Friday, May 14, 2010

Wild Heart

Photo courtesy Flickr
An unanticipated benefit of shifting the garden to native plants has been the return of the state bird, the willow goldfinch. I learned to call goldfinches “wild canaries” as a child, and they do have the mellifluous song of the cage birds. As much as their song, I enjoy wild canaries’ erratic, swooping flight, their apparent joy in life, and especially I enjoy associating with an animal that’s not a prisoner.

Part of gardening for native effect is backing away from some maintenance routines. There are gigantic lilacs on this lot and the one next door-they extend two stories up. A few years after we moved in, I learned that lilac seeds feed birds, so I happily forgot about deadheading in favor of watching the fluttering, noisy feast that happens when the seeds ripen late in summer.

I”m fond of the hybrid rhododendron that came with the house: it seems to be the model for the fake ones that used to decorate Frederick and Nelson’s tea room. Every time the rhodie blooms, I think about ladies’ lunches. To enhance the native effect, I stopped deadheading the rhodie as well as the lilacs. I want it to grow leggy, like the wild shrubs that fill the understory in the woods. It’s a pleasure to ignore withered blossoms knowing that I’m working with the forces of growth rather than against them.

-30- More after the jump.

Thursday, May 13, 2010


Photo courtesy Flickr
“Untitled” is the computer file of a shopping list I couldn’t bring myself to complete. Somehow I made my way onto the mailing list of a major photo, video, and music equipment supplier. The summer catalogue showed up last Friday. I called my kid the photographer, and he agreed that, like a certain grocery chain, the photo outfit is a “whole paycheck” operation.

I leafed through the book as if money were no object, but when it came time to make up a wish list, I found that right now my deepest wish is to manage nothing. The technology this catalogue represents is so sophisticated and wide-ranging, it simply overwhelms. I closed the Mac with the peace of simplicity in my hand and the comforting knowledge that should I want some of this gear, I can scout it on line.

A few years ago New Orleans rhythm and blues elder Mac Rebennac, aka Dr. John, commented that it’s impossible to keep up. Letting go of the rat race makes me a smarter, faster, more competitive rat. Whether being a rat is advisable is another matter, but I do enjoy feeling relatively nimble and not stumbling over an infinite number of obligations.

-30- More after the jump.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Baltimore Stoop

Photo courtesy Flickr

My elementary geography book devoted a photo (not cheap at the time) and a couple of paragraphs to Baltimore row houses. In the Fifties, the housekeepers of that city were famous for going out every morning to wash their narrow white marble steps. Thirteen years later, I found myself living in Baltimore, and the bus that carried me to the library carried me past those same stoops. Most of them were still quite clean.

When we bought this house, I loved to go out every morning to sweep the walks. Regular passes with a corn broom produce “sickle polish”, a subtle burnished effect of silicone abrasion on the natural pebbles in the old cement. Coupled with rainfall and a quarterly gentle sweeping with the hose, the walks develop a profoundly beautiful three-dimensional surface texture. Weekly attention is enough to foster a vibrant surface.

Clean walks and a change into house shoes on entry nearly eliminate interior floor maintenance, so the outside work is no waste of time or water.

-30- More after the jump.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Digital Housekeeping

Photo courtesy Flickr
Recently, I spent a week in SF with little to do during the day. My computer is now purged of chaff and lists. With home inventory lean and fit in support of the laptop, and the laptop itself carrying hardly an extra bit, I can find little reason to fret. Perhaps organizing and simplifying is like stepping a mast on a sailboat: it’s a matter of equalizing stresses for maximum performance.

John Muir writes about a day when he was climbing a sheer rock face. He made one move that left him dangerously exposed, spread eagled and paralyzed with fright. He simply held on for a time, and eventually, Muir wrote, “apprehension fell from me like ashes touched by the wind”. He regained his balance and initiative and was able to cross the face to safety. I can’t think of a purer description of courage than Muir’s.

An illustration instructor once advised me to “resolve it or leave it out” in a composition. He was talking graphic design, but I believe the idea is one that translates into other areas. Since my advisor was a skilled roper, jet pilot, and one hell of a driver, I’m inclined to trust his priorities.

-30- More after the jump.