Looking down is looked down upon, isn’t it? Happy, healthy people are supposed to stand tall and look toward the horizon. “Looking up” is a way of saying things are improving. A “downer” is a disappointment.
But gardeners, even the most optimistic ones, are almost always looking down.
If I ever become incapable of bending over, my gardening days will be over. Except in specially designed gardens for the disabled, it’s impossible to garden in an upright position or while seated.
Sometimes I’m appalled by how much of my time in the garden is spent in a bent-over position. I’ve even wondered if it’s harmful. (I suspect it makes face wrinkles worse. Gravity, you know.) On the other hand, I don’t have any back problems. Maybe I’ve naturally used the correct technique for bending over, called the “hip-hinge.”
Planting things, weeding, deadheading, connecting hoses, and just peering at plants to see how they’re doing — all those garden tasks require one to bend over. Never mind picking up tools and gathering weeds, clippings, etc. for disposal, which require any number of additional bend-overs.
For some garden jobs, such as manual edge trimming or intensive weeding in one spot, I get down onto one or both knees. A kneeling pad helps, as does switching positions every now and then.
Thinking about this, I realized that both kneeling and bending at the waist are positions associated with humility and showing respect. What could be more appropriate for us gardeners than to bend our knees and our bodies, and turn our faces toward the Earth?
These thoughts reminded me of words by Henry Beston, nature writer and gardener:
“Touch the earth, love the earth, honour the earth, her plains, her valleys, her hills, and her seas; rest your spirit in her solitary places. For the gifts of life are the earth’s and they are given to all, and they are the songs of birds at daybreak, Orion and the Bear, and dawn seen over ocean from the beach.” (From The Outermost House: a year of life on the great beach of Cape Cod.)
As a gardener and creature of Earth, I am honoured to bend my back and knees to her. The rewards are rich and wonderful.
I’M reposting my very first blog post from May 2010, originally titled “Herbert West, Reanimated.” Because I started blogging as part of my self-publishing project, it made sense to begin by introducing my book, which at the time was on the brink of being published.
Shown below is the original cover image, created by moi, with my husband and a neighbour as models. Four years later, I replaced it with the professionally designed version in the featured image.
In one of my books of H.P. Lovecraft’s stories, (The Tomb and Other Tales, Ballantine edition, 1970) there is a chronological list of HPL’s works, with check marks by the ones I had read. Notably unmarked is “Herbert West, Reanimator,” written in 1921-1922. It was published in a magazine called Home Brew as a series of six horror stories. In his biography of HPL, L. Sprague De Camp refers to them as “perhaps the most forgettable ” of all Lovecraft’s stories. Despite this dismissal, I was delighted finally to run across them in 1998.
While it’s true that Herbert West exemplifies some of HPL’s faults as a writer, notably overuse of adjectives such as “hideous” and a coarseness of plotting, I found the story intriguing. It struck me as an outline for something bigger. The two main characters, Herbert West and the nameless narrator, begged (in my mind at least) to be fleshed out.
Why would anyone want to reanimate corpses? Why would anyone remain a close friend of someone who was always looking for really fresh corpses to reanimate, even to the point of creating them by means of murder?
This is the question about any “mad scientist.” Is he evil or merely mad? Is his friend stupid and credulous or simply loyal?
In the fall of 2000, two years after I read Lovecraft’s story, I began to answer these questions about Herbert West. I ended up several years later with a hefty trilogy. of which I am about to publish the first book, The Friendship of Mortals, as an ebook. By the time I post here again, it should be available on Smashwords.com, technology permitting.
Audrey Driscoll’s Blog is ten years old this month! I published my first post on May 15th, 2010.
The only reason I started blogging was because I was about to publish my first novel. Advice from other self-published authors was that a blog would support that project. Well, maybe…
Once or twice a week, I diligently beavered up a post. I soon realized I had said enough about the just-published book, so had to find other topics I could hold forth on convincingly. Reading and writing in general were the obvious choices. My garden was another, with the added feature of photos.
