Dismantling the labyrinth

IMG_3009No, it’s not because of political chaos, it’s just that the labyrinth has become too labor intensive. I decided to have a little pond and rock garden instead. The first step is digging up plants I want to save–easy to do after the rain–and pot them for the short term, to replant after the stonework and pond are done.

It’s looking a bit trashed at the moment, but I made a discovery in the process–not a giant asparagus, but a flowering of aloe: Continue reading “Dismantling the labyrinth”


Labyrinth_optJust before the rainy days, I managed to finish weeding and replanting the labyrinth for spring.  Lots of spinach, sorrel, herbs, and mustard greens remain and self seed each year. And this year some blue honey wart, too. Not to mention my friend’s statue.

And meanwhile, this by Robert Shiller from today’s paper, read to me by Larry, on the labyrinthine world of finance–the path through that is more convoluted:

“Governments…use expanded credit in a desperate effort to placate a dissatisfied electorate. Credit expansion can create housing bubbles and an illusion of wealth for many people, for a while, at least. ‘Let them eat credit.’ “

Dressed for fall

Just before the rain, I finished weeding, chopping and slashing, and used straw to outline the labyrinth paths.  It looks a little swallowed by straw at the moment, but it will all calm down with a little rain and time.

As I was doing this, I was thinking about Rumpelstiltskin, and his spinning straw into gold–clearly a daunting task. Why is it that so many fairy tales have questionable morals? I mean, really, we’re teaching children that it’s fine to back out on your promise if the person who helped you is less than human? Or if his demands now seem too great?

Anyway, the rest of the definitely-not-gold-but-straw bale will make paths in the vegetable garden and what’s leftover will get added to the chickens’ hay.  They happily dig through and manure it for use as garden mulch.

Another poem at least partially about poetry…ekphrastic?

I know it’s been almost a week, but here’s another poem as part of the ekphrastic series, assuming a poem about a poem can be in that category. This one is by Jack Spicer, one of the poets Larry first introduced me to when I came to the West Coast decades ago. Like Lew Welch, Philip Whalen, Gary Snyder, his work was different than anything I’d seen before.

Any fool can get into an ocean…

Any fool can get into an ocean
But it takes a Goddess
To get out of one. Continue reading “Another poem at least partially about poetry…ekphrastic?”

Winter garden

The weather here in Northern California has been wonderfully sunny and warm for the last week or so, giving me time to get the labyrinth ready for winter, take down old tomato vines, and get the beds ready for planting.  For the labyrinth, I trimmed and added garlic and greens, along with new pebbles for the path.


The tomato vines were a bigger challenge.  There were a lot of them! And I had put off taking them down because there were still so many green tomatoes.  But now the green ones are ripening on the window sill. It took me three afternoons to pile up all the vines, and then all day to put them through my wonderful Eco Shredder. The shredder is a great tool, and from three huge piles of dead vines, I have about a small garbage can full of wonderful fine green-brown mulch.  I let the chickens out and they were very willing to help with the cleanup. They love to forage, and ate quite a bit of the shredded vines, even though they don’t like tomato plants normally.

In any case, they were happy, I was happy, and the garden is almost ready for winter planting. My neighbor gave me some black fava beans and these should make a good cover crop.

Domestic Felicity

Yesterday was the day for pruning the labyrinth. I am a person who loves to plant and tend but hates to cut. My mother used to say she liked the look of wild gardens, and I guess I do, too.

Nonetheless, it was no longer possible to walk the full labyrinth, so pruning and tying back was in order. I took my wonderful Japanese scissors and some brown garden twine, and set to work.

The whole project took four hours, not the hour or so I’d expected. But it at the end the labyrinth was a labyrinth again, not an impassable maze, and the pullets feasted on the cuttings.

As a finishing touch, I placed a statue (a wonderful gift from a sculptor friend) near the center. In addition to gracing the labyrinth, it holds back the Blue Showers plant so that I didn’t have to completely decimate it.

Everyone was happy. Or at least the chickens and I were both pleased with the morning’s work.

If I were to work on a poem today, it would be in the category Bob Hass called in a lecture “poems of domestic felicity.” One of my favorites in that category is this one, “Everyone Was in Love.”As with all domestic felicity, there is a hint of darkness at the edges that only makes the moment sweeter.

Everyone Was in Love

One day, when they were little, Maud and Fergus
appeared in the doorway, naked and mirthful,
with a dozen long garter snakes draped over
each of them like brand-new clothes.
Snake tails dangled down their backs,
and snake foreparts in various lengths
fell over their fronts, heads raised
and swaying, alert as cobras. They writhed their dry skins
upon each other, as snakes like doing
in lovemaking, with the added novelty
of caressing soft, smooth, moist human skin.
Maud and Fergus were deliciously pleased with themselves.
The snakes seemed to be tickled too.
We were enchanted. Everyone was in love.
Then Maud drew down off Fergus’s shoulder,
as off a tie rack, a peculiarly
lumpy snake and told me to look inside.
Inside that double-hinged jaw, a frog’s green
webbed hind feet were being drawn,
like a diver’s, very slowly as if into deepest waters.
Perhaps thinking I might be considering rescue,
Maud said, “Don’t. Frog is already elsewhere.”

