Summer falls to Autumn

Summer is coming to an end. I and the plants in my garden are relieved to see this record-breaking season close. Cooler days, the promise of rain (at long last), cleaner air, and beautiful colors are beginning to fill the minutes and hours of the garden. Here are a few hints of the changing season I’ve seen this week – in the home garden and while out walking.

Cornus changes early.
Our Rudbeckia is in full bloom.
I love this combination of colors – Eucalyptus and Acer (taken on a windy afternoon).
A favorite tree on my walking route.
My Anemanthele lessoniana (New Zealand Wind grass) is a highlight in my prairie bed.

I wish you good weather, clear skies, and a beautiful autumn.

Some Thoughts on a Beautiful Day

My spouse, Bill, and I celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary yesterday. It was not the celebration we had initially planned due to travel restrictions, and our caution, but we made the day meaningful and joyful. Our initial plans had been to return to the cathedral in Liverpool, England, where Bill’s parents had married. We had considered renewing our vows in the small chapel inside the enormous cathedral where their ceremony had taken place. At least, that was my idea. Bill, not being a sentimental guy said, “Sure, we can hang out there a while.” But the pandemic restrictions put a stop to that idea – and to air travel in general – so we have given our summer days of celebration a different take. Mostly, hiking and visiting the areas of this state (Washington) that we vacationed in during the early years of our marriage. It has been a wonderful year so far, culminating in a joyous day yesterday.

Our anniversary dinner last night was take-out from one of our favorite Seattle restaurants – Kabul. This restaurant opened in 1992 and we were some of its first customers. Over the years we have shared this restaurant with many friends and a few relatives; all have thoroughly enjoyed the meals. As Bill and I were eating dinner, we talked about partnership, love, parenting, friendship, and all that we have experienced in that time. The realization that more time is behind us than ahead of us brought our struggles and triumphs into keen focus. At times, the struggles seemed almost insurmountable – especially the problems caused by my sisters and mom – but somehow we moved beyond them. Our triumphs far out-weigh any problems we tackled over the years; our work, our friendships, and our child. We are the very proud parents of a remarkable, talented, kind, thoughtful and brave son. Our son is transitioning from female to male and is working through all that necessitates with intelligence, patience, and courage. We have a niece we feel very close to, and she is very supportive of our son.

But mostly, we talked about our years together. Hiking, travel, work, and music – those are the defining activities of our life together. I don’t know of any day in our lives where music wasn’t involved. Music of all types. One of my strongest memories is of our time in New Orleans (pre-Katrina) where we had spent one very long day at the Jazz and Heritage Festival, capped off with a visit to the Maple Leaf Tavern. The Neville Brothers played that evening. We walked back to our friends’ house where we were staying as the sun came up and window shades pulled down – music in our heads, another person or two on the sidewalk, a soft cooling breeze that cut the humidity of a steamy, memorable night.

Both Bill and I came from lives of extreme poverty – his of economic poverty and mine a poverty of love. Kindness wasn’t shown in the family I came from so I learned it along the way. Mistakes were more numerous to count but the lessons were just as plentiful. Of all I have learned, this is most important – kindness is easy. It is easier than fighting back, than sharp words, easier than not forgiving. All that takes energy. Energy that otherwise could be given to calming down, using gentle humor, loving, and forgiving. Forgive yourself and your partner because to be human is to make mistakes. Being human is being thoughtless at times – thoughtless, inconsiderate, confused, and confusing. But a kind word, or a gentle silence if a word won’t come, should be our default condition. After all, it’s simply easier to be kind.

I wish you a lifetime of good friendship, good food, and all the music your head can hold.

Peace.

Bill and I, Wedding day, Sept, 5, 1971

Dune Peninsula at Pt. Defiance Park, Tacoma

Another gorgeous day for hiking brought my spouse and I to a newly opened park in Tacoma, WA. Dune Peninsula is named in honor of author and Tacoma native Frank Herbert, author of the classic science fiction book Dune. This intriguing new area of Pt. Defiance Park has a 605 ft-long graceful bridge walk – Wilson Way Bridge – that gives walkers expansive views of Mt. Tahoma (Rainier), Puget Sound, the Cascades, and the Olympics. The views are breathtaking. For young and old alike, the long staircase that leads from the top of the bridge to the marina below is partnered with a series of slides that, at the time of our visit, were filled with people sliding down to the bottom.

View from Wilson Way Bridge

The Frank Herbert trail is surrounded by native plantings – prairie plants such as yarrow, fleabane, asters, and varieties of fescue. In addition, a few native pines (Pinus contorta) are planted along the trail. The path is an easy loop around the peninsula, paved in most places.

The 11-acre peninsula was created from ASARCO slag, covered with many tons of soil, capped, then sculpted and landscaped. Even the benches are creative – their base shows the layering involved in this massive project.

