Sunday, January 19, 2020

Ideal Cosmos

At my latitude, nine rotations in mid December exclude daylight for fifteen hours and fourteen minutes. This slow motion reversal at the planetary elliptical vertex is experienced as stasis. Nine days of nearly equal day light. Then, day by day, our planet rushes toward another season at 67,000 miles per hour, delivers us a minute, then two, and finally three minutes additional daylight per rotation. This is time, flying.

That it is completely dark at seven thirty five in the morning, nearly 26,000 minutes after that reversal, is still surprising. The moon, approaching its 297° northwest by west horizon, nearly full, cast its reflected light through our window, waking me as would the morning sun, set to meet the horizon only fourteen minutes later.

The rising sun's countenance a dim facade.

Winter, with it's frozen palette,

 pushes me to reconsider a lifelong disinterest in Florida.

 All places can challenge our preconceptions.

Although Florida's humanity has created endless reaches of entertainment and consumerism, gated communities and social poverties, it is a place of subtle beauty, and warm, ever so warm. I've still not grown accustomed to winter travel, its luxury and privilege. Yet, it does aid the spirit and what does one have if one is low in spirit?

I've become taken with this greenhouse situated within Florida's Mead Botanical Garden. It's not my first greenhouse, and won't be my last.

At home we invite the aura of a Floridian winter when we bring outdoor plants indoors to overwinter.  With them we bring various creatures, including this year's populations of aphids and fungus gnats.

In this choice we face the decision, should we be so thoughtful, of life or death for these insects. The suffering of plants, should they experience suffering at all, is weighted against the immediate squish or the slow, sudsy demise of soft-bodied beings. We recoil at the sticky residue and skins shed onto the windowsill, but not the lack of empathy for life. Expanded, these thoughts engage all the world, all the choices within our power to make.

Despite myself, I still moved to extinguish the aphids, to eliminate the gnats. A garden is celebrated, but a gardener kills. We do not move against the gardener, decry their deeds and demote their effort -apart from the more fashionable descriminations. We do not yet belong to an ideal cosmos, of which only mathematics and our imaginations approach.

Monday, November 11, 2019


November 11 -a bright, sunny, and cold day. One month ago, on October 11, we had our first snowfall. Yesterday's snowfall ushered in the coldest air of the autumn. We bottom out tonight in the low single digits, but we are at 12° F this morning. There is a brisk wind, so we feel chillier than the temperature might indicate. On November 11, 1940, Minneapolis received 16 inches of snow in a surprise storm -forecasting wasn't as precise back then. In 2005, the temperature soared to 64° F on this day while 1986 had Minneapolis bottoming out at -1° F.

The many lakes of our area are open water -not yet a skin of ice on them, despite two weeks now of well-below freezing temperatures. The other day a man near Cambridge, Minnesota, not quite an hour north of downtown Minneapolis, thought it cold enough to try his feet on ice that had formed on Skogman Lake. Based on my observations, here, the ice couldn't have been more than an inch or so thick. If you've been to the lake in Prospect Park, Brooklyn, you'll notice the ice ladders stationed around it in winter. I recall watching a father and child shuffle out on the ice one day. Tragedy was averted thanks to someone more vocal than myself, whose hesitancy requires some introspection on some other day. Minnesota doesn't know what ice ladders are and I will never know confidence on ice.

As October rolls out into November, I need to have a flexibility never required by my ocean-tempered, Atlantic coast activity. We don't always have what we need, do we? Curiously, the post I just linked to, above, finished with this sentiment:

"I've grown accustomed to winter, finding solace in the recess of growth and decay. As much as I think of a new season's garden, of tomatoes and greens, peppers and garlic, it's always too much. I aim to accept what can be done and what can be done, well."

Now that winter has come to occupy an additional three months of the year, my experience of its slippery possession is that of prey who's frantic contortions allow a brief but futile escape from the quickening claws of no longer. A winter, fast, I accept like death, but with a consciousness of afterlife that offers a view to the world I no longer inhabit, a world perceivable through the bright scrim of slow-moving molecules. 


Box store bulbs, fifty percent off, needed unfrozen earth to plant in. With this trouble, those bulbs should have been 75% off, no? Despite two weeks of frozen temperatures, I laid rumpled plastic, held down by bricks, over a patches of bare soil. When I planted on Saturday evening (yes, this dark at 5:00 pm), the soil was pliable under my coverings. Tulips and miniature iris -good luck!

Outdoor plants brought in for winter. Potted, pruned, and placed. Now, only fungus gnats, aphids, and watering to think about.


A hanging plant frozen in its basket

The vegetable beds, tangled, leafy, and snowed upon.

