EVOLUTION OF A GARDEN


When I was growing up in Southern California, the trees I mostly saw were palm trees. Out of 2600 varieties of palm trees, there were perhaps three or four living in Long Beach, California. There was a climable fig tree in our back yard which gave a nice view of the operating room in the dentist’s office next door. Other than that we were treeless. When the dentist caught me and neighbor kids spying, he gave us all a couple of tubes of Ipana toothpaste and told us to mind our own business.

When we got married and bought our first house, we planted a virtual forest of pine trees. A gigantic curly leaf willow shaded the back yard, and the front of the house was sheltered by birch and rhododendron.

we moved to Seattle, where a tree pops up if you drop an apple core. Part of our farm house property was woodsy, and we actually had to remove a few trees to build the barn. I wept at the loss of each one.

When we took possession of this house 45 years ago, there were a few resident trees. A large deodora cedar and a Shamel Ash in the front yard, plus numerous street trees. The previous owner had planted a few fruit, plus two good sized orange trees. Not too bad, but not what we had in mind.

Thus began the never ending job of re-decorating the garden, front and back. I say “never ending, because Dr. A frequently decides to change the position of a tree or bush and the garden has had many iterations in the years we have lived here.

There were grandchildren and dogs to think of, so except for planting beds, it became covered with brick. A large kennel and a shade pavilion went in, then a large pond, swimmable for a toddler, and pleasant to sit in on a hot day, went in the middle. We were traveling often to the Southwest, so the entire ambiance was redolent of New Mexico.

However, the Southwest isn’t known for its trees, and we missed a few shady spots in the back yard, which had become a garden, so the procession of trees began which sometimes seems never ending. There have been evergreen pear trees, oleander, apple, nectarine, flowering plum, birch, a couple whose names I can’t remember. Then a few fig trees showed up.

A great number of years ago, accompanied by two house guests, fueled with a bottle or two of red, and a good idea, a Mission fig tree took up residence outside our back door. It was debated throughout the afternoon whether or not it was too close to the house, but it was small, and hard to determine how large it would become, so in the hole it went and a bucket of water poured on it for good health.

Today in the warm California sunshine, without fertilizer or water, this fig tree is attempting to join us in our family room. It has burgeoned into a sturdy highly climable, shade producing, quite beautiful, but admittedly too close to the house tree. The critters arrive when the figs ripen, and those they don’t eat, fall on the ground. But the leaves are easy to pick up due to their large size so it’s a toss up.

Of the original trees, one very large orange tree remains, which two dear friends trimmed last week, for which we are so grateful.

The past years of drought told me that we needed another shade tree in another part of the yard. I thought perhaps another evergreen flowering pear would be lovely spreading its branches over this area, with a nice sitting bench underneath for thinking. I realize that it takes time for a tree to grow, but we plant trees for the next generation to enjoy.

Dr. A came home from the nursery with a tree which they assured him was an evergreen pear. Though that was a misnomer, it had a nice shape, and its shiny leaves were pleasant, so he planted it. There were no flowers, and it shed its leaves the first winter after they turned color. I took a picture of it and took it to the nursery for identification, but they didn’t recognize it.

Though it gives little shade so far, our mystery tree stands tall and proud and gives promise. We refer to it as the Shade Tree, and what more can one ask?

MYSTERIES OF WOODWORKING


I am mechanically minded. I used to delight in following directions printed in tiny, obviously translated steps to put together a new tool or device. Going through each step to make sure it follows the instructions was like a jigsaw puzzle. As time went on, the written steps were not as clear, and the object did not operate as promised. The vernacular became less familiar, and a lot of time was wasted trying to determine what was intended if they had only written it in English.

Years ago we ordered a redwood picnic table which arrived in pieces. Not being one content to wait for the man of the family to put it together, I laid it out on our deck with instructions in hand and proceeded to put the screws in the holes and suddenly it became a large and handsome table. I was understandably quite proud of myself, though I’ll admit a bit miffed that the man of the house was off playing tennis with his buddies. I later learned that the other men were impressed that I had actually done the job. The frost began to form when I found that my husband had said that he had known I could do it. A great way to get out of a job I’d say.

