes those are carrots stabbing the kale, and the 'R', of course, if you have to ask, stands for 'rain barrel'. Add some sunshine and the can-do attitude captured in ME's smile, and you've got a garden my friends. (Also, I checked: that's not a legless weasel eating the kale, it's a watering can. We're good.)

I have no idea whether this sort of thing is normal or healthy for a five-year-old, but frankly, I'm too proud to care. My girl can already sketch out a garden better than her old man can. Now, the trick becomes whether I can get her to do it again next time without letting her know that it's a big help to me. I learned that lesson when I "let her" put rocks in the wheelbarrow a few too many times last year. 

Also, I have to imagine, I might expect some carefully-worded inquiries from her teacher if this becomes a regular thing. But we'll bribe that bridge with apples when we come to it.