Saga of an Urban Gardener

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Our saga continues…

Day 2

Is growing a veggie garden worth it?  We have two excellent grocery stores within walking distance of our home:  Puget Consumers Co-Op (aka PCC) and Metropolitan Market.

And why add the extra step of building a cloche for protecting veggie starts when we could just throw them in the soil and forget about it?

Or pave the entire yard with cement.

Such are my rat-scratching doubts on this overcast Saturday.

I bid Blake Goth adieu and walk over to Marguerite’s house.  Marguerite is a neighbor  and master gardener who offers gardening  consultations.

Marguerite’s prize-winning fowl, Betty, is outside her chicken coop pecking at feed.  Marguerite not only raises egg-hatching chickens, she is also a bee keeper and sells honey locally.

“Do we need to bother with a cloche?” I ask her.

“Not necessarily.  I do it to keep veggies starts from getting battered by rain, keeping them warm.”  She advises me to wait until the weather is warmer to plant things and just to rotate veggies every year.

“I use a sharp, steel hoe”, she says.  “It makes all the difference in garden work.  I sharpen it with a mill bastard file.”

“A ‘lil bastard?”

Betty, her prize chicken, clucks and admonishes me.

Marguerite laughs.  “No.  A mill bastard.  To file.  To sharpen.”

I invite Marguerite over.  She surveys our back yard.  “Someone’s been busy digging up sod.”

“That would be Blake Goth.”

“Blake Goth?”

Ooops.  No one knows my husband’s pseudonym.  “Uhhh…I’m keeping a journal.  I call us Jane and Blake Goth.”

“I see.”  Marguerite squints as if she doesn’t see.   She probably thinks I’m crazy.

Before she leaves, Marguerite again advises me  to wait until it is warmer to plant what I want and to add chicken manure to the soil.

When I go inside, Blake Goth is in the kitchen unpacking groceries from PCC.  I mention my conversation with Marguerite and how we’ll need to buy chicken manure.

BG shakes his head, says Marguerite’s chickens are kinda cute and that you had to hand it to her for raising honey bees.  “But I’m sure as hell never wearing a bee suit.”

Did I ever tell him to?

Does he need to cluck at me?

The saga will continue…

 

 

Saga of An Urban Gardener

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Rat-A-Touille Anyone?

A few years ago I visualized a veggie garden for our back yard.

I imagined early girl tomatoes, garlic, strawberry fields forever.   I fancied myself as Mother Earth.  I would plant shallot bulbs, scatter arugula seeds.  Our Lady of Perpetual Garlic would not only provide bountiful salads, but ward off vampires.

We would call this our “kitchen garden,” just a short step from our culinary center.  Even better — I would keep  a journal of our experience.  I gave us the pseudonyms of Jane and Blake Goth, aging yet steadfast farmers straight out of Grant Wood’s American Gothic.

What follows are some of my journal entries:

Day 1.

Cloudy, looks like rain moving in.   Blake Goth is digging out the grass.  I just read tips on seed packets.  Some, not too promising:

Beans are subject to numerous diseases.
Beets are prone to scab.  Make sure the pH level is neutral.
Flea beetle damage reduces radish growth rate.
Beware of carrot fly maggots.  Control by covering rows with insect barrier fabric at time of planting.

We’ll nix the beans, beets, radishes, carrots.  Wonder what the insect barriers are about?

Discover in Sunset Western Garden book that insect barrier fabrics are used to make cloches.

Hmmm…I think Marguerite down the street has a cloche.

I hear Blake Goth tossing clumps of grass into yard waste bin.  He has filled up the entire  container.

The drizzle outside is turning into a downpour.  Good thing Blake Goth wears his GoreTex.

I have doubts.  Is all this work worth it?  We have excellent produce at the grocery co-op up the street.

The other day I bumped into our neighbor Pam.  She mentioned finding holes near the foundation of her house.  Thinks there are rats in the hood.

I told her it’s a good thing house foundations are cement.  The rats would have to be pretty toothsome to chew through that.

Then I told her how we are planting a veggie garden out back.  Mistake.  She said “Ewww…E-coli.”

I asked her “How So?

She went on about the rats, stray cats, raccoons.  How critters could wander into our veggie plot and poop.

Great.

Her warnings from a few days ago still loop in my head.  “The only thing to fear is fear itself,” I tell myself.   “You don’t think produce growers across the world encounter pests?” the voice or reason chimes in.

Blake Goth comes in out of the rain, done digging for the day.  “I don’t understand what you have against grass,” he says.

