Grumpy

May contain Rants.

blue flames question mark

Why, Oh Why? #1, Parking Lots

Some things I notice in daily life make me think, say and wonder, “Why, oh why?” Are there good reasons for these irritating phenomena? If so, perhaps someone could point them out.

First up, parking lot design.

Maybe it’s just the city I call home, but I’ve noticed a couple of things about local parking lots that never fail to bug me.

Running the Gauntlet. Why, oh why do the people who design parking lots for shopping malls or plazas insist on running all the vehicle traffic right past the mall and store entrances? Everyone has to cross that road to get from car to shops, which frustrates drivers and endangers pedestrians. Could it possibly be that the pedestrians are seen as traffic-calming devices?

The logical place for car access to parking spots is around the outer perimeter of the lot. Moving vehicles would be directed away from the places where all the customers are headed. Bollards or other devices would separate the vehicle parking area from the pedestrian zone running along the shop fronts or mall entrance. All drivers would approach parking spots from the far edge of the lot. Those who need to park close to the stores would still be able to drive to the nearest vacant spot. Handicapped parking spots would be located where they are now. But no one would have to worry about getting mowed down in their final approach to Canadian Tire, the bank, or the grocery store.

The Landscaped Lot, known by me as the Parking Lot From Hell. Here, the rows of parking stalls are separated by narrow strips containing plants — small trees, shrubs and ornamental grasses. I have two problems with this.  First, the space taken up by the landscaping makes it harder than necessary to maneuver one’s vehicle without risking collisions and close calls. Teeth are gritted on arrival and departure, and many trips to one of these mazes are challenging. I wouldn’t be surprised if there are more fender-benders in landscaped lots than wide-open ones.

Second, the plants deteriorate. When newly installed, they look attractive, but inevitably, many of them decline and die, going from spiffy to sad, despite routine watering and maintenance (which is not always provided). Narrow beds in expanses of asphalt and concrete can’t be called ideal environments for most trees, shrubs and perennials. Shoppers intent on spending and acquisition tromp heedlessly through them. No one appreciates these plants, especially once they start to look scruffy and battered. What’s the point? It’s a parking lot, not a park.

Old-fashioned parking lots that are just expanses of asphalt with lines painted on it work much better for the intended purpose — parking. Yes, they look butt-ugly and prevent rainwater from soaking into the ground. To mitigate this, parking lot designers could develop durable yet water-permeable surfaces. That would be more effective than the pathetic plantings. Swales and rain gardens around the edges of lots or along pedestrian walkways may also help.

This is the first in what may become a series of posts. Hopefully not a long series. Muttering “Why, oh why?” is not the best way to spend one’s energy.

Here are a couple of pictures that have absolutely nothing to do with parking lots.

 

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Lewisia flowers

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Bewick’s wren on ornamental wooden egg.

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Rooting

A couple of weeks ago, I engaged in yet another epic struggle with tree roots.

A perennial bed that was root-free when first planted (about twelve years ago) had been showing signs of decline for several years. Plants were smaller and obviously struggling, especially the hostas. Turns out hostas don’t compete well in rooty situations; strange, considering at least some species are native to woodlands. Not woodlands of Norway maples, I suppose.

I’m pretty philosophical about the older beds in the back garden. After all, they are close to five large trees, three of them maples (1 red, 2 Norway), whose roots interlace in a network throughout that 50 by 50 foot space. Goodbye, vegetable patch. Tough plants only. But this newer bed, situated in a narrow strip of land between my house and my neighbours’, was, I thought, far enough from any tree to remain root-free. The drip-line (canopy edge) of the closest maple was safely distant, and tree roots don’t extend beyond the drip-line. Or do they?

Yes, they do. Roots roam far and wide, as it turns out. Once I discovered creeping rootiness in that new bed, I started reading up on how tree roots grow. There was surprisingly little written for home gardeners, even those who are familiar with Latin plant names. I found a lot of scientific papers written by researchers in the fields of forestry or agriculture. Their focus was narrow and their terminology over my head.

