The Daily Muse

A Garden Journal -- September 2000

September 4 - afternoon

I just returned from Houston, where I was visiting my family in honor of my mother's birthday. While I was there, I rummaged though my parent's attic looking for my old high school year books. Writing about those youthful days spent along Cow Creek (see the journal entries for August 14 and 17) had made me want to flip through some of the images of my old friends. I was especially interested in finding my senior class book- by the time I graduated, I was part of a circle of friendship that felt indestructible. Of course, the circumstances of life have intervened in ways we never imagined possible. The members of that circle rarely see one another now, we are so far flung that a physical reunion would be difficult, tougher still, because of the psychological distance that has been allowed to grow between us. The distance was inevitable, and at times necessary, for us to grow, or at least to simply get on with our lives. There were fallings-out and marriages, children, divorces, illnesses and deaths. It's funny, though, how insignificant the bad times seem now, some twenty five years later. All that really remains for me is a deep sense of gratitude that somehow, when we most needed to, we found one another.

As it turns out, I got lucky and discovered the box containing the year book almost right away. As I pulled it from the bottom of a pile of other books, I turned over a shoe box that contained dozens of pebbles. I immediately recognized them as a collection of small beach stones I had gathered from the banks of Cow Creek. I thought I had lost them years ago, instead, my father had carefully stored them away for me knowing that I counted them as old friends of a sort too. I scooped them back into their box and retreated from the heat of the attic with my arm full of memories.

Now, I am back in Austin. In a short while I will add some of the pebbles from Cow Creek to a rock garden that I have created inside our new home. I have converted an old stone planter in the house into a miniature beach filled with river stones, fossils, driftwood, and shells collected from various streams and shores. This collection of rocks is my version of a memory garden, filled with artifacts of special places and times. When we were driving back here this morning, I remembered that my habit of "decorating" with driftwood and fossils began by copying one of my old buddies, now an environmental engineer, who used to fill his home in Port Arthur with things he had collected from the wild. I thought it was the coolest way to ornament a home- bringing the outdoors in. I spoke with him briefly yesterday- I called after spending some time with the year book and the stones. It was good to hear his voice, to learn a little about his family, and what had become of some of the others from that "indestructible circle".

In a few moments I will sort through the small pieces of petrified wood, quartz, and agate in the old shoe box. After years of being stored away in the darkness and heat, a few of the pebbles will find a new resting place scattered among the stones of my "beach", where from time to time, I hope they will refresh my worn memory with the coolness of their smooth touch.

I seem to have a long time relationship with stone "beaches" . Here are two old journal entries:

only the wind flows

through this dry creek bed-

it was your glance

that set me adrift.

- 1988

In a dry creek bed where

three friends talk, the rocks are worn

by the cricket's song.

- October 1976

September 8 - afternoon

Finally, after a week that saw us break two all-time heat records ( 110 on Monday, 112 on Tuesday!), there is a faint hint of autumn in the air. It has been overcast all day, and a refreshing breeze is stirring the windchimes on our deck. Maybe I am just delusional, but I am daring to hope that the worst of this dreadful summer is over.

Within the next few weeks we will begin the soil preparation needed to loosen and enrich the dense clay of the back yard. I am amassing a list of plants, mostly trees and shrubs, that will be planted in October. After months of dreaming about the garden, it is about to take shape. I feel confident about the design, knowing that it can always be adjusted to meet unexpected circumstances and changes of heart. What is most reassuring, however, is the fact that we are making the critical investment in the soil, the real foundation of the garden. I can always change the direction of a path, or move a shrub, but I will never again have the opportunity to work the soil in such an intensive manner- and I intend to make good use of it.

Our plan is to bring in tons of screened topsoil amended with decomposed granite, sand, and compost. All of this will be worked into the existing clay. After the work of tilling the soil, and grading it, has been finished, and we have laid in the irrigation system, I will add still more compost and soil "foods" before planting. I fully intend for this garden to survive the 112 degree days that will be coming our way in the globally warmed future!

