Archive for the ‘Gardening’ Category

Fall Sneaking at Tree Park

October 13th, 2013

Unreasonable expectations marked my journey to and through Boston’s Arnold Arboretum today.  I’ve been seeing the pictures of the fall-foliage color riots everywhere and figured that much of that joint would be screaming, “Autumn!”

Not so, there were a few smaller maples and a couple varieties of oaks in orange and red, but very few. Instead it was subtle again.

The trick before the garish displays is look down, not up. Every path has wee delights.

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License note: All pix are Creative Commons-Attribution. Do what you want with them. Just give Mike Ball credit once.

The purple beautyberries are petite drama queens. Head up Bussey Hill and look right next to the path to the Explorer’s Garden. purplebeautyberries
chinaberries The Chinaberries are in prolific clusters on Valley Road. There are deceptively similar berries on the red dogwood bushes in the Leventritt Gardens.
A one-off on Willow Path was a basketball-sized bees’ nest. It’s only a few feet off the trail. You can’t miss it because of several warning ACTIVE HIVE signs. The dwarf tree it’s in (long-thorned hawthorn) has it all decked out for the holidays. arnoldhive
euonymus Midway on the path up Bussey Hill on the opposite side from the beautyberries is a set of euonymus, with flower-like berry coverings.
In the Leventritt Gardens, the delicate looking winterberries are like holly’s sophisticated sibling. winterberries
milkweed Make sure to follow the Blackwell Footpath. It’s the former home of an urban wild and still has occasional foxes, hawks and turkeys. This is also the season to marvel at the down of milkweed.

 

Young, youngish, still too young corpses

September 5th, 2013

Noticing the box with half my mother’s ashes, I thought again of three good folk I knew who died unnaturally young — or maybe naturally if you consider invidious, insidious disease to be our shared fate. Certainly going before 60 doesn’t seem right to me.

Today would have been my mother’s 89th birthday. She was outside the too-young range. She died 9 years ago.

nycchumsAt 33, Paula Delancey went first. We went to high school together, dated, and in our early 20s ended up becoming really close friends. She went to the CIA (as in chef’s school up the Hudson) and spent weekends in my West Village apartment. Hyde Park NY was not theater central nor where her friends lived and played.

“Her ambition is to be happy,” was beside her HS-yearbook pic.She was terrifically bright and well read. I couldn’t believe what a vapid, inane thing to write. Now of course, the older I get, the wiser that aim is.

She was a lot of fun, constantly laughing and joking, even ridiculing her own blunders and shortcomings.She looked forward to being a fabulous old lady.

The pic is, right to left, Paula, Isabel Wolfe (now Frischman) and I in Isabel’s NYC apartment.

She never got there. After being the first woman ever to graduate at the head of her class at the CIA, she worked in several NYC restaurants and then was head chef at a couple of others. She ended up making great money, taking her mother on an extended luxury trip to Paris and heading toward those two goals of being a grande dame and staying happy. Then she got cancer of the spine.

Apparently there’s little to do. She gave NYU Medical its best shot at chemo, radiation and surgery. She faded, continuing to sicken, go bald and suffer. She died in 1981. That was my first eulogy, delivered to a chapel in Brick Township NJ filled with a few of her friends and many of her aged parents’.

neil

At 40 , Neil Passariello was also far too young and far too vital to have died. This month he will have been dead 23 years.

He was the long-term partner of my friend from college, Jasper Lawson. He died of effects related to AIDS. He was finishing his doctorate in clinical psychology (Jasper already that one).  There is a regular colloquium in his honor.

I like to think I gave him a last bit of earthly pleasure. When he was in the bed where he died, I bought a bouquet of coriander I picked from my garden. He loved the herb and would say every meal needed a dish with cilantro and of course a pasta course. He no longer opened his eyes when we visited that last time, but he definitely smiled as I held the coriander close to him.

Surely all of his family and friends remember him as funny, dramatic, loud and passionate. An Italian-American, he referred to his heritage as he spoke intensely of food, of sex, of music. He could and did literally break out into song, generally an aria from an Italian opera.

His death did not seem right or timely or fair. He made others’ lives better and more fun, both personally and professionally.

