Saturday, November 26, 2011

Things Fall Apart, Rereading the Garden

Our willow arbor is beginning to fall apart.
I was introduced to the book Things Fall Apart by the Nigerian author Chinua Achebe many years ago when I was a freshman at Lewis & Clark College. Surprisingly, the book was not assigned, but instead, it was recommended to me by my boyfriend at the time, my first serious boyfriend, someone who'd lived in Nigeria for several years with his family and had greatly admired the book. Believe it or not, I often think of this book when I consider my garden. 

In summary, the book examines the life of one African man as his traditional tribal culture rubs up against the culture of white Europeans and Christianity in his realm. The events that occur become increasingly more painful for the reader to read as the story progresses, and in the end, you are there, on the stage with them, confronted. Few books have ever left me so radically changed. 

Things Fall Apart has stuck with me for many years, and I return to it often, especially whenever I feel stuck between conflicting realities. Let's say radically so. Often, nowadays, I stand between the world of the healthy and the world of the ill and as much as you may believe these two places are the same, they are not. If you are healthy you can physically work and earn money or else take care of things like your health and possessions. If you are currently unemployed, that is not even close to being the same as unemployable. If you are ill you struggle with money, time, personal expectations you've placed on yourself, schedules and then there is always that nagging responsibility you feel to lessen the stress for those who care for you. 

We all have to put on a productive happy mask, but what lies beneath it is always what matters most because beneath the mask and its design is what we call its integrity. That's what makes some books great, while others miss the mark. It's the unseen emotive element in design—and it exists even in garden design. Not surprisingly the designs with the most integrity are also those which inspire us the most, that's why we say great works have soul. They live and breathe apart from us. It's for this reason Dr. Frankenstein, like so may others, created his monster. Unlike them, I am not a literalist, or for that matter, a copyist. 

When it comes to our garden, I am often asked what style it is, and up until right now, I haven't really had an answer. It wears no mask, at least not one that fits into any traditional category—and we like it that way. When we get around to affixing a mask to it, I will let you know, but until then, I think I may begin to tell inquisitors that it is in the Style of Illness. 

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Thoughts on My Own Personal Garden Therapy Program and Treatment Plan During Crisis

Warning: This is a post about a crisis—not an emergency—and its subject matter concerns living with an illness more than living with plants; but the conclusion will be that no matter what, if you live with an ongoing illness that causes crises (or whatever it is in your case), even when you are a wreck, and you don't really care as much about your plants as you usually do (or whatever it is for you), that's ok. So don't let me—or this post of mine—get you down...I am doing just fine.
Mt. Konocti as seen from Walker Ridge Road in Lake County, CA. If I hadn't walked up that peak on the left, I probably wouldn't be here writing this post right now. Do I regret the steep walk uphill? Uhm, HELL NO! I already want to do it again, but with better attention paid to the additional necessary precautions in order to prevent more heath scares. 
For some time I've been trying to locate and define the line I cross when illness makes my life so difficult that the subjects of gardening and plants cannot immediately resuscitate me. Then, suddenly last week—but maybe it wasn't that unexpected–I found that line again, and Thud! I was knocked out fair and square by the indwelling opponent I hadn't really been keeping an eye on recently. 

Last week my larynx nearly closed and it was terrifying. Since it had happened in the past I knew what it was and what to do, but I was home alone and terrified. For many with Hereditary Angioedema, this is our worst nightmare and up until only recently, this is how many people died from this disease. What many physicians still do not understand is that this is not an allergic swelling and that what we actually need is not corticosteroids or antihistimines but instead, fresh frozen plasma, or sometimes even more expensive treatments. 

That night I faced a difficult decision and worse still was that I was alone. I could stay home and use the old treatment of anabolic steroids, hoping that it would help my body produce more of the C1 complement factor I needed in my blood, or else I could run the risk that my own hospital might actually deny my treatment in the emergency room. Being without my handy advocate, I chose not to attempt to fight the system that evening, and overall, that made me really angry. No one should have to put off potentially lifesaving treatment because they don't want to argue with an emergency room doctor. You heard me correctly, and yes, this probably does not make sense.

Luckily, the old anabolic treatment kind of worked. I stayed up all night just in case, making sure that the swelling didn't worsen or spread. If it had, I was committed to calling 911, so I wasn't being too unreasonable. 
Showy Milkweed, Asclepias speciosa. Garden booty from my recent road trip to California.
This experience reminded me that I've not yet won the recognition of a diagnosis I've lived with for almost 10 years from my own medical insurer, and that's solely due to the fact of its potential expense. I live knowing that I cannot get the help I need because the quality of my life does not matter as much as their Bottom Line. To say that this is a heavy weight to carry on my back is an understatement. Unbelievable still is that my interest in plants and gardens could paper over the indignity of the healthcare nightmare I am so sick of living.