September 12 - morning

Eleven years ago I "adopted" a small city park where friends and I played volleyball every weekend. By adopted, I mean that I planted, or helped plant, over forty trees in the park. It seemed a somewhat forlorn, forgotten space, as so many of Austin's parks do, and I thought more trees and especially more shade would make it more inviting. I used the park's central feature, a magnificent live oak, as my inspiration, and planted a variety of disease resistant species of oaks and an assortment of other trees, mostly ornamental natives. I used to water the trees on a weekly basis, but I no longer play volleyball, and stop by the park only occasionally. I haven't felt the need to water the trees for several years since they seemed well established, the last tree was planted over four years ago.

This past Sunday, after attending my church class, I drove by the park to see how my little forest was coping with the current drought and heat wave. I was shocked by what I saw. Many of the trees were experiencing severe levels of stress, even some of the oldest trees were defoliating. I've heard that in the last truly great dought, during the 1950's, many established trees died. I am afraid that we may be approaching a situation that is equally desperate. It is frightening to think that this weather may indeed be a harbinger of fundamental changes in our climate.

I returned to the park later in the day dragging a garden hose and a book along with me. I moved the hose from tree to tree every twenty minutes or so, retreating to the shade of the great live oak to read. I only had the time to water about six or eight of the crtitical cases, it wasn't much, but it was probably the best drink of water they've had in months. I hope this effort carries them through to a good rain, though the forcast looks grim.

The defoliation of the trees is actually a survival technique, they shed their leaves to reduce their own demand for, and loss of, water. The trees which showed the greatest stress are large-leafed species like bur and chinquapin oak , which lose a tremendous amount of water through transpiration. These trees also face stiff competition from the bermuda grass in the park. I am not worried about the trees dying, at least not yet, but I want them to show some green- you never know if a parks maintenance crew will remove a tree that has shed its leaves, thinking it is is dead, not dormant.

One thing I noted when I was visiting the park, was that while some of the trees were in trouble, others seemed unfazed by the earth cracking dryness and heat. In particular, the lacey oaks were in great shape and showed no signs of stress. The lacey oak is not native to the Austin area, it hails from the far western reaches of the Hill Country over one hundred miles west of here. It occurs to me, however, that we might need to look to plants native to drier and hotter climes if we want our gardens to survive the heat waves of the future. The lacey oak has a waxy coating on its leaves which helps prevent transpiration, another survival technique, and perhaps something else we should look for in our plants.

September 14 - Morning

Finally, after being teased by storms that skirted around the city, we have had a good rain. Over one inch fell in my yard yesterday afternoon. I watched the swirling black and grey clouds approach, my fists clenched in tension, my mind exerting all of its will- trying to draw the rain to the spot where I was defiantly standing out in the open. (It is hard not to take this personally when we haven't had a good rain in two months!) This morning, the grass that I was letting die has turned green, the ground is still wet, and everything seems more at ease. Maybe it is just the relief that I feel that has transformed the world in my view.

As the rain was pouring down yesterday, I found myself missing my old garden. The first good rain of the fall always meant that the lycoris and school yard lilies would be popping up, suprising passers by. These fall blooming bulbs serve as signal flags that a change is coming- indeed that a change has occured. I used to revel in the reaction of my neighbors, who would ask, "How did they get there?"

I have little time for revelry this morning, a very hectic day awaits me. I'll just have to imagine someone else rushing off to work, as I am about to do, only to be stopped by the fleeting grace and blazing red color that appeared out of nowhere following the rain.

September 15 - Afternoon

I just returned from a memorial service for the son of a couple in my church class. He died a senseless and tragic death just a few days past his nineteenth birthday. As I listened to his family and friends eulogize him, I couldn't help but think about the glorious mystery of life. In the words of our pastor, it moves among us and in us, like the wind, here for a moment, and then gone. It does not belong to us, it is not a right, it is a gift.

On my way home I stopped by the park again, to see if the rain had perked up the trees. While I was there I remembered that I had planted several of the trees as memorials for friends who had passed away. I took a moment or two to think about them, and to wonder at how amazing it is, that after all of the foolish things that I have done, the near misses, and vagaries of chance, that I was still here and able to imagine them among the living.

Another old journal entry:

empty branches

black with rain- but the stream

is filled with gold.

Continue to October 2000

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