Jasper and I have laughed more than once about how Neil made Jasper seem so WASPy, mannered and tame in contrast.

Jasper’s husband, Jay Landers, is remarkably patient when friends accidentally refer to him as Neil. On occasion, I make that faux pas. Supposedly that is expected with first “spouses,” although Neil died before same-sex marriage was legal. His intensity brings him to mind, quite understandably.

rehfieldAt 57.  John Rehfield still fits in the too-young category. He was remarkable in many ways. I can say for certain he was one of my two favorite managers (I married the other one).

John was a trade-magazine anomaly in being a civil engineer who was a good, no, a superb writer. He won every possible award in construction and trade journalism. He hired me to write for Construction Equipment knowing my only building experience was on carpentry crews during college summers. The day he hired me he said he could teach me anything I needed to know about construction but he couldn’t teach his engineers how to write.

He was very tall and light bulb shaped (his head at the screw end) and even laughed at his odd physique. He was an incessant punster. He came to work at dawn and completed his own before the rest of us arrived. He spent his day dealing with company matters and forever being there to help his writers, editors and art director. Oh, and he always wore a Mickey Mouse watch; he explained that he bought his children Disney stock when they were born, largely for the cartoon characters around the border of the certificates. They became surprisingly wealthy as the stock split repeatedly. He figured the watch was the least loyalty he could show.

He did wonderful motivational deeds too. Every so often and not related to the scheduled reviews, he’d come around to mention he was giving me a raise, just because I was doing a good job and writing good articles. I overheard him yelling at the publisher, telling him to keep his sales reps away from me; I ran the national directory of equipment and they all wanted favors for their customers.

Alas, Conover-Mast, across from the Daily News building in the literally heart of Manhattan, fell prey to Boston-based Cahners. The new parent sent the kids to Boston or Chicago. Moving to lower-tier towns was too much for those of us young and single. Most of us didn’t go.

Within 7 years, John died of cancer. Even though my sister and her kids were in Chicago, I would have felt stranded had I followed him there. I prefer to recall him as healthy and funny.

In fact, I remember each of these three for their virtue and joy they took in life.

Alas, Neponset Giants

July 20th, 2013

Since I last walked the banks of the Neponset from Boston’s Hyde Park into Milton, the parks maintenance folk have visited. Several huge as well as numerous smaller tries, evergreens and deciduous alike, have been removed or had surgery.

treesickly

Two in particular were striking in their feebleness or injury, as well as size. They are huge in circumference and height. They are old. They looked hale, virtually immortal.

These are effects of aging and illness that leads us (OK, me) to strained metaphors of human life.

The American beech, here left, had clearly been rotting from the inside for a long time, perhaps a century. I have a fondness for these magnificent trees. Our previous house in the Jamaica Plain neighborhood shared the yard with a specimen at least 250 years old. It was coming to the end of its time and with sadness, we had arborists crown perhaps 30 feet off to prolong its life.

These sturdy gems are the stuff of carved lovers’ hearts, climbing, swings and treehouses. The only drawback I know is that when they produce nuts ever few years, those are multitudinous and damned hard on bare feet. They also would take forever to compost.

Here’s the big metaphor. It is often the largest, strongest looking of us who are rotting away inside, by cancer or other disease. Either through obvious symptoms or accidental discovery, the seemingly invulnerable are enfeebled or felled.

We could worry this trope to death with comparisons of dealing with found illness, carrying on, giving up, blah blah. It’s enticing, but let’s not.

Around the corner, a huge evergreen apparently suffered from our huge winds. If you can apply intelligence to a tree, you’d have to wonder what it was doing putting out such a huge limb and so low. The injured limb had to go.

neponsetamputee

There’s a simpler metaphor for the amputation. Moreover, this obviously was not the first such operation for this tree.

evergreentears

These pine-family plants do not have the longevity or to me the beauty of the beech. Still the metaphors of blood and tears flow with the fluids. The running, hanging sap does in fact look like what a human might produce in such adversity.

No one knows now whether the pine will heal as well from this injury as the previous one. This will be a rough season for it, rife with nasty insects, viruses and bacteria that can invade an open wound much more easily than a sealed bark.

It will take a year or two to see how well the tree’s defenses worked.

