Friday, June 19, 2015

GARDENING WITHOU MERCY


The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (6/13/2015)

 

          Springtime is weed time.  First, the dandelions appear here and there with their bright, cheerfully yellow flowers.  Some gardeners welcome them, finding them medicinally and culinarily useful.  Others despise them, digging them out, root, flower, and petal, no easy task with tap roots burrowing deep in the soil.

 

          While attitudes about dandelions are ambivalent and even ambiguous, for some weeds there is unanimous disdain.  An unwelcome plant, weeds generally are fast growing, ingenious, invasive, and supernaturally resourceful.

 

When the Romans conquered England in 41 A.D., they brought with them the scotch thistle (Onopordium acanthium) which originated in lands around the Mediterranean.  It eventually hopped over Hadrian’s Wall, the Roman barrier defending Roman England from the Scots to the north.

 

The scotch thistle flourished in Scotland where it proved itself a defense against Viking invaders.  In a nighttime sneak attack upon Scotland, the Norse, unshod for silence, stumbled into a thicket of scotch thistles.  Their cries of pain awakened the inhabitants who drove them back into the sea.  It was imported into the United States as an ornamental shrub because its beautiful flowers.

 

Now it has become an invasive, noxious weed.   The Latin phrase Nemo Me Impune Lacessit  (No One Injuries Me Unpunished) is on the national emblem of Scotland along with the scotch thistle.  By the way, after pulling them, put them in a plastic garden bag and dispatching them to the county dump.  Pull them wearing full body armor.

 

Another oddity is that it is a cousin to the artichoke (Cynara scolymus), both being members of the tribe Cynareae which takes its name from the Greek word for dog, their bracts looking like the teeth of a snarling dog.   It’s a delightful vegetable with anti-oxidant and anti-cholesterol benefits.  Artichokes can be grown in Flagstaff just as can scotch thistles; however, while the artichokes grown here are beautiful, they aren’t nearly as tasty as those grown in Castroville, California.

 

Another member of the tribe Cynareae is the Centaurae diffusa, commonly called the diffuse knapweed which in the fall and winter turns into the tumbleweed.  It, too, has snarling dog’s teeth.  The word cynic comes from the Latin word for dog, cynicus.  Cynics are toxic, baring their ideological teeth, claiming that everything is rotten save themselves.

 

The diffuse knapweed is a true cynic because it poisons the soil around it so that nothing else can grow save itself, eliminating any competition.  It’s called allelopathy which means that a plant can release chemicals that inhibit the development and growth of neighboring plants.  Just as cynics poison a social environment, so do diffuse knapweeds poison a horticultural environment, eliminating their competition by toxicity.

 

One plant can produce 18,000 seeds which are spread by the wind as its tumbles over the land.  A genuinely ugly plant, it is scraggly, prickly, and unappealing, with no known benefits.

 

When destroying it, it should be rooted out before it goes to seed, plant and roots, put into plastic garbage bags, and dispatched to the garbage can.

 

Then there is cheat grass (Bromus tectorum), a truly despicable and aptly named form of vegetation.  With its lateral roots it sucks up moisture from the soil, cheating other vegetation of moisture.  Capable of displacing every thing else, especially native vegetation, it’s easily combustible, making it a fire danger.  A seedy profligate, it grows almost anywhere in the most miserable of soils, especially soils that have been disturbed.  The best thing to do is pull it as soon as it is seen.  A native of Asia Minor, it was imported with bales of alfalfa and has no known adversaries.

 

The scotch thistle, diffuse knapweed, and cheat grass will arrive this spring.  Show them no mercy.

Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2015

Dana Prom Smith and Freddi Steele edit Gardening Ectetera. His email address is  stpauls@npgcable.com and he blogs att http://highcountrygardner.blogpsot.com.

