The Daily Muse

A Garden Journal -- March 2000

17 March - morning

St. Patrick’s Day

A cold front pushed through last night. A good soaking rain has energized the garden; the new leaves shine with an electric intensity against the dark lingering clouds. Green, a thousand shades of green, how appropriate for St Patrick’s Day.

When I took my first walk through the garden, the coolness nipped at my legs. Blanche, our nomadic cat, was huddled up against the doorstep, complaining about her old bones, demanding a scritch behind the ears. Where does she go after her breakfast, I wonder. She has depended on the kindness of strangers for as long as I have known her. Ten years ago, she seemed nearly feral, always skittering away with her funny awkward gait. Then, one day, she calmly walked up to me and offered herself for affection. She has wandered in and out of my life since.

The birds are only now getting active. The titmice are sounding their nesting call- such a loud alarm for such timid little creatures! They are always so careful, why then, at nesting time, do they raise such a fuss? They sound like alarm clocks chiming from the trees, attracting all kinds of unwanted attention. One March day last year, one of my neighbors actually stumbled out of his door, undressed and upset, looking for the car alarm that kept going off.

The titmice, and their cousins, the chickadees, are visiting the feeder by my front door: check three times, fly to the feeder, check twice more, grab one seed, a quick glance over their shoulder, then off they go.

And off I must go, Luna and Maya, our indoor tigers (Bengals) are growing tired of me ignoring them, especially Luna, who keeps dropping a ball of paper on the keyboard wanting me to throw it for a game of fetch. It is time for a paper toss or two, my second cup of coffee, and second walk down to the garden.

I am awaiting a big event today- the first Louisiana iris of the season is going to open. I am no longer certain which cultivar it is; a pale butter yellow with red veining infused throughout. Nameless though it may be, it is my favorite single flower in my garden.

2o March - morning

It is the golden hour in my garden- the golden hour is a phrase used by photographers to desribe the warm golden light cast just before sunset or just after sunrise. As I was making my morning rounds just a few minutes ago, I caught a brief glimpse of a red bellied woodpecker, or "carpintero" (carpenter in Spanish). It's beautiful golden-red hood was shining in the light as it hopped along a branch of a very old cedar elm in the garden.

The sun was high enough that its light was filtering down through the trees, casting a soft glow on the damianata along the edge of my large raised planting bed. I had to stop and pinch a bit of the damianita's leaves to rub between my fingers- its pungent aroma is lingering now as I type this. The damianita is one of my favorite Texas native plants, a tough, drought resistant shrub; its yellow daisy-like flowers cascade down the wall at the edge of my raised bed. I discovered its cascading habit by accident, one of many happy accidents in my garden.

In these drought conscious times, the damianita is a God-send. The only time I water it is when I occasionally wash the leaves down to discourage spider-mites. Right now it is in its full glory. During the heat of the summer it goes into a kind of dormancy and stops blooming- but the flowers reappear with the first rains of the fall. It looks wonderful mixed with white salvia greggii and purple verbena- my favorite color combination: yellow, purple, and white.

26 March - morning

It is early on a Sunday morning, the city is quiet enough that I can hear the bells of the University Tower, about a mile and a half away. A gentle rain is falling. As I walked through the garden I was a little stunned by the intensity of the colors. The new foliage of the Japanese Maples was glowing against the dark green backdrop of the ivy drapped walls.

It took me years to fully appreciate the role of foliage and leaf patterns in a garden, we're often so focused on flowers and flower color that we overlook the more subtle beauty of leaves. Japanese Maples, though, demand our attention. I have several in my garden, including a variety with leaves the color of a rich cabernet, underneath, a native columbine echoes the red with its elaborate little blooms.

Yesterday, it began to feel like summer. That is a frightening prospect in late March. I had to pull out the hose and rescue some newly planted shrubs and perennials. So, this morning I am thankful for the mist.

29 March - afternoon

I sat on my front porch last night watching a thunder storm pass just to the south of where I live. Occasional sheets of rain swirled through the garden, taunting my hopes for a deluge that would soak the ground and knock the oak pollen from the trees. As I watched, towering storm clouds revealed themselves through the darkness, illuminated from within by an incredible display of lightning.

The spectacle reminded me of a recent interview that I conducted with Episcopal Bishop, John Shelby Spong. During our conversation, Bishop Spong spoke of the Christian concept of the 'Trinity ' not as a way to define God, but rather as an attempt to capture or convey our experience of God: Father- expressing our reverence for creation and creator; Son - the Spirit of God as revealed in Jesus; Holy Ghost - the mystery and power of the Spirit. He was humble, acknowledging that our minds - our concepts, creeds, and words, can never live up to the task of revealing God's true nature.

As I sat in the darkness last night, with the low rumble of thunder echoing through the city, I thought about my own experience of the Divine. In a creek bed just a few hundred yards from my porch, I find stone tools, some thousands of years old. How would the shapers of those stones interpret what happened in the sky last night? I picked a piece of worked flint and held in my hand, would they have prayed for rain, as I was doing? Despite 2,000 years of Christianity, the renaissance, and enlightenment - is my experience of the Divine really that different from theirs?

There is an old Buddhist verse that comes to mind- "The song of birds, the voices of insects, are all means of conveying truth to the mind; in flowers and grasses we see messages of the Way. The scholar, pure and clear of mind, serene and open of heart, should find in everything what nourishes him."

A good verse for the gardener in all of us.

Would it be sacrilege to view all of God's gifts- the lightning, rain, birds, and flowers, as signs of our experience of the Divine, to accept them as our 'Trinity'? What would it be like, to be so "God intoxicated" in Bishop Spong's words, that we would actually do so?

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