Monday, May 31, 2010

The Birth of a Dragonfly

Yesterday, while kayaking, i drifted into some water grass and watched a dragonfly being born.

When a certain Jurassic-looking waterbug is ready--almost an inch long--it uses its 6 legs to shimmy up a blade of water grass or a reed. There it stops in the breeze and the sun. It begins to breathe air, and this causes its exoskeleton to begin to crack and slowly hatch a winged body.

Awakening can seem as foreign as flying must seem to a bug who has only lived and "breathed"water its entire life. Yet one day, it clambers up a blade of water grass and the crossing over begins.

We who are chained to samsara with the 10 fetters* can indeed break through the husk in which we live. Actually, when we are ready, the husk simply cracks open.

*The 10 fetters are
--belief in a personality
--skeptical doubt
--rites & rituals

--sensual desire
--ill will

--craving for form
--craving for the formless

Friday, May 28, 2010

The Heavenly Fragrance of Gardenias

My sweetie told me that his mother--also named Sweetie--loved gardenias. They reminded her of the corsages she wore to debutante parties when she was young, back in the Roaring '20s.

One Christmas i gave her a gardenia plant, and when she died in 1995, i took her gardenia plant home with me. It's been limping along in my solarium ever since.

I knew gardenias like a foliar spray, but i never quite managed to spritz it regularly. Then i found a salmon plant food spray next to the fish emulsion at the garden center, and last month i began spraying the gardenia every day or two.

My sweetie complained of the fishy smell. The label does say it's a "superior fermented salmon product." Nevertheless, the stinky smell has reward me with a record 5 white blossoms exuding a heavenly fragrance.

Sometimes our meditation practice limps along--even for years--before we find just the right nutriment--a teacher, a teaching, or a community (at home or on retreat). Then our practice flowers, and we realize that the heavenly actually resides within us, right along with some of those "stinky" qualities.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Multiply by Dividing

Local libraries and garden clubs are having plant sale fund-raisers on Saturday mornings in May. What a great opportunity for me to make a charitable contribution--a truck-load of plants!

Studies show that philanthropists--those who donate and those who volunteer--are happier than those who don't.

Just this morning i was out in the iris bed digging up the yellow irises that have no scent. I love iris for their fragrance, and i'm partial to purple. Yellow is good as an accent, but now i have too many yellow iris. I potted up a dozen, using soil from a compost bin.

Later today, i'll walk around my gardens and see who's crowding who out of their (flower) bed. In this way i can multiply my plants (and my joy) by dividing.

Go ahead. Share your abundance.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Elements of the Season

My rule-of-(green)-thumb is to plant and transplant in May and stop the first weekend in June when the weather becomes too warm and dry. Usually Mother Nature supplies enough rain--9 inches--in May that i can be casual about watering my dozens of transplants.

This year, however, May is a drought. The date of the last frost was May 8. Since then we've had a few sprinkles adding up to a mere 3 inches of rain for May. With a string of 90 degree days, this so-called spring feels more like summer. I find myself drawn to contemplate the elements: earth, water, air, and fire.

We could think of the elements as states of matter-solid, liquid, and gas, and the heat needed to transmute them from one state to another (ice to water to steam).

The heat of the season is driving water into haze. Morning dew evaporates into humidity.

It's time to water the dry earth in the gardens, and i fortunately have a well that delivers 12 gallons a minute.

Earth, water, air and summer--sounds like gardening to me.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Tender Perennials (So-Called)

I ran into my friend Barbara at the garden center. She didn't see me at first because she was studying the lavenders with a wrinkled brow.

"Barbara!" i said.

Her face lit up and relaxed as she re-cognized me. At least something here was familiar. "You can help me," she said confidently. "Which lavender should i buy?"

Hmmm. I started my lavender from seed 33 years ago, and the name on the little brown seed packet is lost in the mists of time. Now it was my turn to study the white plastic markers.

Provence lavender sounded wonderful, but wait a minute. There is small print it says, "TENDER PERENNIAL." Greek lavender--TENDER PERENNIAL.

Well, it might be perennial 3 climate zones and 800 miles south of here. "TENDER PERENNIAL" is simply code that means "ANNUAL." The only way these varietes of lavender--or rosemary, for example--are perennial is if you dig them up and bring them into the house in September.

