Spring Things

circa 2016

When we first moved to our two acres in the redwoods eleven years ago, I endeavored to grow vegetables in the ground despite the warnings from neighbors that the redwood roots would defeat me. In my ignorance, I believed otherwise and dug massive quantities of roots from my beds every few months until after five years of futile labor, I finally I hurt my back one too many times and surrendered.


Thus began the era of tub farming. Easy living with great results! Yesterday I prepared one of my orchard tubs by turning the soil and adding aged chicken manure and compost, and then planted seeds of chard, lettuce, sugar snap peas, and arugula.

In another tub I planted potatoes next to last year’s chard. Zucchini and tomatoes and other vegetables that like hot weather, or at least warm weather, do not grow well here a mile from the coast outside of greenhouses, and we do not have a greenhouse.

When we came to look at this place before we bought it, the first thing I saw was this magnificent old tree in our woods, her twisted trunk having saved her from felling when the area was clear-cut a hundred years ago. Her twisted trunk means that usable lumber cannot be made from her trunk. We believe she is more than two-hundred-years-old.

We mostly heat our house with a woodstove. We buy tan oak from Frank’s Firewood and harvest soft wood from our two acres. Every year I clear brush and thickets of young hemlocks from which I make great piles of kindling. We also occasionally have trees felled that are threatening to fall on the house or on our neighbors’ houses, and from these trees we get soft wood to go with the tan oak in our woodstove fires.

We recently had five yards of gravel delivered for various projects, and every day I move a few wheelbarrow loads to places around the property. I am very careful not to load the shovel or the wheelbarrow too full lest I hurt my back in the process, something I do with annoying regularity these days.


Really Really You a song by Todd from his new CD Through the Fire.


Lemon Trees Very Pretty

honey bee on lemon blossom

Lemon tree, very pretty, and the lemon flower is sweet

When we moved into our house eight years ago, I wanted to have two lemon trees growing near the house so they would be less likely to suffer during a winter freeze and so we could step out the kitchen door and pick a lemon whenever we wanted one.

lemon trees flanking the garden plot

I cleared the ground for a garden and dug out the redwood roots on the south-facing side of the house, a little plot I could see from my office windows, and I planted a lemon tree at each end of the plot. I watered the lemon trees and fed them and they grew into nice little bushes, but the years passed and they rarely made a blossom, and only once did one of the trees make a single desiccated little lemon.

lots of blossoms

I would visit people who had lemon trees in small wooden tubs on their decks, the little trees covered with blossoms and lemons; and I would visit people with yards untroubled by redwood roots where giant lemon trees grew in the ground and made hundreds of lemons each year.

lemon clusters

I knew my trees were battling the redwood roots, yet stubbornly, year after year I clung to the unfounded belief that the lemon tree roots would eventually manage to descend below the redwood-root tangle and spread far and wide and empower the lemon trees to become mighty makers of big juicy yellow lemons.

neighboring lemon trees in tubs

After seven years of continuously battling the redwood roots, I finally accepted that my vegetables would not grow in the ground unless every few months I labored mightily to dig out many wheelbarrow loads of roots. And so in my seventieth year I became a tub gardener. And once I experienced the ease of growing vegetables in tubs free of redwood roots, I transferred my lemon trees out of the ground into two big tubs.

intermingling branches

As I dug up the lemon trees to transplant them, I was astonished to find that their root masses had barely grown in seven years, the little trees somehow surviving with their tiny root masses encased in massive knots of densely woven redwood roots.

Not quite two years later, the lemon trees in the tubs are healthy, fast growing, and covered with lemons and blossoms. We have yet to pick a mature lemon, but the day is coming soon.

nearly yellow

I am examining my life in light of my experience with the lemon trees.



All At Once

All At Once

Spring Display photo by Todd

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser April 2015)

“Love exists in itself, not relying on owning or being owned.” Sharon Salzberg

Last year, handguns killed forty-eight people in Japan, eight in Great Britain, fifty-two in Canada, twenty-one in Sweden, and 10,728 in the United States. I was listening to the Giants sweep the Dodgers and feeling euphoric and glad when I received the email with those handgun death statistics, and I was reminded of a dharma talk I attended many years ago in Berkeley.

