The Daily Muse

A  Garden Journal -- May 2006

Last Update: May 25

May 3 - morning

Summer is back with us in the form of hot, muggy weather. Yesterday, the heat was briefly interrupted by a few showers around the region - we received a trace of rain on our garden, but others were more fortunate. The garden is progressing past the burst of early color- I removed the bluebonnets this past weekend and the English roses have cycled out, but the daylilies, echinaceas, and coreopsis are all coming on strong. Thanks to the surprisingly generous rainfall throughout the past few months, most of our trees and shrubs have been growing at a very fast pace. In fact,  some of the cypress trees in our allee have already grown more than two feet since March! I wish that I could keep pace... as per usual, I am behind on all of the tasks I have assigned myself - but that is always my fate. I hope to update with more images soon.

For fans of the Soul of the Garden video series, I am pleased to announce that it is now available as a DVD from the KLRU on-line store!

May 5 - morning

Not the kind of picture I wanted to post today! One of five tree limbs that came down last night.

What a night! Ferocious storms moved through the city  bringing us some of the strongest winds and largest hail I have ever seen. There are five major branches down in our front yard, and, as you might imagine, things are a bit of a mess! I feel fortunate, however, that the damage was not worse that it was. At times the weathercasters said the winds hit 70 miles (113 kilometers) per hour. The tree limbs came down in the street or in the driveway and did little or no damage to our house, cars, or garden. In the back yard there are many leaves on the ground and the lilies in our pond are shredded, but for the most part we escaped without major damage. I was amazed to see small branches scattered around the garden from a Bur Oak two yards to our north. The hail lasted only a brief time and was not as strong as the storm we had last spring, but some of the hail stones were the size of large marbles. The forecast is calling for more strong storms today and tonight, I can't imagine things getting much scarier than they were last night!

Morning sun - after the storm.




Fresh from the rain.

May 7 - 2006

Gulf Frittilary Butterfly - our garden is filled with them thanks to our passion vines.

Well, we have survived several more strong thunder storms. Our rain total for the past three days is now approaching five inches (12.7 centimeters.)  Last night, we had friends over and in between thunder showers everyone enjoyed wandering around the garden... the lightning bugs were out in force, and in the distance the real thing could be seen streaking across the sky. It made for quite a show. The frogs in our pond were in heaven. The recent downpours had them all excited and their mating calls filled the air. They were everywhere - hopping across the paths and hiding under the shrubs. The pond was filled with all sorts of activity which delighted several of our younger visitors. Today has been a quiet post-party day. Here are a a few new pics from the garden..


Manfeda bloom leaning across a pathway.

Tawny daylily.


Anole lizard - one of hundreds that live in our garden.


A low shot looking across one of the planting beds that surround our "conversation room." Pink skullcap, Agave, thyme, Dyckia, and potted Aloe.


Echinacea blooms.


Echinacea profile.


Bee visiting an echinacea.


Slightly wider.


Water lily close-up.

May 11 - morning

It was interesting to read the news accounts yesterday about the contents of the letter sent to George Bush from the President of Iran.  The same letter could have easily come from Pat Robertson or any of the thousands of other American fundamentalists. In fact, I'm sure Bush receives letters like that every day. I wonder if he recognized that fact and actually made the connection? Sometimes, seeing yourself or your allies mirrored in the face of the "other" brings a sense of revelation, this should be particularly powerful when the "other" is a member of a group you define as the "axis of evil."  This kind of mirroring can force you to recognize the humanity of the other - and your shared faults... but, it is hard to imagine that happening in this case, isn't it?

In his letter to Bush, the Iranian President warned of the failure of liberal democracy and urged Bush and the West  to turn to God. (Of course, he was using the word "liberal" in its classical sense, something foreign to most American ears.) He rightly said that American policy and actions in the world could not be squared with Bush's professed Christian faith. Legalized torture? Manufactured war? Stealing elections? Enriching the rich? Doesn't sound very Christian to me either. However, the same man has called for wiping Israel from the face of the planet and funds violent terrorism around the world. How does mass-murder square with Islam?

Yesterday evening, I was talking with my Yoga teacher and complained about how the "Progressives" have left the playing field of spirituality and values to the fundamentalists and their political allies. He was a bit perplexed, he asked about the thousands of people who have turned to Buddhism and other spiritual practices, don't they count? Last night, I didn't come up with a good answer, but after sleeping on it, it occurred to me that most "spiritual progressives" in our culture, whether they be Christian, Buddhist, Jewish, Hindu, or Muslim have kept their spirituality private - they view it as a personal matter. In fact,  many abhor using the word religion because it might infer "organized" or "group religion,"  dismissive terms for them. This atomized view of religion and spirituality is a kind of liberalism that I find extreme. It implies that only the individual experience is valid. This leads to a relativism that shrugs off cultural dysfunctions and the very real spiritual emptiness encountered by  millions as nothing but individual problems, or worse individual "choices." Instead of standing up for our principles, progressives constantly defer to the choices of others, not willing to stand their ground. Do we not have any sense of a shared good, are there no communal aspects of existence?  By keeping our values and practices private, progressives have let fundamentalists define religion and spirituality  in the public sphere. The radical right has rushed into this vacuum with a theology that embraces those longing for communion, but the price of admission is lock-step adherence to a political and religious orthodoxy that is a very real threat to our democracy.

