Tuesday, December 13, 2011

My Dog is Getting Old

My dog, Zooey, is getting old.  I keep saying that to people.  “He’s getting old.”

When he was a younger dog and someone came to the front door he would jump up, run to the door, and bark like he was Lassie and Timmy was in a well.  The other night the UPS guy delivered a package and although Zooey really wanted to bark at him, he couldn’t get his hind legs off the tile floor fast enough.  His mind and spirit were willing but his body wasn’t.  That’s when I realized that when I say “he’s getting old” it is a subtle way of avoiding the truth.  The truth is: my dog is old.

Zooey at 5

I have always had dogs.  When I was a kid we had, at different times, good dogs, well-trained dogs, yappy dogs, rough dogs, and sweet dogs.  I loved them all in different ways and one or two of them meant the world to me.  But they were family dogs.  I had to share them with brothers and sisters and parents.

Zooey is my dog.  Although I have shared him with my wife, he has always been my buddy and her protector.

We got him at the pound when he was eight weeks old.  At the time, our marriage was about two weeks old.  He has almost literally been with us as long as there has been an “us”.

Zooey as a Puppy

I am reminded of another dog I loved.  Her name was Poco.  She lived a long life spanning the length of my elementary school days and into my college years.  When she died I wrote an essay called “Landmarks” for a class I was taking.  I was inspired to write the essay because her death, and more importantly her life, had provided me with landmarks by which I found my way.  These landmarks gave order to and created an understanding of the things that had shaped me.  She was there at the bedside when my father was dying of cancer and she was with me when we I started to heal.  She was the only one in the room with me when I watched the Red Sox lose the 1986 World Series.  She ran by me when I rode my bike and hiked in the woods.  She was the ever-present weight at the end of the bed.  She stayed up with me when I came home to do laundry.

And now with Zooey I see the pattern repeated.  He was with us in the beginning.  He saw us struggle and he offered his ears to scratch when we needed something soft to touch.  He gave us an excuse to go on walks so we could talk about our lives and figure out where we were going.  He did funny things and disgusting things that made us laugh and gag.

Both funny and disgusting.

He gave us something outside of ourselves to love and he loved us back.  We often said that having him was good practice for having kids.  Hopefully we learned from all the mistakes we made with him.  He has been with us through some really good years; years that were made better because he was a part of them.

Checking Out the New Thing

This is starting to feel like a eulogy to me and I don’t mean it to be.  I need to save some words for when the end comes.  But I recognize that I’m approaching a new landmark and I’m not sure how to get there or what to do when I’m there.  When I was a boy, I didn’t have to be the one to make the decision.  Mom called me in my Mac Hall dorm room to tell me that they had put Poco to sleep.  The burden was hers.  Now I am an adult and it’s going to have to be my decision.  I’m going to have to be the one to say that it is time.  It is “getting close to time”.  It might already be time.  I just don’t know if I’m ready or if I’ll ever be.

My Family

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Garden Dictionary

I am a nerd.  That doesn't mean I think I'm a genius like those guys on The Big Bang Theory, but I like nerdy things.  I know, I know, those of you who read this blog and who know me in person will beg to differ.  I can hear you all saying, "But Chad, you're so cool and everything you say or write is so urbane and witty.  You aren't a nerd." 

Thank you for that, by the way, but I really am.  Allow me to convince you with this confession: I subscribe to and read Dictionary.com's Word of the Day e-mails.  If that isn't sufficiently nerdy for you, how about this?  I keep those e-mails and I organize them within my Outlook folder based on subject matter, i.e. great German words (of which there are many), words related to drinking alcohol, words that could describe my friends, and words I'll never have the cojones to use in conversation. 

How is any of this relevant to a gardening blog?  It isn't.  Except, in this case, the content of the Word of the Days has been heavily doused with gardening/nature words lately and I thought I'd share some of them with you to see if we could find some clever ways to work them into our gardening "lexicon" (a former Word of the Day, I'm sure).  Leave me a comment if you know some other great but underused gardening words!

boscage \BOS-kij\, noun:

A mass of trees or shrubs.

In places the park and the site itself were edged right up to its rubble and boscage by the rear of buildings...
-- China Miéville, The City & the City
Plunging along a narrow path thick-set on each side with leafy boscage, Paul caught sight of the two retreating figures a few yards only in front of him.
-- John R. Carling, The Shadow of the Czar

Boscage comes from the Middle French word boscage, from the roots bosk meaning “a small wood or thicket” and -age, a suffix that denotes a general noun, like voyage and courage.

weald \weeld\, noun:

1. Wooded or uncultivated country.
2. A region in SE England, in Kent, Surrey, and Essex counties: once a forest area; now an agricultural region.

