Feb 26, 2012

Been Cold So Long It Seems Like Warmth To Me

It's been a month since the not-so-subtle reminder of what living in an ice age might entail and the weather seems to have returned to a more normal and acceptable state. It is snowing as I write this but it is a fairy-tale snow in which princes and princesses ride quietly through the forest. The fluttering flakes depart the sky as I imagine the river-merchants husband left his wife - reluctantly and in no haste.

(for those unfamiliar with the poem: The River-Merchant's Wife by Rihaku, better known in the west as Li Po or Li Bai, I will tack on a copy at the end of this musing).

We have barely begun to clean up the down limbs as the weather has been, well, wintery. Gone are the oldest Mountain Ash, one large maple, the top twenty feet or so of three Douglas fir, and numerous branches of elderberry, white walnut, viburnum, wigelia, rhododendron, azalea, and on and on. The shrubs will recover in a couple of years until only the knowledgeable will be able to interpret the scars and recreate their history. On the positive side we have a great opportunity to re-make many of the garden beds - if only we can muster the energy and time.

As to the greenhouse: Plastic(?) panels and PVC pipe are wonderful things in many ways. Had the greenhouse been constructed with glass panes perhaps I might have considered the cost of replacement and lit the stove and prevented any damage. For a few dollars, and a little foresight, I could have fired up the heater anyhow. Fortunately, other than a few pvc pipes that are now far from round, the need for a patch here and there, and the judicious application of a tube or two of caulk the greenhouse should serve its purpose for another year. From a distance it appears undamaged. Another couple of weeks and I will have to turn on the heat as the table tops, bathroom floor and several window sills are near their carrying capacity, and so many seeds.

Rhododendron schlippenbachii [seed planted 10/31/11]

Why this madness to germinate seeds, especially those of trees and shrubs, which, even if successful, I will most likely never see develop into a mature form and flower? And now I have joined a couple of plant societies so I can take advantage of their seed exchanges or sales, opening up access to seed from many other countries of the world, seed unavailable through any of the commercial outlets. I much enjoy the challenge, and the prospect of the unknown outcome is exhilarating, but then. I also get excited watching a good chess match, people fishing, or dew drying on the primulas.


To warm the cockles of my heart I finally closed my eyes to the price and bought a package of ox-tails. I remember when they had a hard time giving them away, now they are the same price as most cuts of beef. Dredged in flour, seared in a little oil and simmered in a pot of stock with carrots, potatoes, parsnips, rutabagas, celery, a bay leaf or two, and other sundry spices for a few hours the snow may continue at least until the pot is drained.


The River-Merchant's Wife

While my hair was still cut straight across my forehead

I played about the front gate, pulling flowers.

You came by on bamboo stilts, playing horse,

You walked about my seat, playing with blue plums.

And we went on living in the village of Chokan:

Two small people, without dislike or suspicion.

At fourteen I married My Lord you.

I never laughed, being bashful.

Lowering my head, I looked at the wall.

Called to, a thousand times, I never looked back.

At fifteen I stopped scowling,
I desired my dust to be mingled with yours
Forever and forever and forever.
Why should I climb the look out?

At sixteen you departed,
You went into far Ku-to-en, by the river of swirling eddies,
And you have been gone five months.
The monkeys make sorrowful noise overhead.

You dragged your feet when you went out.
By the gate now, the moss is grown, the different mosses,
Too deep to clear them away!
The leaves fall early this autumn, in wind.
The paired butterflies are already yellow with August
Over the grass in the West garden;
They hurt me. I grow older.
If you are coming down through the narrows of the river Kiang,
Please let me know beforehand,
And I will come out to meet you
As far as Cho-fu-Sa.

By Rihaku, translated in 1915 by Ezra Pound

Jan 20, 2012

Snap, Crackle, and Pop!

Before the Silver Thaw

After two days of heavy snow a warm front moved in bringing even heavier rain. But we live in a narrow valley on the east side of the Cascade Mountains in Oregon and the frigid air, comfortably settled in, takes days to moderate. As a result the rain is falling through a layer of subfreezing air (26F) and freezes on contact with the surface, any surface. On the one hand it can be quite beautiful (one name for the event is “silver thaw”), on the other, devastating to trees, shrubs, power lines, etc. And driving, for those who must, is simply dangerous. The ice coats each and every branch and twig and leaf or needle and continues to build (like dipping candles) as long as the temperature remains at or below freezing. Several years ago branches were encased in close to half an inch of ice. The weight is tremendous and there is only one inevitability: branches, even whole trees, are snapped off at the weakest point.

Early ice buildup

Around midnight last night I was awakened from what for me masquerades as sleep by a series of snaps, crackles, and pops. My foggy brain thought at first it might be the Chinese New Year, but that is still four days away, I think. I soon realized it was the sound of various tree limbs breaking loose under the unaccustomed weight and crashing to the ground. All night long at varying intervals the night was punctuated with loud bangs. We had just had over a dozen large Douglas firs that towered over the house cut down (now have firewood for a few years) and thanked whatever instinct persuaded us to do it. Even now I can hear the devastation continue. So far our few outbuildings, and the “tea house” and “studio” are unscathed. More rain predicted for this afternoon so things will probably get worse before they get better.

Pruning courtesy of nature

Douglas fir limb encased in ice

Birch tree missing its top

Postscript: As I was about to post this to the blog we lost our internet connection, then electricity. Now, two days later, we are up and running, as they say. As our water is via a well and I've never bothered to buy a generator, we had to do without that luxury too. Damage to the garden is extensive, extensive. And my old greenhouse appears to be a total loss. Now we are being lashed with sleet and the wind is reaching a fevered pitch which will probably bring down more tree limbs , etc. Makes one realize how feeble we are as a species when it comes to dealing with the physical world, despite our vociferous bellowing to the contrary.