Beware of what you Fish For

The following story may sound like a fish tale, but, it is the true adventures of the frazzled but happy owners of a very productive garden pond – known in the sophisticated horticultural world as a Water Feature.

Approximately 30 years ago, on a beautiful summer morning, I told my spouse that we needed a fish pond in our yard. Knowing that this would involve lots of digging (mostly him) and purchasing of water plants (mostly me), he said “Let me think about it for a while.” He thought about it – for a slightly longer while than I thought necessary – and then a month or two later said, “Sure. Toby would like it.” (Toby was our cat – a majestic mix of Maine Coon and Norwegian Forest Cat. Big guy! An aside here – Toby was an avid hunter who brought home a variety of items such as a deflated rubber ball, a hot dog in the bun with mustard and relish, a T-bone steak from my neighbor’s patio table, and a stray kitten. The kitten loved us; my neighbor, not so much.) Anyway, we made the decision to install a small pond. Bill, my spouse, went to a local hardware store and bought a small, kidney-shaped preformed pond shell. The little pond had a depth of two feet which we figured would be perfect for easy maintenance and cleaning. After the installation and rearranging of soil, we added a few large slabs of paving stones around the perimeter. It was lovely. Then we stocked the pond with water plants and goldfish. Lots of fish. I added 12 little goldfish after letting the water sit for three days, as instructed. Within one week, we saw an enormous increase of bird population in our garden. Within a month, we had received the following visitors: raccoons, an enormous heron, a seagull (!), and a small hawk. And, of course, Toby had a great time playing with the fish. Within two months, the plants had doubled in size and the fish disappeared.

Fast forward to 20 years ago. By this time, after a series of frustrating and heart-breaking fish losses and the pond shell cracking due to freezing weather, Bill had removed the shell and dug a much larger pond. This pond, which remains to this day, has a four-foot-deep section covered by a permanent water plant where the fish overwinter. Under the plant and in the deep, they are protected from weather extremes and hunters. In warm weather, the fish come up to the two-foot-deep section where I feed them and check for health problems. And for all the work involved with owning and caring for a large fish pond (about 700 gallons when full), the rewards are immense. The fish are beautiful, interactive, and a true joy to own.

But arriving at this point wasn’t easy. Over the years we have used many different methods for protecting the fish from predators in the hope that the fish would survive to old age. From fences to sturdy wire covers, from long boards covering the pond at night to spraying the perimeter with anti-predator spray, nothing worked. I’ve unwillingly fed countless visitors over the years. One early summer morning, around 5am or so, after having made a cup of coffee, I opened the front door to let in the morning breeze. I noticed something out of the corner of my eye over at the pond. I walked out unto the porch and saw a coyote – head down and butt-up – fishing in my pond. I yelled at him. He looked up at me while munching on something, and casually loped down the front yard to the street, giving me the side-eye as he went. I muttered “Bad dog!” as he strolled away, happy and no longer hungry. About 10 years ago, our beagle almost broke through our living room window when he saw an enormous heron land in our pond. The bird got away with a couple of the most beautiful multi-colored fish in the pond and Pippin, after getting outside, had a wonderful time running through the garden, tearing up plants as he charged after the huge bird. The most irritating incident occurred three summers ago. Bill and I were in the living room – front door and windows wide open for the breeze – when we heard the rocks surrounding the pond being moved. Scrape, splash, scrape, splash, chatter, more rocks scraping, more chatter, and then a loud splash. Bill charged outside with a flashlight to find a raccoon family having the time of their life pushing rocks into the pond. No fish were lost during that event but it took them two full days to come out from under the plants for food.

The result of all this work to protect the fish to old age is now a population of almost 30 beautiful, brightly colored fish ranging in ages from one year to four years. All the protecting and feeding of the most recent five fish I purchased has resulted in a large population of babies and one very fertile breeder. She pumps out those babies like there’s no tomorrow! These days, I offer free fish to anyone who visits. We’ve removed all the barriers to the pond and allowed wildlife to help themselves. Last summer, I returned to the store where I bought the fish and explained that the original fish I purchased are huge now (close to eight inches long) and one is very, very fertile. “Will they ever stop breeding?!” I was assured that they will limit their population due to the size of the pond. The smallest fish may die over winter due to cold or lack of food (I don’t feed them during cold weather), a couple of the oldest fish will die during winter, and if the biggest fish get hungry enough they will eat the smallest fish. Nature takes care of itself sometimes. I hope.

