Carl Sandburg’s “Honey and Salt”

From a typed-out collection of poems given to me in 1966 that I excavated fom my attic yesterday: this excerpt from the title poem of Honey and Salt  (1963) by Carl Sandburg [1878-1967]:

          How long does love last?
As long as glass bubble handled with care
or two hot-house orchids in a blizzard
or one solid immovable steel anvil
tempered in sure inexorable welding –
or again love might last as
six snowflakes, six hexagonal snowflakes,
six floating hexagonal flakes of snow
or the oaths between hydrogen and oxygen
in one cup of spring water
or the eyes of bucks and does
or two wishes riding upon the back of a
morning wind in winter
or one corner of an ancient tabernacle
held sacred for personal devotions
or dust yes dust in a little solemn heap
played on by changing winds.

William Gibson’s “A Gift of Suns”

Poking around in my attic this afternoon, I unearthed a notebook of assorted materials I had typed up or copied beginning in the late 1960s – fifty years ago! These apparently were longer pieces that wouldn’t comfortably fit onto the set of index cards that eventually became my Commonplace Book.

Among  what was mostly poems written by various famous and obscure poets (some of which I will post later on), I ran across a copy I’d made of a chapter from A Mass for the Dead (Atheneum, 1968), an unusual memoir written by the award-winning playwright William Gibson. 

I read this unforgettable book in 2001, after reading thuderous praise for it written by James Mustich, Jr., the editor of a monthly mail order book catalog called The Common Reader.

I was one of many thousands of Mustich’s fans, and for as long as he published The Common Reader – from 1986 to 2008 – we devoured every precious issue for its alarmingly persuasive descriptions of books Mustich felt were little-known and underappreciated. Via his Akadine Press, Mutisch republished some of the books he had rescued from obscurity, and I was so taken with the copy of  A Mass for the Dead that I’d obtained from my branch library that I bought a copy of Mutish’s 1996 reprint. 

I don’t remember exactly when or why I chose to copy Chapter 26 of Gibson’s book, but I’m certainly glad I did. Perhaps your reading of this single, short chapter will garner Gibson’s haunting memor another appreciative reader?

 

“A Gift of Suns”

Grace be unto you and peace, children, gentle readers, myself or whomever it concerns, for it is not altogether clear to me which of us I am addressing in this long meditation of that which was from the beginning, nor does it matter.

That I address others who will not read I know by recalling the week in which I pledged it. In a tiny bedroom of my sister’s house, where my mother lay dying and I sat with the gates of my soul so strangely open, I was leafing through a book of common prayer when a line stopped my eye – “I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, Write, From henceforth blessed are the dead, for they rest from their labors” – and I thought indeed I would write, but no such lie, her labors were the fiber and sustenance of my mother’s life, and she took a dim view of rest. Some weeks later, n my workroom with her mementoes and missal, I saw this verse was in fact the epistle in the mass for the dead, and certainly it is to the dead also that I write, whom it no longer concerns.

Born, labored, died, and interred now in a perpetual rest of which they know nothing, why on earth should I write blessed are the dead? That the extinction we must come to is the bitterest fact of our existence is no news; after the first espial of death some terror of it is in every brain like a fretful grain of sand, and around it man has created many pearls of wisdom, mostly false; one is that consciousness is an affliction. I have been lucky as my kin were, average citizens in a plentiful land, and in my remembering of that which was from the beginning, which I have heard, which I have seen with my eyes, I cannot put down that any of them begged to be delivered out of this vale of tears I think our history is worth the telling because it is so ordinary, and it contains no suicide; none of us but, like most men, took in every breath possible. Hemorrhaging and in pain for weeks, my father on his deathbed still wanted to live, and banged on a wall with his bleeding fist that he could not. My mother in her last house, impatient to quit a life wherein she could labor no more, murmured not a word to disaffirm her love of this world; I overheard her thanks for it the day after I read of the voice from heaven, and it was her phrase, so much wholer in acceptance, that impelled me to write. Seeing my parents dead in coffins, I could have thought them blessed only in that their flesh was incapable of my grief, which is no pearl except of pity for self.

