Friday, January 31, 2014

Anticipating Springtime

Galanthus elwesii.
This past weekend I worked outside for a few hours. There is much debris yet to pick up before the daffodils fully emerge from the ground and I've more pruning to do.

The temperatures were chilly, but it was sunny, and the back garden looks a bit better now thanks to the effort.
Container ships waiting near the mouth of the Columbia River to be driven over the Columbia Bar by one of the bar pilots. It's dangerous work and from this restaurant window we can watch as the pilots are escorted out to the vessels. 
The weekend before that we were able to escape for an extended mini-vacation—but I had to take my work along with me. 

I worked a lot, but we somehow found the time to visit my maternal grandmother in Aberdeen (WA) one day, and we went to Astoria (OR) the day beforehand. 
It's rarely this clear and sunny during January so I took John up to the Astoria Column. (It is quite a landmark and I was surprised when he told me he'd never been there.) The views were breathtaking that day.
Looking southward (sort of) you see Youngs Bay. This is one of my all-time favorite views. Somehow, it always appears to me to look a bit like a painting.
Anticipating springtime. 
Back at the house in Portland, life continues to change and we're all adapting to the new vitality being breathed into our home. John is a lot of fun and has his own ways about him. He's a special man to have moved into a place that is so mine, but we're working to make it his too.

The most interesting adaptation we're currently going through is that the youngest cat (the partially feral one) is moving in upstairs. As she has aged, she has changed. It has been interesting to observe her as she's gone through a lot these past few years. Often, I find her hiding in plants like this just staring at me as I work. I stare back at her and she looks away. I suppose she is working too. I don't really know for certain. She observes the garden for hours on end.
There have been some major territorial adjustments but the two female cats are respecting one another for the first time. (Maurice goes wherever he wants. It's best that way—but nowadays he limps and doesn't move around nearly as much.)
Mona tends to sit on furniture more and more and the ground less. 
Indoors, Mona likes to be around the plants because she is used to living under them during the outdoor half of her year. She seeks them out in her daily routine.

She's anticipating spring and follows me outdoors to spend time with me as I work. I never dreamed she'd shadow me so much. She is very much a loner cat but she's changing. I'm honored but it's more about her than me.

John is getting to know her more as well. He rarely saw her before but now they see one another everyday and he's able to spend time petting her.
When I work indoors—writing and cooking as a ghostblogger for a food blog—she sits near my feet.

This is a big change for me. The other two cats are too old now to remain so alert to my movements all day. Maurice used to always be by my side, but now it's Mona. This is a change. 
Sedum spathulifolium.
Life is still a bit uncertain for me professionally as I try to manage working and serious chronic health issues. I miss my time spent at home, but it was very difficult for me to be living without career fulfillment. I grew tired of struggling to get by, and of working so hard to stay afloat, but it has been a humbling experience. I'm grateful.

The garden is seen differently now, but I'm at least seeing it again. The thought of losing it in the divorce made the sight of it excruciatingly painful. I now deeply admire those others who've gone through that kind of dissolution. I'm not ready to move on from here, but my time will come. Until then, I want to see my dreams and plans come to life outside.

I miss my garden though because I work a lot now and in order to be able to work I need to exercise a lot to keep the pain under control. The absolute pleasure and peace gardening gave me is now at odds with the reality of living a real life, but I am learning how to cope. It is an opportunity I never was given. I'm reintegrating gardening and am starting seeds again. I'm determined that this place will be reborn again soon.
Lewisia columbiana ssp. rupicola.
That's why I'm set to rebuild it. I've been pulling the garden alongside me during the journey as I've been rebuilding myself during these past two years. As time has passed, and as I've struggle with its passage, how could I not think of the garden?

Freelance writing work is not easy to find and I was blessed with my current job. It's amazing and I know it's the right thing for me to be doing. Being a part-time caregiver is becoming more difficult though. I'm growing to the point now where I want to be away from illness. I live in both worlds, but I still want to belong to the living for a bit longer. I know exactly what I have to look forward to in the future, but right now, it's my time.

It took the experience of a difficult client telling me repeatedly that I was there to provide her comfort and to take care of her needs. She repeatedly told me I was doing a poor job. Something inside of me rose up and rebelled. I'm in control of my own comfort and needs right now and I'm going to keep making better and more informed decisions so that I will land in a better place soon. I also realized that I was a damned good caregiver. She simply wasn't the right client for me.

I'm growing in ways I wasn't able to grow.

I'm carving out more time to write too. I cannot wait to see what publishing some of my own work will do for me as a person. It's all I ever wanted out of life and it's accomplishable now. Part of me will be at peace soon after settling that score.

Writing more—more than anything else—will heal some large wounds for me.

