Thursday, September 30, 2010

Baby Seminole Pumpkins

One of my aspirations for my next life is to live on a pumpkin farm, some place where there are actually four distinct seasons and autumn is as glorious as I experienced it in October two years ago on a trip to KTD in the Catskills.

Pre-climate change, October was always my favorite month because that was when we Floridians could expect the first serious cold (or at least cooler) weather of the year. Nowadays, that season seems to have bumped up into November or beyond. But my love of autumn, of Halloween, and of pumpkins has only grown stronger over the years.

It was only recently, however, that I discovered that there are pumpkins that are native to Florida—Cucurbita moschata, the Seminole pumpkins, or chassa-howitska in the Creek (Native American) language, "hanging pumpkin."

My first introduction to the Seminole pumpkin came from the wonderful pumpkin bread served at the Florida Folk Festival held every year on Memorial Day weekend in White Springs. Mmmmm....

My second encounter came when I was working for the Florida Park Service and one of the rangers at Dudley Farm was growing these native squash. Until then, I had no idea that one could grow pumpkins in Florida, but evidently the chassa-howitskas are prolific farther south.

These are climbing pumpkins. Amy Goldman, in her beautiful book The Compleat Squash, relates how one vine covered four acres of a grapefruit grove with hundreds of pumpkins, and how "...John Bartram, the noted Philadelphia botanist, found it exceedingly curious in 1774 'to behold the wild Squash climbing over the lofty limbs of the trees; its yellow fruit, somewhat the size and figure of a large orange, pendant from the extremities of the limbs over the water.'" (p. 93)

We had tried growing Seminole pumpkins before, but always planted earlier in the summer and lost the plants to mildew and rot. This year, we are trying later in the summer, from some seeds saved from previous years.

Here (above) is the baby picture of our pumpkins that I took a few weeks ago.

Highly recommended for fellow pumpkin fans: The Compleat Squash: A Passionate Grower's Guide to Pumpkins, Squashes, and Gourds, by Amy Goldman, published by Artisan, New York.

Friday, September 17, 2010


I have a confession to make. I like to mow.

In the Florida summer heat, mowing can be more than a challenge--it can be dangerous. Stay out too long, and you risk not only sunburn but also dehydration, heat exhaustion, or heat stroke, the last of which can be fatal. So you have to be careful, take a lot of breaks, and hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. I alternate Gatorade, when we have it, with water.

I'm not a big lover or supporter of the idea of "a lawn." I think grass is highly overrated; it requires too much water, for one thing, and we are moving into a time when we are all going to have to conserve water. I'm much more intrigued by the idea of using native plants for landscaping, thereby cutting down on the need for watering with the added benefit of providing food and shelter for birds, butterflies, and other wildlife.

But when I bought my house, there was a huge lawn. Converting it is going to take time; I can't afford to pay thousands for a landscaper to come in and re-make the yard instantaneously. So for now, we must mow.

But we are heading into the time of year when mowing can be a joy. Even though the love bugs are back, it's less humid now than it was at the height of the summer. The quality of light is less harsh; it has more of a golden hue than the white heat of July. And there's more of a chance for a breeze.

I like mowing because it gives me an excuse to get outside and move around, and immerse myself in these changes of late summer/early autumn. I have a really sedentary job, so any opportunity for physical exercise is a welcome relief.

When we first moved back to Florida from California, we rented an old cracker shack on about 130 acres. Next to our house was a picturesque old barn where, we were told, neighbors used to gather for weekend dances and parties. There were a couple of huge, old live oak trees next to the barn--some of the biggest trees I've ever seen, one of which came down after the fourth hurricane in 2004, the season of Charley, Frances, Ivan, and Jeanne.

One autumn afternoon I was out mowing behind the old red barn. The sun was going down. The moon—a harvest moon, not quite full but close—was rising. Somewhere in between the sun's beginning to set and the moon's rising, a breeze kicked up and the weather shifted, and the oak branches started to wave in celebration. It was one of those unexpected moments that happen sometimes--and that take my breath away--when I find myself suspended between earth and sky, caught up in the beauty of the world and marveling at Mother Nature's magic.

I couldn't stop mowing—I had to finish while there was still light—but mowing at that moment ceased to be a chore and became a joy. The sun, the moon, the oaks, the barn, the breeze, the welcome shift in the weather all combined to make a kind of magic.

It was then that I realized I like to mow.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Perfect Naga Day

Today I went to make an offering to the naga at our local spring. It was a perfect late-summer morning, clear and warm but not humid, with a strong breeze that rippled the water into sparkling diamond patterns.

The river has been high and the tea-colored river water has obscured the spring, tinting the water in the shallows an unusual golden color.