 

 

 

 

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

THE GARDEN OPTIMIST


The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (5/30/2015)

 

Dear Garden Optimist: 

I’m really pissed off about the stuff that falls on my garden, leaves in the fall, pine needles in the spring.  Just after I rake up the pine needles, weeds begin popping up.  They piss me off.  It’s not just one weed, it’s a whole gang of weeds that pop up one after another, starting in the spring right through to fall.  I can predict the buggers.  How can I be an optimistic gardener with dropping leaves, falling pine needles, and those damned weeds?  And then there’s that yellow gunk?  Stuffs up my head.  Hell, it’s like my highfalutin daughter, changing clothes and make-up three times a day.  I just don’t know what this world is coming to.

 

Dear Pissed Off:

It’s hard to tell what the world’s coming to: big bang, fizzling out, or Second Coming.  If we knew the future, we’d probably go into a deep funk.

Sounds like you’re pissed at your highfalutin daughter and are taking it out on your garden.  As for your highfalutin daughter, I’m mute, having a wife, a daughter, and a granddaughter.  If Freud didn’t know what women want, he’d be bamboozled by teenage daughters.  Between pine needles, leaves, weeds, and your daughter, it’s no wonder you’re dyspeptic.

 

Dear Garden Optimist:

          Now, don’t go giving me a lot of that head shrinky stuff about my daughter and women.  I want to know about pine needles, leaves, and weeds.  

 

Dear Pissed Off:

Okay. As for the pine needles and leaves, I assume you change clothes at night and in the morning.        

The needles and leaves are nature changing clothes, only it just drops them on the floor for gardeners to rake up.  That yellow gunk is a sign of new growth.  It’s called candling.  I hope you’re not some kind of primitive who doesn’t pick up after himself.  I knew a guy once who thought that picking up clothes was a woman’s job because his mother did it.  He’d been married and divorced seven times, and when I knew him, he lived in a hovel by himself.

Fundamentally, gardening is yin yang.  For every up, there’s a down, so stop griping.  If there weren’t any falling pine needles and leaves, the trees would be dead.  It’s important during those times to remember yin times, freshly picked tomatoes while you’re extracting a pine needle from your under your finger nail.  Carl Jung said, “Everyone carries a shadow.”  Raking leaves and pine needles and picking weeds is the shadow side of gardening. 

 

Dear Garden Optimist:

Okay. I get the ying yan idea.  Leaves and pine needles I can take, but it’s those damned weeds.  I’d swear there’s a weed of the week, starting in the middle of March right through to Thanksgiving.  You sound like one of them believers.  My daughter calls God a She.  What’s this world coming to?

 

Dear Pissed Off:

 

          God is more complex than He or She and certainly more than It, as the secular flatliners would have it.  When Moses asked God what He was like, God replied, “I Am.”     

          Alert gardeners use leaves for mulch and their composters.  Pine needles can be ground up and used for mulch and for paths.

          As for weeds, one man’s meat is another man’s poison.  Some people like dandelions.  Weeds are plants you don’t want.  Pick weeds early before they go to seed.  In the meantime, thank God you can pull weeds, rake pine needles, and smell fallen leaves.  It means you’re alive which, as Maurice Chevalier said, is a lot better than the alternative.  Also, enjoy you highfalutin daughter while she’s home.  She’ll be gone all too soon.

Copyright © Dana Prom Smith

Dana Prom Smith and Freddi Steele edit Gardening Etcetera for the Arizona Daily Sun.  Smith emails at stpauls@npgcable.com and blogs at http://highcountrygardener.blogspot.com.

 

 

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

CHHETEN TAMANG


The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (5/9/2015)




          Chheten Tamang was raised and lived as a young adult in a village of five or six rock houses in the Langtang Valley at about 12,500 feet in the Himalayan Mountains of Nepal.  Her ancestors were Tibetans who had crossed the mountains and settled in Nepal.  They had no written language.  When she came to America, she couldn’t read or write.  She didn’t know our Arabic numeral system, making it impossible for her to add and subtract, much less multiply and divide.

 

In Nepal she was a farmer, growing potatoes, barley, buckwheat, and vegetables, such as cabbage.  She was also a sometime porter for Himalayan expeditions, carrying one hundred pound packs for fifty cents a day, shod only in flip-flops (called Chinese sandals in Nepal) over ice-covered rivers.  Her father herded yaks in the meadows high above her village.  Her uncle wove woolen rugs, using the yak’s wool.  Her life was hard, simple, and rewarding.



