The Daily Muse

A  Garden Journal -- March 2006

Last Update: March 28

March 2 - morning

As per usual, my life has been quite hectic. I am about to start another round of documentary projects for KLRU-TV, and have just completed the Soul of the Garden series of spiritual reflections which can be viewed on-line. I hope that you will check them out. We will be presenting  Soul of the Garden on-air, along with my documentary, Las Misiones: The Missions of Texas, on Sunday, March 19.

This has been a strange year weather-wise and for the past few days it has turned a bit depressing.  Our spring seems to have turned into summer- we broke a heat record yesterday with temperatures that neared 90 degrees fahrenheit (31.66 celcius.) Fortunately, we have had a little rain, so things are not as bad as they could be.

In the garden, many of the early blooming plants have taken off and I expect that the warm temperatures will accelerate the rush into spring. I just completed my first big pruning session of the year on our boxwoods and hollies and I am going to try to get some mulch and compost down before all of the perennials  break their dormancy. Our flowering peaches, redbuds, and deciduous magnolias will all be in full bloom soon and many of the early perennials, like the columbines, are already beautiful.

I have been too busy to get into the garden to take photos, but I will try to update the site with more images soon. Until then - peace.

March 6 - morning

A wide shot of the back yard showing recently pruned box hedges, the allee, and our new Savannah holly.

I just wrapped up a great gardening weekend with many hours of planting, weeding, moving plants, spreading compost, and generally cleaning up after the winter. It was a little bit exhausting, but I am pleased with the way things are shaping up. We are supposed to have a decent chance for some rain this week and if we get it, I expect my garden will explode into leaf and bloom.

I have been teaching for the past few weekends at my old Sunday school class at University United Methodist Church. Our "text" has been my Soul of the Garden video series. It has been great catching up with my friends there and sharing my thoughts about the different themes of the series. Yesterday, the subject was "communion," the shared spiritual journey. As I prepared for the class, it occurred to me that aside from the shared journey, my piece on communion was also about deepening our sense of what we mean by community, to be radically inclusive and outward looking. In his foundational work, Original Blessing, Matthew Fox, talks about the need to develop a deep relationship with the cosmos - to recognize that we are in the cosmos and it is in us. If we do this, a profound sense of reverence envelops us and shapes our lives. Fox quotes Einstein, "The most important function of art and science is to awaken the cosmic religious feeling and keep it alive."

I believe that the biggest "draw" of religion, whether it be the progressive Christianity of many Methodist churches, or one of the evangelical mega-churches that are flourishing in our country, is the gift of community. Our culture is very isolating, and people are almost desperately hungry for some sense of connection with other humans and with a way of living that is purposeful (or to use the current catch phrase, purpose-driven.) Too often though, that sense of community turns out to be tribal, and it ends at the exit of the church parking lot. While one of the values of community is that others can straighten us out when we become arrogant and think that we know God’s intentions, there are times when entire communities think the same way and reinforce that  arrogance. This is true on both sides of the culture wars, fundamentalists and religious progressives alike both believe that God is on their tribe's side.

It is very difficult for us to see beyond our differences, but ultimately, if the planet is to survive, we must take the radical leap suggested by Matthew Fox and others like him. I am heartened when I read of evangelical preachers signing an environmental pledge and encouraging their congregations to be more responsible stewards of creation.  These are individuals who are outward looking, who are beginning to embrace community in its broadest sense - the cosmic community. Whether we are individual spiritual seekers, or members of an enormous religious tribe, we have to move beyond an inward focused practice and sensibility to a life affirming embrace of creation. For people on the right, this begins by rejecting the death-cult of the "end-times."  For people on the left, it begins by recognizing the true spiritual longing and genuine pain that fuels fundamentalism. Matthew Fox says that, "The earth can no longer tolerate the sin of introspective religion." I believe he is right, on both the left and right people need to be looking beyond themselves and their individual pains and concerns.

One of my favorite "cosmic" poets is the American farmer, Wendell Berry. (Farmers make great cosmologists!) The following excerpt from his poem, The Clearing,  speaks in clear agrarian tones of the deep relationships we need to cultivate in our lives and with the earth...


A man who does not ask too much

becomes the promise of his land.


His marriage married

to his place, he waits


and does not stray. He takes thought

for the return of the dead


to the ground that they may come

to their last avail,


for the rain

that it stay long in reach of roots,


for roots

that they bind the living


to the dead, for sleep

that it bring breath through the dark,


for love in whose keeping

bloom comes to light.