It surely is sensible and safe for the park crews to cut and remove damaged limbs and living hazard trees. Yet it’s tough for us ambulatory tourists to take too. We can foresee the decline and demise of these grand lifeforms.

Caught at a weak moment, we can also fall into the poetic and even religious traps of comparing cellulose lifeforms to our own…particularly when they are weeping.

Even Bugs Die

August 31st, 2012

I’m at nature a gentle sort, so much so that in the frenzy of the Vietnam-war draft, my beloved grandfather unbidden handed me a conscientious-objector reference letter. While he had sneaked away from the farm to enlist in the WWI American Expeditionary Forces to fight the Hun, he knew that I would never be one to kill another person.

Yet at a much lower level, he and I had teamed for years to slay insect pests. He had long farmed “patches” as he called them. These one-acre farms, one or two every summer were wide, deep expanses of vegetables and fruits, 150 running feet each. He’d plant, and from my elementary school time, I’d weed, water, train to trellis, cull, harvest, and more. Inherent in this was the elimination of bugs.

Many years later in my master-gardener course, I learned nifty terms such as integrated pest management. I already knew that part of the curriculum.

Early on, he used nasty chemicals, like DDT. He’d strap big spraying drums to his shoulder and squirt the toxins. Yet, also early on he somehow ran across the Rodale pub, Organic Gardening and quickly converted. We were out there with the pyrethrum (fundamentally a natural, harmless-to-humans insecticide made from marigolds) and with our eyes and hands. Destructive bugs did not like and died in innocuous baths of soapy water, beer, or water that had soaked the juice from a nickel cigar. I’d knock the hornworms, Japanese beetles, potato beetles and their ilk into my coffee cans of to-them toxins. While time-consuming, it killed them, did not hurt me, and did not poison the veggies and fruits.

With that background, I was a bit amused when my wife called to look at this thing on the back deck plants. Asked, she agreed it might be a bug but she was not sure.

What we had, and what had been ruining my wee, grown-from-seed tomato fruits was a tomato hornworm. What it had was parasites. The white thingummies festooned on its back were the growing offspring of a parasitic moth. It was infested and near death with wasp babies eating it from the inside.

There’s a conflict for the gentle guy.

This dreadful caterpillar has been destroying my tomatoes, fruit and plant. These wasps were gnawing at it en masse. Shortly the hornworm will die, the wasps will grow and fly off to create more parasites.

Who should feel sorry for whom?

Truth be told, as a gardener from childhood and by avocation and certification, I have little use for insects that live to eat my crops. Yet a small part of me empathizes with the reality of being eaten alive from the inside by nasties.

I think we could well do without the hornworm. Some versions of it munch on tobacco, which distresses me far less. I don’t have tobacco salads and sandwiches. I also think we could do well without mosquitoes, even though many bats and birds consume them as main parts of their diets.

My wife is very unhappy at the sight and thought of of the besieged caterpillar. I had no problem clipping the leaf and tossing the mess aside. I know that the wasps will finish their business and thrive. I might even hum The Circle of Life.

 

Morbid Floral Fantasies

June 20th, 2012

Spurred by Facebook and Twitter truths, several hundred of us queued for Morticia this morning at Boston’s Franklin Park Zoo. We came prepared for the sprawling visual glory of the titan arum, a.k.a. corpse flower, and a bit trepid over a promise of dreadful stench in the temporary greenhouse kept at 80-something humidity and temperature.

Visually, she as the staff said, did not disappoint. As for bad smells, you’d do worse with durian fruit or happening across a decomposing mammal in the woods or maybe that camp outhouse. I eavesdropped to hear people apologizing to each other for their “failure” to get disgusting enough smells after all the anticipation and trepidation.

The zoo has a nice profile of botany of Morticia, here. Plus there’s info on the donor, who presented this one and four others to the facility.

They also realized what a winner they had here. Two of these monsters have bloomed in the same year. Fester, also named for a creepy  Addams Family character, recently finished its cycle. As these bloom on their own mysterious schedules only for about two days every five to 15 years, this mini-run was a delight to plant freaks.

The zoo intends to keep all five in a more permanent greenhouse elsewhere on the grounds after Morticia fades. Others in the quintet are in various stages of development. The staff told me they had no idea when the other three might bloom…a year, five, ten?