This poem is in Galway Kinnell’s latest book, Strong is Your Hold. Not only is this a wonderful book, it comes with a CD of Galway reading the poems. He has one of the great reading voices, and the book is worth it just to hear him read this poem.


How the garden grows

This is the labyrinth this morning.  I can see the plants grow from one day to the next. I’ve let the salad mix and some herbs go to seed in the labyrinth, hoping I’ll see new seedlings soon.

Herbs include all the common culinary herbs, plus borage, hyssop, lemon verbena, summer and winter savory, lemon balm, Thai basil, fennel, rue, feverfew, along with five or six kinds of lettuce, three kinds of chives, and dozens of flowers.

The rest of the front is all flowers.

Along with the stone work, there is drip irrigation, so no watering issues (for once in my life) other than figuring out how often and how long I want the water to drip.


The back, aside from a plethora of poppies, is all vegetables, chickens, and bees.


Here is the famed red mulch, chicken coop in the background.

The baby cucumbers, artichokes, tomatillos, corn, and beans:




and four of the seven pullets, happily eating scraps.

When Larry discovered me baking egg shells this morning before adding them to the compost, he said:

“This is a farm my Okie relatives wouldn’t recognize.”

Indeed! I hope this is not like someone’s dull slide show of their vacation–but I couldn’t resist.

Introducing the garden

I realized, reading the Bennington Garden Blog this morning that I have neglected to document my miraculous garden. I am lucky to be planting on soil that has been uncultivated for years; it’s rich and full of worms. With the addition of some compost to lighten up the clay, it has produced what seems like instant results. I started planting in February, and now have more lettuce than we can eat (just ready to transplant the third crop of seedlings), snap and snow peas, kale, baby tomatoes, and vigorous corn, tomatillos, cucumber, squash, artichoke, eggplant, edamame and bean plants. I also have first year blueberry bushes, raspberry, and blackberry vines, a young Celeste fig and Hachiya persimmon, and a pepper tree. Here come the photos:








The peas grow visibly taller each day!

These are planted with a technique called Mayan gardening. The corn should be a stalk for the beans, tomatoes or tomatillos, the cucumber provides ground cover.





















Can you spot the slug in the lettuce seedlings? I didn’t know it was there till I looked at these.

Here’s the front. You can see the beginning of the labyrinth here:



Some of the herbs and salad greens in the labyrinth are already going to seed—I’m letting that happen, figuring I’ll have a summer crop later.


The garden is a world of pleasure, changing each day.  Soon to come: red mulch for the tomatoes! Stakes for the berries, taller stakes for the peas.



The tag line for this blog includes “a labyrinthine life,” because that seems to me the perfect metaphor for the shape of a life. We can always craft stories about what happened afterwards, but while it’s happening, life is mysterious, counter-intuitive, lots of backtracks and strange turns, which is what I find so compelling about labyrinths. I love that the path to the center is not straightforward and that they have no real “reason” for being.

When I visited my friend Maureen about 10 years ago, she had made one in the field next to her house using a lawnmower to cut the circles into the tall grass. Over time, her friends brought her rocks, fragments, small pots, etc. to put in the center. I was so jealous! But I lived in a space with no flat surface. I had a hill, but it was too steep for a labyrinth.

A few years ago we moved, and the house we bought had a space we could make into a small (16’ diameter) labyrinth, a project I’ve been working on since about August of last year. I decided to plant kitchen herbs and small flowers in the labyrinth rows, and modified a plan to fit the space. I cleared and weeded the ground, and took a stick and a string to make the concentric circles, then made the pattern by mounding the dirt:

The idea for me was that it would work a little pause into my day—I tend to move very quickly. I planted the herbs I use most (parsley, oregano, cilantro, sage, chives) in the outer row, so I wouldn’t have to walk the whole labyrinth if I just wanted a sprig of one of them. I bought seedlings at Annie’s Annuals, the best retail nursery I’ve ever seen.

After three months, the labyrinth looks like this:

I have many interim shots, including one with the just-planted labyrinth filled with hail, which gave me the idea for the pale pebble walkway.  But like pictures of one’s children, I may be more in love with them than you are, so I thought these two would suffice for now.

I pick from the labyrinth daily, and tend to walk the whole labyrinth at least once a week, gathering flowers for small bouquets as well as lettuces and herbs. I’ve been adding to the plantings as I go. It’s an ongoing project. And as it’s right in my entryway, it gives people some idea about who I am as they come in. I like that!