Back at Squaw Valley

Gander by BerkleyI’ve posted about this intense week of poetry before, so I won’t explain it here. Each time I’ve come, it’s been a giant booster shot for my writing. Yesterday, I listened to an amazing craft talk by Forrest Gander. It was about translation, the origin of words, the decisions we make in translating poetry. For example, in England, the upper classes spoke French, the peasants Anglo-Saxon. So this class distinction persists in the words we we use–the Anglo-Saxon names of animals: deer, cow, swine; the French origin words for the meat: venison, beef, pork.

There was much more of course. By the end of the talk, I realized how little I know, how presumptuous I’ve been in translating. Perhaps I’ll transcribe my notes. But for today, I thought I’d give you one of Forrest’s translations.

And the Intrepid Anthurium

Two bumblebees
extract nectar,
sweet and bitter
from the center
of the rose-colored petals
of a flower
which is not a rose.
they thud against the picture window
again and again,
fixed on escaping
with their bounty inside them,
into the air behind them,
incognizant that the path to freedom
has been eclipsed,
that they are drawn to an illusion.
With the blood honey
in their guts
already a part
of their rapturous marrow.
And distinct.

Pura López-Colomé
translated by Forrest Gander

World’s smallest batch of jam

IMG_0977_optUsually making jam or jelly is a big production, bags or flats of fruit, a morning or an afternoon set aside. But one of the joys of a garden is grazing, and yesterday I picked a couple of handfuls of blackberries and a couple of raspberries, a little too much to eat for breakfast. In about 5 minutes, I made a tiny batch of blackberry jam, just enough to half fill a baby food jar.



Then we had it with toast. Continue reading “World’s smallest batch of jam”

Poetry Wednesday

AdcockAlright, I know it’s supposed to be Poetry Monday, but I was busy babysitting.

Here is a poem by Fleur Adcock:


There are worse things than having behaved foolishly in public.
There are worse things than these miniature betrayals,
committed or endured or suspected; there are worse things
than not being able to sleep for thinking about them.
It is 5 a.m. All the worse things come stalking in
and stand icily about the bed looking worse and worse
and worse.

More on the Epiphyllum

I posted this photo the other day, when the first of the Epiphyllum flowers bloomed. Yesterday, I watched a bee drench herself in pollen till she could hardly fly…B&E






















That little gold lump is the pollen pouch on her leg–almost as big as she is and one on each side!

Then I wrote this, which I’ll probably regret posting in its unedited state, but…


From squat slabs of cactus flesh
they flame up:
crimson tinged with fuchsia,
these giant

siren calls,
filigreed with pollen.

Even I
want in.

As for the bee,
she can’t get enough,
her back legs
so doused
with pollen
she drops straight down

before she can
struggle back up
and fly.


Summer reading

The Convenient MarriageThis category seems to include both worthy projects–that is demanding books one ought to read but never has–and utterly undemanding books one can take the beach and laze away with on a summer’s day. Of course, summer on the coast of Northern California is a typically cold and foggy affair, but the premise still holds, and I fall squarely in the summer reading as confection category.

Top on my list is The Convenient Marriage, by Georgette Heyer, which I finished in an all-day marathon yesterday. It’s thoroughly delicious, with hints of Austen and Pym,. If you like either of these superb satirizers of English manners, Heyer is a true find.  The plot hinges on the necessity of a woman of good birth but small means marrying a wealthy man to pay off the family debts–such a common theme, but with a twist. The eldest beauty, though in love with a poor lieutenant, is to sacrifice herself in marriage to the wealthy Lord Rule (perfect name). Her 17-year-old sister, not a beauty and with dark eyebrows a stutter, determines to offer a counter proposal, and goes to speak to Lord Rule herself:

“…It is because of L-Lizzie–my sister. You have offered for her, haven’t you?”

Slightly taken aback, the Earl bowed. Horatia said in a rush: “C-could you–would you mind very much having m-me instead?”