Many other patients already qualify for brand new expensive treatments that our large advocacy group fought hard for, but as of right now, I still do not qualify. There are several Types of HAE and I have now fallen into the Type III category that's not only a catchall, but it's also the least understood group and is currently still more theoretical. So, I wait, and if a study comes up and they need me, I will go, but until then, on paper, my own insurer will not accept the diagnosis. Scientifically, statistically, mathematically, symptomatically, they will only treat me in an emergency room based upon the symptoms as they are observed. To treat me with plasma would open up the door to my petitioning and potentially suing them in order to get special new treatments. This is sick. It is a sick system. 

Each year my doctor writes a new letter describing why I need a treatment and why her diagnosis does not fit their criteria. Going to your insurance company repeatedly to ask for help, while being repeatedly denied, is really quite humbling. Even though I am basically too sick to work full-time, I am not ill enough. If I could get treatment, I could actually have some kind of life again. Instead, I am told no, and then am instructed to stick with the old treatment until more research has been completed. I think this round I will dig deeper. I might even fight back.

At least last week I knew exactly what I have, and although it is mysterious, I was informed enough to understand what it was and I can now see how I'd created the perfect storm for a health crisis during my trip to California. When I returned home and noticed I was physically shaking a lot, I knew something was going to happen but I was hoping it wasn't going to involve my throat. 

In the past my doctors and I had discussed a way to try again with the committee and had created a plan to re-petition but it was a long shot. At that time, I gave up because I couldn't take any more, but I am ready now—even if it means having to make myself sick again. 
Last week's experience was a tipping point in my life. Seeing massive old growth native Californian oak trees has inspired me to want to see more and I cannot do so unless I seek the medical attention I need to prevent attacks like the one I had. Walking around staring at plants in the wilderness felt more normal to me than anything I've felt in ages. For a time, I felt free.
Safflower, Carthamus tinctorius. One of the blooms used in some arrangements I've been making this past week.
Luckily, while everything else has recently been a struggle, I have somehow successfully kept up with a daily Ikebana post on the other blog. After weeks of arrangements, I am really satisfied with the piece "Trapped" because it beautifully showed how I was feeling. What it made me realize too was that I needed to write this post. What's important right now is my own personal growth and rebuilding, the plants that have papered over my frustration can rest a bit, and I will tend to that garden I have inside, just as we all do, and what's left of the garden and plants I've neglected this year can come along with me and we'll go at it again. Differently. 

I don't want the plants to be papering over anything anymore. 

The tide has turned. My weight has shifted. Breathe in. Breathe out. Breathe. 

"My blog will always be primarily about gardening, and my love of seeds and growing 
oddball ornamental plants from seed, but today, I wanted to write an illness post because 
if if weren't for my rare hereditary blood disease, I doubt I ever would have ended up 
here and I would have been doing something else." 
One of our hummingbirds striking its best Ikebana pose...

Sunday, November 6, 2011

San Francisco: Wine Deliveries, Lunch, and Flora Grubb Gardens (Again)

 Crimson Passionflower, Passiflora vitifolia, at Flora Grubb Gardens.
On my first full day with my husband in Lake County, CA we had to get up early and head to San Francisco. Another long day in the car wasn't exactly what I wanted, but it was worth it. Mr. B was going to attend a day-long industry-only wine tasting and I'd planned to take in some sights.

From the time he woke up he started feeling unwell so we adjusted our plan a bit. During harvest and crush, he really gets worn down so a rest day was in order and we were both kind of excited about visiting SF together.
Ficus microcarpa 'Nitida'. 
Other than an early dinner date with a new garden writer friend up in Marin, the city was very briefly our oyster that day. Our only serious task was to deliver some cases of wine, and while waiting in the car at one of those stops, I shot this picture of a typical street somewhere in SF.
Sorry for the dirty windshield but note that a weekday drive into San Francisco from Marin can be pretty painless during October just so long as you wait until after all the morning traffic. 
During the drive, I discovered something funny about harvest. Once all the grapes are in their tanks fermenting, the whole valley in Sonoma actually smells of fermenting grapes. (Mr. B said Napa is even worse.) Coming from beer central, I should have realized this was possible but I just had never really thought about it. What an experience for the nose!
Entering the city you get to pay your $6 toll. I never get to take pictures of the tollbooths,  so I was happy this time with Mr B driving. They are designed to match the bridge and I think they're the prettiest tollbooths I've ever had to go through. 
After we paid our toll we had no plans and for me that was unusual—but welcome. Usually when I drive into SF I have some idea of where I am going since otherwise I'd still get lost very easily. In this case, I just sat back and enjoyed the view.
Alcatraz as seen from Hwy 101 just past the tollbooths. 
The first thing I saw, of course, was Alcatraz in the distance. It's now such a large part of my Ikebana project it made me smile. Finding my own metaphorical escape from the imprisonment of chronic illness has become such a game for me and gardening and plants are such an integral part of my strategy. I think for some of us, making the battle less personal is key to our survival. We need that distance to feel more comfort and less fearful. We need that space to heal. In a way, I've tried to leave a lot of my troubles on that island and I think it's been working.
For lunch Mr. B decided to take me to the Ferry Building Marketplace. What a great little shopping area they have there! (I now know what Portland wants to have in its plan to create our James Beard Public Market. Shopping before your ride home is a such a great idea!)
So the first business that truly caught my eye because of its regionally accurate "shop locally" distinction was McEvoy Ranch. Could you have a store dedicated to olive oil and its many products anywhere else? I think not! That's what they do. They're olive ranchers.
To say that I felt envious is an understatement. I want to be an olive rancher too. (When my husband met me he was shocked that I cooked everything in olive oil. That still includes things like fried eggs and pancakes.)

