I practiced 20 different introductions as I walked toward the Flower Garden of Mystery. This is a large plot of sunflowers and nasturtiums on the corner of Hilyard and E. 25th.
“Hi, my name is Mary Ann and I love your garden and I wondered if I could interview you for my blog, which has very few readers….”
“Hi, I’m Mary Ann, your neighbor, and I write about stuff, and I like your stuff, wanna chat?”
I walked up to the door and knocked twice to no answer. I felt hopeful as I looked at gnomes, a small plastic draft horse, and other fun odds and ends in the flower bed off the porch. As I walked away on the sidewalk, a woman opened the door and called to me. She said she is often hesitant to answer her door, but she saw me and decided to open it. It wasn’t her garden. She said it was her landlady’s plot. “Bonnie just turned 80. She is sort of a legend around here, I think she’d love to talk to you.” I was directed to walk two houses over, to Bonnie’s house.
Turns out, this booming flower garden is entirely volunteer. Nothing was planted. By now, it blooms by habit. It’s 50 years old. “I love the feel of dirt and the fairly amazing concept that a little piece of nothing turns into something magnificent,” said Bonnie Brunken, the one behind the garden. She moved into the neighborhood in 1949. At that time, the land was swampy and cheap; flooding was a regular thing.
Zinnias are her favorite flower. Next, she likes nasturtiums and sunflowers because “they want to live!” My faves too.
Several years ago, I was inspired to have the audacity to plant a huge zinna patch by yet another 80+ year-old neighbor!
Bonnie said she learned to grow things through mentors. “I was mentored by Wilma Crowe, who is in her 90s now.” Wilma and her mother, Mrs. Zahn, taught her about “moon planting and all kinds of things.”
The big patch of flowers cycles like this: tons of mulched leaves from her Carolina Poplar trees are piled high on the bed in the winter. They are tilled into the soil in the spring. Next, she adds straw as the top layer. With some warmth and water, the soil pops to hundreds of flowers. After they are done, it all begins again.
What I like the most about the flower patch is its sole purpose is to be enjoyed. The flowers aren’t sold or eaten. They’re just there. The profit is in the eyes of those who notice.
Back to moon planting. Mrs. Zahn came by one day and checked in with Bonnie who had planted carrots about two weeks before. Mrs. Zahn gave her more carrot seeds and said, “plant these about 6″ out from yours, in the next row.” Bonnie said, sure, but why? “Because today is the right moon day to plant carrots.” In no time, the moon planted carrots grew stronger, faster, larger and didn’t have as much problems with bugs. Bonnie said, “I was a convert after that.”
Her mentors were organic farmers. She also read Silent Spring, by Rachel Carson in the early 1960s. Carson stands out as one who brought forth awareness about the harm caused by pesticides. She is credited with starting the environmental movement. At 56 and dying of breast cancer, she testified in front of the senate, “our heedless and destructive acts enter the vast cycles of the earth and in time return to bring hazard to ourselves.”
Upon this read, Bonnie said, “o.k, I’m not going to add to the problem.”
Besides seeing the results of moon planting, she saw a study done about 25 years ago by the University of Iowa. The final analysis ended up being about 500 pages with the conclusion: we understand a little bit about it; we don’t understand most of it; we just know that it works.
Sometime before this study, Pliny, the Elder, the first-century Roman naturalist stated that the moon “replenishes the earth when she approaches it, she fills all the bodies; while when she recedes, she empties them.”
Moon planting is also referred to as agricultural astrology as it relates to moon phases and astrological signs.
Bonnie has two great dogs: Dandelion, the Parson Russel terrier, and Sage, the very soft beagle. Before I left, she wanted to show me the third pet, who lives in the back yard.
Perched in a patch of dragon lilies, snap dragons, daises, and other grasses and flowers, was a huge metal dragon! Bonnie named it, “Joyful.”
For more about organic and biodynamic farming, check out my article featuring draft horses:
It’s pussy willow season, did you know that? I’ve been out the last two evenings collecting gorgeous bundles along a nearby creek. I like harvesting them because you have to notice them, time it, pay attention. It feels old and sweet and real. While slogging around in my rubber boots tonight, I noticed two hawks, several ducks, very crisp air, and two guys smoking pot, also next to the creek.
I’ve been thinking about the importance of tending one’s life. The last post was about living with inspiration, living with passion.
Where does it come from?