In the meantime, if you want a free goldfish or two, you know who to call!

Our fish winter-over comfortably at the bottom of the deepest section.

Gone fishin’.

Gardening in the Rain and Dreaming about Travel, Part 3

Another atmospheric river is hitting us here in the Seattle area today through Monday. And the most recent forecast that I paid attention to says more rain is on the way. I tend to fade out these days when I hear a weather forecast – rain, flooding, rain, “look at those rain totals!!”, and more rain. Lots and lots of rain. When I was out in the garden yesterday I was pleased to see my moss gardens thriving. These small areas I’ve created over the years were inspired by a trip to Japan in 2016 – my spouse, Bill, and I toured the country for 16 days while our son was an exchange student at Waseda University. We visited Tokyo, Kyoto, Kanazawa, and surrounding areas of those cities. Of all that we saw and experienced – shrines, temples, museums, gardens, ancient samurai neighborhoods, business areas, country-side vistas from the train – the gardens impressed me most of all. And of the gardens we visited (intentionally or stumbling into as a result of getting lost), the moss gardens made the greatest impression on me. When we returned home I immediately got to work creating small moss beds in my garden. And as I mentioned, these days they are thriving.

And while I was walking through the garden, I remembered our flight home from Japan and my delightful seatmate (not my spouse – he slept most of the way – although he’s delightful when awake). Bill and I sat in the middle section of the plane, three seats together, with Bill on the aisle, me in the middle, and a young Chinese exchange student on my other side. As we settled in for the flight, to my surprise, this young student asked me how I liked Japan, where I was from, and our conversation took off in a very relaxed and natural way. We talked – he, mostly – for the majority of the flight. He had been at a university studying some type of engineering that I don’t remember, was fluent in three languages (English, Japanese, and Cantonese), and was coming home for a short break. He asked me my impression of the Japanese people (a question I wondered about initially) and then asked me if I had felt any discrimination while there. I explained that my experiences had been remarkably pleasant, that I was thoroughly impressed with the cleanliness and politeness of the country, and that the only odd experience I had was to see a protester in Shinjuku yelling at passers-by. My seatmate explained that the protester was probably yelling at the tourists to go home. He then explained that he had experienced considerable “crap” because of his race but had expected it. We talked until dinner was served, talked another hour or two during and after dinner, and then he fell asleep. I read. It was a thoroughly delightful flight home.

I miss travel. Maybe because I have been so fortunate – I have never had a memorably unpleasant experience on any flight. I’ve been to San Diego three times alone and each time I’ve had thoughtfully talkative, interesting seatmates, our flight home from England in 2019 was a fun flight because of a very funny seatmate, and all the other flights I’ve taken over many years have been enjoyable. I’ve never been on a flight where an altercation occurred, so hearing about recent fights or harassments occurring on flights is sad and upsetting. And embarrassing for this country. From what I have read, the majority of these altercations have been because of anger, often fueled by alcohol – someone feeling “put upon” because of mask requirements. This inherently self-centered response is ridiculous. I have a deep fear and revulsion of this type of anger and my response is to walk away from it. As a result, these days I’m reluctant to take a trip that involves air travel. Being trapped with someone indulging in such angry outbursts will keep me on the ground for the foreseeable future. In the meantime, Bill and I are planning our next big vacation for whenever air travel becomes safer, and I will indulge in very enjoyable memories of travels past.

Some of the many container plantings at my favorite San Diego hotel.
Cleaning the moss bed around an historic cherry tree in Kyoto.
View from the helicopter trip we took in Hawaii.
To date, in my life, a Hawaiian sunset can’t be topped.
My favorite picture from our most recent trip to England. York.
Heading to Hawaii after our son’s university graduation celebration. Looking down onto Long Beach, WA.

I wish you safe travels, fun seatmates, a good book, and clear skies.


