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Trellises have become a bit of a joke in our conversations. 
Stephen suggests I have a fetish. I argue function. 
Soundcliff’s gardens are anything but level…
no broad horizontal spaces for row crops, 
so to grow up makes sense to me… 
I’ll own such fetish.
There have been several incarnations of bean & pea supports
 like this, which I put inside the Mashua trellis
which is 3 years old, I think.
Low plants such as the zucchini I tried there last year were shaded-out. 
This tri-tipi encourages vertical growth of vines in conversation
with the sunlight.

Later in the season that conversation became visible as both vines rose to the tops of their supports. While the beans have made much food for our table, the Mashua, a Peruvian nasturtium produces starch crop of tubers we dig around the time of the winter solstice. I’ve written about this plant several times.
There evolved a nice symmetry with the White Pine nearby,
  having at least a decade of settling-in on the level below 
where the fire pit centers one of the only
actually level parts of the property.
An early Spring piece of infrastructure was Tom’s creation
 of a definitive sensitively gentle firm path in the north garden
 following the edge of an old slippage which we are healing by
 building-up a”permaculture”compost pile 
which after 5-6 yearsis beginning to become a plant-able slope.
This was a project we left Tom to design & make this on his own. 
He used locust logs which were been harvested on the property. 
It is sweetly graceful & we are pleased & proud of it with him!
Tom does sweet work… as you will see more…
Our steep slope requires paths usable by foot & wheelbarrow,
making our beds level & accessible enough to
be usable garden spaces.

Slopes invite the evolution of curving zig-zags
 with some hair-pin turns… & trellises.

This very old wild cherry tree has been doing precipitous yoga since
long before I came along.
It has a wonderful gestural glyph-like quality.

We have had it pruned several times
 to relieve weight & pressure.
Returning from Japan we were encouraged to
experiment aiding it with a support.
Again Tom was instrumental in engineering this proposed fantasy
project about which neither of us had any experience… 
we had numerous problems from the start.
The major difficulty is that the lawn is covering 
the sand filter of our septic system 
over which much of the tree’s weight reaches. 
We really had only one choice of placement…
Then it became almost humorous to me 
that we could attempt to “support” such sprawling tonnage?!?
The best we might do is to push a “stool” under it
 & see if it wants to sit…
[I’ve been questioning a proclivity 
to use the word crutch even as the limb we were supporting 
looks more like an arm than a butt.
Tom realized we needed to begin at the top… hanging the lintel s
o we have some stable point at which 
to begin measurements. This amused me more!
There were numerous re-measurements 
as we informed ourselves of next steps & cautiously cut the  
aged logs we rescued on the land… locust… a durable wood. 
We built secure foundations using old waste concrete 
to develop the final measuremenst, 
all secured by a healthy pour of new concrete. 
There is a very deep impulse, with a very long history, 
for craftsmen to leave their mark…

Tom, my engineer with the muscle…
& me, appreciating the challenge to work with him. 
We dialogue well inside our four years of experience
gardening & building such projects together.
We pleased ourselves!
A garden sofa has been another long-incubated dream of mine, 
more because the extant path was so narrow 
that a wheelbarrow completely blocked passage… 
ultimately unworkable!
Salvaged timbers came together to make a 
retaining wall & a bench
 with Corsican Mint planted as “checkered upholstery” 
which will eventually grow solid on the seat.

After all that work, 
a cool drink on the Prow Deck is in order! 
Its plantings have bloomed a delicious clash of colors.


This  season was quite fine… making the garden rather glorious from early spring until now… 
[I still work to learn making photos with the new Nikon… still intimidated by its complexity… so some of these images were made on my iPhone as well, which is obviously more usually at hand…
First, a bit of early spring cleaning brought out a dried arrangement from last year’s garden, which had been enjoyed  indoors all winter… Hydrangea, Sedum & Acanthus…  the colors faded mellow on strengthened sculptural forms.
One can see how the acanthus plant influenced the Corinthian style of columns in ancient Greek architecture…
 Camellias begin blooming soon after the holidays…
An early bulb we grew in a pot is a checkered lily called Fritillaria meleagris…
This “mouse plant” was gifted us by an Island gardener friend several years ago. Its blooms are a soft brownish purple with long tails scurrying down under the leaves. I’ve recently transplanted a clump into a taller concrete bed so we will be able to poke down into its delicately dense under-cover to see them more easily.
We replaced an old unproductive & unshapely apple tree with a red Japanese Maple…
We haven’t had a freezing winter for a number of years so the rich red blossoms of Pineapple Sage grace our salads all winter long.