Finally, I found this — relatively comprehensible and relevant to my situation. Also discouraging. The drip-line idea is one of the fallacies. Au contraire, “it is not uncommon to find trees with root systems having an area with a diameter one, two or more times the height of the tree.”

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This isn’t how it works! (Image from Pixabay)

Trees send out long, questing roots that keep on growing as long as there’s a reward in the form of water or nutrients, as in a fed and watered perennial bed. The roots run along horizontally, sending up vertical subsidiary roots ending in fine mats of feeding roots. Those are the ones that make that typical ripping sound when a spade is thrust into the soil.

So I tried a strategic strike. I dug up a clump of purple monkshoods (Aconitum napellus) and a few young hellebores at the end of the bed closest to the tree I suspected to be responsible for the root. Then I excavated down two feet and indeed found not one, not two, but three roots a couple of inches apart, each of them about two inches in diameter. Using a nifty little saw (actually intended for cutting wallboard) and a hatchet, I removed sections of these roots, one to three feet in length. Then I dumped in some compost and replanted the aconites and other plants. Thanks to cool and rainy weather, they recovered nicely.
I hope this will give the perennials in the beleaguered bed a chance, if only for a season or two. I don’t relish the thought of a full-bore rebuilding of the entire bed in the grand manner. This rather limited effort was enough for an aging gardener.
October 20, 2011

Hostas, autumn of 2012.

Missing the “B”

Have a close look at these two images and see if you can spot a significant difference between them.

The Nexus corrected

Image #1

 

The Nexus

Image #2

OK, the title and the author’s name are a lighter colour in #1, but that isn’t it. No, it’s the typo in the subtitle. “A portal to the Herert West Series.” A typo on a cover image! A cover image designed by the author herself, i.e., moi.

AAARGH!

I published this short story in September — six whole months ago — and didn’t notice that error until last night, when I ran across the cover image on some website. I was admiring how all the elements worked together, when I saw it. “Herert,” not “Herbert.” I messed up the name of the main character of my series. How bad is that?

I’ve seen typos on other authors’ cover images or in their book listings, with a mixture of pity and contempt. “Look how that poor schmuck screwed up! Haste makes waste. Ha, ha!”

OK, it could have been worse; at least the typo isn’t in the actual title or the author’s name. And the font I used for the subtitle is called Sacramento, described as “a monoline, semi-connected script.” It’s pretty, but barely legible in thumbnails and other small images. At least I spelled everything correctly in the book’s listings in ebook stores. Maybe most people don’t bother to enlarge cover images and scrutinize them.

I have, of course, corrected the error and uploaded the corrected image to the relevant sites. But it takes a while for a change to trickle through the internet, and quite a few copies were downloaded before I found the mistake. Which means the flawed image is still out there, waiting to be noticed.

I did manage to find a couple of positives in this irritating little situation:

First, it’s a reminder to pay attention. Always double, triple and quadruple check the spelling of titles, subtitles, author names and any other text that appears on a cover. Whether it was designed by you, a friend or a professional designer — before you approve it, check, check, check!

Second, those error-bearing covers may become valuable rarities sought by collectors, sort of like postage stamps with a monarch’s head printed upside down. “Ah yes, the rare ‘Herert’ edition. Very few exist.” Well, maybe if I become posthumously famous. You never know.

Fruit Stickers are Forever

I hate those little plastic stickers applied to individual fruits for inventory and retail purposes.

Why? Because they last forever, like all plastics. Even after years of being moved from the compost heap to the garden, being raked up with fallen leaves or other debris, put back in the compost, redistributed to the garden, there they are, good as new, winking up at me from the soil. I found one today while in the throes of digging up the Meconopsis bed (more about that in a future post). It had to be several years old, but if I had rinsed off the dirt, it would have been pristine.

Old sticker found while digging.

Old sticker found while digging.

Continuing to put them in the heap would lead to an ever-increasing accumulation. Once I realized this, I banned stickers from the compost pail in the kitchen. Of course, it’s only the fruits whose peels are removed before eating that contribute to this problem — bananas, oranges, melons and avocados. Peeling stickers off apples, oranges and bananas is easy, even when there are multiple stickers on one wretched banana — even organic ones, which is especially offensive. Tomatoes, nectarines and other fruits with delicate skins are not so easy to de-sticker, although the fuzz on peaches seems to prevent them from sticking as well, which means they’re easier to peel. (Another point in favour of eating peaches in season).