A few more pictures will give you an idea of the beauty of this place.

Prairie plantings.
Native grasses and reed (Juncus effusus)
Near the marina.

Pt. Defiance Park is a Pacific Northwest treasure, and the new Dune Peninsula is an important asset that brings environmental issues to the forefront in a truly beautiful, creative way. I hope you can visit it soon.

3 AM Thoughts

A Gardener travels through Time.

My mind often wanders when I garden – back in distant time or recent – and why not? I usually work alone or with the quiet companionship of my resident crow. A curious bird, this young one. We think it is the offspring of a crow I protected and eventually befriended years ago. Much smaller than the parent, it has a similar gray mark on its wing in the same location as on its parent. I found this young bird’s parent struggling on my property in spring 2014 – I wasn’t sure of what had happened to it but it struggled to fly – so I fed it, gave it water, and over time it healed. And in time, it became a friend and helped me though a terrible time. And now its offspring is a friend as well.

An odd thing happened recently while I was gardening. I was deep in the dry soil of one of my garden beds, adding water in the holes I had poked into root zones to keep the water from flowing away, when I heard the voice of my good friend. “Hey, Deb!” We hadn’t been in touch since we last met for coffee months ago so his voice was a pleasant surprise. I looked up – no one there. I stood up, called his name, and walked over to the sidewalk. No one there. Odd. My imagination again, I thought. About an hour later, the postal truck came by and delivered our mail. I opened the mail box and there was a letter from him.

I woke at 3 this morning, against my will. I hadn’t been dreaming – not one that I remember at least. But I woke with a strong sense of sadness, and thoughts of a sister on my mind. As my mind climbed out of sleep and into wakefulness, I thought “Why?” “Why would you do such mean, selfish things?” My mind stumbled around the memory of the acts, and I remembered talking to a friend about her a few years ago. My insightful friend said, “She’s jealous.” Ridiculous, I remember thinking. Jealous of what? For God’s sake, she’s my sister! I love her. My friend replied, “She’s jealous.” To keep from crying, I got up out of bed.

And here I am. Now the garden is on my mind. My spouse, who is thriving in full retirement at long last, has been working out plans to remove a portion of the small lawn in our yard, and to replace it with paving. I’m all for this idea, especially since I don’t water the lawn and it is painful to look at. This lawn – the same that was planted when the house was built in 1942 – has remarkably deep roots. Every summer since we moved in (years ago) the lawn will go dormant, look dead, and spring back to lush green life by the end of September. But this year feels different – now we see patches of bare earth which we have never seen before. This small patch of lawn looks like it’s at death’s door. So, we will put it out of its misery and turn it into compost by next spring. And with hard work and sore backs, we will have a new patio outside our front door by autumn.

And now that I have run through all the thoughts that woke me at such an unnecessary hour, it is time to go back to sleep.

I wish you deep sleep, good dreams, and a strong back.

Saving Water

“Don’t waste water.” Grandpa John

Dry. Dry, dusty, exceptionally hot – these are the most precise adjectives I have for describing this summer as it comes to a close. A deep, soaking rainfall in true Pacific Northwest style has been missing since early June. Past summers have almost always brought us one or two deep-soaking rains. But not this year. My rain barrels – all six of them – have been empty since the third week of July. On the 6th of August our area received a small amount of rain but not enough to soak down into the soil, and as my soil is primarily sand (regardless of the large amount of mulch I add) the benefits didn’t last long.

This summer I have watered my garden more than any time in past summers. This is evident by looking at our water bill. But a 30+ year old landscape that supports countless wildlife, a few rare plants, and many beloved maturing trees is not one that I am willing to see suffer, or lose. So, I water. I save water, also, every chance I get. Water from washing fruit and veg, from running the tap to get hot water, rinse water from washing dishes (I do dishes by hand), the water that drips from our hanging baskets is caught and given to other plants, and water used in cleaning the pond filters – all saved and tossed into all garden beds (except the food crops). I hope all this saving has made some difference, but how much difference I’m not sure. I am sure, however, that this is the way gardening will remain. As our climate warms at increasing speed and rain and humidity patterns change dramatically, it is the gardeners’ responsibility to help plants adapt. We must do all we can to keep our soil healthy and water-retentive. After all, as our soil lives, so live our plants.

When I was a young girl, my siblings and I spent a week each summer with our grandparents in Hood River, Oregon. They had an orchard, a few chickens, and large gardens growing food crops and classic flowers – hollyhocks, bearded iris, roses, and bachelor buttons. My brother and I would follow Grandpa John out into the gardens as he irrigated the beds. Grandpa rarely spoke, but when he did, we listened. Mostly, my brother and Grandpa talked and I looked at the flowers. But I do remember the deeply ingrained respect for water that Grandpa John exhibited. He was born in Harrison, Nebraska in 1907 and spent most of his life in that state until moving to Hood River when he and Grandma married. As you may know, the Dust Bowl of the 1930’s hit Nebraska as hard as it hit areas of the U.S. farther south, down into Texas. Although Grandpa John never spoke of those years to us, that time of extreme drought and suffering must have left such an impression on him that he treated water with reverence. Maybe because he spoke so rarely, maybe because of how he said it, but when I water my landscape I still hear his voice: “Don’t waste water.”

