The Daily Muse

A Garden Journal -- December 2004

Last Update:  December 23

Faded Agave bloom in The Basin of the Chisos Mountains, Big Bend National Park.

December 3 - morning

Well, it took me a week to sort through the nearly 400 images I shot at Big Bend over Thanksgiving, but I have finally done it. What an amazing place! This was my third trip to the Park, and it was, by far, the most enjoyable. This was the first time that I was really able to explore the mountains in depth and I also did my first hikes on the desert floor. Everywhere we went, the plant and animal life was truly astounding. The high county pine, juniper, and oak savannah was absolutely carpeted with lush grasses and if you looked closely you saw ferns growing alongside of strange barrel cactii and agaves. The high country was my favorite terrain - I could spend a lifetime out there and never tire of the combinations of plants and vistas. The remoteness of Big Bend is another of its great attractions, especially when you think of the mountain environment as a "sky island" in the middle of the desert. The combination of altitude and just a bit more water allows a relatively cool green world to flourish high above the desert floor. Here, in no particular order, are some of the new pics...


Sotols, in bloom, cover a hillside on the westside of the Chisos.This is just off of the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive, pne of the most spectacular park drives in the nation.



Mule Ears Springs, one of our hiking destinations, an oasis in the desert complete with Maidenhair Ferns.


Tuff Canyon, a very rewarding short hike just off of Ross Maxwell Drive.


A reflection in Tuff Canyon.


I was crazy about the Chisos Agaves (Agave havardiana) and took dozens of photos - here is a close-up.


And another.


A view from the South Rim. My friend, Jim Brennan, and I  hiked up to the rim and back from the Basin in one day. A great, but fairly strenuous hike. In fact I think it was the most rewarding hike of my life.


The trunk of a dead juniper surrounded by grass on the rim.


A detail from the cliff-face of the Rim with volcanic rock covered with lichens.


Another view from the Rim.


In Boot Canyon on the way back to the Basin. This was my favorite part of the Park - it reminded me of New England in places with it's large trees and gray lichen covered boulders. The deep canyons up in the Chisos are wonderful hidden treasures.A bear was sighted here just before we walked through.


Why do they call it Boot Canyon?


Casa Grande from the Pinnacle Trail.


The Rio Grande was running higher than I had ever seen it courtesy of the recent rains.


A Madrone along the Window Trail.


A Madrone bark detail.


Cliff face or rock close-up?


Same question...


All three are detail shots... this one includes lichen.


Looking back at The Basin from the Oak Springs Trail above the Window.


The pour-off at the end of the Window Trail where a small stream slips through a very slick little gap and spills out onto the desert floor below.


Plants along the Window Trail.


For my Dad, an antique gas pump at Castolon.


Sunrise just north of the Park.

To see all of the posted Big Bend shots, be sure to check November's Daily Muse.

December 5 - morning

I just can't seem to help myself - here are a few more pictures...

Ferns growing on an otherwise barren cliffside.


Rock formations above the Window looking out to the desert floor.


Ocotillo and the Chisos Mountains at sunset.


On the way out to Big Bend we drove through a thunderstorm that was VERY close to forming tornadoes. After we were a safe distance from the funnel clouds we stopped so I could take this picture. The wind was blowing so hard I could not hold the camera still. It was quite exhilirating, but I know now that I could never be a storm chaser!

December 12 - morning

It is a cool clear morning, a beautiful late autumn day and I am looking forward to spending a few hours cleaning up the garden. Yesterday, I worked in the garden until I was sore from the exertion. I don't know if it is because I am getting older, or if I just waited too long to tend to the things that needed to be done, but I find that the garden seems to be requiring more energy and commitment as it fills in.... perhaps there are just more leaves to deal with! Regardless, I am a little stiff but undaunted. Victor has been out of town, on a business trip to Asia,  and I am looking forward to his return later today and to the three hundred or so images he shot in Kamakura, Japan. Kamakura was the Capital of Japan during its medieval period and is home to many fine temples. I have always wanted to travel to Japan and I probably will see the images through green lenses!

Yesterday, as I was raking, weeding, and pruning I thought about the tremendous amount of patience that a garden requires and how, if you actually do what is required, you are changed in the process. Many people refer to their  spiritual practices as disciplines, for me raking and weeding are spiritual disciplines. I do them not only because they help the garden grow, but also because they help me grow myself. I have talked about this before, and usually when I do I reference the old Zen saying, "Before enlightenment I chopped wood and carried water. After ennlightenment, I chopped wood and carried water." Chopping and carrying, if done with an attitude of reverence and gratitude, will change you more completely than any dogma I am aware of - they become rituals or ceremonies. In his beautiful book, Reverence, Austin author, Paul Woodruff, attempts to reawaken us to the ancient gifts of ceremony and ritual, he argues that they can enrich our lives if  they are imbued with reverence. He quotes the Confucian Analects, "Without Li  (reverence) courtesy is tiresome; without Li, prudence is timid; without Li, bravery is quarrelsome; without Li, frankness is hurtful." I might add, without Li, gardening is painful.

Woodruff has a great deal to say about reverence, or the lack of it in our contemporary religious / political discourse. In a section of his book titled, "God Votes in a City Election," he talks about the irreverence of those who claim to speak for God, "Reverence requires us to maintain a modest sense of the difference between human and divine. If you wish to be reverent, never claim the awful majesty of God in support of your political views." Later in the book, he addresses the discipline of reverence, "You don't learn a virtue from outside. You cannot even appreciate a virtue from outside. You won't see why you should be reverent unless you already are at least a little bit reverent, and you'll never learn reverence unless you practice it. You learn it by finding the virtuous things that you do and doing more of them, so that they become habit."

Today, I will practice a little reverential raking.


"Patriotism is a virtue when your country follows justice, otherwise not. And if it is good, that's because it belongs to justice, not because it belongs to your country." - Paul Woodruff

December 14 - morning

Here are a few of Victor's images from Kamakura, Japan...

Buddha of the maple tree.


Japaneses Maples in  the rain.


Victor's favorite shrine.


A Tokyo park in the rain.

December 23 - morning

It is a very cold morning here in Austin, the temperature dipped down to 23 degrees fahrenheit last night (-5 celcius). So far, this is the coldest weather we have experienced this season and they are predicted even colder temperatures for tonight and tomorrow and maybe even snow! I have been taking extra precautions with many of our Agaves and will cover more  tonight. However, my philosophy regarding cold hardiness is very basic (if not Darwinian) - no extraordinary steps will be taken, it is survival of the fittest.

The sun is just coming up and as I glance out my back window I see at least a dozen American Goldfinches mobbing our feeders. It is a very cheery sight. I hope that your holidays are filled with similar moments - quiet, colorful, and filled with peace. Cheers! Tom

Continue to Daily Muse for January 2005

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