I don’t have the heart to tell him about E Coli and to undo his work and put the grass back in place.

The saga will continue …

 

Of Robots and Radishes

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My attempt at growing radishes.  Some day this could be us.

Lately my husband and I have been discussing health care directives and disposal of our remains once we leave this wacky planet.

I ask him who in their right mind would want a robot taking care of them in their decrepitude?   I tell him about some old guy in England who uses a Skype on Wheels with a television monitor for virtual visits from friends, family, and healthcare professionals.  Loved ones phone your robot to check in on you.

His take on it?  Might be easier to get along with a bot than with family.

Did he forget Hal from 2001, A Space Odyssey?    Mutinous robots seem scarier to me than mutinous humans – even my Mother, God rest her soul.

In the 21st century we have robots performing surgery in hospitals and robots used in prototypes for self-driving cars.

And how about this? —  servant and playmate robots for the elderly.  The internet is sprinkled with such scenes:  robots serving breakfast, robots lifting person to couch, robots smooched by an old man, robots carrying magazines while an elderly person lounges, robots playing computer card game with old lady.

The human being is the next frontier for the robot.  In fact, some robots look like humans.

But they’re NOT.

We move on to discuss the disposal of our remains.  Specifically, human composting.

He doesn’t flinch.

Me?  I am mortified to read that Washington State is the first state in the U.S. to legalize human composting.  By 2020 we could have a human composting facility five miles from our house.

Do I want to end up in some feed bag for a stranger’s garden?  Do I come back as a radish or beefsteak tomato?

Does he like this idea better than cremation or burial?

He nixes the burial idea, says it is selfish for the dead to take up land in cemeteries and that the world is crowded enough.

He has a point there.  But when it comes to deciding between burial, burning, or composting, I am like “Bartleby the Scrivener”:  I would prefer not to.

As for the robots?  I am not ready to play canasta with them.  Beam me up, Elon!

How do you folks feel about these topics?

Shift Happens

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Let us spend one day as deliberately as Nature, and not be thrown off the track by every nutshell and mosquito’s wing that falls on the rails. ~ Henry David Thoreau

 

I thrive on walks in Seattle’s Lincoln Park, which faces Puget Sound.

Curious how the driftwood belched up by the Sound looks sculpted into the shape of animals.  First I spot a sea lion in  a log amid pebbles, and now a swan ~

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Lythe young bodies jog past me on my way to my meditation bench.  Some clock themselves with Fit Bits.

The show-offs!

In my forty-somethings, I walked more briskly.  With each decade — surprise — I have slowed down.  In my fifties, I developed plantar fascitis and now, in my sixties,  lower back issues.

Shift happens.

I reach my meditation bench.  At its base, a plaque engraved with the words Carpe Diem — Seize Today.   Nowhere does it say Carpe HisternoSeize Yesterday.  Nor Carpe MananaSeize Tomorrow. 

I am here to calm the internal chatter, to feel the pulse of this sacred, public park.  I am here to spend time as deliberately as nature, to notice the cries of  gulls, the flute-like melody of thrushes, and lately the sight of sea lions.  I am here to engage my senses and practice what the Japanese call Shinrin-yoku — having a forest bath.

Lowering myself onto the bench, I hope to spot my sea lion today.

Seagulls scud across the water.  The tide froths against the rocks.  Opening my ears, I try to memorize the rhythm of the tide. Inhaling the kelp-scented air, I consider the irony of “smelling the Sound.”

What would Henry David Thoreau have made of the sea lion that bobs up during my dusk quietude?   Most likely he would spend an entire day  in this spot.  Thoreau would stand motionless for eight hours beside Walden Pond to watch young frogs, and all day at a river’s edge watching duck eggs hatching.

Thoreau may have been extreme in his nature studies and solitude. During  my forest baths I have at least learned to leave my cell phone behind.

A dog trots past, smiling.  Is he experiencing a forest bath too?  I smile back.

Eyes half-focused on the horizon, on the quicksilver water, no sea lion appears today.  But something shifts and releases in my hips just by being here.

Bellingham – City of Subdued Excitement

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Strait of Juan DeFuca along base of Chuckanut Drive

Chuckanut Drive, a winding coastal ride on the way to Bellingham, WA, is a gem.  It is Washington State’s equivalent of California’s Big Sur with jaw-dropping glimpses of the sea and mountains along the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

The coastal drive to Bellingham and Fairhaven is one of my favorite field trips in WA State.  Evergreens ascend along the twisting road with glimpses of sea, sky, mountains and — what’s this? — a solitary and quaint old house perched on a cliff on the southern part of Chuckanut Drive.

