Monday, March 29, 2010

Spring Emergency

"Here bygynneth the Book of the Tales of Caunterbury.

"Whan that Aprill with his shoures soote
The droughte of March hath perced to the roote,
And bathed every veyne in swich licour
Of which vertu engendered is the flour;

In An ABC of Reading, Ezra Pound instructed us all in the fine art of syllabic music that Geoffrey Chaucer had absorbed from the French poets of his era.  Chaucer brought into the English language the perfect elision of sound wedded to a perfect choice of words to define true lyrical poetry in our language.

I usually recite this passage aloud at this time of year, in my garden, as I rake the leaves off the emerging green shoots of my beloved daylilies.  There is a guilt I have felt in late March each year during my employed life.  It is the guilt of being pulled away from my desk work by the "other master" I serve, the master that is the mystery of my garden.  I am a steward of an environment of 'thworms, as every good gardener must be.  I care for the health of soil.  This husbandry of soil, creatures, and plant life is a calling.  It is in my deepest memories of tending a huge vegetable garden with my retired grandfather in New Jersey.

The emergence of malevolent weeds among my plants is like a state of emergency to me.  I prioritize what I must do with the limited time after my work day.  I look for ways to quit early, take work home for later.

And so, by stealth, and to avoid the embarrassment of a big retirement party, I announced my retirement Saturday, seven weeks ahead of schedule, after my succession was assured, and changed my status to volunteer.  For me this is the perfect solution.  I can face the diminishing workload without any guilt now.  I need show up at the office only when one of my few final projects needs attention, and then when I have them safely in harbor or approaching there, I can fade from the scene entirely to make space for my successor, who will be formally introduced in the next edition of the MHC Passages newsletter.  I can still enjoy the fellowship of my colleagues and assist Patricia Zahn, the finest colleage I have ever had, who is now the Interim Director, until my chosen successor moves to St. Louis next month.

Most of my attention right now is on my daylilies, which are just now declaring their survival or injury from the severe stress of this particular winter.  Many new plants I gambled on in the Lily Auction last summer were not hardy enough to take what St. Louis reality dished up this time.  The living center of their crowns is gone.  If there is any life at all in those tissues, it will emerge from the side and bottom of the crown several weeks from now.  But I won't let them have that chance.  I only consort with the fit.  The unfit are relegated to the yard waste bag to make room for another gamble.

If you hybridize, you are a gambler.  The only question is how much of an ante you dare to put up each year.  You can see how serious I am about this by checking my garden web site at Here is a special new one that I bred in 2001 and flagged for keeping in 2003:

I'm going to name this one LIZ PAINE, for one of my longtime professional friends at the Federation of State Humanities Councils in Washington, D.C.

Today, Palm Sunday, it's a bit rainy, but not much more than a drizzle.  I must go dig several plants of my GOODNIGHT KISSES and DAVID AND ALAN to send to buyers who begged me for plants as early as possible.  Both of these are frostproof and hardy, as I hope I will be for a lot more years.  I like telling garden club audiences that "you'll love my Goodnight Kisses."  It's important to have something to laugh about when you're sitting on a chair you would never actually want to own and use.  Do you know that type of chair?  It's standard issue in community centers.  They are designed to encourage brief meetings.

I am designed for life, and I'm going out now to affirm that in my garden.


Delilah Tayloe said...

A most worthy profession, herding earthworms, establishing floral geneaology and coaxing recumbent tubers, for a most worthy man.

The dazzling results as pictured above echo the brilliance of his former career enhancing the lives of Missouri's citizens. Cheers and a most heartfelt fare-thee-well to one of the best humans I have ever met. Thank you, Michael, for your vision, inspiration, and hard work.

Shine on!

Unknown said...


From humanities to humus--not such a large change, I'd say. See you soon.

George Frein