Tag Archives: plant identification

A boy and his loves.

Liam was with me for a couple of days last week. He is almost six and suddenly reads with astonishing fluency. Reading is downright fun for him, I guess that’s why, and the more you do something you love, the better you get at it. I was pleased to realize that he would be just the person at just the stage to appreciate The Disappearing Alphabet by Richard Wilbur, so I searched through my bookshelves to find it. We read it together with many giggles.

The artwork, by David Diaz, is much more pleasing to me than that in The Pig in the Spigot, another of Wilbur’s books for children which I wrote about here once. Each page is devoted to a letter of the alphabet, with a short verse musing on what would happen to our beloved world if that letter were no more.

After reading the book, then eating dinner, we went on one of my creek walk loops. Immediately we began to practice our mutual love of plants and their names. My grandson is starting to understand that I don’t know every plant, and our nature study is more of a joint effort now, with him not saying, “What is this?” so much, and saying, “Grandma, look!” more.

But he brought up the subject of the alphabet also, as we walked along, saying, out of the blue, “If there were no letter N, we wouldn’t have pain! or lanes! — or extensions!”

Our walk took longer than I planned, because I had forgotten about how it’s our habit to meander and pick things, as I had started out with Liam in Flowery Town years ago.

FT P1090307

We ate quite a few new-green wild fennel fronds on this walk, and even some slightly older ones, comparing the flavor. And several times he reminded me that we must take the route home that passes by the pineapple guava hedge, because he was eager to taste the flowers I’d mentioned.

We ate flower petals, and got to bed late, and the next morning the boy picked more right next to my garden dining spot, which he added to our breakfast feast. Rarely is it truly the right weather to eat breakfast outdoors here in my city, and this may have been my first time to do it with company so agreeable.

The middle of this second day was spent at my church, where the end of the children’s week-long summer program featured a long session of water play, and Liam was delighted to get all wet and to eat a popsicle.

Even here, he drew my attention to a tree blooming right above, which I’m sure I’d never noticed before. Our rector said he planted it himself “way back.”

Australian Silver Oak or silky oak, Grevillea robusta

While children were settling down for the Bible lesson that morning, another boy showed me this fly that he was admiring on his hand. I think Liam was already waiting patiently on the other side of the circle so he didn’t see it.

Later that afternoon I had planned to have him help me clean the greenhouse, but then realized he’d like better to pick sweet peas to take home to his mother. I have only a little patch that I didn’t pull out yet. He was diligent about that task for nearly an hour, and collected a large jarful. I made headway on the greenhouse, and we took breaks to study the bumblebees that only recently decided to mob those flowers.

One day we had read Monarch and Milkweed, and the other, I showed him my milkweed plants; the Showy Milkweed is in a jungle behind the fig tree, where I hope, if Monarch caterpillars hatch out, the birds might not notice them…?

Liam helped me to see my flowers without a magnifying glass. As we were looking at some tiny succulent flowers, and I was trying to get a good picture of them, I began to notice little black dots on them. “Are those holes in the petals, can you see?” I asked him. He squatted down and looked hard, and told me that they were things on the ends of hairs coming out of the middle of the flower. Ah, stamens! When I enlarged the photo, I could see, too:

We washed rocks! Liam had been examining and organizing one of my collections of pebbles and cones and such in the house, and out here I had him put these larger stones from the Sierras and from the Sacramento River through some sudsy water and a rinse, so they could wait presentably until I find a use for them.

What other things did we both like to do while he was visiting? Eat ice cream cones, and judge matchbox car races, and read Winnie-the-Pooh. Many times during his last hours with me, lines from Pooh or The Disappearing Alphabet would come to his mind and he would say them again, looking at me with a twinkle in his eye, knowing I liked them, too. He especially liked these from the page about the letter L:

“Any self-respecting duck
would rather be extinct
than be an uck.”

I was so grateful to Liam’s parents for making this intimate visit work out. Next time I see him, he will be more grown up, and a different boy. But probably not all that different. I hope we can always find a way to share our love for words and plants and many more details and gifts of this vast world in which our loving Father has placed the two of us as grandma and grandson.

Roots and Rest

Pinecrest lk & sun
Pinecrest Lake

Sunday morning instead of driving to church I packed my car and drove up into the Sierras, not to one of the familiar destinations but to a lake on the Sonora Pass where I’d only been once before. I was meeting my three cousins for a very brief reunion. It was only two years ago that I’d met them as though for the first time, for their mother’s memorial.

Maybe because it was Sunday morning, as I headed out along the most familiar roads I tried to listen to a sort of sermon in the form of Richard Rohr’s Falling Upward, in which he speaks (and reads his own book in a very pleasant voice) as a would-be life coach to those anticipating or making big transitions in life. I liked one line I heard in the introduction: “We are the clumsy caretakers of our own souls.” But the paradigm he presented, of a life span in two halves, The First Half of life and The Second Half, was not at all useful to me. In other ways as well I didn’t feel like a member of his intended audience, so I wasn’t sorry when I realized my listening set-up was not giving me enough volume and I had to give up on books for this trip.

