Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Gardening, Pets and a Summer Poem

It is a sweet and golden day here on the Mendocino coast, nearly windless with the occasional sound of a wind chime, the tinkling of my glass mobile of a lighthouse, and the sandpapery slidings of a windsock decorated with tropical drinks.

Our favorite aestival drink has become the "pink monkey," a mixture of vodka, Italian pomegranate soda, Fresca, ice, and a slice of lime. Refreshingly sweet but with the almost bitter clarity of pomegranate, a juice now in vogue for its anti-oxidant properties, but long a favorite flavor of mine. I remember harvesting pomegranates from my neighbors' bushes growing up in SoCal, not that we ever asked permission.

Even in the suburbs I dreamed of living off the land. There are still few thrills for me as great as drinking fresh creek water. The first time I drank from a stream, backpacking in Big Sur at the age of 14, I was taken aback that water could simply be sipped from an open source instead of arriving, chlorinated and fluoridated, through a stainless steel pipe. The best things in life are free, indeed, as were the blackberries I harvested today twenty feet from my front door, which I mixed with vanilla yogurt for a wonderful brunch.

It's been a dry spring and summer here and the deer, now searching everywhere for green tidbits, have effectively decimated my garden. Last night they topped the broccoli and brussel sprouts which leaves me with no crop except for the few flowers they won't eat, zinnias and marigolds among them. I may convert my garden to flowers only, though there is still time to plant some winter crops, but before I plant anything new I must deer-proof the garden. At present I have but one "scarecrow," a motion-activated sprayer that discourages mammalian pests, but I need at least two to protect the garden, plus some deer netting to throw over select plants. Do I have the gumption to start over again? I think so.

I think of my first garden on the coast as an experiment. Curiously its greatest enemies have been our cats, who love to dig up new plantings, and the damned deer. Gophers have been absenet and insects not much of a problem. Since we rent I have no ambition to put up a fence, not to mention that it would disturb our ocean view. But I am no longer unapprised of the hazards of gardening here. Deer will eat almost anything in my experience, though they do have a preference for roses and edible greens. They sampled my apple mint last night, about to bloom, but did not devastate it, evidence that perhaps mint is not on their preferred menu.

Kathleen, after a year since Kenyon's demise, is ready to adopt a new dog. We looked at an Australian heeler mix the other day, a lovely, athletic, freckled beast of medium size, but she was so energetic that I did not look forward to minding her during the day while Kathleen is at work. I don't think I have the energy to keep that dog entertained; it would likely be in constant motion and in no small danger of escaping and exploring the adjacent State Park unless tied up. I've always wanted an Irish Wolfhound, as my size makes such a dog look normal-sized, but Kathleen points out how much room it would take up and how much food it would eat.

It is a worldwide scandal, America's fixation with pets, as many are better fed than the world at large, not to mention the excellent veterinary care in a world where most veterinarians earn their keep by treating cattle and other more valuable animals in the economy. In Mexico dogs were no more or less than furry burglar alarms, and their relative neglect was shocking in view of American prejudices. Other nations employ animals; we anthropomorphize them. Is it all Disney's fault? At least in 4-H students learn to groom their animals for slaughter, while the housepet remains an end in itself. I do think the Paris Hilton chihuahua fad has gone too far, however, since we heard of a wedding our friends gave in Mexico with Chihuahua bride and groom (appropriately dressed) a reception for 100. I'm told it was a "black nose only" affair, with exceptions made for bipeds.

Through the accident I've lost a month of my life and am just catching up with correspondence and other duties, though I might have saved my garden if I'd been feeling better. As it is I don't mind feeding the deer if only they had better manners and could wait in line to have their hooves stamped.

I recently joined a blogging network on Facebook and discovered that poet Ann Marie Eldon had over 200 regular subscribers to her blog, which I found astounding. Props to her. It is mind-boggling that a platform like Facebook automatically fills in the statistics for blogs when you sign up for their network, if a little embarrassing for my dearth of regular subscribers. Then I have not always been the most regular of bloggers, nor do I promote myself much beyond writing.

Wednesday our magic bed arrives with its mattress of extra-firm latex foam, the best sleeping surface I have discovered. Our old joints scrape and grate with anticipation of a partial reprieve from the assault of nightly gravity.

For today's poem I want something summery, so I'll paste in one from my years in medical school in Galveston in the late 70s. Galveston has a climate of 80/80 six months of the year--80% humidity and 80 degrees. I have never been more uncomfortable physically in a climate than when I lived there, but since summer took up half the year, I did write a number of summer poems.

Mid-Summer Invitation

The humid night sits on a rocking chair.
Cicadas, crickets melodize the air.
The summer's fullness pushes through the screen
like a ripe pear.

Faraway, radios sing and blare.
A dog insists a cat was nearly there.
An automobile's signature of wind
tingles my hair.

I dream the dreams of summer, I loaf and loll.
I will not wrestle with a thorny soul.
I'm sinking in a dish of mint ice cream, with chocolate
running around the bowl.

Join me then. Here is a mild cigar,
a glass of beer, one shy small summer star
and this my porch. We'll rock and sip and smoke and talk
and talk some more.

(published in Arkenstone, 1978)




  1. Irish wolfhounds don't take up much space and don't eat all that much. Ours ate only two cups of dry food a day, and was quite happy living in a normal ranch house. If you live in an apartment, space would be more of a consideration. But they are certainly quieter in an apartment than the average little yappy dog.

    The thing is, wolfhounds are only high energy when they see a good reason -- when someone comes home, when they are invited to play, when food is served, etc. The rest of the time, an Irish wolfhound is perfectly happy to lie around like a lump, or keep watch on his home by moving on his own schedule from one favored watching area to another. Big dogs conserve energy, and are too secure to act aggressive.

    They like long walks, but they are perfectly happy if you just walk them up and down the street.

    Basically, you need to both go look at Irish wolfhounds. If both of you like the dogs, you will find that there's no problem any more, or that there are easy fixes. If you aren't both into them after seeing and spending time with them, then you probably shouldn't get one.

  2. oh man...your poetry is...sublime. i am envious of you, you know. do your words come as effortlessly as i imagine they do?

    you sound good. i too am thinking of re-starting my garden for fall. my sunflowers are haggard and drooping. the squash vines are flattened and pale. it is time for new growth.

    i just bought a kitten from a shelter to keep me company as i write. she likes to nip at my neck.

    thank you for continuing to write your blog for your loyal readers. like me!

  3. Maureen, you give me hope. I mentioned it to Kathleen today; I think I'll print it out (she doesn't read my blog, probably a good thing).

    Meryleme, I had a renaissance in poetry in my first two years in medical school, in Galveston, and this was one of those. But I have also worked very hard on my gift, though I seldom rise to this degree of lyricism anymore, a pity. I think I'm proud of the _sound_ of this poem. ;-)

  4. Also, Maureen, if you get this--do wolfhounds swim? I must have a dog that swims.

  5. I don't think the Facebook stats generally tell much of a story, although A M Eldon's readership is genuinely impressive. If you put a lot of work into Facebook and into promoting your blog there, you could probably get plenty of subscribers there yourself - but I'm not convinced it's worth doing.

    That said, it's worth being a part of it as I have discovered some interesting lit blogs through the network.

    I tend to read blogs through Bloglines (including yours) or through random clicks on my own site's long list.


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