That was forty-five years ago, and the deck was replaced with a large family room shortly afterward. The table lived for a time under a pavilion at one end of the garden, obtaining a coat of white paint at one point, and joined by eight chairs. One summer we were seduced by a metal garden set with comfortable upholstered chairs and a built-in BBQ pit in the table. Quite handsome really. But what to do with the old table? Something that large and heavy is hard to get someone else to take home. As it was lying on its side and being rolled from one end of the yard toward an exit, it came to rest between a very large 50 year old orange tree and a lovely large fig tree. It seemed to feel at home there and it may have planned the move all along. You can’t trust old things. In its current and more convenient home, it has given us pleasure for many repasts, party and pick up. I wonder if it has a memory of its humble beginnings? Last Sunday on Mother’s Day, it hosted a crab quiche, fresh berries, and a delicious shortcake made by our grandson, while we brunched in the garden overflowing with roses and hummingbirds.

SAFE


Words have incredible power over us. Safe, home, family. All words that signify love and comfort.

Do you feel safe? That question was asked of me when i left the hospital. Did I feel safe? It was repeated after Dr. A’s accident: did I feel safe? We don’t give much thought as to whether we feel safe. It is simply a state of being.

But I thought back through my rather peripatetic life, which was at best a coming and agoing, and an expectation that I would adapt, which I always did. But did I always feel safe? Probably not.
I came along after the Lindberg baby kidnapping and murder, and it was deeply impressed upon me. I was fearful that a kidnapper lurked behind each dark corner. Yet I would deliberately dive into the biggest wave at the beach, and ride my bicycle to the top of the highest hills at Auntie’s house. Facing the devil down I suppose, to show I was just as tough. But I didn’t feel safe.

We grow older with a family we try to protect from the day to day mishaps. We carefully lock our doors and set the burglar alarm, and close up “shop” at night. Does this make us safe?

Each evening I step outside with Charlie after dusk, and watch two airplanes fly over my house on their way to the San Francisco Airport, SFO. I always smile and think to myself that their trip is nearly over. The passengers are gathering their belongings and wondering if someone will meet them or if their car is ready. They are almost home, that other warm word. They made it back safely. Do they feel safe? I hope so.

It is difficult in today’s world to keep the feeling of safety with so much that isn’t safe bombarding us. In this cozy corner of my garden, surrounded with the fruits of our labor, and knowing that we, Dr. A and me, and Charlie, are together, I can answer: yes, I feel safe.

THERE’S MAGIC IN A TOWN


Ibecame familiar with Palo Alto, California while my father’s cousin worked at Stanford University. We were occasionally gifted with tickets to art exhibits and concerts there, and made the trip over the bridge from our island of Alameda. Years later, when I had the decorating business, Palo Alto was a source of much of the material I used in store design.

Allied Arts is a lovely group of artist studios and a small tea room where volunteers take your order for lunch, and even sell you the recipes. Shirley Temple Black waited upon us once years ago. I still use their recipe for carrot soup. Our young neighbors were married there in the patio.

The main office for Sunset Magazine was for many years in Palo Alto. The magazine was started after The Southern Pacific Railroad advertised that you could come out to California and buy a lot for fifty bucks. The magazine advertised the ‘good life’ showing how Californians decorated their homes, planted their gardens, and cooked food equal to that of anywhere in the world. Their building was an ideal typically California style, with hand made tile roofs and floors, and a quiet beautiful decor, showing off hand woven pieces, and pottery. It was surrounded by a rough post and rail fence covered with America climbing roses. When we began landscaping our home, we took note of all of it, and planted 125 America roses along the fence. It was a mass of peachy-red color in the spring. Time Magazine bought the magazine and moved their office to Jack London Square in Oakland. The lovely building in Palo Alto has become something else now. I hope they kept the roses.

Dr. A’s cousin worked for the Magazine for many years, and now our next door neighbor works in the testing kitchen a few days a week. She gets first hand knowledge of what goes into a coming issue, and frequently brings us a sample. This Christmas it was a delicious shortbread cookie.

The town itself was charming, filled with lovely old homes and tiny ‘candy box’ cottages, all owned by mega moguls working in San Francisco. As the years have progressed, businesses have begun to fill in the vacant spaces and it has become another busy place to stay away from. The lovely old homes are still there,surrounded by well-groomed gardens, and the tiny cottages sell upward of a million dollars.