Peach with sticker

Once peeled, the stickers present another problem — how to dispose of them? I used to put them in the garbage, but reasoned that since I lug my soft plastics to a recycling depot (and pay a small fee to deposit them), it made sense to include the pesky stickers. So now I stick them together in clumps and put them in the soft plastics bag. Or stick them to other things in said bag. Given the small size of these little nuisances, they may very well end up in a waterway or the ocean, contributing to the problems created by micro-plastics. Melting them down and turning them into something else is the only sensible solution.

There are ways to avoid the damn things. Grow your own fruit, or buy exclusively from farmers’ markets. Trouble is, there aren’t too many banana and orange farmers in Canada. I understand there are people who collect fruit stickers, sort of like stamp collectors collect stamps. Or others who use them as little blobs of colour to create art. If you can believe this. But even those folks must have hit the “No more stickers, please!” point by now.

I’m not the only gardener/consumer to be annoyed by fruit stickers. A thorough discussion may be found here. I’m just surprised a biodegradable alternative hasn’t been found yet. Even fast food chains have almost eliminated plastic from their products. Fruit is supposed to be healthier than hamburgers and french fries, so why can’t fruit producers get their act together?

The New Gatekeepers

I guess it had to happen. Technology opened the gate to all those writers who couldn’t get published the traditional way. Huzzah! But there are so many of us, cranking out books by the millions, that readers are overwhelmed. Most indie-published books join the blur and go unnoticed.

Except maybe the ones that get lots of reviews. Trouble is, it’s hard to get reviews, or at least the right kinds of reviews. No friends or family members. No “I’ll review yours if you review mine” arrangements. Brief comments by readers are fine; but thoughtful, thorough reviews by “official” reviewers are best of all — and almost impossible to get. Reviewers are the new gatekeepers. (As are a few advertisers, notably BookBub, which is pretty selective about which books it will promote. You need to pay them a non-trivial sum — but first you need a non-trivial number of good reviews).

You don’t have to look hard to find lists of rules and other admonishments directed at hopeful review-seeking authors. They look a lot like the submission guidelines and how-to-approach-publishers advice of the trad pub years. Some of these lists are lengthy and detailed, and a few verge on the offensive. Reading them conjures up a caricature of a desperate author approaching the enthroned reviewer, crawling on hands and knees while pushing a copy of their book along the floor with their nose. (And if your book is taken up by the reviewer, don’t even think about emailing to ask when the review might appear. Just. Don’t. Do it. Ever).

This is part of a bigger phenomenon associated with the self-pub revolution — the author as pest. It seems we’re a pretty annoying bunch: spewing out books full of typos and grammar no-nos, issuing endless “Check out my book!” tweets, approaching acquaintances with book in hand and big salesman’s grin on face, and bothering beleaguered book bloggers just like we did the beleaguered acquisitions editors of days gone by. (Remember all those tales of mail rooms crammed with unsolicited mss?) Maybe creativity generates a ferocious hunger for attention that overrides good manners. Book bloggers and reviewers have reacted predictably to the deluge of review requests by hedging themselves about with rules, just like publishers did.

But hey — at least now we writers are free to throw our books into the public arena. That’s way better than slinking back to our writing rooms to entomb the rejected manuscript in a cardboard box that once held dog food. The toughest gate has been breached. So what if there’s no sure-fire path to success? (There never was, actually). And a few of us have managed to get our books noticed, clearing the gates like so many hurdlers.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Advertising, Hypocrisy and Other Offenses

I just finished processing today’s load of solicitations for funds masquerading as personal letters, full of smarmy sentences such as, “We know you’re passionate about [their cause] and want to be a part of making the world a better place,” followed by several more paragraphs of similar verbiage and a separate sheet with suggested dollar amounts to donate. Then there are the employees of call centres who, after interrupting your supper, writing or blog-reading session, inevitably start off their spiel by asking, “How are you?” As if they care.

