I realized today that I nearly missed National Poetry Month. Missed is probably the wrong word - I'm pretty sure that my forgetting to acknowledge this month did it any real harm - but in thinking about it today, while transplanting the bee balm and watering as much as the hoses could reach, I couldn't help but think about poetry and gardening. And poetry and science. Anyone who has read Louise Gluck'sThe Wild Iris, or read Pablo Neruda'sodes to just about anything and everything - oh, it's a long list of poets that look to their garden for words, and perhaps Stanley Kunitz summed it up for all of us.
I think of gardening as an extension of one's own being, something as deeply personal and intimate as writing a poem. The difference is that the garden is alive and it is created to endure just the way a human being comes into the world and lives, suffers, enjoys, and is mortal. The lifespan of a flowering plant can be so short, so abbreviated by the changing of the seasons, it seems to be a compressed parable of the human experience.
So maybe all of life passes us by in an afternoon spent in the garden - we move some clumps of perennials to a sunnier location because the trees have grown and are now providing too much shade, we finally give up on a plant that we so hoped would grow - while another surprises us, robustly growing for the very first time for reasons unknown. Today, working in my own garden, I thought of a poem about a first garden and a first dog, a poem written by the spouse of Katherine who is with my research group - so, not surprisingly, I thought about first gardens and poetry, and of course a dog would have to be present.
Not many people know it but Adam and Eve had a dog. its name was Kelev Reeshon, which means, first dog. Some scholars say it had green fur and ate only plants and grasses, and that is why some dogs still like to eat grass. Others say it was hairless like the Chihuahua. Some say it was male, some female, or that it was androgynous like the angels or the present-day hyena. Rabbi Peretz, A medieval cabalist in Barcelona, thought it was a black dog and that it could see the angels which were everywhere In the garden, although Adam and Eve could not see them. He writes in his book of mystical dream meditations, the Sefer Halom, that Kelev tried to help Adam and Eve see the angels by pointing at them with its nose, aligning its tail in a straight line with its back and raising one paw. But Adam and Eve thought Kelev was pointing at the birds. All scholars agree that it had a white tip on its tail, and that it was a small dog. Sometimes you see paintings of Eve standing next to a tree holding an apple. The misinterpretation of this iconography gave birth to the legend of the forbidden fruit and the fall from grace. Actually, it was not an apple, but Kelev's ball and Eve was about to throw it. One day, although there were no days or nights as we know them, she threw the ball Right out of the garden. Kelev ran after it and did not return. Adam and Eve missed their dog, but were afraid to leave the garden. It was misty and dark outside the garden. They could hear Kelev barking, always farther and farther away, its bark echoing as if there were two dogs barking. Finally, they could stand it no longer, and they gathered Kelev's bed of large leaves and exited the garden. They were holding the leaves in front of their bodies. Although they could not see it, an angel followed, trying to light up the way with a flaming sword. And the earth was without form outside the garden. Everything was gray and without shape or outline because nothing outside the garden had a name. Slowly, they advanced toward the sound of barking, holding each other, holding their dog's bed against their bodies. Eventually they made out something small and white, swinging from side to side, it seemed to be leading them through the mists into a world that was becoming more visible. Now there were trees, and beneath their feet, there was a path.
So the nights are a bit warmer now - more moths are spotted circulating the front door light in the early morning, and the entire garden is abuzz with activity. So far today: A headless snake was found curled up by the coral bells, Stanley and Wood had a large and unfamiliar grey cat trapped (safely) up in the water oak, a female painted bunting (oh - that gorgeous shade of green! I want my house painted female-painted-bunting green) was spotted at the feeder (tip: try white millet; I'm hoping this is the female of the pair that has nested here for several years in a row - I always spot the female first, then the male several weeks later). There are three LOUD baby bluebirds in the lower right apartment of the purple martin house (I've mentioned their parents before), the hyacinth beans ('Ruby Moon') are starting to germinate from seeds that I collected last season (I know, I know - I'm late in getting my seeds started this year), and it looks like I'll have five phillipine lilies make it. It generally amazes me how on such a little piece of land that there can be so much going on at once - at any one moment - the key is just to look I suppose.
But today I need to not be too horribly distracted by the garden. I have a draft of a manuscript that I desperately need to get started. Someone else is depending on me for this one and it's already late, as they all generally are. I've become the bottleneck in my own life with respect to manuscripts: I can't blame my students or collaborators or anyone really. So today, I'll take little breaks and weed the fall-blooming salvias and plant some sunflower seeds where I took up the brocolli and perhaps I'll even mow outside of the front gate. But I really also need to write about the microorganisms associated with the bottlenose dolphin respiratory tract...the data is in front of me, I've even done a decent literature search and have the needed references stuffed into my bag. I just need to make myself stay inside. Yeah, right.
