Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Lessons from my Garden

GranNomi, trying to figure out what each herb was used for in Jamestown.

I made an interesting observation on my little family history trip a couple of weeks ago. My grandmother stops at every flower and tree and tries to figure out what it is. At first I was a bit impatient--she was slowing down our busy itinerary to see every site in southern Virginia in five days. But then I realized that I had gained a love of flowers and plants from her.

Barbara admiring the herb garden at Jamestown.

My sister and her family are in Utah this week (of all weeks! I love the the 4th of July in Provo!). They hiked Stewart Falls yesterday and Lisa posted on facebook about how Mom stopped at every wildflower and named each one. Totally nerdy, but totally my mom. Now I don't know even the beginning of the names of wild flowers, but I sure do appreciate them.
I love to grow flowers on my back patio. I usually buy flowers from Home Depot, but this year I decided to be adventurous and go with a free can of wild flower seed from a garage sale (ok, and my funds are a little low this time around. More minor field exams, conferences, and famikly vacations = less work hours). I also planted my grandmother's bean hyacinth seeds. I love watching them wind around the fence posts of my patio, yielding purple blossoms that brighten up the wood wall in dynamic ways.

For the record, my back patio does NOT look like Jefferson's garden at Monticello. But his garden is a worthy example for me.

I must say my yield has been low this season. Nothing much is happening. The bean hyacinchs were even very slow to start. A couple of weeks later, I tried again, being much more liberal with my scattering of seeds. One flower box took off with some wild-looking spurts and a few purple blossoms, and I've got a few hyacinths poking out. I even planted a beautiful gerbera daisy a friend gave me for my birthday, hoping that would coax out the blooms.
The other day, as I became frustrated with the lack of movement on several areas in my life, I came out to eat breakfast on my patio. To my surprise, there were some pink miniature rose buds. I hadn't even seen them coming! I found a few other little strokes of green.

I quickly grabbed my can of wildflower seed and liberally spread more seed everywhere. I went a little overboard, but I just became so anxious for some seed to take root and grow. I felt this overwhelming need to produce seed. To grow.

Last week my friend Lauren asked me to pick up their mail and water for them if it didn't rain while they were out of town. I didn't think much of it--on Wednesday their expected boxes arrived and I headed out back to water the flowers and vegetables. I noticed 3 bonsai trees sitting on a table, one of them looking pretty dry. I wasn't quite sure how to water them--something told me that their fragile nature required special care. Because Lauren hadn't mentioned anything, I hosed them down and didn't think much of it. It rained a bit the next two days and I considered my neighborly job done.

Sunday morning, though, I received an email from a sad Lauren, whose even sadder husband had found his beloved bonsai trees mostly dead. I say mostly, because I don't know anything about bonsai trees and because I consider myself partly responsible, although I had no idea how to properly care for them. And because I like the idea in The Princess Bride about how true love can save something that is mostly dead. Oh, I felt horrible. My ignorance--as well as the lack of communication and proper training--had not produced a fruitful labor.

This morning when I went out for my run, I saw the flower box out front. My gangly tiger lilies have flourished this year, and their blossoms have fallen. The box, though, was filled with grass. I stooped over to pull one, then realized that each blade seemed to be connected. It wasn't just grass growing, but this long, mass 0f weed and root taking over my flowers. I looked around at the neighbors' flower boxes, and realized what a mess mine had become. In all my desire to grow seeds out back, I have neglected my flowers in front. I became engrosed in the project and quickly spent 30 minutes pulling up long lengths of grassy weed.

Every morning now I can't wait to go out to my little garden patio and see what has happened overnight. I search for new blades and I cheer them on. I watch carefully, hoping to discern the weed from the flower, so I can protect the flower and stop the weed in its course.

And I hope, oh I hope, for those dormant seeds. They can come back to life if given the proper amount of time and water and light. Mostly dead, after all, is partly alive. And to blave means to bluff. Or True Love. Thank you, Miracle Max.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Paper and the Pool: The Price You Pay

Sometimes when you must sequester yourself away for a full week, madly trying to complete a minor field exam, you realize that it is, after all, summer, and the sun, after all, is doing its part, and you do, after all, live in a really great neighborhood with a really great pool.

