The Daily Muse

Thoughts from an Austin Garden  -- December 2006

Last Update: December 28

Agaves in the autumnal light. The one in the foreground is my favorite member of the Agave clan - Agave parryi.

December 5 - morning

This week will be a very exciting one in our garden. We are going to begin the final big project to complete the master-plan I created for the garden over six years ago. We are going to remove an old wooden deck and dilapidated hot-tub structure and replace it with a metal-edged stone patio space. The design of the new patio (and surrounding planting beds) will reflect the geometry of the garden and integrate our entertaining spaces into the overall design. I can't wait to show you the results! Needless to say, we'll be busy.

On another note - I'd like to remind my friends here in Austin that on Saturday, December 16, I will be leading a class at The Crossings called "Landscapes of Meaning and Memory." This class is offered as part of a week-end long event called "Dreaming of a Green Texas." This class and the full retreat should be a relaxing, and I hope, inspiring alternative to the usual Holiday season stress. I hope to see you there.

Another of our Agave beds- this one has a bad case of the "blues" with Agave lophantha in the back left, Agave weberi in the back right, and Yucca pallida in the foreground.

December 11- afternoon

Not pretty... yet.The pole in the foreground marks the center of what will be our new circular metal and stone patio.

Our big project is moving forward - right now the wooden deck is gone and the backyard feels enormous without the visual disruption of the old hot-tub structure. The forms of the new deck have been spray painted onto the ground and in the coming days, our contractor will assemble the raised steel edging that will enclose the new stone and gravel patio space. Our intent is to quite literally "connect the dots" in our overall design - the highest space of the new patio, which will rise about two feet above the rest of the garden, is a large circle which will be on-axis with our cypress allee and another large circular "room" at the back of the garden. It will be nice to have a little vantage point where you can look out over the garden and see its geometry. We have chosen a pinkish-red  granite gravel to backfill the patio spaces, that will be topped with cream colored cut limestone. The circle will be be shaded by a large shade sail, making it more comfortable in the summer and give it the feeling of a true garden room. Surrounding the patio, we will have new planting spaces which will be filled with black bamboo. The bamboo will enclose much of the space creating a room-like feeling for the whole patio. Your eyes will be directed by openings or doorways through the bamboo which will provide long views across the garden.


Do I sound excited?


On another subject altogether, I wanted to share a new Mary Oliver poem that my friend, Flint Sparks, sent me this past weekend...


walk slowly, and bow often...

When I Am Among the Trees

When I am among the trees,
especially the willows and the honey locust,
equally the beech, the oaks and the pines,
they give off such hints of gladness.
I would almost say they save me, and daily.
I am so distant from the hope of myself,
in which I have goodness, and discernment,
and never hurry through the world
    but walk slowly, and bow often.
Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, “Stay awhile.”
The light flows from their branches.
And they call again, “It’s simple,” they say,
“and you too have come
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled
with light, and to shine.”


- Mary Oliver

December 12 - morning


As a television Producer, I receive dozens of e-mails every day pitching political stories. The vast majority of these come from  radical right propaganda mills and are usually borderline hysterical (not in the funny sense.) During the past few holiday seasons, I have noticed a barrage of vitriol relating to the "War on Christmas." The following exerpt, from a press release pitching a book by a woman who apparently writes "children's  literature", is an example of their typically shrill tone:


"...the far left's war on Christmas exposes their real agenda. "Christmas represents a religion with a moral code," she explains," and that moral code gets in the way of their liberal agenda... abortion, gay marriage and an entitlement society..."


Oh, I bet her children have a very Merry Christmas! "Now listen my children and you shall hear of the scary liberal  abortioneers!"


I suspect that with their recent defeat at the polls, the radical right will try to turn up the heat on a lot of "issues" like this. A recent editorial in the Houston Chronicle challenged those who believe Christmas is "under attack" to boycott the giant big box retailers who exploit their workers rather than getting themselves worked up in a lather over their poor employees' choice of holiday greetings... naaah, that would be too Christian of them!


December 18 - morning


The work on our patio is progressing quickly - most of the metal framing for our new patio and planting beds has been finished and the metal poles that will support our shade sail will be installed in the next day or two. I have already started back-filling behind the frames with rubble - and believe me, my back is feeling it. Here are a few pics from earlier in the week...



The large raised circle will be covered by the shade-sail and will be our outdoor dining room. As you can see it is on-axis with the allee and a circle of the same dimension at the back of the garden. That is Robert MacKay of Mac Design-Build the designer / contractor we are working with on this project. He has taken my basic design and improved it in a very artful way. Where Robert is standing there will be another patio space at a slightly lower level than the circle , its "footprint" will largely match that of our old deck and will embrace the circle. I can't wait to show you more images once the gravel and stone is in place. 



The view from the garden.


This is a conceptual drawing of the columns that will support the shade sail.


December 22 - afternoon


A friend sent me this quote, it seemed an appropriate greeting for the day:


The story of Christmas as told by the biblical evangelists has a meaning beyond the rational. It portrays a truth beyond the scientific; it points to a reality that no life touched by this Jesus could ever deny. The beauty of our Christmas story is bigger than literalization could ever produce. For when this Lord is known, when love, acceptance, and forgiveness are experienced, when we become whole, free and affirmed people, the heavens do sing, "Glory to God in the Highest," and on earth there is "Peace and Good Will among Us All." 


- Bishop John Shelby Spong


Meanwhile, our patio seems to have sprouted...


The columns are in-place. Cool aren't they?



The forms for the steps that  lead down from the raised patio to the garden.



A wide view.



Basho Rex.


Merry Christmas!


December 27 - morning


Sitting atop one of our Weeping Yaupon Hollies - one of the the Mockingbirds that provide the song of our garden.


This morning I have the rarest of gifts - a day without plans and a schedule. Of course, there was a plan - I had an agenda full of things to do - but those plans have fallen through, and now, I have a day. Don't worry, things will get done, I am the proverbial hamster on a wheel, but for at least a short while this morning, I am going to do nothing but wander through the garden and visit with the Mockingbirds that patrol our berry laden hollies. The Mockingbirds and I have a relationship - I hesitate to call it a bond, but they do seem to tolerate me. (They know that I'm not after their berries!) As I sit here contemplating that relationship it seems to me that it is another of the practices that I am cultivating. Getting to know my place and allowing myself to be known by it.


There is real virtue in "being married" to a place (Wendell Berry's phrase) but in the wheel spinning culture we have created it seems anachronistic - almost reactionary. The cult of the new demands that our eyes never rest on one thing for too long,  but, how can we honestly say, "been there - done that," if we rush through our lives as relentlessly as we switch channels with our remote controls? It is hard for us to let go of the notion that life is a competitive  checklist. So, for that list of resolutions you are working on... how about once a day making time to do nothing but listen to your Mockingbird's song? Be there. Do that.


The sunlight is beginning to slip into the garden and my Mockingbirds are calling. Let the idling begin.


The intense fall (or  winter!) color of one of our Rusty Blackhaw Viburnums.



Metal trees.


December 28 - morning


The following two haiku were "born" laast night during my yoga practice at Dharma Yoga... Thanks Keith!


stopping to listen

to the snow fill our footprints

on the way back home



our steps already

disappearing - we stop to

listen to the snow


These two "variations on a theme" come from a childhood memory, I'll share more about that soon.

Continue to Daily Muse for January 2007

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