Tuesday, May 12, 2015








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Sunday, December 14, 2014

In winter, thoughts turn to the garden...

Here's something I wrote a while ago, for a call to write a "true garden story."  I just got home from my mother's 90th birthday celebration; the timing seems right to revisit this. 

My True Garden Story   by Eileen Brodie
 (written in 2008, published online in 2013,  In Memoirs at www.beyondprose.com)

Have you ever harvested a peanut butter sandwich from an ivy hedge? My mother has. There’s little that she has not seen, done, or endured when it comes to creating a garden.

Living in locations as diverse as Hawaii, California, or the Southwestern desert, a large part of her life has been devoted to cultivating a space outdoors. Her children knew that to find mom after school, you had to look in the garden. (My earliest baby picture was taken there; I was playing in pea gravel while mom weeded and planted.) Mom’s desire to be in a garden must be described as a happy obsession. Grand garden schemes took shape over time, everywhere we lived.

That ivy hedge in Berkeley, California, was as tall as the first story of our house. Wider than a car, it ran along the entire property and hid our yard from the street. When I rode my brother’s too-big bicycle, I used the hedge to do a controlled landing; my feet couldn’t reach the ground. Mom couldn’t see me do this from the kitchen window, so I got away with it. One summer, Mom and Dad did some hedge trimming. After some time, they discovered a curious cache. Deep in the bowels of the hedge were dozens of lunch sacks. These turned out to be unwanted lunches from our neighbor’s teenage son. For some time he had been stuffing his lunch into the ivy before heading off to school. I don’t know if my parents revealed this to his parents, it’s more likely they kept Martin’s secret. (Sorry, Martin, everybody knows about it now!)

One year, mom built a decent-sized pond out of stones. We’d help when we were home from school, but mostly she plugged away on her own at her pet project. Dad contributed by supplying stones salvaged from San Francisco streets being torn up near the waterfront. These had been ballast in ships arriving in San Francisco during the city’s storied past. Not being a fan of wheelbarrows or cement mixers, (and probably pregnant with my youngest brother at the time) mom’s method involved mixing mortar, one coffee can at a time. I can still remember the large blue can, mom’s hands gooey with mortar, and three more stones set in the pond wall. In the end, she got things done, however slow her method. Filling that pond with water was a well-earned triumph. We commenced jumping into the pond from the top of the nearby work-shed. Not exactly the zen-like scene mom had pictured while constructing it, I’m sure. Some time later, the pond was used to extinguish a burning mattress that dad had thrown from the second story window. But that’s another story.

The south side of that shingle style house was awash in roses. When we weren’t pulling off large rose thorns to stick on our noses in order to resemble a rhinoceros, we children generally ignored the flowers. The porch itself was more interesting: we’d play school, and pretend to be paratroopers by jumping to the ground with umbrellas as our parachutes. (Dad had been a paratrooper in the Army.) A childhood drama took place on that porch. Younger sister was found sitting on the top step. Nearby was a box of snail pellets for the roses. This juxtaposition led to the obvious conclusion being drawn, and our parents whisked her off to the hospital, where they had her stomach pumped. When they came home, sister cried and kept repeating: “but I didn’t eat them!” Her look of dismay was complete. This event all by itself makes a case for organic gardening, I think.

There was a time when my parents rented, instead of owning a home. This was during a few years' sojourn in Hawaii. Our first rented home in rural Hawaii came equipped with a pair of white geese. It quickly became a ritual to arm ourselves with a broom before going outside to face them. If that failed, mom had to put the toddlers into a tall washbasin outside of the kitchen door to protect them. This property was large and set well back from the coastal highway. One night, we heard a loud crashing sound. In the morning we children went to investigate. The accident had been managed by the authorities already, but the banged up car was still there. As the chore of lawn mowing was our responsibility, including walking to a nearby station to buy gas, you can imagine our joy in finding that the car’s fuel tank was completely dislodged from the car, and it was a full tank. We tied a rope to it and towed it to the barn. To this day I don’t know if our parents know how we came by that strategic fuel reserve, but clearly the passion for gardening was taking hold on our generation in a rather resourceful way.

Another rental closer to Waikiki became mom’s masterpiece. In spite of not owning the property, mom did her usual grand feats of gardening. Among other things, this meant lava rock walls, cascading stairs, a waterfall, and stepping stones. All around were plantings placed to create her own version of paradise. Plants really do grow well in Hawaii, but don’t forget this includes weeds. We had to beat back vegetation some two times a week to keep up with the growth phenomenon. The landlord was astounded to see a wild, eroding hillside transformed into a botanical wonder. The neighbors were confused as to why a renter would expend such energy and expense on something they couldn’t keep. Mom’s philosophy of living in the moment took precedence, she couldn’t postpone her passion. In the end my oldest sister was married in that garden. We have pictures to remember the occasion by, so really, we did get to ‘keep’ that garden.