The Sun always Shines Eventually

Another rainy morning. My plan to take a long walk through my nearby mossy forest may need to be postponed. The trails in the forest become slippery – clay soil covered in fir needles and maple leaves add to the slick surface – and even with good hiking shoes it can be a risky walk, especially downhill. I had intended to visit my young sequoia grove – I haven’t visited the little trees for a while. A few native plants are waiting to be added to the grove and this is the best time of year to do so. Mahonia, oxalis, and a tray full of dicentra formosa root clumps are outside my front door, nestled in their containers soaking up the ample rain from a classically beautiful Pacific Northwest drizzle. Gray, soft, quiet – the beauty of this region. We have less of these autumn days than in years past.

Looking out my front window I see squirrels, Steller’s Jays, a few Juncos and Towhees, and my crow at a platter full of seeds and nuts. They’re braving the rain. But, they are better dressed for it than am I. Slowly, I’m talking myself into bundling up and heading out to the forest. I’ve worked in mud for so many years that it is second nature to me. Most PNW gardeners feel the same way. After all, the sun may shine later today or tomorrow – or later in the week, or next. And when that happens, these young plants should be in their permanent location to spread their roots and turn their leaves and stems to the sun.

So, I think I’ve talked myself into the forest walk and grove visit initially planned. Because, a true PNW day calls for wet gloves, damp hair, and the subtle beauty of gray. And a hot cup of coffee when I return home.

I wish you sure footing, smooth trails, and the joyous sound of birdsong.


Two Thoughts about the Ten Commandments

We humans are busy creatures. We organize, disorganize, sort, scatter, categorize, construct and then deconstruct, make lists, lecture, teach and then forget what we learned, share, and hoard. As I said, we’re busy. And autumn is an especially busy time for gardeners and gardens. Recently, as I was busy cleaning up the garden after one of our many seasonal wind storms (more this year than I remember occurring in past years), an amusing thought came to mind. I suspect that this thought came to me because of a book I had finished reading a few days before. The book, Christians against Christianity, by Dr. Obery Hendricks Jr., details the damage that contemporary right-wing Evangelicals are doing to the Christian religion. Not being Christian, or in fact religious, I don’t have a dog in this fight as the saying goes. But my family and I (and many other people in this country) have been deeply, and frequently, harmed by Christians over recent years so the topic is somewhat pertinent. Anyway, the book spoke to me on many levels, but most applicable is how thoroughly the teachings of the man Jesus of Nazareth have been prostituted and debased by some people who espouse right-wing, Evangelical political ideas. In fact, Dr. Hendricks’ book introduced me to Jesus’ teachings in a way I had not encountered before. These teachings have beauty, compassion, intelligence, and bravery – and are completely different from what I have encountered in past interactions with most Christians I know.

But, anyway, as I mentioned, two thoughts came to my mind that afternoon in the garden. I had been working from a to-do list written in my waterproof notebook and was close to checking off the last two or three chores. I was feeling accomplished and pleased with myself. And then someone from my past came to mind, and the admonishment this person had given me about my “excessive” love of the natural world. “I’m always being scolded”, I remembered thinking at the time. But then, I started to laugh because the thoughts that came to mind were about the Ten Commandments. Not about how and why Jesus cited them and incorporated them into his teachings (as a devote Jew), but about what the commandments say about humankind. As I see them, the Ten Commandments can be boiled down to this: humans like to make lists, and we like to tell others how to act.

I finished my chores in a good mood and in good time. When I came inside to warm up, I decided to make another list – this one for the following day – and told myself to make a cup of coffee, have a sit-down, and open Dr. Hendricks book one more time.

I wish you good humor, a manageable to-do list, and a warm beverage.


Shadows and Light

The season of light and color is coming to an end, but this morning the sun shone bright and clear. Autumn is a beautiful time of year, allowing the structure and solidity whispered in spring and summer to shout out its power in coming winter. Beauty resides even in decay.

I walked through my garden early this morning, bathed in cold, clear light. Bright colors, deep shadows, strong forms caught my eye. Soon leaves will be gone and the garden’s bare structure will persist to remind us of what lies ahead.

Give yourself the autumnal gift of time and its components – sun, color, structure, decay – to observe the slow conclusion of a garden. Soon enough, life returns.