 



With her son, Nirmal, she came to the United States as the wife of Wayne Gramzinski to visit his family and decided to stay, living in Flagstaff.  She is a remarkable woman, strong, intelligent, and affectionate.  Through The Literacy Center, Lori Crowe and I worked together with her for almost six years, teaching her American customs, reading and writing the English language, and mathematics.  Indeed, she has written several articles for this column.  For Lori and me, it has been immensely rewarding, chiefly because she’s such a wonderful woman.  Also, we have been beguiled by her Nepalese culture and family.  It has been almost as though we were cultural midwives giving birth to an American while keeping her roots high in the Himalayan Mountains.

 

          She can now read and write English, sometimes with unusual grammar, and with Lori’s tutoring she is beginning to master the basic elements of mathematics.  She has obtained a driver’s license and is working toward her citizenship.  She is the kind of person who will make an outstanding citizen, hardworking, intelligent, and ambitious.  It was almost as though she were on the cusp of finding her way to success, working and saving to send money back to help her family in Nepal.  With the help of friends, she funded the construction of the first bathroom in her village with running water, shower, and flush toilet for the villagers and passing trekkers.  Her brother was the builder.  She even dreamt of taking and passing the GED so that she could get better jobs.

 

          Then the earthquake struck Nepal, wiping out her village in the stroke of a landslide and killing most of her family and friends.  One of her sisters and her sister’s husband were killed in that landslide, leaving their children orphaned.  Chheten and Wayne hope to adopt those orphaned children and bring them to America, but there many more orphaned children in her extended family that need care.  These children were in boarding schools in Kathmandu when the earthquake struck, and now they have no homes and no parents to whom they can return.  It is almost as though they were lost in space.

 

          Chheten’s sorrow is so deep that it seems without bottom, unfathomable, too deep for words.  A once vital woman is now bent with sorrow.  She’s not merely grateful to be alive.  As a means of assuaging her grief, she wants to help what remains of her family and the survivors from her village.  The village will be no more.  Her father’s herd of yaks was wiped out, annihilated.   Thomas Wolf wrote, You Can’t Go Home Again.

 

          What remains is Chheten’s will.  She and Wayne own a house in Kathmandu which survived the earthquake because it was built with concrete and steel re-enforcing rods.  They want to add to it to make it into a hostel for those lost children with house mothers and fathers from the surviving adults of her family.

 

          One of the great cultural values Lori and I have learned from Chheten is the family, the sense of familial solidarity.  She and Wayne need our help so that she can care for her family.  She can be reached at (928) 266-0180.   

Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2015

 

Dana Prom Smith and Freddi Steele edit Gardening Etcetera for the Arizona Daily Sun.  Smith emails at stpauls@npgcable.com and blogs at http://highcountrygardener.blogspot.com.

 

 





Sunday, April 26, 2015

LUSH LANDSCAPING


 

The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (5/2/2015))

 

G. K Chesterton, an English journalist and writer of the early twentieth century and author of the Father Brown mysteries, wrote that art is what people do with their limitations.  In Flagstaff that means the art of gardening is what gardeners do with the scarcity of water.  Unfortunately, the word “xeriscape” has a harsh ring to it, indicating bans and curbs rather than opportunities and possibilities.  Actually, xeriscape simply means dry landscape or a garden congenial to Coconino County and the Colorado Plateau, a simpatico for the sere of the Southwest.

 

          The real issue is the means to lush, beautiful gardens on less water than a tropical excess.  Indeed, excess is a threat to a water budget.  Also, excess is bad taste.  As the poet Robert Browning’s pointed out in his poem Andrea de Sarto, “Less is more.”  The opportunity for Flagstaff gardeners is how to spend less and have more beauty.  It takes imagination! 

