Wednesday, December 28, 2011

GARDENING WITH THE LEFT EAR

The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (12/31/2011)



“I knew it! I just knew it! I’ve told you so often that you never listen!” Meine ┼░berfrau was responding to the news that I’ve lost some hearing in my left ear for high decibel, highly pitched voices and sounds, the ear I use when listening to lots of people. “It’s not only that,” she continued, “you just tune out lots of times, like in restaurants and noisy meetings, like you’re floating around in midair in some kind of alternate reality. It’s like you’re not there, and I wonder where you are.”



When the audiologist peered into my ears, she said, “Oh, good, they’re clean.” What a relief! After sitting in a claustrophobic cell straining to hear barely audible sounds, she showed me a chart on which the lines plummeted at high-pitched sounds. Then she asked me if I could hear what people were saying in the next room. Puzzled at the question, I said, “Why should I?” I’ve heard enough for a lifetime.



The Preacher in Ecclesiastes was close, “There is no new thing under the sun.” While that’s true, there’s more to it than that. There’s too much noise. There’s not enough time to think, let alone to think before speaking. We live in a society of hard surfaces and rectangles, reverberating harsh messages in strident voices, the clipped brutalities of corporate functionaries. We are overwhelmed by noise. The Swiss philosopher, Max Picard, wrote: “Nothing has changed the nature of man so much as the loss of silence.”



The silence of life in a garden is a boon to the ear, left or right. It’s not the absence of sound, but the silence of life. There is a great line in Genesis 3:8, “And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day.” The prophet imagined hearing a footfall, the brush of branches against a thigh, a sigh on catching the scent of a rose, the hushed flurry of insects, all indicating a Presence yet unseen. It’s quiet in the cool of the day when the noise of the day is over. It’s in that pause after the heat and clamor when the gloaming draws nigh. Eugene Mason, an English poet at the turn of the 20th century, wrote: “I all but touch Him with my outstretched arm.”



Such a time is the reward of gardening. It’s that time when one can sit down and gather the pieces of oneself, having been scattered throughout the day. There’s something special about a garden in the cool of the day. It’s elemental, connecting all the five senses to the sensations of the garden. It’s gardening with the left ear when everything has been said, shutting out the hard-surfaced noises of shiny, impenetrable buildings, and listening to the silences of life, to Elijah’s “small voice of stillness.”



Simon and Garfunkel’s Sounds of Silence is about an urban bleakscape where the voices are “talking without speaking,” and “hearing without listening.” It is the silences of indifference, deafened in the racket of subway walls. The voices of a garden’s silences are different, not hard-edged, but soft, the kind that one strains to hear for the listening.


Every garden needs a bench, a chair, or a large rock on which one sat sit and listen to the silences of nature. Cicero, the Roman nobleman, statesman, and father of rhetoric, said, “If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.”



A good resolution for the New Year is a life attuned to the silences of a garden, a winter’s snowfall, the scent of a rose haunting the air, the songs of birds, the scurrying of squirrels chasing each other upon and down the trunk of a tree. What Picard said of the forest can be said of a garden: “The forest is like a great reservoir of silence out of which the silence trickles.” In a society geared to the harsh, to strident voices, to false promises, to everything hard-edged, the garden is a place to hear a Presence unseen yet heard in silence.



Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2011

Dana Prom Smith edits the column, GARDENING ETCETERA, for the Arizona Daily Sun in whcih the above article appeared on December 31, 2011.  He can be reached at stpauls@npgcable.com .


Wednesday, December 14, 2011

DEW DROPS, TEAR DROPS, DIAMONDS, and FLAGSTAFF


Tam Nguyen



I never thought that a pure, white diamond really existed. I laughed when my Dad told me: “Come on, sweety, we are going to see the diamond!” I said to him, “It will not make us full or make money. I want to sleep more! I want to get up late and lie with my warm blanket.” But he still got me up and took me out into the yard. He gave me a glass of hot tea and pointed to the droplets on the leaves, saying “Those are all the pure diamonds”

The early mornings in the highlands of Viet Nam are cool and fresh with mists hanging in midair. The sun peaks through the coffee leaves, casting shadows on the ground, as though the sun in waltzing through the morning.

There were dew drops on the leaves. They were beautiful, glittering in the early morning sun. I played with them, collecting all the tiny tear drops on my glass. I wonder why we had the dew drops because my Dad had not watered the trees yet.

They came from the air, an essence. The mists made them when the temperature and humidity were just right. The process has been working all night before while I was sleeping, relaxed and enjoying my dreams. The earth was still working hard.

While I was playing with the dew drops, my Dad told me about the tear drops. He told me whenever I understand about meaning of a tear drop, I will have an different angle on life. I would appreciate how much life has given me so many wonderful things. The tear drop from mother’s eyes will be forever. She always cares for her children and her family. The sweaty drop from father will be different because he will work and protect his family and provide the food and a house to live. The impurity of sweat and tears is purified by the love of a mother and father.

It was made a pure diamond. It was without price for value. I watched the colors of dew drops with different colors. One is pure, one is have colorful, and another glitters. The dew drops never break down. They just break into two other tear drops when I try to cut it and when I fold the leaf together the tear drop will come together. It was a game that did not last long for me because the sun came up, and all of them disappeared. They dried out.