The Earl was seated in a chair opposite to her, absently swinging his eyeglass, his gaze fixed on her face in an expression of courteous interest. The eyeglass stopped swinging suddenly, and was allowed to fall. Horatia, looking anxiously across at him, saw a rather startled frown in his eyes, and hurried on: “Of c-course I know it ought to Charlotte, for she is the elder, but she said nothing would induce her to m-marry you.”

His lips quivered. “In that case,” he said, “it is fortunate that I did not solicit the honour of Miss Charlotte’s hand in marriage.”

“Yes,” agreed Horatia. “I am sorry to have to say it, but I am afraid Charlotte shrinks form the idea of m-making such a sacrifice, even for L-Lizzie’s sake.” Rules shoulder’s shook slightly. “Have I said s-something I shouldn’t?” inquired Horatia doubtfully.

“On the contrary,” he replied. “Your conversation is most salutary, Miss Winwood.”

“You are laughing at me,” said Horatia accusingly. “I daresay you think I am vey stupid sir, but indeed, it is most serious.”

“I think you are delightful,” said Rule. “But there seems to be some misapprehension. I was under the impression that Mis Winwood was–er–willing to receive my addresses.” Continue reading “Summer reading”

I’ve been waiting for this…

I’ve had this Epiphyllum for a long time, but it’s been languishing in the wrong corner of the garden–too much sun or not the right sun. A few months ago I moved it towards the street where it gets filtered late afternoon sun, and I’ve been watching it revive and bud… This morning, the first bloom.


And lots more to come…


All of which made me think of Stanley Kunitz, as I often do when I’m in the garden, as he was almost as famous for his garden as his poetry.

But often, when weeding especially, creating my own little piles (both physical and metaphorical), I think of this poem by Louise Glück…

Purple Bathing Suit

I like watching you garden
with your back to me in your purple bathing suit:
your back is my favorite part of you,
the part furthest away from your mouth.

You might give some thought to that mouth.
Also to the way you weed, breaking
the grass off at ground level
when you should pull it by the roots.

How many times do I have to tell you
how the grass spreads, your little
pile notwithstanding, in a dark mass which
by smoothing over the surface you have finally
fully obscured. Watching you

stare into space in the tidy
rows of the vegetable garden, ostensibly
working hard while actually
doing the worst job possible, I think

you are a small irritating purple thing
and I would like to see you walk off the face of the earth
because you are all that’s wrong with my life
and I need you and I claim you.

Louise Glück

So deceptively simple and darkly complex! Now we’ll wait and see what the deer think of the Epiphyllum–I doubt my feeling if they eat it will be complex at all.

What about the chickens?

ChickensA reader asked, “Why haven’t I seen anything about them lately?” There are currently 11 hens and a rooster, the soft-voiced, gentlemanly Cloud, a Lavender Americana. The flock consists of three of my original six Americanas, four young Americanas, a Black Sex-linked hen, a Silver Wyandotte hen, and two banty hens. It’s almost impossible to get a picture of them altogether, but here are most of them, busily hunting for a handful of grain.

Because they are voracious, they have been eating away their hillside habitat.

HoudiniSo much so that the black and white banty, who I have renamed Houdini, has been finding little holes where the dirt is eroding, and escaping daily into the garden. To begin to remedy this, on Saturday, three strong guys came and salvaged enough concrete from the hillside to build the first level of a terrace:

wallThe wall is three and half feet tall and about thirty feet long. Apparently, people in this neighborhood just toss old concrete down the hill when they remove it. My neighbor said he has this much embedded in his hillside, too. There’s a sizable pile of leftover concrete–but I’m not planning on tossing it down the hill.

As soon as it was built, dirt bath
the chickens settled into their
new terrace for a dirt bath. It’s fun to watch them toss dirt all over their feathers.

But all in all, feed, maintenance, etc., makes me understand why “pasture-raised” eggs are over six dollars a dozen.  I’m sure I’d have to sell my eggs at at least five dollars each to break even at this point.

Still, it’s hard to beat chickens for entertainment of a livestock variety.

And there’s nothing like fresh eggs and greens from the garden for breakfast.  I’ve never had an egg at any price that tasted so good. I’m going to have to think about a few new chicks, to make sure I have eggs this winter.Breakfast