What’s left of my small lawn. I believe that watering a lawn – no matter how small – is a genuine waste of water.
Even in deep shade, as this lawn is most of the day, drought has hit hard.
Sidewalk littered with Thuja plicata needles. These folks love their old Western Red Cedar and are worried about it.
To end on a more positive note, this rose is thriving.

“Don’t waste water.” How prescient, those words..

Sound

Smooth small rocks tumble in waves of ocean,

Round black rocks roll like marbles in a jar.

Smooth black rocks shine with water

and sparkle like stars in a dark silent night.

We walked this beach once long ago,

three of us, walking and laughing, long ago.

We marveled at countless rocks so similar in size

and at the sound of rolling water.

Dry winds rustle tired leaves and takes me to a different place.

There, we walked through tall dry grass, the two of us,

under tall oak trees,

and crunched dried flowers underfoot.

Once we walked and laughed and worried of

all that followed you. 

You remembered the sound of bamboo,

it sounds like oak you said,

a sound you that made you homesick. 

And now just two of us walk the black rock beach,

so smooth and gleaming dark.

We talk of you and remember how long ago it was.

Two of us watch the roaring ocean and miss you.

So long ago,

I no longer remember the sound of your voice.

When the gardener’s squirrel drops the F-Bomb

We are dry here in the Pacific Northwest; dry, dusty, and hot. Our days without measurable rain are headed for an all-time record. Already we are in the top five of longest duration periods without rain. While hiking on the Washington coast recently, I took a few moments in three different areas to check soil conditions. Dry. Desiccating-moss dry. Here at home, my time-tested practice of watering sparingly (or sometimes not at all) has been put aside and I now water weekly. This 30+ year old landscape will not die on my watch.

A sure sign of drought in an area is how much wildlife a gardener finds in their garden in early mornings. I have a fish pond, stocked with fish and plants, that supports countless bees and wasps who perch on the plants to drink. Birds bath in the splash from the fountain and then fly a few feet to the birdbath to drink. And for those four-legged critters and large birds who visit, I have a shallow basin I fill with water each morning. Sometimes it is empty by mid-afternoon so I refill it in the afternoon if/when I have time. On those days when I am too busy to refill the basin, some creature will notify me that it’s empty – usually our resident crow.

A day or two after returning from vacation, I was sitting at the kitchen table eating breakfast when I heard what sounded like a fight between rival gangs of canine squeaky toys. It was an amusingly confusing sound, and it was coming from the front yard where I place the water basin. I looked out the window to find the source of the noise. What I saw was so funny that it I could barely keep from laughing out loud (my spouse was still asleep). Four or five squirrels (they moved so fast it was hard to count) were fighting over the water basin. And from what I saw, they were so busy fighting that none of them stopped to drink. They would run around each other, attempting to nip another’s tail or haunch, jump straight up and spin down, squeal, squeak, and bark, or jump over each other. Most of these little guys looked to be adult size, but one was very small and thin. It is often said that the littlest creature can pack the biggest punch and the loudest bark. Apparently that’s true because in this case, the littlest creature let out most dramatic sound I’ve heard yet from any squirrel. This brought the commotion to an immediate stand-still, and then – poof! All but the little guy remained. And, he had the basin to himself.

He looks so cute and innocent, doesn’t he? Don’t be fooled – he packs a loud punch!

I wish you good gardening, polite visitors, and rain.

In the Presence of Trees, Part 5

Guardians of Time

Eleven trees live in our garden; 13 if I count the dwarf trees that are no taller than four feet high. Ours is not a large plot of land – just a standard neighborhood lot with a single family house of about 1,100 square feet – but it is thoroughly landscaped. No lawn except for a small, oval-shaped patch of grass immediately outside the living room window. The rest of the property consists of a variety of garden beds interspersed with paths. We have a small fish pond that the neighborhood wildlife visits on occasion. The pond is surrounded by a few container plantings, a small terrace, and a stone bench. We love this small plot of land and have tended it since 1983. We are as much a component of this land as it is of us. And it feels old, this place. Old, with a few venerable trees that we have tended and supported through drought, freeze, flooding rains, and wind storms. These trees have supported us in times of neglect during family tragedies. A few were here before we arrived; I hope they remain long after we are gone.