This sort of stretching of truth is actually a form of lying. Its goal is to mislead the customer. "TENDER PERENNIAL" does not qualify as skillful speech. "TENDER PERENNIAL" simply means that you, the consumer have to perennially treat this plant as tenderly as a baby. Since i have dozens of plant "children" (okay, thousands), this baby will most likely be lost to frost in the fall.

Barbara and i settled on Lavandula angustifolia "Hidcote" or "Munstead" as being most hardy, but the lavender mood had passed, and she walked away without buying anything.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Phoe-Be Song

A phoebe wags its tail as it sits on the back of a lawn chair. This perch gives it a birds-eye view of insects flying around two feet above the yard. It zooms out, seems to snap at thin air, returns to the lawn chair, and swallows. Mosquitoes? Blackflies?

The phoebe never comes to the bird feeders. It builds its nest in an eave of the house (hopefully not near the bedroom window), and sings its raucous "phoe-be" song as if it has laryngitis.

Two chickadees have taken up residence in a bluebird house near the vegetable garden. They flit back and forth to the entrance, apparently feeding babies. Sometimes one of them sits on the wire fence and sings its melodic "phoeeeeee---beeeeeeee" song, dropping half a step between "phoeeee" and "beeeee."

Two birds singing a very similar song--one unpleasant, one very pleasant.
There's no need to wish the unpleasant away nor to desire more of the pleasant. Birds simply sing their songs, and mindfulness simply listens.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Sitting on My Deck in the Morning

Do i wish the robin would sing a different song?
Do i want the woodpecker not to rat-a-tat-tat?
Or the chickadee not to hop into the birdfeeder?
Or sigh, "If only the frog hadn't jumped into the pond"?

Do i think the phlox should look different that it does?
Or that the columbine really shouldn't wear that color?
Don't the geraniums know that red and magenta clash?
Or the rhododendrons that their colors are so yesterday?

Sitting on my deck in the early morning,
Nature unfolds moment-by-moment.

My comparing, judgmental, critical mind comes to rest
in the calmness of what is.
Revealing the uselessness
of any coulda', woulda', shoulda'.

Tranquility reflecting the stress
of wanting anything to be different than it is.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Plant Sales

'Tis the season for plant sales on Saturday mornings. Garden clubs, libraries, and other organizations collect perennials from their members. A team of volunteers prices the plants and labels the unnamed ones. They move flat after flat onto tables that have been carried out to the parking lot for the event. Another team of volunteer saleswomen stands ready.

As with any yard sale (this one literally from people's yards), early birds mill around until a nearby steeple bell chimes 9:00, and the land rush is on.

These fund-raising (and fun-raising too) events all exist on the generosity of volunteers and of donors. When the dizzying morning comes to a close, the organization is richer by a thousand dollars or two to put toward their particular public service.

Although buying inexpensive plants is fun, the volunteers are serving from the bottom of their hearts. Those who give of their time or of their plants have opened their hearts; they reap the joy of practicing kindness.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Lower Back Woes

This spring my reliable, faithful lower back has started to complain. This at the most inconvenient of times--i want to turn over my 2 community garden 9 x 12 plots.

Pushing the garden fork into the clay-ey hard-pack soil with my left foot; perhaps jumping on the fork with both feet; wiggling it back and forth to sink its tines deeper into the earth; then bending to pry the heavy lump up and over. I zig-zag across the 9 foot width twice, then need to rest, or change my chore. I carry a bucket of leafy weeds (not yet gone to seed) to the compost, and return to the plot with a bucket of woodchips to refresh the path between plots.

"Why not rototill?" someone asks.

Do i dare say, "Because fat worms are dining on the top 3 inches of last year's manure coating of the garden"?

No matter the solution (Have someone else do it!), here is the inescapable fact: My body is aging. My lower back is growing old and achy. The Buddha said this is a subject for frequent reflection. Those low throbs are my reminders to be mindful.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Transplanting Stress

A friend who works on an organic farm brought home 2 trays of lettuce seedling 6-packs to give away. The so-called seedlings are not only ready to be transplanted, they are ready to be eaten.

This makes gardening so easy: transplant the lettuce into your garden and begin harvesting immediately. Wouldn't we like to transplant stress reduction or a spiritual practice into our already too-busy lives? Wouldn't we like to harvest the fruits (or vegetables!) of a spiritual practice right NOW?

