Saturday, February 19, 2011


The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (2/19/2011)

Many years ago, as a birthday present I took meine Űberfrau to a performance of The Vagina Monologues in San Diego. I was baffled why people were laughing and clapping at the wrong places. I felt as though I were a former colonist watching a performance in a former colony put on by former colonials about life under former colonizers. After the final curtain came down, two well-coiffed, well-dressed women sitting next to me politely smiled and asked, “And how did you like it?” On the other side, an exuberant woman who resembled the late, beloved Bella Abzug, wearing a wild hat and drenched in Navajo necklaces and rings, exclaimed, “Wasn’t that just wonderful?”

Feeling out of place at a joyous celebration is an unsettling experience, but since then, my consciousness has been raised, not without pain, by my wife, Gretchen, and my granddaughter and namesake, Dana. However, some of the bad habits my mother drilled into me are hard to break, such as standing up when a woman enters a room, opening doors, picking up the tab, “doing nice little things,” and changing flat tires. Although she strenuously denies it, even Ann Beck at the Literacy Center sometimes looks at me as though I am an amiable antique.

Other amiable antiques, commonly called heirlooms, are cool season vegetables. While tomatoes, as warm season vegetables, take extra measures to grow in Flagstaff, cool season vegetables are congenial to Flagstaff and are, serendipitously, easy to grow.

Of the beet family, Swiss chard’s a delight to the palate as well as the eye because it’s beautifully many-hued. In addition to being easy to grow, it’s wildly nutritious and a cinch to prepare. It goes well in soups, such as Above the Rim Tuscan Soup with sweet Italian sausage and cannellini beans ( Another amiable antique, easy to grow vegetable, kale does just as well. A member of the cabbage family, it comes in many shapes and sizes, such as the Red Russian, Scottish, and Lacinato.

Since Swiss chard and kale are leaves, they need a high nitrogen fertilizer as well as a soft, friable bed chocked full of compost. Both Swiss chard and kale can tolerate frost, but kale seems to thrive on it, becoming sweeter after been nipped.

Snap beans are, also, antiques amiable to gardeners in Flagstaff.
They come in two varieties, climbing and bush. Climbers require lattices, poles, etc. on which to climb. They supposedly taste better than bush, but bush are easier to grow and harder to pick, as in bending over. They, too, want a bed of soft, friable, compost-stuffed soil, with a 10-20-10 fertilizer. The soil should be kept moist along with regular fertilizing.

Many people prefer the old regulars, such as Kentucky wonder, and while they are just as nutritious, why grow what everyone else grows. Try venturing where few have gone before with a French filet, une haricots verts. Tastier and more elegant, long and slim at 8 inches, a back friendly variety, the Maxi, offers its pods on top of the plant, rather than hidden amongst the leaves.

Another slightly more exotic bean is the Beurre de Rocquencourt, an aristocrat of beans. Alas, the 8 inches pods are hidden amongst the leaves, but, true to its name, it melts like butter in the mouth. Along with the Maxi, it matures in 51 days. If these seeds are unavailable in a local commercial nursery, they can be ordered from

These beans are so lusciously tasty that they are best served steamed al dente with a little butter, salt, and pepper. If gilding the lily, add some crispy French fried onions or toasted slivered almonds.

If gardeners want to gain a jump on our limited growing season of approximately 100 days, all of these vegetables can be started indoors on a sunny window sill using those mini-greenhouses sold in commercial nurseries.

My father often added to my mother’s drill that marriage was a life-long courtship. So it is with vegetables. My parents had no daughters; however, I can hear my father saying to a daughter, “Aye, Lassie, hear me now, stand proud.”

Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2011

Monday, February 14, 2011


The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (2/13/11)

Rachel Wilson’s life as an artist has been a life of exploration, at first glance an exploration of the external world through paintings that are out-there at arm’s length, perhaps a landscape. Actually, she was exploring the farthest reaches of inner space, especially transformations of the soul’s inner reaches. Modern art does not pretend to represent a static, external world of convention but rather the chaos of those inner worlds by means of the splintered and distorted forms of conventional reality.

The recurring theme in her work is transformation, such as the transformations embedded in the geological strata of the Grand Canyon, then it slowly seeps in that she’s really painting the transformations embedded in the historical strata of human experience, social and personal.

As an explorer, she ventures out without a clear picture of where she’s going. She doesn’t envision the completed work in her mind’s eye, merely the beginning point, her work always being a work in progress, an act of faith. As with Abraham of old, who “went out, not knowing where he was to go,” the Muse leads her into the terra incognita of inner space.

