We’re taking a little break

cowboy erik baby 2Apologies for the lack of posts on here lately, but as our regular readers know, Erik’s mom, Marguerite, has been ill for some time and as of this week she has moved into hospice care. As a result, we’re taking a break from posting for a little while. These are sad times but they are full of good memories and lots of love. And speaking of good memories –I’ve been sifting through the Knutzen family albums and thought you might like to see one of Erik’s–or should I say the Sheriff’s?– baby pictures.

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An Update on Kelly

Kelly is home and hopes to, someday, describe her ordeal soon. But I thought I’d put up a quick post to thank everyone for their thoughts and prayers and to let you know that Kelly is back home. It turned out that Kelly had a relatively rare genetic defect that led to an aortic dissection (type A). She was wheeled straight from the emergency room to the operating room for open heart surgery. The doctors and nurses of Kaiser Permanente saved her life through quick diagnosis, skilled surgical treatment and attentive and compassionate nursing care.

I also want to note that, thankfully, we are fully insured through Kaiser and live just two miles from their medical center. All we had to pay was a reasonable co-payment for the entire operation and hospital stay. I must also thank our friend Caroline who drove Kelly to the emergency room, stayed by my side late into the night and cleaned our house top to bottom the next day with her sister Rebecca. And thanks to Fr. Mark Kowalewski of St. John’s Episcopal Cathedral who was with Kelly in the emergency room and with me in the waiting room while Kelly was in surgery. Lastly, thank you to our dear readers. Kelly was in tears as she read your comments yesterday.

Thankfullness

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My dear readers,
Life has its surprises. At around 5 p.m. on Friday, towards the end of a routine day that included such dull tasks as going to the grocery store, the hardware store and a stop by our local Indian buffet, Kelly suddenly felt one of her legs go numb. Thankfully she had the good sense to know that she needed to get to the emergency room. By 9 p.m. she was being prepped for open heart surgery. She pulled through the surgery and her prognosis is good, but she is in incredible pain and is still in the hospital. We think this is a congenital condition and we had no warning. The doctors, nurses and staff of Kaiser Sunset saved her life.

Obviously we’re going to put this blog and podcast on hold for a bit while Kelly recovers, which will take many weeks. It’s a cliche, but your thoughts and prayers are greatly appreciated. And please promise me that if you ever experience chest pain, numbness in a limb or any other unusual symptom, you will call 911 immediately.

Our new front yard, part 4: a digression on the new paradigm

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Detail from Hieronymus Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights, c.1500

A couple of comments have come in on my last post remarking that this way of designing a yard (inspired by Planting in a Post-Wild World) seems really complex. And I’d say to that, it is! And yes, it’s kind of a pain to figure out. But (fingers crossed) I think it is a worthwhile thing to do.

What I’m talking about here is moving from seeing our yards as outdoor rooms, and our plants as furniture to be arranged and re-arranged at a whim. Instead, I’m talking about seeing our yards as communities, or as systems. You can pull a chair out of a living room, or paint the walls a new color one day, and these changes won’t effect the the other furniture. In a living system or community, though, changes to parts of the community ripple through the whole community.

I used to buy plants to suit my needs. These needs came in two general categories. The first was the need to fulfill a limited function: “I need a bush over there to hide that section of fence.”  The second was acquisitive lust: “That plant is beautiful.  I’m going to buy it and find some place to put it.”

Both of these ways of thinking are, to go back to the first simile, very much like doing interior design. I need a curtain for this window. I found a great clock at a swap meet, and now I need to fit it into the living room. In approaching planting this way, I’m pretending that plants are inanimate objects subject to my will, and I am placing my needs ahead of theirs.

Sometimes this approach “works” and the yard looks good. What this means is that I make some right calls and the plants play along. Sometimes it doesn’t work, and the plant dies, or fails to thrive, or conversely, grows unexpectedly large and tries to take over the yard. When this happens, I cast blame around, against myself for being a poor gardener, against the soil, against the drought, against the nursery which sold the plant, against the plant itself. In all cases, though, I’m considering the plant as an isolated individual, and I’m evaluating its success or failure in myopic terms.

Now, I’m not a botanist or any other kind of “ist” and I sometimes I suspect all I know about plants would fit in a thimble. Yet I don’t think that the point of viewing the yard as a system means that I have to understand the intricacies of how the system works–I just have to respect it. That’s why I prefer the term “plant community.”

System implies something we could pick apart using logic. Community is more mysterious–it gives agency to the plants. In other words, they are doing their own thing, they have their secrets, their alliances and their agendas– and I, twitchy, chatty primate that I am, can only understand a little of what goes on in their elegant, sessile world.

If I’ve learned anything recently, from books like Planting, from talking to Masanobu Fukuoka’s student Larry Korn, and from hearing Suzanne Simard speak, from studying the aboriginal idea of the kinship of all things is that we should be humble before plants. As Fukuoko-san said, we know nothing. Starting from a place of humility, I’m trying to find a new path. I’m trying to develop a new relationship with plants, and as a result, a new approach to landscaping. This is the path of the post-wild.

New paths often run rough. Meanwhile, the lawn n’ shrub is a path worn into smoothness. In fact, it is a rut.

So yes, learning to view the yard as a community takes some mind stretching and extra work. We are changing the lens by which we view our relationship to the natural world. (Dare I say we are becoming wise?)

This is work, but it is rewarding, because as we engage with this process, we realize that we’re a part of the community, too.  Instead of being a petty overlord, mowing and blowing the world into submission, we are partnering with the life in the yard to make the world a better place. Re-connection with nature is its own reward, because lets face it, it’s lonely being a despot.