While I was gardening

The art of gardening and the science of life.

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A late summer day, clear and warm, offered the perfect time to visit Hurricane Ridge.  There are many good hiking trails in the area and because we visited after the school year had started and summer vacation season had ended, we had the trails mostly to ourselves.  After a short stop at the Visitor’s Center to find a map, we chose to hike an unpaved ridgetop traverse about a 10 minute drive from the center.   The gravel trail was well-maintained but narrow in places and exposed enough on both sides that my spouse found it too uncomfortable to continue.  He returned to the car.  Since these conditions don’t bother me (some other heights do), I continued the hike, stopping to admire the many stunningly symmetrical conifers along the way.   Abies lasiocarpa, Subalpine Fir, and a lesser amount of Abies amabilis, Pacific Silver Fir, are the firs seen in this area.  Beautiful trees.  The Silver fir, especially, is a gorgeous tree and it is a joy to come upon its sparkling blue/silver color nestled within a stand of the dark green of our Subalpine fir.

I hiked along the path without being fully aware of the larger surroundings until I realized the path was climbing enough to make me breathe a bit harder.  At this point, I stopped and looked up and around, and was awed by the view.  Elevation of about 5,500 feet; clear blue sky dotted with small clouds of silver and white; mountains of slate grey, blue, black, and white; such quiet broken only by a strong wind.  I was alone on the ridge, no one ahead of me, no one behind.  No sounds other than wind and birds and a lone chipmunk.  I had heeded the sign “Stay on Path” and for good reason – one slip of the foot and the trip down the mountain side would be fast, painful, and final.  I stood still and listened.  Delight moved through me.  I looked around.  Odd that such a warm day contained such cold wind as this.  To breathe in air so pure and cold jolts the mind into submission and sharp awareness.   Thoughts dissipate on wind gusts and swirl away.  Weightless and unhindered breezes supersede resistant material.  Nothing human is vital here.  An empyrean of molecules and atoms spins within and throughout.  Time is small.  Moments blend into past and present, and meanings change.  Reason enfolds each picture in the mind’s eye in a struggle to capture the intangible.  Reason fails.  Time is infinite and immaterial.  Nothing separates thought from emotion when both are inconsequential.  Numinous sunlight warms the air.

Wind stings my skin and I return to the present.  I look down and realize I am off the path, standing at the very edge of the mountain side.  My arms are extended out slightly.  I draw in a sharp breath and jump back onto the path.  My heart pounds in my chest.  I have no idea when I left the path or how long I stood at the edge of the ridge.  I look around and see two people standing at the foot of the path.  Had they been watching me?  I could assure them that this one had no thoughts of jumping.  I calm down and begin my descent.  They remain in place and watch as I walk towards them.  I notice that this couple is sporting some very fine hiking gear.  I smile at them as I approach, mostly in response to the serious expression each hiker wears.  As I draw near, within hearing range, the man looks at me and says, “Is it worth it?”  I don’t entirely understand his question and fear that they did, indeed, think I was considering jumping off the mountain.


The man lifts his chin slightly in the direction of the ascent.  “The hike up; is it worth it?”

I notice his serious, slightly impatient expression.  His companion seems to share the same concern.  Both look like an embodiment of the expression ‘Time is money.’

I smile.  “Oh, yes.  It’s worth the walk.”

God. Yes.


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At this writing, my daughter is half-way across the Pacific Ocean and headed towards Japan, where she will attend school for the next 11 months.  When she travels by plane I enjoy watching her flight’s progress on the airline’s flight tracking system.  I will check the status every couple of hours and wonder what she sees when she’s lucky enough to have a window seat.  Or, on long flights after a night of short sleep (like last night), I hope she’s napping.  Time enough to get some rest on a 10 hour flight.  I assume the time change will not be much of a problem once she arrives.  One advantage of youth is its impressive ability to adapt quickly to change.  Time doesn’t seem to be such a significant factor (or motivator) for youth.  They perceive having so much time it seems infinite.  For youth, it doesn’t tick away with the consistency we notice later in life.