I am tempted to give one other case, the well-known one of the denudation of the Weald.
-- Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species
And your advertisements must refer to the other, which is Great Willingden or Willingden Abbots, and lies seven miles on the other side of Battle. Quite down in the weald.
-- Jane Austen, Sanditon

Related to the word wild, weald comes from the Old English word weald meaning “forest.”

copse \kops\, noun:

A thicket of small trees or bushes; a small wood.

The sun was setting behind a thick forest, and in the glow of sunset the birch trees, dotted about in the aspen copse, stood out clearly with their hanging twigs, and their buds swollen almost to bursting.
-- Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina
Despite the December afternoon sunlight, the interior of the copse looked dark and impenetrable. The fact that none of the trees were covered in snow appeared to him to be improbable but welcome.
-- John Berger, Once in Europa

Copse is derived from the Old French word copeiz meaning “a cut-over forest” which originates in the Latin word colpaticum meaning “having been cut.”

frondescence \fron-DES-uhns\, noun:

1. Leafage; foliage.
2. The process or period of putting forth leaves, as a tree, plant, or the like.

What we found were three hundred pristine, mostly level acres with a forty-five-acre pond, completely undeveloped, covered with exquisite wildflowers and frondescence.
-- Paul Newman, In Pursuit of the Common Good
I now become aware of the sound of rumbling water, emanating from somewhere inside the rain forest next to my tropical rest stop. I approach the wet and abundant frondescence of the forest.
-- Richard Wyatt, Fathers of Myth

Frondescence is from the Latin root frondēre meaning “to have leaves.” It is clearly related to frond meaning “leaves.”

braird \BRAIRD\, verb:

1. To sprout; appear above the ground.
1. The first sprouts or shoots of grass, corn, or other crops; new growth.

Oats require about a fortnight to braird in ordinary weather.
-- Henry Stephens, The book of the farm
And yet, in puny, distorted, phantasmal shapes albeit,/It will braird again; it will force its way up/Through unexpectable fissures.
-- Hugh MacDiarmid, On a Raised Beach

Braird derives from the Old English brerd, "edge, top."

bough \bou\, noun:

A branch of a tree, especially one of the larger or main branches.

In the background, behind the pool and beneath the dramatic sidereal display, there is a little tree with a bird perched in its uppermost bough, exactly as there is on the Star card.
-- Tom Robbins, Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas
He ran up the creeper as easily as though it had been a ladder, walked upright along the broad bough, and brought the pigeon to the ground. He put it limp and warm in Elizabeth's hand.
-- George Orwell, The Orwell Reader: Fiction, Essays, and Reportage

Bough can be traced back to the Sanskrit word bāhu, meaning “shoulder.”

willowwacks \WIL-oh-waks\, noun:

A wooded, uninhabited area.

There aren't many airports in Eastern Canada; you look at one like Upper Blackville, out there in the spruce-and-fir willowwacks, and wonder what it's doing there.
-- The AOPA pilot: Voice of General Aviation, Volume 37
Sure there were difficult moments, like an awkward fall below Texas Pass that twisted my previously broken ankle the wrong way, or 30 minutes lost on a wrong turn due to trail that disappeared in a stream, or a willowwacks that just wouldn't end; but overall today was a great day.
-- Mike DiLorenzo, "Yellowstone, 2005." D-Low.com

Willowwacks is of uncertain origin.

amaranthine \am-uh-RAN-thin\, adjective:

1. Unfading; everlasting.
2. Of or like the amaranth flower.
3. Of purplish-red color.

Though she had been made an amaranthine immortal when she was twelve years of age, she'd had to wait for her extraordinary abilities until her body matured to its most perfect state before fully transforming.
-- Kim Lenox, Darker Than Night
It made him jealous to imagine them lost in this amaranthine profundity.
-- Sir Compton Mackenzie, Sinister Street

Amaranthine is a form of the Greek amarantos, "everlasting," ascribed to an imaginary flower that never fades.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Rant Diffused

About a year ago I read Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma.  It's probably the most important non-fiction book I've read.  And although I wouldn't go so far as to call myself a zealot and I'm definitely not a puritan when it comes to what I put in my body, I do get passionate about what I perceive to be problems with how our food reaches us and the gradual progression of our "food" becoming little more than industrial products packaged for our convenience.  Whatever knowledge and passion I have on this subject I owe to Omnivore.  If you haven't read it, you should.  (Okay, non-paid product plug out of the way.) 

My wife, on the other hand, has other things on her mind and really can't devote the sort of energy it takes to be mad at the world like I can.  I have to be okay with that because its her mind.  But every once in a while, I'll try to educate her about something without overwhelming her in the kinds of drama she doesn't want.

