Wednesday, April 16, 2014

What are lichen? and a Gray memory thread . . .

One of the pleasure of this older garden with a lot of stonework and stone outcroppings is the marvelous amount of intricate lichen that can be seen in the Tilden Botanic Garden. I am so proud of myself for finally learning to pronounce this word! When I first heard someone say like-en, I didn't know what they meant, having invented for myself something like litch-en. This stuff is pretty in a delicate, grayish-green understated way.

Here's some more from Thoreau's Journals. Thhirty-nine notebooks! Speaking of journals, I must share that Theodore Roethke died in his mid-fifties leaving so many notebooks and so much other paper that it makes me tired just ot think about it. And I'll be offering up some more samples here soon.

May 12

     As the bay-wing [the vesper sparrow] sang many a thousand years ago, so sang he tonight. In the beginning God heard his song and pronounced it good, and hence it has endured. It reminded me of many a summer sunset, of many miles of gray rails, of many a rambling pasture, of the farmhouse far in the fields, its milk-pans and well-sweep, and the cows coming home from pasture.
     I would thus from time to time take advice of the birds, correct my human views by listening to their volucral (?). He is a brother poet, this small gray bird (or bard) whose muse inspires mine. His lay is an idyl or pastoral, older and sweeter than any that is classic. He sits on some gray perch like himself, like a stake, perchance, in the midst of the field, and you can hardly see him against the plowed ground. You advance step-by-step as the twilight deepens, and lo! he is gone, and in vain you strain your eyes to see whither, but anon his tinkling strain is heard from some other quarter. One with the rocks and with us.  
     --Henry David Thoreau

From The Heart of Thoreau's Journals, Dover, page 177.
How many of us have held one of those milk-pans, or touched the long, slender well-sweep? But we can usually all find places to walk. In Erica Goss's new book, Vibrant Words: ideas and inspiration for poets, Pushpen Press, San Jose, 2013,.  there is a section that begins on page 115, titled, PARKING LOTS AS INSPIRATION. and another section (beginning on page 23) called I LEFT MY HEART IN THE LOS ANGELES BASIN. Think about it. And listen to the birds, or the wind in the trees, or even to the sizzle of the asphalt.

Tonight, we met a beautiful greyhound on the Daily Walk. He was taking a leash-walk with his owner and reminded me that it is possible to forget how elegantly THIN greyhounds are. He was also really, really gray, a beautiful soft warm grey. He was so streamlined that even his ears folded back against his head. A friendly dog, too.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014


Last Saturday every vista of the Tilden Botanical Garden was beautiful. I have heard about this place for years and now wonder why I never managed to go there before. I guess I could make a list. . .

I have been reading The Glass House; the life of Theodore Roethke by Allen Seager with an introduction by Donald Hall. I am almost finished, but it got to be blogging time. This is a short one of the many poems he wrote using the material of his father's commercial greenhouse in Saginaw. Michigan.

Child on Top of a Greenhouse

The wind billowing out the seat of my britches,
My feet crackling splinters of glass and dried putty,
The half-grown chrysanthemums staring up like accusers,
Up through the streaked glass, flashing with sunlight,
A few white clouds all rushing eastward,
A line of elms plunging and tossing like horses,
And everyone, everyone pointing up and shouting!

Theodore Roethke

Monday, April 14, 2014

Classically California

Here it is! California poppies are known in many other places (because they are happy to seed themselves profusely) but it is in California that you can find sheets of them in meadows and hillsides and along the roadsides, too! It is the classic springtime treat if you find them paired with Ceanothus, or California lilac. Near Valley Center in northern San Diego County, they grow along a country road, which is appropriately named Lilac Road. This picture was taken Saturday on the trip to Tilden Botanical Gardens near Berkeley. Since orange and blue are complementary colors, as I learned in the Fourth Grade, they are perfect companions! The delicate ferny leaves and four-petal blossoms of the poppy are also perfectly set off by the masses of ceanothus bloom!

The Tilden Garden was begun in 1940, and some of the early construction work was done by the Civilian Conservation Corps. Some of their stonework can still be seen in the garden. Now there are four gardeners and a master gardener working to maintain and improve it. It is arranged for each of the biomes in California and upper Baja California. There are sections for example for the desert and redwood forest.

And here is some Thoreau, one of his many observant musings about nature, and her ways, from his Journals. Would he have thought this garden not quite natural enough? But I. I was extremely happy fore the chance to visit in springtime!