This time, the zoo really accommodated us curious types. They had pre- and post-zoo hours just for gawking and sniffing, and set up the greenhouse right inside one of the gates. They also did not charge admission for those special times (8 to 9:30 AM and 6 to 8 PM). Zoo members and paying visitors who came at regular hours could also visit the flowers.

In addition to self-appointed alerters, the zoo updated developments and included photos of each change over the past week of pre-blooming. Their FB page had it all and their Twitter handle carried abbreviated versions. Coupled with not charging for a peek, they clearly wanted to plug people into the zoo. Smart marketing, says I.

When I arrived this morning a little before 8, I sank like a butterfly in the rain. The cars in front of me on Blue Hill Avenue were turning maybe a third or more of them into the park. The two semi-circles of parking spaces by the zebra entrance were jammed and backed up. So was the huge lot by the golf course. Cars were parked all along the drive a quarter of a mile down. The auxiliary lot doesn’t open until 9 either. I went ahead and parked in the little lot by the other entrance and across from the golf course, a  lot I generally use in winter when I cross-country ski there.

Ah, but good news, as I returned to the zoo, I heard the loud speakers at the golf course. There was some sort of links tournament there. So not the entire world just had to see Morticia. In fact, as I entered, I estimated I was 150 or so people back in line. A similar number came behind me in the next 20 minutes. If this was Disney World, that line would be nothing for any attraction worth the trouble.

Pix notes: Click on an image for a closer view. These are Creative Commons. You’re welcome to use and abuse them. Just give Mike Ball credit the first go.

As it turns out, these flowers blow it all in preparation and blooming. Once they open up, they let off their smells to attract pollinating bugs and such. They they quickly fold up show. Fester was nearby and showed what happens as the exterior parts fold down back onto the corm. It looks very woody and extremely dormant.

They let us in double groups of 10, so 20 sweating camera bugs at a time would be around the two corpse plants, with the next batch of 10 replenishing as folk exited.  Certainly, they did not want to spend a lot of time inside. The air was hot and wet. You could pretty well see and photograph and smell from various sides in five or 10 minutes at most. By then, your camera lens was likely to fog and your shirt was wet from your own dew.

Yet, I think we were largely disappointed at not being disgusted by the aroma. That may well have been oversold. Perhaps Fester was more fetid?

On the other hand, Morticia was one big honking flower. She was nearly five feet tall at at least four feet across. The colors of the open blossom were splendidly rich and a bit lewd, looking very vulvar both in folds and hues. The outer green cup of the flower was gloriously fluted too. As fond and proud as I was of my giant parrot tulips, I bow before Morticia.

I can’t say I’ll keep close tabs for the next five to 15 years. I have seen and smelled a corpse flower in bloom. On the other hand, if I’m near one at the right time, I’ll make the effort. Who knows what grand colors…and repulsive smells….that one will produce.

Boston Mayor’s Spring Ritual

May 16th, 2012


Ah, it’s the annual series of Boston neighborhood coffees. Mayor Tom Menino truly loves these. He knows many in the crowds by both name and face. He gets to hand out pots of flowers to all comers. Dunkin’ provides coffee and Munchkins too.

Each neighborhood has a session in a park. You get the glad hand, a big smile, and this year a pot of salvia from da Mare. Oh, there are handouts about summer activities, his health challenge and such as well. Plus, there’s a chance to ask about things you care about, as I did.

Today’s in his Hyde Park was maybe cozier than some. It’s his Readville area and he knows even more locals than in some spots, calling out many by name even before he gets to the plant-distribution table.

Boston Parks and Rec. Commissioner Antonia Pollack joined him in handing out the pots from the city greenhouses. Last year, they were marigolds or salvia. I used the former to help guard my tomatoes from bugs, but the uxorial unit loves red salvia, so it’s still a win.

There were a bunch of uniformed cops and a detective or two, along with District City Councilor Rob Consalvo. It’s as jolly as any government function in town at 9 AM.

As a cyclist, I’m always asking him about his own biking. He previously told me how much he loved his newish recumbent bike. Then he broke some bones and for the three months as been in a protective boot and limping about.