The house belonged to the family of Edward R. Murrow, a WWII radio broadcaster and war correspondent (a predecessor to Walter Cronkite and the like).

Further north there’s Chuckanut Gallery, which allures with local art and a fantastic garden.

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Chuckanut Gallery

 

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Bellingham  is the last city in WA before reaching Vancouver, Canada.  When we moved to Seattle twenty-something years ago, we were intrigued by travel articles about this historical border city which in the mid-1800’s vied with Seattle for becoming the prominent port city.  Seattle, of course, won the title and is NOT subdued in its excitement.

(In fact Seattle’s excitement is more annoyance over crowded highways  and overdevelopment of real estate and Amazon drones and what happened to the Seattle we moved to? …  I could go on but I shall subdue.)

Bellingham, I sure hope you can maintain “subdued,” and keep your charm.

I reminisce…

It was a dark and stormy day — a Sunday — when we first visited you in the 1990’s.  We were on our way to your soup festival.  Hubby had been wise-cracking about the Strait of Juan de Fuca along Chuckanut Drive:  If there were a university here, would it be called  Fuca U?

Hahaha.  I turned to my friend Llana, also a soup fancier, who in fact was a former student at Western Washington University in Bellingham.  Was that the joke when you were here?  Did students call the place Fuca U?

But maybe I didn’t ask her that.  Maybe instead I was distracted by the thick, slanting rain, the charcoal clouds as we climbed Chuckanut Drive.

As we rocked down to Electric Avenue in search of the soup festival, we spotted the sign:  Bellingham.  City of Subdued Excitement.

We could see why.   Other than the community center where we had our soup, not many places were open that Sunday.  The only roadside attraction open was the Whatcom Museum.

They had…are you ready?…an exhibit displaying bicycle reflector art.  We strolled inside and the museum attendant handed us flashlights.

“What are these for,” I asked.

“You shine them on the bike reflectors,” she said.

That was trippy.

It’s not often that I get to Bellingham these days.  Nor the Fairhaven district in Bellingham, which was a popular hippie enclave in the 1960’s.

Here’s more about the city of “subdued excitement” on Bellingham’s Fish & Bicycles site.

Our rainy, Sunday coastal drive and the soup festival and museum seem sweet now.  I think I need a field trip.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Toto, I Don’t Think We’re In Chicago Anymore

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Tree Art I happened upon during a walk in lovely Seattle.

While temperatures in Chicago dropped to Antarctic levels this week, I recall the “good old days.”

When I was a working stiff earning  my livelihood as a Temp, I used to cross the Chicago River on below-zero days.  This gave a new meaning to “working stiff.”  It did not matter if you dressed in down from head to foot like the Michelin Man.  The freezing temperatures penetrated every bone and fiber of my being.

But the current polar vortex seems worse than the child’s play of  “lake effect” snow and winds I experienced several decades ago.

Chicagoans today report hearing “frost quakes” — loud booms that geologists call “cryoseisms.”  Think of a bottle of water in the freezer expanding and exploding.  But it’s the frozen Chicago River making the booming noises which some people mistake for gunfire, furnace explosions, or house break-ins.

Do I miss the City of Big Shoulders?

Well…sometimes.  I have family there.  They are hunkering down, making jokes about it:  “The Lake Street El is so cold they’re hanging sides of beef in it.”

When I hear their humor, I wish I could beam myself in with a plate of warm, homemade cookies.  (If instead of a “frost quake” we have one of our infamous Seattle earthquakes soon, I’m putting in my order for peanut butter cookies topped with a Hershey’s kiss).

Counting my good fortune not to have Chicago’s present weather, I break away and take a walk around Seattle’s Lincoln Park (a far cry from Chicago’s Lincoln Park) where I see Spring buds on the trees and…wait a minute…a face?

That’s right, Dorothy.

At first I feel surprised, happy by my discovery of Mr. Tree Face.  What a magical place Seattle is!

But then I recall how the trees in the enchanted forest turn on Dorothy and her friends, throwing apples at them.  I almost expect my tree to turn on me:  “You gloat that you are able to roam outside without getting frostbite while your big sister and her family are stuck indoors,” he admonishes me.

“I am NOT gloating.  Besides, my famiglia makes jokes about it.  We all love each other.  No more guilt trips!”

At least for now.

 

 

Imaginary Friend

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Frosty & The Girl Plot Their Escape

Snow was my favorite get-away from my strong-willed Mother and sisters.  I invented whole worlds in the magic of flurries and ice.  One of these worlds contained my Imaginary Friend.  You might recognize the recipe:

Snow
Charcoal
Carrot stick

Roll the snow into round rock shapes.  Stack on top of each other.  The smallest is Frosty’s head.

