The Daily Muse

A GardenJournal -- April 2002

Last Update: April 29

Louisiana Iris "Deneb"

April 8 - morning

We have spent the past few days with my parents in the Hill Country. The weather was overcast, but the rain held off long enough for us to enjoy climbing up Enchanted Rock, visiting wineries, and driving along the wildflower lined back roads. It was very gratifying to be able to spend some time with my folks on the eve of their forty-ninth anniversary. Their relationship is an inspiration to me. (And Mom, I hope I can climb Enchanted Rock on my forty-ninth anniversary!)

Mom, a little wind-blown, after conquering Enchanted Rock

A wisteria covered cabin at Becker Vineyards in Fredericksburg

This morning, the garden is saturated following a heavy rain during the night. Everything seems to be growing exponentially, including the weeds. We are gardening beneath lacebark and cedar elms, two very weedy trees. They throw off millions of seedlings every year and for the past few weeks I have been walking through the garden pulling up as many as twenty with every reach. I need to throw a weed pulling party. Any takers?

Meanwhile, our Louisiana iris are glorious, our bluebonnets, oxalis, and columbine are in full bloom, the echinacea and rudbeckia are sending up their flower spikes, all of our amaryllis are taking off, and I continue to revel in the completion of our agave garden in the front yard. All of that plus a good rain! We are fortunate indeed. It reminds me of a sign I saw on a bumpy little dirt road out in the hills: "A new calf and a good rain are always welcome on this ranch." Here, a new flower and a good rain are always welcome and we are enjoying good company indeed.

April 10 - evening

I had a wonderful morning working in the garden. I fertilized, weeded, pruned, and transplanted to my heart's content. This afternoon, a second Louisiana iris opened in our pond, a mauve colored variety known as "Deneb," it was accompanied by the first water lily of the season. The fish campaigned for food beneath the blossoms, circling the flowers with their flowing tails and golden scales. Several times during the day I had the feeling that today was "the" day in the garden, its peak for the year. But then, Victor reminded me that the wildflower bed is far from its early summer glory and that  we are tomato-less. I guess there are many "the" days to choose from.


The highlight of the day for me was spotting a pair of American goldfinches in their breeding finery dining at our feeders. It was one of those "ask and you shall receive" moments. This past weekend, when we were with my parents in the Hill Country, we stopped by the Bamberger Ranch to visit with my friends Margaret and David Bamberger. Outside of their office window they had hung a mesh sack filled with thistle seed and at least four different species of finches were busily "harvesting" their brunch. We were all thrilled to see the variations between the species, I imagined us all amateur Darwins, marveling at the pine siskins, lesser goldfinches, American goldfinches, and house finches. We tried to find our own  thistle sack at a store later, but had to settle for a cheap plastic tube filled with the seed. It obviously did not matter, the finches who visited our garden today were hopping from feeder to feeder, eating thistle, sunflower, and cheap generic seed. These little birds are very special to me, they remind me of the "wild canaries" that I treasured when I was a kid. (See the Daily Muse entry for September 19, 2001.)

It is growing dark now, and I need to spray the garden with BT ( Bacillus thuringiensis) for the chewing caterpillars and worms that are swarming all over the city. Tonight, if they dine on my amaryllis, they will regret swarming here!

View from our back deck featuring
large pot with carnation, agave, hesperaloe, and marbles

April 18 - evening

Well, it has taken me a while, but I finally got a few new images on the site. Hope you enjoy.

April 22 - morning

A too-gentle rain is falling, wetting the leaves and pathways, but not giving us the good soaking we need. For the past several days, the sky has been heavy and dark, beneath it the garden itself seems weighed down with luxuriant new growth.   There isn't a hint of winter's spareness left, just six weeks after our last killing freeze, winter is very much a distant memory.

The last of our trees leafed out this week, a bigtooth maple transplanted from my former garden. It was always the last tree to leaf out there as well. Its dependable red fall color will make it a welcome addition to our front garden. It joins our two Japanese maples, a 'bloodgood,' and a 'Aka Shigatatsu Sawa', both transplanted to the front yard from other locations.

We have been working very hard- planting, pruning, weeding, fertilizing, and repotting. All of the work has left me exhausted and running behind. It has been a very rewarding time though, the garden is filled with flowers, butterflies and birds. Yesterday evening, as we sat by the pond, we savored the progress we have made. As we listened to the water fall and admired the first fireflies of the season, frogs started to emerge from the hidden crevasses of the stone-lined pond. They'd hop out of their hiding places, size us up, and then hop out into the garden ready for another night of hunting and courting. Later, as we wandered around, I felt as if we were herding frogs, we could hear them scatter as we approached.

I must close now and make ready for a day of deadlines and obligations. This evening, I will make some time for another frog parade. I wish the same for you.

April 25 - morning

We awoke to cooler temperatures and a light rain,  a most welcome change from the summer-like weather of the past few days. I was prevented from making my cup o'coffee walk around the garden, but happily watched the rain fall from our back porch, relieved that a little of "God's water" was making its way into our little patch of sacred ground.

