The Bottle Brush

Rhubarb does not grow in southwest Florida or any part of Florida. So this blog should be renamed something else, perhaps the bottle brush or the Bismarck Palm. No matter, The Rhubarb Jungle it will remain.Melaleuca_viminalis

It is a good thing that human beings adapt to new climates and geography better than most plants. My poor rhubarb would never adjust to a place where there is rarely even the lightest of frosts. I wonder if there is a daffodil for tropic climes or an apple tree that thrives on humidity.

My husband and I moved to the Gulf Coast of Florida for the basic reason that the long, frigid winters were made his COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder) much worse. Staying indoors with dust was as bad as going out and breathing the cold air.

Here it is the end of April, ten months after our arrival. He is breathing much more easily. Has reduced his use of inhalers. And we are, to continue the plant metaphor, putting down roots.




Winter in the Garden

It is winter in the garden. Snow is about eight inches deep. Dark by 5 p.m. The goddess still stands. I know that spring and summer will come and so I post this photograph from last summer. The goddess and I need to remember that there is a time for everything.


A New Type of Bucket List for Retirement

Photo Credit: Dale Stout
Photo Credit: Dale Stout

The Bucket List (2007) “Two terminally ill men escape from a cancer ward and head off on a road trip with a wish list of to-dos before they die.” Rotten Tomatoes said that, “Not even the earnest performances of the two leads (Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson) can rescue The Bucket List from its schmaltzy script.” Schmaltzy it may have been but the phrase and the idea is now firmly planted in the culture.

It has become a topic of earnest conversation and contemplation, What would you do if you knew you were going to die? What would be on your to-do list? A kayak trip in British Columbia? Rafting through the Grand Canyon? Seeing every game of a World Series? The finals at Wimbledon? Opera in Milan? Gondola ride in Venice?

I’m developing a different kind of bucket list for this stage of my life. With paid, nine-to-five employment a thing of the past what am I going to give up, along with the salary, endless meetings and corporate backstabbing? My bucket list involves the things that I’m throwing in the bucket and pitching out of my life.

Here’s a beginning:

*  Worrying about how people think about the way I dress. In fact, worrying about how people think about whatever I do. Harder than it sounds, of course, but worth the effort.

*  The inner compulsion to say “Yes, of course” when people ask if I want to do a task or take on a job or go to a party. I’m practicing saying, “Thank you but no.”

*  Fingernail polish. It smells. It can’t be good for my nails or the environment and I have more interesting things to do with my time. Gardening for example which is hell on a manicure.

*  Regrets about what I have not done, not accomplished. Those various sins of commission or omission. I will ask for forgiveness and move on to doing what needs to be done today.

That’s my beginning. In the bucket and out the door.

The Wonder of Bumblebees

Every time I moan and groan about dandelions, roaring trucks and rumbling motorcycles would someone please remind me about bumble bees, red wing blackbirds and muskrats. Our cottage sits between our town’s major road and a river. The road gives us the trucks, motorcycles, commuters and day trippers. The river the gives us the wonder of the muskrats and blackbirds.

This morning we stopped to look at a bumble bee that was exploring my patch of dandelion-free yard.* It flew into a hole left by a dandelion and then came out. “Maybe they have nests under the ground,” said my husband. Just then the bee flew out and moved on to the next excavation and again flew out. Three times it did this before heading across the driveway. Bumblebees nest in the ground?

Yes, they do. Thanks to the wonder of the internet (and Wikipedia) I learned more about the bumblebee in five minutes than I had ever known. For example, “In the early spring, the queen comes out of diapause (a state of dormancy different from hibernation) and finds a suitable place to create her colony. Then she builds wax cells in which to lay her eggs which were fertilized the previous year. “ Bumblebees build their nests in or on the ground and do not produce the neat hexagonal cells of the honeybee.

That’s why I will now be very careful about disturbing the straw that I’ll use to cover my small potato patch. Do not want to make a bunch of bumblebees feel threatened.

It is so easy going through life nodding at one or another of God’s creatures without thinking about them. And then one morning you take the time to look and wonder. What makes a bumblebee different from a honeybee, for example?

There are joys in retirement. One of them is the time to stop to watch a bumblebee explore a hole in the ground and then to spend part of your morning benefiting from the work of scientists for whom the world of the bumblebee is their world.

*Used no Roundup or other herbicide. My trusty asparagus style weeder and time. I know they will come back. Keeping this one small patch dandelion-free is something like a meditative experience. I know my lawn.

Komodo National Park – Here Be Dragons…

When I was a kid the library was my portal to a different world. If I couldn’t ride a horse across the prairie I could read about it. If I couldn’t go to Africa or the jungles of Borneo, I could read about them. One book that I read and reread was about scientific adventures and adventurers. People like William Beebe and Otis Barton who explored the ocean’s depth in the first bathysphere. And someone who traveled to Komodo Island in eastern Indonesia to see the Komodo dragons.

