Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Bee Happy, Bee Neighbor

Last Saturday before our big storm, the yard was filled with bees. I found this big bumblebee feasting at the garden spot. The boxwood in front of the house was filled with smaller bees.

Bees are increasingly under threat of something called bee colony collapse disorder. I am thinking about trying to do more to encourage our bee neighbors. Without them, we would be fruit-poor and our diets would be very boring.

Neon Green Season

For a couple of weeks each spring, the new growth on trees couples with the changing light to make the trees in our area glow an almost neon green. It's a time of year when I'm thankful for sunglasses!

I've never been to Ireland and I don't imagine our area could compare, but the green is pretty intense right now. Coincidentally, in some years the neon green effect arrives in time for St. Patrick's Day on March 17. This year, because of all our hard freezes last winter, we are getting the effect a little late.

The picture, above, gives only a small glimmer of what this neon green season is like.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Deer Neighbors

On a walk yesterday with Forrest, we discovered evidence of some of our deer neighbors—lots of tracks in the road.

The tracks reminded me of a poem by Gary Snyder, someone else who deserves the title of modern-day bard, from his book Turtle Island (New Directions) that won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1975.

"Pine Tree Tops"

in the blue night
frost haze, the sky glows
with the moon
pine tree tops
bend snow-blue, fade
into sky, frost, starlight.
the creak of boots.
rabbit tracks, deer tracks,
what do we know.

Pear in Bloom

The Flordahome pear (Pyrus communis) tree that we planted last year is thriving! This is exciting, because not all of the trees we've planted have done so well.

Pears have a beautiful white bloom in the early spring. While most of the things I've chosen to plant have been things that have fall color, I couldn't resist this pear.

We had a big pear tree in the back yard of the old Cracker house we rented for many years, and it was beautiful in spring and turned a lovely golden color in the fall. I'm not sure what color this pear tree will turn in autumn, but time will tell.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Hastate Leaf Dock: A Weed of Old Fields

I took this picture about a week ago. The field, which was planted in peanuts a couple of years ago, has been fallow for a while and this year it's filled with hastate leaf dock, a weed common to old fields that turns a brilliant shade of red for about a week in the spring.

This picture doesn't really do it justice—in the right light, the red field is spectacularly beautiful.

I don't know what, if anything, will be grown in the field this year, but it's been wonderful to see the dock "doing its thing."

Saint Francis of the Spiderwort

Here's a statue of St. Francis of Assisi that we brought from my parents' house. My folks had this statue for so long that I can't even remember when they got it. St. Francis sat outside their kitchen between the patio were the ferals ate dinner and the slope where the birds found their seed and birdbath, regularly replenished with loving care by my mom, even when she had trouble getting around.

Poor St. Francis has had some damage over the years, and his head is liable to fall off when squirrels climb on him, but so far we have been able to keep him going. Now he is watching over the spiderwort, the little cluster of green with the purple bloom you see in front of him. Medicinally, the spiderwort is said to relieve the pain of insect bites and stings—hence, probably, its name.

This picture was taken yesterday. Today, there are about three more purple blooms on the plant. Since it's a native plant, we are hoping it will spread, but so far it seems content to hang out in one spot, near St. Francis.

Goddess of the Grapevine

Spring is really here, and a lot is going on in the yard. Plants are waking from their winter slumbers, including the grapevine at the goddess rocks out by the picnic pavilion.

We've moved these big rocks at least three times that I can think of, because they remind us so much of a goddess figure that we've gotten attached to them over the years.

Because my birthday is near the fall equinox, a time I associate with the harvest of wine grapes, I'm especially happy that a grapevine has taken up residence on "The Goddess." You can see the thin tendrils of the grapevine if you look very closely at the picture above; the vine twines around the moon stake we bought one year at the Spring Garden Festival at Kanapaha Botanical Gardens (a great place!) in Gainesville.

I'll post more news of the yard a bit later. We had a terrific rainstorm last night, complete with wind, thunder, lightning, and loss of electric power. Whenever there is wind, we seem to lose power here in our secluded glen–part of the joys of living in the country!

At any rate, the rain seems to have given much-needed encouragement to a lot of our plants. Since spring is our dry season, I'm really happy to see our green friends responding to the much-needed rain.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Lawrence Ferlinghetti: A Bard for Our Time

It seems that the American poet and painter Lawrence Ferlinghetti celebrated his 90th birthday this week. Ferlinghetti is someone I would most definitely nominate as a modern-day bard, a Bright Lord of Wisdom.

I met Ferlinghetti once, an accident of his marriage to a member of the Kirby-Smith family of Jacksonville. He was in Gainesville, giving a talk at the University of Florida, and then gave a poetry reading at the Center for Modern Art in Micanopy. I bravely approached him after the reading, and asked him to sign my copy of A Coney Island of the Mind. Ferlinghetti glowered at me, didn't speak, but signed my book; I still have it.

