TODAY’S LITERARY QUIZ

….through the whole period during which I was the slave of my creature, I allowed myself to be governed by the impulse of the moment

1. The creature in the preceding quote taken from a classic refers to

A. an i-phone

B. a cute little schnauzer

C. a porn site

D. none of the above

2.  Stevie Nicks is

A. an icon

B. an icon’s icon

C. an iconoclast

D. a Dickensian beggar

3.  Derek Jeter is

A. an icon

B. a paragon

C. a classic

D. a New York Yankee

3. True or false: The local police is the answer to the first question.

4. True or false: The answer to question one is pictured here:IMG_00015.  The creature’s name is _________________________.

Answer all five correctly and win prizes.  One-way tickets practically anywhere.

 

 

REFRESHMENT

Theodicy is not, as you might guess, a mash-up of theology and idiocy, though some might argue otherwise. Rather it’s a defense of the goodness of the almighty in view of the existence of evil. The persistence of evil, I might add, though good Buddhists would lower their eyelids and keep on meditating on non-duality.

From this side of enlightenment, I will nonetheless keep on my campaign of inducing the benevolence of the rain gods . As some of you know, it worked awfully well last week and though cynics might chime in, “only a half inch”, it was a half inch in September with snow on the purple mountain majesties. I took a few days off and now when I peek at the forecast for the chances of precipitation all I see in the near future is 0%. It’s clear that the gods, without persistent gentle prodding, have a tendency to nap, which for a mortal is understandable. What is more divine than a nap?

I never expected it to be easy, but I’m only now starting to realize how next to negotiating peace in the Middle East it may be the most difficult human enterprise of all, requiring vast reservoirs of diplomacy and stubbornness that aren’t in my nature. Or in most people’s. There are age-old strategies to overcome these deficiencies, as you might imagine. Icons. That word used to stand for something, though nowadays everything is called iconic, from the doggie at Doggie Diner to Donald Trump’s dye-job. Devotional images serve as conduits to the supernatural. William Dalrymple in his book Nine Lives, in Search of the Sacred in Modern India, profiles an idol carver, and there I found out that idols lose their juice over time, a short time, actually by earthy standards, unless they somehow are refreshed. In India a bath of cow’s milk often does the trick.

I’ve come to the conclusion that I need an icon, or idol, if you will. But that brings up a dilemma: which of all the rain gods, from what culture? I’ve given it some thought and made a decision: I will focus my devotion on the Egyptian rain goddess, Tefnut, for the obvious reasons. This is Faro’s Garden. Tefnut sounds like tough nut, and goddesses for the most part like to be seen as such. Riot grrrls.  So Tefnut it is.

The problem arises, where will I get a sacred icon of Tefnut? I will have to do the next best thing, engage an iconic proxy, a different goddess but surely a cousin, given their mutual Middle Eastern roots. I happen to have one in my garden. From where I sit I can glimpse her, with her arms open wide looking, it’s easy to imagine, as if she’s showering the earth with rain. She has been hidden in a thicket of ferns for a decade so I may have to do some serious refreshing. I don’t know what my chances are.

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BEFORE

 

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AFTER

This spiritual path augments, but doesn’t replace, the effusion of sweet words, so here are today’s from a short story by William Trevor called, “After Rain.” In the story Harriet, who’s traveling alone in Italy after a love-affair has ended, visits the church of Santa Fabiola and its painting of the Annunciation. She “records the details: the green fold of the angel’s dress, the red beneath it, the mark in the sky that is a dove…” Later, after a rain shower: “While she stands alone among the dripping vines she cannot make a connection that she know is there. There is a blankness in her thoughts, a density that feels like muddle also, until she realizes: the Annunciation was painted after rain. Its distant landscape, glimpsed through arches, has the temporary look that she is seeing now. It was after rain that the angel came; those first cool moments were a chosen time.”

SPURGE AND SPLURGE

Forgive me if I take a little bow. Wasn’t last night’s shower a delicious little number? The gods look favorably upon our offerings, imperfect as they are. The feeling up on the street this morning is that all sorts of venial sins are forgiven. Washed clean. Beautiful. Even my truck shines it on.

I drive across the bridge to the Dry Garden and buy lots of drought-tolerant plants for a new garden I’m installing. If that sounds like hedging my bets let me clarify. I may be shy a marble or two but I am realistic. Even if the rain gods get lavish this year, our rainforest days are over. Baja spurge is the new hydrangea.The goal of my wooing the gods is merely to persuade them into dispensing an above-average amount of rainfall this season, enough to put starch into our greensleeves for another few months, maybe years. After that, it’ll be someone else’s job. The grandchildren I don’t have. Sur moi le deluge.