The truth is our wisdom sets my teeth on edge. By everything I know, the death of the animal is fortuitous, meaningless, and total; insofar as man, a maker meanings, is at the utmost stretch of his talent to bestow upon his dying a purpose, I wish him luck in it.; but when each meaning he arrives at is used by him to multiply the deaths it consoles him for, I think I am living among lunatics Is the decomposition of the flesh hideous? It is a door to the light beyond, said the priests of infinite love, let us kill all who think otherwise. Is our life brief as the grass? We are immortal in the glory of the empire, said the bearers of every flag, let us die to plant it in another place. Saints, patriots, bards, which of them in the name of a greater life has not counselled us to kill and die? From the day I was born I was taught, against the yearning in my bowels for the sun, that I should consent to my death for the illusions believed of my elders; and in all the battlecries of the world, honor, order, liberty, valor, justice, duty, faith, I heard a baaing of sheep, as ignorant as I of what the sounds in their throats meant.

Children, I write this epistle to a punctuation of incendiary bombs my neighbors vote to let fall, as seeds of freedom, upon the heads of children no older than you. I am by trade a maker of fiction, but no word of mine is so counterfeit as the myths by which men who kill and die will ask you to live; the world is a windbag of pieties, that in each age blows multitudes like you into its graves, and weeps over them as blessed. Its touchstone of greatness is bloodletting, Saul hath slain his thousands and David his ten thousands, and no king or president is venerable in our thoughts but like the Judas goat has marched a people under the slaughtering hammer. And beneath the baaing of trumpets and dreams, faint, the only sound I hear as fact is the death rattle of each man.

That sound is my premise. I am the elder now, I tell you my wisdom, not one of the dead is blessed; consciousness is all. I am of course less epochal of mind than the statesman, who in eulogy of the corpses that have served their purpose, his, is confident none has died in vain, well done, thou good and faithful servants; a dish I think fit for the devil is the tongue of every man who asks the power of life and death over others. I speak as that ignoble, small-minded, disaffected citizen, servant and master only of his trade, I mean the artist, joyous and haunted by time, who, making of his spittle a shape, a soul, a voice to survive, wants no interruptions by history or its heroes. Selfish and harmless, in love with my life, I tell you no more than what everyone knows, and is ashamed to live by. Consciousness is all, the sun is born in and ends in your skull; the struck match of self in our skull is all.

So much is simple. It may be pinched out in an hour, therefore, burn in this hour; it may persist a half-century, therefore, burn wisely in this hour; but burn. Yet to make of each day an end and a beginning is not simple, and what is self? I have other selves of me, flesh of my flesh, whatever I believe in is of me, and much of a man is outside his skin; men not fools will die for a fools light as their own. Then burn, believe, die, but, children, I beg you, not for the lies of statesmen, and I think it better to hide and live.

I learned these things at the deathbed of my father, between two wars; on the wall hung a poem with a pasted snapshot of his young brother’s head, blown apart in the war that began in the year of my birth, and upon the night table sat a clock ticking, ticking the irrecoverable seconds away, and at his shrunken hand a portable radio bleated its news of a worldful of sheep who predictably would soon march under the hammer of another war; I did not intend to be in their ranks.. It is a most beautiful earth we inhabit, but not in the eyeholes of the dead. So a savior knew who two thousand years ago said, A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another, and that night was betrayed. Are we less than lunatics who, aware we got into the grave at sundown, even in the failing light cannot love, but wrestle each other in? And when I remember what pains I took to hone this grievous and only jewel, my consciousness, I will not surrender it to any leader half in love with death, neither do I wear it in shame; nothing in his head is worth my life.

Daily I hear a whisper in me of the first and holiest commandment, Thou shalt not die.

Not in our time, but one day when there is silence in heaven about the space of half an hour, all the people will voice their right to live in a joyous shout, and the pillars come tumbling down. States, churches, armies, banks, schools, edifice upon edifice cemented in the blood of our bowing to the hammer, will lie in a rubble; the world will be born again as a comedy whose text is blessed are the living. In that day, great men who invite us to die for causes will charm the children as clowns in the parks, and cowardice will be in style, the ancientest virtue which preserves us, all manner of weakness be revered, and over every kindergarten door will be carved I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the Lord. Not in our time, when that primal commandment is only a whisper, served yet deviously, and in dishonor.

