Friday, July 30, 2010

Peripheral Vision

When Hercule Poirot solves a difficult case it is because he sees more than meets the eye. When the Radiologist in training, 101, focuses on the center of the radiograph, looking at the item for which the image was taken, and neglects to look at the edges of the film for other things, stuff gets overlooked. The great painters spend much time on the edges of the painting, not just the treatment they give at the golden mean. There is a lesson here for the gardeners who would be true to their craft. It is not just what is seen that is important, but that which is not seen. That which must be looked for! The boundaries of your plot that you have applied with brush strokes over the years has intimate details and secrets that only you know about. You probably value the unseen, the secret and the inobvious as much as the familiar. If you neglect your boundaries for the seen only, you will not have a private place that you can choose to share, or not share, with someone who loves a garden as much as you do. Intimacy means sharing secrets as well as triumphs or disasters. They come in ample supply in the garden for all of us. Humility is a chastening thing, but leads to knowledge. I never learned much by my successes, but plenty with the failures. As Hannah quoted Leonard, who paraphrased the Scripture, "There is a crack in everything. That's how the light gets in". Give yourself a still, small, dark place in the garden that is not for display, but only for those who have eyes that can see.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Sex in the greenhouse

Everyday I water my greenhouse tomatoes, tie them up as they race upward along with, and competing with, the cukes. I fertilize my tomato blossoms at the same time. I have no birds or bees in the greenhouse, so the tomatoes have to manage with codger and brush. The cukes are parthogenetic, so could exist without even an elderly eclectic gentleman. The tomatoes need fertilizing, but are of the same variety, so they have a lot in common and will give rise to an homogenous crowd of fruit, unlike the potential for a new and interesting offspring from different varieties. The little blossoms have responded to my dusting with an enormous production of fruit ,such as seen in spades, between the codgers and tender blossoms in Bountiful . There is every reason why tomatoes were originally termed the love apple (pomme d'amour). They respond with gusto! They are fruitful! They were feared to cause uncontrolled eroticism. They fit the bill, "to go forth and multiply." I know it dates me, but a beautiful woman used to be said of as, "She's a tomato!" I go down the row, and then up the row, moving the pollen dusting to the right and left, in order to give best exposure. I can't decide whether I am part of a menage a' trois, or just a pimp. Somewhere in between! Just remember these tomato blossoms are also captive creatures. They have a limited ability to live and thrive because I have confined them to a pot and limited their horizons. The blossoms have no control of their own life and scope because of the cloistered situation I have placed them in. If I have not given them the freedom to seek fertilization by natural means, I owe it to protect and nurture. I know, for them it is second best but I always thank them. They are also loved by Mother Nature! Respect Life!

Monday, July 26, 2010

Birdie Num Nums

In the ongoing battle to defend one's berry patch against the avian horde, care has to be exercised that one doesn't fatally trap the birdie in one's net. If you are going to grow birdie num nums, prepare to succeed occasionally and fail often. I have given up netting the loganberries on the fence but they are so prolific the birds always leave enough for us.The deer outside the fence finish off the outside leaves. Straw berries are easier to net and the birds don't get caught. We just lay the nets on the top of the plants.Now that they are finished , I have mowed the patch to encourage new growth. Raspberries are impossible for me to effectively net. Birds always seem to get in, but the few robins do little damage since the berries come on so fast. I am ambivalent about berry eating birds since we have such a congregation, but I guess it's just about food source. I can't blame them, and must avoid raising the ire of the bird lover's chorus.We have two sweet cherry trees and never get a cherry but they are both crow food and robins, who wait and only come when the crows are full. I would do the same if I were a robin. I have spent the last three days patching holes in the blueberry nets. I'm winning. For the pianist and I, blueberries are people num nums, and our friends come to pick as well. We draw the line at blueberries. The birds are voracious over blueberries and it seems mainly, to be the young, speckled breasted robins that think,since they were born here, this is their place, so they are incautious and brazen. The bird frustration index for me on the scale of 10 is, sweet cherries 9 , red currants 9, black currants 6, sour cherries 6, loganberries 6, raspberries 6, gooseberries 3 blueberries 3, strawberries 1. Oh well, there's only so many pies and jams and jellies that you can eat!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Blueberry nets