It took an embarrasingly long time before my posts had any views at all. For years (years!) one or two likes were something to cheer about, and a comment was a semiannual event. Not until 2015 or 2016 did this blog attract a respectable following of regular readers, many of whom contribute comments. To all friends and visitors of the blog, many thanks for reading my posts and contributing comments.
What have I learned in this decade of blogging?
A blog by itself does not sell books. (I don’t know what sells books.)
You don’t have to blog every day, but posting at regular intervals helps to develop blogging as a habit. Otherwise, it’s like starting from scratch every time you get back to your blog.
The best way to attract readers is to follow other blogs, read posts, and leave comments, or at least “likes.”
You can’t follow every blogger who follows you. I now follow more than 100 blogs and struggle to read all the posts in my Reader each day. Confession: I skip a lot of them. Some super-bloggers publish many times a day. I read only a few of that deluge of posts. Before following yet another blog, I check how often the blogger posts and usually avoid the overly prolific.
It’s great when one of my posts attracts comments that develop into a discussion, with commenters responding to one another as well as to the original post. It’s like a slow-motion conversation. Asking questions at the end of a post is a good way to generate such a response.
Most of the people (entities?) that follow your blog won’t read, “like,” or comment on your posts. Why? No idea, but that’s how it is. If you have a couple of dozen regular followers who read and comment on most of your posts, you’re doing well.
Adding keywords to your posts probably attracts more views. On my statistics page I see almost equal numbers of views from the Reader and search engines. Keywords help people other than your followers to discover your blog.
Adding photos or other images to your blog makes them visually appealing, but involves extra work. Loading photos, resizing them if necessary, finding copyright-free or public domain images — these tasks can take longer than writing posts! Except for garden-related posts, I generally stick to one or two images, and now that I have a well-stocked Media Library, I don’t hesitate to re-use an image.
If you reblog someone else’s post, any images in that post are uploaded to your Media Library. If you’re concerned about copyright issues or just want to conserve space, it’s best to link to the post after the first paragraph of text, instead of hitting the “Reblog” button.
Upgrading from the free version of WordPress to a paid plan is worthwhile to get rid of advertising, now that it’s become intrusive and offensive. (Fungal nail cures, anyone? Or how to get rid of ear wax? Do you really want that stuff in your posts?) You also get more space for photos and other media.
When it comes to blog themes, I’m not adventurous. I changed themes more in my early blogging days. At that time, you could find theme titles in the footer area of other blogs, so if another blog’s theme looked good, you could easily find out what it was. That’s no longer the case. My theme (“Suits”) suits me, so I’ve stuck with it. I like having a sidebar that’s visible all the time (although not on phones or tablets).
One thing I appreciate when visiting other blogs is a Recent Posts list. It gives a quick impression of a blogger’s style and posting frequency and allows me to sample their freshest posts.
It’s helpful to have a bunch of post ideas in your Draft folder. When you get an idea, click on Add New Post, make up a title, and key in the core idea. You can always flesh it out later. When you can’t think of a post topic, one of these idea drafts might be inspiring.
One of the main rewards of blogging is the connections I’ve made with other bloggers. Which is why it’s helpful to visit and follow other blogs, read posts, “like” them (or not), and contribute comments.
The other major benefit of regular blogging is it forces me to organize thoughts and express them in words. Even when I don’t have a major work in progress, blogging keeps my writing skills alive.
Every now and then Almost every week, I decide I’ve said everything and have no more to contribute to the blogosphere. I even have a final post in my Drafts folder, helpfully entitled “The End.” I haven’t used it yet!
Have any of you been blogging for ten or more years? Have you ever struggled to keep your blog going? Has blogging brought you any surprises, good or bad?
Because I’m retired and living in fortunate circumstances, I haven’t been directly affected by the pandemic. The worst effect has been the weekly grocery shop and having to cancel a week long holiday planned for the end of March. Boo-hoo.