A Moment in Time

My spouse and I are getting ready for another coastal vacation – most likely our last hiking vacation of 2021. We will be traveling into the Land of Green: moss, ferns, ancient conifers, nurse logs, and seedlings. This time the days will be much cooler, dampness will infuse our surroundings, and soft duff will cushion our steps. We hope for clear nights for more star-gazing but if not, we have a fireplace in the cabin for warm fires and that will suffice. And, as always, I have been prepping for long forest hikes by taking long walks in town.

Autumn color has been spectacular in these early days of the season, but because of last summer’s drought and extreme heat, trees and some shrubs are dropping their leaves at an astonishing rate. Plants are exhausted. It hurts to see such damage – even cloaked in such beauty – and this may become a more common sight in our future. But at this moment, for just an instant in the larger holding of time, we can enjoy what we have been given.

The beauty of my Friday morning walks around Green Lake, North Seattle. This section of Green Lake reminds me of Central Park.
Liquidambar styraciflua, Sweet Gum
Lots of twig die-back.
My favorite Full Moon maple greets me as I get close to home.
The unique seed pods of Koelreuteria paniculata, Golden Rain tree
More Sweet Gum – a gorgeous tree!
Beautiful combination of Arbutus unedo (Strawberry Tree) and Acer japonica
My Picea pungens, Baby Blue Eyes, and colorful Euonymus japonicus. This euonymus is a humble little tree that gives great rewards year-round!
The explosion of my little prairie bed: Deschampsia caepitosa in the container and Andropogon gerardii (Big Blue Stem) in the foreground, Schizachyrium scoparium, Little Blue Stem behind. Acer palmatum (Ever Red maple) and Cotinus coggygria (Royal Purple Smoke Tree) in the background.
This picture was taken years ago – you can see how much the Big Blue Stem has grown, and a better view of Little Blue Stem next to it. I think I’ll do a similar container planting this Halloween.

I wish you good walking, colorful sights, and time enough to enjoy the season!

In the Presence of Trees, Part 6

The First Cathedral

Look up. Under trees – clear night – early morning – stale afternoon – look up. Clouds and sun – look up. Limbs brush companions with the slightest touch. Movements almost imperceptible express flow from one to another. A caress that encloses an instant of time. Neither intent nor threat interrupts this gift from one to another. Neither demons nor angels enter this space. Look up and listen. Look up and see. Look up and receive their gift to us.

What we leave behind when we enter a building we regain when we walk towards trees.

The cookie wins every time!

Because our local meteorologist has promised a rain and wind storm arriving soon, I decided to get in one more long walk before the rain. So, yesterday morning, with weather as beautiful as it could possibly be, I committed to a long hike. After tanking up on breakfast and two cups of coffee, I hit the road. I looked beyond the drought-stressed conifers and the exhausted perennials to the stunning blue sky and the color show. Yellows, oranges, reds – tawny leaves dotted the ground and floated on an easy breeze. Two miles in and my energy level increased with each beautiful color I encountered. The pavement was dotted with leaves that crunched underfoot. I lost my sense of time and place in the beauty of change, and walked with the season’s tempo.

I entered a neighborhood that offered a joyful welcome nestled among the leaves.

Another neighborhood brought me to a path enclosed in a cathedral of green. It was quiet.

Out into a bright sky, more color hit me like welcomed friend not seen in months.

After four miles, I began to get hungry. I thought of walking up to a local coffee shop east of me on a busy intersection, but decided I could wait until I returned home. Didn’t want to encounter traffic after such a quiet walk. At that point, I turned the corner and headed back. On the way, as my stomach growled and the morning warmed, I debated with myself about what to eat when I got home. “An apple is filling and healthy, but there’s a cookie that I haven’t eaten yet and I don’t want it to go to waste. Could eat a banana but I ate one for breakfast. An orange might be a good idea but I’m not in the mood for citrus at the moment. Maybe toast and peanut butter? That cookie – peanut butter and chocolate – boy, that sounds good. Tough decision!”

After another block, I came to an elegant late summer landscape. This planting looks good all year but is most beautiful in late summer through autumn.

As I crossed the street and entered the last half mile of my walk, I came upon one of my favorite trees – Fraxinus (americana or angustifolia). I look forward to its gorgeous purple all year.

The last block. My street. I walked up the steps, up the long walk to the front door, and as I entered the house the first thought that came to mind was “Cookie!” The sweet treat wins again!

I hope the colors of autumn fill you with joy!

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.


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