Use charcoal for eyes, mouth, and vest buttons.  Give him (or her — your choice) a carrot for nose.

You have now built your Imaginary Friend.

When the sun comes out and it warms up, your Imaginary Friend will disappear.

Don’t panic.  Just stash Frosty’s eyes, nose, and mouth in your mittens.  Or, like Boo Radley, find a good tree hole for your little treasures.

Nobody needs to know but you:).

 

 

 

 

Before I Croak — I’m Just Sayin’

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(Frog hangin’ out on his pad at the Nisqually Wildlife Refuge.)

I sometimes wonder about Emily Dickinson’s world.   A recluse who wore white and eschewed publicity, a prolific writer of untitled poems — here is a verse I find especially humorous:

I’m nobody! Who are you?
Are you nobody, too?
Then there’s a pair of us — don’t tell!
They’d banish — you know!

How dreary to be somebody!
How public like a frog
To tell one’s name the livelong day
To an admiring bog!

What would Emily make of our world today?   Who isn’t croaking their name the livelong day, including moi?

The Boomers, the Millenials, the Gen-Xers — we croak everywhere in order to keep up with our public:  Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter.  And just when we’re current with one platform, another one pops up for distraction.   It’s become a game of whack-a-mole.

But is social media  turning us into hermits, albeit of a different kind?   Are we becoming techno-hermits tapping into our smart phones, i-pads, as we sit across from each other at Starbucks, no eye contact?

This is different from Emily’s retreat into self — she set the bar high and literature reaped the benefits of her hermitage.  Time and a lack of tools was on her side.

I realize I am privileged to have world-wide connection.  I am presently learning collage techniques on YouTube — but I can’t help but ask myself — Who am I?  Who is this person who feels compelled to post about Emily, who herself had her first book of poetry published posthumously in 1890?

Am I a dreary person for wanting to croak to the entire world on this blog before I croak?

Do I really want to be a Nobody?

I do not claim to be that humble.

Nor do I want to be Lady Gaga.  I guess I just want to tell my tale the livelong day to an “admiring BLOG.”

Gullible’s Travels

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Riding high, Alki Beach

Hi.  My name is Gil.  I am a seagull who wised up to the world and this is the story of my travels.

First, a little background.   While still a hatchling in the nest, I used to tap on Mom’s beak for feedings.  The menu?  Vomit.  Seagull regurgitation.  Not exactly the variety my dumpster-diving siblings brought home:   chunks of pizza, French fries, Cheetos.  Once, my sibs even brought home parts of a deer leg.   They fought over it.  Screamed morning till night while I, the little hatchling, was still on a diet of Mom’s vomit.  I adapted, became used to these behaviors.  When Dad hung a shingle on our nest that said Safe Place, I believed it.

Still, after a few months I wanted to stretch my wings.  There was a great big world out there I wanted to explore.

As I soared in the clouds above my oceanic watering hole, I felt a rush from the tickling breeze and believed that the world was my oyster.  Forests, mountains, sea — it was all mine.

Suddenly a disciplined white air force of fellow gulls screeched and swarmed around me.  We were being dive-bombed by an eagle.   Shit bombs explode.  Danger, Danger, my amigos called out.  The raptor snatched a fellow-gull and carried him to the top of an evergreen.  I had evaded the eagle’s hungry eyes.

It was my first lesson in communication and cooperation.  Though we scream at each other — and at you human beings — we know there is safety in numbers.

Since I’ve mentioned humans, why do you folks act like we are snarky when we scream or go after the litter you drop?  Why do we have reputations as walking garbage dumps – we’ll eat anything that moves and a lot that doesn’t —  when you’re the ones tossing that hunk of beef jerky on the pier?

Did you ever stop and think that maybe you are the snarky ones?  To survive in the wild, yes I will even go after Styrofoam cups and cheese wrappers.

I need to come clean about that beef jerky.  I snatched it away from Peg Leg.  Peg Leg is a one-legged gull.  That’s right.  One leg.  I did not ask him how it happened.  No.   TMI.   All I know is that he was hobbling over to the beef jerky and I snatched it from him.   The peeps back home in the nest trained me well.  That’s the thing about sibling rivalry – it teaches you how to be bad-ass.   Man that beef jerky was good.