Imagine the contrast when mom and dad arrived in the desert southwest of Tucson, Arizona. A hostile, barren background to the uninitiated. Any desert observer knows how wrong it is to assume that, and mom soon learned to play in her new medium. With cacti, palms, and grasses, the foundation plants were almost easy. The all-time favorite of bougainvillea put on a grand show. How interesting that its Achilles heel in the desert is not the heat, but the occasional winter freezes overnight.

With the summer heat dictating much shorter forays out of doors, mom has learned to scale back. The most recent obsession in her garden experience is with small pebbles and larger stones. It used to be that the perfect present for mom was a potted plant for her garden. This became a plea for rocks and stones of all kinds. She has spent countless hours sorting and placing mosaics of pebbles around her desert garden. It’s another way of finding retreat in the garden, something my mother has never failed to do.

Always one to share the joy of her various gardens, I think mom would say that even Martin, with his sack lunches all those many years ago, found a retreat in her garden in his own way, too.


from Beyond Prose: http://www.beyondprose.com

URL to article: http://www.beyondprose.com/index.php/my-true-garden-story-5-179286/

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Sunday, July 13, 2014



I've lived in a few. Places, that is. Became attached to most. There was one location that I knew I was not giving my whole heart to, because I wasn't reconciled to the method of my being there; I was at least at first an unwilling participant. Not yet a teenager, I'd had to follow my parents. I did discover and come to love its beauty, but the physical distance from my sentimental first hearth caused me conflict. What others considered paradise, to me, was a remove from where I thought I belonged. Still, it became an inseparable part of my memories of place, it left me with valuable experiences & images.

We think we know so much at the age of nine, and perhaps we do know things, immensely. Even lacking more content or a fuller context, I believe our young minds still populate the legend of experience with a sense of what is known, over what is not. I don't remember ever feeling overwhelmed by what I didn't yet know. Which is not to say that I lacked the extraordinary curiosity of childhood. Wanting to know more, was a given --I'd even say I was preoccupied with wanting to know more.

Nevertheless, I had a stubbornness about place. The first home I remember was the place from which I forged first connections. I knew the surroundings intimately; I knew my way back. I vaguely knew that people generally grow up and move away, but I didn't imagine that eventuality with any clarity. All that I needed was close at hand. There were paths to further adventure waiting to be explored. They began and ended at Linden Avenue.

It was my first experience of loss of place, when we packed up and moved thousands of miles away. I've written before about this, about house keys I kept in a cigar box. When a person is going to a place, going with intention, because it is their own idea, there are motivations and compensations to ease the way. One who feels they are going from a place, can find themselves looking back, failing to invest in the new. This is surely a matter of perspective, on how we look at the inflection point. But I'd say it is also an assignment of roles, whether we are the passive one on the journey, or the instigator. As an adult, it is on us to make a choice, to embrace an active role, even if we initially have the passive role. When I was nine, however, I felt I had no choice. Meanwhile, it all worked out. I celebrate the widened view I gained. I've since lived in places around the west that I've been so grateful to inhabit.

They say "you can't go home again." Perhaps because we are always moving toward home; the journey is a continuum. How will we return, if we aren't there yet? And if we revisit former hearths without an ability to relight them, will they feel like home?

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Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Out West

Out West

out west

west of the Pecos

west of the Mississippi

the landscape wide

the landscape tall

unbound by eastern convention

western mountain

western canyon

west toward the setting sun

harsh alkali

raging snowmelt

the shock of the wild elemental

pastoral prairie

sentinel mesa

the surprise of the blooming desert

the height of the continent's spine

out west

-poem by Eileen A. Brodie
April 06, 2009-

Rocky Mountain National Park -photo by EAB
-all photos by Author-

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Long Away

Long Away

I have to write as if I am not here. Not surrounded by daily minutiae, not distracted by demands or tasks not yet answered. These things that sweep us up and carry us along, thrumming with a pace and necessity that fully expects a response.  These things that will always be there, without much pause. Waiting for a cessation of the necessary noise of life won't work.

The idea of a retreat sequestered somewhere far away from activity and mayhem has its appeal, but isn't realistic for most of the time. And to be disconnected for too long risks the non-atmosphere of a bell jar, possibly losing the cache of inspiration in hand, at the same time making a debit of new insights: a full-time retreat isn't the answer, even if it was possible.

Rudyard Kipling's desk, UK

So, then, this trick of imagination, this discipline of focus, using will to wrench away from the distractions of the day and just write, just put something down. If imagination and will give out, there is always the middle of the night. It's only sleep, traded for the night quiet. I don't always have the fervor, the discipline, for that. During the day, as part of the demands and tasks mentioned above, some kind of writing gets done, the kind with a deadline or at least a few people waiting for the result. But for the deeper weaving of words, the exposition of observations, that often start and end without stopping once the writing begins, I find I require serendipity or at least a brief pause in the mayhem, or I can't begin. Given the least bit of entry, however, and the writing is swept up and carried along, thrumming with a pace and necessity that fully expects a response. 