Though Dr. A will always support his beloved University of California at Berkeley, we rarely missed a football game at Stanford, Berkeley’s arch rival. It had a lot to do with the country feel of the campus as opposed to ‘middle-of-the city’ feeling of Cal. It didn’t hurt that he took over the insurance for the University years ago. Today it finds itself in the middle of Silicon Valley.

A number of our friends were Stanford graduates and football fans, and we met each morning of a game in the same place for a “tail-gate” party. There were perhaps 10 or 12 people in our group, one who played in the infamous Stanford band, and whose parents and grandparents before him had graduated from the school. Amazingly, though he donated a great deal of money each year to the school, when it became time for his daughter to enroll, she was denied admission because all she had to offer was a 4.0 scholastic score. Stanford wanted someone who also was active in another activity, such as a sport. Stanford, named for Leland Stanford’s son, Leland Stanford Jr., became one of the most prestigious universities in the world and though in the middle of the city it still maintains its over 8,000 acres of tree-shaded beauty.

Football fans can become a bit over the top, and many people set up shop early in the morning with barbeques fired up, and drinks being buzzed in osterizers. Another friend, who was a big football star at Stanford, brought an enormous bus each game day, filled with his friends and fitted out with all the comforts of home, to be partaken of in the few hours before the game. Thankfully, in those sensible days, a game started at about 1 p.m. Today, most games are televised, and begin in the early evening, making it a very late evening before the game ends.
Stanford parking is in the unpaved woods under ancient oak trees. Of course if it rains, the area becomes a giant mudhole. I remember a story my mother-in-law told of being stuck in the mud after a ball game in their youth. Not fun in the mud and in the dark if it were a night game.

Today, our eleven year old great granddaughter has hopes of someday attending Stanford on a soccer scholarship. The dreams of an eleven year old can’t be dismissed. It always begins somewhere.

OF FIG TREES AND PARAPLEGIC RABBITS


“HARVEY”

Harvey came to live with us a few years ago, claiming his spot in the jungle of our back yard, with long ears peeking over a small azalea bush which refused to bloom, and giving Charlie something else to worry about in the garden.

Harvey had an insouciant air about him which belied his somewhat physically challenged body. After all, a rabbit with only one leg faces certain defeat in a hopping contest.

We saw Harvey standing at the side of the rode one morning, alone and obviously forgotten by those who had chosen to discard him. As we tucked him into the backseat of our car, we couldn’t help noticing that along with his missing leg, Harvey had lost both arms. Believing strongly that everyone deserves a second chance, we christened him “Harvey” in remembrance of the famous six foot rabbit of movie fame, and propped him up under a small fig tree.

Though I have been a fig fancier since early childhood, Dr. A has never developed the same urgency for them. We planted a black fig tree many years ago which has become a wonderful shade tree, but through unfortunate trimming does not produce figs at the correct picking level. We planted another fig several years ago with lovely soft green fruit. However, it became a rampant grower, sending limbs hither and yon, and sending Dr. A into a tither.

Gardens are forever evolving, and one morning last week Harvey took a catastrophic spill, and both of his lovely ears broke off. Now you might say Harvey had served his purpose in life and deserved a quiet end, but I know there is more to Harvey’s life than we have seen. Dr. A has performed a bit of glue surgery and with a little more help, Harvey will again grace our garden.

However, Harvey will no longer sit in the shade of the small fig tree as it amazingly disappeared a few days ago after Dr. A stepped out with his pruning shears.

OCTOBER COLOR


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Since most of the month may be gone, this may be a tribute to its now fleeting colors. Here in California where I live, the leaves may not turn those gorgeous vibrant colors, but if I listen closely, I can hear October whispering a soft melody as old as Autumn and as insistent in its call to go. Autumn is a measure of contentment. Its job has been well done.

Everybody should own a tree at this time of year. Or a hillside of trees. Not legally as in “written on a piece of paper, but in the way that one comes to know and own a tree simply by seeing it at the turn of a road, or down the street, or in a park, and knowing it is there for you to enjoy whenever you pass by. You can watch its color, see its leaves quiver in the breeze, and neither fence nor title can take it from you. Man has made October his own as far as he can ever make any season his own.

