Friday, January 8, 2016

El Nino es Muy Bueno

I carried this text around like a cross to bear.
For most of my life I have been tormented by an inability to speak, read, write, memorize vocab words, and order food in Spanish.  It started in high school when I made the absurd choice to use "Cristobal" as my Spanish name in class.  You can imagine all the crystal ball and Christ ball jokes tossed my way.  I spent way too much time trying to think of witty comebacks and much too little time actually listening to Senorita Whateverhernamewas teach.

My torment continued in college where I continued to lag behind once I got beyond the ease of learning the alphabet and how to count to a hundred in Spanish 101.  I dropped out of Spanish 101 several times before I finally completed it.  By the third or fourth time around I was quite fluent and could sing the ABCs and tell how old I was just like any two-year-old can.

A small part of the problem was that Spanish classes started at the unseemly hour of 9:00 a.m.  Maybe mine was the only college to do this, but each discipline seemed to have their own time of day for classes.  Science, math, Spanish, and history were in the morning.  English, Philosophy, Volleyball (my kind of classes) were in the afternoon or, even better, at night. So waking up for a 9:00 class just wasn't in the cards for a night owl like me; not on a regular basis anyway.  I know, I know, "es no bueno" to have treated my education with such flippancy.

Those poor choices and inability to comprehend the more elementary aspects of learning a foreign language (and I do mean elementary school level) led to summer school and taking Spanish for 3 hours a day five days a week starting at 8:00 a.m. before my chosen institution of higher learning would allow me to move forward in life with a few extra initials on my resume.  It was only through sheer willpower that I finally passed Spanish 102 with a resounding D+ and by God I earned my bachelor of arts degree in English.  The irony of excelling in the study of one language and drowning in the study of another was not lost on me or my advisor.  My advisor posited one afternoon (because that's when we English types were awake) that perhaps it was the love of my native language that created a mental barrier to learning a different language.  I wore that comment like a badge of honor.

Before I had graduated, I briefly toyed with the idea of applying to an MFA program in Creative Writing as a next step.  I say "briefly" because, for reasons unknown to me, every MFA program I looked into required fluency in at least one foreign language.  I just Googled how to express my reaction in Spanish to that discovery: "Lo Siento".  That means "I'm sorry".  I'm sorry, it just wasn't going to happen unless I was willing to lie on my application.  But what if they greeted me on the first day in Spanish?  [Hola, Cristobal!] What if they taught Early Shakespeare in Spanish?  What if all my papers had to be translated?  I'd be found out and then turned out!  No, it was time to enter the world and forge my own way.  Which is scary.

And so, because of Spanish, I was forced to embark upon an odyssey of existential wandering.  What does an English major that's petrified of public speaking do for a living if they can't teach and if they know they can't make a living writing?  

So, you see, me and Spanish have had our differences and I'm not quite ready to forget all that history.  But this new year, this blessed New Year, is starting to soften my stance a teensy bit.  And I owe the metaphorical olive branch to that kind Latino kid they call El Nino.  Which, in English means "The Nine" or "the Nest" I think.  Something like that anyway.

After several years of drought and strictly enforced water restrictions pitting neighbor against neighbor, there has been very little motivation to add anything to my garden.  Every plant I can imagine planting requires consistent watering in order to become established in my region and most plants need continued irrigation at least semi-regularly because we simply don't get rain for months on end in our hot summers.  So when you're only allowed to irrigate on a Saturday before 6:00 a.m. (please see earlier when I mention not being awake before 9:00 a.m.) it's unlikely that new plants will be happy.

But El Nino!  El Nino might change some of that.  See, an average January in Sacramento has 3.97 inches of rain.  It is the rainiest month of the year.  However, when you look at recent rain fall totals, you can start to see how it might create a problem for a region when your rainiest month is this dry for this long:

January Rain Fall
2015 0.00
2014 0.12
2013 0.90
2012 1.22
2011 1.55
2010 4.82

What's left of Shasta Lake in Northern California
Photo credit: National Geographic  
At some point yesterday, January 7th, we crossed the 2 inch level for the month thanks to a series of El Nino inspired storms.  It's not enough to fill the reservoirs, to water all the crops, to replenish the ground water supply that's depleted to the point of causing the earth to cave in (oh mi Cielos, right?), and it's not enough to get Governor Jerry Brown to lift water restrictions.  It's a mere drop in an empty bucket really.  But it is enough for me to smile, for a change, when someone talks to me about the weather in Spanish.

And for the first time in a long time, I find myself pausing at the window to daydream about what could come next.  I just might get to plant something this spring when El Nino is finished making it all up to me.  

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Drought Intolerance

In many ways, this year four of the drought in California feels like the first bad year.  This has been the year of mandated cutbacks for people in my water district.  Our water agencies have been asked by the Governor of California to reduce output by 20 to 25% ( I'm too lazy to check the exact percentage) and I read in the paper that during the month of June we were successful at doing that.  Confession: I didn't actually read the article.  Just the headline.  But hooray for us, I guess.  As someone who believes in conservation of resources I can celebrate that.

