Archives for posts with tag: friendship

HORTICULTURAL DIVIDE

When I met Maureen I wondered how long it would take for the seed of our friendship to germinate. Each seed has its own period of readiness; if it doesn’t sprout and grow roots within a certain length of time, the embryo inside will die. A maple, for instance, needs to take root within two weeks while a lotus plant can remain dormant for two thousand years and still spring to life in an instant under the right conditions. It seems to depend on the thickness of the seed coat, that protective barrier that keeps nourishment from reaching the inside. A thin seed coat needs only water and light to initiate growth while a thick coat needs something called “scarification”, any process of breaking or scratching the skin to make it permeable.

Farmers have learned that they don’t have to wait on nature to soften seed coats, they can scarify seeds by soaking them in concentrated sulfuric acid. But this is a dangerous practice, particularly for the inexperienced. Vinegar is safer but it’s far less effective. I, however, knowing so little about farming, am reluctant to force anyone’s growth, so I wait.

I had told Maureen early on that I wanted to know her. I felt an immediate connection with her and I imagined our late night phone calls, the endless discussions of movies and theater and politics and books and relationships. I had hopes that she would become the sister I never had and always longed for, that we might develop an unspoken bond of siblings where whole worlds are contained inside of momentary glances and stifled laughter. She said that she was a little afraid of me, that it wasn’t so easy for her to expose herself, that maybe she needed, “I don’t know, wine, pot, time” to soften the barrier that kept her so hidden. I halfheartedly joked that I would not wedge myself into the cracks too quickly but that I’d bring wine, pot and time with me when I visited.

I sat across from her and she melted in an instant as if she had always been waiting to do so. I asked her intimate questions that she readily answered despite her discomfort. She said she trusted me and seemed to feel unburdened as she allowed her deepest feelings to reach out for air and sunlight. But each seed has only a limited amount of energy. If it is buried too deeply and expends all its energy before reaching the surface, it will not grow.

Though I would prefer not having to wait two thousand years for our friendship to take root, I think of Maureen as a lotus plant. I sense that there is an astonishing flower within her that wants only to burst forth and fully open.

The lotus is the only plant to fruit and flower simultaneously after it emerges from the muddy depths of a swamp or pond and reaches the waterline. It is this ability to rise above the darkness that makes humans, throughout millennia, equate the lotus with the Buddha Nature or Christ Consciousness. Lotus blooms, which open at night, are considered sacred and have the highest vibration of any flower. To use their essence as a natural therapeutic treatment encourages a gentle unfolding of one’s potential. But what encourages the gentle unfolding of the lotus? Under what conditions does the thick skin of the lotus seed give way to its own growth? These are questions I wish I could ask my new friend but she’s retreated into silence, perhaps even dormancy. And because I am unfamiliar with the care and feeding of this particular plant, it’s hard for me to tell if it’s germinated and growing, but simply hasn’t flowered because it’s still in its first year of life.

I’ve asked around. Everyone who knows about its tender habits and sense of timing says that to be patient with the flowering lotus is well worth the wait. So I do my best to remain optimistic.

I don’t have a lot of plants in my garden, I don’t collect them and discard them at will, what I have has been carefully chosen and all of it well tended. I like that friendships, the good ones, must be cultivated and nourished, weeded and fertilized, and even sometimes clipped back to encourage new growth. My friendships, the good ones, are vital to me because it is through my friends that I feel myself connected to a larger whole. Naturalist John Muir once said, “When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.” I wonder if the opposite is true: if I tug at the world, will I find it attached to Maureen? I am reluctant to try in case John Muir is wrong, and in case the roots of this friendship are too fragile to sustain tugging.

I once had a profoundly sad experience with a gardenia plant. My grandmother liked gardenias best, their delicate white flowers, their gentle, pleasing fragrance. I never met my grandmother, she died before I was born, but through my mother’s stories of her I have always felt her strong presence nourishing my ecosystem, the way that dead trees in an old growth forest enrich the soil and provide sustenance for the next generation.