 

          Happily, God has given us imagination and the Mexican feather

grass Nasella tenuissima,) a gardener’s delight.  Its leaves are so fine that they sometimes tangle, but sadly not a tangle with which to dally.  Yielding to a breeze with the grace of a ballet dancer it does a light fandango with castanets and in triple time in a good wind, a blessing which Flagstaff has in excess.  Its tall (2ft to 3ft), light green set amongst the lower blue green of a blue fescue (Festuca ovina ‘Glauca’) make an beguiling accompaniment to a small cluster of bearded iris (Iris germanica).  As in all forms of art, gardening, especially landscaping is compare and contrast.

 

          All of these survive, even prevail, on budgeted water, needing water only during dry spells.  The blue fescue gets even bluer with less water.  The voluptuous blooms of the bearded iris are one of the few beauties of the world who flourish on benign neglect and low maintenance.  Of course, benign neglect doesn’t mean abuse.  They need some water and appropriate nutrients.  

 

          The word “iris” is a Greek word meaning “rainbow” or metaphorically “halo.”  John of the Apocalypse wrote a lovely verse using iris, “Then I saw another mighty angel coming down from heaven, wrapped in a cloud, with a rainbow over his head, and his face was like the sun, and his legs pillars of fire (10:1.)”  The setting reads like a thunderstorm over the peaks with flashes of lightning, a rainbow threading it was way in and out of a virga, and the brilliance of the sun blazing through gaps in the clouds.  All of the colors in that scene can be found in irides (plural of iris) whose beauty can become, as the Book of Common Prayer reads, “an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace.” 

 

          Perennial grasses are available for gardeners on a water budget.  Unless a lawn serves as a playing field, a golf course, or a place for children’s play, grasses suitable for the Southwest offer an intriguing texture.  Creeping red fescue (Festuca ruba), a finely-textured, dark green grass, does well out of the sun, forming lazy whorls in the shade.  Sheep fescue (Festuca ovina), a dark green, lies flat and in mounds in various patterns and needs mowing with a weed-whacker once a year.  Both of these need only 12 inches of rain annually.  Flagstaff’s annual rainfall is slightly less than 24 inches. 

 

Many bulbs and rhizomes love gardens on a water budget.  A lushly xeriscaped garden can have color spring, summer, and fall.  Beginning with Wordsworth’s “fluttering and dancing daffodils” (Narcissus) and tulips (Tulipa) in late winter and early spring, the list continues through the bearded iris and the western blue flag (Iris missouriensis) and perennials such as the firewheel (Gaillardia pulchella), blanket flower (Gaillardia aristata) and various penstemon such as the Red Rock penstemon (Keckiella corymbosa) and the Rocky Mountain penstemon (Penstemon strictus).  The drought tolerant geranium-leaf larkspur (Delphinium geraniifolium) is a long-blooming perennial as is the Russian sage (Perovskia atriplocfolia) and that old favorite of country gardens, the hollyhock (Althaea rosea).  A resource is Janice Busco and Nancy R. Morin’s Native Plants for High-Elevation Western Gardens. 

Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2015

 

Dana Prom Smith and Freddi Steele edit Gardening Etcetera for the Arizona Daily Sun.  Smith emails at stpauls@npgcable.com and blogs at http://highcountrygardener.blogspot.com.

 

 

Saturday, April 18, 2015

THE ANSWER MAN: Deporting FIsh Tacos


The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (4/18/2015)

 

          Question:  Dear Answer Man, it’s Abigail here once again.  It’s about my husband Rusty.  He claims he’s “a meat and potatoes kinda guy,” which means, I think, that he doesn’t like vegetables.  He’s got the idea that because he lives in Flagstaff he’s a frontiersman, some kind of pioneer.  He doesn’t even wear a cowboy hat, instead, it’s a ball cap turned backwards.  He doesn’t own a horse and works on diesel engines.  About the only thing that makes him an authentic frontiersman is that he takes his coffee black, he keeps his hat on when he eats, and his teeth are brown from the coffee.

 

Answer:  Howdy, Abigail, does he like sardines?  Canned sardines were the staple diet of the cowboys in the late 1800’s!  You might set out a spread of canned sardines and saltines, telling him that sardines are what makes a cowboy.