Iris are such curious sculpture yet remain favorites for that & their colors. Soon they will be covered-over by those nasturtiums…
There are a number of herbs & flowers which make such abundant seed as to become gentle “weeds” in our compost & soil. Chervil was rampant this year, but I enjoy its light, airy texture & fragrance. It has a vaguely anise flavor & lovely white flowers.
Golden Marjoram decorates & flavors salads wonderfully… the Forget-me-nots just beyond are another of those weeds we celebrate in love-hate relationship, bringing an exuberance of early color, but becoming soon too aggressive about crowding-out it’s neighbors.
Looking toward the southern woods…
The planer form of the Viburnum is accentuated when it blooms, seeming to hover over the curved bed of crocosmia, punctuated by a small mosaic-ed concrete sculpture of a Japanese character which Stephen brought to the garden during the Holiday Studio Tour, which later blooms brilliant red .
There are many herbs & flowers which make such abundant seed as to become gentle “weeds” in our soil. Chervil was rampant this year, but I enjoyed its light, airy texture & fragrance. It has a vaguely anise flavor & lovely white flowers.
A Solomon’s Seal blooms stalwartly in a bed of threatening Bishop’s Weed…
This lovely Maiden’s Hair Fern has been in the western border of the south lawn since the earliest version of the garden. It holds delightful court with a Hellebore, which blooms all winter…
A very casual shot of one of the borders when the Ajuga is blooming it’s almost blue purple against a  yellow-green companion, all framing a sweet pink azealia.
Unlikely color combinations abound in our garden. A red Rhododendron with Japanese Iris & a purple columbine enliven the way to the Prow Deck, which you’ll see a bit later…
Columbine remind me of my mother, who raised many varieties of them at their retirement home in Colorado, where it is the state flower. I want some more…
Hymenocallis returned to the garden after a couple year’s absence, reminding me of tropical flowers we saw in Bali
The smaller of our two palm trees has settled nicely after its third move to find a spot it can be happy, with Japanese iris making it look as if it lives in a rice paddy with golden bamboo.
The Chinese Windmill Palm, which is the larger of the two varieties of palm which will grow here has become quite tall on the edge our cliff…
While pruning it, this spathe of immature fruit came down attached to a brilliant yellow stem. I enjoy listening when the ripened seeds are expelled with Pachinko-like popping as they bounce down the resonant fronds.
Adding to our rather “tropical” tastes have been a series of brugmansia which we’ve kept in pots on the upper “This Is It” deck for many years… in several colors [yellow & purple] but my favorite is this simple white.
A deciduous vine growing on the deck railing was planted soon after the remodel 18 years ago. We still do not know its name or what it is, but it has been blooming more & more frequently over the last few years… the blossom is a curious  sculpture looking a bit like a miniature fuzzy orchid. I think we may not have a pollinator because I have never discovered a fruit.
Its vine has become a twisted architectural feature hanging from under the stairs, here lit at night…
 Ahh, the Ginger which had been dormate for several years when it was first gifted from Santa Cruz by our neighbor, Taylor, began to thrive when moved several years ago to the sunnier border near the poteger [kitchen garden}. I divided it into two other locations this spring & all of those plantaitions bloomed! such lovely spikes scenting the evening air with sweet spice…
 The garden does also grow food…
from lots of year-round kale & chard…
 To my favorite squash, called Trombonchino, for it’s long curves of firm flesh, with only a small bulb of ovary with seeds at the end… delicious to saute as small whole fruits or as slices.
It is a lovely vine.
The major part of our garden must always be the larger world of water… the Puget Sound which is a fjord off the Pacific Ocean… it has its spiritual roots in the waters of the entire globe. We husband this precarious aspect with as much appreciative grace as we can muster. We know how blessed we are.
The Prow Deck perches on the retaining walls healing a slide some years ago… we do know such events could happen again at any time…. Our beloved Tahoma [Mount Ranier] is overdue for  an eruption… We love living on this edge.
The view looking from that deck up toward the house is another riot of color in this late season, with purple Asters beyond Anise Hyssop & bright pink Cosmos…
But the exuberance we bring most regularly into the house are the Dahlias of which we’ve begun to collect more varieties… it becomes a happy chore to change them out every several days,
 with vases in nearly every room.
Ah, but the gardening consists of more than pretty fleurs… we’ve built some infrastructure as well,… trellising peas, beans & squash… not to forget Mashua; supporting trees with Japanese “crutches” & sculpting our steep slope into evermore gentling terraces.
That to come next post.


