Archive for March, 2011

Kauai 2008

The Road

Here is the road: the light
comes and goes then returns again.
Be gentle with your fellow travelers
as they move through the world of stone and stars
whirling with you yet every one alone.
The road waits.
Do not ask questions but when it invites you
to dance at daybreak, say yes.
Each step is the journey; a single note the song.

~ Arlene Gay Levine ~


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Ode To Gaiety

Go gloom
Begone glum and grim
Off with the drab drear and grumble
It’s time
its pastime
to come undone and come out laughing
time to wrap killjoys in wet blankets
and feed them to the sourpusses

Come frisky pals
Come forth wily wags
Loosen your screws and get off your rocker
Untie the strait lacer
Tie up the smarty pants
Tickle the crosspatch with josh and guffaw
Share quips and pranks with every victim
of grouch pomposity or blah

Woe to the bozo who says No to
tee hee ho ho and ha ha
Boo to the cleancut klutz who
wipes the smile off his face
Without gaiety
freedom is a chastity belt
Without gaiety
life is a wooden kimono

Come cheerful chums
Cut up and carry on
Crack your pots and split your sides
Boggle the bellyacher
Convulse the worrywart
Pratfall the prissy poos and the fuddy duds
Take drollery to heart or end up a deadhead
at the guillotine of the mindless

Be wise and go merry round
whatever you cherish
what you love to enjoy what you live to exert
And when the high spirits
call your number up
count on merriment all the way to the countdown
Long live hilarity euphoria and flumadiddle
Long live gaiety
for all the laity

~ James Broughton ~

Hibiscus brackenridgei - Kauai 2008

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A couple weeks ago in botany class, I had to write an essay about a plant that was used as a food. We could choose anything we wanted, as long as our professor hadn’t done a lecture on it already. His lectures focus on major ‘agribusiness’ types of foods like corn or wheat, so I chose to report on the fig. There’s a tree in the backyard, so it was a perfect choice. It contains a bit more commercial information than I usually write, but I had no choice about that aspect and actually learned a few things. Since I haven’t had a moment to do much here, I thought I would post the essay as a ‘ready made’ blog post as soon as I got my grade back. So here it is, my boring essay on the fig, which I did not have time to edit much for a website, so it may fit a bit awkwardly into this space – and yes I got an A 🙂

Spring Fig - 2010

The Fig
Ficus carica

My earliest memory of figs has to do with cookies. Our family cookie jar always had a variety, but the one constant was a sleeve or two of delicious Fig Newtons. My mother thought they were healthy, so she kept them in stock and the family never really discussed what was in the middle of the cookie. In fact, it was not until I was well into my 30’s that I encountered a fig in its natural state, fresh from the tree and not in a cookie. They instantly became a favorite fruit and I eventually bought my own tree so I could eat them fresh. It still amuses me when I offer one right off the tree to a houseguest and they look at me funny because they have never had a fresh fig. Everyone thinks of the cookie first. So, what exactly is a fig and why don’t more people know more about this delicious and nutritious little fruit, apart from its cookie fame?

Figs actually have a long and rich history and a high profile in our collective mythology. The Bible alone mentions the fig fifty seven times, the most famous reference being of Adam and Eve using the leaves as clothing. It is one of only five fruits mentioned in the Quran, and the Ficus religiosa, or Holy Fig, is the tree believed to have adopted Buddha when he received enlightenment. A fig tree is said to have adopted the ancient Roman god, Mithras. This view of the fig tree as a “Great Mother” also figures into the mythology of the Babylonian Ishtar and the Gaulish gods, Dusii. Even Hindu mythology has a story of the “Cosmic Fig Tree” which has the power to grant wishes. Figs were used in love spells and fertility rituals, grown around the home for good luck and prosperity, and the leaves have been used in divination. Sixteenth century herbalist John Gerard credited the fig with curing tumors and “…roughnesse of the skinne, lepries, spreading sores, small pockes, measles, pushes, wheales, freckles, lentiles and scurvinesse of the body and face…” (Herbal or General History of Plants, 1597).

Botanically speaking, the common edible fig, or Ficus carica is of the:
* Subkingdom: Tracheobionta – making it a vascular plant
*Superdivision: Spermatophyta – making it a seed plant
*Division: Magnoliophyta – making it a flowering plant
*Class: Magnoliopsida – making it a Dicotyledon
*Subclass: Hamamelididae: meaning its flowers are often unisex
*Order: Urticales
*Family: Moraceae or Mulberry – which makes it a relative of the rubber plant

Fig Preserves - August 2010

The fruit of the Ficus carica is actually a Syconium, or the inverted inflorescence of the tree. This means it has no visible flowers and the flowers are female, so do not require pollination. The fruit is extremely fragile when ripe and must be consumed or processed immediately. I always use gloves when harvesting because the white sticky sap irritates the skin. The trees grow quickly and can be propagated by cuttings or grafting. They are also deciduous. In fact, my fig tree is always the first plant to lose its leaves in the winter. They thrive in areas with a long hot growing season and a mild winter. Their shallow root system makes it possible to grow them in containers, which can be moved indoors in cooler climate winters. In my experience, they are a relatively easy tree to care for. The only time I need to prune is when the tree gets too tall or develops ‘suckers.’ There are also few pests to worry about, so it is compatible with my organic gardening style. There are usually two crops per season. The first comes from the ‘embryo figs’ which are like leftover fruits from the season before, and the main summer crop, which lasts all summer and into the early fall.

