Adventures in a Small Yard

I may have emitted a guttural sound or two when I tripped and fell on the nubbin of last year’s evil lilac tentacle yesterday in the dog yard, landing on my shoulder and opening one of those road-rash things on my leg (it bled like an MF). And why? It was time to get out there and cut down the lilac suckers for once and for all this summer ( ha ha ha ). Picture Don Quixote.

Otherwise? The beans have reached an immensitude that’s troubling from the perspective (ha ha) of harvesting beans, but I’m very happy about it. This is little Wang Wei, one of the original seeds started inside. He was very slow to sprout. I pretty much gave up, but then??? He went outside in May, was covered from frost several times, never succumbed, was slow getting out of the gate when the weather warmed up — probably thinking, “What’s the point?” But now? I think he’s 12 feet tall… I will have to get out with a ladder and give him more room, I guess.

Although a few thousand years ago Wang Wei couldn’t have had me in mind, he wrote a poem I love.

A View of the Han River
Wang Wei

With its three Hsiang branches it reaches Ch’u border
And with nine streams touches the gateway of Ching:
This river runs beyond heaven and earth,
Where the color of mountains both is and is not.
The dwellings of men seem floating along
On ripples of the distant sky…
O Hsiang-yang, how your beautiful days
Make drunken my old mountain heart.

In other positive gardening news, the pumpkin sex in which I participated a few days ago has been successful and we have the beginnings of a beautiful Australian pumpkin.


After a slowish start, stuff in the garden is beginning to get its groove on, and I’m glad as were on the cusp of late July and, if last year’s weather was a prevision of things to come and not just complete random insanity, it could snow in September. Pearl Buck has sent out her first tiny bean and the others are not far behind. Tu Fu, one of the other beans to have survived spring’s two lateish frosts, is now easily winding his vine 8 or 9 feet high. I’ve put cross pieces for them to wind on, but they want to go up, not over and out.

For the last little while (a couple of weeks? longer?) I’ve observed three baby ladybugs eating aphids and whiteflies on an unwelcome lilac. I had no idea that lilacs are actually weeds that want to create a lilac forest around my house, but that’s the truth. Summer, among other annoying tasks, is the season of beating back the invasion. My first summer here, in my naïveté, I had the big hedge to the east of my yard cut back. THAT, ladies and gents, is the BEST WAY to encourage the invasion. In any case, there was this ladybug nursery. I’ve checked on them daily since I noticed them and it’s taken a surprisingly (to me) long time for them to make their transformation. Yesterday I saw that one had finished and was a full-on ladybug. “See, Martha? Change doesn’t happen overnight!” they yelled from the depths of the nature metaphor I had no way of NOT reading.

Meandering Thoughts on a COOL, Cloudy Morning

A few years ago in a flea market in town or just out of town or in that twilight zone of small town America where houses vie with tractor repair, Mexican restaurants and grain cellars for zoning rights I bought a book of Song Dynasty landscape poetry. It’s a beautiful book. Right there on the cover (and which I never noticed until now) is that the poems were translated by Tagore. It’s funny how the obvious either escapes us completely or just doesn’t register. I thumbed through the book this morning looking for expressions from the poet beans who are now thriving. I found a bunch of poems I never read before written by poets with whom I was unfamiliar. Maybe my beans are telling me they are from a more recent dynasty than Li Bai, Tu Fu, et al and it’s time for me to expand my horizons.

Teddy with the beans

The hot spell has broken and today is supposed not even to reach 70F. The dogs are friskier, and I’m more relaxed. Yesterday the wind kicked up in the early evening, so the dogs and I went out for a ramble. It was lovely and eerie. Smoke from fires all around, north and west of us, have obscured the sky for the past few days. I could see only dim shapes of the San Juans and no sign at all of the more distant Sangre de Cristos. The air was filled with the fragrance of clover — yellow, white and pink. The bugs were kept at bay by the wind, though a couple of doughty deer-flies made an effort to attack.

