Sunday, March 27, 2016

Night Burn

In the midst of a night burn I stand; enchanted, enraptured, and elated at the sinewy and fluid life of a prairie fire; spellbound by the fleeting, floating fear that comes in waves with the billowing smoke.  As flame flickers over the ground, former life morphs to black dust, light flares out from darkness and then retreats, over and over again, up and down the hillsides to leave behind black earth and burned stems, reminders of days once lived.  The fire moans and hisses, secrets of past lusts and whispered goodbyes left to the silent stars.   I stand mesmerized, fire so close my feet grow hot, oblivious while I freeze the scene to memory.  Would I burn for the right photo, the photo that preserves the moment perfect?

You cannot stand before a fire on the prairie and feel not the life held within it.  It breathes, it grows, it moves and sighs, it eats and flickers and withers and dies.  Wind at its back, nothing resists it, the relentless hunger for fuel and air stops for nothing and no-one.  Behind it lies the ashes of victims and the curiosity of those safe, a clean slate for regrowth and fertile ground for life.  You cannot control a fire; you coax it, tease it, guide it or turn it.  Properly lured and fattened, it will follow a docile trail but turns at the slightest distraction, always at the sharp edge from lamb to lion.  Disloyalty is the inherent nature of a prairie burn, ready at any moment to turn on master and home, caring not if its fingers chase and wrap friend or foe in grasp.

With each burn, one wonders; have I started renewor or destructor? Will this be the demon burn that makes tomorrow's headlines and villains, or the meek and orderly angelic means of resurrection?  Fire responds wildly to touch, the touch of wind and radiant heat at its back arousing the response of a sailor on shore leave.  It runs quickly across dry ripened brome, fed on clean air and stored passion.  Fronted with younger and damper fuel, it turns again contemplative, licking gingerly at the margins, slowly drawing the next blade or clump of grass to its pleasure.  It hurries or waits, dependent on the eagerness of the fare, the endless fuel of the prairie, to submit to its desire of consumption.

Near fire, one moves or else is cornered, a reluctant beau captured in the arms of a lover.  A stumble here, a fall there, and I would know the fire closer, beyond warmed face and feet, joining blackened prairie in the next rebirth.  A philosopher might contemplate the choice and hesitate but I place a diligent foot, concentrating on the present path.  Each step through the darkness and haze offers the choice of tomorrow or forever and I feel it as I tread lightly amid the pyre of old life.   Through smoke, cross ash, lies safety and home.  I move there through the embers, joining clear cool air, a single step from peril to possibility; like the prairie, a single line of fire separating yesterday from tomorrow.      

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Spring Is Canceled

Let this post serve as a double warning to gardeners and other fragile souls downwind from Manhattan, Kansas.  Give up hope.  I mean it.  Forget about your previous rules regarding planting potatoes or peas on Saint Patrick's day.  Forget about a harvest of peaches or apples or apricots for the coming year.  Forget about any passion you hold inside in hopes of a great gardening year.

Spring-like weather in the past two months had us completely fooled, and by "us" I mean both the gardener and his plants, into thinking that winter had fled and better times were on the way.   We haven't seen rain for months, but I went to bed happy that some moisture was predicted overnight.  A vast hoax, however, has been perpetrated upon me.  I woke up to subfreezing temperatures, blizzard winds, and the scene below in my backyard this morning and loudly spouted a few words that I won't repeat here in case there are children within earshot.

I'll let the picture-heavy text below speak for itself in lieu of me trying to find the words to express despair.

The cranes felt that they'd come too far north and they were not happy.

This photo of lilac 'Annabelle', just coming into bloom, is reminiscent of the photo that appears on the cover of my book, from 2007.

My front garden looks just as bad:  The forsythia is still bright, but the various plants covered by snow here include sedums, daylilies, Monarda, peonies, and roses.

The daffodils were on their way out anyway, but I have to say goodbye to these beautiful scragglers.

Kon-Tiki Head was not pleased at his northeastern exposure.  Neither were the fully-leafed-out roses in his vicinity.

The only cheerful bright spot in the now-winterized landscape are these variegated iris.  I wonder if they will still look this cheery by next week? 


Anyway, there are other photos that I may add later, but they're just as depressing as these examples. I could show, for instance, a photo of the clump of Puschkinia that I highlighted in my last entry, but it is just a blob beneath the snow, no flowers to be seen.   I'm sorry for the dark nature of these photos but I waited for morning as late as I dared before grabbing these pictures and rushing on to work.  That being said, the gray tones match my mood, so why not let them convey the despair?

Oh, at the beginning I mentioned a double warning and only gave you one.  The second warning, other than the lousy weather coming your way, is this:  NEVER TRY TO GARDEN IN KANSAS!

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Front and Back

Blooms are coming fast and freely in ProfessorRoush's garden, with or without the presence of rain or gardener.  I'm in a busy period, home only to sleep and creep out again, glimpses of the garden in daylight if, or when, I'm lucky.  I rush home at end, run outside to meet the setting sun in my garden, today a perfect cooling breeze and light last rays from the far horizon.

In front, driving up the driveway, my eyes are drawn to the perfect clumps of plump Puschkinia sp. that are madly strewn across the front bed.  These lush wanton displays are white from afar, blobs of bright white against the sun-faded mulch, short and flat and full.