 

Question:  I couldn’t get him into sardines.  He hates fish although he likes fish tacos.  I think it’s the fat and the breading that he likes, plus the crunch of corn tortilla.  He loves fried chips.  Also, he’s gotten into politics.  He’s against immigration.

 

Answer:  Well, there you have it.  If he doesn’t eat his vegetables, his brain’ll go dead on him.  The best way to straighten out Rusty’s politics is to get him to eat his vegetables plus fish.  There’s no point in persuasion.  Sometimes people’s brains get locked up from lack of vegetable lubrication.  It’s best just to feed his brain.

It took immigration to add tacos to our menus.  Does he want to deport fish tacos back to Mexico?  Does he do Chinese, Vietnamese, Japanese, and Thai?  How about French, Italian, Armenian, or Greek?

There are three kinds of vegetables that help send blood to the brain to make it work better.  Surreptitiously, add some fish oil capsules to his food, like tuck one in a taco.

Kale, Swiss chard, and spinach are three of the most nutritious vegetables, and they’re the easiest to grow.  TIME magazine even listed them amongst the 50 most healthful vegetables.  You could even slip them in his fish tacos.

 

Question:  Okay, so I’ll sneak fish oil capsules in his tacos.  I do that for our two labs already.  It sure makes their coats sleek and shiny.  I don’t know that they’ll help Rusty’s hair.  What’s left, he shaves so that without his baseball cap he looks like a cue ball.  He says that it’s the style among “real men.”  I told him that they looked like billiards.

Please, give me some directions on kale, Swiss chard, and spinach.

 

Answer:  They are easy to grow and tolerant to cold weather.  Kale even tastes after a light freeze.  Sometimes, Swiss chard survives the freezes of winter, coming up again in the spring.

First, prepare the soil with compost.  It needs to be friable, like flowing through your fingers.  Next, use a balanced fertilizer that’s rich in nitrogen.  These are all leafy vegetables and need nitrogen.  With leafy vegetables, the plant, not the fruit, is eaten, and nitrogen’s good for the growth of the plants themselves.

These are all cool season vegetables so they do well in Flagstaff.  The seeds can be sown about a month before the last freeze which statistically comes around June 15.  They should be sown about ½ deep, three to four inches apart, and then thinned for maximum growth. They can all be sown successively through the summer and even into early fall. 

There are several varieties of kale, Swiss chard, and spinach.  Swiss chard offers the widest varieties in terms of color, especially a lovely red called Vulcan.  Kale offers many varieties, especially in texture: the Tuscan with a long leaf, Russian with a broad leaf which turns red, and Scotch which is frilly.  Probably the most popular of the spinach varieties is baby spinach.  So have at it!

         

          Question:  I’ll let you know.  The secret as far as Rusty’s concerned is deception, slipping them in his fish tacos unawares.  He won’t eat them otherwise.  I’ll let you know later about deporting fish tacos back to Mexico.

 

          Answer:  I wonder if gyros are next?

Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2015

Dana Prom Smith and Freddi Steele edit Gardening Etcetera for the Arizona Daily Sun.  Smith blogs at http://highcountrygardener.blogspot.com and emails at stpauls@npgcable.com.

 

Monday, April 13, 2015

OF BEANS AND WRITES



Freddi Steele

 

He swept into Flagstaff’s fall 2007 master gardener class, a robust figure clad in a midnight blue cloak reminiscent of robes sported by the Judiciary of England and Wales. Silvery gray hair spilled out from under his dark beret adorned with a Celtic knot badge. He was introduced to the class as Dr. Dana Prom Smith, writer and editor of the Master Gardener column for the Arizona Daily Sun. “I need articles for the column!” he said enthusiastically, as he scanned the room full of master gardener hopefuls with his Nordic blue eyes. He provided two guidelines: 685 words on topics related to Flagstaff gardening, and a willingness to have one’s work edited. As he exited the classroom, 60 captivated eyes followed him, his attire swirling out the door. I’d never seen anyone quite like him, even during my undergrad years in Boston in the 1970’s. Who was this mysterious sage in our midst? And why that outfit?

