Archives for the month of: March, 2016

The salmonberries are already blooming in Portland’s Forest Park.  I wonder whether they’re blooming in the coast range, and near Opal Creek, and in the nooks and crevices of our urban parks and green spaces.  Their deep pink petals hang lightly in defiance of the torrential rains we’ve been seeing the past few days.  “Yes,” they are declaring.  “Yes, we will create and thrive amidst the chill.”  Somehow, the rain supports them.  The pollen clings to the anthers underneath that halo of pink, a bit safer from being washed away that the elder flowers’, whose tiny flowers cling together in clumps that seem to melt and mash together in the soggy air.  I can’t hide my excitement as I tramp up, up, up the switchbacks and wind my way out and around every ravine and creekside slope of exuberant green mosses.  Trilliums splay out lavishly on the forest floor, and I’m reminded of a time long ago when I knew nearly nothing about this community.  I was drawn to the showy flower as a camp name back in grade school, but I knew nothing of when it emerges, what companions it finds, how it reproduces, or how people could work with it beyond admiring its silky white and pink petals.  A herald.

Now, despite greater knowledge and deeper experience in Cascadian woodlands, I am more humbled than ever by their complexity and beauty.  I have yet to know hundreds of plants that grow here, year after year, in the first flushes of spring or the dry spells of late summer.  I have yet to see native pollinators alight on myriad flowers, and the development of so many precious seed pods and fruits that will fatten over the next several months.  I know nothing of what lives between and beneath the thick humus layer that cushions my step and absorbs, so patiently, the steady drips and rivulets of a spring storm.  When the sunshine trickles past the gray clouds and brings the hundred hues of green back to their full brightness, I wonder how I– already nearly thirty years past and likely no more than twice that to come– could possibly know this forest in my lifetime.  There is so much to observe, to care for, and to love.  What birds are nesting overhead?  When do they sing, and what are their songs?  How many years will it take for that stream bank to crumble and create bare soil for new life to begin, again?  Who else loves this place, and what do they see that I yet overlook?  The minds and hearts that perceive these hillsides extend the realm of my humility that much further.  I know the crevices and crannies of my own self only one short lifetime more than I know the life outside.  There is much work and play of knowing at hand.  Let us continue it.

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It is time to begin, again.  The emergence of spring’s heralds– the crocus, the daffodil, the ornamental cherry blooms in every third yard around Eugene– brings me to anticipate, look up, shake my winter-softened arms out a bit.  It’s been a whole year.  Almost thirteen moons, since I began the last season of watching plants grow and the burst of life run its course.  I revisited my garden journal from 2015 recently and found that I was inventorying seeds, making garden maps for my new beautiful home, purchasing trays and flats and potting soil, and seeding onions at this time in February.  I was re-visiting all my farming practices that I had first learned in this city three years prior, but unlike then, I lacked some of the key elements to start seed this early.

My onions grew ever so slowly, tiny green shoots that lazed by my bedside and reached toward the filtered, too-dim sunlight as it reached past apple tree shadows and spring rainbow storms.  The tiny cabbage sprouts, so eager at first, faced a gradual death as they succumbed to an unknown wilt.  Ah, and the beets!  Direct-seeded outside, they suffered recurrent infestations of life miners, which, I learned by bringing a leaf in to the Master Gardeners next door to my office, were decimating home crops of chard, spinach, and beets all over the county.

Small failures aside, there was a most magnificent burst of life and bounty over the course of our warm spring, dry summer, and even into the golden fall.  I made my first attempt at growing oats, Avena sativa, and fell madly in love with their dancing grains and sea-foam striped stalks.  The birds nearly thwarted them all, but the few that grew from the first and second plantings were well spaced and vibrant, interplanted among four stout Purple Bumblebee cherry tomato plants.

Oh, the tomatoes!  It has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life to place tiny flat seeds in a few planting trays and, nearly a year later, be relishing bag after bag of frozen garden tomatoes.  This year I grew five varieties: the Purple Bumblebee, which produced few but stunningly flavorful, purple-smeared bitefuls of juicy summertime.  The Woodle Orange won out for flavor, though.  They turned from soft yellow to bright gold when ripe, and I watched the process on our two plants with delight and anticipation of adding thick slices to freshly rinsed salad greens.  For preserving, my favorite was the Jersey Devil, whose seeds I saved carefully for this year.  The tomatoes are long and pointy like peppers, and their uniform ripening and detachable skins won me over as I boiled and peeled gallons and gallons of saucers.  Unfortunately, the majority of my paste tomatoes were of another variety called Sheboygan, which was delicious fresh but is not well suited for processing.  Process aside, I’m grateful for their stamina into the fall and their weight and sweetness in my chest freezer.  Bread and Salt was the last variety: a pink, heart-shaped tomato that was certainly enjoyable, but not memorable enough to save seed.

I jumped ahead; the story of the tomatoes begins months before I had any idea about the fruits.  They sprouted to March’s full moon, folded and skinny, curving up daintily from their cozy potting mix into the dim light behind my sliding glass door.  There is so much hope this time of year: that each plant will thrive, that dreams will coalesce into tangible life, that warmer days will bring freedom and clarity to the fogginess of winter’s routine.  Whatever will grow this year is already germinating in last year’s compost, on the bright surface, deep in the shadows, searching for the light and warmth of another springtime.