Luscious Figs

My favorite part of eating the fruit is to break it open and study the insides first. It truly looks like an ‘inside out’ flower and the gritty seeds add a fun crunch to whatever dishes I decide to make. When I bought mine, it was no more than three feet tall and now, 6 years later, it stands about nine feet tall and produces more fruit than my family can eat. We like to slice the fig onto a square of puff pastry and bake it in the oven with a dab of goat cheese, honey, and walnuts. We also like to dip them in chocolate. Honestly, I think they are best right off the tree while standing in the garden. Mother Nature must agree with me because every year the ripe fruit attracts possums, rats, mockingbirds, and large yellow birds, which I believe are Hooded Orioles. If you want a fresh ripe fig for breakfast at my house, you have to get up earlier than the wildlife!

Chocolate Dipped Figs and Fig Bread Pudding...drool

Because of the fragility of the fruit, they are not commonly found fresh in the grocery store. This may explain the fact that my guests have rarely had one before I offer. Most of the figs produced are processed and sold dried or canned to manufacturers of jams, jelly and preserves, cookies, trail mix, and energy bars. The fruit is generally the only part of the plant processed, although the leaves can be used for teas or yellow dyes. California produces about 40,000 tons of figs a year, 98% of all US production. Turkey grows about one fourth of the world’s figs, followed by Egypt, Greece, Iran, and Morocco.

Figs were originally cultivated in Asia Minor as early as 9400-9200 BC, based on fossilized fruit found in the Jordan Valley. This information means that the fig predates barley, wheat, and legumes in terms of early agriculture. They eventually spread through the Mediterranean areas and were brought to California in the 1700’s by Spanish missionary priests. Black Mission Figs get their name specifically from being planted at the Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcala, by Franciscan missionaries.

Ripe Fig

My mother may have been right about the nutritional value of the fig cookies kept in the family jar. Figs have a higher fiber content than any other common fruit, vegetable or nut. They have the highest level of calcium of all plant sources, higher even than cow’s milk, and their potassium content is 80% higher than a banana’s. They are also excellent sources of protein and iron. They contain flavonoids, which have value as antioxidants. Even the Roman scholar Pliny claimed that figs were a main component in slaves’ diets because of the high nutritional value and availability.

In recent years, I have noticed an increase of fresh figs on the menu in restaurants due to more chefs using local fresh foods. I find this trend exciting now that I have a tree of my own for inspiration. It is a delicious, interesting, and versatile fruit. The more I learn of its history and nutritional value, the more I look for ways to serve it and to share it with friends. Sometimes, this backfires because I have initiated so many fig fans that my harvest gets smaller every year as people arrive with empty bags in hand.

Well, that’s the end of it. A fairly enjoyable essay to write since the parameters of the assignment included personal experience as well as mythology and folklore, which are among my main interests regarding the plant world. I deleted the bibliography, but if you’d like to know where all the info on commercial food plants can be found, just ask me. There was so much more information about figs, but I had to limit my paper to a certain size – I was amazed at how many fig types there were and how they were all a bit different. At a certain point I could have written a book! Speaking of school and books…I’m off to attend class as soon I can find my sneakers. I think today’s lecture is on plants used as psychoactive drugs. For some reason, I have this feeling there will be a few more students in attendance than there were last Thursday, when the lecture was on plants used for aspirin and birth control pills!

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"Picking Daisies" by Hermann Seeger

I’d Pick More Daisies
By Nadine Stair, age 85

If I had my life to live over,
I’d try to make more mistakes next time.
I would relax. I would limber up.
I would be sillier than I have on this trip.
I would be crazier. I would be less hygienic.
I would take more chances, I would take more trips.
I would climb more mountains, swim more rivers,
and watch more sunsets.
I would burn more gasoline. I would eat more ice cream and less beans.
I would have more actual troubles and fewer imaginary ones.
You see, I am one of those people who lives
prophylactically and sensibly and sanely,
hour after hour, day after day.

Oh, I have had my moments
And if I had it to do over again, I’d have more of them.
In fact, I’d try to have nothing else.
Just moments, one after another.
Instead of living so many years ahead each day.
I have been one of those people who never go anywhere
without a thermometer, a hot water bottle, a gargle, a
raincoat, and a parachute.