In an odd way this sense of exploration is her history. She began as a girl who was good at drawing horses. Coming from a family of academics, she tried graduate school three times, always falling back to her beginning point as a little girl who loved to draw horses, so she started where she began, becoming a painter.

Speaking of transformations, Heraclitus (540-480 B.C.) wrote, “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it is not the same river and he’s not the same man.” Not only does reality go through transformations, so do the observers of those transformations. Called the parallax principle, the observer never sees the same object the same way because the observer and the object are never in the same place or time again.

As Rachel looked out a window in her home in Doney Park near Cosnino Road, she said, “The view has changed. The bark beetles killed off the taller piñon, and all we have left now are the junipers. We can see farther, but we can see less. No longer the beauty of the piñon’s green, but now the empty beauty of the sky’s endless blue.” With her view transformed, she has been transformed.

Rachel loves the landscapes of the southwest. One of her paintings of the grasslands, actually steppes, a few miles down the road from her house, she has filled the landscape with the transformations of history. Images of petroglyphs, Texaco and Mobil signs, float through the painting and line the bottom and middle as though these civilizations have passed through the land, but in passing through they changed the land and were changed by it.

In addition to being a painter, Rachel is also a Master Gardener. Her garden, as would any garden in the outer reaches of Doney Park, is a work in progress, an act of faith. It wanders amongst the surviving junipers: no fixed beds, occasional trails amongst native and adaptable plants. Gardening in Doney Park is an exploration, finding out what works and what doesn’t in a soil of volcanic cinders with cold winds sweeping off the San Francisco Peaks and high water prices.

Her garden seems to start wherever one is standing at the moment, never appearing the same again. She waters her plants beneath the surface of the soil, so her garden is devoid of irrigating contraptions while avoiding surface evaporation. Now that it’s legal, she and her husband, Stephen, a mathematics professor at NAU, plan to use both captured water and gray water. As befitting a gardener, Rachel is a woman of the soil, the water, the wind, and the fire, and this identification is seen in her paintings which are often at the intersection of nature and history.

Her aptly named Somewhen Studio sits amidst her garden’s trails where she paints what Edvard Munch called “The study of the soul.” She and her paintings can be visited at

Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2011

Monday, February 07, 2011


The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (2/6/2011)

Beauty is often touched by a tragedy, such as in the building of the Tozan Tea House and Garden. The tragedy was the death from leukemia of Aaron Macy, a promising young ceramics student at NAU who was coming of age as a potter. His father, Douglas Macy, a well-known landscape architect in Portland, Oregon, grieving his son’s death, wanted to memorialize him with a legacy of beauty. At the suggestion of Don Bendel and Jason Hess of NAU’s ceramics department, he agreed to supervise the construction of the Tozan Tea House and Garden in his son’s memory.

With the 1989 blueprints of Hirotomi Ichikawa, the famous Japanese landscape architect, already in hand, Douglas Macy began the cultural and horticultural translation of a tea house and garden from Japan to Flagstaff.
Funded by Betty Peckard and other donors from Japan and America, the project lurched ahead over the years.

Serendipitously, Brad Blake and Phil Patterson from the NAU Research Greenhouses, discovered the project and offered their services in securing plants apropos to Flagstaff. As with any good translation, the garden’s design and plantings had to be faithful to the original as well as to the new. Now, some cognoscenti are likely to say, “Something’s going to be lost in the translation,” as though there are no plants indigenous or adaptable to Northern Arizona that would quite do the trick as well as plants native to Japan. However, often as not, something is also gained in translation, as in the gifts of the new language and the arts of the translator. So it is with the Tozan Tea House and Garden.

One of the principles of Japanese landscaping is using plants native to the site. Thus, the Tozan Tea House Garden is not a tit-for-tat, literal translation, but rather a faithful adaptation. Happily, much of the garden’s land was undisturbed so that the garden is already covered with native ponderosa pine, pinyon pine, and Gambel oak. The understory includes various penstemons and wildflowers along with native grasses, such as mutton grass, muhly grass, and spike muhly.

The land immediately around a Japanese tea house is planted with Arizona fescue. A hedge customarily flows in parabolic curves throughout the grounds of Japanese tea house garden, drawing the mind to take wing and fly to the uttermost parts of the imagination, shielded from the distractions of the hurly-burly. Since hedges are not native to Flagstaff, a hedge cotoneaster was used. A low water plant, it hails from Siberia, Eastern Asia, and the Caucasus, a hardy horticultural immigrant for the Colorado Plateau. Finally, along Lone Tree Road a line of New Mexican Locusts and Riles Roses from the NAU campus will buffer the garden.