Today he said he hoped to get it off next week. Then he doesn’t know when they’ll certifie the bones have healed enough for him to saddle up again. I encouraged him with a personal vignette about how I finally got a checkup after my broken leg with a surgeon who biked, and who told me, sure, it may hurt a little, but cycling will only increase the blood circulation and speed the healing. He seemed to like the sound of my version.

He did have to sit several times, apparently to rest the left foot and ankle. He also told staff that “These things are too long,” which I took to refer to how much time he spent on his sore limb.

He endured a different kind of pain, in Munchkin form. There were boxes of them about, including on the plant table. He did not eat a one. However, he was quick to offer the box to the little kids who came with parents or daycare providers. He’d urge them to take another and seemed to enjoy their smiles as much as those of the flower-taking crowd. (By far, the 100-plus crowd were largely grey. They too liked both the Munchkins and the fresh-fruit salad.)

Pollak said Menino was dieting and was enjoying the Munchkins vicariously. Likewise Consalvo had a diet soda in hand and avoided the sugar. They both seem to have taken the Mayor’s challenge seriously to get moving and lose a million collective Boston pounds.

For my concerns, Pollak and I chatted up the replacement process for Nicole Freedman, the bike tzarina. The likely replacement, Kris Carter, still has to go through the open-hiring process, but has a leg or more up. He’s been working on bike programs. Moreover, we all agree that Freedman made amazing process as well as laying out detailed plans. The new person doesn’t have to pioneer, just do the hard work of implementation including finding adequate funding.

 

Cross-post: This originally appeared at Marry in Massachusetts.

Blessing and Curse of 54

December 11th, 2011

I’m not huge on magical numbers, good or bad. There are primes I simply like the look of, like 17, but I don’t ascribe power to any set of integers.

wandacollegeThat written, a few coincidences have been obvious in my family. There’s the space of 24 for one. My mother’s father was 24 when she was born, as she was 24 when I was born. That certainly came to mind when a women I was living with became pregnant when I was 23. Had she not had an abortion, over my objection, I would have been a dad at 24. I did not even think keeping the series running. Yet in retrospect, I was not mature enough to be a dad then, and maybe barely when my first son was born when I was just short of 31.

Now 54 wasn’t all that remarkable for me, but for both Granddad and Mother, it was intense…24 years apart.

Granddad found agony, tedium and enlightenment. Mother was physically, financially, emotionally and even geographically upended, with some permanent negative effects. For them, 54 was a very big deal.

Backyard satori

At 54, Granddad had forced prolonged meditation. He found enlightenment in the backyard on South Marsham Street in Romney, WV.

He was in a cast from one heel to his waist. Though a railroad yard foreman, he was impatient when his crew could not uncouple a pair of recalcitrant train cars. In the process he fell between them and found his leg and pelvis crunched, broken in three or four places (I forget the detail).

While healing and immobilized, he would hobble on crutches to the yard and read under the gigantic maple tree. He went through the perhaps 100 or more books in the house, all of the Reader’s Digest copies they’d kept for decades, and some public-library books that his wife brought home. He planned his vegetable and flower gardens and enjoyed the small plots in the back. Then he thought.

Years later, I asked him about his calmness confronted with difficult people (often my grandmother, his wife).  As it turns out, he was dying when I brought that up when he was in the VA hospital for a double hernia operation. I had no inkling that the post-operative effects included some floating blood clots that did him in shortly after.

For many reasons, I’m glad we had the conversation. He first smiled the gentle, beatific grin I associated with him — all kindness and humility. He said that his calmness was relatively recent. It turns out that it happened when he was 54 and confined to the yard. After exhausting the reading material and his desire to divert himself through print, he mused. He would think and feel with open or closed eyes. He said those years later that it just came to him one day, both intellectually and emotionally. Somethings mattered and other things did not. If his wife or someone on his crew or another in a story said or did something nasty, it did not affect him, not in anger or spite or sorrow or any other negative way. He said it really wasn’t a mental decision so much as an awareness. Since that moment, he lived that.

So there was my 70-something Granddad saying (in my words) that he had an enlightenment at 54.