I've always been a writer at heart who just so happens to garden and love plants.
Lastly, as I go along plotting all these things out, my mind continues to go in and out of the garden and my plans for it—I mean our plans for it.

I'm currently sorting things around the house and am getting rid of old gardening books and other pieces of junk and this vintage window box combination really struck me the other day. I tossed the book but I kept this image from it.

This is the tangled and complicated kind of beauty I admire most. The round and tender leaves of a nasturtium are the last thing I'd imagine paired with a rattail cactus. One plant grows with ease in one season, while the other is an incredibly mature specimen plant—perfect example of the passage of time in the garden.

Spring is coming soon and I guess I'm not the gardening fraud I feel like I've become due to these past two years or so of major life changes and transitions. I'm going to Italy and I will be looking at a lot of plants. There hopefully will be a beautiful one-year wedding anniversary celebration to plan. There are more plans for the future than I can mention. I'm not necessarily the specimen plant I wanted to become. I've accepted that maybe sometimes I'm going to be the annual plant with great growth and vigor put on during one season. Or, it's baroque and complicated and like everyone else I'm everything at once and far less interesting or important than I imagine myself to be and then I just don't matter and I drift back with my eyelids shut to a sunny day in the summertime where all I can hear is the noise from the city streets, or waves from the Pacific Ocean, and I remember the sound of my grandma's trowel in the dirt beside me as I doze off in the lounge chair.

Yes, I'm anticipating springtime too and the calm nothingness brought on by spontaneous moments of profundity caught in nature and in the garden. Maybe that's what the feral cat is anticipating too.  

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

He is pruning the privet: the seemingly never-ending saga of change in a garden

Please read this poem—that is, if you have the time or inclination. I know that poems don't speak to everyone, so please, give it a try. I'll understand if you don't.

I thought for a change of pace I'd share it since it's about gardening. (But yes, you're correct, it's about much more than just pruning.)

He is pruning the privet (a poem by Joanne Kyger)

The poem says everything I'd like to say right now. I could not find the words, they found me. I'm tired, but am still able to seek. That's reassuring. As I near 40, I'm feeling my age and am waking up from a medical stupor, stupid illness I fell into at the age of 18.

Rip Van Winkle never prepared me for this.

Change and time is growth, and sloppily, wearily, messily, we'll all keep pruning too.

It's what we do.

Monday, January 6, 2014

The Alaskan Honeymoon: Part Two (The Kenai Peninsula)

It's a shame it's taken so long to return to blogging about our honeymoon back in September 2013 but the installments seemed daunting. Alaska is a big place and is best experienced. I just didn't know what to say and I still cannot find the words. 

So, instead, I'm pressing forward. 

When I look at these images now I feel a lot and it's mostly silence, calm, and solitude. I'm not known to be silent, but I know what it is and what it means. In Alaska I felt it and I felt a deep calm I haven't felt in a long time. The solitude was much needed and I had a lot of time to reflect. It felt better than any spa treatment. 

There was space to breathe. 

Even though I'm now looking forward to traveling to Italy in a few months, there will always be room in my heart for Alaska. We will return. 

These posts find me pining away for it a bit too...
After hibernating for a day in Anchorage we drove south on Highway 1 to the Kenai Peninsula. I'd chosen it because of the Kenai River and because a garden client of mine is from Homer. I met her just after meeting my husband and when I told her we were discussing Alaska as a potential honeymoon destination she became very supportive of the idea.

(I'm so glad she did because she was a great help in our planning. I only wish we could have stayed in Homer longer but more on that next time...)
There were some goats up on the rocks somewhere not far from where we snapped this photo—wild mountain goats! 
This photo says a lot about the first day out on the road. The bride was still very tired and the groom was ready for an adventure.
Wild rose hips. 
Sadly, we rushed a bit on our way to the town of Soldotna. I regret not having stopped to take more photos but I was too tired and we both had no idea what the day would be like at all. The drive south was beautiful though and the landscape was unlike anything I'd seen before and as we drove we talked a lot about what it reminded us of so I'm left with a memory of that free-association game.

How do we become acquainted with new landscapes? We often familiarize ourselves to new environments by associating them with other places we've been to before and that's half the fun—at least for me. While John saw the Alps, I saw the Tetons.

After a week it became Alaska to us, but at first, we had to get settled.

(I suspect in the future we will be in Scandinavia talking about how it looks like Alaska to us, but I hope we'll see more of Alaska again before that trip takes place.)
Along the way we passed Kenai Lake and we were driving along the Kenai River off and on too. 

Considering I'd spent many years editing fishing books for my father's company, I expected to see something familiar. My eyes scanned the landscape and it looked like any other fishing hamlet. Later Dad told me on the phone about the trout fishing on the upper Kenai and I'm kind of fascinated by it now. I guess it's some world-class fishing I'd never heard about, but it's probably why it looked so familiar to me. There was a lot of fly fishing and it seemed a lot like home. 