The value is understanding it! It came from the ideas. We named the dew drop a diamond. The talent of human is one of elements make difference of world. The pure diamond never has the value as the value of working to change the value of world.

The molecules of dew are so wonderful because of flexible of form. They begin from water molecules, and from there they form dew, snow, ice, and water. All these things are process of water to change from water to gas, liquid, solid. Playing with dew drop was a game for me since I was a little girl at country village. Dew drop was evaporated just wonder for me that because of the sun, and the sun was seem as an enemy for dew drop. I was hearing my Dad tell me a story more than listening to him the meaning which he tried to tell me. Years later, I comprehend it. My Dad kept my childhood full of story. It did not make full my stomach of food. But dew drop gave me a wonderful game and a point to thinking. I appreciated my Dad took me out into the yard at early morning and show me dew.

The wonder when I came to Flagstaff in the winter. I looked out from window at the snow, the ice, the crystals, the icicles. It was field of diamonds. The sky was blue. Snow danced with light from sun bright and clear. I opened the door. I freeze-dried. I ran back get mittens, hat, coat, gloves. No more dew drop but crystals.

Tam Nguyen is a Master Gardener and a student at NAU and The Literacy Center. She is taking her oath of citizenship on December 19. Dana Prom Smith edits GARDENING ETCETERA for the Arizona Daily Sun and emails at stpauls@npgcable.com.  This article appear in the AZDS on Saturday, December 17, 2011,



Saturday, December 03, 2011

DIRTY HARRY ON GARDENING


DIRTY HARRY ON GARDENING

The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (Dec 3, 2011)



Dirty Harry once said, “A man’s got to know his limitations.” More importantly, Georges Braque, the famous French 20th century Cubist, said: “In art, progress lies not in extension, but in a knowledge of limitations.” So it is with gardening in the high country. If we don’t know our limitations, we’re in trouble, but if we do, then we can have beautiful gardens.

Now, some local negativists gripe and whine about the limitations of gardening in Flagstaff, fondly recalling other climes and cultures where “all you had to do was stick a plant in the ground.” Now, those fondly-recalled climes are often hot, humid, sticky, and buggy, swathed in mosquitoes. More importantly, however, than their short memories of yucky climates is their tendency to “look at the present through a rear-view mirror” to quote Marshall McLuhan. Lot’s wife also stole a fond rear-view glance of Sodom and Gomorrah as she fled their destruction and for that was turned into a pillar of salt (Gen 19:26.)

Rear-view, salt-preserved people aside, gardening is a tutor for the way inevitability and necessity beget creativity. We all work within limits, and it’s important to know them. For Calvinists, it’s the doctrine of freedom within destiny. Freedom is always within limitations, such as being born male or female. This awareness of limitations applies not only to art, but to gardening in Flagstaff.

Although gardens are artificial, human constructions, as are paintings, they’re extensions of the wild, or else they won’t work. The wilderness is the testing grounds for gardens.


Braque began his career painting landscapes in 1908; however, he, alongside Picasso, discovered the advantages of painting still lifes instead. Braque explained that he, “… began to concentrate on still-lifes, because in the still-life you have a tactile, I might almost say a manual space… This answered to the hankering I have always had to touch things and not merely see them.”

Braque likened the genius of gardening to a form of art. It’s reaching out to touch, hear, taste, and smell, to bring life up close and personal. Seeing often keeps things at a distance, as in “over there.” However, if something is tangible, it is limited to time and circumstance. As Robert Frost said, “I play tennis better because the net is there.”

Rather than importing plants from out of our histories or imaginations that don’t belong in Flagstaff, it’s far better to garden with the plants that work in Flagstaff. The sad fact is that we can never fully trust the advice of someone who anticipates making money off their advice whether it’s cars, clothing, or plants. It’s called caveat emptor, buyer beware. It’s not that they can’t be trusted, it’s that their advice needs to be checked. The late President Reagan said, “Trust and verify.”

Most of us have the greatest ever research tool available sitting somewhere in our homes or at work. It’s called the Internet. The things to look for in the search
are climate zones, last and first frosts, length of growing season, water, soil, and so forth. Perhaps, the best guide for gardening in the high country is Busco and Morin’s Native Plants for High Elevation Western Gardens. It’s the real skinny on plants suitable for Flagstaff’s gardens.

We live in one of the most beautiful places in the world. If we take our cues from the splendor around us, we can have gardens in Flagstaff that will rival gardens anywhere. It’s all a matter of accepting the limitations inherent in the beauty of our environment. We’re not necessarily limited to native plants, but if we go beyond, we have to make sure they’re adaptable and not invasively toxic. As it is psychologically, so it is horticulturally, it’s a matter of authenticity, being faithful to ourselves and our place, and not pretending to be someone else somewhere else or, worse yet, wanting to be someone else somewhere else.


Martin Buber, the Jewish theologian and philosopher, told the story of an aged pious man, Rabbi Susya, who became fearful as death drew near. His friends chided him, "What! Are you afraid that you'll be reproached that you weren't moe like Moses?" "No," the rabbi replied, "that I was not Susya."

“Dana Prom Smith © Copyright 2011 Dana Prom Smith edits the column GARDENING ETCETERA for the Arizona Daily Sun in which this article appeared 12/10/2011.