For me, struggling with my own adulthood and not so calm in the presence and actions and words of difficult people, I had a sense of relief as I digested this lawn magic. I had long emulated and admired him, but did not see a path to his equanimity. That was particularly important as he played the father role for me. My parents had divorced and my father and his almost immediate second wife went off to Germany, had a couple of sons, skipped on required support payments (the Army would not enforce the court ruling) and did not contact me for 20 years.

So Granddad was it and he did a fine job…other than being an impossible role model. After our conversation about the backyard awareness, I came to see that he was not only 48 years more mature but that he had also arrived at a place most of us never do. So, I could relax a bit and stumble (with some of my own meditation) along finding my own manhood, husband role, fatherhood and work interactions. Whew.

Far too much to handle

Alas though, my mother Wanda had a 54 harder than broken bones. Among her year were:

  • She and a lover were very happy with each other in every sense. Then his ex-wife started a new court action, wanting double alimony and child support. He flipped and fled to someplace like Singapore to wash that wife out of his hair. Wanda was suddenly solo, from joy to loneliness.
  • Her pharmaceutical employer sold itself to pharma giant Schering-Plough, which in effect said, “Love your gynecological products, but we have a sales force.”  They gave each rep a bag of money and a bum’s rush. She found herself unemployed, with six months to invest that money or lose much of it to taxes, and in effect forced to activate her eventual plan to move to Santa Fe to retire with her sister (head nurse at the Indian hospital) over a decade before she wanted to do so.
  • She found a lump in a breast, which turned out to be malignant and affecting lymph nodes as well. She was likely to die shortly.
  • She flew to Santa Fe, where a trusted surgeon friend of her sister Peg did a radical mastectomy/lymphectomy. Then she returned home with half a concave chest and a course of toxic chemo and radiation in the works. She was supposed to die within five years, in the spin-the-wheel medical odds game.
  • As medical wisdom (oxymoron) had it at the time, cancer for a middle-aged woman meant stopping all hormones immediately. She had experienced a strong menopause, and as a result other medical wisdom had her taking lots of hormones. The sudden halt brought a personality change, a negative one, in which my ever objective and patient mom became, to hear my chums and coworkers tell it, just like their moms — short-tempered, sharp-tongued, fault-finding, and even politically conservative.
  • She (rather we, as my 7-month pregnant wife and I loaded up her physical world in Pittsburgh into a U-Haul truck and led her in her car to Santa Fe, to the house she bought with the money for the two of them) went in great distress to a future seemingly out of her control.
  • As she settled in, my sister and her daughter figured this was a great time to leave her bad marriage. She showed up with two young kids. And baby makes five.

Granddad had a much better 54 than Mother did.

Tomato Fit for, Well, Me

August 9th, 2011

tom4

Up front, I’ll never have the acreage and variety of vegetables my grandfather grew (with me as his willing peon), but even in my tiny scale, I am aware of the sensual grandeur of fresh produce. The scent and sneaked taste of our tomatoes are a full flavored antidote to the permanent, rot-before-ripen tomato-like-objects in the groceries.

Sure, there are splendors as grander or grander — the pacific joy of your own baby collapsed in sleep on your chest immediately comes to memory. Yet right up there are the many senses delighted by truly ripe garden goodies gathered moments before preparing and consuming.

A Head to Call My Own

July 12th, 2011

Granddad had a disgusting straw hat, which he usually hung from a 16-penny nail inside his garden shed. It was typical of a thing that would disgust many women, including his wife, my grandmother. With a dark brown ribbon of stain from his perspiration and a similar circle on the crown, it was a how-can-you-wear-that object to some.

Of course, to complete the stereotype, many women are astonished when men continue to wear perfectly good underpants, except for those several growning holes. Even if no body parts fall out, the briefs are fine for the man, but not for the woman who sees them.

Thus, his straw hat was likewise fully functional to keep his bald head from burning and his brain from sunstroke. He had snuck away at 14 to join the AEF illegally fighting the Hun. He returned lesser in having gotten trench mouth causing him to lose his teeth, and in becoming pretty damned bald in his late teens. He somehow attributed losing his hair to the war, although looking at his sons and grandsons, genes seem to be the key players here.

