Disclaimer: This unedited, rough draft material is a year-long project in response to our 2004 theme: pilgrimage. It is meant to be a dialogue between myself and my fellow Mammoths and any of you who happen along. It is intentionally not polished, nor is it finished. Charlie Buchman Ellis
Mark said, at the Mai Village, last week, ďPilgrimage adds another layer to a trip. Makes it deeper, richer.Ē He made this observation in relation to an upcoming art trip to Macchu Picchu.
Today, August 22, I admit Iím surprised to report a pilgrimage going on right under my nose, in my own house, without my knowledge.
It started about a year ago. Kate and I had finished her birthday celebration for year 59, a sort of non-descript birthday notable mostly to financial planners, and began to consider her sixtieth.
Now thereís a birthday. Especially for women and especially now with the Jenny Joseph poem weaving its way into our cultural fabric. It may not be great literature, but its underlying message has caught a strong truth for women at 60. The result? A wave of purple and red, Red Hat Societies, catalogues filled with purple and red stuff, t-shirts, lots of purple worn.
But most of all...the spirit of liberation. One I recognize from my work in politics, a personal yippee yai yeah! Free at last, free at last... Free from what? From social expectations about beauty, decorum, feminine domestic roles. Freedom to let loose with the gathered wisdom and frustration of bright folk too often forced to sit down, or stand upóin the kitchen. Whatever the content, and Iím sure this is only a small part of it, the sense of release is real and a joy to witness.
Anyhow, we started talking and I proposed a purple garden. Kate warmed to that right away. At some point the idea of a sixtieth birthday party in the purple garden took root.
Here is how my mind works, for good or ill, and it is both, I know from experience. Hmmm... Purple garden? I need to move the hemerocallis anyway since theyíre in the shade too much, and I need to put in a shade garden where they were.
Weíve been here ten years and the soilís gotten tired. I should do soil tests and get amendment and fertilizer recommendations. If I do that, I may as well amend the soil out front and dig out the roses since they serve as a collection point for rose chafers. Letís see. Iím tired of stella díoro, everybodyís yellow plant in the Twin Cities, it seems; so, Iíll remove the first line up near the house and amend that soil, too.
Well, itís late August. Kateís birthday is August 18th. I printed several soil test forms, got plastic baggies and dug six inch holes in my raised beds, tiered beds and the front beds...a total of eight soil tests in all. To speed things up I took the soil samples to the University of Minnesota labs. Theyíre in a concrete block building behind a barn and a silo on the St. Paul Campus.
My bags of soil joined a few others, I paid the fee and was told, ďProbably two to three weeks.Ē Hmmm. That would make things hard, given the time of year, but it didnít make sense to get started without knowing what I needed to add. So, I waited.
The soil tests came back fast. I had Kate do the math; we ordered compost and peat moss. We also ordered fertilizer custom designed for our soils varying needs.
Paul Strickland came out one September day and we dug hemerocallis and daffodils out, bagged them with burlap, and carried them up to the park. Then began the carrying, by the wheelbarrow loads, of compost from the Anoka County Compost site. Measured in cubic feet for each area soil tested, Paul and Jesse (Kateís medical assistantís boyfriend) brought in the number of wheelbarrow loads necessary while I continued to dig out plants, trying to stay ahead of them in stripping the garden beds.
A note here. The partyís over. Kateís exhausted; so am I. I feel satisified at the end of a year long process, a pilgrimage; of course, as Iíve learned in our study of pilgrimage, now the return home begins. This may well take another year.
Charlie and Barb, Bill and Regina, Warren and Sheryl, Paul (with Sarah stricken), Tom and Roxann, Mark, Scott and Yin. Thanks for coming. It meant a lot to Kate and to me. Celebrating these milestones in the life pilgrimage is like coming together at an oasis, a place where food and refreshment spreads out, under a tent, and the opportunity to rest and talk is the sole reason to gather.
Talk about exhaustion. We both faded after the revels ended; our dreams fulfilled, the months of preparation climaxed, and Kateís journey into her 60ís well and properly celebrated. It was worth all the advance work, made so by the fine attendance, the warmth of friends, and the lovely cooperation of the weather. Not to mention the champagne and food.
We raised over $1,200 for Breast Cancer Research and have decided to donate it to Virginia Piper in honor of Tommie Jo Zimmerman, Kateís college roommate and lifelong friend. She developed breast cancer over a year ago and has finished her chemo and anticipates a double masectomy in the next couple of months.
I know at least three cancer survivors were among the guests at our party yesterday: breast, prostate, and throat & neck. I imagine there were others I didnít know. This disease reaches out up and down age groups, genders, and economic strata. It comes in diverse forms and attacks so much of the body. Iím glad we (that is, all of you who attended Kateís party) did a small bit for the future.
While the soil amendments were in the works, I spent time thumbing through catalogs and books, hunting for purple flowers, or purple leaves and stems. Turns out there is a lot of purple in the plant kingdom, it even turns out there is a lot of purple that grows in our Zone 3b climate here in Andover. I know it seems odd, but weíre about a week to a week and a half behind the cities in bloom time and our average annual temperature low is enough to put us in the same zone as communities quite a bit further north.