I think I may have been an olive oil life-stylist long before we discussed and marketed things called "lifestyles" to consumers. My dad used to crack up when I was a girl because I'd use our jugs of olive oil to concoct rosemary and olive oil leave-in conditioners for my thick dry hair. (I still use olive oil soap but it's usually the kind made in the Middle East.)

But oh how I now want to be an olive rancher...
Speaking of lifestyles, the gardening lifestyle is not an uncommon one to find in San Francisco either. Kingdom of Herbs was actually kind of nice to visit because it had upscale fun stuff mixed in with other odds and ends that all related to a love of all things plant material.
As someone who's known for picking seeds wherever I go my husband and I giggled quite a bit about how I'd fit a few of these into my pockets. Not likely.
They had a lot of nice hats too.
And then there were plants...
and preserved plants and wood products. (Next year I really hope to preserve my boxwood cuttings. I really love these wreaths but they're a bit pricey.)
After we grabbed some take-out from a deli, we wandered outside to watch the foot ferries while we ate. (This ferry takes commuters back and forth across the bay to Marin County.)
On our way out we stopped by The Gardener. It is a small local chain in the Bay Area and I was a bit less enthused by what it had to offer since it had far less to do with gardening.
I liked their display though of Japanese gardening tools. Reminded me a bit of a little piece of art I could hang on my own wall.
Mexican Flame Vine, Senecio confusus. This is a plant I've tried to grow from seed once or twice with little success. 
Later, after the deliveries we went to Flora Grubb Gardens. I was embarrassed that I'd already been there four times this year, but since it was going to be my husband's first visit, it somehow seemed necessary.
I was not disappointed. He was truly blown away by the displays and by the plants. As usual, I obsessively noted every change I could and thought about plants I may want in the future. (If only I could have that second garden in California.)
Queensland Silver Wattle or Pearl Acacia, Acacia podalyriifolia.
Kangaroo Paw, Anigozanthos 'Bush Dawn'.
Mr B staring at an aquaponics display. Maybe I could convince him to do this if we could grow our own sushi. 
Valley Oak, Quercus lobata. It's endemic to California and is the largest of the North American Oaks. Some mature specimens can be nearly 600 years old, and can reach almost 100 feet in height. 
Hibiscus 'Haight Ashbury'.
Mexican Bush Sage, Salvia leucantha 'Midnight'.
I love all the colors and you may have noticed that incredible blue sky?
Groundsel, Senecio mandraliscae and Sedum 'Ogon' behind it.
 Aloe 'Pink Blush'. What an incredible hybrid!
Then there are the exterior/interior design ideas that Flora Grubb is so famous for. I still haven't made my Sedum masterpiece, but that's probably because I am still stuck on that Jackson Pollock flowerbed idea. (More on that next season. I've made some progress with this idea this year.)
I am not sure if the wire baskets are oyster baskets, but they sure look like they could be. These little decorative wall items are kinds cute and I hope to make some this winter. I so love anything with gilding.
Last time I don't think I added a picture of their suspended Woollypocket display.
This geometric bear head is great too. After all it is California and they do have that silly bear on their flag, so why not!
Begonia 'Irene Nuss'.
Just before we left I discovered these two Begonias. Glad I did too because one of them I can grow from seed. It is really amazing how much leaf variation exists in this group. I truly am in love with all of them, but the Grape Leaf Begonia might just be my new favorite.
Grape Leaf Begonia, Begonia reniformis or Begonia vitifolia. 
Grape Leaf Begonia, Begonia reniformis or Begonia vitifolia. 

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