I rebel somewhat against writing  a simple travelogue of observations, though like many I can be prone to that. A diary-like archive doesn't interest me--if I unwittingly start journaling, I lose interest as soon as I notice; I'm not interested in writing as if I'm the only one who will ever see the words. Though the process itself pleases me even if it goes no farther than my desk. But I think that my best effort is realized when I imagine a reader, however nebulous, scanning the words, taking in the thoughts. 

Writing for a blog can be performed many ways. The platform supports individual approaches providing a varied experience for readers. If a blog is monetized, there may be a push to pump out words, tag them, and do things simply to promote page views. For me it is instead a practice, a place to shine a light on something, to hang thoughts up and examine them, to assemble them into a whole. An exercise in creativity and connection. Lacking an arbitrary deadline for this particular creative outlet, sometimes I am long away from this place, these pages of entries. I just wait for the next one to come. 

Monday, June 24, 2013

Hope for the Human Race

  Hope for the Human Race

Have you seen the heroic lately?

It might have appeared, crossed your path, sat at your table, shared your space.  You may have seen it, or just as easily you may have missed it. There may not have been any fanfare or attention called to certain heroic acts occurring around you. Someone is ill; they make no remark but instead ask how you are. A person has suffered an unbearable loss, yet spends their time lifting up others. A friend has worries, still they give you their smile and set an example of cheerfulness. On reflection, I become aware of so many instances of heroism or greatness. Some acts are fleeting, and some are a glimpse of a continuum where ordinary people are doing the things they have chosen to do, and the things they feel they must do. The commitment with which they do these things makes them extraordinary acts. 

An example of this is apparent if you spend time around the world of a small child and watch those who care for them.  In its simplest context this is perhaps banal, ordinary, the stuff of life continuing as it always has. There is nothing immediately recognizable as heroic going on. But the activity you observe around children reveals much about people and their connection to others. 

With everything we are pursuing, busy adults can be prone to impatience and a failure to account for others' impulses, differences, weaknesses, and needs. We make plans, and in our individual pursuit of them we might assume we will accomplish those plans just so, starting at this time, and ending at that time. For many reasons this can't always be so. Around the daily needs of children, this kind of planning is a house of cards, collapsing, going off-schedule as a matter of course. Routines, yes. Structure, sure. You work toward providing a sense of stability.  But there is the need to let go of the idea of a predictable march of events, when you keep pace with a child. 

I see it as real maturity when someone can keep pace with a young child, meet their needs, and let go of the relentless feeling that so much more should be getting accomplished at that same moment. It is a mark of character to my mind when an adult can slow down and accept this different pace. A saying I grew up with was: "Let there be chaos in little things, so that we may have order in greater things." Recognizing what takes precedence is our challenge. Which is the greater thing? Can we tolerate necessary chaos, and see which are the little things that can be left behind? Or will we push ahead, demanding order absolutely everywhere, in spite of the folly of that demand?

We naturally expect the bond of a parent to their own child to produce this kind of maturity and impulse to care. As a society, we must also hope that we can foster this kind of maturity in the larger community. Between people who know each other, and between people who do not. Among those who have children, and those who do not. There is the "it takes a village" sentiment; I like to think that can take us a long way toward doing better. When I see the 'village' at work, it gives me hope for the human race. It's not hard to see that this kind of compassion and fellow-feeling can transfer to all kinds of encounters, not just those between adults and children. 

I'm fortunate to know family, friends, neighbors, and a life partner who seem to get this right. It's an up and down process, we find out what works by living, doing, trying, and reflecting.  I'm grateful to the heroes in my life. To watch a tired athlete climb out of a comfortable chair and work in the hot sun, making a safe space for a friend's toddlers to play. To see my sister wordlessly grab the dirty dishes and clean them because that's just what was needed at that moment. Watching someone's older child take the hand of someone else's shy younger one, make their acquaintance, and build a gentle trust with them. There is the mother who sets aside for a moment (so many moments) the pursuit of her own interests, and moves at the pace of her child that needs her. The father who sees this, and creates a window of time for the mother. The mother in turn will step in for him. Sometimes the need is exhausting.  Or frightening, when you can't figure out what they need. 

I know these aren't outright acts of heroism: they are instead the behaviors we would hope accompany all human interaction. Still, because it isn't always so, to me those who do such things create a culture of heroism.  I'm touched to know that everyone in this strange and serendipitous cast of characters that is my 'village' is capable of these and other selfless acts. 

Saturday, February 2, 2013


Just realized orange is very much my color lately. Seeing it everywhere today.

Walked through my immediate surroundings, collected these orange images in a matter of minutes. An orange-fest.

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