 

Since June 2005, Dana – officially, The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. - has written and edited the Daily Sun’s gardening column, providing tips for gardeners new, and not so new, to Northern Arizona. He’s a relentless scribe of high country cultivation, and of life, weaving tales of tomatoes and onions with his adventures as a young Army counter-intelligence soldier during World War II, his experience as a psychotherapist, his knowledge as a writer, and his insights as a Presbyterian minister. He suffers no fools, yet is most gracious with budding literary artists sincere in improving their craft. He also volunteers at the Literacy Center in Flagstaff, teaching individually five adults and one child English as a second language.

 

Once a month I’ve the distinct pleasure of joining Dana, and on occasion, his vivacious wife and jewelry artist, Gretchen, for lunch to discuss Gardening, Etc. These get-togethers are always fun and productive, as we consider different topics, tally articles we have “ahead” for the column, brainstorm ideas to keep the column fresh and relevant, and share feedback from our readers. Last year, during lunch at Simply Delicious CafĂ©, Dana told me, “You know, Freddi, I’ll be 90 in three years.” I smiled, and said, “And?” I knew what he was getting at, that he was practically a nonagenarian, at least by the calendar. His agility, keen intellect and positive spirit make it a challenge to believe that he was a toddler when the stock market crashed in 1929. It was during this conversation that I agreed to be Dana’s co-editor. Writing as much as he does, possibly more than 50% of Gardening, Etc.’s weekly articles, plus editorial duties, I was happy to do it.

 

How did Flagstaff’s “renaissance man” get his start growing veggies? “I started gardening with my father when I was five years old,” he wrote me recently. “I harvested snails. I loved it. I grew up in Southern California. There were lots of snails every morning, especially in a lush garden.” When asked what his favorite crop was, he replied without hesitation: “Haricot vert.” Haricot vert, or French green bean, isn’t just any bean. It’s longer, more slender and considered by the Food Network experts to be tastier than other, more pedestrian green beans. And his remarkable ensemble? It turns out that it is less a fashion statement, and more a matter of comfort. After receiving a serious back injury from a flare during WWII, requiring successive surgeries throughout the years, Dana advised, “It is painful to wear a belt…The kaftans are comfortable.” The beret is, as he put it, “…convenient.”

 

When I got home that fateful night in 2007, I was so jazzed by Dana’s unexpected writing invitation that I stayed up way past my “ranger bedtime” of 9 p.m., to pen a draft about wind scorpions, a much-maligned creature found in Flagstaff, for his column. The rest is history, as “Mysterious Gift from the Garden” was published in early 2008. As we prepare for our next meeting, I fervently hope that Dana continues to defy Father Time, and keep writing the wonderful stories that only he can do.  He turned 88 a few days ago.

Freddi Steele and Dana Prom Smith edit Gardening Etcetera for the Arizona Daily Sun.  Smith emails at stpauls@npgcable.com and blogs at http://highcountrygardening.blogspot.com.

 

Saturday, April 04, 2015

VISIBLE SIGNS OF INWARD GRACES



The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (3/28/2015)

 

          When first I met her, she was trembling, agitated, and terrified.  Her husband wasn’t unable to reassure her.  They’d been stopped by a California Highway Motorcycle Patrolman on the Ventura Freeway on their way to my office. 

 

          The patrol officer pulled them over because the man hadn’t signaled a lane change.  Black polished, knee-high boots, jodhpurs, a jacket, helmet, and dark glasses, the officer walked to the back of the man’s car and asked him to turn on his turn signals.  The left turn signal wasn’t operating.

 

          The officer said, “I could tell that you were a responsible driver from the way you handled your vehicle.  When you didn’t signal a lane change, I though your turn signal wasn’t operating.  I won’t write you up to get the defect repaired.  Just get it fixed.  Have a good day and drive safely.”