Well, I too shall break it, in the end, and you. Till then, little children, keep yourselves from idols, greet ye one another with an holy kiss, and let us be neither goat not sheep, but lovers of the sun, which is no fool’s light.

Abajem IV

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I just returned from spending a week on Florida’s St. George Island with eleven friends I met through an organization called Gay Spirit Visions.

GSV was established in 1990, and in 2002 a half-dozen GSVers decided to rent a house on SGI for a week. Chase Robinson has taken care of reserving a rental house each year, and the house-renting group (whose participants vary each year) eventually doubled its size.  The group has rented a half dozen different houses over the years; this was my fourth consecutive year vacationing with these guys on SGI, all four of them spent at the enormous and luxurious “Abajem.”

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As in previous years, the week consisted of hanging out with each other in various combos, either on the beach or within sight of it. Besides enjoying the camaraderie. the conversations, the shared meals, and the spectacular scenery, a large part of the wonderfulness of the week is enjoying an extended break from our respective routines – as well as, for some of us, a break from the relentless aggravations we normally import into our brains via our Internet connections, our phones, and our voluntary tethers to other mass media.

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Although three of us who went to SGI this year live in various towns in North Carolina, Atlanta is home for the rest of us. That means most of us get to extend our annual visits by carpooling down to and back from SGI, as well as spent time together in Atlanta between visits to the island. Although we share many of the values cherished by most GSV participants, there’s a range of ages among us, most of us are retired from our former full-time jobs, about to retire, or are semi-retired.

This year’s Abijem crew:

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Bill

 

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Bradford

 

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Chase

 

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Craig

 

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Jim

 

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Ralph (right) and Ted  (left, in sumo wrestler garb)

 

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Randall

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Roger

 

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Tom

 

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Wayne

 

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Cal (with crocheted cap and flower courtesy Jim)

Our time together on the island is deliberately and gloriously unstructured, but our indoor and outdoor lolling about is punctuated not only by almost nonstop banter and hilarious commentary, but by our taking turns preparing evening meals, silently meditating together each morning, exchanging massages, playing card games (well, actually playing multiple rounds of a single card game: Wizards), intermittently working (alone or together) at various crafts, reading, taking naps, watching a DVD or two, eating in small groups at various restaurants, or driving across the bridge into the nearby town of Appalachicola to visit its shops and galleries. Some of us avail ourselves of Abijem’s swimming pool and/or its hot tub, and Chase provides kayaks, kites, and bicycles. Some of us get up every morning to watch the sun rise over the ocean, and this year our visit coincided with a full moon.

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“Mermaid Barbie” was a permanent feature this year in Bradford’s various tablescapes, which included (among other items, and on various days) painted shells, botanical specimens collected from the island, toy submarines, and a pair of lava lamp-like lighting fixtures.

 

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Mealtime appetizer.

 

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For the second time, Jim (aka Mr. Patience) taught Calvin how to crochet!

 

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Cal losing yet another round of Wizards. Jim crocheted the Wizard’s Hat.

 

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This year, hot on the trail of the the strolling sumo wrestlers was…

 

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…Godzilla!

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Tea time at Abijem, for the humans…

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...and snack time for the birds.

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Randall’s photo of some of the seashells we painted with color markers 

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Sunrise over the ocean.

 

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Lighthouse at St. George

 

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Souvenirs of this year’s visit: samples of our painted shells, a hibiscus flower, and a teddy bear.

 

As I had with with my three previous trips to SGI with these kindhearted, affectionate, intelligent, and creative guys, I looked forward for many months to our week together this year, and hope there’ll be many more annual rendezvouses there.

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A Botanical Decision

Atlanta-Botanical-Gardens Entrance

This past Sunday, I visited the Atlanta Botanical Garden for what I assumed would be my last visit for quite a while. My annual membership was expiring that day, and having not used my membership to make more than a couple of trips to the Garden over the past year, I’d decided not to renew it.