We have had large, small mesh, old fishing nets, (probably herring or anchovy), for many years. They are still serviceable, though need repairs from time to time. They are much better than the more rigid garden plastic nets that are sold now to defend against the avian horde, so if you can scrounge some,wandering through old fish camp areas, it is worth your while. My grand daughter, my son in law ,and I put up the nets on our blueberry patch last week. It's a big patch, 20 by 55 and takes a lot of net. The robins are relentless in their attempts to breach our defenses. Tying several nets together and propping the ceiling net with struts is a major undertaking for the day. If you don't net your blueberries here in the Salish Sea, you will not have any blueberries. They ripen of course, in sequence over a three month period in the clusters rather than all at once. That is why the commercial berries are expensive since they require to be selectively hand picked. Labor intensive! The pianist prefers that I don't pick the berries since I am not as clean a picker as she is and often leave the spent bloom on the bloom end or the stem on the other. The smart birds selectively pick, or peck, the ripe ones on a daily basis and a flock can keep up with the ripe berries if not netted. The first year that I had a big crop in the 80's I didn't net and wondered why my berries never ripened 'til the season was half over. We remove the nets in the early fall since the foliage color is spectacular. The blueberries are user friendly as they do not need spraying and grow from both old and new wood so pruning is simply tidying. We're looking forward to three month's bounty! The pianist is famous amongst our family and friends for blueberry pancakes and blueberry muffins. The piece d' resistance however, is blueberry pie, built with 50% cooked and 50% raw berries, poured into a baked pie crust,topped with whipped cream.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Susan Sibbald

My Grandmother, born Georgina Lyall, was a great grand daughter of Susan Sibbald. Susan was born in 1783 in Fowey, Cornwall and in 1835 came to what is now near Georgina, Ontario as a widow, built a house and a church on a farm she purchased, which is now a park and historic monument at Sibbald point, Lake Simcoe. Susan, who was raised in a family that was wealthy and were gentry, wrote a book, The Memoirs of Susan Sibbald ,that was eventually published in 1926 and presently available since it has been republished! The book is chiefly concerned with her life from 1783 to 1812, though there are later chapters on the Canadian portion of her life on Lake Simcoe. The book is a treasure, depicting the manners, dress, leisure, travel,the panorama of friends and notables, and the household life of the wealthy gentry of the time, at home in Cornwall and Scotland near Melrose and in the cities of England and Scotland. Curiously, despite situated in the time of Napoleon, and Waterloo, Nelson and Trafalgar, and despite the fact that most of her family were Navy or Army with Commissions, her world was seemingly indifferent to these events! It is a remarkable chronicle of a indulgent and shallow lifestyle that was the only permissible way for such a startlingly intelligent woman like her, to exist in that strata of society! Here is an excerpt from the childhood portion of the memoirs, "In passing the kitchen department, what a savoury smell would issue forth, may be a roast Goose, Ducks and green peas, or maybe a Hare for supper,or as greater delicacies still, a Turkey ,Guinea fowl or Peacock. We always knew when the jack was wanted by Cook's anxious call for "Sancho", the turnspit, a little yellow crooked legged dog, and many a time we have heard the crack of a whip, a cry of distress, and the jack screaming for lack of oil. For poor little Sancho, being in his treadmill, climbing with might and main,anticipating his feast in the dripping pan,would stop suddenly on hearing our voices, and get from the cook what he did not like to feel, or we to hear." Maybe the past is a different country after all.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Make your bed!

It helps your equanimity if you make your bed before you leave the bedroom every day! Some say, "Pshaw, why would you do that when you are just going to get into it again later ?" The pianist in her other life was an old time nurse. She could make the bed so tight that you could bounce a quarter on it. There were no wrinkles in the bed sheet. They were tucked in tight at the foot of the bed. When you climbed under the covers at night your feet were never caught into folds of sheet or stuck out the bottom.The sheets felt cool and crisp. The pillows were all turned and fluffed. There was no pillow drool carried over from the previous night to stick to your cheek. The head sinks into the fluffed pillow as if it were a cloud. The duvet is lifted and shook. The room was aired, the dirty linen in the hamper, and the clothing hung up. The room was cool and smelled like fresh air! The "dressed up" pillows were placed over the working pillows to give a sense of elegance, matching the duvet. To come into such a room at the end of day is to receive a warm embrace. No bedbug dare enter and propagate in this mattress, which is turned and rotated at intervals. At a certain advanced age, the important things in life for well being are, amongst others, a good sleep and regular, sit down, meals. The pianist has been away for a week. I'm batching! My bed making skills are clearly wanting! The bedroom does not look like the "sanctum sanctorum" we have made it in the past. My efforts, sadly, are abortive! The bedroom has a somewhat jumbled look and is not particularly inviting. I'm going to do better tomorrow morning! I'm going to make my bed and lie in it without complaining!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010