And so, not to waste any time, you gather up all your books and notes and articles, and you go study at the pool.

Sometimes, when you're with a friend or you forget a pen, you don't get anything done. Other times, however, you receive brilliant flashes of inspiration and you madly jot down your ideas, then pop in the pool to cool down from all the hot madness in your brain and on your skin. Oh phew for cool water.

Still other times, as your week deadline draws near, you feel an ever-increasing sense of urgency to write write write. You stay home from social events and knock out a few more pages. You read and realize how much revision will be necessary. You start to panic as the clock ticks down and you understand that your brilliance is all mumbo jumbo. You take your draft to the gym and pedal away on the bike to try to pump things into shape. And then you get complete writer's block. You absolutely MUST go back to the pool to regroup and refresh.

And so you lug along your drafts and notes back to the pool. In a quiet moment of reflection, the breeze--oh so delightful--picks up--and carries with it your well-thought-out revisions. Right into the pool. Floating along so peacefully and yet so thoughtlessly. Thank goodness for sweet skills that save wet paper and can read through wrinkles.

And thank goodness for the flow of ideas that come every once in a while... just enough to breeze me through to answer these questions.

NOT me--I may be getting old, but I'm not FDR. You didn't think I'd really take a picture of my nerdy self with all my stash at the pool, did you?

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Baseball Gone Wrong; Baseball Gone Right

I love major league baseball. Love it.I found my love when I lived in Arizona. Bank One Ballpark and the pool were my only respites from the scorching, death-defying heat. Thank you, JB, Erin, and Deana for introducing me to the joy of the seventh inning stretch, cheap seats on the first base line, the crack of the ball against the bat, and the wonders--never-ending--of a Grand Slam.

Oh how I love it. The smells, the people, the cheers, the groans, the excitement, the fireworks. The time to chat. Learning how to keep score (thanks Deana and Aaron). The only time I'll really relish in a hot dog (and at Reams grocery store in Provo. I do not know why I love Reams hot dogs, but I do. Oh I do. And I think they're out of business, which means no hot dogs for me in Utah because there is no real baseball team).I have a new roommate. Ivy just moved here from the metropolis of St. George, Utah. We took her to her first baseball game a couple of weeks ago. It was supposed to be a great game. Really great. The Nationals were playing the Giants, and Randy Johnson was pitching. The Big Unit became a household name for me when I love-love-loved the Diamondbacks that magical summer when they won the World Series (yeah yeah beat THAT Yankees!). He was up for his 300th win and we had great great tickets.

So we ran through the rain to get to the stadium early. And sat there. For 3 hours. In this. We watched the facilities people, sopping wet, sweep water down the drain. We huddled in the concourse, the wind blowing the rain through, flooding the place. Then the rain magically cleared and we sat in wonder, watching and cheering as the field was uncovered, only to be covered back up. More rivers and lakes. Go, go, Noah. We finally left at 10:00 pm, and the game wasn't called until 11:00pm. Poor Ivy. Her first exposure to the magic of baseball. Deluged.

Todd & Annie--and we got along the whole time! A summer baseball miracle!

Never fear. Just three days later, Annie and her boyfriend Todd were in town, and we used our rain tickets to watch a smashing success against the Mets. It was one of those perfect summer evenings--perfect temperature with a fantastic breeze. The full moon came up over the stadium. The Nats were on their very best behavior--they scored a couple of home runs.
And I breathed it all in. I LOVE baseball...

Sunday, June 21, 2009

History Repeats Itself: Part 2

In my family, we believe butterflies are like familiar family spirits hovering nearby. After my great uncle Chet died in the very most southern of Arizona several years ago, my mother remembered seeing a beautiful butterfly hovering ever so near during the burial. After all the events, she and the rest of her immediate family hurried back to the bedside of my dying great grandmother, Granna, who passed away just a few days later. Again, and I am a witness, we saw butterflies in that lonely, forsaken dry desert cemetery in Duncan, Arizona. Every time I see a butterfly, I wonder who is near me, looking out for me, reminding me of what I come from and my family name. I found this butterfly in southern Virginia last week.