Rabbi Michael Lerner writes that, "Liberals are too liberal with their liberalism," and millions of voters sense that. I like to use the metaphor of a drowning man - in this case, the raging water is the epidemic of greed and resulting fear that are the biggest threats to the future of our nation. I am talking about the greed of both $144,000 per day salaries for oil executives and that of movie and music industry moguls willing to darken screens and lyrics aimed at youth with pornographic violence. The fear in our culture is generated by that greed but also by the everyday circumstances of so many lives... families without health insurance and workers who see their jobs being outsourced. If you were that drowning man, afraid and alone, would you swim to the fundamentalist island made of barren rock, or the swampy island of "whatever" liberalism? It is clear where the mass of people are choosing to swim.

I understand the fundamentalist impulse and even have some empathy for those ensnared in it - the world is a frightening place and can be overwhelming and cruel. Given these facts, black and white constructs about the world can have a very real  appeal. However, the danger of running societies based on this kind of absolutism and certainty leads us to the perilous point that we are facing now - a world endangered by beliefs that have come unmoored from reality and any shared sense of humanity.

Next week there will be a seminar here in Austin that explores the intersections of mysticism, reason, and action in the world. Sponsored by the Dykes Foundation and many local organizations, The Mysticism, Empowerment & Resistance Seminar will bring some deeply spiritual and thought provoking leaders to Austin. I see this as part of a spiritual reawakening of the progressive movement that includes Rabbi Michael Lerner's Network of Spiritual Progressives and other organizations. It is time for those who embrace both the gifts of modernity and the deeply rooted wisdom of our faith traditions to speak up and be heard. I hope to see you at the seminar.

May 15 - morning

From The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center Grden Tour - A Hill Country garden of individual rooms, each filled with texture and color.

I had a wonderful Sunday working in the garden and was able to get a great deal of work done before a light shower moved through in the evening. This morning the air is cool and dry and spring still lives (even if for just a few more hours!) Here are a few images from the Wildflower Center's week-end garden tour...


This garden room was one of the highlights of the tour for me. The homeowners created this space by themselves and I found it to be a wonderful  impressionistic reflection of the local terrain and flora, yet still very much a garden. Bravo!


One more view of the room.


From another garden... agaves, verbena, and (I believe) silver dichondra.


Several of the gardens showcased Agaves.


A garden visitor - as I knelt down to take this picture this lizard's buddy took advantage of me as a source of shade.


From the Hill Country garden above- a beautiful bouquet of interplanted flowers and grasses.


Agave by a hill-top pool.

May 22 - morning

No seed ever sees the flower. - Zen saying


This morning, my mind is still full from last week's Mysticism, Empowerment & Resistance Seminar that was held here in Austin. What a remarkable event, and what a blessing to us to have Marcus Borg, Dominic Crossan, and Joan Chittister leading us for those three days. I was thrilled to be able to interview all of them and look forward to producing a video series that conveys their ideas in a powerful yet reflective way.

The central theme of the seminar had to do with tapping into the mystical revelation of the sacred as a source of empowerment to help birth justice in the world. All of the speakers were amazing in their own right, but I keep returning to the words of Marcus Borg who said that, "Resistance must be both a standing against and a standing for." We must resist oppression where we find it, but that is not enough. We must also stand for justice, and we must stand with  our convictions even in the face of personal danger. Social justice is the central theme of the Judeo-Christian tradition, a fact that is conveniently glossed over in most churches. All of the speakers addressed the truly radical emphasis on justice in the words and actions of Jesus. Christianity is not a personal adornment or a personal "relationship," it is a social revolution and movement, it calls us to live in and with God, not for our own sake, but for the sake of the world. In this vision, justice does not equal "charity" it is a way of living, not a symbolic gesture. However, as the speakers kept reminding us,  the "normalcy" of civilization keeps trying to de-radicalize or subvert the  vision of Jesus and Paul.

Why should we imperil ourselves to stand against oppression? Why be faithful to truths that may endanger our safety, when the mass of our brothers and sisters are looking in another direction? Joan Chittister told a powerful story of an individual who stood in the face of Nazi oppression and refused to yield. He was executed - his life just one more of the millions lost during the fire-storm of World War II. Did his death have any meaning? What difference did one simple act of resistance make? Joan ended with the quote above: No seed ever sees the flower.

May 25 - evening

A resident of our pond.

The summer doldrums have hit... it has been over 90 degrees everyday for over two weeks now and there hasn't been any rain in that same period. It is, as they say, a little nervous making. I just returned from watering the containers in the garden and I think it is time we did another of those collective rain dances... any takers?

May 28 - afternoon

Echinaceas backed by chartreuse potato vine... a cool combination.

I just retreated indoors after a few hours of weeding and whacking... the heat and humidity is intense, but there is the promise of rain in the coming days so I am excited. We had a very brief shower in the middle of the night last night - it made a racket on our metal roof and I woke up feeling very happy. It made for sweet dreams. Here is to more rain in the days to come and a few hours of peace for you and yours...


Another view.


Froggy went a'courtin'... Mexican stone planter with purple fountain grass, daylilies, echinacea, Sabal minor palm, salvia coccinea "Coral Nymph," and coreopsis.


Lemony daylilies.


And a peachy one.


Mexican oregano spilling over one of our benches.


Planter with hesperaloe, dianthus, and marbles.


Magnolia blossom.

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