While I was gardening

The art of gardening and the science of life.


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The Tenacity of Life, Part VI, Attitude Adjustment

I’ve been fighting bluebells, Hyacinthoides non-scripta, for all the years I’ve lived here (north Seattle).  And despite my many and varied efforts at eradication – smothering them with cardboard and a deep layer of wood chips, pulling them out by hand (bulb and all), repeated applications of vinegar on a warm, sunny spring day – I have more now than when I started.   This spring passers-by commented on the lovely blue carpet that is my garden.  “Can’t get rid of them,” I grumble.  “Yes, but they’re so pretty!”  is the response I hear.  I offer to send some home with the visitor but the answer is always a polite “no thanks” and a quick backing away.  So there I am, a bucket full of freshly pulled bluebells and a grumpy attitude, when someone else walks by and says “Did you know those are invasive?”  I respond with a look, point to my bucket, and my critic says “Oh, well then, have a nice day!”  I’m not sure what it will take to finally eradicate these tough, determined little bulbs from my garden, and I have a feeling that my last words may include something like “The horror! They’re blooming!”, but in the meantime I have decided to enjoy the color they bring (blue is my favorite, after all) while I continue to pull them out by their stubborn little roots.  And I know I’ll see them again next spring.

The street-front of our property includes 2 small garden beds and a grassy area for parking.  Since this area is only accessed by our front steps or the street, it is difficult to get the mower down those steps and even trickier to get it back up.   And that includes the small push-mower I use towards the end of spring.  So I have resorted to using a line-trimmer to cut the grass in this area.  For the most part, this works well.  However, because I find that I use the line-trimmer more than any other power-tool in my arsenal, and I only buy the cheapest electric model I can find, each one has a short, difficult life.   This area is also where drainage from our property settles resulting in an incredibly lush growth of grass from April through July (even in drought conditions).  So I struggle with the cord (plugging in the trimmer to the light pole at the top of the stairs) while protecting young plants during the process, and I stop trimming whenever a short little young person comes near to ask me “Why are you doing that?”   I wonder that myself, sometimes.  My work is also interrupted by having to add more line, and this is quite a chore because of frequency and because I have to unplug the trimmer, take off my gloves to get the cap off, make sure the spring doesn’t fall out, wrap the line around the mechanism that is supposed to feed it out but doesn’t, put the damn cap back on, plug it back in, get back to work but stop when a family walks by and wants to compliment me on the garden and ask what that plant over there is and where did I get it and do I want to pet their dog?  Sure.  I get back to work and, shortly, hit a brick with the line which makes the line too short to cut the grass at the speed I’m used to, so I start the cap-removal process all over again.  This time, however, the spring shoots out the instant I remove the damn cap, and I watch it fly across the street (as if in slow motion) to my neighbor’s front garden which has grass taller than mine and I realize I’ll never see that spring again.  At this point, I’m ready to set the grass on fire when another walker passes by, smiles and waves, and says “What a lovely spring day!”

And she’s right, it is.

 

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Ponderosa Pine forest

Pungent, dry air surrounds the hiker who wanders through this forest of giants.  Each tree’s bark shows a unique pattern – like finger prints or puzzles.  Nestled among the pines, along the river, we found a small grove of young Aspens, and a few wildflowers.

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We Live in Small Spaces

A few years ago, I read that physicists in the field of quantum mechanics determined that subatomic particles can be in two places, or two states, at the same time.  Apparently, particles such as electrons exist in space governed by such chaotic and peculiar laws that they can present as a wave and a particle at the same time.  The laws that create this phenomenon are not completely understood but can be demonstrated in a double slit experiment where a particle is in different positions or moving at different speeds at the same time.  Physicists label this phenomenon as a state of superposition.

It has long been know that some plants produce a chemical or chemicals that affect the plants around them.  This phenomenon, of which many plants are capable, can be quite harmful and sometimes fatal to surrounding plants.  Plants are stuck where they are rooted – they can’t move if they are near a plant more successful in obtaining necessary light, water, or nutrients.  A response to this problem is to emit a biochemical that is toxic to nearby plants.   The chemical can be released from roots, leaves, flowers, or stems into the immediate surroundings and can damage or kill neighboring plants, thereby removing the threat to the plant’s existence.  The Black Walnut, Juglans nigra, is an excellent example of a plant with this ability.  My experience shows that Prunus laurocerasus, the dreaded English Laurel, is another prime example.  Botanists label this phenomenon allelopathy.

Recently, I heard a story on the radio about an Iranian man whose young son was killed by stray bullets in a terrorist attack.  The father’s grief was palpable through the background noise of guns, screams, and shouts, and through the halting translation of his interviewer.  His son, his youngest child, was 6 years old.  The boy had been playing with friends in the street in front of his home.  According to the report, the family had no connections to any government faction or to terrorism.  Government officials label such deaths the “collateral damage of war”.

A book I read recently, titled The Rocks Don’t Lie, tells the story of catastrophic floods throughout human history and our struggles to make sense of these events.  Before our species understood the natural processes of geology and weather, and how these processes interact with terrain, we explained devastating floods as acts of gods or spirits directing their anger at us.  Something we did or thought or said, or neglected to do, think, or say, angered the gods who controlled our daily lives to the extent that they tried to destroy us and all we had built.  A flood story can be found in almost all ancient cultures, from Mesopotamia to Asia, from the Pacific Islands to the Americas.  Ancient cultures suffered catastrophic flooding on scales that almost completely wiped out human civilization repeatedly in those areas.  As we did not understand the weather conditions that preceded these events, they came without warning and killed many thousands of people.  We struggled to understand why innocent people died when we believed we knew who the guilty were.   Of course we knew God or gods were punishing the guilty – who else had such power?  But now, with our knowledge and understanding of geologic processes, there is no excuse to continue to place blame upon God, spirits, or deities for destructive natural events.  I agree with those scientists who say that young-earth believers and those who believe Noah’s flood created the topography we live in today do an unjustifiable disservice to Creation.  The laws that govern geology, physics, biology, and other natural sciences tell a far grander, more encompassing story than any story found in religious texts.  To deny these laws is to narrow creation down to a small space of tribal narratives that should no longer have a place in our lives.

With our knowledge, creativity, abilities, and resources, humans are able to move beyond the collateral damage that results from remaining in the small worlds of our past.  Each person, each culture, has the capacity to grow.  Evolution proves this.  Growth is often painful, frequently resisted, and often fought against.  But the capacity to grow, to learn, to change, is one of the greatest gifts our species has been given.  Make no mistake – it is a Gift.   And it is time for us to put this gift to good use.