Yesterday while cruising through WordPress for interesting writers (you can do this when you’re retired) I came across “Incidental Naturalist.” He went to Komodo which is part of an Indonesian national park and neighboring Rican. He saw Komodo dragons. Big Komodo dragons. Saw one attack and kill a young water buffalo while other members of the herd stood by and watched.

Several year’s ago, the executive editor of the San Francisco Chronicle Phil Bronstein, was attacked by a Komodo dragon in its enclosure at the city’s zoo. The visit to the enclosure was a Father’s Day gift by his wife actress Sharon Stone. because he had “always wanted to see a Komodo dragon up close.” He escaped with a crushed big toe and severed tendons.

This is a great read and gets me as close as I want to get to a Komodo.

Incidental Naturalist

In 2007, a Komodo dragon killed an eight-year-old boy.  This was the first fatal attack on a human by one of the giant lizards in 33 years. “The Komodo bit him on his waist and tossed him viciously from side to side,” a national park spokesman, Heru Rudiharto, said.  “The boy died from massive bleeding half an hour later.”

This is the stuff of legends; huge reptiles capable of killing human beings, living on a remote Indonesian island. This may have been the first fatal attack for a while but it is just one of many attacks on people that have resulted in serious injury.

My childhood fascination with nature grew out of watching the behaviour of amphibians. Like many children, I learned about cycles of life by watching frog spawn become tadpoles and finally crawl out of the water on frogs’ legs. This interest naturally extended to the…

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Join the Conscience Collective?

This morning I seemed stopped cold in the rhubarb jungle. For the first three days topics, subjects, ideas were there. Today, not so much. Isn’t that the way it is with so much of life. You begin a task, an adventure with enthusiasm and then, eh.

I know that I like to write and in some ways I need to write. It is a way of exploring my inner and outer worlds. As Joan Didion said, “I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.”

The challenge is to make writing a habit, so that when it turns from fun to drudgery, when the creative drought sets in and doing anything even scrubbing the kitchen floor seems a better alternative I will still write.

Gretchen Rubin’s new book, Better Than Before, talks about habits and how to make them. “To change our habits,” she says, “we first have to figure out ourselves.” We’re setting an expectation for ourselves, she continues, and “therefore, to change our habits, it’s crucial to understand how we respond to expectations.” Her italics not mine.

Rubin’s book and her online materials includes a quiz to help readers determine how we “face outer expectations (meet deadlines, observe traffic regulations) and inner expectations (stop napping, give up sugar).”

She’s developed a quiz and a Venn diagram for you to find out if you are more or less one of the following:

  • An Upholder responds readily to outer and inner expectations
  • A Questioner questions all expectations; they’ll meet an expectation if they think it makes sense
  • Rebels resist all expectations, outer and inner alike
  • Obligers meet outer expectations, but struggle to meet expectations they impose on themselves.

There I am, somewhere between Obliger and Rebel. It means that as much as I want to develop the habit of daily writing it is going to be tough. Heading into the rhubarb jungle every day and hacking away at the undergrowth means that I’ll need a group of people to whom I am responsible.

“Your conscience,” I remember some writer saying, “is the voice at the bottom of the stairs calmly saying ‘time to get up and go to school’”. Will need to form a Conscience Collective to help me my expectations for this blog.

More than Gardening Happens in the Rhubarb Jungle

There are, for example, extended conversations with the customer service reps. (CSR) at Pay Pal.

Downsizing, the euphemism for “getting rid of stuff,” has been a theme for the past several weeks ever since paying the fee for a storage unit became ridiculous. Much of it has been consigned to the recycling bin. Retirement means that there’s time to sell it on eBay. With visions of someone offering me hundreds of dollars for my slightly damaged Christopher Plummer autographed photo, PayPal seemed to be the easiest way to collect my riches.Read More »

It is a jungle out there

Discipline. I have started this blog to give myself the discipline of daily writing and the thinking it requires. Writing is not easy. Well, maybe for some people. Rather like gardening. Some people, perhaps those who grew up in a gardening family, know what to do when confront with seed potatoes,  spinach seeds, or dahlia tubers. They go, “Wow, thanks” when the neighbor announces that they have divided the rhubarb and ask, “Do you want some?” I went, “Wow, thanks” and asked what I should do with it. “Just plant it some place where it will be forever. Rhubarb doesn’t like to be moved.”


I took this close up of her rhubarb patch last Spring after some of it had been cut and turned into strawberry-rhubarb jam. It occurred to me that just like plants some people want to stay in one place forever. They really don’t like to be moved. And others are perfectly content with pulling up those cliched roots and actually exploring what it would be like to live in Moorea or Patagonia.

I have gotten to know a family that is in the military, Air Force to be specific. He’s the officer but they are all in the military since where he goes so do they. This is what they call PCS time for Permanent Change of Station. The family finds out if they have another year in their home and garden, with their friends, their children in their school and with their friends. Or, some anonymous person is going to decide that it is time for them to move on. Do they have more choice than my neighbor’s rhubarb? Not a lot. There are many benefits to being in the military but for families with children, this is not one of them. My friends have become experts at making new friends, exploring their new environment and holding on to the best of the places they leave behind. I hope my rhubarb has the same resilience.