In practice, of course, with micro-climates in and around the house, we can get away with many zone 4 plants, and even, the occasional zone 5.
The wisteria we have in our park (the hidden garden, people kept calling it yesterday) blooms in May, great cascades of purple and lavender with a scent, like lilacs that sends me back to the late 19th century. It is a zone 5/6 plant and the northern hardy cultivar we have was only suppose to vine, not bloom, but ours doesnít know, so it produces a wonderful display every May.
A bit of digression there. Anyhow, I found Busse Gardens, a family owned operation north of Big Lake. It is a wholesale nursery, meaning it sells, most of the time, only to garden centers; but, six or so times a year they open up for retail customers. I got there late in the year, a great time to buy plants for the next growing season, and they had many, many plants on sale. I filled up the back of the truck with plants: hemerocallis, salvia, asters, Russian sage, iris cristata, lugiria, peonies, and a hosta or two I really wanted.
Tip: if you buy in September, you can often save as much as 50% off the price of plants. Delayed gratification is a must though, since these are plants for the next year, and, in some cases, the year after that.
Anyway I bought them and brought them home. Kate drew up a plan to place the plants...she handles the particulars of height and bloom time better than I do, then I got to work.
I moved almost all of our other plants, too. I wintered some over in the parkís raised beds. Joseph helped insulate the beds for winter. After the ground froze in early December I used the bales of hay I put on the driveway (much to the dismay of the neighbors, I think) to mulch my new plantings. The Arboretum hotline thought this was overkill since so many of these plants are winter hardy here, but I lost so many plants a couple of winters ago in one of those warm winters with a sudden cold snap in April that I mulched.
As I have done for many years, I also planted several hundred bulbs. Iíve grown to love digging in the soil on crisp fall days. My hands get a bit chilly, but the notion of tucking away future flowers in a new homeóit excites me. Weird, huh? In fact, the first plants of the purple garden to bloom were autumn crocus I planted a week or so before they bloomed.
Then, as it always does, in some amount or another, the snows came. I like northern gardening because of this caesura, one where the garden becomes a memory, save for those plants snugged indoors. It allows a focus on scholarship, writing, tending to the inner world.
The winter this last year was a good one from a gardening perspective. Ample snow cover made the mulching redundant, but I didnít mind at all. The late winter snow fall left us with good moisture and spring came with adequate rain fall.
The soil began to warm and I had to call the arboretum several times to see if ďNow can I take off the mulch?Ē I know the rule, but my curiosity about whatís growing under there often gets the better of me, so I find an outside arbitrator a real help.
These two introverts here took a pretty big hit from party preparation and participation. Monday was a daze. Today we both woke up better rested, but not yet recovered. As the evening goes on, I feel more like myself, and now, myself without the party on the horizon, rather with its warm memory in the past. We raised over $1,200 for breast cancer research, which, while not the primary objectiveócelebrate Kate being numero unoóstill, not too shabby. And we saw persons from all walks of our livesóthe best part, after all.
In spring the crocus and anemones opened first, followed by tulips: Negrita, Queen of the Night, Purple Parrot, I love these names. Iíd not done much with tulips before and I found them delightful. The daffodils popped up, too. I plant daffodils everywhere since they come up early and last a good while.
The hyacinth and bearded iris began to bloom, along with the dicentra. As the bearded iris wound down, the iris cristata and Siberian iris began to bloom. By then, Kate had planted wave petunias (purple and fragrant), impatiens, and purple alyssum, a vinca, and several plants she refers to as brain plants. Their resemblance to the cerebral cortex set me back when she pointed it out.
Then the lilies. My favorites. Firecrackers, Stargazers, trumpets, martagons, Orientals and Asiatics (yes, theyíre different.) in colors so vivid the colors donít seem real. Not many purples among the lilies though. The lilies overlap with the hemerocallis, which do have many purple cultivars: Little Winecup, Ed Murray, Chicago, Indian Songóand a few others.
The campanula began to bloom as the hemerocallis hit full stride, the astilbe, too. Our Russian sage didnít like where I located them and so thrust themselves horizontally toward the sun, instead of growing vertically in the airy, purple way they have.
Somewhere in here the peonies bloomed, too, and the hosta, ferns, and bugbane provided green contrast. The pasque flower bloomed early and the clematis, a bush and a vine, have just begun to bloom.
I think I mentioned this elsewhere, but I have begun to see the garden as a symphony. It has a spring movement, an early summer movement, a mid-summer movement, a late summer through early fall movement, and a frosty climax. Within each movement the plants emerge, leaf out, bloom, go to seed or get cutback and others come up. It thrills me to think of it this way because it captures the dynamism of the garden over time, a fact which any one visit does not evidence and which a photograph (save an album like Kate put together) not only cannot show, but in fact hides altogether.
I have even imagined a way of scoring the gardens emergence. Whether it would work or not, I donít know. More on it at another time.
Anyhow, thatís how the purple garden came to be as it is now. Iím grateful to Kate and her 60th year for the inspiration and for her help.