Pin-striped from close, each waxy blossom is perfectly adorned with the brush of an undiscovered genius, a perfect blue stripe centered down each petal.  I've written of these before, allayed with the sweetest, most unobtrusive fragrance yet unbottled.  Today the fragrance is far stronger than normal, discernible and satisfying at head height, wafted upwards by the breeze to save my knees.  I swoon, struck steadfast by the scent, grateful and giddy from sheer drifts of olfactory overload.

In back, my sole clump of grape hyacinths, variety lost to time, lifts another fragrance to the nose, this one at once less and more sweet than Puschkinia. The normal proper position to observe a grape hyacinth is most certainly reclined, belly-down on the filthy adjacent patio, nose deep in the blossoms.  Wary today, I cede the territory to the busy bumblebee above, insect blood warmed by sun in its veins, seeking the first meal of the year, a frantic never-ending search for nourishment as nectar.  I don't envy the insect a touch of the grape, satisfied to sample the scent of spring in my own time and fashion.

With luck, and soon rain, the lilacs will burst on the scene in due time, eager to swamp the senses with buxom inflorescence and heavy odor.  Today, Puschkinia and hyacinth lure me in, tomorrow beaten senseless by lilacs.  It's a sensuous life, but somebody's got to live it.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Early Visitation Rights

As foretold by Br. Placidus of Atchison Kansas, commenting on my last post, my garden has paid little heed to my keenings against its early appearance, and the sequential progression of spring blooms has begun against my sage advise and consent.  Thankfully, it has not yet stormed enough to damage the blooms of Magnolia stellata, which reigns beautiful and fragrant in my garden only four days after I saw the first bud break.  Therefore, despite the insubordination of my garden, I have to admit that I am nonetheless pleased that it has forced me to abandon my seclusion within the house and drawn me outside into activity, fresh air, and ultraviolet radiation.

I hope to see further exuberance from this mature Star Magnolia before the rain predicted for Saturday stains its petals with brown rot and moots the warm scent.  Right now I'm thankful that, as the good Brother suggested, I've already enjoyed more uninterrupted days of M. stellata than I can expect in a typical Kansas spring.  This shrub/tree never seems to get to full display before another cold spell or snow or freezing rain front strikes here.  This year, however, spring is early but shows no sign of backsliding in any long range forecast.  I'll be content as long as the hard freezes stay away.

The reign of the Star Magnolia, however, is quickly being overrun by the peasants of my spring garden.  You can see, below, the backdrop to the magnolia of three forsythia in full bloom, in this case Forsythia hybrid 'Meadowlark', a 1986 introduction of Arnold Arboretum in cooperation with North Dakota State and South Dakota State Universities.   I have several other forsythia in bloom here and there, and they are accompanied and accented by early blooming daffodils hither and yon.  Yellow is most definitely the main theme of my early spring garden, with a splash of blue added by diminutive Scilla siberica.  

If you look very closely at the last photo, you'll see my raison du jour for being in the garden at the time of the photo.  Behind the garden beds, in the distant blue sky, you can see the plume of smoke from a distant prairie burn, which was also exactly what was happening 10 feet behind me as this picture was taken.  I spent yesterday dragging hoses around my property and, in cooperation with my neighbors, burning the prairie clean of debris and invasive plants.  A long and tiring day, but I was rejuvenated by my moments spent visiting with this Magnolia, buried nose deep in its creamy-white petals.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Oh No! I'm Not Ready!

While I've been hiding inside, either at work or at home, my garden has clearly been conniving to play a little trick on me.  Today, instead of staying hidden, it quite suddenly shouted "Ready or not, here we come!" in full fortissimo and to my stunned surprise.

I'm not ready to round the corner and see this Magnolia stellata already showing white petals.  It's still partially sheathed, shy to display full wantonness to the warm gaze of spring, but I can already smell the warm musky scent of the Cretaceous seeping forth, sensual siren to my senses.  Another warm day and I'll see the yellow stamens and glistening pistils, the first mating of spring in full view.  Pray with me that no hasty frost browns these creamy petals.

I'm not ready to see my "Pink Forsythia" (Abeliophyllum distichum 'Roseum') already in full bloom and display.  This bush has been a minor part of my garden since 2004, long enough that my memory had made her into the natural "white forsythia" instead of the pink form.  Ah, the fickle memory of age!  It is moderately scented, but in odd fashion that I would liken to a sweet acetone with overtones of sweaty feet. I'm not ready nor desperate enough yet to present this questionable bouquet to Mrs. ProfessorRoush's more discerning nose.

Abeliophyllum distichium 'Roseum'
My Abeliophyllum has struggled, scraggly and slow-growing here in Kansas, but it has survived to finally reach the expected three feet by three feet mature size.  And now, at last, the display is full enough to enjoy, the first major shrub to bloom in the Kansas spring, just ahead of its yellow cousin.  The native white form of the species is now endangered in the wild, known to exist in only seven locations in Korea, so I'm glad that this specimen has survived here in the middle of a drier continent.

I'm certainly not ready to see roses leafing out, including this particularly thorny specimen of 'Polareis' which seems to be betting that the frosts are over.  Rugosas are tough plants, but I still wish they would be a little slower to stick their stems and leaves out into open air.  Almost all the roses are showing green, willing victims to the guillotine of a late frost that will surely yet come.  Patience, my children, patience is a virtue, and haste tempts a thorny termination.

I'm not ready, and neither is my garden.  Go back to sleep, child, and wait for a warmer morning.



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