This kind of hypocrisy is extremely irritating — dressing up appeals for funds to make them look like friendly, personal attempts to reach out and befriend. While I’m scribbling out my name and address on the paper junk mail before chucking it in the recycle bin, I can’t help but recall the advice I’ve read in countless blog posts about how authors should present themselves on the internet. Never say, “Buy my book.” Not even, “Please buy my book.” Don’t be annoying — instead, create content readers find so fascinating, they will rush to seek out your books without any appeals from you.

Isn’t this a kind of hypocrisy, though? Let’s face it — most of us indie authors started blogging for one reason:  to create an “author platform” from which we could launch our book marketing strategies. After a while some of us figure out that almost all the folks who follow and read our blogs are other authors, and selling books to them works about as well as selling sand to desert dwellers. By that time we may also have found other reasons for blogging — making connections with fellow authors, creating a body of writing in the form of our blog posts, and so on. But in the background is the refrain, even if faint, “Look at my books, check out my books, please buy my books.” Otherwise, why do we display our books’ cover images in our sidebars, complete with links to where they can be bought?

I admit it — I hate advertising of all kinds. That’s one reason I kissed television goodbye decades ago. I’m an expert at avoiding click-bait on websites, and if the first or second thing I see on a website or blog (yes, even fellow writers’ blogs) is a pop-up plea to sign up for a newsletter, I’m gone. When it comes to advertising my own books, I put myself in the place of the recipient of such appeals and imagine them doing what I do when I recognize a sales pitch.

Writing — creating good quality prose or poetry — is a demanding art, with perfection always receding into the distance. Some writers manage to turn themselves into marketers as well. Good for them. I don’t happen to have a natural inclination for that aspect of the book business, so am walking the indie author path in my own fashion.

 

Rose coloured specs

 

R.I.P. One Computer

Sadly, my 6-year-old HP Pavilion laptop, which has been a reliable and helpful tool, has bitten the dust. A black screen, and single flashes from lights near the Caps Lock and Num Lock keys meant CPU failure. I’m writing this post on a borrowed computer.

On Monday I’ll get acquainted with the new machine, and (of course) Windows 10. Why Monday? Because part of the setup process will be data recovery from the corpse.

One lesson learned:  back everything up. Even though I have copies of my really important documents in “the cloud,” a whole lot of stuff that didn’t seem all that important (but is) exists only on the now inaccessible hard drive. Hopefully recoverable.

So get an external hard drive, set up a cloud account, and do regular backups. Especially when your machine is getting on — 3 years and older, I would think.

So Long, Sucker! But There’s (Another) One Born Every Minute.

My garden is full of them. Suckering shrubs — Oregon Grape (Mahonia aquifolium), Snowberry (Symphoricarpus albus), and common Lilac (Syringa vulgaris) — the last now in glorious bloom. There’s a suckering tree as well — the dreaded Tree of Heaven (Ailanthus altissima), known around here as the Tree from Hell.

Common lilac in bloom

Common lilac in bloom

The standard advice for dealing with suckers is to trace each one back to its point of origin on the parent shrub and tear, not cut it off. Tearing has a lasting effect, apparently (similar to plucking rather than shaving unwanted hair). Remove soil if necessary to accomplish this, the advice says, helpfully. Well, that’s fine if the shrub and its suckers live in solitary splendour with nothing around them except grass, possibly, but what do you do when the shrub is surrounded by perennials, bulbs, groundcovers, and even other shrubs? “Removing soil,” otherwise known as digging, isn’t really an option in a densely-planted mixed border, especially if a multitude of suckers has popped up several feet away from the parent plant.

The best advice is don’t plant sucker-prone shrubs to start with, no matter what other qualities they possess. So what if they’re native plants? Both Mahonia aquifolium and Symphoricarpus albus are native to my region, adapted to local conditions and trouble-free. They settled in happily here, sending up shoots with enthusiasm over the years. If I had several acres at my disposal and wanted a natural garden that could be left to its own devices, these plants would be great, but on a 50 x 120 foot lot (that also accommodates a house, garage, driveway and paved walks), planting these and other suckering shrubs guarantees either a wilderness effect or a gardener ready to nuke everything with herbicides and start over again. (I wish I could go back in time and give my younger self this lecture).