At the nursery, I chose a hardy gardenia with tight flowers poised to bloom. I read the instructions carefully and kept moving the budding shrub around the yard until I had settled on the perfect location. As soon as I removed it from its pot and put it in the ground, it died. I didn’t know that gardenias flourish in acidic soil, which apparently mine wasn’t. I didn’t know that it’s best to keep them in their own container where you can closely monitor the condition of the soil.

The gardenia is notorious for needing considerable maintenance. Nonetheless, I was heartbroken. There’s a responsibility I feel to the planet when I make the conscious decision to acquire and care for one of its offspring, and after the death of this particular gardenia, I felt as though I’d failed at something basic and had let my grandmother down. It was hard realizing that her representation wasn’t going to be a part of my life either.

In these months of silence, I’ve asked myself, how had I failed Maureen? What part of her soil did I neglect to understand and nourish? Sometimes it feels silly caring so much. Like when I pulled the gardenia out of the ground by its dead roots. It’s just a gardenia. There are a hundred more all lined up on the shelf at Home Depot.

The truth is, I was afraid that it would happen again. Even if I tended the soil, even if I fertilized with blood meal, even if I supplemented with plenty of organic matter, it was entirely possible that I could do everything right and still not be able to raise a gardenia to maturity. Plants are unpredictable. Despite the volumes of information written about each genus and temperature zone, a plant has its own life cycle, its own requirements, its own habits. And not only am I limited in my skill, I’m also limited by outside forces beyond my control. The neighbor’s dog, for instance, kept jumping over the fence and peeing on the lavender, the roses, the forsythia, the calendula. Dead spots appeared in the grass. After months of random urination, only the cactuses remained green and healthy. I hadn’t know about the athletic ability and bladder capacity of the dog next door but when I finally witnessed it myself, I resented that all my hard-earned work could be shat upon in an instant when I wasn’t looking. Oh, the silence of the plant kingdom. All of this could have been avoided with a little better communication.

Which brings me back to the flowering lotus. Apparently, as they develop, these miraculous plants filter and purify the surrounding water, sometimes even making it transparent. Some people believe that the more muddy the water, the more beautiful the flower will be when it arrives.

Now that’s something I’d like to see.


(This story is part of a continuing series, An Assault in Venice. Part 1 starts here.)


Jeanette had moved from Washington, DC, by way of Ohio University where she earned a master’s degree in film studies. She arrived in Los Angeles ready to launch her career as a film director after more than a decade stage managing regional theater. My neighbors, Rob and Amy, held a barbecue in her honor knowing full well that what Jeanette cherished above all else was a sense of community.

Rob and Amy lived in the duplex next to mine. We shared a wall, a yard and a palpable affection layered with dimensions—length, depth, breadth. We grew herbs and vegetables, we composted our waste, we ate like epicureans, and we enjoyed fine wine by candlelight, firelight or starlight. We believed in the idea that only the right things happen. We asked deep questions and attempted to answer them, and when we couldn’t, we’d divine meaning from both sensible and absurd sources, measuring each with equal weight. In a place where people came carrying big, artistic dreams, ours was an enclave of the idyllic, framed by a mosaic tile garden that was literally a work of art. Raised flowerbeds ringed the perimeter, a maze of concrete benches rose up from a tapestry of colored cement, and a towering fig tree in a vase of stone proclaimed its status as centerpiece.

From the moment Jeanette entered our beachside haven, she immediately knew that she’d arrived. I had been the one to tell her that our landlord was moving his graphic design business out of the converted garage and preparing it as a rental unit. I urged her to wait while he completed the renovation, not knowing that it would fall far behind schedule. Still, Jeanette was convinced that this was her new home. She spent months sleeping on various couches, including mine, while her tiny oasis was being prepared for her. When she finally moved in, she lived there for fifteen days.
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(This story is part of a continuing series, An Assault in Venice. Part 1 starts here.)