September 17, 1841

Nature never makes haste; her systems revolve at an even pace. The bud swells imperceptibly, without hurry or confusion, as though the short spring days were an eternity. All her operations seem separately, for the time, the single object for which all things tarry. Why, then, should man hasten as it anything less than eternity were allotted for the leastd deed? Let him consume never so many aeons, so that he go about the meanest task well, though it be but the paring of his nails. If the setting sun seems to hurry him to improve the day while it lasts, the chant of the crickets fails not to reassure him, even-measured as of old, teaching him to take his own time henceforth forever. The wise man is restful, never restless or impatient. He each moment abides there where he is, as some walkers acutally rest the whole body at each step, while others never relax the muscles of the leg until fatigue obliges them to stop short.

Henry David Thoreau,
from The Heart of Thoreau's Journals; edited by Odell Shephard, Dover, 1927, 1961, page 9.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

The closest inspection

Oct. 22, 1838  Nature will bear the closest inspection. She invites us to lay our eye level with her smallest leaf and take an insect view of its plain. Henry David Thoreau from The Heart of Thoreau's Journals, Dover, 1961, page 9.

And this is this afternoon's rosebud, and the weekend's blown rose. We don't remember the name of this one. The roses seem to be quite happy this year. They are quite like soul food. And I am feeding myself with a small Ted Kooser poem again tonight.

Selecting a Reader

First, I would have her be beautiful, 
and walking carefully up on my poetry
at the loneliest moment of an afternoon,
her hair still damp at the neck
from washing it. She should be wearing
a raincoat, an old one, dirty
from not having money enough for the cleaners.
She will take out her glasses, and there
in the bookstore, she will thumb
over my poems, then put the book back
up on its shelf. She will say to herself,
"For that kind of money, I can get
my raincoat cleaned." And she will.

Ted Kooser, from Flying at Night
Univ. of Pittsburgh Press,1985, page 3.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Pipevine Swallowtail

Today on a wonderful Yuki Teikei Haiku Society trip to the Tilden Botanical gardens in the East Bay Regional Park District near Berkeley in northern California. We had a tour of the parts of the garden and time for a ginko, or haiku-writing outing. This butterfly is called a pipevine swallowtail; when he spreads his wings, they are iridescent blue on the sides that fold together. Linda P. told me to watch for that, and it was worth doing!

This is my haiku:

folding, unfolding
heedless of its beauty, the
pipevine swallowtail

     June Hopper Hymas

This is a picture of a single blossom on the plant called Dutchman's Pipe after the shape of its bloom. This plant is not a nectar source for the adult butterfly, but a food source for the larvae. The flower is pollinated by gnats.

It has been a very long day, and I am very tired! And so, filled with blossoms and leaves in sunlight, I'm off to bed. 

Friday, April 11, 2014

Just Now

This is the first 2014 bloom on one of the few survivors of my attempt to be ecologically responsible by growing California Native Plants. It is the California native Douglas iris. I once saw a field of them in bloom overlooking the Pacific. My first plant has multiplied into many more, but they get too much shade now to bloom heavily. The bloom has a dainty delicacy that I love; and reminds me of the many happy wildflower hikes I took with the local CNPS group, and the many wonderful wildflower meetings (you meet the most interesting people!) I went to when I didn't mind driving to Palo Alto in the dark. Several years ago I gave my native plant library to Jane who then planted a splendid California Native Plant front yard. And then, as things turned out, she moved to Canada, but the people who bought the house are maintaining the garden nicely, I heard recently.

Here's another poem about memory from my almost complete Ted Kooser library.

Just Now

Just now as I look down
the cool street of the past, I can see
streetlamps,one for each year,
lighting small circles of time
into which someone will step
if I squint, if I try hard enough---
circles smaller and smaller,
leading back to the one faint point
at the start, like a star.
So many of them are empty now,
those circles of roadside and grass.
In one, the moth of some feeling
still flutters, unspoken,
the cold darkness around it enormous.

Ted Kooser, from Flying at Night; poems 1965-1985, Univ. of Pittsburgh Press,  1985, page 93.

Follow the sound of the letter t through this poem as you follow the development of the metaphor. This poem is just great! And so beautifully constructed!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

That touch of appleblossom pink

Apple blossom season is almost over, but some of the small fruiting spurs lower on the tree are just now blooming. I took these pictures just this afternoon. Unlike the plum blossom buds, the apple blossom buds are that lovely soft pink.It makes me want to write a song!

Apple Blossoms

One evening in winter
when nothing has been enough,
when the days are too short,

the nights too long
and cheerless, the secret
and docile buds of the apple

blossoms begin their quick
ascent to light. Night
after interminable night

the sugars pucker and swell
into green slips, green
silks. And just as you find

yourself at the end
of winter’s long, cold
rope, the blossoms open

like pink thimbles
and that black dollop
of shine called

bumblebee stumbles in.

Susan Kelly-Dewitt

 Poem reprinted from To a Small Moth, Poet’s Corner Press, 2001,

I must reveal that I found this poem using Google. I had forgotten to mention the bees. I never stand by this tree without hearing them, under the blue, blue, blue California aky.