At Hida Tool I buy new hedge clippers.  It’s a splurge.  My old ones could be made to be more efficient but never as gasp-inducingly sharp as these new ones. The woman who rings me up says, “It’s so nice outside today.”

Another present to myself: coming home and not going right back out to work. Get to work, get to work, the sergeant in the noggin nags, but instead of driving across town to plant the new plants I unload them onto the deck, and lock up the truck. I pick apples instead. They’re ripe; they come easily to the palm. It’s kind of work, but kind of not. I’m gathering them to keep the squirrels from getting them. The squirrels have been worse than ever, but still, one third of the refrigerator is full of apples. Pie day cometh.

Pick apples is all I have to do, and I don’t even have to do that. I wonder if it’s possible to spend a few minutes out of the sergeant’s purview. What good is beauty if you don’t experience it in your animal body? As for the rain campaign, we’ll take a day off.  Be grateful.   The gods, I suspect, relish silence as much as anybody.

SAUTEED GROUSE WITH PEACH BALSAMIC (A play in one scene)

The setting a leafy patio, lunchtime. The cast six gardeners and a rarely seen waiter.

 ANNA: I started a new job last month, a brand new garden, just installed on Potrero Hill. My client is so proud of it. She thinks it’s paradise. You can practically see the blueprint skids.

JASON: Hot tub?

ANNA: Of course. And lawn.

FARO: The drought does not pertain.

ANNA: Does it pertain anywhere in San Francisco? The only place I see it does is the median strip on Sunset Boulevard, and the neighbors are outraged.

TONY: You won’t believe what I saw yesterday. A guy washing his car.

JASON: That’s not unusual.

TONY: His car was parked on the opposite side of the street from his house, and he was standing on the sidewalk shooting water over the street.

UNISON: What an idiot.

MARCIA: I’m not doing a thing different in any of my gardens as far as watering. Are you?

FARO: Not much. But I think I should be.

JASON: That’s my spiritual practice too. I think I should be.

ANNA; I told my client right off I don’t take care of lawns. Guess what I was doing yesterday? Weed-whacking the frickin lawn.

UNISON: Why?

ANNA: She’s gone to Bali for a yoga retreat.

UNISON: Groans.

KATHERINE: Why did you take it on? Why don’t you quit?

ANNA: You know how it is, when you work for yourself you take on everything.

TONY: Work for yourself. Great concept.

JASON: I don’t. I’m selective. There’s plenty of work out there.

KATHERINE (to Anna): Do you like the client?

ANNA: She’s very nice.

JASON: I might be nice if I had a hot tub in my garden.

TONY: That’s doubtful.

ANNA: While she’s away she asked me to put three bromine tablets in the hot tub and something called oxidizing shock and then run the jets. (to Jason) It made me wonder if I’ll ever want to sit in a hot tub again.

FARO: You’re taking care of the hot tub too?

ANNA: I know, it’s ridiculous.

KATHERINE: We all do things we hate.

JASON: Like what?

KATHERINE: Trim boxwood. Pick up after the dog. Blow leaves.

ANNA & FARO: (putting fingers in ears) No, no, no, I don’t want to hear it. There is no excuse for using a blower. Ever. Blowers are evil.

JASON: Like you’ve never been tempted?

TONY: I haven’t. (to Anna) Yesterday while you were grass-whacking I was weeding a sidewalk garden on Precita when the neighbor comes out and starts blowing leaves toward the gutter, and you know he has to blow every goddam leaf. Every goddam smidgeon of every goddam leaf. Such a lovely morning and I’m immediately in a rage. I see clouds of fine dust descending all around me. I give him my death stare.

JASON: Your deadly death stare.

TONY: He doesn’t stop. I guess because it’s electric it’s okay. Finally I couldn’t stand it and walked over and said, “You’re blowing dust all over everything. Would you stop?” I even offered to sweep the sidewalk myself. I demonstrated my broom. He said, “I have to do this. Nothing else gets it clean.” And kept on.

UNISON: You eviscerated him, I hope.

KATHERINE: It would have been justifiable.

TONY: I didn’t do anything, just like I didn’t call out the guy showering his car. Whenever I get in a confrontation I feel worse after than when it began. I wish I had a different personality.

JASON: We all do, dear.

KATHERINE: Would stop picking on each other? Just because you’re boyfriends doesn’t make it fun to listen to.

JASON: I’m joking. He can take it.

MARCIA: So Anna, hot tub and lawn aside, is there anything you like about the garden?

