A Garden Beginning

Wednesday, January 31, 2007


There's something so nice and humble about green flowers. And isn't the form amazing? The two green "petals" are bracts (modified leaves).

Today I had a difficult time driving home from work. I was the last to leave the Arb and the millions and millions of tiny snowflakes were attacking my windsheild. I mean, it was a real blizzard, a swirling fog of snow. The rubber on my wipers was already peeling off, but the wipers still help a little. I had to stop at Home Depot's parking lot to reasses the situation and wait, in vain, for the snowfog to let up. The power of defrost eventually kicked in and I slowly made my way to my apartment. There was a smaller truck in front of me that was swerving like crazy. I slipped a little, but my tires are only a few months old and I guess the good old truck weighs enough.

P.S. I'm still writing. I have about two chapters drafted out and I need to take it somewhere for printing so I can organize and mull it over. It's just easier while holding paper.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Euphorbias: Part I

I've said it before, but the genus Euphorbia is diverse. On my window sill I have two Euphorbias. Both are succulents from the cape region of South Africa. Looking at them, you'd have a tough time determining that the two are closely related.

These are pictures of E. bupleurifolia, or the Pineapple Euphorbia. Mine has a few leaves on it at the moment, but new ones are emerging along with a dozen flowers (detail below). I've discovered that the key to getting flowers is to give the plant enough water, regularly. Because it's a succulent, I used to keep it very dry and the flower buds would always drop off. You can see the plant with many leaves in the "My Garden" posting. One of the reasons I like this plant is the texture of its "bark."

Each of the pointed woody knobs of the "bark" is really the remnants of a leaf's petiole, the leaf's base. That's one way to protect yourself from herbivores.

This is E. horrida var. horrida or the Milk Barrel. It is covered with "spines" and looks very much like a cactus (but true cacti are only found in the New World). When I first bought this at the Boyce Thompson Arboretum the flowers were a deep burgund. Now they've dried and you can see from this picture how the flowers are falling off, leaving behind a sharp stalk. (I really can't think of another plant that does this).

Despite being in the same genus, these euphorbias have evolved two completely different methods of protecting themselves. One protective strategy they do share, however, is the toxic milky sap they exude when damaged (this is where the name Milk Barrel comes from).

Anyway, I think these plants are fascinating.


My friend, Ryann, requested a list of the books I've mentioned on my blog so far. Here it is and here's a picture of my orchid (I'm feeling generous).

Writing Books
Writers on Writing by the New York Times and John Darnton
The Eleventh Draft by Frank Conroy (essays from the Iowa Writers' Workshop)
Shut Up! He Explained by William Noble (about writing dialogue)
A Writer's Coach by Jack Hart (Excellent! about the writing process)
Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg

Other Books
Blindness by Jose Saramago

I'm now adding The Tree by Colin Tudge. If you like plants, you'll like the book. A basic knowledge of plant taxonomy would be helpful. Warning about the preface: way too many parentheses, but hang in there, it's just the preface.

You can also check my profile for some of my favorite books. Feel free to leave a book recommendation as a comment.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Finding a Voice

Here's a work by Wolf Kahn to brighten up the winter.

I found a voice for my novel, and it's weird. But it’s much more interesting than the monotone I was using before. I’m sorry I can’t give examples; I’m not ready. Now that I have a voice, an angle, though, I find that the writing isn’t so tedious and that it’s much more fluid. Hurray!

The voice just came to me while I was trying to fall asleep one night. Actually, I think subconciously I was thinking of the movie Out of Africa ("I had a farm in Africa..."). I had been feeling for sometime that the novel just wasn’t interesting. Something was missing. Though it’s a fantasy (minus the supernatural) I’d wanted it to encapsulate natural history and something primeval. In fact, I wanted it to have the same mood as my ideal garden (in my second or third posting). The voice is quirky, anachronistic, and very much longing for a sense of place and past.

Even if the voice isn’t brilliant, it will have gotten some words down on paper, words that I can wrestle with later. It’s all about those philosophical lenses. Some lenses may not be true, but sometimes they're needed to get the job done.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Thinking, and Sitting

Now that snow is here to stay at The Arboretum, almost all of my work is done on a computer (suddenly it’s a desk job). I have mixed feelings about it. I like making interpretive signs (that’s what I do all day) because it exercises my writing, art, research, and computer skills and each sign is different. I can be creative. However, in combination with spending my free time writing, working with pastels, reading, and searching for a job, this brain work is burning up my creativity and my ability to stare at one thing for so long. I need physical exercise and a steady flow of inspiration. I’m tired of thinking.

Tomorrow is the last day I have to work on Chapter 1 before moving on to Chapter 2. I have made progress, and I think the plot is becoming more and more interesting and at least one of my characters is better developed (mostly in my head, but also kind of on paper), but the writing is still choppy and 95% feels uninspired. I need to give writing more time and effort. Simple as that. Eventually, I’m hoping my brain will make a breakthrough and will start drooling prose instead of spitting half-thoughts. I’m thinking that I need to do writing exercises each day before working on my book. I’m going to look to an old classic for help: Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg.