Sunday, March 27, 2011

Loveliest of Trees

In my senior vocal recital at Penn State in 1967 there was a song titled, "Loveliest of Trees" by John Duke,  a setting of the poem by A. E. Housman.  I had occasion to recite that poem last night before dark as Kathy and I drove to our favorite local restaurant, Spiro's, for dinner.

Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
Is hung with snow along the bough,
And stands about the woodland ride
Wearing white for Eastertide.

Now, of my threescore years and ten,
Twenty will not come again,
And take from seventy springs a score,
It only leaves me fifty more.

And since to look at things in bloom
Fifty springs are little room,
About the woodland I will go
To see the cherry hung with snow.

I walked out this morning about 7:30 to take this picture before the snow melts away.  This specimen tree is just up the street from us.  It's probably one of the most beautiful sights in the neighborhood.

The morning began with a feast of beautiful sights, the early sun streaming through Kathy's white curtains.  Steve and Tim finished their part of the six-month remodel project last Wednesday.  Kathy and I have been continuing with odd jobs that are within our respective skill sets.  Today I'll finish painting the wall beneath our new set of safe stairs to the basement.

We had the bedroom window enlarged so that we could enjoy the view of the gardens we will develop in the back yard along the shore of Hidden Lake.

Our own cherry tree stands next to "Boone's Dock."  You can't tell by looking at the water that we've been visited by a squadron of ducks named Northern Shovelers.  We had never seen such ducks before and had to get out the bird book to identify them.

This was the view as I walked down the hall to open the door to the basement and let the cats come up.  We had that opening widened so that we could enjoy the sight of the dining area and kitchen, including our Hubbarton Forge light over the table and our special pendant lights over the island.

We painted two of the living room walls a "cinnamon swirl" color to show off the dark beams.

When we bought the house, the ceiling matched the beams, as did the far wall, and the room felt somewhat like a cave.  Painting the ceiling cream was my big November project.

The "butter pecan" walls make a good, neutral background for our Santa Fe Opera posters and various  watercolors.  Kathy's design called for an enlarged window on either side of the fireplace.  When she added the curtains two weeks ago, the whole character of the room became gentle.

As I entered the dining room this morning, I saw how the reddish light enlivened the reddish wood of the deck we hope to replace some time this year.  The wood is worn out, and nothing about the construction stirs confidence.  We do not take the view of the lake for granted.  The presence of waterfowl is a year-round attraction.

Outside as Lola the Poodle and I walked back from taking a picture of the cherry hung with snow, I decided to record the view of a slope that will be a riot of daylily bloom this summer if all goes well.

I hope the two trees you see here will be gone by then.  The Sweetgum on the left is one of the champion nuisance trees, dropping thousands of thorny seed balls on the lawn every year.  The Silver Maple on the right is an accomplished breaker in heavy wind.  Why is it that the fastest-growing trees are also usually the least welcome?

These are some of my daylilies in pots along the driveway just outside the garage.  I moved 140 of my selected seedlings over here during a warm spell three weeks ago and have washed and potted half of them.  The rest are in bags in the garage waiting for favorable washing weather.  I'm cleaning them well because I don't want to transfer the runners of bindweed from my other garden over to this one.

Tomorrow I'll pick up another case of pots at Hummert's and be ready for any clear day with a temperature near or above 50 degrees with no for plant-washing.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Safe Stairs, and What We Can Imagine

These are our new "safe stairs."  You can see the outline of the old "unsafe stairs" on the wall underneath the new set.  They are probably the most important job within a 6-month remodel project that finished yesterday.

On our first visit to this house, we made mental notes of what we would correct and improve if we bought it.  The stairs and bathrooms were at the top of the list.  Other things were added after the formal house inspection.  Still other things came to mind when we realized we would have to rid the dwelling of the smell of cigarette smoke, which we hadn't noticed on our first visit.  That part of the project involved ripping out all the shag rugs and throwing out all the textile curtains.  We washed down every surface, primed with an oil-based primer.  Primed again with a water-based primer because the colors were so dark.  Then painted with a coat or two of premium finish paint from Benjamin Moore.

The safe stairs are a masterpiece.  I do not fear that one of us will stumble on them.

This is my friend, Richard Ashburner, who passed away last Friday after coming down with a sore throat three weeks earlier.  He was the manager of our symphony chorus, and his manner of working and enjoying life were uplifting to all who knew him.  He was a gifted manager, generous with the well-timed witicism as well as an encouraging phrase after an audition.

I suppose Richard never imagined that in his excellent physical condition he would not be able to "throw off" or "get over" the fever he developed.  Three days after coming down with his sore throat he was in the ICU at the best hospital in St. Louis.