My father's love of Alaska was a big reason for my having wanted to go there in the first place. Each year during my birthday in September he'd always be off fishing for salmon. He'd return with tons of fish, great stories, and usually a stuffed animal or piece of jewelry for me. I hated Alaska for many years. I was jealous of her. 

I'm the last of the Amato children to visit Alaska, but my purpose was as a naturalist more than anything else. It's what my father and I share. During the trip he called me more than he's ever called me in my entire life. Every other day he'd check in and he'd have me describe the weather conditions, the light, the surroundings, and I'd tell him about what we'd seen and done.  

In my usual way, our tour was unlike any of the trips my father had ever taken. He'd always been treated like a king. He'd been flown into fancy lodges. He'd land in Anchorage and then immediately fly out to a remote location on a float plane. We hit the ground, rented a car, and toured. It's the trip—I later found out—that my dad would love to take now that he's older and I hope he gets to do so. 

What interested him most was our access to good food, museums, and wildlife. He already knows about the fishing, but he hasn't seen the culture other than remote Native Alaskan villages. Traveling cheaply, eating well, and making the most of what we spent really sounded like a fun adventure to him.  
When we arrived at our hotel/motel in Soldotna, I had another moment of giggling. I loved this news advertisement. 

Alaskans have a sense of humor and we saw it all over the place. They are matter-of-fact too. (Just wait until the next post when I show you what makes news here.) Coming from Portland, this was such a relief. Nowadays Portland residents take everything far too seriously and they are so sensitive so it was fun just to live simply without any "major issues" being shoved in our faces. 

Not hearing about sustainability, livability, or seeing a hipster on a fixed gear bike for one whole week was another big part of the vacation for us. I don't think we heard the words "California" or "Bay Area" once. We didn't see women in yoga pants or a single Prius car. I'm not saying that it was Montana or Wyoming or even Idaho. It was just Alaska. 

Again, let me remind you of the silence we felt there. There was no hype. What you saw was what you got. We just were. The other people just went about their business. People were polite and friendly but there were no cultural agendas or lifestyles. I haven't felt that free in a very long time. 
Once at the hotel, John rested while I walked down to the river. It is a well-known fishing river and there was an elevated walkway with multiple fishing platforms for town residents and visitors. I've never seen a river so prepared and well-planned for salmon fishing. Since the season had ended, I had the walkway to myself. I walked along and watched spawned out fish corpses float by me.

The river was alive.
To my left was the riverbank. It was grassy and wild. There was also a small park with access leading down to the river. Looking up at the park bench it felt more like spring than late-summer.

As I walked along the river I could hear the ever-buzzing sound of small planes in the sky. It's another strange thing about certain areas in Alaska. You get used to the sound. So much so that when you return home you think that every car or truck you hear in the city is a little bush plane. You begin to miss the little tin mosquitos in the sky.

You also realize why it's the first thing you see hanging up high in the Anchorage airport—loud and proud. Those little planes are so important in this state.
The river was to my right. That day, it was a silent river that had overfilled its banks due to the heavy rainfall before our arrival. While I was there I was texting with a friend from high school who lives outside of Anchorage and she felt so badly that we'd arrived to Oregon-style weather. I told her we didn't mind, after all, it was our honeymoon. 
Holy Assumption of the Virgin Mary Church in Kenai. Founded in 1840. 
After we grabbed a quick bite we went for a drive to the town of Kenai to see this old historic site. The daylight hours were longer then and that day we experienced our first day of what I can only call prolonged nightfall. 

In the plane—as we'd flown north—I'd noticed how the light had changed. I hadn't really thought about prolonged daybreak and prolonged nightfall but they are wonderfully slow things that again need to be experienced to be understood. 

The world feels as if it's slowing down. In the morning, you don't feel like rushing. The one morning I watched the sunrise, it took what felt like hours to be fully light outside. It felt decadent. I felt powerless to the powers that be. I felt small in the grand scheme of the universe. That felt good and I was ok with it. 

Witnessing the light was something quite incredible. It was a light show. I've seen color bursts in the sky plenty of times here at home, but not light shows with colors fading in and out, blending with one another, shifting and then fading into another shade. This process simply goes on and on for several hours. Then when you think it's dark, it's not. There are still slivers of light in the sky. They fade out slowly like embers in a fire. Before you know it, you've lost track of them, and fallen asleep beside them. 