On our way out, we were stopped by a guy in a pick-up with a serious birding telescope who wanted me to see a white-faced ibis in the distant pond. For human contact, that’s one of the sweeter things that happens. He and his wife are “birding” down here as a break from the big city (Denver). We had a lovely chat about dogs, birds, Denver. He asked the nicest question a birder can ask, “Do you have a bird book?”

I lied and said I did. I was really afraid he’d give me his bird book.

I was too far away to really SEE the ibis but I saw its large brown shape.

I had a conversation (chat) with my step-daughter-in-law, S, a couple nights ago. It’s my step-grandson’s (we’ll call him Bill) birthday today, the same as my dad’s birthday. She told me that the little guy is having problems “re-emerging” from COVID restrictions. Bill should be in pre-school this coming fall but will he be able to go? He is descended from extremely shy people — beyond shy, actually. His great-aunt was so traumatized by humanity she ended up in an institution. The good X (his grandfather) struggled — maybe still struggles — against this. My stepson, also, still “hides behind trees,” as S said the other night.

I recently read an opinion/thought piece in a local magazine Colorado Central Magazine. The author – Ed Berg -wrote a meandering piece the referred to the fossilized footprints of the little girl and a toddler in White Sands National Park, footprints left over from the Ice Age which mastodons, giant sloths, Smilodons and wolves wandered the area.

“Some 12,000 years ago [during the Ice Age], in what is White Sands National Park, a teenage girl left her footprints along the muddy edge of a playa. The prints show she was carrying a small chid on her hip, stopping from time to time to adjust her load. We don’t know where she was going or the purpose of her journey, but she was walking quickly, about 4mph, in spite of her burden and small size. A few hours later she returned along the same path, apparently still carrying the child. In the meantime, some large animals had crossed her trail, but her tracks show that she was not concerned about them; they weren’t predators…”

(Ed Berg, “Life in the Upper Ark,” Colorado Central Magazine July 2021)

I thought all day about Bill, and how I could write a story that would tell him that the enemy of fear is knowledge, and because this little girl KNEW her world and how to be aware within it, she could scurry out there with a little sister or brother on a mysterious errand. I would have her tell Bill the secret to courage; the more we understand about how things work in our immediate world, the more we understand about how to live in it. I would have her tell Bill that life is dangerous, but it’s more dangerous not to venture out.

Maybe the toddler the young girl carried was hurt or ill and she needed to find the “local” “doctor” to help her little brother or sister. Maybe part of the lesson for little Bill would be that knowledgable risks taken for others are an important part of being human. All I have so far is the moral of the story. “Fear tells us nothing. Knowledge is the enemy of fear.”

In the story, of course, Bill would suddenly appear in the Ice Age which would have to be weird and scary, too, and he’d return to his pretty suburban, midwestern home with a new perspective on safety. ❤

I dunno… Just a trickle of an inspiration.

The featured photo is a bank of milkweed out at the Refuge. I’m sure they are full of monarch butterfly caterpillars.

Diurnal Update 91.03.11.xiii

What, Bear? Oh, I know. It’s got to be worse for you. It will, don’t worry sweet girl. Just a couple of months now. It cooled down today a little bit. No, that isn’t what they mean when they talk about ‘solar power’. It should be but it isn’t. That’s something else. Yeah, it’s good when the wind blows.

I know it will come as a big surprise but Bear doesn’t actually talk, but it’s felt like she has during the recent heat wave. And, for all I know, she’s out there barking her daily blog saying, “Martha doesn’t actually bark, but it feels like she has during the recent heat wave.”

Teddy, on the other hand, is very open about his perceptions. During the past very hot days he’s just panted continually. Cheerfully, but continually. I don’t think he really cares.

A blogging pal — Wild Sensibility — is on her way with her two dogs to a new life. One of them is an Australian shepherd, like Teddy. He has taken their four or five or six day drive in stride, the same kind of optimistic, peaceful, enthusiastic stoicism I have seen in all my Aussies.