But reading and hearing about what’s happening in the rest of the country and around the world has made me think about things. For what it’s worth, here are some of those thoughts…
The speed and magnitude of the lockdowns, quarantines, closures, and other measures was amazing. Maybe this will show us how to change in order to slow climate change, which is potentially a bigger threat than Covid-19.
The pandemic has held up a mirror to our values. In Canada, and maybe other countries, the most severe outbreaks have been in long term care homes, prisons, and meat plants. Quite different situations, but with some things in common — people in close quarters and/or workers who are poorly paid. Care home workers are kept to part time by their for-profit employers and therefore must work in more than one facility to make a decent living. Meat plant workers live in crowded conditions because they can’t afford better accommodation. Guess what happens.
Grocery shopping has become an improvisational absurdist play. People wearing masks dart around following arrows on the floor. If they meet someone else in an aisle, they recoil in horror, but can’t turn around without going in the wrong direction.
Every evening at 7 p.m., I grab whatever pot is in the dish drainer and a wooden spoon. I go out on my back porch and bang the spoon against the pot for several seconds. Then I do the same thing on the front porch. A cacophony of jingling, rapping, and banging resounds through the neighbourhood. No howling, although sometimes I hear a dog barking along. It feels like the right thing to do, but from another angle, it’s absurd.
Before the pandemic, most people were using reusable shopping bags. Now those bags are forbidden. Most stores here supply paper or single-use plastic bags. Paper bags are way less functional because they lack handles and get soggy if wet. But at least they really are biodegradable.
Vast amounts of PPE (personal protective equipment) are being used and discarded worldwide. Much of that stuff contains plastic. I don’t know how it’s disposed of, but I think incineration would be the best way, especially if it could generate energy. But I suspect the stuff gets landfilled, along with all the single-use plastic bags everyone’s using again. Masks have been washing up on beaches. Not good. On the other hand, fossil fuel consumption is way down.
When I read or write fiction now, I have to keep reminding myself it’s okay for those fictitious characters to go out and get close to one another.
I keep hearing that people are dreaming more. Some think this is Mother Nature sending us messages. I think it’s because people who are working from home or no longer working don’t have to hit the ground running any more. They can wake up slowly, which means they remember their dreams. Dreams are slippery things, quickly lost in the transition from sleep to waking.
Opening things up will be more complicated than shutting down was. By now, the people in charge may be getting decision fatigue. Let’s hope they don’t mess up.
The role of the car is being questioned. Does commuting make sense any more? Will people keep working from home, at least part of the time?
Even after restaurants, gyms, and spas reopen, are people really going to rush out and patronize them? Some may prefer to wait for the vaccine. Many of these businesses may disappear forever.
What if there is no vaccine, though? We may return to the situation that prevailed when “the plague” was an ever-present threat, like war and famine. (Or flood and fire.) In any case, there will be other viruses and therefore other pandemics.
Wearing masks when you have any kind of respiratory illness will become a normal practice. Designer fashion masks are probably available already.
On September 11th, 2001, when I arrived at work and heard that both the World Trade Center towers had collapsed, the first thing I thought was This will change the world. What’s happening now will change it even more.
People in the future will probably look at the late 20th century and the first couple of decades of the 21st as a lost golden age.
What about you, fellow bloggers? How are you weathering the pandemic? Are you looking forward to things going back to normal, or wondering if they ever will?
Most gardeners complain about weeds. It’s been said that there are no weeds, only plants in the wrong places. There may be something to that. Take the dandelion in the image at the top of the post. It’s been in that spot for several years. I cut out the flowers that have bloomed to keep them from producing seeds and otherwise leave it be. It’s sort of like keeping a wild animal as a pet.
More seriously weedy are several plants I would never have introduced to this garden now that I’ve come to know them. Once established, they spread and colonize, often invading other plants to the point both have to be dug up in order to remove the invader.
