Monday, May 21, 2007


That's all I can commit to the office lately, even though I have tons of work to prepare for my fall classes and a few lingering details to close out with West Branch. The weather's just too nice to stay indoors; I need to slow down and recharge; it's good to spend quality time with Randy. All the above.

Walking home, I've been noticing the gorgeous drifts of bluets on the hill above Bucknell Hall: one of the delightful "common names" for these tiny flowers is Quaker Ladies. They form miniscule clumps just a few inches high, and each bears more flowers than leaves. Every year I dig up a few with my pocketknife, to carry home and plant in our small lawn, hoping they'll "take"--we had only one plant come back from seed this year, but I've read that they're finicky about cross-pollination: a clump will not self-fertilize, but must be cross-pollinated with a separate plant, thus strengthening the species. I'm going to keep a closer watch on them this year, and try to harvest some fresh seeds before the mowers get them all.
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Congratulations to Robin Becker, who will be the Gary J. Sojka Visiting Poet at Bucknell this fall. Robin will give a Q & A at 4 pm, and a reading at 7 pm, on November 6.
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[photo: bluets, 5/6/07]

Thursday, May 17, 2007


I don't manage time as well as I could. Just writing that sentence has me quibbling with the notion that time can be managed: it can't. It just happens. It's more accurate for me to say that I don't follow through on half my ideas and plans. During the semester, there's a constant underlying aura of stress--not enough time (to write, for example; or to do things with my husband, which is equally important), though I've trained myself to allow for "down time" and try not to feel guilty about that.

Summers are more complicated: this is one of the lucky years in which I'm "coasting" on a twelve-month salary, every penny of which is earned (thank you) from August through May. Each day presents the opportunity for down time, or its illusion anyway, because I had to set aside so many projects during the academic year and can't even begin to decide which to focus on now. So I garden, full-tilt, immersing myself in it for a day or two until my back aches, though every hour in the garden is worth it, especially now when the changes come so quickly: the heirloom irises I snagged from Mom's garden a couple years ago suddenly have buds: first one, then a second later the same day, then a third the next morning--I could almost believe that, if I chose the right moment, I might actually be able to sit and watch them emerge from their envelope-like casings.

Yesterday we had intermittent rain (which we needed); I worked a few hours in my office on lingering West Branch stuff. It was nice to work at a relaxed pace and to leave early. The rain let up in the afternoon, long enough for me to get out and plant the basil seedlings: these are the Genovese basils I started in an egg carton under lights in the attic. A few weeks ago, when I repotted the "Fish" peppers from their egg carton, the basils were ready to be upsized as well, but I had no room. So I'm afraid that forcing them to overstay their cramped quarters may be detrimental. I guess we'll see.

I popped all eighteen plants into two of the upended clay drainage tiles I've set alongside the patio. We tried basil in one of them last year (the other two held rau rom and an ancient sorrel plant that finally gave up the ghost this winter) and it was such a huge success that we're going all-basil this season. The third planter (or first--the one with the most sunlight) is reserved for spicy globe basil, which is coming along very well in the attic and is just about ready to transplant.

In the laundry room-cum-garden shed, I dug out an old roll of copper sheeting ("craft" copper that I think we originally bought with the idea of covering some birhouse roofs) and cut strips to crimp around the edges of one basil planter. The damp weather had drawn out the slugs, which were all over the lemon balm, and I remembered reading that a copper barrier is supposed to curtail snails and their slime-footed cousins by generating an electrical shock as they slither across it. So, as an experiment, I covered the edges of one planter with w two-inch wide strip of copper, but left the other bare. Will report back if I notice any definitive results.

Oh: I also planted nine geranium seedlings in a heavy old painted metal planter that I swiped from beside the neighbor's garage--there are three more planters, they've been there for years (really, the ivy that covers that area has started to cover these planters as well) and I figure if they notice one's missing and say anything, I'll apologize and offer them a fern or something. The geraniums are a Burpee mix that came up very quickly and developed nice, stocky plants under the attic lights. I've had them in individual pots on the laundry room sill for two weeks.

A confession: gardening reinforces my OCD tendency to "collect" containers. I find it very hard to resist "trying out" various plastic containers, for example, to see how well they'll serve as flowerpots. For a few years, I saved Dannon yogurt cups, because they came with clear plastic lids and were thus great for starting really small seeds (like coleus). This winter, I started stockpiling my plastic Diet Coke bottles in a desk drawer. I cut them basically in half, and they made very serviceable planters for the move from egg carton stage to windowsill stage. [An aside: getting the geraniums out of their Coke bottle planters was problematic, because of the bottles "narrow hipped" shape. Normally, a good slap on the bottom is enough to dislodge a healthy root ball from a properly-tapered planter. I had to repeatedly slap, shake, and jiggle the plants out, which caused needless stress to their root systems. I think they'll bounce right back, but clearly I need to go back to yogurt cups: they few geraniums I grew in some leftover yogurt cups slipped right out with roots and soil in a nice, intact ball.]

So I'll be washing the Coke cut-downs and tossing them into the recycle bag this week. Randy will be relieved: he's already embarrassed by some of the containers I hang onto, and calls me a White Trash Gardener, a moniker I've totally earned. But it's worth the results.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Grades are in

Turned the last of my grades in today. This is done online, which is actually pretty nice: you can log in and add (or change) final grades up until the deadline, at which point they process the whole thing. (I haven't a clue about the proper terminology.) Anyway, I graded portfolios on Thursday, on Friday, on Saturday, on Sunday. So I practically skipped all the way home this afternoon: what to do first?

The garden, of course: two weekends ago, I got up early Saturday to haul our garden clippings (branches, leaves, pine needles, pulled weeds) over to the dump. Well, it's not exactly a dump, though folks haul their yard waste there. The borough brings in these ENORMOUS grinding machines, which pulverize bamboo, whole shrubs, entire christmas trees, into great mounds of mulch, which is periodically turned by bulldozer. So you drop off your green stuff and take away free mulch. I brought home half a truckload and piled it in a corner of the driveway.

So I have some catching up to do in the garden. It was so nice to get out there for a few hours. The columbines are just blooming--these are plants I grew from seed last year, and they were marvelous; they're much smaller this year, though the double flowers are still wonderful. All the ferns and hostas are up; the ajuga is in full bloom (both the blue-violet and a nice pale lavender), but the show-stealers this week are the sweet violets, which we've been encouraging for a few years now. They're in full bloom, just beautiful.

We have a small patch of Lily-of-the-valley that's just now in bloom. The scent carries through the whole yard, heavier than freesia, an almost unbearably sweet perfume that takes me back to my childhood: I used to feel so proud to pick a wee bouquet for my Mom every May.

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Congratulations to Jim Harms, whose poem "We Started Home, My Son and I" (from West Branch # 58) has won a Pushcart Prize!