I think it comes from tending. Tending what? What you love or like; what calls to you.
I tend a garden. I didn’t start out a gardener. The head gardener was my mom. It took years before I actually felt compelled to create my own garden. Now it is my grounding, my tether to the earth and seasons. It is my balm when pleased or not pleased with events around me. It is not necessarily a passion, but more of an inspiration, a reason to be present. For me, gardening helps me simplify my intent, and clear the path for other thoughts or feelings to come up.
Poet Mary Oliver says: attention is the beginning of devotion.
I once dug in the dirt every day for weeks and it was neither passionate or inspiring, but it settled me down, put me in a more pliable mood. It caused me to be more open to input, and more willing to dispose of unnecessary burden.
Tending just takes interest, focus, and care. You have to notice what you are tending. Does it need water? Food? Protection? Care? Love? This is beyond plants, now we are talking mammals. I think we learn to care, and even to love by tending.
Tending flat-out leads to more tenderness.
To get to passion and inspiration you have to start somewhere, with something or someone. Maybe it’s a lover or a loved one. Or it could be painting, singing, swimming, cooking, animals, hiking, reading, writing, paddling ….. O.k., those are my things. Find your own things. And then, here’s the big thing: MAKE TIME FOR IT. Whether a hobby or a person, make the time. Ultimately you’re investing in yourself, your own heart.
Tending to what calls to you makes you more alive and more aware. Rumi put it best, “Let yourself be silently drawn by the stronger pull of what you really love.”
Tend, as a verb, means to stretch, extend. It became a word around 1300-50. It means to attend by action and care. Another example used it in a different way, as in, “the particles tend to unite.” I’ve got it: I wish to unite my particles to attend to my life and those in it with action and care. It is one way to find purpose and direction to recognize and awaken the passion within.
Recently, at a Quaker garden work party, we shape shifted dirt into new raised beds. We wanted them to be level and true. Have you stood in wood chips and mud and known for a fact if your surroundings were plumb and level? What is true? Brian brought out two glasses of water, which were set on opposite sides of the frames. This was illuminating! We were all wrong as to what actually lined up with the laws of nature.
The water levels in the glasses led us to what was true. I think tending helps us to find our own truth, our own nature. Finding threads to personal truth is exciting. It makes a heart beat with more aliveness.
I don’t know if I’ve mentioned it, but I pick up sticks. I collect them. I see them everywhere. Usually they are on the ground. I don’t go around poaching live branches off trees. Some of the best places to find them are on the borders and edges of reservoirs. Roots, limbs, branches, and even lumber pile up and roll around on each other from the waves and wind. They end up soft and smooth and weathered like driftwood. They are no longer alive. At this point, they have become art.
In the beginning, I just placed the sticks around my yard or deck. They enhanced any space. Then I found more purpose, like making trellis for plants to climb. This gave way to more ideas, like making twig sculpture towers. Things really took off when the towers started to host humming bird feeders and suet.
One thing led to another.
I made suet the other day, for the first time. This was in response to a friend saying to me, well, can’t you make that? I’d never thought of doing such a thing. The Farmer’s Almanac had a recipe that looked simple and honest and wholesome, so I made it. That exciting story might be another blog!
I put the fresh suet on my older wobbly curly willow twig bird and squirrel tower. Birds didn’t seem interested. I joked that at least the raccoons would like it. That night, the raccoons held a rave, and knocked the structure down leaving it badly beaten. Most of the suet was eaten.
I needed to build a new twig structure habitat! All the birds, mainly hummingbirds, counted on this thing. They have their hummer poetry slams here every Saturday at noon!
I looked at my backlog of sticks. Not enough good ones.
We had just had an ice storm that left a lot of tree limb casualties. About a mile away, along a running trail, I spotted a yellowish colored, smooth barked, very long, snapped-off elegant branch hanging by a tiny thread of fiber.
I hopped on my bike with my ratchet loppers in the saddle bags. This branch was destined for purpose. I hoped it was still there and that I could discreetly harvest it. That turned out to be the easy part. Snip, it was down. It was around 11 ft. I couldn’t ride my bike with it and risk impaling a jogger, or skewering a bicyclist.
I had to walk, looking balanced and normal with this very long branch. I only fell over once; managed to just dropped the bike and stick. Most people didn’t seem to notice. I passed a dog park, and there behind the fence staring at my great find was a very excited dog. His face lit up! His eyes said, “I love it!” In those few moments, we connected over this perfect and elegant wild-crafted branch.