But our trees, as loved and important as they are to us, do not compare to some of the historic trees we saw recently while visiting the Washington coast. Big Cedar Tree, just off Highway 101 between Forks and Kalaloch, is such a tree. Although it was damaged in a storm in 2014, its size is remarkably impressive. The tree is estimated to be around 1,000 years old. As we walked around the tree, looking up into the canopy of hemlock and huckleberry that the Cedar supports, we felt a sense of awe similar to that which we experienced in the Humboldt Redwoods State Park. This Cedar is a matriarch to more life than we will ever know. And, she is beautiful.

My spouse, in silent reverence.
The Cedar’s exquisite roots. Imagine being so grounded, so permanent.
The Cedar gives life to more than we understand.

Another tree that is equally impressive, though in a different way, is the Kalaloch Tree of Life, sometimes called the Hanging Tree. This Sitka spruce has a tenuous grip on the cliff that once supported it. Not much is left of the cliff, but the tree holds tight.

My spouse and I spent some time under the tree, observing its intricate root system. Cool and sweet-smelling in the cave.

One of the first vacations my spouse and I took many years ago was to La Push, on the Washington coast. We were avid hikers then (10-15 miles/hike) and took hikes that brought us up and over beachheads when the tide would come in. One time in particular, we were trying to cross a deep, fast moving stream during high-tide by walking across an enormous, downed log. My spouse was almost across, and I was close behind, when a wave knocked me almost off the log and into the stream. My spouse caught me by the top of my head and held on as we scrambled to the shore. We made it, both very wet and shaking, as the huge log shifted a bit. When we visited La Push recently, we saw a log about the same size as the one we remembered from years ago. My spouse looked at the log and said, “I think this is the log that tried to take you out to sea!”

The log we both remember may have grown in size with time! Memory will do that, you know.

I wish you good hiking, clear skies, and firm stand on all that supports you!

The Gardener preps for coastal hiking.

A short vacation is finally coming our way! My spouse and I are soon headed to the Washington coast, the Olympic National Forest, and Kalaloch beach. As we have done for long as we can remember, we will hike as long and far as we are able. Even though we both realize that the days of 10 – 15 mile hikes are behind us, we are ready for hikes of at least 5 miles at a time. And to prepare for these hikes, we took a day-trip to Whidbey Island. The following pictures will give you an idea of what this lovely, lively island has to offer. Enjoy!

Ebey’s Landing, National Historic Reserve
A truly beautiful prairie.
The trail up to the Ebey House.
A stop-in at Coupeville for coffee, snacks, and one very fine chocolate-peanut butter milkshake.

While in-town, we walked Coupeville’s Historic Houses tour. Homes from the mid-1800’s.
Methodist church from late 1800’s.

And this morning, I decided to take a long walk in some of the most beautiful weather we have had this summer. A soft breeze, early morning sounds, and a sky so blue it looked painted greeted me. The following pictures show a little of why I love the Pacific Northwest so much.

Kids have been busy making art!
Chalk art is a delight!
As I said, a true blue sky.
You can never go wrong with dinosaurs!
A lovely offering.

I wish you clear skies, good walking weather, and excellent coffee!

A Guerrilla in the Forest

Two young Douglas Fir saplings grow deep in a remote part of a shady forest.  Spring-green needles soft as fur cover the young trees.  A mixed forest – big leaf maples, cascara, alder – growing with a wealth of understory plants.  Deep shade here; are the saplings in too much shade?  But light does stream through a gap in the canopy.  Beams of sunlight cover the young trees until late morning in summer.  Full sun in winter when leaves are down.  The young trees are well-placed.  They’ll be fine.

At some point companion plants are added.  Oregon grape, western bleeding heart, sword fern, redwood sorrel – a small council of native plants support the young saplings.  These do well in dappled shade.  Rich soil with more than 100 years of leaf mulch support the small community.  Old, downed limbs and wood debris – large, moss-covered, bent, broken – conceal the new community and disguise its youth.  It blends so efficiently with its surroundings that it becomes difficult to find when its caretaker returns to tend it.  As it should be.

A Heat Dome settles over the region.  People, animals, plants – all struggle in the extreme temperatures.  Many people die, countless animals and plants suffer.  The heat is numbing.  Drought haunts this year.  Soil is dry to the touch.  Streets are quiet, dust floats through the stifling air.  Heat settles in like threats from a bully.  Wildfires erupt through the region, and they add their own weather – winds, fire clouds, more heat.  More drought.

In the forest, the young sapling communities survive.  Someone tends to them occasionally.  Up-slope, deep within the forest in an almost inaccessible area resides another community.  This one is older – about 15 years of growth show clearly on these trees – and healthy.  The one who planted these trees is no longer the one who tends them; the honor of care for this community has been passed to another.  These trees, redwoods, far surpass their caretakers.  Someday the honor of care for these trees will be passed along again, and again, until they show proud, tall, and beautiful above the forest canopy. 

Then they will not need tending; instead, they will tend to the forest.  And to us.