I had been looking forward to crossing the valley, this farmland that feeds the whole nation its fruits and vegetables, and where alfalfa and sunflowers and more also grow in plots of hundreds of acres. Even though I’ve written about this aspect of the California landscape before, I was as excited to make this drive as I was to see my relatives at the end of it. It’s because I love California, I realized with joy, and not just the agricultural parts. Thanks to my late husband, I was introduced to pretty much every region of our vast state, and it’s Home. I’m so glad I can keep on living here, where My People have lived for six generations now.

Pinecrest kids RHBJ 1927 ed
the previous generation in the 1920’s

My destination was Pinecrest Lake, where my father and his family, including my cousins’ mother, had often camped as children with their parents. They lived in Berkeley, and from there it was not too daunting an effort to get a carful of family up into the aromatic pines and cedars where the women and children might stay for the whole summer, while the menfolk would keep working down below and drive up most weekends. Eighty or a hundred years ago it probably took twice as long as my journey did, but it would have been easy to leave the city and cook dinner in camp on the same day.

I was only able to stay with my cousins one night and half a day, but during that time we took a boat out on the lake. I had a bum foot so it was just as well that they had hiked earlier while I was on the road. While we were on the water a bald eagle flew back and forth above us against the blue sky, which we took as friendly interest on his part, but he is just a speck on a cloud in the only photo I got of that encounter.

Pinecrest Mr G 07 crp
Mr. Glad at Pinecrest in 2007

We went out to dinner and told stories about our ancestors, and kept straying from that obvious subject to many others. Maybe it was being in the outdoors that led our conversation to the topic of rats and mice, and to comparing tales of house or tent visits, or downright infestations, of undesirable critters. When cockroach stories entered the stream, we tried harder to talk instead about something more appealing before the food arrived. And then we went on laughing and being happy together until a late bedtime.

After my father died several years ago, I made a point of visiting his youngest sister, my aunt Bettie, trying to hold on to whatever thin conduit might remain in the world, that might still connect me to him and that part of my history. Her family had always lived so far away that we rarely saw them and I didn’t know my cousins growing up.

I found her to be much more than a fulfillment of my familial longings; she was a warm and gracious and funny person who was quite admirable in herself, and I soaked up as much love and kindred feeling as I could in a too-brief visit. I planned to come back soon and spend more time, but those many miles prevented me, and then she died too. I was so thankful that I was then able to connect with her daughters, and now we will be catching up until we die.

Of course I cherish my brother and sisters as a link to my father, and for themselves even more, but it helps me to have cousins in my life now, too. My father didn’t pass on family history to me until it was too late to imbibe very much, but my aunt was telling her daughters stories their whole life long, and from a woman’s perspective. They can help me to know my father and even my mother better, as she and my aunt were close friends when they were young, before ripples of effects of war and family changes put such a geographical distance between them.

On Monday the oldest of these cousins, Renée, came home with me for a couple of nights. We didn’t stop often on the way down, and the sun was too bright for taking pictures, but even so I had to note these trellised olive trees that intrigued us as we drove across the Central Valley.


Renée wanted to help me weed my garden or whatever else would ease my grief and weariness. So we spent the next morning on the front yard, and the afternoon on the back yard. She was amazed at the difficulty of digging the taproot of a weed out of our clay soil, and amazed too that anything grows in this kind of dirt. We filled up the yard waste with pine needles, rockrose trimmings, wisteria vines and spent calla lilies. And she told me that one of my most hated weeds is Jack-in-the-Pulpit — but I don’t think so. Compare these pictures:

P1120869 weed 4-15

My weed is on the jackinthepulpit2c_thumb_410right, and Jack on the left.






Does anyone know what “mine” is? It looks like a lily of some sort… [Update: see in comments below for the full answer to my question. It’s an Italian Arum Lily.]

My last several days have been incredibly full and rich. In the wee hours of yesterday I woke to hear rain falling — in June in California! A special gift. It continued all morning and maybe contributed to the horrible traffic on the way to the airport, which made Renée almost miss her plane. When I came home and was eating my lunch I was surprised to nearly fall asleep in my tea; until then I hadn’t realized that so much talking instead of sleeping had taken such a toll that I could actually — and must — take a nap.

So I slept for most of the afternoon, and got up late today, and I think I could nap again! When I’m this tired I’m very susceptible to the floods of emotion that show me I am always on the verge of being a bit depressed. The liberty I have to pace myself is a great blessing.

Before my nap yesterday I’d read Albert’s blog post where he shared a “bit” from another blog, and even though the rain we had just experienced on our way to the airport was not cold and hard, the basic idea seems to fit how I quoted from this blog post:

Do what you can – because sometimes it is going to rain on your life and then you can only do what you can. And sometimes it is Cold hard rain. And sometimes it is on the day you had pegged to cut hay. And that is what we had yesterday. Wet, cold, hard rain.  But the work went on – just in a different direction.  We don’t need to save the world every day. Some days we just do what we can then take to the swing chairs when enough is done.

I do have a bench swing on the patio and I may use that this afternoon, after my nap. See ya later!