Somewhere in the middle of my Sunday morning stroll through the Garden, however, I changed my mind. I ended up plunking down $75 to extend my free admission to the Garden for another 365 days.

What changed my mind was not only the hope (resolve?) to visit the Garden more often in the coming twelve months, but how magical the Garden seemed to me during each of my most recent visits.

Ever since the Garden was established back in 1976, I have been impressed with its design. As the acreage of the place has steadily expanded over the past four decades, the design of the Garden’s new territories has continued to be imaginative and appealing. So much so that that I’ve come to believe that the ABG should rank among the best botanical gardens in the country.  (I’m not the only person with this opinion.)

In addition to marveling at the Garden’s overall excellent layout – including the design of its most recent expansion, the May 6th opening of its new “Skyline Garden” – I’ve also been impressed with the Garden’s continuing parade of special exhibitions, including two spectacular installations of Chihuly glass sculptures and its annual year-end holiday light show. (Not so impressive is the irritating fact that admission to the annual light show isn’t included in the annual membership fee. Ditto parking at the deck inside the Garden: that also costs extra.)

What makes every visit to the Atlanta Botanical Garden “magical” for me, however, isn’t the special installations, but the imaginatively-designed – and often wonderfully smelling! – permanent walkways through the garden’s creative mixtures of familiar and exotic plantings, often featuring fountains, pools, or tiny waterfalls. It is so pleasant to spend a few hours every so often ambling through this urban oasis. Wandering along the forested parts of the Garden, it’s easy to forget you’re walking in the middle of a major city. Biking to Piedmont Park, where the Garden is located, via the Atlanta Beltline, is a particularly refreshing way to make one’s visit a special occasion.) The Garden’s multiple, constantly-branching paths enable visitors to create a different route through the Garden on every visit.

Some of the Garden’s pathways meander through shady areas, others cross or border sunny courtyards or lawns,  and some of the most interesting  paths are located inside the Garden’s enormous conservatories.  Every outdoor path is punctuated with comfortable benches featuring a pleasant view (some of them as excellent for people-watching as for gazing at plantings. And for a while now, the Garden has featured an (affordable) glass-walled restaurant smack in the middle of the grounds.

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In addition to the Garden’s obligatory and gorgeous (if disappointingly pricey) gift shop, there’s also a botanical library that I’ll want to explore during some weekday – the library is, alas, closed on weekends.

Another rationale for supporting the Garden by buying a membership is the fact that the Garden’s provides plenty of inspiration (and, because of the plant labels and sometimes unexpected plant combos, helpful information) for one’s home gardening activities (and ambitions). Whenever I visit the Garden, I invariably see some plant I’d like to find for my own modest garden.

If you haven’t ever been to the Atlanta Botanical Garden, or haven’t been recently, now would be a good time to do that. Its current installation, “The Curious Garden,” is yet another successful experiment in melding art and botany in a delightful, thought-provoking way. Who knew that dozens of dead trees painted pastel colors and plunked down amidst living plantings could be so stunning?

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Power Outage Episode; Or, Another Unscheduled Gratitude Reminder

When a fallen limb knocked out the power to my house last week, it wasn’t the first time that I’d had to temporarily forego having electricity in my house. But it was certainly the longest I’ve ever been without electricity, and the most convoluted such episode.

The details of what ensued over the next several days seem comical now, but they were somewhat stressful (and certainly inconvenient) at the time. Here’s how things unfolded from the beginning:

Thursday, March 9th: Wind and rain throughout the night

Friday, March 10th: Around mid-morning while working in my study at the back of the house, I suddenly hear a loud muffled sound, which I assume to one of the many piles of Stuff in the Attic falling over. A little later when fetching myself a second cup of tea, I notice through the glass in my kitchen door that a rosebush I’ve trained to wind around the pole that connects the power wires from the street to my house is now blocking the door! I open the door to find the power mast has been ripped from the side of the house and is lying on the walkway to the side porch door.

Michael's photo of power outage

Using my front door to walk around the house to investigate, I am immediately confronted with a limb that had broken off from a neighbor’s tree and fallen across my power line.

All of this is a complete surprise, since, despite the now-seriously-drooping power line and the fallen mast, inside the house I’ve still got lights, heat, etc.

With some difficulty (and great stupidity), I manage to haul the limb off the still-working power line and into my front yard, thus unblocking the walkway.

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I phone the power company and they tell me (a) it was very dangerous for me to have hauled the limb off the fallen power line (“Don’t ever do that again, sir!”) and (b) it’s my responsibility to hire an electrician to get the ripped-off power mast back onto my house, and (c) to call back when my electrician arrives, so they can turn off the power before he repairs the mast.

There ensues a flurry of phone calls trying to coordinate an electrician’s soonest available arrival time with the power company’s. (Both are backlogged, coping with other people’s power outages that had resulted from the same storm.)

Saturday, March 11th: I leave my house for various appointments that will take all day, annoyed that I must thread my way through a thorny rosebush to get to my car, but grateful that when I return home I’ll still have power, hot water, Internet access, and – most importantly because it is very cold that day – heat! As I leave the house, I neglect to notify my neighbor (with whom I share a driveway) that All Is Well, Do Not Freak Out about the Downed Power Mast That Looks So Dangerous, Everything Is Under Control.

I blithely drive off to another part of town to attend a half-day calligraphy workshop and then drive directly from the workshop to another part of town to co-conduct an oral history interview at the interviewee’s home. Not once do I check my phone for messages.

Meanwhile, unbeknownst to me, my neighbor has gotten up, noticed the dangerous-looking situation across the driveway, and begins phoning and texting me. Since I’m not checking my phone all day long, I miss every one of his ever-more-urgent messages.

The well-meaning neighbor, unable to reach me, decides the wisest thing to do is phone the power company and report what he’s seen. Power company comes to my house and cuts off the power, leaving me a notice of What Needs to Be Done Before Company Will Agree to Restore Power.

Cal arrives home early evening to find he’s got zero electricity, zero hot water, zero refrigeration in my refrigerator or freezer, zero Internet, and, most seriously, zero heat.

Cal phones friend Charles, who (unlike many of Cal’s other friends) lives a mere mile away, to ask if Cal can crash at Charles’s house for the evening. Charles generously agrees.

More phone calls to electrician and power company are made, each call involving fighting my way through those infuriating recorded phone menus. I also phone my internet service provider: the internet cable wire has also come unmoored from the side of the house, and the power company and electrician tell me they are not allowed to to re-connect it. I also phone my home insurance rep. (Eventually, Cal also makes yet another phone call, to reschedule from Monday to Wednesday a planned rendezvous 15 miles away to show his pickup truck to a prospective buyer. Best re-scheduling decision Cal makes all day!)

Sunday, March 12th: Another frigid day. Cal spends another night at Charles’s.

Monday, March 13th: Electrician arrives at 8:30am. Encountering various mechanical problems, he doesn’t complete his repairs until shortly before 5pm. Since power company can’t come out to restore power until the following day, Cal spends a third night at Charles’s. (We end up playing multiple games of Scrabble all these nights I’m staying at his house.)

Tuesday, March 14th: Power company arrives in early afternoon to restore power. Hurray! Lights and water heater and computer now functional again. Internet service rep arrives late afternoon to re-connect Internet wire to house. Ditto the house insurance company rep, who, much to my astonishment, writes me a check for over $700 to defray the costs of the wiring repair.

Wednesday, March 15th: Cal’s HVAC system stops working. What? I had heat before the power outage, but now there isn’t any. Cal frantically calls HVAC repair guy. He can’t send someone out for repairs until until the following day. The good news: temperatures have climbed high enough for Cal to spend the night at home instead of at Charles’s.

Thursday, March 16th: HVAC repairman arrives at, climbs into attic, repairs the 24-year-old furnace. (A rubber tube had gotten clogged.) Heat restored!

Cal then embarks on trying to catch up on a week-long backlog of emails and Facebook posts. I decide to reorganize the utility closet that I had to empty out so the electrician could work in there. I arrange another rendezvous (on March 20th at 7am) with the electrician, as he forgot to replace the cover to my fuse box when he was here. I do a boat-load o’ accumulated laundry. I do what I can to salvage the mangled rosebush.