Two I’m doing battle with right now are Italian arum and periwinkle (Vinca minor, two different varieties). I planted them because they were praised and recommended by reputable garden writers.
The late Henry Mitchell was keen on the Italian arum (Arum italicum), and since he was a good writer, I was infected with his enthusiasm for the plant. Okay, my original specimen was grown from seeds I collected near a bike path, so maybe it’s an unruly type. Mitchell, I recall, mentioned a variety called “Marmoratum,” which apparently was granted an Award of Garden Merit by the Royal Horticultural Society.
I would like to bestow an Invasive Plant Curse on the arum, because it has made itself a pest here. It spreads both by seeds — which are one of its most attractive features — and underground bulblets. The older the plant, the deeper it roots, making it almost impossible to remove without major digging and disruption. And its flowers are unremarkable, apart from smelling like rotting meat (a quality common to the arum family).
So, Mr. Mitchell, were you aware of these problems with the arum and chose not to reveal them, or was yours better-behaved?
A plant with similar faults is the bluebell (Hyacinthoides non-scripta or H. hispanica or maybe a hybrid of the two, H. × massartiana). It’s the much-praised denizen of the springtime woodland. I didn’t plant them; they were already established when I started gardening here. In bloom, it’s quite pretty, but it spreads even faster than the arum, and like it has lush, dense foliage that weighs down or shades any smaller plants nearby. Both bluebells and arum go dormant for the summer, but in spring, where these plants grow thickly, others get shaded or crowded out.
The bulbs of arums and bluebells are a foot or more below the soil surface, so digging them out is a challenge. In spots where they’ve wedged themselves in among other plants, it means major disturbance. The optimal times for transplanting or dividing perennials and bulbs vary, so one is bound to be doing this operation at non-optimal times for some things. Besides, in my garden it’s tough, unpleasant work, because there will inevitably be tree roots to deal with.
I’m going to experiment with cutting off the top growth of arums and bluebells in specific areas. In theory, this will eventually do them in.
Periwinkle is often recommended as a groundcover for “problem areas” such as dry shade. That’s why I planted it here. Unfortunately, I chose the unimproved basic type of Vinca minor. It has covered the ground altogether too well. It’s evergreen, so few other herbaceous plants can compete with a thick mat of it. Even the yellow and green variegated type has revved up in recent years and wound its way around irises and other perennials.
Fortunately, periwinkle can be uprooted quite easily, working from the edge of a patch inward to the more established parts. It pays to keep an eye out for a resurgence, though. Missed bits or roots that haven’t been extracted will make a comeback.
Forget-me-not (Myosotis) is another of my self-inflicted weeds. It’s a case of too much of a good thing. In full spring bloom, it creates a blue mist of tiny flowers. What’s not to love? Its habit of abundant self-seeding, that’s what. The dense crop of seedlings that results can out-compete less aggressive plants. Individual plants are short-lived and easy to pull up, but it’s important to remove most of them as soon as bloom starts to fade, leaving only a few to develop seeds.
Random self-seeding is also responsible for a surprisingly large number of unintended hellebores in some of my beds and borders. Now, I like hellebores, and they do well here, but I don’t want them in the wrong places (they are fair-sized plants with “presence”) or glommed up against other plants that need their fair share of space, nutrients, and water. Moreover, not all of the volunteers have attractive blooms; some of them are murky mixtures of purple and green. Which means I’m going to dig some of them up and send them to the big compost heap in the sky.
The difference between a garden and plants growing in a state of nature is that the latter is a winner-take-all brawl and the garden has a referee — the weary gardener, who decides what is a weed and what isn’t.
The internet is full of reassurances that it’s okay to be an introvert — but here are ten ways to make yourself look like an extrovert. Because that’s what you must do if you want to succeed in life. And anyway, it’s good for you to get out of your comfort zone.
That was then. Things are different now.