After her prepared talk, the Buddhist teacher took questions from the audience. A woman asked, “How can we be happy when there is so much suffering in the world, so much violence and cruelty and inequity, and so much of it unnecessary?”

The teacher replied, “If we immerse ourselves in news of suffering and violence, it is very difficult to be happy. Life is full of sorrow and joy. Sometimes we feel great and have wonderful experiences, sometimes we are sick and miserable. That’s the nature of life. Buddha said nothing about striving to be happy. He did suggest we make a conscious effort to be kind to each other and to ourselves. Kindness is now the heart of my practice.”

Speaking of sick and miserable, I recently suffered through a bad case of food poisoning that rendered two days entirely void of happiness for me. And yet, during those same two days, the lettuce doubled in size, the apple trees burst forth with hundreds of lovely blossoms, and Marcia was full of her usual vim and vigor and love of life.

“There are good and bad tastes, good and bad feelings, agreeable and disagreeable ideas. It is our attachment to them that creates suffering.” Shunryu Suzuki

This morning we discovered our thirteen-year-old cat Django has not yet retired from hunting, though we thought he had. A decapitated, eviscerated little rabbit greeted us as we opened the door to the laundry room where Django has his bed. I scooped the carcass up with my shovel and flung the body into the forest where all the atoms of that formerly cute furry animal will soon be scattered around the cosmos.

Speaking of the cosmos, the news lately is full of reports of planets just a hop skip and jump away, if only we could travel faster than the speed of light, that might be loaded with water, might be conducive to life as we know it, and might already have life fermenting thereon. I read these reports and can’t help wondering if they are another ploy to distract us from our collective annihilation of the planet we currently occupy.

Yet another collection of eminent climate scientists have come out with a declaration that unless humans reduce carbon emissions to zero by 2050, there is little chance the biosphere will remain habitable for children and other living things. Meanwhile, carbon emissions are increasing every year and the powers that be spend trillions of dollars on weaponry that might be spent switching us from fossil fuels to renewables.

Speaking of renewables, did you know the state of Washington is experiencing a historic drought? We knew California was dry as a bone with a snow pack less than ten per cent of normal, but Washington’s snow pack is not much better. This is bad news for salmon and kayakers, but really bad news for apple lovers because Washington grows seventy per cent of all the apples in America and commercial apple farming uses lots of water.

“When you are walking, there is no foot ahead or behind.” Shunryu Suzuki

Everything is happening all at once. My brother’s good friend was just struck and killed by a bicyclist. A young couple we know is about to have a baby. Our government is about to pass so-called Free Trade Agreements that will give corporations supremacy over state and national laws. Rain is drumming on the roof and I have the hiccoughs.

Meanwhile, the Giants are up two to nothing against the Colorado Rockies behind our good young pitcher Chris Heston who comes to us courtesy of injuries to several of our other pitchers not half as good as he. Who knew? Playing at mile-high stadium in Denver where the thinner air favors the hitters will be a big test for the young hurler.

Then there are the resurgent redwood roots. I’ve been gardening in redwood root country now for nine years and am fast approaching the point of surrender. Now the Rockies have tied the game. And now we’ve gone ahead of the Rockies, but now they’re threatening again. Life is threatening and lovely and I just cancelled the manure run for tomorrow because it’s raining hard and Kathy’s corral will be a quagmire. Now the Rockies have tied the game. Nothing is certain.

A recent exhaustive study of the most recent American election, referenced by Noam Chomsky, reveals the level of voter participation today is equivalent what it was in the early nineteenth century when only landed white men were allowed to vote. No wonder our government is so entirely out of synch with the wishes of the American populace. To make matters worse, the Rockies have now gone ahead of the Giants five to four.

Should I live so long, I will be a hundred-and-one-years-old in 2050, though given my tendency to eat questionable foods and hurt myself, the chances of that are not good. Besides if we don’t reduce carbon emissions to zero long before then, nobody will be alive in 2050. But we never know what might happen. This is not wishful thinking but an acknowledgment that life is unpredictable. There may come a moment when everything happening all at once precipitates a sudden cessation of carbon emissions.

In the meantime, the Rockies are now up six to four as we head into the seventh inning. The rain has abated, the lettuce seems delighted by this April shower and as my Uncle Howard was fond of saying, “We’ll see what develops.”