I don’t watch standard TV “procedurals.” I don’t like the format where a crime is introduced, investigated and then solved in 42 minutes (minus commercials). Life doesn’t work like that. Sometimes the bad guy never gets caught. Sometimes shit happens that’s caused by shitty people and the shit never hits the fan for them (so to speak).

Unfortunately, this is the story of a crime left unpunished, and the damage remains.

I don’t watch shows like CSI or Cold Case but I sure know a lot more now than I did then. I know that when two people have an encounter like Jeanette did with her attacker, there is always an exchange of DNA. There was DNA in that room, and I naively thought someone would collect it. I don’t know why they didn’t. I don’t know if it was simply a different time with insufficient technology. I don’t know if the LAPD is so saddled with crimes that they can’t fully investigate all of them. I don’t know if only murders get the once-over with a fine-toothed comb. I can only tell you that if I knew then what I know now, I would have either tried to collect DNA evidence myself or hired someone to do it for me. And I would have really used Cagney as my partner. The truth is, I was probably lead detective on this case, and if I’d know how or if I’d known that I could, I would have driven this train in a very different way.

I don’t have regrets, but I do have lingering questions.
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(This story is part of a continuing series based on my adventures walking 500 miles across Northern Spain on the ancient pilgrimage route El Camino de Santiago. The first part begins here.)

March 18, 2005
Day 19: Hospital del Orbigo to Santa Catalina, 28.9 km/18 m

Simon and I were up and ready with the sun. As I was making breakfast, Manfred joined us, his hair askew, his eyes slanted from sleep. He was still hobbling, and he thrust himself into the chair as if the music had stopped and he didn’t want to be caught standing. He admitted that he had attempted too much, and he was going to take the day off, hang back, rest, travel more slowly to Compostela. He hung his head in shame as he spoke, which made me sad. Walking the Camino is not a competition. Perhaps that was the realization he had come to. Or would come to.

I said goodbye to Manfred, knowing I would not see him again, and Simon and I left together. We walked through the woods in silence, and when we came to the old Roman bridge at the edge of town, we found the note that Manfred and I had left for Simon the night before. Although he’d not seen it, he had decided to stay at the remote refuge anyway. It was kismet that kept bringing him to me, I thought.

Out of Hospital del Orbigo, the landscape began to roll again with gentle hills, and we moved up and down through the sparse landscape toward Astorga. The sun arrived and the temperature climbed to 70 degrees. For the first time, my jackets were both stuffed into my pack, and my sleeves were rolled up.


Simon, with his careful eye and expert camera, logged our journey on film while I wrote down scattered thoughts in my journal.

The villages in Spain are dying. Old people with sad eyes and so little. The Camino can’t sustain them. I see why it is moving closer to the roads; there may be no refuges to support the pilgrims at some point.

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(This story is part of a continuing series based on my adventures walking 500 miles across Northern Spain on the ancient pilgrimage route El Camino de Santiago. The first part begins here.)

March 22, 2005
Day 23: O’Cebreiro to Sarria, 47.7 km/29.6 m

I awoke to the early morning beauty of O’Cebreiro and a stunning river of fog that trickled through the mountains. The town had marked my entrance into Galicia, and it was clear that it shared the Gaelic traditions of Ireland and Scotland. Despite being surrounded by the cutest round, stone houses with their straw rooftops and the endless shop windows advertising delightful wares, I was eager to hit the road and take advantage of what promised to be a dry day. I had a quick and nearly flat 6-mile jaunt that rose slightly to the second highest peak on the Camino, and then it was all downhill for another 20 miles or so.

RiverOfFog
My body had once again miraculously repaired itself during my 10 hours of deadened, uninterrupted sleep. I certainly hadn’t expected to put in another long day after the beating of yesterday, but the views that floated along with the river were so amazing that I couldn’t stop myself from ambling across the uncluttered countryside. The biting, bitter cold pressed into me, aided by a ferocious wind, but the absence of rain felt like a blessing. I burrowed into my coat but kept my head up, delighted.

pilgrim
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