Moving out here from California in 2014, my Siberian husky was scared (but also ancient, blind and deaf), my Dobie/Lab was nervous, but my Australian shepherd was, “Wow! This is COOL! We get a MINI-VAN! Martha’s with us ALL THE TIME. Oh, we’re STOPPING??? That’s AWESOME. Oh, WOW! A field! There’s my friend Sherry!”

“This is GREAT!” Mindy T. Dog
“WTF?” Dusty T. Dog

Yesterday it cooled down and all of us were grateful. Teddy took a break from panting. Bear just relaxed and I savored the whole thing. Thunderstorms are in the forecast for the next few days and that’s good, too. I obviously have little or nothing to impart on this Monday morning. The Scarlet Emperor beans are doing great, though they remain unnamed and their poetry — if they have any — untranscribed. Time will tell.

So Far so Good

I’ve dumped most of the images on this blog that were posted in the distant past (4 years ago and beyond) and a few from the recent past, and I think I’ll be good to go for a while. The new blog is fun to put together and look at and I appreciate everyone who’s followed it.

It’s funny how I (all of us?) write the same thing over and over. I felt weird realizing that, then I thought it’s probably comforting not just to write about beans every year but for people to read about beans every year, especially given the instability of our world in these times.

On that note, the beans are doing OK. They love the hot days (Bear and I hate them) and warm(ish) nights. Some of them aren’t going to get to any decent size this summer but it’s OK. I decided that naming them might be laying too much of a burden on them so for now they’re just beans, though only time will tell if they will assume their identities. A couple that I planted from seeds are growing with great passion and enthusiasm. The only bean from spring who — I mean that — is doing really well is Tu Fu though Pearl Buck is doing pretty well and is the only one so far to (almost) bloom. Oh well. I guess they have names after all…

And for anyone who wants to know…your writing doesn’t take up any appreciable space on your blog. It’s the photos which probably everyone knew but me 😉 .

The Importance of Historians

I recently watched a BBC special about Confucius. As I don’t have a bean named Confucius, it would be wrong to focus on that, but I do have a bean named Szu-ma Chien. Last night, as I watched this program, I wondered if the world would even know about Confucius, if there would have been anything known as Confucian culture, if Szu-ma Chien had not been such a good historian and found so many important ideas in Confucius’ writing some 500 years after Confucius had lived. That’s a friend.

I haven’t really kept up with developments in Chinese culture in the interval since I got over my broken heart from having come back to the US in 1983, so, from time to time, I like to peer through a video window into today’s China. Last night I saw that Confucianism has been rehabilitated and has gone mainstream. I never really thought it had gone away. First it seemed to me that Communism and Confucianism meshed pretty well in the daily life area and then because the customs of Confucianism were, are, always have been — since the Han Dynasty — deeply engrained in the culture. Still, when I was living in China, Confucianism was barely awakening from the Maoist designation of it being one of the “Four Olds,” and a crime to practice.

The program opened with an actor sitting and writing with a brush on bamboo slats. He was portraying Szu-ma Chien. ❤

Yesterday, in The Dihedral, Carrot wrote about ethics. It was a compelling post and inspired me to write rambling incoherence in response, but you know, I go with my strengths. 😛

With this in my mind as I watched the program on Confucius I realized the Szu-ma Chien, in memorializing him so passionately and beautifully, and accepting castration rather than death as a punishment from “his” emperor, was making a desperate plea for ethical government. Confucius system is an ethical system, and whatever its nuances, it’s pretty simple. “Don’t do to another what you wouldn’t want them to do to you.” Seems a dark spin on the Golden Rule but I think, given human nature, less obscure.

I believe every society needs a shared ethical system that does NOT come from the top (as totalitarian Communism attempted) but which (as Confucius understood) is part of daily life and the rituals of ancestors, etc. Tradition. This weekend many Americans are doing just that “celebrating” Memorial Day. A society needs an identity that includes ritual observances and a shared ethical system. That — and his version of the golden rule — are pretty much the point of Confucius’ system.