Now that so many are having to self-isolate and work from home, introverts have the edge. It’s the extroverts who are feeling uneasy and having to resort to special techniques to ease their anxiety.
I almost wrote a mocking list of tips to help extroverts to get over their feelings of deprivation for the company of others, but then I remembered that many have no choice about being cut off right now. In “normal” times, we introverts have to do some faking performing in certain areas of our lives, but at the end of the day we can return to our preferred environments. Self-isolated or quarantined extroverts right now don’t have a choice. I acknowledge all that, but here’s my list of…
Un-serious Tips for Isolated Extroverts
Simulate your preferred environment. Gather all pets, stuffies, and dolls into a small room. Crank up the music. Add crowd noise using another device. Dance up a storm.
Find non-human crowds. Seek out places frequented by flocks of noisy crows, gulls, or starlings. Parking lot? Garbage dump? Bring bird seed or french fries. Pretend the birds are humans. Mingle.
Hug a tree. (This is a real thing. Read more here.)
Do some role-playing. (A workshop facilitator’s favourite.) Play all the roles. In costume. Make a video you can watch later. Or replay that argument you lost, this time remembering the killer line.
If all else fails, fake it ’til you make it. Gradually extend the times you’re alone in a quiet room. Eventually you may get used to it and stop wanting to scream. And hey — getting outside your comfort zone is good for you!
A Few Serious Thoughts
Until I learned that extroverts draw energy from being with other people, while introverts experience an energy drain in those situations, I thought there was something fundamentally wrong with me. I wasn’t trying hard enough. I had a bad attitude. If I didn’t fix myself, I’d be a failure in life.
In recent years, books by authors such as Susan Cain, Laurie Helgoe, and Marti Olsen Laney have changed introversion from a pathology to an almost okay personality trait. Almost okay, still. In North America, at least, extrovert qualities are expected of those who want success in life, especially working life.
Is it possible to be successful — however one measures success — as an introvert, rather than a pseudo-extrovert? It depends. If you make the right choices and acquire skills that permit you to work mostly alone and earn enough to live decently, the answer is “Yes.” But not everyone can do that.
Some people, myself included, make the choice to apply for jobs in supervisory or managerial positions because those jobs pay better. Team players are valued more than lone wolves. Even we introverts can fake our way through a job interview. Unfortunately, by taking jobs that don’t suit our personalities, we may be setting ourselves up for a harder time at work than if we were extroverts. And if we don’t fit our jobs comfortably, we’re shortchanging the people we work for and with. It’s a lose-lose-lose situation.
I’m sure I’m not the only person who found her true calling after retirement from a “real” job. I’ve also discovered that if there’s something I really want to achieve, and the only way I can do it is by looking like an extrovert, I’ll gladly fake and perform. For a while, anyway.
At least I’m no longer a closet introvert. And right now, we intros are having our moment.
Are any of you introverts? How has that influenced your life? And how are you dealing with our Covid19-constricted world?
This month’s full moon is a special one, known as a “super moon.” As it rises, it will be the closest to Earth at any time this year and 20% brighter than a normal full moon. It’s worth paying attention to it just for that reason.
But of course things on Earth are unusual in other ways now. Many people feel confused and constricted. All the more reason to step out the door or stick your head out the window and look at the moon.
I’ve heard there’s less human-produced light in urban areas, as many businesses and venues are closed. That means stars are easier to see. Even the International Space Station can be seen easily if you know when and where to look.
But the main reason to look at the moon right now is because it’s the same moon in the same sky for all of us, no matter where we are or in what situation. Something worth thinking about.
Specifically, The Gardener’s Bed-Book and The Gardener’s Day Book, both by Richardson Wright (1887-1961), originally published in 1929 and 1938 respectively, the decade between the stock market crash and the start of World War II. Like many books about gardening, they are based on the calendar, with a short essay for every day of the year and a longer one at the end of each month. They reminded me of blog posts. I found myself wanting to press a “Like” button and write comments!