After I made the offering, as I was standing on the limestone shelf that surrounds the spring, I noticed many medium-sized fish approaching me in the sparkling water. I stood very still, and the school of fish gathered around me and hovered in place, staring at me. I was surrounded by shimmering water and glistening fish!

As I stood there, I thought about what His Holiness Karmapa had said this morning, on the first day of his autumn teachings.*

Karmapa's topic is "How to Generate Relative Bodhicitta," the wish for all sentient beings to become enlightened. We are so wrapped up in our own wants and needs, Karmapa said, that it is hard for us to remember to shift our focus to other sentient beings. As an example, he referred to the animal realm: "These are the real owners of our world," and not just those animals we can see, but also those we cannot—such as nagas.

We kill many of these animals, some for fun, some for food. Who is to protect them and serve their interests? And what about the bigger picture of the whole environment, and those it sustains? We must consider these things, Karmapa said (and this was the part of the talk where I noticed he was most animated).

"This is not just big talk, but a critical responsibility that challenges us," he said. It is the responsibility of each individual to benefit each and every other individual, so that we begin a chain reaction of helping each other. If this does not happen now, we have no guarantee that we will have this chance again in the future.

We need to pay attention to "what is really going on in the world, and what sentient beings are being made to experience." We need to consider the happiness of the whole environment. What companies serve sentient beings? (What companies do not?)

The Earth does not discriminate with regard to who lives on it. Cultivation of relative bodhicitta means that we must be ready, willing, and able to take responsibility for the sentient beings who share our world.

So this morning, standing in the spring surrounded by fish, watching the constantly changing patterns and swirling energy in the golden breeze-swept water, I stopped for a moment to consider: What energies am I a part of? What energies am I sending out? Am I really up to this responsibility of caring for and helping all other sentient beings?

I think if I am going to study with Karmapa—and from what I have learned from my other dear teachers—the answer must be yes.

*Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, the teachings are being live streamed on the Internet.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Fall Colors, Part 2

From the rich purples of the beautyberries and the golden hues that begin to shine in leaves and grasses, we turn to the other sacred colors of fall—orange and blue.

Today is the first day of football season at the University of Florida. Yes, the Gator Nation extends even out into the boondocks where we live, and football fever has been palpable now for a couple of weeks.

Football fever is the sign of the times—a sure guarantee that autumn has, indeed, arrived—as witnessed by this proclamation at a neighbor's driveway.


Fall Colors, Part 1

Forrest has done remarkable things with our garden spot this year. There's a profusion of flowery plants attractive to butterflies and hummingbirds, although we think our hummers may have already left for Guatemala.

Of course my favorites are always the beautyberries, with their gorgeous purple berries that serve, in these parts, to herald the arrival of autumn.

About the same time that the beautyberries turn purple, the night-blooming jasmine begins to perfume the air. We started our plant from cuttings from a plant at my parents' house, and our jasmine dies back every winter (winters are colder here than they are in Central Florida); fortunately, it regenerates every spring. Now, we are just starting to get the first subtle whiffs of sweetness when the sun goes down.

Autumn has always been my favorite season, maybe because my birthday falls near the equinox, maybe because of the new energies associated with the beginning of the academic year. I spent the largest part of my life either in school or working various jobs in higher education, so fall semester = fresh start, which is kind of odd, since autumn is traditionally a time for harvesting and weeding out.

And of course, there are other fall rituals as well. See next post.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Kind, Kind Root Guru

Kind, kind root guru,
We have long been connected through deep aspiration
You are committed to kindness; don't abandon me now!
Kind, single father: regard me with wisdom.

I am tormented by chains of karma and kleshas.
I am ignorant, stupid, and infantile.
I may be swept away by the waves of my suffering in the ocean of samsara.
Compassionate one, grasp me with the hook of your kindness.

When I embark on the path of the essence, supreme means,
My heart may be poisoned by the demon of pointless depression.
I may sink into the quicksand of distraction and laziness.
Kind one, extend the long arm of your power.

In the darkness of my obscurations' clouds,
I do not see the authentic essence, absolute truth.
I wander about, blinded by self-fixation.
One with blessing, grant me eyes of wisdom.

Your devoted child prays to you from afar.
Please hold me with great compassion.
Now, later, between, and always,
Hold me, beings' protector, supreme guru.
Beyond a moment's separation,
Grant the blessing of your mind uniting with mine.

Written by Barway Dorje at the request of a young woman named Tseyang. Virtue!

From Treasury of Eloquence: The Songs of Barway Dorje, translated by Yeshe Gyamtso, KTD Publications, 2007, p. 279.