The program made the point that Confucius believed he was a failure because, in spite of traveling all over the warring kingdoms he’d been unable to persuade any sovereign to follow his precepts. After some 14 years, he and his disciples gave up their wandering lives. Confucius was resigned, telling his students, “…A gentleman can cultivate his way, draw up principles, recapitulate and reason, but may not be able to make his way accepted. [If] your aim is not to cultivate your way but to please others, your ambition is not high enough.” In my opinion, that’s the essence of integrity, but also something I need to remind myself all the time as a painter and writer.

Of the prose and poet beans, Szu-ma Chien is doing the best. Of those who endured the cold, only two survived which means I have three viable bean plants, there is Tu Fu and Pearl Buck. I planted more seeds that have not yet germinated in place of the others. I guess this will give me more opportunities to look into Records of the Historian.

Of this Confucius said (via Szu-ma Chien) “A good farmer may sow by may not always reach a harvest…”

The featured photo is a Columbine that is blooming for the first time this year…

Szu-ma Chien, Scarlet Emperor Bean

I’m finally learning “who” these beans are. Four poets and a historian. Since plants are not ego-driven by identity and originality, welcome the return of Li Bai, Tu Fu, Bai Juyi, and Li Ho. The fifth is the great historian, Szu-ma Chien. Wang Wei is still in the house as are his compatriots who are 20th century Chinese writers, including Pearl S. Buck. Why? you ask — reasons will unfold soon enough.

So who is Szu-ma Chien and why is he included now?

Sometimes when you’re involved in learning things you find a hero and as I was trying to figure out where in the world I’d been for a year in the People’s Republic of China, and reading all the history I could, I hit on Ssu-ma Chien and found him to be one of the most amazing, brave and noble men I’d ever “met.” So, what was his story?

I bought Selections from Records of the Historian on September 4, 1982, soon after my arrival in Guangzhou, probably at the Youyi Bingguan or Friendship Store. I don’t think I read it, though, until I got back to Colorado the next year. I bought it because the introduction said, “The Records of the Historian, written two-thousand years ago by Szuma Chien of the Han Dynasty, is the greatest historical work China has produced. Thanks to Szuma Chien’s rich experience of life, his enlightened approach to history and his brilliance as a man of letters, he was able to make a discriminating selection of material and to write a new form of history.”

So what happened to him that made him “noble” “brave” and so on? He offended the Emperor by defending a general who had “been defeated in battle and had surrendered to the Huns. For this he was punished by imprisonment and castration.” In Chinese culture castration was worse than death and most men would have taken their own lives rather than suffer the shame of castration; face was everything and a man without, uh, you know, male parts had no “face”. So why didn’t he kill himself? Because his recording of history was more important than his pride. Stopping work? No. He continued writing while he was imprisoned. The humiliation didn’t end there but in a paradoxical honor. In 96 BCE he “…was pardoned and appointed palace secretary, a post slightly higher than grand historian (his former post) but one usually held by eunuchs. Humiliated and distressed, he nevertheless went on writing the history and completed the work in 91 BCE when he was 55.” (Records of the Historian, preface by Wang Po-hsiang)

Szu-ma Chien inspired me to think about my own work seriously, to consider if I would accept such a horrible punishment and humiliation just to keep writing. Szu-ma Chien “told” me I should, that true history told with a living voice, is THAT important.

The book consists of reports and anecdotes of people important both to Chinese history in a large sense and in the smaller sense, to Szu-ma Chien’s time. Szu-ma Chien’s writing (translated by Gladys Yang and Yang Hsien-yi) is energetic, very alive and I think you’ll like it when you finally get to meet the heroic bean who bears his name. I’m going to enjoy looking into this book again!

The Last Bean Report of 2020

After surrendering momentarily to frost, Bai Juyi and Tu Fu came back up from the 6 inch plants I left. Li Bai succumbed. Li Ho — who grows closer to a sun-warmed wall — has been growing this whole time, but tonight the temps will be below freezing and tomorrow as well, and then? I’m not fighting it any more.

