Category Archives: work

My birthwort is modest.

I’m plant-sitting for a friend who is between lodgings, and one of the specimens in my charge is a pot of healthy nettles. The owner told me to be sure to snip and eat the leaves frequently, because she (the plant) likes that.

Yesterday I stayed home all day, and accomplished a lot of little tasks, including much puttering and pottering outdoors. Though at first I just sat in my corner by the guava and the olive trees, while eating a late breakfast, because the whole Creation had pulled me out of the chilly house into the garden to soak up its benefactions and warm my blood.

We have entered the season when I leave the garden hoses lying around untidily; it adds “human interest” I’m sure. All the lightweight collapsible hoses I invested in got leaks, and I have gone back to heavy and sturdy hoses that last. They are good for strengthening my arms, which is something Proverbs 31 tells us women to do anyway. The bushes with the new leaves that glow like the sun are dwarf pomegranates.

Nutmeg-scented pelargonium in greenhouse.

The day before yesterday, I had told myself, “You only have to do one thing after another — and keep doing it — and in that way you will make a dent in the disorderliness that represents a disheartening backlog of work. Even a little improvement will ease your load!” Of course it helped that I ran no errands at all and in that way avoided having any of those transition times coming and going, which seem to confuse my mind.

First thing: feed the poor lemon tree. I was taught not long ago that it wants feeding four times a year, and after I fed it only two times last year it gave me a good crop. Then I “paused,” and don’t know when it got its last feeding. Now I have set an alarm in my phone to remind me. After the feeding, I gave it a little trim, mostly on top. The photo is “After.”

Near the lemon tree is my little California Pipevine, Aristolochia californica, which I mentioned here recently. It is growing a lot and has several flowers and many new leaves. I read quite a bit about it last night and learned that it is native only to Northern California. It’s very modest compared to showier species of Dutchman’s Pipe, but it is exotic enough to me. I kept wondering what the flowers would look like when they open, but it appears that this is it! If you think it looks carnivorous, you are not alone; in the past people did think that, but it seems they trap but don’t eat:

“The flowers have an unpleasant odor which is attractive to tiny carrion-feeding insects. The insects crawl into the convoluted flowers and often become stuck and disoriented for some time, picking up pollen as they wander. Most eventually escape; the plant is not insectivorous as was once thought. Fungus gnats (Mycetophilidae) may prove to be the effective pollinators.”

They call this “pollination by deceit.” The flowers dry up and crumble and thereby let the insects out to do their bidding. There are over 500 species of Dutchman’s Pipe, known as birthwort, or Aristolochia. Equally exotic and gorgeous butterflies lay their eggs on pipevines all over the world. Do you have any growing wild in your part of the world? Here are some from Sumatra and Brazil:

The flowers are known to have a bad smell, but mine are few and hard to get at, so there is not enough scent for me to notice. It dawned on me that if a Pipevine Swallowtail laid eggs on my plant, and caterpillars hatched out and began eating, they would die of starvation very soon, and I would be sad about that. And if my plant gets so robust that it covers the fence and draws lots of butterflies because its many flowers are exuding stinkiness… well, that would be a mixed blessing. I guess I’ll just wait and see what happens.

Perennial Showy Milkweed coming up.
Yellow Bush Lupine background, lavender at right.

In the meantime, I took a whiff of these geraniums who are also in my temporary nursery section; they only smell delicious. For dinner I cooked up a modest mess of nettle leaves.

Where modesty was never meant to be.

Chesterton in Brighton, 1935

“Modesty has moved from the organ of ambition. Modesty has settled upon the organ of conviction where it was never meant to be. A man was meant to be doubtful about himself, but undoubting about the truth: this has been exactly reversed. Nowadays the part of a man that a man does assert is exactly the part he ought not to assert — himself. The part he doubts is exactly the part he ought not to doubt — the Divine Reason…

“The old humility was a spur that prevented a man from stopping: not a nail in his boot that prevented him from going on. For the old humility made a man doubtful about his efforts, which might make him work harder. But the new humility makes a man doubtful about his aims, which will make him stop working altogether.”