Singularity made him great

in his sight.


This union makes him small,

a part of what he would keep.


Berry is calling us to rootedness and a marriage-like commitment, to an active, caring, outward -facing, and ultimately ego-diminishing embrace of creation. Alone, or in Berry's phrase, in "singularity," we believe ourselves to be gods. Union or as Christians like to say, communion, weaves us into the cosmos, a part of what we should all be striving to keep. I love Berry’s use of the word "promise." We need more cosmic promise-keepers.

Spring Star Flower

March 8 - morning

Our first Campernelle narcissus of the season.

We haven't had our rain yet, and it looks like the chances are diminishing by the hour. Yet, the head-long rush of spring continues. Here are a few pictures from yesterday morning...


Butterfly amaryllis.


Leucojum and oxalis.


Hinkley's columbine, a West Texas native.


A close-up of our redbud tree. I love the soft pastel color these provide on misty spring mornings.

March 9 - morning

A very brief, but intense storm last night brought a touch of moisture to the garden (just two tenths of an inch) and this morning everything seems a little brighter. Here are a few more celebrations of the season...

Scilla peruviana in bloom. This is a great bulb for Central Texas and does beautifully in dappled shade.


One of our neighbors has a pair of dogwoods that may be the best in the city. Dogwood is a marginal species here in Austin, but Charlie has helped his to flourish for decades.


Another view.


I love the way they look from below.


Oue redbud is approaching full-bloom.


From below.


Buddha's hands. (From the Austin Zen Center.)


Asphodel and agave. (Also from the Zen Center.)


A pathway designed by Nancy Webber, a great local landscape artist.

March 16 - evening

Waiting for the rain... recent wildfires in the Panhandle region of Texas have shaken a lot of people's complacency  about the severe drought that we are encountering. It is entirely possible for the Austin region to encounter something similar. Fortunately, we have been spared, but we really need rain. There is the promise of some in the coming days and I plan on doing my rain dance. Please join me.

Meanwhile spring is rushing forward. There will be many more pictures in the coming days, but here are a a few from this evening's walk about...

Our bluebonnets are reaching their peak.


And our "Tangerine Beauty" crossvine is definitely in its glory.

March 18 -morning

Still waiting for rain! But, here are a few pictures from our pond where our Colorado water lily is really puting on a show...



March 20 - morning

Hoorah! A beautiful weekend of gentle rain was followed by torrential downpours last night. This morning, my rain gauge showed that  3.8 inches (9.7 centimeters) had fallen since Friday. I expect an explosion in the garden in the coming days. My thanks to all who joined me in doing a rain dance!

March 21 - morning

Agave lophantha close-up with beads of rain.

Yesterday, it was spring in my garden. Spring in the fullest sense of the word... everything was fresh, vital, and new. I spent several quiet hours in communion with the flowers, butterflies,  and birds and here are a few celebrations of the day and the season...


Swallowtail butterfly on dianthus...


...and visiting one of our Colorado water lilies.


A monarch on holly flowers...


It was far too busy to notice the intruder with the camera.


Another view.


A white-crowned sparrow, the first one of these birds that I had ever seen in the garden.



More visitors.


The conversation room has been overwhelmed by bluebonnets. That is our 'red baron' peach in the background.


The fresh green of our bald cypress trees.


The labyrinth has been overtaken by bluebonnets too.


A wide shot showing our little army of boxwood pyramids.

March 22 - evening

Just a quick reminder to my friends here in Austin to tune in this coming Sunday evening, March the 26th,  at 5 PM, to watch the Soul of the Garden series of video reflections on KLRU-TV. We will be showing the entire series and I will be joined in the studio by many of the individuals featured in the pieces. Ask your friends to join you and make it a spiritual celebration of the season. (My documentary, Las Misiones: The Missions of Texas will follow the showing of Soul of the Garden.)

Meanwhile, back in the garden... We enjoyed another perfect spring day, as good as it gets here in Austin. When I got home from work I couldn't resist pulling out the camera one more time. Here are the results...

My friend was still hanging around the garden...


An extreme close-up of our Graham Thomas English rose.


A wide shot of the center of the garden.


Bluebonnets, banana yucca, and nolina.

March 23 - evening

Goldfinch at our birdbath.

This morning I awoke to a rude shock and hundreds of delightful surprises...