I once owned a small hillside of a mixture of trees in Washington at the Hood Canal. It changed color as it should, and was never boring because of its mixture with evergreen trees. There was an old house nestled at the base of the hill, and I always wondered who lived there and if the sight of their trees was as pleasing to them as it was to me. I have a tree a few blocks away now whose name I don’t know, it is a small tree rather like a barrel, with loose branches plunging out of its top. I think of it as I would a short fat man with feathers atop his head. I own a mountain of quaking aspen in New Mexico whose shiny leaves become like a flow of molten gold down the mountainside in October. Others may own them too. Trees are anyone’s for the finding to own forever.

I often wonder why man, in his infinite wisdom, has chosen summer as the ideal time to take a vacation, when the only thing he can hope to take from it is a sunburn or perhaps an unpleasant case of poison oak or ivy. October is at its peak and prime time for vacations. After a summer’s vacation, man returns to his job, desk and is again tied down with only a small brief glimpse of what might be outdoors if he had only waited a month.

With the promise of cold weather, and in spite of restrictions against using fireplaces, it is traditional to have a fire in a fireplace. Ancient man had his fire pit, our forebears cooked in a fireplace. Now we install gas logs or use Presto logs to give us the same feeling, but it isn’t the same. It satisfies one desire, but leaves us wanting more. I have a feeling that the dogs know the difference and miss the old smoke filled room if we forgot to open the damper.

Show someone a cabin in the woods without many conveniences and if it has a fireplace he will buy it or think about it. I say this from experience. The house was named “Cozy Nest” and was miles from anything else. It had a pond, chicken coops, and several small buildings nestled in the trees. I still think its charm overcame its inconveniences.

Thinking of “Cozy Nest” resplendent in its red coat, I wondered why so many houses and barns are painted red? Our first house was painted red with white trim. It was a grand place to begin our married life and have our children. I don’t know what the red paint had to do with it, but when it came time to buy our second home, it came already painted in red with white paint. When we built the barn on the property, there was no question but what it had to be red. After all, who ever heard of a yellow barn? The house we live in was also coated with red with white paint. Go figure.

Woodsheds differ more widely than houses or barn. After all, they are built to shelter wood and any number of things, such as old paint cans, left over chicken wire, and garden tools. We don’t need one here, but we had one while living in Washington, and I have remembrance of the ones my father had in Oregon and Connecticut they were messy places as they should be. Totally utilitarian.

I think now, as October is on the wane, it is time for some winter clean up in the garden. The figs are done, having been shared with garden critters, and the nectarines and apples are long gone. Now the leaves will drop, some of them silently in the night, falling in piles just beneath the trees. The apple looks as if she will keep her leaves for awhile, but the new flowering pear has no intention of standing naked in the garden.

MILESTONES


002 A quiet place to sit in the corner of the yard.

I’m not sure that there is a word such as “dailyness” to describe how people run their everyday activities. I suppose “routine” is a better word. Things change with the years. When you are working for someone else your time schedule operates on their schedule, but in retirement, you can pretty much do as you please. I always thought you would have more time than you could use when you were retired. This is not so.

I see we have mixed up our routine as the years pass; while we used to rise early and hit the trail for long walks/runs, we got out of that habit after my accident and have now become slug-a-beds. Coffee and the lousy local newspaper take up another bit of time. I feel bad about it, but it’s too much trouble to try and change.

While my car automatically turned into shopping malls years ago, it has now programed itself to go to medical offices. Even the habits of a non-organic machine have changed

Sam is ready to renew his driver license along with what appeared to be half of Fremont. The parking lot at the DMV was full as usual, but we found a spot right in front, near about 50 people waiting outside, most with cell phones pressed to their ear. Lots of pacing back and forth, no smiles, no interaction. Lots of odd looking characters, including one looking for a handout. Another person wearing a headscarf which covered the bottom part of the face and wearing large dark glasses while pushing an empty baby stroller. I made a milestone decision while waiting, which is not to renew my own license.

I find myself doing odd things such as going into a room for one thing and ending up looking at ten. Something always needs straightening or throwing out. As imagined, the studio is the worst. The lovely lady who helps us would love to clean in there, but I have assured her that all those piles of paper are important half finished projects I will get to when I find time.

In the meantime I can go sit in the garden and enjoy just doing nothing.

DON’T BE FOOLED BY BEAUTY


002

You can’t trust beauty; we bought a beautiful Pink Lady apple tree a year or so ago purely on the grounds of beauty, and thinking it would get along well with the Golden Delicious. Maybe a nice combination for pie. It has proven to be untrustworthy in all respects.