I think my favorite part of our Virginia adventures last week was the family history aspect. After gallivanting through Jamestown, we took the ferry across the James River to Surry, Virginia. We left behind the commercialization of history and national commemoration and discovered a couple of key finds particular to our own family history:
  • Bacon's Castle, Surry: Built in 1665 by our merchant-planter ancestor Arthur Allen, this is the oldest standing brick building in Virginia. Among the most distinctive High Jacobean architectural features are the triple stacked chimneys and flemish gables. Because our Allen family had money, they aligned themselves with the high Governor Berkley, who was criticized in 1676 for not protecting the "lower" citizens from Indian attack, prompting Bacon's Rebellion. Allen's son, proprietor of the home at that time, fled to Jamestown, and the rebels, led by Nathaniel Bacon, occupied the house for a few months. They've made great efforts to recreate the colonial-era garden. It was incredible to walk around this place--I know nothing about these people, but I took an immediate pride in this, my family.
  • St. Luke's Church, Smithfield: We wanted to find the grave of another ancestor there in Isle of Wight County, Joseph Bridger (same line as William Pitt). Our records indicated that he was buried at the Old Brick Church, which we learned was St. Luke's Episcopal Church in Smithfield. Known as the Old Brick Church, colonists began construction on this building as early as 1632. It is advertised as the oldest Anglican church in America. Well, after asking at the bank for directions to the church, the banker woman ran in to call the church woman to make sure they stayed open for us (it's a VERY small town--but it is the home, after all, of Smithfield ham). So we were greeted by Charlotte, the executive director of this the oldest church. She grabbed a key and took us back off the beaten path to the church (we thought the gift shop on the road was the church). She let us in the old door, to this incredible site: Apparently, after construction started, the colonists needed funding to finish building. Joseph Bridger, our illustrious (and prominent, Barbara reminds us) forebear, funded the church. And thus, he is buried right there at the altar, under a beautiful stained-glass window. The church also holds a stained glass window dedicated to Pocohontas, a neighbor as well as another family progenitor for us.
I love that I come from a family that contributes. Again--I hope that is a history that repeats itself. I like to think that Granna was with us as we celebrated Aunt Nita's 89th birthday with all this family history. After a delightful dinner at the Smithfield Inn, we took her to dip her toes in the Atlantic Ocean in Virginia Beach. After all, everyone should see the Atlantic Ocean at some point in their lives!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

History Repeats Itself: Part 1

You know that phrase that we study history so we don't repeat it? Well, sometimes I hope we repeat it. Especially the good stuff.

Barbara, Aunt Nita, GranNomi, Mom at Ash Lawne

Last week I reveled in American history en site with my own personal family history. Meaning my grandmother and my great aunt and my mom and her cousin.

The Ancients and the Less-Ancients on the Plantation Tour at Monticello

We had so much fun--can you imagine pushing 2 women in their 80s in wheelchairs through the cobblestone streets of Williamsburg and the dirt paths of Jamestown? Seriously--I laughed so hard. Hilarious. Especially the part where I was holding onto GranNomi's wheelchair for my dear heart as it raced down a gravel hill to a little theatrical recreation in Williamsburg. Yes--I actually made her push it back up the hill (she is a bit wobbly but certainly capable of walking while holding on to a support!).

On Thursday we went to Jamestown Settlement. Now I generally pride myself as an academic historian and prefer the original Jamestown location with its excavation and ruins and historiographic museum. I love the sense of location. This time around with the Sisters in Wheelchairs, we took them to the recreation part with the Powhatan (do NOT ask my mother how to pronounce that word) village and ships and fort. Good times.