A pilgrimage has reached its destination; and now, the tent is down, the balloons popped. Decompression has taken at least through today, so the journey home has not started yet. We are still at the site of pilgrimage, bound to it by the journey and by our fatigue.
In this fatigued state neither the rewards nor the difficulties of the trip seem relevant, rather, the need is rest and restoration. Then, as the body and soul begin to knit back together, and the old bones have had sufficient refreshment, lessons can begin to integrate and travel home can commence.
Metro Tent Rental did not come to strike the tent until Tuesday, so the tent stood, empty, for a full day after the party. I began to have fantasies of a photographic essay: empty tents with chairs stacked against poles, lumpy piles of garbage bags waiting for the trash hauler, balloons half empty of helium sunk to a foot or two off the floor, streamers and ribbons and wrapping paper stuffed in a waste basket. Then, the fantasy went on: dead end signs, roads disappearing into the woods, cemeteries, car smashing machines, landfills, mushrooms, decaying downed trees.
Then, I thought. Hmm. Bummer, dude. Those are downer, tired thoughts.
The journey back home interests me a lot right now. Not only does it involve appropriation of the pilgrimageís long sought destination and the lessons learned both there and on the trip filled with anticipation, it also is a pilgrimage, one in which the pilgrim destination is home.
I have known this feeling many times, when the trip home became a holy journey, one filled with hope and desire and joy. This time Iím aware the trip home entails a return to life before the purple garden and the imminent party. It is about a return, not to normalcy, but to home changed, for now home is no longer home to the same people it was before we began the trip. The trip has changed us, both Kate and me. Home, vital because of who we are in it, will be changed forever.
We see each other with different eyes now, eyes and hearts seasoned by a long journey, one which underscored and reinforced the even longer journey of our marriage.
The return home is also a gradual re-immersion in the day-to-day reality. Kateís regular sewing and quilting activities will resume; I will focus now on my trip to Southeast Asia, presentations for Groveland UU, this diary, fall garden chores, and the Course of Empire (and, perhaps, Superior Wolf). But not yet.
Still, we must rest, enjoy our mutual hospitality. Then, the journey. It will, perforce, be shorter than the journey here. And I am glad of that, for, like most pilgrims I imagine, I am ready to get home.
"Laughter is wine for the soul - laughter soft, or loud and deep, tinged through with seriousness ... the hilarious declaration made by man that life is worth living." Sean O'Casey
A quote tailor made for Bill Schmidt.
Both of these from this site: http://www.celebrationsca.com/HP_OrientalCalligraphy.htm
Kate and I had our weekly lunch, a time to check in, see how things are going. Sheís still pretty tired; sheís gone to work every day since the party and has missed several naps. Iíve had obligations, too, but have had more naps. We both find getting back into our workout routines gives us energy instead of sapping it, contrary to what you might think.
I feel an upswing, a lift. Back to the workaday world, not so much the heavy, drifty, weary place. Will this last? For a while, probably. At least it feels like it. Not a great or out of proportion change, but a gradual easing of an inner pressure. Iím glad.
I saw Hero today. It is pretty, just as the reviews say; but, I also own the same story, told another way, in The Emperor and the Assassin. In material I recalled reading over a year ago, when Hero released in China Chinese critics called it revisionist history. I donít know the historical record, though Iím going to read it, but hereís the general outline
At the end of the Warring Stateís period, centuries of violent warfare among many small kingdoms and warlord dominions, the king of Qin (pronouced Chin) decides he will bring an end to the ceaseless warfare.
His method? As usualómore war. Both movies relate his campaign to subdue the six other larger states: Zhao, Yan, and Han among them. Both movies also recount the story of an assassin(s) recruited by the Prince of Yan and a woman from Zhao, long the Qin kingís lover.
In the Emperor and the Assassin, considered a more accurate portrayal, Ying Chen, the Qin king, grows, overtime, more and more bloodthirsty. His campaign, rather than a moral crusadeóa war to end all waróbecomes lust for domination. In this version, then, the historical father of Chin-a, Our Land, has a cruel, tyrannical character, sort of a flawed Greek hero, taken down by hubris.
In Hero, Ying Chen is seen as a king making difficult decisions, often bloody, but all to the end of a unified Chin-a. Jet Li, an actor who gets better and better each time I see him, portrays an assassin who constructs an elaborate plot to get within ten paces of the emperor, a distance from which he cannot fail to kill. Within giving away the ending, sort of unimportant to this perspective anyhow, I can say that Jet Li opens the door for a new attitude toward Ying Chen.
This is the Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon producer at work. Zhang Yimou, a leading director of Chinese film is at the height of his powers. Still, the buzz when Hero released was that Yimou altered the filmís story line to please Chinese leadership who apparently prefer the king who made difficult decisions to kill thousands of people to the cruel tyrant who also happened to unify China.
Both films are beautiful, though bloody. I prefer the first version, both as film and, if accurate, as history. Posters and more info at: www.rottentomatoes.com/
Thanks for listening over these last few weeks as the dark clouds have rolled through. I donít feel Iíve resolved, or integrated the source of my sadness yet, so I expect gloomy weather again, but I hope the jet stream keeps it well to the south for awhile.