On my afternoon hike today I went past a house where a young musician practiced his/her trombone, in the shade of large trees in a back yard.  I was hidden by the trees and a large, lovely stand of Cornus sericea showing the beginnings of fall change, so I felt it polite to stop a while and listen.  Not bad, some struggling with deepest notes, the timid push of a new musician, but a resolve that seemed impressive.  When the musican stopped for a rest I heard the tick, tick, tick of a metronome.  I remember that steadiness, that regularity, clearly from my days of learning to make music.  And I remember that making a mistake could not be disguised as improvisation.  Music requires that we learn to understand and keep time before we improvise.

Back home, I checked the flight tracking system.  Steady progress across the Pacific.  In my readings about physics, I’ve encountered some scientists who believe that time is an illusion – that the impression that any moment is real is, in fact, just our interpretation – not based in any reality.  I wonder about this when I see the changes of seasons or look at myself in the mirror.  So, this is all just an illusion; not the result of sun, gravity, and time?  I wish . . .  But I see time as one manifestation of the immaculate, precise system through which all matter flows.  Biological life and its seasons; minerals, rocks, planets, stars, and solar systems; all are touched by, and answer to, time.  There is no escaping its effect.

To me, there is some comfort in time’s consistency.  There is no improvisation in its movement.  Seconds tick towards minutes, minutes towards hours, hours towards days whether or not we are ready – whether or not we approve.  If we allow, time reassures us that there is much more than just us as we fly through life.  And when we accept this reassurance, we are then free to improvise.

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Broken Limbs and Wagging Tails

Dog owners love their dogs.  Some love their dogs so much, apparently, that they can’t foresee the damage an off-leash dog can do while romping with abandon through a garden, chasing a squirrel, a ball, or an imaginary cat.  Love is truly blind.  Blind and oblivious.

I discovered the results of such love recently when I came upon our beautiful, 5-year old Hydrangea quercifolia while working in the gardens of Carkeek Park.  This beautiful shrub was a gift to the gardens by a local nursery that has supported our work over the years.  I’d been warned by another steward that some damage had occurred to our prized Hydrangea but I wasn’t prepared for what I saw.  Three of the shrubs’ main branches had been snapped off more than half way down the limb – jagged, ragged tears that spoke of a large, powerful dog having charged through the shrub at top speed.  Two smaller limbs were severely bent and twisted.  Nearby perennials were smashed or crushed and showed large paw prints in the crown of each plant.   Mulch was disturbed and the roots of some plants were exposed.  I bet the culprit slept well that night.

Such damage is painful to see, and we’ve seen it before in the gardens.  Large open spaces in public parks are often assumed to be unofficial off-leash areas, regardless of what nearby signs say, and our gardens in Carkeek seem to invite this type of activity.  Dog owners who allow their dogs to run wild through gardens and picnic areas will express irritation when reminded to leash their pet.  “He’s fine! He won’t hurt anyone.  Besides, I let him do this all the time.”  A fellow steward sees this as indicative of the narcissism and sense of entitlement that pervades our society.  She may be right.  This sense of entitlement is difficult to reason with.  Some years ago a visitor to my home garden brought along a friends’ dog she was caring for during that friends’ long absence.  The dog was a large lab with an abundance of enthusiasm and curiosity.  A really happy dog.  My visitor allowed the dog to run free throughout the garden even though I had asked her to keep the dog leashed.  She said the dog was well-behaved and obeyed commands and there was no need to leash it.  Not true.  Before long, the dog took a flying leap into our fish pond, damaging the fountain, tearing up the plants, and terrifying the fish.  After the struggle of getting the dog out of the pond and cleaned of plant debris, no apology was offered.  I did receive the standard comment, “He usually doesn’t act like this.”

I don’t blame dogs for their actions.  Speaking as someone who owned a beagle for many years, I understand the desire to see my dog run free and unrestricted.  But I also understand that doing so in places not designated as off-leash areas causes tremendous damage to property, some of which the dog owner may not even see.  I doubt that the owner of the Hydrangea-trampling dog was even aware of what his/her dog did.  And that is the problem.

I don’t know how to resolve this situation.  I continue to thank visitors who keep their dog leashed for doing so, and I continue to politely remind owners of unleashed dogs of the park’s policy of leashing all dogs.  However, it all comes down to the attitude of the dog owner.  A true understanding of, and respect for, public spaces will alleviate the problem.   When, or if, that happens, all will benefit.