So — with the “nuclear” option not practicable, and not being ready to move to another patch of land, what do I do about suckers (besides curse and wail)?

In theory, it would be good to create a cordon sanitaire around sucker-prone shrubs, clearly defining a no-go area for each one. No suckers beyond this point! This would be done with a sharp spade, plunged into the ground all around the offending shrubs, at a distance of several feet. The process would have to be repeated at least twice a year, similar to edging a bed or border. Given the brutality and intensity of the work, there could be no plants of value growing in this foot-wide space. But setting a border makes the situation seem less chaotic and limits the space in which sucker removal is absolutely necessary.

Any suckers detected outside the cordon sanitaire would (in theory, at least) be removed immediately using minimally invasive techniques. First, the good old yank-by-hand method. Sometimes it works. More often than not, the sucker snaps at ground level, leaving a stump that’s hard to hold on to. Or the bark strips off, resulting in a little whip that’s too slippery to yank. A tool is then needed. For small young suckers, a dandelion tool works. Thrust it parallel to the sucker until it cuts and the sucker releases. (But remember, cutting isn’t as effective as ripping). For older, thicker suckers, a small, cheap, pointed saw of a type designed to cut gyprock (sheetrock) works fairly well. Like the cutting-with-spade procedure, this search and destroy operation is best repeated at least twice a year. Three or four times is better, especially in regions with mild winters. Constant vigilance is best.

I have a fleeting hope that if I follow these processes diligently, the shrub will get the message, “None of your suckers will live to see the light of day!” and stop sending out the roots from which suckers grow. But somehow I doubt that will be the case.

A forest of Oregon Grape suckers

A forest of Oregon Grape suckers

In reality, the years have a way of slipping by, and the gardener is not as diligent as necessary. In my garden, it’s too late for the cordon sanitaire. Roots of Oregon grape and snowberry have spread far and wide. For the past several days I’ve been engaged in an epic struggle with an enormous Oregon Grape (Mahonia aquifolium). I removed three large stems (diameter 2-4 inches at the base) and reduced the remaining plant’s height from about 12 feet to 8. Worst of all was pulling, digging or cutting (sometimes all three) a multitude of suckers, ranging in size from less than a foot tall and 1/4 inch in diameter to 4 feet and 1 inch diameter.

Oregon Grape prunings (right) and suckers (distant left)

 

Typical Oregon Grape suckers

Typical Oregon Grape suckers

 

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The "after" picture

The “after” picture: remaining Oregon Grape visible behind the Ceanothus

I cherish no illusions that the suckers are really gone. Their stubs and deeply buried roots are still there. They will no doubt rise again, like a bunch of prickly green zombies. Really, the best way to avoid suckers is not to plant suckering shrubs. And if any plant shows suckering tendencies, rip it out.

This lone orange tulip has been blooming for weeks -- and doesn't sucker!

This lone orange tulip has been blooming for weeks — and doesn’t sucker!

 

Up, Down, Sideways, Out?

A while ago, I read a pretty intense post by another indie author, answering the question, “Why do I do it?” (Write, that is). I think every one of us asks this question sometimes, usually on days when the sales graph goes flat, there are no page or post views, no reviews, comments, or any other indicators that our written creations are being noticed and appreciated.

A Milestone

I have finally finished publishing the Herbert West Series. All four books are available in print (through Amazon) and as ebooks (in Amazon’s Kindle store and through Smashwords in all the ebook stores it works with).