The first year it had 2 apples and I forgave it. Last year five apples made it to the finish line. This year there were 3 and one fell off after Charlie’s leash got wrapped around the branch. I apologized to Dr. A because I was on the other end of the leash.

It’s lovely pyramidal shape has been nipped down to its buds because of fungus attacks in spite of dousing it with spray. It looks like a disappointed old crone waiting for a dance. Its apples were hard and sour and didn’t ripen until late October anyway.

So off with its head! And let that be a lesson to any other tree in the orchard.

A NEW FOOTPRINT


Tulips
“Tulips” watercolor painting by kayti sweetland rasmussen

I don’t remember the painting I first showed for the public amusement, but it was likely a landscape daubed out in oils. Possibly 38 years ago a small group of us asked the owner of a neighborhood tennis shop if we could set up a display of our paintings in front of his store. The idea was to simply give a little color to the sidewalk, not to sell anything. But when we went to collect our paintings that evening, mine was gone. Someone had had the temerity to buy it!

Fast forward to 2015 and the Fremont Festival of the Arts is celebrating its 32nd year as one of the largest Art Fairs in the country. The expectation of a crowd of more than 350,000 people is a far cry from the 10 or 12 who had nothing better to do that day 38 years ago. Of course we didn’t offer food, wine or music to entice a crowd, and our friend the tennis pro didn’t offer free lessons either.

Through the early years I explored the idea of art fairs to gauge any interest people might have in what I produced. You gain an insight into the public which is not always complimentary on either side. First of all, by necessity, your own skin becomes tougher, and you realize you are not as good as you thought you were when you left home. That’s the good thing. The bad thing is the evil thoughts you direct to people who loudly proclaim “Oh, I could do that.”

The last art fair I did many years ago was in Walnut Creek, on the hottest day of the year, leaning against a brick building with no umbrella. Around noon I transmitted a call to Dr. A to “Get me the hell out of here—NOW!”

LOOKS LIKE ANOTHER DAY WITHOUT SNOW, RAIN OR SLEET


Paper Narcissus (1)
“Paper Narcissus” original watercolor by kayti sweetland rasmussen

I don’t know why it is surprising to see sunshine–other than a few drops to wash off the dust yesterday, sunshine is a cash crop here in California. There is no negotiating with Nature. My motto, adopted from baseball player Ernie Banks, former shortstop for the Chicago Cubs is, “The whole theory of my life is sunshine, and today the sun is shining.”

The rain did bring these lovely narcissus though and they look nice showing off in front of the antique Chinese robe. I have a love of artistry and of things made by hand, and the robe is embroidered with thousands of tiny stitches said to have been made by blind nuns. I heard a phrase that Pope Francis said which seems appropriate: “There are some realities that you can only see through eyes that have been cleansed by tears.”

I don’t remember deciding to become a writer. You decide to become a dentist or a postman or woman. I always defined myself as a sculptor if I ever thought about it. I have a sign which says so, which hangs in my garage along with other things formerly important only in my imagination. In my chrysalis days in art shows and street fairs, it hung beside my table, directing potential customers.

As writers our eyes and ears are always open for snippets of something to expand upon. Today’s snippet came from my good friend Bill and it deals with the cleaning of an old oil painting.

Bill is a connoisseur of antiquities, and came by an old and dirty painting by way of a relative. I had restored a couple of old paintings for him some time ago, but he took it upon himself to do this one himself. He was chuckling while he told me that he was cleaning it with spit. This is a skill you may need to know some day and it will take awhile, but courtesy of Canadian Jaqueline Mabey this is how to do it:

As far as I know this only works on oil paintings, though possibly also on acrylic. “The chemicals in saliva are like the perfect gentle cleanser; they break down the dirt and dust that builds up on the surface without damaging the paint. You’ll need little sticks, a roll of sterilized cotton, and patience4. You can’t really rush the process. It will take the time it takes.

Wrap a small amount of cotton from the roll around the tip of the stick. Stick the cottony end of the stick in your mouth between your tongue and your cheek. Roll it around getting the cotton wet, but not saturated. Remove from mouth and slowly brush the surface of the painting. Make your way slowly across the work.”

Well there you have it.