A good translation always begins literally, but then transcends into style. The gain for Flagstaff is not in the plants, that is, in the content, but in the style or process. Ultimately, reality is in process, not content. How a thing is said is more important than what it said. The Tozan Tea House and Garden give everyone an opportunity to see the familiar in a new and different way, to see life steadily and to see it whole, to take that parabolic curve beyond the perimeters of paranoia into the journey of freedom, to travel into the outer reaches of inner space.

The Tozan Tea House Garden is Japanese in essence in its form and economy, and Southwestern in its horticultural language. It offers the lucidity of simplicity, as in Occam’s Razor of not multiplying entities beyond necessity and Robert Browning’s “less is more,” remembering that profusion leads to confusion. The Garden also offers that lucidity in the beauty of the Colorado Plateau.

For a moment of composure, the Tozan Tea House and Garden are located on Lone Tree Road, south of Pine Knoll Road on the right hand side of the road. Look for the great wood-fired kiln as a beginning point on a path up the hill to lucidity where a tragedy begat beauty.

Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2011

Sunday, February 06, 2011


The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (2/6/2011)

As an old friend of mine was being led away for a cataract operation, the surgeon said, “You might see of a bright light in the center of your field of vision.” My friend, a devout Roman Catholic, began chuckling, and the surgeon asked, “What’re you laughing at?” “Oh,” he replied, “do you mean that I might have a vision of God?” The surgeon replied, “Not in here, you won’t.” After the operation, he said to the surgeon, “Well, I didn’t see God after all.” The surgeon said, “I should hope not.”

While the surgeon may have disparaged visions in patients, they’re necessary for growing tomatoes. Visions of eating home-grown tomatoes help sustain tomato growers during the trials and tribulations of la saison des tomates.

Indeed, growing tomatoes for everyone is an actus fidei, to quote my friend, because various, maddening afflictions, such as blossom end rot, white flies, and the wilts, arrive unannounced. Especially sad are the blossom end rots which arrive later in the season just as the plants are on the cusp of fruition. First off, several precautions can be taken to avoid various types of late season malaise.

Tomatoes are best planted several feet apart in sterilized soil. Drowning them in too much water increases the likelihood of an affliction. No fools, tomatoes don’t like to stand in water and need good drainage. They also like a rich, friable soil. Using containers makes it easier to cleanse the soil and control watering and fertilizing. Soil can be sterilized by putting it in a black plastic container, covered with a black plastic refuse bag, for ten days.

Flagstaff’s relatively short growing season, averaging a hundred and three days, requires tomatoes which produce early. The average last frost (32º) is June 10 and last freeze (28º) is May 28, and the average first frost is September 21 and freeze October 6. Of course, the best thing is to check with the National Weather Service at

Walls O’ Water, which are 18″ diameter fluted, plastic, mini-greenhouses, extend the growing season by protecting tomato plants down to 16º. Seedlings can be planted outside 6-8 before the last frost and may produce fruit 30-40 days earlier than otherwise. For more information its website is

An alternative is circling a tomato plant with 7 two-liter plastic bottles filled with water, remembering to leave no air space between the bottles. In any case, remember to warm the soil a few days before transplanting.

If buying tomato seedlings at a commercial nursery, Early Girl (59 days to maturity) and Better Boy (70 days) are often the favored. Be sure to check the plant for any signs of unwanted insects, such as white fly. If starting from seed, many varieties are possible, especially Canadian and Siberian tomatoes. Seeds for several varieties of these tomatoes can be ordered from which specializes in tomatoes suitable for our climate. My favorite is the Galina (69 days), a golden Siberian cherry tomato of a sweetly complex taste. Also, the Canadian Prairie Fire )60 days) and the Siberian Sasha’s Altai (59 days) are early producers of good taste. There are many more from which to choose.

Starting from seed isn’t a cinch, but it’s a pleasant chore. Commercial nurseries sell very small mini-greenhouses with translucent covers for sunny window sills with pods for the seeds. Plant the seeds about the last half of March and await the miracle of life as the seeds sprout into little seedlings. When they develop true leaves, they can be transplanted into pint-sized containers and allowed to grow into small plants. Along about the middle of May, the small plants can transplanted outside protected by Walls O’ Water. Special containers can be purchased for a fancy price, or five gallon black containers can be used just as well.

The soil should be kept moist but not wet, and a fertilizer of 5-10-10 should be sprinkled regularly throughout the growing season. Too much nitrogen will produce a lovely plant with few tomatoes.

Remember the vision: eating a warm tomato, freshly picked, at the vine, bending over so that the juice can drip off the chin. Keep the faith.

Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2011