In observance of his birthday, the San Francisco Chronicle (another one of our endangered daily newspapers) published an interview with the poet; you may read it at:

Here's one of my favorites from this bard, from his book These Are My Rivers: New & Selected Poems 1955-1993 (New Directions, 1993, pp. 211-212):

"Reading Apollinaire by the Rogue River"

Reading Apollinaire here
sitting crosslegged
on sleepingbag & poncho
in the shadow of a huge hill
before the sun clears it
Woke up early on the shore
and heard the river shushing
(like the sound a snake might make
sliding over riprap
if you magnified the sound)
My head still down upon the ground
one eye without perspective
sees the stream sliding by
through the sand
as in a desert landscape
Like a huge green watersnake
with white water markings
the river slithers by
and where the canyon turns
and the river drops from sight
seems like a snake about to disappear
down a deep hole
Indians made their myths
of this great watersnake
slid down the mountains far away
And I see the Rogue for real
as the Indians saw him
the Rogue all wild white water
a cold-blooded creature
drowning and dousing
the Rogue ruler of the land
transforming it at will
with a will of its own
a creature to be feared and respected
pillaging its way to the sea
still ruled by that gravity
which still rules all
so that we might almost say
Gravity is God
manifesting Himself
as Great God Sun
who will one day make Himself
into a black hole in space
who will one day implode Himself
into Nothing
All of which the slithering Rogue
knows nothing of
in its headlong
blind rush to the sea
And though its head
is already being eaten
by that most cruel and churning
monster Ocean
the tail of the snake
knows it not
and continues turning & turning
toward its final hole
and toward that final black hole
into which all some day
will be sucked burning

As I sit reading a French poet
  whose most famous poem is about
    the river that runs through the city
      taking time & life & lovers with it
        And none returning
                           none returning

The Death of the Newspaper and the Power of Words

No, the New York Times isn't dead yet, but other newspapers are failing—victims of declining ad sales in these economic hard times. While one could argue that journalists have, of late, failed us in their duty to provide unbiased accounts of major news stories—or even failed to provide coverage of major news stories—I think we all lose when daily newspapers die.

I can't think of newspapers without remembering an incident involving my mother. When I was growing up in Orlando, Mom always used to love to get the Sunday edition of The Miami Herald; stopping after church at a downtown newsstand to pick up this paper was a weekly ritual for our family. The first thing Mom read was "Peanuts," on the comics page; the second was a column by a writer she really liked, Larry Thompson.

Small digression: I just Googled Larry Thompson and found out that he was a park enthusiast and that there is now a park named for him, near Miami Metrozoo; you can read about it at:

There were a couple of columnists Mom did not like, however. One of these people really got her dander up, so she wrote him what she called a "nasty letter."

Now, a nasty letter from my mom was probably unpleasant, but I know for a fact that it wasn't actually what we would call "nasty" in this day and age—just critical.

Pretty soon after she mailed the letter, that columnist dropped dead.

A little while later, the second unpopular columnist got Mom's dander up, so she composed another "nasty letter."

Pretty soon after she mailed that letter, the second columnist dropped dead.

This was the last of Mom's nasty letters, as far as I know. I think she was a bit taken aback with the results of her efforts.

I can't remember the name of either of the dead columnists, but I'll bet they were either Republicans or had Republican leanings. Mom was a die-hard Democrat.

This whole episode of the nasty letters reminds me of the power of words. Not that I think Mom's letters really caused the demise of either columnist; but, really, how can I say I know this?

I am reminded of some of the old Celtic legends about bards and the power of words.

John Matthews in The Bardic Source Book (Blandford Press, 1998) points out that the Celtic bards were well known for their abilities to smite or even curse people with their poetry. Matthews refers to "...'The Dark Speech,' meaning the speech of initiates. For such indeed the bards were. One has only to listen to some of the names and titles they have borne to realize this: the Cauldron-Born, the Carpenters of Song, Ceridwen's Children, the Bright Lords of Wisdom.

When we hear these names we see at once that the bards are more than simply poets—at least as we understand that term today and not that there is anything simple about being a poet. They are also seers, visionaries and shamans, who know the true power of words and how to make bridges between the worlds with them, who can open magical doors with a poem or, like the great Welsh bard Taliesin, make chains fall off the wrists and ankles of a prisoner by the uttering of a single phrase." (p. 12)

I love this idea of "the true power of words" coupled with the ability to open magical doors and break the shackles of prisoners.

And so I wonder: Who are our Bright Lords of Wisdom? Who fulfills the role of the bard today? What doors do they open? What chains do they break?

Thursday, March 26, 2009


I have a very clear memory of the first time I ever heard about Tibet.

I was very young, probably seven or eight years old. I was eating supper with my family at a restaurant called Mammy's Shanty in Atlanta, Georgia.