We visited lovely Monticello on Friday, home of Thomas Jefferson, and on Saturday we hit up Montpelier, Madison's home, and Ash Lawne, Monroe's home.
Ash Lawne, James Monroe's home

Now, here is where I would hope history would repeat itself. I love the careful study of these people. I love their innovation, their negotiation, their understanding of the human condition--both theoretically, with such devices as the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, and with the way they organized their homes and their physical lives. There's something about being in the room where Madison studied European and ancient governments to cobble together the Constitution, looking out his window at the view of the Blue Ridge Mountains, which to him, symbolized the great American West and the potential of the future. There's something about the order in which Jefferson organized his architectural gem, his dependencies, his gardens, and his study--all thought out with such precision and clarity, the same way he thought about the branches of government and inalienable rights.

I'd been to Williamsburg, Jamestown, Monticello, and Montpelier before. But never in such quick succession. I loved the ability to compare and contrast--not only the historical site and the commemorative people and events, but the mode of marking that history. I loved the different versions and efforts of the tour guides, their various agendas and politics, the overall effect for the visitors. And I love buying Christmas ornaments and face cards... just you wait for those Sunday night Nertz tournaments with Virginia historical sites cards!

James Monroe's statue at Ash Lawne

And I loved the neighborhood feeling of it all. That Monroe could see Jefferson's home from his side door. I loved learning that Dolly Madison loved throwing a big party and could entertain hundreds in her backyard for a BBQ. Or that Jefferson experimented with his vegetables--that he loved peas.That Madison and Jefferson raced to see who could grow the first peas. That Jefferson taught Madison how to build his kitchen underground--and how Monroe's kitchen burned down. Or how both Jefferson and Madison had little outdoor study/temple areas where they could commune, alone, with nature and with self.

Yes--I hope that history repeats itself. I hope that we can continue the innovation and patriotism and progress. I know that's a very progressive view of history, often frowned upon by today's academic historians--but I think it's really a means of finding value in the past and having hope in the future.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Some Views of Nauvoo and Its Environs

So last week after our conference in Springfield, instead of joining the post-conference tour, Janiece and I had our own tour. First was Carthage, a place where I ironically always feel a deep sense of respect and sacrifice there--the air always seems somber.
We arrived in Navuoo at the same time the tour buses got there. The best part was that the Community of Christ had opened their buildings for the tour members to visit. So we joined some of our favorite and most knowledgable Nauvoo historians and wandered around the Mansion House, the Smith Homestead, and the Red Brick Store. We asked every question we ever had, and we took our time. It was a historian's heaven.That night we went to a reader's theater about the Carthage trials. By then, it was 10:00 on a Sunday night in a very, very small town. You try finding something to eat in those circumstances. We ended up at a gas station convenience store (Casey's, for all you Midwesterners), where they whipped up some chicken fingers and potato wedges. I won't lie--I was pleasantly surprised. We enjoyed the deluctable repast in our very own reconstructed log cabin as we watched a Red Box dvd. Talk about the juxtaposition of the centuries... quite the anachronism.On Monday we braved the misty rain and went to the Nauvoo temple for a session. Now sometimes I grumble about the Disneyland-esque Williamsburg effort at recreating one of the most difficult times in Mormon history. The brick buildings and green gardens and dirt roads hearken back to an idyllic, harmonious time when the majority of people lived in log cabins no longer extant, suffering from malaria, poverty, political downturn, and mild confusion, surrounded by mud, apprehension, and persecution. But the temple. Its construction provided a means on which to focus their energy. Worship there literally allowed them to transcend their lives and situate themselves in eternity. I love the efforts to reconstruct the ninteenth-century temple--the carpet patterns, dark wood and deep, bright murals, the windows and carvings. But most importantly, that same worship. The same hope and belief in God and in exaltation. The same effort to come to a reckoning and an understanding. The price was steep, but the benefits extended well beyond those original stone walls.We stopped in Warsaw on the way back to Springfield--the sleepy has-been home of the Warsaw Expositor, the newspaper that sort of sparked the martyrdom and eventual extermination order. Another interesting juxtaposition.