Regardless, he needed a hat. He’d been wearing one in his gardening for many decades before I worked with him 4, 6 or 8 hours on summer days. His patches as he called them were one or two acre-sized farms, requiring a lot of time in a lot of sun.

His hat started out as an off-white/natural sub-fine straw piece, before its degradation. He carried handkerchiefs and wiped his brow, face and whole head, but the hat showed the effects of prolonged heat.

amoshatIn fairness, his garden hat was not the floppy, hillbilly style of the patriarch Amos in a TV show of the era, The Real McCoys. An Amos capture is to the left.  On the other hand, it was also not the finely woven Panama of the plantation owner or dandy.

While not a big clothing and furnishings customer, I thought of Granddad’s hat recently. Not only did I track down powerful glasses, but I bought a new straw.

Pretty bald myself, I have hats. I do wear baseball caps, particularly if the sedan’s roof is open. Yet, I’m no more a baseball cap guy than I am a short-sleeve button shirt one.

My other hats are largely felt, beaver and otherwise, and brown. I’d had a natural straw, but did not keep it into its ugly age. Instead, we’d been seeing the splash about the JP hat store, Salmagundi. My wife and I visited and each got a straw hat, she a cloche and I the Stetson mixed-brown Chester.

I walked in fully expecting to replicate my idea of straw hats. I’m not a boater hat guy either. I do tend to think in natural Panama fedora styles. However, the enthusiastic Salmagundi help were all over me.

I remember my childhood growing up with a mother and sister, and often being sure to bring something to read while I sat in the husband chair at a clothing or shoe shop. They’d try on this, that, and the other. I would tend to go into either type of store when I really needed something and leave quickly with exactly what I entered to buy.

notGDInstead this weekend, it must have been a dozen hats of various shades of white/tan/brown, different weaves and densities, and several styles. Much to my surprise, I had to agree with my wife and the main fitter that the Chester was the best of the bunch for me.

It’s likely to be quite awhile before I buy another straw hat. I did leave the store thinking I might have to indulge my ideal of a natural-color Panama. I suppose the occasional attention to fashion won’t turn me into a fop. On the other hand, there are those yellow glasses, which each of the clerks in the hat store praised, as have friends, waitrons and even folk on the street.

Is this fashion stuff addictive?

Our Brown, Damaged Chum

February 18th, 2011

Scattering rose petals around the base of the storm abused dogwood in the front yard will surely do nothing for the tree’s health. Yet, we are in low-level mourning.

On the first heavy snow in our series of blizzards and nor’easters, this one lost all substantial limbs on one side overnight. By the time I went out to look for newspapers never delivered due to the weather, and to shake the icy and snow off, two limbs were separated and a third twisted like a kid does to a Popsicle stick.

In a silly flair, we act a little like Andy Goldsworthy. Inspired by his documentary Rivers and Tides, certainly like thousands of others, we scatter flowers, stack rocks and otherwise make small naturalistic and temporary art. In this case, it is one way of feeling a little better about the damaged dogwood.

dogwood4 The sad front dogwood half destroyed overnight in the first heavy snow.
After two limbs cut, it still needs the third on the same side removed. That one is open and twisted. dogwood3
dogwood2 In a nod to Andy Goldsworthy, yellow rose petals offer scant solice.

Oddly, the much older, taller dogwood in the back had the same weight but lost no limbs. They have the same soil acidity and other conditions as well as experienced the same storms. The limbs on the larger one are in general bout the same diameter as well. We assume that the younger, smaller one is not as healthy and may benefit from weep-line fertilizer.

As I come to terms with the negatively transformed tree, I do switch to the pruning I learned in my master-gardener classes. Unfortunately, there is no alternative in an effort to keep the tree than removing nearly all limbs on its south side.

Bent4There will be something reminiscent of the thousands year old bristle pines or a bonsai that came in the classic way from a crypt roof.

The trees tortured by winds (as here on moors by the English Channel) have their own ghastly elegance. I have scant hopes that this will display as well.

I confess that it is animistic of me, feeling for an injured tree. Many other gardeners I have known are eager to rip out the injured, for the opportunity to bring in a newer, prettier specimen. That seems like someone trading in spouses to me.

We’ll give our brown and green-to-be flowering friend what attention we can. Perhaps it will have the beauty of asymmetry.