Yes, I know the name "Mammy's Shanty" is not politically correct—but this was back in the 1950s, before anyone had ever heard of political correctness, and Mammy's Shanty was a place where we went on special occasions. For weekly Sunday lunches, my family's restaurant of choice was the Pig 'N' Whistle. At Mammy's Shanty, I remember the fried chicken and the pie; at the Pig, the cream of chicken soup. But I digress.

Of course my parents were there, and I remember my Aunt Amelia was there. I'm not sure if my grandparents were there, but my father's aunt and uncle, Unkie and Buddy, were there. So there was a fairly big group of us, all sitting at a large, round table.

Someone mentioned the "abominable snowman." I had never heard of this person before, so I had to ask. He was a large, hairy man, I was told, not really human but not really ape-like, either. He lived in a place called Tibet. Where was Tibet? A high mountain range at the roof of the world.

I'm not sure why this conversation made such an impression on me, but it did. I remember not sleeping at all that night, or sleeping very fitfully. My thoughts were filled with childlike terror at the thought of the abominable snowman, but it wasn't so much the snowman who kept me awake—it was the image of a place with high mountains, the roof of the world.

That night, my body was at home in Georgia—but my mind was lost somewhere I'd never been, surrounded by the snowy ranges of a place called Tibet.

The image above was appropriated from the International Campaign for Tibet at: http://www.savetibet.org/

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Batter Up!

Forrest dreamed that our cats were playing baseball!

Sake (pictured above) was at bat. Horty was catching. Forrest thinks maybe Tracey was pitching.

F. said the seventh-inning stretch was kind of a mess; everyone was just milling around—picture a small herd of orange felines with a couple of odd colors thrown in—and he was having a hard time encouraging them to go back into the dugout.

Once everyone else was ready to play, Horty was still "prancing around." Um-hmmm, sounds like her.

Forrest is an Aquarius, and has what has been described as "a playful and inventive Aquarian mind." I guess that's one way to describe it.

Anyway, whenever I see Sake now, I am compelled to exclaim, "Batter up!"

Garden Spot

Forrest has created a lovely garden spot just outside our dining room window. The big red Buddha we bought from K-Mart (yes, that K-Mart) reminds me of Amitabha, the Buddha of Boundless Light, who is associated in the Vajrayana with the West, the color red, and discriminating wisdom.

The garden spot is looking a little peaked right now, though the rosemary is still doing well, the big aloe remains healthy, and the beautyberry is beginning to leaf out. Time will bring on the night-blooming jasmine we brought from my parents' house, as well as the lemongrass that seasons our meals. In the meantime, Forrest assures me that the mugwort has made it through another winter.

We used to have a big patch of mugwort at the old place we rented in Jonesville. I still remember how it blew all silvery on the underneath in the summer rainstorms, really a kind of magical plant.

The sundial is one I bought as a Christmas gift for my father one year when I was living in California. There was a big store called The Nature Company where I found the sundial and a rain gauge; we brought both of these with us when I sold my parents' house in 2005.

I'll post the same view of our garden spot throughout the year, so you can see how it changes with the seasons.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Mistress of Magic

Post removed at the request of Janis Nelson. Sorry.

Holding Hands With the Earth

His Holiness Urgyen Trinley Dorje, the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa, has written recently about the importance of of maintaining a better relationship with the earth and the elements. His Holiness is the head of the Karma Kagyu lineage of Tibetan Buddhism; some of you may remember reading about him when he escaped Tibet at the dawn of the new millennium, or when he visited the United States for the first time last year.

The pin, pictured above, is His Holiness's logo design for the Monlam, the large prayer festival held by Karma Kagyu followers every year at Bodh Gaya in India, site of Shakyamuni Buddha's enlightenment.

"Ever since the human race first appeared on this earth, we have used this earth heavily," Karmapa says. "The earth has given us immeasurable benefit, but what have we done for the earth in return? We always ask for something from the earth, but never give her anything back."

Karmapa goes on to explain that his logo design looks like two hands clasping each other. I find this idea of holding hands with the earth not only noble and inspiring, but also healing at a very deep level.

What would it mean to care for the earth as if she were our friend, neighbor, or family member? Because, really—she is.

You may read the whole article that His Holiness wrote about this subject at: http://tinyurl.com/dx664p

I bought my Monlam pin from Namse Bangdzo, the bookstore affiliated with Karma Triyana Dharmachakra in Woodstock, New York:  www.namsebangdzo.com

Princess Caroline Among the Roses

Here's the feral matriarch, Princess Caroline (named for my mother), lurking behind the Louis Philippe rosebush at my parents' house. Luckily, Princess Caroline was adopted by a neighbor and remained well cared for when the house was sold, so she did not make the trip from Orlando to the river.