But as a gardener, I have to admit I hate having to conserve water by not watering my lawn and plants.  It’s become vogue to “let your grass go gold” but there’s nothing that causes the gardener in me more dissonance than dead, crunchy grass and sad, wilting plants. 

My side yard hasn't been watered all summer
because the spray from the sprinklers frequently
lands on the driveway - a big no-no.

The other day my daughter and I went to the backyard and played this complicated game with a balloon that we call “Don’t Let it Hit the Ground.”  In this game, the main objective is to hit the balloon to the other person and that person is responsible for not letting the balloon hit the ground.  It’s a challenging game of physical endurance and mental fortitude under normal circumstances but in this drought we have the extra obstacle of dealing with balloons that hit parched grass that has grown hard and sharp.  I kid you not, we popped three balloons by letting them hit the ground before we postponed the game for a lack of rain delay. 

Right now I’m allowed to water my lawn on Saturday mornings before 6:00 a.m. or after 8:00 p.m. and that’s it.  I’m allowed to water my plants and trees with drip irrigation 3 days a week.  Now you might be thinking that watering your lawn correctly once a week should still allow for a lawn to be relatively green.  And you’d be correct.   However, there are large sections of my yard where the sprinklers either don’t reach or provide inadequate/inconsistent coverage and the result is an unappealing mishmash of green and gold on the level of what the Green Bay Packers uniforms look like.  But less green and less gold.  So, not really like the Packers uniforms at all, I guess.

It looks like a river of gold running through the back yard.
The water restrictions make it pretty difficult to get any new plants established as even native and drought tolerant plants need supplemental watering their first year.  As a result, I really haven't planted much of anything since this spring before the restrictions were put in place.  Which has really led to a lack of blogging for me.  And, if I'm totally honest, a lot of the fun of gardening has been sapped from me this summer too.  It's been a summer of garden maintenance more than flexing my creativity and working toward completion of my long range vision.

The last thing I planted: ground cover of Dwarf Mondo Grass with three Japanese maples and a Dogwood.
I covered this part of the lawn with a thick mulch of leaves last fall and that killed most of the grass.

The hope is that the mondo grass will form a thick, green carpet that takes significantly less water than normal grass would.
The water restrictions are hard enough to deal with on their own.  Being such a hot topic (pun not really intended) people are making it even harder by generally being lame to each other.  What this drought has done is turn people into tattle-tales and guilty parties.  There's a group discussion on my neighborhood's "Next Door" web site that talks about how to turn your neighbors into the government if you think they are wasting water.  Whether that allegation is substantiated or not, the Water Resources Board sends you a nice little notice telling you you've been flagged and that they are going to come inspect your property and could fine you $100, $200, or $500 depending on how many times they find you doing something wrong.  The comments on this message board range from "Give 'em hell" to "wouldn't it be better just to talk to your neighbor?" to "you all are a bunch of Nazis".  Because every internet forum must prove Godwin's Law to be correct.

A typical Sacramento front yard.  I suspect this particular neighbor is happy about the drought because this is how his yard looked even before we had water restrictions.  Now he fits right in and looks like a model citizen!
As I mentioned before, I'm happy to conserve water and I believe it's my duty to be part of the solution, but it's ridiculous to me that people that know how to get the most out of their grass (deep, infrequent watering coupled with leaving the grass taller for example) are automatically targets for busy body neighbors that assume you're breaking the law because your lawn doesn't quite look like a hay field that's been shorn to the ground like the picture above.

From my tone, you might have guessed it: someone turned me in.  I'm waiting for a visit from the Water Resources Board any day now.  I'll be happy to show them the timer schedule for my sprinklers though.

In the meantime, I'm going to wash my car.  That always makes it rain.  Oh wait, we're not allowed to wash our cars anymore.  Well, maybe it's time to brush  up on my rain dancing.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Until Then, I Have Enough

Nothing is perfect here yet.  I have ideas and energy to give them shape.  But it takes time.  Time to plan, time to plant, time to turn the leaves and lawn clippings into compost, time to consider water in a dry land, time to let things fill in.  I want intriguing pathways and inviting places to sit – or at least places that would make you imagine we actually sit in the garden.  I want all the interest we’re supposed to have: evergreen structure for the barren winter; pops of color for the heralding of spring; interesting bark, variegated foliage, and shade from summer’s wrath; and heartbreaking, nostalgic color in autumn.  I want a sunny patch of fertile soil for the pleasure of contributing praise-worthy tomatoes to our dinner.  And I want a rock, half buried in the shadowy ground, covered in moss.

I think I will have these things someday.  Or, at least, I will have some of these things some days.  Until those days though, I will remember that I have enough.  I will remember that some day I will want nothing more than what I had today. 

The light from the setting sun gave me pause.  A bright, quiet moment to be savored.

The scent of jasmine, finally climbing the arbor with vigor, was intoxicating.

I live within driving distance of the Napa Valley, aka "Wine Country".  I was pleased to see grapes
already growing on this vine in the ground less than a month. 

Birdhouse and suet created at a birthday party . . . more for us than the birds.

It looks like she's running from the camera but she's really just chasing
her new dog, Gus.  Her laughter and his tiny yips fill the evening with
innocence and my heart with gratitude.