So with my fill of protein that day, I was flying high.  Maybe too high.  For suddenly, an amigo is cruising along with me in the fluffy clouds babbling to me about foreign object debris.  He points his beak at one of those proud birds with the golden tails.  You know – one of your human contraptions – a jet airplane.  He warns me about colliding with a plane’s windscreen, getting sucked into engines.  Really?

But hey, knowledge is power.  My trust in fellow gulls increases.  I dip away from the airplane, land on the beach to rest.  After a decent sleep, I spot a clam saying “Eat Me.”  I down it, but five minutes later puke it up.

A bummer, you say?  No.  A hidden talent that I would not have learned about if I hadn’t left the nest.  We gulls have superpowers:  we can sense paralytic shellfish poisoning before it’s too late.  Bet you can’t do that!

The brush with the toxic clam leaves me thirsty.  And so I fly over to my favorite watering hole:  the Pacific Ocean.  How many creatures do you know who can drink salt water and live to tell about it?  Sharks, crocodiles, maybe.  That’s gangsta, son.  Another instance of Gull Super Power.

I strut my stuff on the shore, fly over to some beach grass where I find a discarded lamb chop.   Thanks to your beach litter, I am learning your chops.

Sated and content, I fly to a tree limb to rest.  But as I tuck my bill into my feathers, I hear cries from a neighboring tree.  To my horror I witness a mature, fellow gull with a chick egg in his beak.  He just robbed a nearby nest of its newly hatched Gull.  I hear the delicate eggshell crack, and watch the mature one feast on its victim.

What? 

I thought I was gangsta, but this?

No.  This was just too much.  I suddenly felt yearnings for Mom.  And so I flew back that very night to the parental unit.  Is it true, I asked Mom.  Do we eat our own?

To me, this was a simple Yes/No question.  But not to Mom.  She would not give me a direct answer.  Instead, she regurgitated some of the same old pablum for me to gobble up.

 “Oh, Gull, just eat your food,” she said.

“The name’s Gil, Mom.”

“No.  From this day forward I call you Gull.” 

“Huh?”

“C’mon.  Mangia, mangia.”

As for my siblings?  They stared at me with the hungriest eyes I have ever seen.

Confessions of a Mer-Crone

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Mermaid family

We show up regularly to water aquatics class. Mostly women — a few gents too — shaking our booties at 8:00 a.m.  The heavily tatted instructor shouts out the movements:

“Run-in-place:  take it up to a 3!”

Then:  “Now pick it up!  Take it to a 4!!!”

Jeesh.  I was happy at 3.  Why doesn’t she factor in the resistance from the water as we run?   3 could be the new 4.  I need protein.  Why didn’t I eat that egg before I came here?

“Take it to a 6!!!!!.”

Then relief comes — the cross-country ski stride.  Long, luxurious, and slow.

But not for long.

Now it’s “Raise your knees high and wide.  We’re doing tire pumps.”

Next, it’s the bicep-busting Maytag wash machines with water weights, kick-backs for rocking horse which ache my sacroiliac, and finally “the Marilyns.”   This is a set of 100 jumps where we press our foam weights between our thighs.  The instructor named them after Marilyn Monroe.

Don’t ask me why.

And show me a woman in the class who could live up to the Blonde Bombshell’s standard.

No.  We are the Mer-Crones.

Our hair may be gray or dyed or hiding under flowered bathing caps, but we perk up in the water, wear glorious smiles as our float belts carry our spotted, wrinkled, sagging  flesh around the pool.

And we are wise.   Bikinis?  Gauche.   Much more comfy to sport a 1940’s-style Esther Williams swimsuit. You know the kind — the halter one-piece with a bit of drape to cover the tum?  Nice, tight spandex to tuck the bum?

I applaud you, Lands End, for providing quality and variety in women’s swimwear.

Until I discovered LE, finding a good swimsuit was  a search for the Holy Grail.

But back to aquatics class.

I have a hard time keeping up with Mary.   Mary is 75 years old and jabs her water weights like Rocky Graziano.

If I live to be her age, will I have such stamina?

(Confession: back when I was a smirking mermaid, I used to swim laps adjacent to what I deemed The Codgers Aquatics Class.)

How times change😊.

I am in awe of the peeps in class who show up with battle scars.

Take, for instance, one of the men in the class.  “Foghorn Brad” (so named by the instructor for his bellowing interruptions) returned to the pool only three weeks after melanoma surgery.  Though he habitually annoyed the instructor with his thundering disruptions of our foot circles (shouting out REVERSE and causing the water to ripple with his booming voice), I noted that the instructor smiled, glad to see that he had returned.

And me? I shall defend being a mer-crone, whatever the cost may be.  I shall never surrender.