Publishing in print meant going through each text thoroughly, correcting all the remaining errors I could find. The books are now if not 100% error-free, at least 99%. Paying attention to details like missing quotation marks, or reversed quotation marks (“99” instead of “66” or vice versa — it does happen in Word, folks!), missing spaces, italicized question marks that should not have been italicized — stuff like this almost drove me crazy. And diacritics! Why on earth did I sprinkle French phrases all over the place? Okay, one of my narrators is Acadian, so it makes sense for him to throw in the odd bit of French, but all my narrators (the books are all in first person) do it — tete-a-tete, pied-a-terre, fin de siecle, expose, menage and more. You don’t see any acute or grave accents or circumflexes here, do you? That’s the way all these words were in my Word docs and therefore in my ebooks, until this recent overhaul. (Note to self — in future drafts, if you’re going to use a word that needs a diacritic, just put the darn thing in right at the start. None of this “Oh, I’ll deal with all that when I’m copy-editing” stuff. No — you’ll be too busy keeping track of spaces and quotation marks).

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Report Card

Now that the texts are as good as they’re going to get, and a couple of the cover images have been adjusted, it feels right to step back and ask a few questions:

  1. How good are the books?
  2. How am I doing as an indie author?
  3. Do I want to write more books? (And what about that as-yet-unpublished novel?)

So I guess this is a kind of report card. But instead of grading myself with the A through F system associated with school reports, I’ll use the 5-star system applied to books.

All right, how does Audrey Driscoll rate as an indie author?

  1. The Books: 4 stars for the writing, 5 stars for the presentation (covers and interior design — especially the print versions, which are comparable to any trad-pubbed book. In my opinion).
  2. Book sales: at most 2 stars.
  3. Marketing efforts: 1 star.
  4. Internet presence (“author platform”): 3 stars.
  5. Social media presence: 1 star, due to absence from Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest et al. This blog and a minimal presence on LinkedIn are it for me.

Overall rating: 3 stars.

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A Crossroads

So what does this mean? It depends on what I want to accomplish by writing and publishing. When I started writing in November 2000, my only goal was to complete that first novel and get it published. The traditional way. I worked on that (and wrote four other novels) until 2010, when I decided to self-publish. Ebooks only at first, and only on Smashwords, with (rather lame) homemade cover images. In 2014 I commissioned good cover images and published through KDP as well. (I’ve never yet tried KDP Select, however). Since then, I have published all four books of the Herbert West Series in print as well, through CreateSpace. Strictly speaking, I have more than attained that original goal.

But I can’t pretend my books have sold well or gained much attention. Enough that I haven’t branded myself a failure and slunk into the shrubbery (which needs pruning, incidentally), but the best word I can apply to my degree of success is “modest.” Modest! Not one of your power words.

From the blogosphere, I have certainly discovered the many ways to fail as a writer:  dull plot, flat characters, limping story arcs, bad grammar, multiple typos and other technical errors. Then the marketing part, my bête noire. (Note the circumflex!) I admit I’m allergic to marketing. But I’ll bet most people who manage to complete and even publish one or more books didn’t do it to have something to sell. Most of us discover the marketing part after the glow of getting published fades. This, of course, is the most important difference between indie and trad publishing. Unless we hire people to do the things we can’t (or won’t), we indies don’t have a team working with us.

Some writers must find marketing at least somewhat congenial. Certainly if one’s goal is to make money from selling books, it’s absolutely necessary to acquire the necessary skills. There is a wealth of resources available, and a constant stream of advice. I could even buy marketing services, just like I bought good cover images. But just now I’m not planning to do that.

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Spark and Flame

In the 15+ years since I began writing, I have realized that the impulse to write and the inner resources to do it are fuelled by reading, unhurried observation and open-ended mulling. And listening to music, which is a catalyst. This wealth of input combines in some mysterious way (like alchemy!) and produces an urge to write. The spark lights a fire of creation that inevitably produces something new. Not always an excellent something, but certainly a leavened lump. Creation at fever-pitch is an intoxicating, exhilarating phenomenon. For me, that’s almost the whole point. Putting the work out into the public arena is a necessary part of the whole, and any kind of appreciation is a bonus. I don’t deny that. But how much time, effort and treasure do I want to sacrifice to the (for me) less-than-congenial business of attracting that attention? Not much.

If I immerse myself in learning how to market well, I may never write anything else worth marketing.

Since I entered the self-publishing arena six years ago, I haven’t had much time for the unhurried, open-ended reading, noticing, thinking and listening that feeds the desire to write. And that’s even with the feeble stabs I’ve made at anything resembling self-promotion — writing posts for this blog, reading other blogs and commenting.