The walk toward home was tiring but I didn’t show weakness. About a third of the way there, a man asked, “so, what are you going to do with that stick?” A fair question, and I told him the truth. Just then, another man called out my name and offered to deliver it to my house. It was my neighbor. He had a truck!
I told him that would be really great, and that I was feeling like I was looking weird. He picked up the stick, hoisting it across his shoulders and strode off, exclaiming, “now I look weird!”
The point is, it’s fun to be a little weird or ridiculous toward a creative goal. It makes for a more interesting day for you and others.
The following is a fall aromatherapy body wash based on Chinese elemental theory.
The season is: autumn. Time to let go of the old, and take in the new. The direction of this time of year is downward- a quiet movement back into the earth to push nutrients into the soil for next spring.
The physical aspects include: lungs, colon, body hair, and skin. The lungs inspire, the colon purges.
The emotions include: grief, loss. To stay in balance regarding grief, we need to allow for the recognition of it, and the care of how it passes through us. If not, we may not actually grieve, which can cause it to get stuck, unprocessed, and eventually become a heavy burden following us everywhere.
If we unburden ourselves, we can find and connect with new inspiration.
During this season, nature leads us into the cycle of creating and letting go. Trees don’t cling to their leaves because they might need them next year. They let them all drop. If held onto, the decayed leaves can pollute and effectively block the entry of anything new.
When the lungs are healthy, we not only breathe better, we can absorb new experiences, ideas, and be more open to inspiration.
Positive aspects of this season: generosity, integrity, self-respect, and personal value. Focus on and bring about these positive traits during this season. Self-care creates awareness and discernment in what you breathe, both physically and mentally.
A few essential oils for this season:
These all perk up the lungs.
Lungs inspire literally and figuratively. They bring in air and ideas. In Chinese medical theory, the lung is paired with the large intestine, or colon. The colon purges what is no longer needed.
Together, they have a team approach toward balance. Disperse with the old, welcome the new.
DIY autumn body wash
1 cup Dr. Bronners unscented liquid soap
1 cup water
3 T. coconut oil, fractionated
10-15 drops essential oil
During this season, ask yourself:
What inspires you?
What do you want to let go?
A thriving coexistence: cultivating Zoöpolis.
Zoöpolis is a new word for me. Maybe you already know it? It has a z and an umlaut, so I already liked it, before I knew what it meant. Jennifer Wolch, a geographer coined this term.
Definition: The place where the polis meets the zoo, an overlap of human and animal geographies. A zoöpolis happens when we create landscapes in which humans and animals coexist, or even thrive alongside each other. I saw this word in Crow Planet, Essential Wisdom from the Urban Wilderness, by Lyanda Lynn Haupt.
I like to make signs. So it came to be: zoöpolis holds its place in my homemade trellis. It was there for one day when I saw a pair of crows carefully choosing old dry plant skeletons for their nest build. They looked like a couple at home depot choosing fence boards. Did they read my sign? I mean, they ARE smart. I’ve seen crows in my yard before, picking at things, strolling about. But, with the sign blessing their presence, everything looked different, more unified, more alive and thriving.
Resources are meant to be shared. I suggest making a yard that provides offerings, both for human and animal. For me, this means plants for pleasure, and harvest. Many options provide both, for example, patches of sunflowers are visually sensational, while serving as pollinators. Bees buzz over them in the warm sun, heavy with thick pollen panniers. After a few weeks, the dried sunflowers become feeding stations to chickadee, golden finch, and squirrels.
You must throw in some art somewhere. I have twig structures. They are great to hang bird feeders from. People also like points of interest that move. I have a palomino. It is not a real horse, but a small replica. It is in a constant grazing pose. Every few days, when I’m out working in the yard, I’ll move it around. People are wild for this, often commenting that they enjoy looking for it. This little horse has stolen the show, and it’s the least amount of work for me to maintain.
Nest material can be fluffed with little effort. Crows mate for life and both the male and female collect nest materials and put it together. They look for pieces of straw, twigs, stripped bark, and feathers. If you want to offer some additional materials, put out yarn, brushed out animal fur, or bits of twine. Don’t put out dryer lint. It’s soft but can be an irritant to young birds.
Zoöpolis: It’s got something for everyone.