When you awake, the slivers of light are in the sky again. The embers brighten and heat up the sky, you feel warmth from the darkness, and then it is morning. This whole process takes a few more hours. It is happening all around you as you go about your travels. It becomes a big part of how you experience the place. 
On our way back we passed a nursery. Even though it was closed, I had to stop and look. By this point I was fascinated by the climate, the light, and I wanted to find a gardener and ask them all about it. I didn't get that opportunity, but I'd like to explore gardening in Alaska more in the future.
Their display garden was really pretty. I didn't poke around though because we had to get back. I was fading. The gardens I saw during our brief visit were utilitarian, but not Spartan. I only saw things from the car though, but again, it's something I'd like to read more about in the future. As always, I have a lot to learn. 
In the parking lot, we saw many more of the poppies that grow so well in Alaska. Papaver nudicaule is meant for this place as are many other poppies.
After another long day of adventure, it was becoming clearer to us that Alaska is a really big state. As we drove and talked about this, we realized just how much we wanted to see more of its beauty in the future. One long week in Alaska is nothing. We estimate that it will take at least 5 more trips to see every climate Alaska has to offer. Sure, this is true of virtually anywhere, but most places aren't surrounded by that much wilderness, with such extreme climates.

To be continued...
(Next stop, Homer, AK.)

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

My Garden To Do List: 2014

Happy 2014!

I hope you, your family, your pets and your plants are all thriving, alive, and well.

As for me, I'm recovering from a busy holiday season and am relaxing in bed with my two loyal felines. I can see a few trees from my back garden out the bedroom window and the weather is cool and crisp in Portland. There is sunshine mixed with some hazy fog and it's beautiful out right now.

What a great time to be thinking about gardening.

It's still seed shopping season so I'm continuing to dream today about the months ahead. I'm making plans for the garden.

The list so far isn't a long list, but that's because it's 2014 now and I'm planning on working and traveling a lot more this year. The list must be manageable.

There will be plenty to post about and to follow again. I'm dedicated to being a garden blogger and communicator. My only hope is to expand my writing a bit more beyond the blog.

So, here's what's on the menu for 2014.

1: Edit. Edit. Edit. Then edit some more.
There cannot be enough said about editing. I don't plan to make this place picture perfect—and definitely not matchy-matchy—but it will be edited. I'm eternally nothing more than a wild Bohemian at heart and my garden needs to better reflect that back to the world. Gardens are, after all, somewhat a reflection of what's going on inside of us in a deeply aesthetic and often personally spiritual realm. That is when they're personal gardens, and not simply designed to function as low-maintenance or move-in ready. Mine is not yet as intimate as it will be, but I'll get there.

I also want to better define a Bohemian Garden, or maybe you might already call it an Artist's Garden. A whole thesis could be written on this and maybe that's what I'll be starting this year. Who know!?!

Gardens need more categories and words. I'm beginning to realize how limiting many of the definitions can be so it will be fun to use my art criticism and aesthetic theory for some good. I honestly cannot wait.

2: Finalize a design for a fence along the back of the the garden. 
This is of the utmost importance. Anyone who knows me knows that this has been a thorn in my side for many years—pretty much ever since I moved into this house. The design challenge is upon us and I am so excited about it finally happening. Sure, I would love an 8-foot stone wall, but since that's not going to happen, what other options are there?

3: Plant lots and lots of seeds again this winter and spring. 
Seeds have stories and a provenance. A Bohemian Garden is a Collector's Garden, but instead of having scientifically collected data and facts, there are stories too.

4: Expand the herb garden and redevelop the kitchen garden. (We're looking to rent community garden space again too. We have a lot of heirloom and Italian veggies we're looking forward to growing.) 
Well, a girl has to eat right?

In all seriousness, for me, eating foods I've grown matters because I'm an Oregonian and an Italian-American. It is traditional for my family to eat what it grows, or else to purchase fresh produce. It's respectable and honorable. This is my heritage and a part of who I am and where I come from. Self-sufficiency was important to my pioneering relatives. It is important to me too. I am looking forward to writing more kitchen garden and cooking posts here too now. I've got some skillz in that realm that I've seriously underemployed for many years.

Then there is the extra added value of being able to have produce you can't buy at any grocery store or farmers' market. That feels good. It's like going on a major expedition to bring back something very special to share with others. I am getting hungry just thinking about the cooking plans I already have for the garden harvest of 2014.

5: Creatively redesigning some space for outdoor dining. 
Sharing a meal with a spouse, family, and/or friends is what good living is all about—especially when you grew some of it yourself. (Or caught. More on fishing some other time...)

I sound kind of Italian, but I am kind of Italian. Food is very important to me, and so is the community of sharing built around food. It is what makes a good life a great life.

6: Add a lovely European-style flower box to the front of the house and dress the place up a bit. 
The uncertainty of my time spent in this house is coming to an end. It's going to become my home in 2014, and I'm looking forward to making it a place that brings comfort and calm, peace and pleasure to my family, friends, and most of all, to me.

2014: The Year of the Bohemian Garden.
Hope you're looking forward to this as much as I am.
Happy 2014!

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