If I had to do it over again, I would go places and do things.
I’d travel lighter than I have.
If I had my life to live over, I would start barefooted
earlier in the spring and stay that way later in the fall.
I would play hooky more. I wouldn’t make such good grades
except by accident.
I would ride on merry-go-rounds.

I’d pick more daisies!

A lovely tree I met in Big Bear - 2011

Another Equinox, another Spring, another Sunday….I have missed a couple of weeks here and there have plenty of reasons for that. Busy doesn’t begin to describe it. But, underneath all of the activity, I have been thinking….

Wisteria blooms 2011

…about renewal, recharging, balance and equilibrium – and not taking any classes this summer! Just typing it here has given me a sense of relief. I need more ‘light’; sunlight, lightness of spirit, and a lightening of the load. Right now it feels as if I am crawling away rusty from the strangely cold and exhausting winter, and I’m not talking about the weather. Task follows task and there is no room to truly enjoy the things that normally give me pleasure. The need for a little wiggle room in my schedule has reached maximum urgency. Recent news makes my resolve even stronger. Life is temporary and fragile. We can be here one moment and literally gone the next. There is no time to waste on bullshit or futility. There is no room for the excuses that prevent life from being as fulfilling as it can possibly be. There are times to work hard, but there must also be time off to enjoy being alive. That’s balance. Without it, life can be a royal drag after a while. Even Mother Nature knows that, which is why we have Spring, and daisies!

Even the lawn spiders have been busy!

So, this summer, I will be taking ownership of my free time to do the things that have recently lost their luster because of exhaustion or the lack of time and space to be creative. There will be more time spent on romantic walks with Tom, time to care for my health and well-being, time for yoga and planting seeds, time to be creative, and time to do some ‘nothing.’ There will be inhaling and exhaling in equal and steady increments, and more stopping to smell the flowers on the side of that road I’ve been hyper-vigilantly marching up and down! My garden misses me and I miss her too, so there will definitely be more time for that. Just looking forward to the end of this semester is breathing new life into my spirit and outlook. That tells me I’m doing the right thing and I believe Spring agrees with me.

Crocus - Big Bear, California - 2011

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The colour of my soul is iron-grey and sad bats wheel about the steeple of my dreams.” ~ Claude Debussy

Critters that generally creep most people out are among my favorite things in the whole wide world. Spiders of all kind have a special place in my heart and at my house there is a strict catch and release program. Snakes are completely awesome, although I don’t think I want one as a pet. And bats. I love love love bats!

When we moved into this house in ‘o4, I was shopping online for a house # plaque since our house was unnumbered, and I ran across this awesome resin bat urn and just had to buy it for the front porch. There was a moment’s fear that it would be too big or out of place in the suburbs, but that was quickly dismissed because it was a BAT URN and who could say no to that!?!?

After a few years the gray started to peel off and it really started to look gross, so in January I decided to give it a makeover:

It just looks terrible with the white resin showing through – yuck!

I did, however, think the spider webs added a very nice Gothic touch and I was sad to disturb the happy little pretties. There were a few very large black widows that had to be evicted.

All the plants were removed and I took a stiff brush to the entire thing to clean it off and help peel away the loose gray paint. Then I resprayed it with a special outdoor/plastics spray paint.

Black was an obvious choice. If I don’t like it, I’m sure it will need another treatment someday and I can change the color. I love playing with spray paint!

Then I edited the plants, which were crowded and need some thinning and cleaning out anyway. There was a huge cluster of Ivy, a couple Lilly plants…

…some true Peppermint, which is supposed to bring good fortune if planted by the front door…

…and I found a Cyclamen that I will try to salvage..

None of the Ivy went back in, instead I opted for color: Primrose and Dusty Miller. Dusty Miller is a great plant with silver foliage that highlights the colors of whatever else is growing. It can be an annual in cooler areas, but in my zone, 9-10, it grows as a perennial.

After a month or so, it has already grown in and fluffed out. Upgrade! There are a couple of places where the old resin paint is peeling up, but for now it looks fine and I can spot-touch the paint with my trusty little spray can.

And now it gets better…the other day a package arrived for me from my daughter, Terri, and her wife, Emily. I dropped everything and grabbed my camera. What beautiful wrapping – I love presents!!!

I’m already hyperventilating at this point!! My Birthday has arrived early!!

It’s a bat skeleton from one of my favorite places to visit while in San Francisco: Paxton Gate!

It has found a good home and will be well cared for and I love it love it love it! It’s going on my dresser next to some other creepy things that I love. Thank you so very much, Terri and Emily – it’s very special and I’m honored to have it! And now I’m off to study all of its little bones…bwahahaha!

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