I just went out to tell them goodbye and thank them for everything. They didn’t leave me empty-handed, either. I have 43 beans for next year (yes, I counted them). Though some don’t seem fully matured, I’m grateful for all the green beans of the summer, these beautiful purple and black beans for next year, and the company my beans gave me during this strange year.

Night Snow
Tu Fu

I was surprised my quilt and pillow were cold,
I see that now the window’s bright again.
Deep in the night, I know the snow is thick,
I sometimes hear the sound as bamboo snaps.

The Daily Dog and Beans

My Big White Dog is sitting beside me, affecting to be unperturbed by the fact that we’re all out of rawhide pencils until Tuesday. But I know her and she KNOWS morning is NOT the time for rawhide “slabs” or whatever you would call them. “Seriously, Martha. Don’t you know what time it is?”

These things matter to a livestock guardian dog.

“If this is all we have, OK. I’ll chew them.”

She REALLY likes taking these outside and burying them. She also likes using them to play keep-away with Teddy. The yard is littered with rawhide which I often pick up (if it’s clean enough) and put back in the bag… Seriously, what OTHER advantage is there in having opposable thumbs?

Other than the prediction that it will freeze tonight and tomorrow, there seems to be nothing too harrowing on the horizon (but who ever knows?) Which reminds me that some readers have asked about the beans.

Lot’s of new growth

We’ve had several hot days in a row so the beans are doing well. But here’s a fable for our time.

During the snow storm almost three weeks ago now, one of the larger pods got knocked to the ground. I found it and thought, “Well, there are bound to be casualties.” I left it. A few days ago I noticed it had turned yellow which is what these pods do when the beans are ripe. I thought that was pretty amazing. I’d figured the pod would slowly rot and melt into the ground. I picked it up and found it was completely dry. Huh? I opened it and inside were two very large, very viable beans and one rotten one.

Otherwise, I have already harvested a few ripe pods. The beans are larger than the beans from two years ago. I won’t know until next year if that is a good thing or not, but here they are.

The larger beans are from this year.

I will probably cover them tonight and tomorrow. Much as I love winter, I’m loath to let my beans surrender.

Because the fabled bean pod dropped from Tu Fu, I’ll share one of his poems.

Autumn Thoughs, I
Tu Fu

Jade frost bites the maple trees
and Wu Mountain and Wu Gorge breathe out dark fear
as river waves rise up to the sky
and dark wind-clouds touch ground by a frontier fortress.
The chrysanthemums have twice bloomed tears of other days,
When I moor my lonely boat my heart longs for my old garden.
The need for winter clothes hurries scissors and bamboo rulers.
White Emperor City looms over the rushed sound of clothes beaten at dusk.

Featured image: “Are you going to take MY picture, Martha?”
“I will, little guy. Look at me.”

If You Need Inspiration…

From the joints where leaves broke or froze, new vines are emerging ALREADY. I love these beans.


Tu Fu

Rain road through, now the autumn night is clear
The water wears a patina of gold
and carries a bright jade star.
Heavenly River runs clear and pure,
as gently as before.

Sunset buries the mountains in shadow.
A mirror floats in the deep green void,
its light reflecting the cold, wet dusk,
dew glistening,
freezing on the flowers.

Li Bai

On Old River Mountain
A huge boulder swept clean
by the blue winds of Heaven

where they have written
in an alphabet of moss
an ancient song.

Bai Juyi

I was surprised my quilt and pillow were cold,
I see that now the window’s bright again.
Deep in the night, I know the snow is thick,
I sometimes hear the sound as bamboo snaps.

Li Ho

The autumn wilds bright,
Autumn wind white.
Pool-water deep and clear,
Insects whining,
Clouds rise from rocks,
On moss-grown mountains.
cold reds weeping dew,
Colour of graceful crying.

Wilderness fields in October — 
Forks of rice.
Torpid fireflies, flying low,
Start across dike-paths.
Water flows from veins of rocks,
Springs drip on sand.
Ghost-lanterns like lacquer lamps
Lighting up pine-flowers.