― G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

We may as well go patiently on.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ON LOOKING UP BY CHANCE AT THE CONSTELLATIONS

You’ll wait a long, long time for anything much
To happen in heaven beyond the floats of cloud
And the Northern Lights that run like tingling nerves.
The sun and moon get crossed, but they never touch,
Nor strike out fire from each other, nor crash out loud.
The planets seem to interfere in their curves,
But nothing ever happens, no harm is done.
We may as well go patiently on with our life,
And look elsewhere than to stars and moon and sun
For the shocks and changes we need to keep us sane.
It is true the longest drouth will end in rain,
The longest peace in China will end in strife.
Still it wouldn’t reward the watcher to stay awake
In hopes of seeing the calm of heaven break
On his particular time and personal sight.
That calm seems certainly safe to last tonight.

Robert Frost, West-Running Brook, 1928

I read Frost’s poem on this blog: First Known When Lost, where it was posted this week along with a couple of others that may be seen as following a theme. Stephen Pentz leads off his article with the reminder that  “… the feeling that the world is going to Hell in a hand-basket is a timeless feature of human nature.”

Then he leads the reader to make a distinction between the world and the World. I have been thinking lately about Mary Oliver’s poem “Messenger,” which is about this, and I’d say “Landscape” as well.

The details of our given “work assignments” are unique to each of us; we need to look to God for light and strength to do the essential spiritual work, which will help us to be ready for any more public tasks that come our way. Pentz’s last line sums it up pretty well:

“Life is ever a matter of attention and gratitude, don’t you think?”

A bean. A life.

It’s been a long time since my first posting of the poem below. I thought of it this morning when I was sorting my Painted Lady beans. October is the month to clean up all the leftovers of summer plants and visitors. It probably won’t surprise you to know that little boys left dishes in the playhouse sink!

Last week four helpers came for a long session of work, and the youngest of them washed up those dishes; now I can put them where the winter wind won’t drop leaves and dust and rain on them, when it blows through the paneless windows.

They also finished up tasks relating to those runner beans, removing the last of the vines from the trellis, and shelling the beans into a big bowl.

Then it was my turn, to take out the biggest pieces of stem and pod so that the beans could simply be washed when I’m ready to cook them. But no sifter or screen that I could find had the right size holes.

When I was dusting this morning I hit upon the idea of using a microfiber cloth to spread the beans on, thinking it might reach out and grab all of that litter. It worked beautifully. I spread a layer of dirty beans on the cloth, and then moved the beans off, leaving all the detritus behind. The shriveled or undeveloped beans were left with the inedibles.

 

A WOMAN CLEANING LENTILS

A lentil, a lentil, a lentil, a stone.
A lentil, a lentil, a lentil, a stone.
A green one, a black one, a green one, a black. A stone.
A lentil, a lentil, a stone, a lentil, a lentil, a word.
Suddenly a word. A lentil.
A lentil, a word, a word next to another word. A sentence.
A word, a word, a word, a nonsense speech.
Then an old song.
Then an old dream.
A life, another life, a hard life. A lentil. A life.
An easy life. A hard life, Why easy? Why hard?
Lives next to each other. A life. A word. A lentil.
A green one, a black one, a green one, a black one, pain.
A green song, a green lentil, a black one, a stone.
A lentil, a stone, a stone, a lentil.

— Zahrad

There is a book we’ve had for years in our parish bookstore, Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives. I might even have it in my house by now, but I haven’t read much of it. One might think its message is similar to “The Power of Positive Thinking,” but it’s not. It’s more like what the Apostle Paul said:

“We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5).

That book is a collection of teachings from Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica, such as:

“Our life depends on the kind of thoughts we nurture. If our thoughts are peaceful, calm, meek, and kind, then that is what our life is like. If our attention is turned to the circumstances in which we live, we are drawn into a whirlpool of thoughts and can have neither peace nor tranquility.”

“We need repentance. You see, repentance is not only going to a priest and confessing. We must free ourselves from the obsession of thoughts.”

“Freedom belongs to God. When a person is free from the tyranny of thoughts, that is freedom. When he lives in peace, that is freedom. He is always in prayer, he is always expecting help from the Lord—he listens to his conscience and does his best. We must pray with our whole being, work with our whole being, do everything with our whole being. We must also not be at war with anyone and never take any offense to heart.”

Quietly thinking, letting words come to one’s mind, sorting them out — it sounds like a wholesome and meditative activity. But how many pieces worthy only of the garbage might we find in the bowl of a lifetime — or merely a certain calendar year — stones and shriveled things, and who knows what words and whole tirades and laments that might pop into one’s mind?

When they do, it’s better to grab them, to be like a microfiber cloth. Keep only the beautiful, smooth and thankful legumes on which your soul can feast and grow strong. Every lentil can be like a knot on a prayer rope, bringing the sorter closer to her Lord, Who is her Life.