Most of the essays, as expected, are about gardening. Each one is followed by a timely tip, such as when to order seeds, plants, or bulbs, and dates by which various tasks should be done. The basics of gardening haven’t changed that much in centuries, so I could relate to Wright’s thoughts about different plants and musings on gardening as pastime and passion. Despite being written almost a century ago, many of the daily tips are surprisingly apt. I’ll have to pay more attention to some of them.
It’s a different story when it comes to pest control. The differences between then and now are substantial. Toxic chemicals were all the rage then, such as Bordeaux mixture (copper sulphate and slaked lime), Semesan (organomercury compounds), and Black Leaf 40 (nicotine sulphate). Next to advice to apply arsenate of lead to cabbages was a pencilled note — “Good Lord!” — I must have made the first time I read the book.
Wright’s attitudes and phraseology are of their time, and a few of his remarks are offensive by today’s standards, but there aren’t enough of those to make the book a complete turn-off. Some of his observations on “modern society,” like outrageously fast speeds on highways, seem a bit quaint. One essay includes an observation that Americans drink standing up rather than sitting down, gulping rather than sipping. He associates this habit with early death and suggests sitting down and savouring wine or beer. This sounds a lot like the recent “slow food” trend. The pleasures of food and wine are mentioned regularly, and there are even a few recipes.
I was amused by instructions such as “Check up on the the gardener to see if he has sharpened all edge tools,” and references to a “lawn boy.” Clearly, Wright was among the privileged folks who lived well during the Depression, although he could not afford to install a swimming pool due to “the wind that blew down Wall Street.” Frequent references to hot beds and cold frames made me wonder if these have been replaced by greenhouses, polytunnels, and similar structures.
I haven’t been able to find out much more about Richardson Wright besides his role as editor of House and Garden magazine. He appears to have been a respected figure, both as a promoter of gardening and as a writer, but as yet lacks a Wikipedia entry. In the preface to the Bed-Book, Allen Lacy describes him as “…a congenial soul with a good sense of humor and a well-furnished mind and the manners of a gentleman…” Wright’s garden was in the Silvermine area of Connecticut, a place he called “Sun House.” It must have been quite large, with space for luxuries such as nursery beds and those desirable features of great gardens, stone walls.
Dipping into these books is rather like a visit to a past time. Not that far back, though. I was surprised to read that cars had radios in the 1930s, and it appears that a certain type of book was called a “murder mystery” even in that pre-World War II era. Altogether, Mr. Wright’s books provided a pleasant and interesting diversion, just as they were intended to do almost a century ago.
I can’t remember when or where I bought these books. They’re reprints, not originals, published in 1989. A price of $23.95 appears on the jackets, but I don’t think I would have paid that much, so they probably came from a used bookstore. I recently rediscovered them with considerable delight. They’re chunky little books, about seven inches tall by five wide and more than an inch thick, a comfortable size for the bedside table.
A Light-Bulb Moment
In the Day Book, Mr. Wright’s advice for March 30th is “Roll and rake the lawn.” This got me wondering why anyone would do that (aside from preparing an area for seeding a new lawn). Surely it’s the opposite of aerating, which one is now advised to do, with machines that remove small cores of soil and presumably let in air. Might frost-heaved areas need rolling? Or maybe mole runs? Indeed, on April 13th, one is advised to oil the mole traps. I’ve never lived in a place with moles, so have no experience of their activities.
Then I remembered something from Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows, a favourite book of mine in past years. In the chapter titled “Dulce Domum,” Mole remembers the old home from which he departed in the middle of spring cleaning to seek wider horizons. When he and Rat revisit the place months later, Rat has a job of it to convince Mole that it’s really a nice little house and not a shabby, decrepit dump. Anyway, it seems Mole owns a lawn roller, because he doesn’t care for “animals” kicking up his lawn into little mounds. It’s taken me almost 60 years to discover and appreciate that little joke on Mr. Grahame’s part.