What Stanley tries to tell me (over and over and over again):
Don't worry so much about work. You most likely can't change it and you most certainly can't control it.
It will rain, eventually. So quit all of that silly dancing in the garden - you're embarassing me.
Why do I stand watch over this dang sailboat when you hardly ever take her out? It should be a crime to have a beautiful wooden sailboat and to take her out so infrequently. No treats for you. Get your priorities straight.
A good bottle of wine is worth the extra money. Opening that bottle by noon on a Saturday is decadent in that oh-so-perfect way. Especially if the wine is served with greenies.
Slow down. And every now and then roll over on your back and maybe somebody will give you a belly rub. It's worth a shot.
Being outside is good. And one day, yes, one day - one of those herons is gonna land next to me, instead of in the tidal creek, and life will be better than good.
After a few glasses of wine and planting two rows each of Royal Burgundy snap beans and Butterbean Edamame soybeans and watering the parched (aka bone dry) ground (I heard that we're 6 inches below normal for the year, and have had less than an inch of rain in April) - I feel a little better.
The good news: It looks like our first microbial genome is through the library cloning phase - and now they'll try to close any gaps in the sequence (if they are present). Next comes annotation - and we'll be involved at that step. Our first genome! Oh - and friends went to Woodlanders on Thursday, and brought me back a flowering maple (Abutilon pictum).
The bad news: While the science is good, and the lab is great - the external politics are exhausting. Plus, we're in a drought.
Time to take the ancient sweet beagle out for a late evening walk.
Although I could go on (and on) about our need for rain, I must also say that we're having a beautiful spring. This morning, for instance, is perfect - there's a cool breeze and there's blue sky and the roses are blooming away and the mock orange is blooming away and the sugarsnap peas are blooming away and there are three bluebird babies in the purple martin house and the Ancient Wonder Beagle is sleeping peacefully and the cat is at the window where she can watch the bird feeder and...boy do I want to stay home. I've got alot of work to do though - but I think that if I ever have a say in matters of this sort, that I'd have an official spring holiday that is tied to something in bloom. Today I could call up the lab and say 'Guys, I'm not making it in today. The Cl. Cecile Brunner is in full bloom and I'm going to look at it all day.' Hmmmm. Wait. I do that already. Just not today, but maybe tomorrow?
Tonight I went to see Bonnie Raitt, with special guest Jon Cleary, at the North Charleston Performing Arts Center. All I can say is:
It made me miss New Orleans, it made me miss living on the Gulf Coast, when on the way to New Orleans for a night you could stop off at the Florabama for a beer (and if you're lucky, or unlucky, catch a mullet being tossed on the beach), where I learned about hurricanes after flying in on the last flight into Pensacola (after taking my 8-yr old niece camping on the Blue Ridge parkway where I learned that she suffered from motion sickness after her sweet little self barfed all over the back of my former college roommates car) before they closed the airport for Andrew and I found the surge had my boat above it's pilings and where I found a strange gentlemen trying to save my boat, which together we did (even though I still learned how to repair fiberglass after the storm which is never a bad skill to have) and boy how do I miss that sugar sand when I sink into the pluff mud off the South Carolina coast, and yes, it made me miss Michigan and watching storms come for miles and it made me remember that night, after a long, long day in the lab when I got home to the farmhouse to find two of my three dogs missing from the dog pen (that was more of a sheep pasture complete with a barn) and a note from my ex saying that after three months of being apart he had rethought the whole dog thing and wanted two of them (if he had taken the pointer he knew it would have been a death sentence, and one that I could have defended in court) and to this day I won't leave my dogs outside when I'm gone and although he brought one of the two back (Handsome Lloyd - also known as Lloyd of Laingsburg), it has forever made me wonder how couples with children walk out of a relationship because I can't imagine how painful it must be because the dog-thing nearly destroyed me, and then I thought about change and so very much of life is about change and that my mother's lung cancer diagnosis has made my family confront change over the past month in a way that I could never even have imagined and as I told a friend today ('yes, we've had the conversation about how she wants her funeral') I thought about how one might as well meet change head-on because it's gonna happen no matter what, and Elvis is a perfect example of that.
The power of music.
And the power of sugarsnap peas, blooming away without a care in the world. And if that isn't enough, I just read that there's potentially another habitable planet out there. What about that.
Yes, there's been another rare spotting of the Lower Awendaw Wild Beagle...on the stairs! This amazing creature has been spotted in many places - the peaceful coastal plains, harsh habitats, great forests, during a savage hunt -- and now on the stairs. Does this suggest that this Wild Beagle is adapting to living near humans, that the growth in LA is reducing it's preferred habitat, forcing it to expand it's range? Or does it just mean that the Wild Beagle wants a treat? A Greenie perhaps?
There is so much left to discover about this rare species.