Saturday, February 27, 2010

Winter Melancholy

The strawberry grows underneath the nettle,
And wholesome berries thrive and ripen best
Neighboured by fruit of baser quality;
And so the Prince obscured his contemplation
Under the veil of wildness--which, no doubt,
Grew like the summer grass, fastest at night,
Unseen, yet crescive in his faculty.

Henry V Act 1. Scene 1. Line 61, when Ely refers to young King Henry's surprising abilities despite his wayward youth.

I woke up this morning to more snow on the ground and King Henry on the brain. Thursday, we endured the three-hour play after working all day; both of us exhausted, but bravely and studiously negotiating the difficult language of a Shakespearian play.

It was a bravo performance by the handsome actor Michael Hayden, who is playing both roles of King Henry and Richard II in repertory at Sidney Harman Hall. Earlier this winter, we watched the painful demise of the arrogant, but piteous Richard II, also a three-hour intellectual workout. (Jim is certain to be constructing now a mighty and rightful protest for when it comes time to anti up for next year's season tickets.)

We have now witnessed the powerful drama of the St. Crispin's Day Speech and felt the seductive surge of fierce loyalty to king and country.

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now-a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs'd they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.

Now emboldened, we band of brothers (sisters, too!) will follow our leader against all odds to win the day. The endless winter of 2010, though, plays dreary and weary in the headlines as my poor president battles his arch-enemies and can't help but come up short against their intemperate assault. (Shame on them. Let him do the work the voters put him in office to do.) Does the failed state that followed fast on the heals of Henry's glorious assault on Agincourt lie lurking?

"Tis, an unweeded garden."

And so to sunny spring and summer, I turn my thoughts. It is time now for tiny buds on the forsythia, shy flashes of muted purples and pinks from the Lenton rose, and breathtaking blooms of the early crocuses.

The three mara des bois strawberry plants that I ordered from White Flower Farm are going to go in my mother's clay pocket jar up on the deck. These produce a sweet and tasty tiny berry that only a gardener can know because they are so tender that they rarely endure the rough passage to market. And when the gutters came crashing down last week under the weight of heavy snow and ice, I determined to make an opportunity. When we rebuild we'll redirect our roof top water into a rain barrel, which I hope to install on the deck. From out my kitchen door, then, where the sun is so intense in the afternoons, I am going to create a kitchen garden with herbs, tomatoes and potted fruit trees. I'll replant my banana tree (which I hope survived with its roots wrapped warmly in the garage). A a fig tree and a lemon tree are on order. And the strawberry plants will join them. The problem of water reaching the upper deck and my lack of time in the morning to repeatedly carry jugs out to the plants is solved by the easy access to the rain barrel (which I might just simply fill with water to store it there too, if the runoff doesn't adequately meet the need).

But now sad and terrible news comes of the devastating earthquake in Chile and the tsunami headed for Hawaii. I think we need "a little touch of Harry in the night" to comfort us and prepare us now for this next battle. The Putterer

Saturday, February 13, 2010

February Fun with the F-Word

Alliteration is one of my favorite stylistic devices and today, my brain is off into a fabulous forage for F-words. February Fourteenth is for Fornication?

Indeed, the day otherwise named for a saint has a rather unsaintly history. It is actually the anniversary of a pagan fertility festival. A pre-Christian lottery system paired a randy boy with a lusty girl for a day of unfettered sex that honored Juno, the goddess of marriage. Ah, but don't you worry, my scandalized friends, more than likely, the pair would hit it off that day and settle down to make a permanent home and hearth. But in my garden on this February day, all signs of frivolity and fertility is frosty frozen. Out there, whatever drives the plants to send their roots deep into the soil and their stems and petals skyward is defunct, buried beneath glaciers of ice and snow.

It was in February a few years past when the raccoons could be seen high in the trees humping and howling. I remember the look on one of their faces, when he caught me watching. His hostile expression seemed to be saying, "A little privacy, please."

February is for (insert your favorite F-word here). It is in February when the gold crown night herons return with their mates to their perches in the trees down in Sligo Creek Park. And I know for a fact that deep in the back reaches of Southern Maryland, down at Nanjemoy Creek, the moaning and groaning of lovesick great blue herons fills the ancient rookery. There, some 2,000 birds descend annually into a marshy oak and pine grove to strut and preen in their ritual mating dance. A rookery is nature's way of facilitating fecundity.

February is also the month in which I intend to force forsythias. I want to clip an armful and bring them inside to make a lusty array of yellow buds that indoors, comes early (forgive me, with Fs on the brain, I can't help myself).

But instead, all last week as the snow fell and we all descended into a strange, drugged stupor, as our world slowly sank beneath the weight of slush and ice, all of nature seemed to lose any interest in fertility and fecundity. I'd have to wear a pair of hip waders to get even close to the forsythia bush and the raccoons are appallingly quiet. The squirrels aren't even acting squirrelly. Only the sparrows and finches are active. And that's because they are furiously fighting to feast at the feeders.

Inside, a pink Valentine amaryllis reminds me that amor will somehow survive. So maybe when the sun comes out today and warms the deviant black ice on the pavement and starts the icicles to dripping, nature will once again return to doing what would make Saint Valentine blush, or as Herrick once said:

Oft I have heard both
Youths and Virgins say
Birds chase their mates,
and couple to this day;
But by their flight I never
can devine
When I shall couple with
My Valentine.
--Robert Herrick, 1648

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Snow Drops in the Garden

Some gardens this time of year might have a few snow drops in bloom--little white bells that hug the chill ground and poke through the snow. I saw some just last week blooming around the base of the trees in the Enid Haupt Garden behind the Smithsonian Castle. And there are also old fashioned snowberries, the little white bobs that cling to the shrubs in our grandmother's gardens. And everyone is familiar with the snowballs that grow on the branches of the hydrangea bush, or the carpets of snow-in-summer, that dependable ground cover that blankets the Earth with its tiny star-shaped white clusters.

But the snow that is in my garden today is not of the horticultural sort. The two-foot drifts aren't even record-breaking, oddly enough. (This is only the fourth largest snow in our area.) But the cold, white stuff that began coming down on Friday and continued falling through Saturday night, is some of the most beautiful snow that I've ever seen. Never mind that it shut down our power. Never mind that we are horribly inconvenienced. Never mind that we might rather have been occupied this weekend with the routine errands and chores that bring us back around to Monday, and work and school.

The snow in my garden drapes itself over my favorite old chair. It weighs down the branches of the witch hazel, forcing it nearly to the breaking point. Aunt Rhody is bearing up under its weight, but just barely. And so far all of the majestic trees that grow in the forest down in the ravine are standing powerfully anchored against the bitter cold winds that blew in with the blizzard.

We are hunkered down at a neighbor's home, living commune-style with at least four other families. Others come and go, stopping by for a little warmth and some cheer. We're sharing our food, caring for each other's children and digging each other's cars from the drifts. Multitudes of charging phones and computers and other electronics are plugged into every outlet. I'm puttering here in the basement, even as I can hear footsteps above, the door opening and closing, voices chattering, the game box exploding, the babies fussing. But all the chaos and closeness makes for a kind of reassuring spirit of warmth and friendship.

And now word is that another snow storm is pending for Tuesday. And the power company isn't making any promises about when power will be restored--perhaps, they say, Thursday or Friday. The Putterer