The Northwestern crow is a gregarious animal. A broken winged crow walked up the road path in front of my window a few days ago. That waddling, bowlegged walk, was altered by the right wing that dragged on the stones. As I watched, his walk was slow and deliberate. He knew, I think, that he was doomed! He had a stoic look on his face that said it all. I don't understand all the multiple, complex, phrasing the crows use, but I know body language pretty well, and I know that crow knew he was walking to the abyss! He was silent! I never thought I would see him again and put it out of my mind. I was working in the orchard two days later and there he was, still alive, still hopping from bush to bush, hiding to avoid detection. Hiding from the predators, his own kind, and the raptors! Still doomed! It doesn't seem fair. You or I may break a leg or arm and it is often a minor inconvenience, rarely if ever a tragedy, and hardly doomed. If we were, we would hardly bear our fate in the silence and grim recognition of the injured crow. He gave no quarter and receives none.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Theatrical Eating

The pianist and I in the halcyon days of yesteryear in Lotus City would occasionally splurge at the Marina restaurant,a deliciously ambient eatery on the waterfront. Being of an age when food is important, and herself, cooking superbly with fresh ingredients for half a century, many of the ingredients our own production, has not dissuaded the pianist to avoid theatrical eating on special occasions! To experience eating without crowding, and without hurrying, and every course provided with flourish and drama was to be made to feel special. The Cherries Jubilee, the Baked Alaska were finished at the table side with flourish, as well as the Crepes! The "piece de resistance" was the Caeser salad! The maitre d' in formal dress with white gloves of course, would bring his ingredients to the table side. He used a massive wooden bowl with beautiful grain. He crushed anchovies against the side of the bowl mixed with raw separated egg yolk cracked from a height into a small bowl and mixed with pressed garlic, pepper and salt, grated parmesan, olive oil and Worcestershire sauce! All of this was done with elegant ease. He had done it hundreds of times. Each time was an art! He mixed and crushed with a fork. Ot the end of it all, he mixed and tossed large pieces of crisp Romaine. If there were croutons, I can't recall. To finish the romance with a flambe of Cherries Jubilee, or Crepes in brandy, or a fiery Baked Alaska, tells you your meal was a labor of skill and a desire to help you to feel special! As the sun sank in the west, the eastern islands became illuminated in a suffused pink, and the sailboats rocked gently in a tiny breeze. We lingered over our coffee, the day done. I can't and won't apologize for the periodic pampering! :

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Canada Geese and Black Aphids

Today, two events of interest were observed as I was toiling in the soil. The egg shakers from the Fish and Wild Life clearly missed two nests of Canada Geese and, as a result of this oversight, two sets of parents have finally ventured out into the harbour at Lotus Island with four adolescents each. The adolescents are about half size and are all brown with a slight white backside. They stick closely together with one another and their parents because the Eagles are actively feeding their fledglings. About another fifty adult geese, bereft of goslings, are hunkering along, trailing after the families. The trailers are victims of the egg shakers no doubt. I guess we need to control the Canada Goose population but the forlorn trailers seem sad. Don't ask me how I know, I just do! For some reason the geese never come up to the lawn these days but stick to the harbour and the sea weed food source, particularly Eel grass. That saves a lot of shoe fouling goose poop. They are enormously sedate and hardly honk unless they fly! The other event to report is the heat has really struck here on Lotus Island and that means, with rapid dahlia growth and the humidity, the black aphids have appeared on the early flower bud stems. There are a few Ladybugs around to eat them, but despite that help they are growing rapidly.Black aphids are remarkably easy to deal with mechanically by daily inspection, wiping them clean of the stem with finger and thumb and then top spray with water. The pianist thinks I should try Avon Bubble Bath so I am going to give it a go. A little soap never hurt plant or beast. The aphids seem endemic rather than epidemic so a daily round and a little early attention is all that's required for the few dahlia that are afflicted . No poisons are necessary! No other crisis is looming large on Lotus Island today! Good news is not banal! Amor de Cosmos would have fitted in here perfectly.

Monday, July 5, 2010


In the 556 known healing temples of Asklepius in ancient Greece and in the temples in Israel in the period of the Ancient of Days, goats and other animals including chickens for small sins or doves were sacrificed to assuage the gods or God. These were "scapegoats". In Ashkelon it was the first born sacrificed, and in the Aztec culture, the best looking girl in town. They substituted for the sins of others and paid the price. The concept of Jesus as the" scapegoat" of the world originated much later with this construct of atonement , but he, as far as I can see, never allowed people to get off the hook for their own actions in his lifetime. They needed to move off the spot for salvation. We still have scapegoats of a different kind. We might even allow them to sacrifice themselves to atone for us. The attribution of it is, to your parents, your situation, your mate, your hard life, your teacher, the other race, your spiritual advisor, or whatever. They are as much positioned as a scapegoat as the sacrificed in the old days. Piet Hein said, "What ever doesn't kill you makes you stronger"! We have to take responsibility for our actions, willing ourselves to do the right thing, come what may, and loving our God given selves then, for what we are, rather than what we think we might have been. We can't forever blame anyone else or anything else! That's not the way out of the morass! As Pogo says, "We have seen the enemy, and it is us"!