So now I’m going to turn the Herbert West Series over to its own devices. The books are out there to be acquired by the (fortunate) few who manage to find them. Like a mother sending her children out into the world, I kiss them goodbye and wish them well.

A Manifesto

In less than a month, I’ll retire from my day job. That means I’ll have a lot more time at my disposal. I intend to devote a good part of that to my garden, which I’ve neglected in the past couple of years (that’s why the garden blog posts have dwindled). I may decide to publish Winter Journeys, the novel I wrote in 2007-2008. I may write at least one more novel, possibly two or three. Maybe short stories. Maybe poetry. But all that depends on igniting the creative spark. I do plan to keep the blog going, because I value the connections I’ve made with bloggers all over the world.

It’s even possible that in this new phase of life I will discover some configuration of marketing-type activities that are not uncongenial (how’s that for tentative?), but right now that’s a road not taken.

Mozart never heard his four last and greatest symphonies performed. J.S. Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos sat on a shelf somewhere, unplayed and unpublished for more than a hundred years. Most of Gerard Manley Hopkins’s poems were not published until years after his death. My four books are not in the same league as the works of these individuals, but they are available for purchase (one of them for free download), have been read and even reviewed. I’m OK with that.

Something else I’ve learned: managing my expectations is crucial. (Now where did I put those rose-coloured specs?)

 

Rose coloured specs

 

 

 

 

Chasing Out Bad Spirits

What better day than Christmas to drive out discord and evil and welcome peace and harmony?

Some gardeners (the one writing this, for example) become psychologically entwined with their gardens. When something bad happens to the garden, it feels like a physical injury.

Damage happens in gardens all the time. We have had a series of windstorms since the beginning of December, so there are broken branches and drifts of leaves everywhere, along with an overall battered appearance. At other times of year, bugs, blights and munching deer put their own marks on the garden. Plants die suddenly for no apparent reason. Gardens are potential disaster areas, all the time.

But I’m not talking about that kind of damage here. This is about damage that feels like a deliberate attack, even if it isn’t intended that way.

Recently, my garden has experienced two such events.

#1 was when The Dog (otherwise known as Nelly the Newf) hopped the admittedly feeble fence around one of the perennial beds and did some unauthorized digging. Farewell, daylily “Mini Stella,” and maybe some other innocent plants besides. Dug up or buried deep, they may never see another spring.

#2 was when a neighbour decided a certain holly tree was unduly shading their subterranean basement suite. Hired guns with electric chainsaws appeared on a Saturday morning and administered some crude amputations, removing berry-bearing holly branches and heedlessly severing stems of Clematis armandii that had used the holly to climb into an Ailanthus. Never mind that this is permitted by law. Never mind that the neighbour issued a warning some weeks before. Once the cutting started, it felt like I was getting pruned. Crudely.

Which of these was worse? #2, of course. Nelly was just being a dog, and is a member of the household, but the neighbour… Well, just use your imagination. Even though hollies do regrow quite readily, even after crude pruning.

After several weeks, I could actually look at the back garden again without rage or sorrow boiling up, but an unpleasant feeling lingered, sort of like after your house has been broken into and burgled. The sight of the dying clematis hanging limply was infuriating. My negative feelings were corrosive and stress-inducing. Something Had To Be Done.

A ceremony. A symbolic cleansing.

I’m not much of a believer in woo-woo stuff, but recognize that symbolic gestures can be powerful. And in this case, the target was really my own negative feelings.

So, on Christmas Day,  four days past the Solstice, with a full moon rising, I circled the garden, first anti-clockwise, then clockwise, bearing a smouldering faggot of suitable herbs — lavender and sage, bound together with withered daylily foliage — muttering variations on, “Begone, spirits of destruction, welcome, spirits of peace.”

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Lavender is said to bring healing and comfort, and sage (Salvia in this case, not the Artemisia that is sometimes used in such ceremonies) derives its Latin name from “salvation.”

It can’t hurt, especially as I didn’t trip over anything.