Remaining siding from this summer's window and siding replacement projects. I will do some of this indoors and wait for that forty degree day to come.

The rocks. In this location, under the replaced siding and adjacent to window wells, the builder had placed Hydrangea arborescens, you know -the spreading kind with giant flopping heads. Three Minnesota hardy azaleas were placed around the bay-type window to the left. Around the base of these, one and one-half inch St. Cloud granite (gray/pink/black coloration). In order to fix the siding and the kick-plate below it, the roots, the rocks, the clay, and eventually the plastic that laid deep beneath it all was removed. The hydrangea were removed a few years ago to make the driveway border. 

Many rainy days embedded the granite rocks into the black clay earth. After grading the soil to a proper slope, replacing the edging, laying new barrier fabric and sheet plastic to shed water, the granite is only partially replaced. It is frozen to the soil, now, but it also requires pressure washing to remove the clay, which will not happen until spring.

Despite the snow and the freezing, I am still working on a few outdoor things, like gravel around the apron of the studio and cobble edging to contain it, possibly some tree felling, and rebuilding the lattice that sits beneath the front porch. Given the early depth of cold, twenty to thirty degrees below average, isn't it yet possible that we will see ten to twenty degrees above average?

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

At Home

It was back in July when we spotted the first giant puffball of the season. This was early -too early to our senses. By August's middle the water table had been coming back up, not quite draining after a moderate rainfall. The temperatures had descended to the mid to high seventies and steadily declined into the mid to high sixties by the last week of August and first of September. The trees prepared themselves, the monarchs passed through, the squirrels returned to the lawn, and the rains fell. Our autumn is upon us, and has been since mid August. I have casually mentioned to some that the season had changed, before the Minnesota State Fair -typically a late summer festival. For my observation I received a squint and pursed lips, huh blended into hmm.

To perceive the early arrival of autumn is nothing special. To read the language of our environment and to understand its meaning, in the Western mind, is like understanding Latin. Most will see an archaic text, pass over it, and only occasionally fathoming the root of some current verbiage. Millions of years of evolving, hundreds of thousands of years within this epoch of variable, yet recognizable, climate and species and still we have lost the ability to be at home in the world. I write 'at home' to indicate that set of cues that are so familiar as to become understood inconspicuously.

Our trip to Yellowstone National Park, the primary stimulus for these thoughts, offered some very unfamiliar cues. If you haven't been, go. The park is massive, often taking several hours to get from one site to your lodging. There are bison, and more worrying -grizzly bears. You are walking on a volcano, something difficult to dislodge from your steaming, sulfur-scented consciousness.


Every season I have five, ten, maybe twenty projects to accomplish during the warm season. I typically finish three, especially when the warm season lasts only three months. This year's major project was to complete the renovation of the front lawn-vegetable garden. Above, eggplants, peppers, and cucumbers.

vegetable garden raised bed in a frame mulch
The far left raised bed was refurbished as it had been made from scrap decking, then a new ten foot bed was built and installed, and the remaining two beds moved from last year's location. The framing and mulching was accomplished in early June and then I moved on to other projects.

tomato plants raised bed in a frame mulch
After our return from Yellowstone I set about laying the sod. We chose sod to cover the area previously covered in black plastic laid to smother creeping charlie. Sod is outside of my experience, and I messed up. When laying sod it is best to have prepped the ground ahead of time, it's best to get it unrolled in a day or two. I had to stretch it over four days and nearly composted the sod on its pallet because I hadn't the time to prepare the soil, pull the volunteer tomatoes (what was I thinking?), or deal with the unknown habits of sedge that had grown where the beds had stood the year before. 

It was only continual rain storms and the early autumn temperatures that spared me the near-total loss of live grass. I credit this for its return from tawny mush to lively green, albeit a few patches of dead remain. Although I've been spared the shame of spending a small fortune on sod and then killing it, the lack of soil preparation will undoubtedly reduce the benefits of sod over seed in the long run.

We've had a good year for brassica, getting two months of broccoli from under twelve square feet. BT worked well on the cabbage worms after I removed the floating cover fabric. I've also observed that deer do not seem to care for kale when there is so much else to eat in your garden.

My July planting of green beans were trimmed quite well by the four-legged pruning crew. But, they came back and I now have a steady supply to snack on in between mosquito raids. Unlike a national park (the "wilderness"), our place is home to us and many other creatures. Living with them feels much more natural than any wilderness experience I've had.

A new garden bed grows out an area of removed hydrangea. Scraps of plants, all flowering blue-purple, have been planted throughout the summer. In the background, the browning of a wet autumn.