ANNA: I liked it at first. It was very tasteful and orderly, kind of like seeing someone’s tidy closet when yours is a perpetual disaster. Then you find out what it takes, the personality traits, to be so orderly. It turns out the garden has all kinds of issues: the ferns are in too much sun, it’s got about six too many pittosporums, there are blackberries sprouting, and worst of all, bindweed popping up everywhere. What can you do about bindweed?

UNISON: Aaaagggghhhhh. Abandon hope.

FARO: When I was a kid, when my Dad plowed a field he would stop the tractor and grab a gunny sack and throw salt on every patch of bindweed he came across.

MARCIA: Did it kill it?

FARO: It stunted it. But nothing else ever grew in those spots as long as he had his land, probably still not.

TONY: Destroying the village to save it.

FARO: Yep.

KATHERINE: What’s the matter with pittosporum? I thought it was a good choice. It’s drought tolerant.

JASON: Bambino. Pittosporum is hellbent to be a hedge or topiary, no matter what your original bright idea was. Too fast, too big, too hard to prune. General rule.

KATHERINE: Farming and gardening, you’re always battling something. Right now my big enemies are squirrels, gophers and thrips. And whiteflies. Where did all the whiteflies come from? Anybody got some easy solutions?

General silence.

TONY: Monsanto will figure out something.

General hissing.

ANNA: One other thing, the garden has a firepit, a big concrete thing with chunks of colored glass on the bottom. I can’t figure out what is the point, to sit around and gaze at a gas fire? What’s wrong with HBO?

JASON: Firepits are de rigueur. Essential for the new urbanite.

KATHERINE: And so are stainless steel outdoor grills. Preferably the size of a lunar module.

FARO: And for the toddler who will never be allowed to get near the filthy thing after the first month, a massive plastic play structure.

MARCIA: And for the eco-conscious solar lights that last six months and then are bundled and put in the garbage or left strewn about the garden.

TONY: Are any solar lights worthwhile?

General silence.

WAITER: Are you ready to order?

KATHERINE: Has anyone looked at the menu?

JASON: I know what I want.

ANNA: They only have two vegan gluten-free options.

MARCIA: Only two? What kind of place is this? I’m ravenous.

UNISON: Me, too.

FARO: I love our gardener lunches. They cheer me up.

THICKNESSES OF AIR

It’s a delicate responsibility, setting myself up as an envoy to the various rain gods. Easier, say, than being a peace negotiator in the Middle East, but almost as tricky.   I peek at this morning’s headline: Bay Area’s first ‘real’ rain of season expected Wednesday. Today is Wednesday, and I’m trying to dampen my hopes. I remember how last year these promising paisley swirls on the Pacific supposedly heading our way bearing gushers fizzled, drizzled.

It’s a touchy thing to urge gods to focus. You don’t want to appear from above like just another clamoring earthling unsuited to the deserts of the real world. You have to look somewhat hopeful, optimistic.  You want to look your best when you talk to gods, not like the despairing multitudes petitioning for an end to insane wars.

Let it come down: these thicknesses of air                                                                       have long enough walled love away from love;                                                      stillness has hardened until words despair                                                                           of their high leaps and kisses shut themselves                                                                back into wishing.      

from “A Prayer for Rain” by Lisel Mueller

 

PERCENTAGES

A small headline seen Sunday: Rain Expected in Bay Area. I click on a satellite view of the northern Pacific and an arrow points to the squiggle that is going to come scooting down from Alaska. 50% chance Thursday.

Yes, I am now convinced that my campaign of rain seduction is affecting the weather. It’s not yet October and the storms are coming. Hooray. It’ll be good for everyone, trust me.

Now it’s Monday. The 50% has been downgraded to 30%. What happens when I skip a day.

So here’s today’s:

look at the old house in the dawn rain                                                                                 all the flowers are forms of water

W.S. Merwin, from “Rain Light”

SKYLARK

Rich Malsam cruises Collyer in his two-tone Skylark                                                             twice a day, all eight blocks and weedy park.                                                                            I ready my wave. He don’t turn his head                                                                            Though day before yesterday he did.

I chew on the cud of this bewilderment,                                                                             What hypotenuse of pleasure                                                                                                    Does his cruise extend?                                                                                                              What foyer in the palace of enchantment?                                                                              Is dumb contentment a good measure?

A thousand bucks and two old rifles                                                                                bought the Yanda house.                                                                                                                Our town manages                                                                                                                          not to be a ghost town.                                                                                                          Someone will live in that house.

I’ll wave so as not to spurn                                                                                                       Poor Rich, though he don’t turn.