"If i just add one more thing to-do, i'll have less stress," we may think. Question this belief.

Transplanting a spiritual practice means renouncing first of all. We simply can't take care of a burgeoning garden of things-we-want-to-do without collapsing under the the weight. We can either maintain a way-too-big garden of busyness. Or we can tend just as much as our tender hearts can open to.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Community Garden Comparison

Last week someone mowed around the edge of the community garden, and revealed that my plot was the only one with tall grass, dock, and mustard growing up through the fence. The comparing mind couldn't help but notice that my lone plot was not conforming to the nicely groomed look of the other 11 plots.

So yesterday i finally took my garden fork there. As i uprooted each clump, i'd sneak a look at the neighbors' plots where tiny lettuces grew in a row. Thanks to a heavy dose of manure last year, my own plot was teeming with clover, grass, and lambs' quarters.

The mind loves to compare. In fact, that's really all it does. Tranquility, calm, and peace do not grow well in the weedy mind that is busy comparing itself to its neighbors.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Politically Correct Compost

I'm working toward my Master Composter certification and am wondering if this means my own compost should be P.C. Politically correct compost would not have any half-decayed woolen socks in it.

Since 1993, my compost has been inspired by Vera Work, a social worker and Holocaust survivor, who offered a weekend workshop on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder during my last semester at Antioch University New England. Vera brought in a jar of compost that included a large rusty nail. The message to the traumatized client was clear. Everything eventually composts.

So for years, i threw old ripped woolen or cotton shirts or sweaters into my compost. Clothes that had no future even in a big yellow Planet Aid box. I thought decrepit clothes would instead aid the soil of my garden.

But then, digging into a 3-year-old compost bin, i'd shovel out a more or less whole green sweater matted with fibrous roots. Maybe it wasn't wool after all. A braided rug decayed into one or two foot lengths. I'd pull out the braids and snake them into the neighboring bin where i'd run into the blue strands a year or two later. A moccasin from Alaska lined with rabbit fur--i had worn holes in the sole at the heel and the ball of the foot, but the leather remained. A shred of a filmy cotton blouse my mother gave me for Christmas in 1977 now floats around my vegetable garden.

I've stopped throwing my ratty old clothes in the compost. Just last night, i tossed a hole-y wool sock into the trash.

Now when i pull what remains of a leather glove or a hotpad out of the compost, i put it in the trash bag that's headed for the dumpster. I wonder what archeologists a thousand years from now will make of a grimy, dirt laden, and ripped black cotton t-shirt?

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Cultivating Generosity

The community garden i participate in increased its tillable size by 50 percent last week so we can plant a row for the hungry. Actually we're dedicating our new space to potatoes for the town Food Shelf. We're guessing we can raise 100 pounds.

The Buddha said, "If you knew what I know about the power of giving, you would not let a single meal pass without sharing it in some way." In our society, we barely share a meal with our nearest and dearest people who live with us, let alone friends or strangers.

Generosity is the very first in the list of 10 supreme qualities. We are growing potatoes in our community garden, yes, but more importantly we are cultivating generosity.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Mulch Hay

I picked up a truckload of mulch hay yesterday to use on the vegetable garden. It took nerve, but i converted to the Ruth Stout method about 10 years ago after watching the video "Ruth Stout's Garden." 92-year-old Ruth hobbles along on her cane, but she still gardens. She can't bend over to pull a weed, so she plops a big handful of straw or hay on every weed she sees. She smothers the weed and improves the soil at the same time.

We can do the same thing with weedy thoughts. We can "kill them with kindness." By practicing loving-kindness or patience, we lay to rest a moment of weedy irritation.

8 bales of rotting hay will smother a lot of weeds in the vegetable garden.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

The Manure Store

The store of manure at the nearby farm is only open 2 hours a week--on Saturday mornings from 10:30 to 12:30. This morning, even in the pouring rain, pick-up trucks of all descriptions stack up like airplanes circling to land. Or waiting for a piece of land, in this case.

Farmer Charlie rolls back and forth in his little yellow Bobcat, scooping a load from a pile the length of a football field and taller than a truck on steroids. (He raises organic beef cattle.) The first load plops into the bed of the truck. Back for a second load. Plop.

His customers this morning are dressed in raincoats and muck boots. Each person has a different tool--a rake or a shovel--to even out the load before she drives off.