 

          The woman had escaped a Nazi concentration camp when she was fifteen.  Her family had been killed.  She came to America an orphan.  He was born and raised in Chicago, had become a successful accountant, was a Cubs fan, and had moved to Sherman Oaks to retire.  They were both active members of a synagogue and devout Jews.  The man knew that he hadn’t done anything illegal and was curious, calm, and thought the officer courteous.  As soon as she saw in the side mirror the black boots, jodhpurs, and helmet, she thought pogrom, persecution, holocaust, and death camps.  For her the police were a terror, for him a reassurance.  A lovely woman, there was always tentativeness with her, a caution bordering on suspicion.

 

          Think of an adolescent spending six months in the terrors of combat.

 

          Our histories shape the way we perceive our experiences.  Even our black lab, Petite, who had been severely abused before we adopted her, views large male strangers with fear and hostility, barking and then running upstairs.  After a year of love and affection, she is a little less fearful and skittish, but not completely.  The admonition, “Get over it,” is an insult.

 

          During the Graeco-Roman times and all through the Middle Ages up to Nathaniel Hawthorne, the countryside and the forest were seen as places of danger.  The city was the place of safety.  Our words “heathen” and “pagan” originally referred to people who lived in the hinterlands.  Saint Augustine (354-430) called his great theological treatise, De Civitate Dei (The City of God.)  Now, people speak vacuously of “a cathedral of pines.”  Attitudes have changed a bit.  People are prone to wander out in nature to find themselves while riots, murders, and mayhem are products of the city.

 

          A garden is essentially a cultivated forest in the city, a place of safety where we communicate with the tangible while our spirits soar.  The Book of Common Prayer has a particularly felicitous way of putting it: “an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace.”  While referring to the water, wine, and bread of the sacraments, it doesn’t restrict the “outward and visible signs” of God’s presence from the experiences in a garden, the feel of soil drifting through one’s fingers, the sweet smell of a rose, the astringent aroma of the pines,  the flavor of a tomato, the elemental quality of the whole thing.

 

          We don’t get out bearings through the frivolous or the ephemeral.  Our touches of divinity are in the elemental.  Without such an experience we’re disconnected from ourselves, as though we are strangers within our own skin.  Gardening is not an option for spiritual welfare.  It is essential.  With spring approaching, it’s time to get a shovel, a rake, a trowel, and a hoe, the basic tools of our spiritual welfare.

 

          First, there’s the cleanup, getting rid of all the debris and trash clogging our lives.  Then, there’s preparing the soil as in getting our values right, values that enhance rather than undermine our welfare.  Next, we plant the right stuff.  After that we nourish ourselves, and, finally, we bear fruit and beauty.

 

          What better way to get it right than with those “outward and visible signs of an inward and spiritual grace” in a garden!

Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2015

Dana Prom Smith and Freddi Steele edit Gardening Etcetera for the Arizona Daily Sun.  Smith emails at stpauls@npgcable.com and logs at http://highcountrygardener.blogspot.com.

         
         

LET THEM EAT ICE CREAM



The Rev. Dana Prom Smith (4/1/2015)

 

          In Eugene O’Neil’s The Iceman Cometh, the fantasy of salvation of some sort, some political, some economic, and some religious, runs throughout the play.  The scene is a bar in Greenwich Village peopled by drunks and a few prostitutes with the promise of the coming ice man.  A similar fantasy runs through the politics in Arizona only this time it is the Ice Cream Man Who Cometh, promising salvation through deprivation, a deprivation of public education by means of financial starvation.  The theme seems to be that the fantasy of ignorance will produce prosperity for the corporations.

 

          While nearly everyone else in the country wants to strengthen education, the Republican governor of Arizona, Doug Ducey, the ICE CREAM MAN, and the Republican controlled legislature want to reduce education in Arizona in a race with Mississippi to last place.  Of course, all the while these prosperous corporations are on government welfare with tax breaks.  Their purpose appears to be a society and haves and have-nots. 

 

          It is all reminiscent of the French Revolution and the Queen, Marie Antoinette, to whom is attributed the famous phrase, “let them eat cake” upon hearing of the starvation of the peasants who had no bread.  The governor’s Lenten message of denial has no promise of an Easter resurrection to the schools, only the dismissal of “let them eat ice cream.”