13 December 2009

PS re palm nuts (and Robert Frost)

I am reading a biography of Robert Frost at the moment (Robert Frost: A life, by Jay Parini. William Heinemann, London, 1998. ISBN 043400166X), in which the author reassesses the life and work of "the only truly 'national poet' America has yet produced". It's a big read, at 500 pages, but really splendid and with as much detail about most of the important poems – no fewer than 161 poems reviewed and/or quoted from, sometimes at length, with information about where and when they were written, what the catalyst was (if known) etc. – as about the people.

Opening the book this morning, after writing last night's piece about my troublesome palm nuts, I couldn't help but ponder how in one of RF's notebooks the little annoyance of nature I blogged about would have morphed into a sonnet or some other poetic form, with one of those quietly, sometimes deadly, aphorisms in the last line or two: e.g. "And they, since they / Were not the one dead, turned to their affairs."(Out, Out – ); or "I took the one less traveled by, / And that has made all the difference"(The Road Not Taken); or "And miles to go before I sleep, / And miles to go before I sleep" (Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening). Or maybe something as rueful as the closing lines of Reluctance, where, as Parini writes, "frustrated hopes are mirrored in a dying landscape":
     Ah, when to the heart of man
          Was it ever less than treason
     To go with the drift of things,
          To yield with a grace to reason,
     And bow and accept the end
          Of a love or a season?

12 December 2009

Pet palm peeves

I never actually decided that this will be a gardening blog! I figure after a few months I will settle on some kind of organising motif, and then start being a bit more disciplined in my entries. Until then, I go with the flow...
Now this is not a particularly impressive corner of my garden. That's my studio-office in the background, one of my favourite spots – a cosy snug little room in winter, as all the walls and ceiling are wonderfully insulated (thanks mainly to neighbour Robbi, who refitted the original cedar garage for me more than ten years ago now), and a nicely shaded and comfy room in summer, too, with airconditioning as an option on truly awful days when there's work to be done, the weather is sticky-hot and an afternoon nap is out of the question.

The reason I'm sharing this view here, though, is because those awful messy palms (Alex's, I think) are the bane of my life. There are three of them in that patch of garden on the left. And OK, they do provide some good shade on hot afternoons, since they lie just west of the studio (whose little paned window on this side is out of view here). And yes, I once saw a lovely little sugar glider sail into the top of one of them on a summer's evening, to feast on the flowerheads up in the top. But mainly, their canopies are the preserve of fruit bats, who just recently left a trail of awful dollops on a sun umbrella out the back, so I'm down on fruit bats at the moment too. Otherwise, these tall old palms are just an abomination, trailing down messy fronds on all sides, which are too high to get at for cutting down, and that don't actually fall until they've hung there for several seasons. And then they come crashing down indiscriminately, sometimes flattening favorite things underneath. Even now, I have a Mt Everest of these dead fronds piled up at the bottom of the paddock, waiting to be burned once the wet season makes that safe. And don't mention compost, because it would take 10 acres of open land to successfully compost the amount of palm fronds that fall out of my palms every year. And right now, the palm nearest this path is dropping onto the pathway several kilograms of palm nuts every day – big yellow marbles almost the size of golf balls. So walking down the path can be life-threatening, especially for AH whose footing is not that sure anyway. I sweep up at least one large bucket of the balls every day. In years past I would hire someone to get up and cut down these nut clusters before they fell. But now the trees are so tall that no one wants to go up there on a lean-to ladder. And of course, as with many areas of my oh-so-interesting garden, there's no easy access for substantial vehicles, like hydraulic lifters for chainsaw-wielding maniacs or those giant pencil-sharpener engines that eat up tree trunks and spit out green compost. If there were, I'd soon be cutting down just about all the overgrown palms dotted around the hillside between house and garden areas below. These were all planted by the German retiree who built this place 22 years ago – the same guy who put in singapore daisy as groundcover. (Say no more, right?)

There, that's my grizzle for the day. Maybe I need another label called 'old lady gripes'. Or, like Sister NB, a pot in which to collect a coin for every grizzle on at least one day a week. No, don't encourage me.

07 December 2009

Mysterious Xieng Khouang


Watch this space for more stories about living, working and travelling in Laos.

A balcony garden in Vientiane

I sat down today to start work on some entries about our years in Laos. I thought I would first scroll through some of my hundreds of photos, to see what visual material I might want to share with you. But the first photos I came across were these, of our little balcony garden in our Vientiane apartment. It seems I can't get away from plants and gardens, even when living in a 6th-floor apartment with just a couple of little balconies as my share of the South-East Asian outdoors. The 'nursery' in Vientiane where I bought most of my plants was a wonderful street of open-air plant stalls, most specialising in one or two varieties and all staffed by helpful and knowledgeable growers.
Getting information from these stallkeepers (mostly older women) was sometimes problematic unless they spoke a bit of English or French to complement my basic Lao (which didn't extend much beyond 'How much is that?', 'Very beautiful' and a reasonable fluency in numbers going up into the thousands – at that time, the US dollar was equivalent to about 10,000 of the local 'kip', so fluency in the thousands was essential). The service was wonderful, of course, as it was in most commercial venues and markets we visited on our weekend shopping excursions. Merchants had in-depth knowledge of their products, and nothing was too difficult. In the case of pot plants, for example, if you selected a plant and then a decorative pot – or even if you brought along your own pot, purchased elsewhere – the stallkeeper was only too happy to dart around the back and repot the plant for you. No charge for potting soil, of course –  not that such a thing actually existed. No self-respecting Lao gardener would dream of paying anyone for dirt! But the rich soils of this city on the banks of the Mekong, replenished annually by all that wonderful stuff flooding down from the upcountry mountains, needed very little help from chemicals. Besides, our cleaning woman liked nothing better than to potter around on the balcony all morning. We and a dapper elderly Japanese man two floors down were the only residents in this building full of 'falang' (foreigners) who bothered to grow anything. It made for a polite bow of recognition whenever we would meet that gentleman in the lift, but our cleaning woman was determined we would not be shown up.
When we settled in for our two-year job in Laos, we had tossed up the pros and cons of apartment living vs renting a house somewhere in the suburbs. But since I was working a good 10 or more hours a day, and travelling often to remote districts to monitor project activities, we opted for as simple a daily lifestyle as possible when in town. Probably just as well, or I'm sure I'd have spent too many hours I could ill afford tending a lush garden such as those maintained by the families of our Lao friends.Will I ever again grow a lotus as lovely as this one? Bo pin yang (i.e. 'never mind'). The memory of it will always be with me.

About me

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I started this blog in 2009 when I became a full-time caregiver. My husband had been diagnosed a few years earlier with primary progressive aphasia. Over the next four years until his death in 2013, we went on a journey of discovery about this rare condition. My blog is about what I learned, how we both coped and how the journey deepened our love and appreciation of each other. Allen’s journey is over, but mine goes on.