Princess Caroline begat the first generation of our ferals: Tracey, Bootsy, Orange Julius ("Julius"), and William of Orange ("Bill").

Tracey then begat the second generation: Orange Grover ("Grover"), T. Angie Rine ("Angie"), Baby, and Horty the Torty.

Ferals' Progress

One of my Buddhist teachers has said that there is much merit to be gained by giving even a mouthful of food to a hungry animal.

By this standard, my mother didn't just have "much" merit—she must have had literally tons of it, because she didn't just feed by the mouthful, she fed by the trough.

When she was dying, I promised my mom I would take care of the small group of feral cats she had been feeding for several years. You can see some of them in the picture, above, happily gaining sustenance from a couple of the troughs on the back patio at my parents' house.

The little tortoiseshell girl is Hortense, who telepathed her name to Forrest one day. It suits her well; we sometimes spell her name HorTENSE. Her nickname, of course, is Horty the Torty. (It had to happen.)

Assuming that reading about cats doesn't put you totally off of this blog, you will no doubt learn more about the ferals and their progress—and some are progressing quite nicely toward becoming housecats—as time goes on.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Master of Fine Arts

Last Friday night, I went to the opening of an exhibition devoted to the work of this year's candidates for the Master of Fine Arts degree at the University of Florida.

My friend Patrick Grigsby was showing his work, and it was thrilling to see him at this point in his career—especially since I told him, way back when we first met around 1994 or thereabouts, that he would have a career in teaching and that he should start thinking about getting his master's degree. (Yes, Patrick, I can say, "I told you so.")

Patrick and I went through workplace hell and back together just a couple of years ago (long story, stay tuned), and since he started grad school, he's been as relaxed and happy as I've ever seen him. He's flourishing making art, and serving as an inspiration for me.

His success—which feels like it's been a long time coming, though it hasn't really been all that long—is a kind of vindication, a demonstration that creativity can be the best revenge.

Congratulations, Patrick!

The image above is Patrick's print titled "Icarus I."

About the Santa Fe River*

The Santa Fe River is a slow-flowing tributary of the Suwannee River, which was made famous by the 19th-century American composer Stephen Foster in his song, "Old Folks at Home":

Way down upon de Swanee Ribber (River)
Far, far away
Dere's wha my heart is turning ebber,
Dere's wha de old folks stay.
All up and down de whole creation
Sadly I roam,
Still longing for de old plantation
And for de old folks at home.

All de world am sad and dreary,
Ebry where I roam,
Oh! darkies how my heart grows weary,
Far from de old folks at home.

All round de little farm I wandered
When I was young,
Den many happy days I squandered,
Many de songs I sung.
When I was playing wid my brudder
Happy was I
Oh! take me to my kind old mudder,
Dere let me live and die.


One little hut amond de bushes,
One dat I love,
Still sadly to my mem'ry rushes,
No matter where I rove
When will I see de bees a humming
All round de comb?
When will I hear de banjo tumming
Down in my good old home?

Until 2008, "Old Folks at Home" was the state song of Florida. Since the lyrics were written in black dialect, however, some came to see the song as racist—even though Foster himself sympathized with black Americans and supported the North in the Civil War.

I will show my age by admitting that I can remember a time when "darkies" was the preferred term to use when referring to blacks, at least in the house where I grew up. But I digress.

Running approximately 113 kilometers from its headwaters in Lake Santa Fe (near Melrose and Keystone Heights) to its confluence with the Suwannee River (near Branford), the Santa Fe is classified as a calcareous stream—predominantly of spring origin.

The river's most unusual feature, apart from its springs, is the fact that it disappears completely underground at O'Leno State Park and returns to the surface about 4.8 km downstream at River Rise Preserve.

The Santa Fe was named for a Franciscan mission, Santa Fe de Toloca, likely located on or near a bluff that overlooks the river valley near the community of Bland. It's a magical place, as near to being suspended between earth and sky as one can get in this neck of the woods, and the archeological evidence of missions in the area is a poignant reminder of La Florida's long and fascinating history as a Spanish portal in the New World.

"Santa Fe" translates from the Spanish as "Holy Faith." It has always seemed to me that those of us who love the river are bound to it with a holy faith, sworn by our love to preserve, protect, and defend the river from ever-increasing threats to its existence.

*This map of the Santa Fe River was created by Karl Musser from USGS data and published under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.5 license at: 

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Near the River

Life near the river is almost always surprising.

Yes, that's me in the photo, being surprised by a photographer while taking a walk during a break at a Friends of O'Leno State Park Event. The picture was taken almost 20 years ago, and both the river and I are still here—although because I know that everything is in constant change, I always wonder: For how long?

For now, the change from winter to spring—and it's been a long, cold winter with many nights of freezes and hard freezes—is inspiring me to try new things like this blog. So, welcome; I hope you enjoy your time here near the river.