Richard consented to be heavily sedated, with a ventilator to help him breathe.  I suppose he imagined he would wake up in better more fever, easy breathing, and quite a tale to tell.

But alas for the things we can't imagine.  Alas for bad luck.  Richard had a systemic infection, not just a case of pneumonia.  He was dangerously ill, with woefully narrow odds of survival, just "out of the blue."  He hadn't run himself down, done something taxing in awful weather.  He had simply and unwittingly crossed the thin line that separates ordinary experience from the end of experience.

I am grieving for my friend and at the same time celebrating the way he lived his life.  Had Richard been killed by a drunk driver, I would have a target for my anger that he died young.  But how do you rage at fate?  How do you club a thin, invisible line, the one that separates "safe" from "mortal peril?"

Driving to his funeral Tuesday morning to sing in his honor with the symphony chorus, I found myself warming up with the closing passage of Mahler's Kindertotenlieder, the "Songs on the Death of Children."  I had met Richard's mother, sister, and brother the previous afternoon.  Richard was someone's dear child.

"In this weather, in this gale, in this windy storm,
They rest as if in their mother's house:
frightened by no storm,
sheltered by the hand of God,
They rest, they rest as if in their mother's house,
as if in their mother's house."

The way I hear that passage, the final "they rest, they rest" has the character of a halucination; it sounds like children's sing-song, and then the mood grows bleak, resigned then, resigned to inconsolable grief.

Oh, Richard, you died.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

A Ghost of a Chance

Call me crazy, but I often follow whimsical impulses in the garden.  One impulse is to follow what eludes me, the thing most surprising, the moment of "ah-ha!"  It is the elusive color of blue in daylilies that tantalizes me.

The beginning of my tale is a gift from my friend Paul Aucoin, who gave me a small piece of his new daylily, THIBODAUX TANTALIZER, ten years ago.  First let me show you its parents, MILDRED MITCHELL by Kelly Mitchell and ETCHED EYES by Matthew Kaskel.

MILDRED MITCHELL sports both a big lavender blue eyezone and a bright silvery midrib that forms a point outside the edge of the eye.  It has a double edge of dark purple and cream.

ETCHED EYES is a big pastel yellow flower with a "feathered" edge around a lavender blue eye.  I thought my friend Paul took a gamble when he crossed a lavender purple daylily with a pastel yellow, but he got lucky with two of the kids from that cross.  Here are photos of THIBODAUX TANTALIZER and WHICH WAY OUT.

THIBODAUX TANTALIZER shows how colors and patterns can negotiate strange outcomes.  We've got the base color of ETCHED EYES with a light brushing of magenta color from MILDRED MITCHELL.  We've got a hint of the MM edge, but in place of an eye, we have a "ghost" of one.  To my way of thinking, the dissimilar eye patterns "cancelled" each other out and planted recessive genes to be expressed in later generations.

In WHICH WAY OUT, the color of MM triumphed, but its continuous edge became a partial edge, called a picotee, the shape of the MM eyezone has been exaggerated somewhat, and most interesting, the color of the eyezone now includes two "water drops" on each petal.  You might notice that EE contributed some "feathering" around the edge of the eye.

I wanted to see if I was right about THIBODAUX TATALIZER carrying recessive genes for blue eyes, so in 2006 I took its pollen to Karol Emmerich's CAST YOUR NET, which has yet another sort of blue eye pattern.   This is called a "webbed" eye.

In 2008 I saw the results of this cross.  There was a range of colors and blue eye patterns and also a range of shapes.  In 2009 I decided to keep a dozen seedlings and study them for a few more years with no competition from close neighbors.  Here is what made me keep them.

Seedling 08-26 has a feathered outline around a complex eyezone of multiple bands.  I think this pattern is coming from one or both of the parents of CAST YOUR NET, particularly, Jeff Salter's ANCIENT REFLECTIONS.

Seedling 08-53 has a look of magenta wash over pale yellow.  There's a dark picotee edge and a bold lavender eyezone around a strong green throat.

09-50 has fascinating color shading and "crispate" pinching along the midrib.

09-60 has the clearest lavender purple color of the kids, which makes a nice background for the much darker magenta outline of that saturated lavender eyezone and strong green throat.

09-61 is a large flower with a grainy, sandy look in the magenta wash over pale yellow.  The white midrib is slightly pinched, and the big green throat bleeds out into a nice lavender eyezone.

09-63 gives me the impression that it's trying to look like ETCHED EYES and failing.

09-81 looks like fainly blushing sandstone with the blush seeming to veil the lavender color in the eyezone.  

So much variety from one cross!  I am going to take other ghost eyes to CAST YOUR NET this summer to see if what happened for me was a fluke or an important discovery.