Monday, March 30, 2009

Sap Rises

Bacchus gets a bad rap.  The god of fermentation inspired so much frenzy that the word "bacchanal" is now a direct substitute for "drunken frenzy." Being more-or-less a teetotaler, I object. Bacchus, a.k.a Dionysus, was also the god of growth, of life force rising up through plants. This time of year, sap rises by a miracle of reverse osmosis, a gravity-defying feat performed, in the case of deciduous woody plants, without leaves.  

Herbaceous perennials are breaking dormancy.

The early flowering trees are breaking bud.  

The earliest flowers are breaking into a landscape of brown, like these little reticulated iris called "Harmony."

And ideas are breaking into my mind for new work, new words and new gardening projects.

Emily Dickinson must have felt it too.  In April, 1862 she sent a letter to Thomas Wentworth Higginson, a writer for the Atlantic Monthly, with enclosing four unsolicited poems as a sample of her work. It was a cold call, the hardest way to have your work evaluated. I wish I could capture Higginson's thoughts as he read the opening of her letter.  "Mr Higginson, Are you too deeply occupied to say if my Verse is alive?"

Here is one of the poems she included:

I'll tell you how the Sun rose -
A Ribbon at a time -
The Steeples swam in Amethyst -
The news like squirrels ran -
The hills untied their Bonnets -
The Bobolinks - begun -
Then I said softly to myself -
"That must have been the Sun."!
But how he set - I know not -
There seemed a purple stile
Which little Yellow boys and girls
Were climbing all the while -
Till when they reached the other side - 
A Dominie in Gray -
Put gently up the evening Bars -
And led the flock away -

Thanks to Vicki Lane, Emily Dickinson and Bacchus for inspiring this post.


Sunday, March 29, 2009

Digging is Underrated

Do you ever feel like you do all of your gardening at the keyboard?  It's that stretch from Christmas to St. Patrick's Day that seems endless. Now that the ground has finally thawed out enough to submerge the tines of the spading fork, we can all go back to the best physical and mental therapy. There is a substantial reason why calm folks are called "grounded."

My favorite gardening e-newsletter, the Old Bulbs Gazette arrived earlier this month.  Scott Kunst, gardener and writer, always comes up with some new goodies. This time he introduced a new singer-songwriter, Karen Savoca, and her song, "In the Dirt." The lyrics are so good, I copy them here in their entirely. It has a melody to match. You can buy it on iTunes for just $.99. For the real dirt, see

Dig on!

 In the Dirt," by Karen Savoca, © 2005 Alcove Music/BMI

gonna dig down in the dirt
get it all over my skin
sleep real well and up with the birds
do it all over again
        dig down dig down
        way way down in the ground

gonna dig down in the dirt
feel it between my toes
gonna find out what every farmer knows
there down in the dirt
        dig down dig down
        way way down in the ground

gonna dig down in the dirt
plant good things to eat
gonna heel it in with my own two feet
way down in the dirt
        dig down dig down
        way way down in the ground

gonna dig down in the dirt
where all the good things grow
gonna have a long talk with mother earth
she knows how to soothe my soul
        dig down dig down
        way way down in the ground

whatcha gonna do when you've had enough
        when the bills pile up
        when the water's too deep
        when the hill's too steep
                dig down dig down

whatcha gonna do with a head full of bees
        when you're tired of sayin' please
        when the motor won't run
        when you're feelin' done
                dig down dig down

whatcha gonna do when the baby can't sleep
        when you're too tired to weep
        in a world full of schemes
        to remember your dreams
                dig down dig down

Sunday, March 22, 2009

New Season, New Name

Ah Spring, and the sap rises.  With it, new growth and thus a change in blog title.  Something a bit edgier?  With a bit more personality peeking through.

Chickweeds germinated as a blog title, fertilized by several sources. When I left my corporate job at Prudential (almost 10 years ago!) planning a switch to horticulture, a friend sent out invitations to a farewell party labeled "From Leading to Weeding." I love to weed.  Well, I should say, I love to weed in Spring.  It gets you up close to your soil, to emerging perennials and annuals.  

I found other affinities with Chickweeds, beyond the pun factor.  Stellaria media, is a European import, as are my people.  It is a cool weather annual, putting on most of its growth in spring and dying out in the dog days of summer, about when my enthusiasm for weeding flags. Chickweed is edible; so add it to salads though it may not be to everyone's taste.  Stellaria is from the Latin for 'star.' Based on its white flowers it is a small star indeed.  

So welcome to Chickweeds and Happy Spring.  I've imported the blog archive, but look for new posts here!

Vernally yours,
Marta McDowell
a.k.a. Chickweeds 

(Photo by Curtis Clark, source: wikicommons)
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