I drive to the community garden and fork the entire load onto a potato patch. Earth returning to earth.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Summer Vacation

Summer vacation begins early for my houseplants, like schools in rural counties that let out early so kids can work on the farm. I grew up next to a cornfield and a soybean field. My school year ended in mid-May. A generation earlier, my Depression-era farmboy father graduated from high school on April 30, 1936.

My houseplants have been cooped up indoors since last September and are looking a bit pale and piqued despite frequent trips to the water fountain and their cafeteria lunches of fish emulsion.

Outdoors, houseplants love being exposed to the elements--rain and wind strengthen their leaves and their roots that wiggle their toes ever more deeply into the earthy soil of their containers. Although they are sheltered from direct sun, they catch the bouncing rays.

Earth, air, water, warmth. We ourselves are made of the same stuff as the geraniums and the jade plant.

Friday, May 7, 2010

The Illusion of Control

Now, while the growing season is still in childhood, our hearts open wide toward our gardens. Now we train them toward what we imagine will be perfect beauty and yield.

The willfulness of weeds and even the proliferation of the young plants themselves is only beginning. We think we can keep up with them.

But alas! The youthful vigor of our gardens exceeds our own energy. Too soon we turn our attention to the workaday world and leave our latchkey gardens to their own devices. By July, we will be clucking our tongues over their unruly behavior. "But what can we do?" we say to our friends.

For now it is May, we are in love, we believe in our hopes and dreams for the future, and that is sufficient.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Parallel Play

My partner Bill and i go outdoors together and engage in parallel play. He does wood; i do dirt. He looks up to the trees around our house; i look down to flowers and weeds. Occastionally we call to each other, "Hey! I need a consultation over here." We enjoy the benefit of an extra pair of eyes and another mind with creative ideas.

In the evening, after dinner, we stroll through the gardens. He plans which branches to prune; i decide which plants to move. The effect is gracious as he subtracts trees at the edge of the woods, and i add flowering plants.

Ceasing and arising. Arising and ceasing. The garden is never the same garden at dawn as it is at dusk.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

9 year-old Girl Reviews "The Meditative Gardener"

My 9-year-old granddaughter, Chloe, confides to me that she keeps the family copy of The Meditative Gardener in her room, and she reads it every day. Well, really, she looks at the pictures. She loves looking at the pictures.

"What's your favorite part?" she asks me. That question stumps me.

So i ask her. "What's your favorite part?"

"It's the part about Feelings," she says. "Here. I can find it by looking at the pictures." Then she reads my own words to me.

"In English, the word "Feelings" has many meanings. "Feelings" can mean, among others, emotions or tactile sensations or "a consciousness without regard to thought." For example, when you receive a "first impression," you instantly know how you feel even if you cannot articulate it. When you walk into a silent meditation retreat, you immediately know whom you like and whom you don't, even though you haven't talked to them."

"That's just what happens on the soccer field," Chloe says. She has just come from soccer team try-outs.

"You have a gut reaction to other girls whom you've never met before?" i ask.

She nods. The relational girl who always puts others needs before her own. Reading this paragraph outloud is tantamount to admitting something she might not dare to put into words, for fear of hurting someone else's feelings.

"Yes," i say. "That's our old reptilian brain--the amygdala--at work. Making those instant decisions of 'like' and 'don't like'."

Saturday, May 1, 2010

The Herb Garden

The herb garden has sprung back to life. I walk out the back door, and a pie chart of an herb garden stands at my feet.

Tonight i'm cooking spaghetti sauce. I cut 2-inch tall oregano, thyme, Egyptian onion tops, and garlic chives. So fresh that the bottled sauce revives itself into complicated flavors.

The apple mint is 2 inches tall. Well, that was yesterday. Maybe it's 3 inches tall today. It's sending out explorers to the nearby countries of Wormwood, Lovage, and Tansy. I ruthlessly pull those minty colonizers out by their roots in an effort to keep the exploding population within its own borders.

When i have a colander full of mint sprigs, i turn on the tea kettle. I stuff the rinsed mint leaves into a glass pitcher and fill to the brim with boiling water for a 2-day supply of iced tea. My honey calls it "iced mint water." By whatever name you call it, it's a cool drink for a warm day.

I love the herb garden, even though it is not showy. I've considered how i might age with my gardens. All the others may revert to woods or lawn or groundcover. The herb garden will be the last to go.