So when she brought home these pre-sliced apples I was prepared to turn it into a teachable moment.

You see, these apples don't turn brown.  Normally when I slice an apple it will turn brown before I can shove it into a tub of caramel and jam it into my gaping maw.  I've accepted this as a defining natural characteristic for an apple so when these apples didn't turn brown it really made me question what unnatural preservatives could be pumped into these to alter them so dramatically. 

As I've stated on this blog numerous times, I'm not scientifically-minded by nature but I am curious about science.  With that in mind, I decided it was time to conduct a non-controlled experiment.  I took this picture with the intent to see just how long it will take for these apples to turn brown.

Here we go.  Do scientists say anything at the start of
a project?  Play ball, we have lift off, or get 'er done? 

While waiting for them to turn brown I got online to do a little extra research.
Brief aside: I am of a generation that has straddled both sides of the information age.  When I was in school research was conducted by reading encyclopedias, source material, and microfiche.  My 8th grade paper was on the history of the atomic bomb.  So I went to our family encyclopedia to start reading up on the subject but I couldn't find anything on it at all.  Turned out, our encyclopedias were older than the atomic bomb was.  Kids have it so easy these days. 
Back to apples.  According to the package there are only two ingredients in these apples.  The apples themselves and calcium ascorbate.  "Haha, Crunch Pak people, I've got you in my sights now!" I thought.  If calcium ascorbate doesn't sound like scientific jargon meant to conceal ghastly side effects I don't know what does.  Acorbate just sounds like something that will harden your arteries, shut down your kidneys and cause priapism.

They don't look great, but they aren't getting browner.

Or maybe it's just good use of science.

According to a company called UniChem it's pretty harmless.  In fact, it sounds like it might even be good for us.
Ascorbic acid is the pure form of vitamin C; however, with the combination of calcium, the supplement calcium ascorbate is produced. Because calcium ascorbate is less acidic and thus, easier on the digestive tract, it can be consumed in high doses without the possible side effects like diarrhea, rashes and stomach aches that may occur in individuals who are sensitive to taking pure vitamin C.
This picture is blurry because I was too drunk on
apple cider to hold my phone still. 

It goes on to say that:
Calcium ascorbate offers an efficient way to supplement vitamin C and the essential mineral, calcium, at the same time. Amongst other mineral ascorbates, calcium ascorbate is a non-acidic form that can provide the same great benefits of vitamin C without upsetting the stomach and digestive system.
So, if the only thing that's been added to these apples to keep them from turning brown is this magical combination of vitamin C and calcium you could make the argument that these apples are even better for you than regular apples are!

Sober again.  No noticeable change in 4 hours!

Still, isn't it more than just a little unsettling that these don't turn brown?  I left the apples out overnight and still didn't notice any browning.  They had gotten very dry and the peels were starting to bubble a little bit but the flesh still looked like a fresh-cut apple.

So I've concluded that my thesis was all wrong and that these apples are probably fine.  They are probably better than fine, in fact.

For an in-depth article on how these apples were brought to market, check out this piece from the New York Times Magazine:  Twelve Easy Pieces.  Within the article are some interesting facts such as:

  • In studies, students in Florida ate twice as many apples when they were sliced as compared to whole apples.  Students in Nevada ate three times as much when the apples were sliced.
  • Americans eat half as many pounds of apples as Europeans do per capita.
  • They figured out that cutting an apple in 12 slices optimizes freshness.  Apparently, when you cut an apple in normal situations the apple increases production of the hormone ethylene.  The cutting also ruptures cells that had compartmentalized substances that suddenly spill out and intermingle.  
  • In 2005, McDonald's stocked 54 million pounds of pre-sliced apples.
  • Before the 1960s, boxcars full of unmarketable apples were dumped into Washington's Columbia river.  Then they learned to make frozen juice concentrate out of those apples instead.
  • Apple growers in Washington harvest apples in late summer and early fall and store them in oxygen-depleted containers so they can slowly distribute them throughout the year. 
So my teachable moment that I was getting all ramped up for?  Looks like the teacher became the student.  Story of my life. 

Thursday, December 1, 2011

A Quiet Story

I have always been drawn to quiet places.

When I was nine my quiet place was within the evergreen canopy of three trees in our backyard.  At that age, quiet places let you daydream from a protected distance about how you can win the adoration of the girl you love.  A quiet place lets you pray that if you could just "go out with her" you’d never want for anything else. 

My childhood house years after we moved out.   It looks different.  Smaller, of course.