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Raspberry and Pea pickin"

My dad would never let children pick raspberries or peas, bless his pea pickin' heart. He was always grumpy about that, fearing that they would tramp on next year's raspberry canes,and they did! That they would pick an unripe one with one hand and tear off the whole cluster,ripe and unripe. You can reach further in the patch with one hand than two, so they did. He also complained that they didn't have soft hands so, they squashed the ripe berries. I heard this all my childhood so I have followed his advice. He was right! "The same applies to peas",he groused, "They pull them straight with one hand and rip the vine from the ground. They have to use two hands. One to hold the stem and one to pick the pod. I don't want dried peas!" When I was a boy we didn't, as I recall, have the pea varieties that ripen all at once, like the commercial growers want. Pick them once and that's it! Our old fashioned peas, Lincoln, Tall Telephone, produced over time, so preserving the vines was crucial. He was right again,bless his cotton pickin', pea picken', heart. I was picking raspberries today for the first time and thinking back to all of this. My patch has about five varieties, planted randomly over the years as "fill-ins". They vary as to both size and color, mellow and tart, and date of ripening. Color is OK as an indicator, but for me, because of ripe color differences, texture, from a gentle squeeze with such variable berries is more accurate. I'm careful of my new canes, and always pick with two hands. My gentle squeeze is softer than a good retriever's mouth on a prairie chicken. I've given up on the peas since the California Quail find the sprouting plants delicious and the feral bunnies that have arrived would certainly feel the same if they had the chance.

Friday, July 2, 2010

The Archie Club

When my daughter was 12, or so, the pianist sent her to Simpson-Sears to pick up a prepaid purchase. The mail order clerk asked for some indentification and the only thing she had in her wallet was her membership in the Archie Club. There was no hassle from the department store since a member in good standing of the Archie Club would be deemed to have some status and good taste in men. Archie was cool but also beautifully naive, a characteristic that endeared him to hundreds of young girls. They didn't want to identify with the sly, the macho, the slick. The clerk would have recognized a fellow traveler, albeit only twelve. Even though Archie struggled with the usual trials and temptations, he seemed to effortlessly overcome them with a continuing good nature. What's not to love? Certainly the Archie Club card today won't net you much headway at the airport or the customs office, but it tells us where your values are. Even more beautifully naive was Beaver! He was a bit younger than Archie but still had that endearing characteristic that never provoked fear, always comfort. Funny comfort! You could rely on Beaver to say what he thought. He was a normal. In my daughter's days the kids were classified as baddy-bads, goody-goods and normals. My kids always described themselves as normals, but I am not always sure they were honest about that. The principal said to Beaver, "Why do you want to be a garbage collector when you grow up, Beaver "? He replied, "Well. you don't have to wash your hands so much, and people don't mind if you smell. " Beaver was not ready for Betty and Veronica at that stage of his life, but the candor he displayed would eventually give Archie " a run for his money".

Thursday, July 1, 2010


I was measuring the leg lengths and calf girths of a lady the other day. She said " Are they the same"? " Nope", I said, "They are never the same"! " How come"? she said. "Well", I said, "God was never an engineer, He has always been an artist, so we are not made from a slide rule". Well, she thought that was the funniest thing she had heard all day and laughed and laughed and laughed. It's not the first time I've used that silly response with a patient. Even a little knowledge of embryology, is a great thing. R.I.Harris, the doyen of Canadian orthopedics, measured the leg lengths of one thousand consecutive young army recruits in 1941. Up to 3/4 of an inch of discrepancy was determined by him to be within normal limits. Most of recruits never knew they had a leg length discrepancy. Asymmetry is the order of the day for human beings, unrelated to disease or disorder. If you have ever seen a composite made of the two sides of your face, the nature of asymmetry becomes readily apparent. You will hardly recognize yourself! Of course the extent of variability of asymmetry has to have a baseline of normalcy. Woe betide the surgeon who succumbs and falls for a plea that breaches the nuanced acceptable differences the Creation Artist provided. If something goes wrong in a surgical case where the indications were marginal, he may find himself up the creek without a paddle. One shoulder is lower than the other, one nut is lower and smaller than the other, breasts are at different levels. That's what makes us interesting and unique. Vive La Difference!