The good news is that throughout this exasperating episode of having all my usually-taken-for-granted domestic comforts and routines disrupted, I didn’t, this time, lose sight of how lucky I was that things weren’t worse! I was merely viscerally – rather than theoretically – reminded of how dependent most of us are on our society’s electricity infrastructure to keep us comfortable.

A few of my gratitude-related realizations:

  • I own a house that, 99.9% of the time, is equipped with electricity and other easily-taken-for-granted mod cons, like hot water. Not everyone is so lucky – either to own a house or to take for granted mostly continuously-available electricity.
  • I live in a part of the country where a power outage in cold weather is an inconvenience, not a life-threatening situation.
  • Even after the limb first came down, I had continued to enjoy a full day of electricity service. I could take a hot shower, I could sleep in my own bed in my own heated bedroom, I could work on my computer, the lights in my house came on when I needed them to, I could heat up water for a cup of ice tea, I could warm up a frozen waffle in in my toaster.
  • I have friends willing to let me stay with them in an emergency. Several of those friends, like Charles, happen to be neighbors as well – an unusual fact in this sprawling city where friends can live many miles away.
  • Charles, like me, loves to play Scrabble. (What if he were a fanatic television-watcher, or had a dog resents strangers, or didn’t have a spare bedroom, or had been out of town when my power went kaput?)
  • I own a working vehicle that could transport me to and from Charles’s house. Actually, two working vehicles. Actually (until I sell my pickup truck – one of the chores I was working on when the power went out), three working vehicles.
  • With my retirement savings, from working at a job I mostly enjoyed for over thirty years (vs., say, a job I hated or was laid off from), I can afford to pay my electric bills, my internet service bills, and all my other bills, including the fuel and repair bills for my (three) working vehicles. I can afford to pay someone to repair a broken heating system. Not all Earth residents, not even all American citizens, not even everyone living in Atlanta, Georgia are so fortunate.
  • I was able to cope with getting things back to normal under the constraints of a retiree’s schedule, rather than trying to cope with power-outage-related difficulties while also holding down a day job. (Coincidentally, the fourth anniversary of my retirement was March 12th. Typing out the latest set of Annual Retirement Reflections is one of the post-power-outage tasks I haven’t yet gotten around to.)
  • Although sometimes I think my iPhone may be on its last legs, I still own one of the dang things (a gift from my brother, so I didn’t even have to find the money to buy one); I can afford to purchase monthly phone service; and I had access to my phone during this entire power-outage episode.
  • I am still young enough and agile enough to clamber around on ladders repairing rose bushes, to saw up fallen tree limbs, to sweep up my yard’s walkways, etc.

Things at my house are now almost back to normal – obviously normal enough for me to sit down and write a blogpost about this recent ordeal! I still need to borrow a power saw to hack up the fallen limb that’s still lying in my front yard; there are some emails and notes I should’ve written and sent over a week ago. There’s a boat-load of laundry to do. But none of those still-pending power-outage-catch-up chores has prevented me from sleeping in my own bed for the past week, from postponing some of those pending chores to undertake a few early spring gardening tasks, or forced me to reschedule last night’s meeting at my place of a book club I belong to.

In fact, during one of the power-outage days when it warmed enough to do stuff in the house during the daytime hours, I managed to replace my dining room chairs with more comfortable chairs, and to buy (and have delivered), a glass-fronted oak china cabinet that I swapped out with an oak table in my dining room. And last Saturday I lucked onto a nearby yard sale and paid a mere $15 for what surely is at least $250 worth of large gardening pots, four trellises, and two cast-iron shepherd’s hooks! In some ways, I came out the other side of the Power Outage Episode enjoying more Domestic Bliss than the power outage found me in!

In any case, I figure it’s probably A Good Thing to be reminded periodically – as I certainly was a week ago – of how dependent I am on the mod cons that living as a retired and otherwise privileged White Guy in a First World county affords; reminded of the fact that I do have friends; and, most gratifying of all, reminded of how generous those friends can be in difficult-to-manage circumstances.