When I was 11, I found my quiet in my new bedroom in the basement.  After my father died, the house was quiet everywhere.  But the quiet downstairs was more private.  A boy could cry and not feel shame.  Or he could be happy and not worry that it was inappropriate. 

When I was 13 my quiet place needed to be farther away from home.  So I went to the woods and found a rock upon whose surface provided a view of the valley.  I could see the river and the golf course but cars, streets, and houses were far enough away to make me feel alone.  I needed that.  I needed to be alone because I felt alone anyway.  Being alone when you feel alone feels better. 

Overlooking the Little Spokane River.  One of my quiet places.

Life kept changing.  By the time I was 16 I had fallen in love and had a girlfriend.  It was a different girl than the one I prayed for when I was nine but I still prayed that if God would just let me hold onto her I would never want for anyone or anything else.  But I wasn’t ready for that kind of love.  I was jealous.  I was insecure.  I tried to hold onto things so tightly because I was afraid of losing them.  So I lost the girl.

And when Mom remarried we moved into a new house to “start over” without ghosts and I lost all those quiet places I used to go to.  I had to return to the woods to find a new place for being quiet and although I found one, my thoughts were so loud, so confused, that the quiet couldn't take hold in me.

After high school the quiet was everywhere.  I had my own car.  It burned a quart of oil every 100 miles or so, but it was mine.  I didn’t know where I was going in life, but I drove all over the place.  Maybe I was looking for direction.  Maybe I hoped to find something out there on the side of a road.  Maybe I thought the music I listened to would teach me something.  Maybe.  But I think I was just looking for more quiet.  And I found it somehow.  And I started to feel whole again. 

I spent several summers working at the camp I had grown up going to.  Nestled within the Selkirk Mountains of north-eastern Washington state, “Camp” was a beautiful, joyful place full of laughter, squeals, music, and the crackle of campfires.  It could also be a quiet place.  While I was there I had another rock to sit on.  This one dipped its stony toes in the water of the lake.  Every day I had twenty minutes or so to sit there and focus on the sound of water, the sound of my breath, the sound of my thoughts. 

A stillness abounds in this place.  

Then I had my quietest time.  Summer had ended but school was still a month away so I stayed on at Camp while everyone else went home.  I worked by myself all day.  I raked pine needles from trails.  I painted cabins.  I took down volleyball nets, stacked row boats, and organized life jackets.  It was solitary work and I can’t claim that it was always great, but I think I needed it.  At night I would slip into a canoe and paddle to the middle of the lake and let the breeze blow me around for a while.  I felt like I was right where I should be, doing everything I should be doing.

During one of those nights on the water a man who lived across the lake joined me outside.  I imagine he was looking for his own version of quiet.  He couldn't have known I was there in the middle of that small dark lake.  He couldn’t have known that when he pulled out his trumpet to play a song that he would have an audience.  He played Amazing Grace.  The notes came to me out of the darkness, over the water, and then they went through me.  I wanted to clap for him when the song ended but I didn't want to spoil the illusion.  I wanted to preserve the quiet that rushed in the moment the notes faded.

Life would never be so quiet again.

After college I lived my life as if quietness had never mattered to me.  Maybe I’d had my fill.  Maybe I was getting lazy and couldn't be bothered to seek it out.  Maybe I just didn't need it because my life felt grounded for a change.  I spent my time with friends.  We learned how to play pool and Golden Tee at the bar.  I spent a couple years splitting pizzas, electric bills, and the remote control with four other guys.  We were loud.  We were neighbors-calling-the-property-manager loud.  There was no room for quiet places.

Fizzie's was my bar.  It wasn't quiet but I spent a lot of time here with my friends.

But then I fell in love again and I married a woman who could be quiet with me.  We had a little girl.  And now here I am writing about quietness.  I spend 40 hours a week in an office.  I have to listen to other people’s music, other people’s phone conversations, other people’s whistling, toe-tapping, coughing, frustrated sighs when the copier jams, other people’s noise.  When I go home we play games, read books out loud, we pretend to be dragons and princesses and we scream when the dragon (usually played by me) roars.  These are good things.  I am lucky to have a job and I am blessed to have a family that roars and laughs.  But quietness is in short supply. 

So I garden.

My quiet corner garden.

I don't have a lake to go to and there are no woods nearby.  There is no basement in my little house.  I do have my own car, but I also have responsibilities that keep me from hopping into it and driving around all night.

So I garden.

A gift from my little girl.

And when I'm on my knees and my hands are in the ground it's as if I am praying again.  God, just let me keep what I have for as long as I can.  Let me keep this little garden.  Please let me keep this one quiet place.  Let me keep these people that mean so much to me and I promise I'll never ask for anything again.