I spent the last two evenings watching the Bill Moyers PBS documentary  on the Hudson River. (As you are probably aware I grew up in the Hudson River Valley.) I was excited to see so many places that I recognized in the Moyers program. What was most moving to me, however, was the story of the Hudson's rebirth, the result of a decades long fight to save the river from pollution. The Hudson is magnificent, one of the truly great places of this nation. Beyond its physical presence, it also is a wonderful symbol of what can happen when people commit themselves to healing the environmental abuses of the past. I'd like to think that each of us can do the same sort of thing in our own back yards and in our local communities.

I am reminded of the news reports last week about deformities that are showing up in frogs as a result of a common herbicide used by homeowners. This herbicide has been so over used that there are few places where its lethal traces cannot be found, including Austin's own "Hudson", Barton Creek. The herbicide in question is found in those weed-and-feed products that are sold as short cut miracle cures for lawns. If the small band of heroes that saved the Hudson had waited for government action to change things, the Hudson would still be an open sewer. Likewise, we cannot wait for the government to ban these poisons, we have to stop using them and ask our stores to stop carrying them.

We don't have to turn into zealots to protect the earth, instead we can simply act responsibly. Sure,  government leadership and action is desperately needed. But, lets start at home.

(To learn more about the continuing battle to save the Hudson in my old hometown of Fishkill, check out the Fishkill Ridge Caretakers website.)

April 27 - morning

The view in front of my childhood home after an ice storm, photo taken by me in 1970

Thinking about my childhood days in the Hudson Valley over the past few days made me revisit the poem below. Yesterday evening, I shared it with a writing group that I belong to, and after listening to the feedback of my colleagues there, made some changes in areas that had bothered me. So, if you already have read this (from the September 2001 Daily Muse) let me know if you think the changes have clarified things a bit. I think I have it the way that I like it now.

Walls Left Untended
by Tom Spencer

In the evenings
the deer would emerge
from the edge of the woods
stepping over the tumbledown stones
of walls left untended-
they'd leave tracks through the snow
in a wandering line that led to the last apple tree
in the field by Orchard Street.

I remember that now,
staring at this antler I've found
in the clearing between the cactus
and sun bleached stones.
The lines of the antler
flow into the fractures of my palm-
two thousand miles from snow,
and two thousand miles from
the blue evening glow
of a shivering world
glazed over by twilight…

And the deer-
magnificent, pawing the snow
searching for apples that had fallen below-
emboldened by the frozen sweetness of autumn.
They were graceful even in flight-
when cars with chains
jingling and crunching the ice
rounded the corner
down Orchard Street.

Today I've tracked over two thousand miles
in my own wandering line-
the lines of the antler
flow through the tangles and hollows of time.

Sometimes I stand in a clearing,
sometimes hidden by trees,
sometimes I scratch below the surface,
and I run- but, less gracefully...

There are walls I've left untended
and some I've crafted too well-
it is through forgotten tumbledown walls
that memories come-
I thank grace
it was into this clearing they fell.

I've changed "Orchard Place" to "Orchard Street" because some folks were confused about what "Place" meant, but here is the real thing.

The view of the field where the orchard used to be from our driveway, snowmen courtesy of my Dad (circa 1961.)

April 28 - afternoon

While I am in a poetry mood, I thought I would inflict another one on you.

In the neighborhood where I used to live here in Austin, there was an elderly gentleman who was always out tidying up his front yard. For years, I saw him nearly every time I drove past his house. His behavior was odd, most would say compulsive, but I counted him as one of the neighborhood landmarks and always waved as I passed.  With people like him, I often fill in the blanks with my own imaginings. I remember picturing his family, complete with dearly departed wife and worried, disapproving children. I was concerned that  he might have Alzheimer's Disease. I wondered who took care of him, or if would accept anyone's help. I think we all have those kinds of imaginings, some might call them stereotyping-s. We impose stories because we need stories, its in our DNA.  However, we should be ready to discard them when they prove untrue or hurtful.

To be honest, I really don't know the story of my former neighbor, but I related to him in a powerful way. I hope that you will too.


Everyday I see him
sweeping his walkway and drive-
brushing away the leaves
that skittered up the curbside
in the shadow of the streetlight’s glow-
straightening out  those daring
to drift in past noon.
Sweeping, sweeping, sweeping.
Weathered hands wrapped tight around the broom.

He is always dressed the same:
plaid shirt , fedora, and bolo tie.
I’m sure the neighbors think him strange.
Occasionally, I catch his eye
with a wave and he waves too-
then back to the broom
and sweeping, sweeping.

Does he curse the leaves I wonder?
Or, do they receive his blessing?
Is he shooing memories away?
Or, gathering them with his sweeping?


We often live in tension with the things we do. What would our lives be like if we blessed the weeds before we pulled them?

April 29 - morning

Yesterday, it was ninety-six degrees farenheit (35.5 celcius.) July temperatures in April, that is too depressing for words. And we haven't had a measurable rainfall now for three weeks. I am very glad that our big project this spring was to put in abed of agaves,  think of my water bills if I had an azalea fetish! I say that we should set a time for a collective rain dance. If nothing else, the sweat should help!

Regardless of the weather, this morning the garden was most happy  (courtesy of our sprinkler system.) Our daylilies, agapanthus, manfreda, rudbeckia, desert willow, mexican oregano, and echinacea are all ready to bloom. I have a busy day ahead and must close- get those dancing shoes ready though!

Continue to Daily Muse for May 2002

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