Postscript: The limb that fell back in late March remained lying in my front yard for several months. By the end of May, I still hadn’t gotten around to borrowing a saw to chop it up so I could get rid of it. On June 4th, a city government crew arrived in front of my house to take down another limb from the same tree that  (after another thunderstorm the previous evening) was threatening to fall into the middle of the street. I hauled the limb lying in my yard to the sidewalk, and the cutting crew very generously hauled it off along with the limbs they’d just cut down: a long-delayed end to the fallen limb saga!

 

 

 

 

 

Excursion to Gibbs Gardens

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Last Sunday I joined four friends for our virgin visit to Gibbs Gardens, located about an hour north of Atlanta near Ball Ground, Georgia.

I’d heard a lot about this place, and despite the fact that it’s located on my route to and from the cabin in Blue Ridge that I spend time in most months, I somehow had never gotten around to visiting.

Gibbs Gardens was established over thirty years ago but was opened to the public only in 2012. The place is huge – 220 acres of a 300-acre estate, with sixteen distinct garden areas, all connected with walking trails. Gibbs features a large variety of plantings and some magnificently designed landscaping. The gardens include:

  • possibly the largest plantings of daffodils in the United States (20 million bulbs spread over 50 acres of rolling hillsides)
  • a 40-acre Japanese garden, the country’s largest
  • the country’s largest collection of water lilies (140 varieties)
  • 32 ponds, fed by springs or running streams crossed by 24 bridges, one of them a replica of Monet’s bridge at Giverny

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The miles of walking trails meander through all sorts of plantings, and the self-guided tour includes a walkabout of the exterior of the beautiful – and gorgeously landscaped – manor house where the Gibbs family lives. (Well, when anybody’s home: the 70-something-year-old Gibbs is an avid traveler. That he generously allows visitors to tramp around the patios and porches immediately adjacent to the house must be a bit unnerving when he’s there.)

yet another manor house photo

Here’s a video (from the Gardens’ Facebook page) of what we saw on Sunday:

I wish I could report that wandering through 20 million daffodils was a Wordworthianesque peak experience, but, alas, that aspect of our tour of the gardens Gibbs was, surprisingly, a bit underwhelming. (Will the planned extravaganza of tulips that Gibbs staff has planted be similarly disappointing?) I have no explanation for why the Daffodil ramble was not more exhilarating, but there are plenty of other reasons for putting this garden on your gardens-to-tour list.

If you decide to visit, I highly recommend you arrive as early in the day as you can. This is especially important if you visit on a weekend. Otherwise, you will find yourself forced to park in a remotely located parking lot (quite a few acres of Gibbs’ property are devoted to multiple car-parks) and, once you finally get to the welcome center, you could find yourself waiting in a very long line. Better to arrive early and conserve your energy for all the walking you’ll be doing once you get your ticket.

I also recommend eating lunch at the garden’s outdoor cafe. The sandwiches and drinks are pricey (I spent $12 for a sandwich and a bottle of water), but the food is fresh and the shaded outdoor eating area is a pleasant place to rest after a morning’s worth of walking.

There’s also a gorgeous (if also pricey) gift shop:

Gibbs-Garden-gift-shop-display-683x1024

Whether or not you decide to visit Gibbs Gardens yourself, you might find this 24-minute North Carolina public television video worth watching. It includes an interview with Gibbs, who explains how the garden came to be. The video also highlights several of the different garden areas on view at Gibbs:

http://video.unctv.org/video/2289814506/

Watching this video after my visit – and reading the best of the articles about the garden that I found on the Internet – made me want to return to see the sections of the garden (such as the fern garden) that I somehow missed seeing last Sunday. I especially want to return in the fall to see the gardens’ 2,000 Japanese maples!

japanese gardens in the fall

japanese maples

Meanwhile, here’s a bunch of photos that garden visitors have posted to Instagram:

https://www.instagram.com/gibbsgardens/

For even more photos, Google Images has hundreds of them.

Directions, ticket prices (as seniors we paid $18 plus tax for a single visit; annual passes cost $70), and a list of visiting hours is available at the Gardens’ web site, www.gibbsgardens.com

Note: All of the photos included in this blogpost I obtained from a variety of sources on ye Internet.