The Daily Muse

A GardenJournal -- January 2002

Last Update: January 24

Winter sky on the Blackland Prairie northeast of Austin

Cold front clouds
blown taut across the sky-
blue grey skin
stretched thin
over the exposed ribs
of the season.

January 1 - evening

It is a blustery cold night with the temperature sinking below freezing and a strong wind kicking the windchimes into overdrive.The past few weeks have been extremely busy with holiday activities and gardening taking top priority. Since returning home after Christmas, I have transplanted two trees, planted three new ones, and have raked in our harvest of leaves. The transplants are both Japanese maples- one was given to us by a friend whose garden is in the cross hairs of a home remodeling job, the other we moved from one part of our garden to another to better protect it from the summer sun. Two of the new trees are additions to our small flock of bigtooth maples, the "relic" species native to the Hill Country, the final addition is a new weeping yaupon holly. Most of our efforts are now concentrated on our front yard which we are hoping to turn into a modest entry garden.

The greatest gift I have received this Christmas, after the love of Victor, my family and friends, has been the gift of a few quiet hours where I could meditate on the challeges ahead or sink into the pleasures of a good book. Among the books I read was Dan O'Brien's Buffalo for the Broken Heart. In it, O'Brien describes his efforts to heal a small patch of the South Dakota prairie by reintroducing buffalo and restoring the native turf. I have long been attracted to the open landscape of America's prairies. Some find the plains boring, but I am exhilirated by a drive or walk through open country, it reminds me of the feeling I had when I was a kid and spring winds would blow over the fields in front of our house- I felt like a kite waiting for the string to break.

O'Brien describes a noble pursuit in a beautiful setting. He notes the driving life force of American culture and our habit of overlooking the subtler "connective force" which binds us to creation and our own dusty fates. My resolution for the coming year is to be open to both the wind that is sweeping me forward- and the string holding me in my place.


Victor and I have just come in from the yard where we were watching a few stray snow flakes fall past our Christmas lights- a rare sight here in Austin. I'll count it as a good omen for the New Year!

January 8 - morning

It is still dark outside, another chilly morning. So far, this has been the coolest winter we've seen in at least ten years. Our fish are hiding in the bottom of our pond- staying down in the warmest water, the leaves are off all of the deciduous plants, and most of the perennials have been cut to the ground. The garden feels so open and expansive- the precise lines of its geometry are once again the dominant feature. It is almost as if the slate has been cleared for the coming year.

I feel very optimistic about 2002- I am have been doing a little slate clearing myself, making room in my life for more big projects. If I am successful, I will soon be overwhelmed with exciting new work. It will be nice having the garden to come home to- its rejuvenating force is a very real presense in my life. I have been reflecting on the words of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings- "I do not understand how anyone can live without one small place of enchantment to turn to." I feel so sorry for people who have lost any connection to the natural world and a sense of place. We have made so much of our world a generic wasteland that it is hard to feel enchanted.

It is lightening up now and I must get ready for a very hectic day. This evening I will return to my "place of enchantment," I wish the same for you.

Valley of the Fire, Nevada

January 16 - morning

I have just returned from Las Vegas where I attended the annual awards ceremony for the National Educational Television Association, a major program production and distribution organization for the PBS system. The program that I produced last year, "The Painted Churches of Texas," won the award for best historical documentary. My thanks to everyone involved, especially Father Alan Oakes whose passion for the churches really made the program happen.

I had never been to Las Vegas before. Years ago, after reading Hunter Thompson's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, I swore that it it was the one American city I would never visit. Well, nothing like an awards ceremony to make a liar out of you. I have to say that Las Vegas isn't as sleazy as I expected. Instead there is an insidious Disney-esque veneer to the place that seems designed to lure in those gamblers still in elementary school. It is over-the-top America at its best and worst, from the mesmerizing "dancing" fountain in front of the Bellagio to the scruffy immigrant children trying to press strip show flyers into your hand. The most depressing part of the city is its form- sprawling across the desert floor with endless miles of concrete topped by a thick yellow-brown cloud of smog. After visiting the Hoover Dam, one of the most impressive man-made stuctures I have ever seen, I couldn't help but feel that the heroic effort to build it was wasted fueling the excesses of the city up the road.

I spent most of my time visiting the area's natural wonders, specifically Valley of the Fire State Park and the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. I had a remarkable experience in the Red Rock Canyon, I hope you that you will share some sense of what I experienced there:

Pinyon Jays

The trail rose up
through the sand
and sage covered hills
following the sinews of a land
scoured by fire and flood.
Even the most severe carving
here was nothing
compared to the valley below-
its concrete grid
glaring over my shoulder-
sprawled out,
sucking on its dingy
comforter of smog-
sucking up
the dust of the desert
around it.
The trail led me up.
Up past twisted
juniper bones,
past pale green yuccas
fine white filagree
from their dagger blades,
past sandstone boulders
swirled like confections,
past ancient cooking pits
lined with ashen rock,
and ghost-like hands
carved on stone-
to a white cliff face
beneath the cloudless sky.
From a lone stump
a pinyon jay squawked
drawing my eyes down.
A sentinel
to its comrades-
who rose up
from the draw to my left
and sailed in twos and threes
sinking down into
the draw on my right.
Right before me,
around me, behind me,
first two- then six,
then tens of metallic blue
wings beating heavily against
the unfamiliar desert air.
They had come down.
Down from the scrubby
forests of pine.
Down from snow
covered slopes.
they searched the green
fingers of the washes-
the winter forcing them
down across the trail
that was drawing me up.
They passed close by,
wing beats feathered my ears,
first up, then down-
the sentinel
keeping an eye .
Listening, suddenly hearing
my breath beat
against the wind-
I stood motionless, perched
beyond starting
and destination-
blue wings lifting
the hunger within.


I had never seen a pinyon jay before. Click here to learn more about this interesting bird.

Red Rock Canyon "sand and sage covered hills"

Yucca "filagree"

"Sandstone boulders swirled like confections"

ghost-like hands

Valley of the Fire

January 24 - morning

After several warm and muggy days, winter has returned with a vengeance. The temperature has dropped at least 25 degrees since I woke up- it is now 40 degrees fahrenheit and falling. (That's about 3 or 4 degrees for those of you with a sensible measuring system!) I have a busy day ahead and can't spend much time writing here, but I have one more desert memory I wanted to share:

Wandering off the
path, I flush a rabbit-
but, its my hair that's
standing on end.

Continue to February 2002

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