The rude shock was the return of winter. When I went outside a stiff northerly breeze was blowing and I felt certain that we would experience a freeze tonight. This would be a major setback for the garden and it very well may happen, the national weather service and some of the local newscasters are now predicting a low temperature of 30 degrees fahrenheit (they were predicting a low of 40 just yesterday.) I am hoping the freeze predictions are wrong. But I have taken the precaution of wrapping some of our most vulnerable plants and I am crossing my fingers.

The delight came in the form of goldfinches, hundreds of them! Many of the males are just a few days away from being in full breeding plumage and they made quite a sight. They were swarming our feeder and birdbath and I was able to take a few pictures, so here they are...


Contemplating his future?


Communal drinking fountain.


Coming in for a landing.


Another group shot.


Tres amigos.

On a completely different subject...

I had the great pleasure of spending time with Rabbi Michael Lerner over the course of the past few days. Rabbi Lerner is the Editor of Tikkun Magazine and the author of the recently published book, The Left Hand of God: Taking Back Our Country from the Religious Right.  I think that Rabbi Lerner's analysis of the current political state of our union is clear-headed and compelling. I strongly urge people who call themselves "progressive" to read this book - it focuses on the spiritual crisis in our culture that the right is both taking advantage of and making worse with its selfish policies.  By spiritual crisis, I mean the alienation in our lives, the loss of community, the ethos of selfishness that permeates our society, and the coarsening of our culture. To put it in plain English, there is a world of hurt out there. The right may be making these things worse by unleashing robber-baron economic policies, but they counter their actions with rhetoric that touches people in a meaningful way and by offering them the salve of their religious communities. Meanwhile, the left, with its phobia of anything that smacks of spirituality, has left the playing field to the Republicans and their fundamentalist allies. Lerner calls for a new bottom-line in America that addresses the spiritual crisis and calls on the progressive community to stand its ground and stop being so liberal with its liberalism... to actually stand up for what they believe and be willing to lose with your convictions rather than trade them in. ( Just as the right did between 1964 and 1980.)

The American public is not as ignorant as most liberals like to believe. Sure some people are wedded to a primitive fundamentalism, but there are millions of others who have moved to the right for the simple reason that the right understands that there is a spiritual dimension to life and says what it believes. These folks often vote against their own economic  interests because they trust the right to mean what they say. A metaphor that I like to use is that there are millions of Americans who would prefer to escape the spiritual crisis that is drowning our country by swimming towards the progressive goals of liberalism, but that island, as it stands right now, is nothing but a swampy marsh - there is no solid ground. John Kerry, a decent man, is the perfect illustration of swampy liberalism. Why did he vote for the Iraq war when he was against it? Why did Democrats vote for him when they were against it? The truth is we voted for his old uniform hoping that he could fool people into thinking how tough he was. Of course our greatest hope was that he would immediately change directions after the election. The Republicans were right when they called him a flip-flopper. So, instead of swimming to Kerry island, the  public makes for the barren desert island of the right where the rocks may be sharp and there is little sustenance, but at least it feels solid.

Hopefully, the tide may be turning. Lerner attracted standing-room only crowds to multiple events while he was in town and many people seemed interested in joining his  Network of Spiritual Progressives. We can expect the harshest vitriol to be leveled at him and this nascent movement by the right for the simple reason that they know how powerful it could be. I, for one, am ready for politicians with both heart and backbone and refuse to back any party or candidate afraid to stand up for their own beliefs. Until we all do that, there will be no meaningful opposition to the the radicals who are trying to destroy our democracy and little hope for peace or progress.

Our Harriman's Yucca in the morning light.

March 28 - morning

"Red Baron" peach blossom.

It is a gray, overcast morning and the sound of distant thunder is occasionally rumbling through the garden. A moment ago it brightened for a few seconds and everything seemed to glow with an electric intensity - as if spring was shining from within the garden, blazing with dozens of different shades of green. It was on a day very similar to this just over six years ago that I started this website.

A gentle rain has been falling in an on-again, off-again fashion since yesterday and I hope the thunder is a promise of more to come. We are very fortunate, the recent rains are setting us up very well for the beginning of the growing season - I just hope some of the drought stricken regions to the west and south are getting some of this as well. Peace to you this morning where ever you are.

The conversation room.

...a  few hours later -

Well, be careful what you wish for! We just received another three inches of rain and a light rain is still falling. The good news here is that the rains fell over the watershed of our primary reservoir and the lakes must be refilling dramatically.

On another note, here is a spectacular image taken by my sister that I thought you would enjoy.

Geese taking off from the Missouri River in North Dakota... beautiful, isn't it?

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