[NOTE: This is the seventh post about our trip to Japan. Click on the tab “JAPAN” in the cloud on the right to see earlier posts made in November & December.]


Sunday morning: On the train from Kyoto to the southern island of Kyushu to the ryokan [a traditional Japanese inn] which has been recommended by our Island friend. The ride in the beginning was quite delightfully smooth even at something more than 150 mph… an hour & some dozens of tunnels later it became a bit less so. Rice fields whiz by interspersed with suburbs. It is harvest time. I saw one farmer cutting by hand… some sheaves are bundled & stacked vertical, while others are hung upside down from racks… I do not know if those had been already thrashed to then be saved for the straw. Numerous gardens large enough to be considered truck farms tucked in the lowlands. One assumes there was a much different proportion in earlier times.

Tunnel… a quick glimpse of a river gorge before the black of the next tunnel… repeat & repeat. Then the quick passage of a small city… tunnel… repeat. A very mountainous country! A very tidy & clean country! We find no trash bins, even in train stations… & NO litter. All is so clean as to make the States seem rather grubby by comparison. People working in order to keep order… 3 to 5 officers to direct both autos & pedestrians around even modest construction areas…. already informed by well defined & lighted barricades, which would put our similar totally unmanned situations to shame. Employment seems a high priority, which then seems to allow the thousands of small eating establishments & huge department stores everywhere full of patrons. I suggest we could take BIG lessons in the truth of a working aeconomie. Shame on us for blaming ordinary people for not working.

We are passing through Hiroshima. I see a skyscraper, one of many in evidence, being built for the Hotel Hiroshima… the city seems to have been thriving for decades. I cannot help but compare [although the time is much shorter] that to New Orleans.. “Heck of a job, US!”

 Glimpses from the speeding bullet train gave no chance to compose… I could only shoot wildly…
Our destination was Karatsu a small city on the  westernmost island of Japan, Kyushu. Here we would stay for our last three days at the ryokan… a traditional Japanese inn… named Yoyokatsu. Our Vashon friend Terry Welch met & became close to the owners when he spent time there teaching English. He is considered part of the family, known by all there as “Terry-San”. We were treated as honored guests…
 An entry behind this wall began the remove from the street into this stone floor to the single step up into the inn, where our hosts waited to greet us. Street shoes are forbidden, so we removed those to step into waiting deep red leather slippers.
 Our host is a devotee & collector of pottery & calligraphy… this screen met us first… at the important first step up from street level onto the floor of the building. No shoes can touch both, requiring one to step out of street shoes, leaving them on that level, stepping up into the leather slippers they provide.
There are several wing & building through which meandered the waters of a classic garden…

Covered corridors created wonderful adventure making connection between public spaces & guest rooms, with views onto that garden.
The door to our upstairs room overlooking the garden…
 A vestibule with another step beyond which our slippers were forbidden on the tatami matted floors beyond the privacy of shoji screens…
  This view shows that vestibule through the open shoji doorway in the first large room… with no furniture… our futon beds would be laid out here each night. The space through the shoji to the right had our low dining table…

There was a lovely ikebana [floral arrangement]… 

The dining room had the traditional tokonoma, a niche defined by a construct of a natural branch or root. These spaces are made to display art, usually a painted scroll, a floral arrangement & in our case a porcelain incense burner.

Another simpler version on the opposite wall held the phone & an incongruous television!
Another space, separated by more shoji was a veranda-like sitting area with windows opening onto the garden. We sat there with tea in the afternoon or drinks while waiting for our maid to bring dinner to our room or to relax while they made up our beds at night. Shoji would be closed to give privacy while we were being attended… I came to appreciate their function.
Our closet held robes for wearing to the fukuha?… the communal [segregated] bath… but we had our own full bath with a room off it offering a wooden soaking tub & another room for the toilet… Each area had its own pair of slippers, so one was challenged to change footwear even between the various areas in the bath!
Meal menus & timing were discussed before… dinner after breakfast & breakfast after dinner. Breakfast was served in a designated dining room on the ground floor…. ‘Just at the bottom of our stairs. We were seated at table prepared to look like this… porridge of rice or barley, vegetables, a custard, always a pickled dish… plus a small whole fish, fried very crispy!

Dinner… the riokan has a great kitchen… was usually served by our maid in the room, with a calligraphic menu… we still had little idea how those written items corresponded to what was served… Myoko would explain. All was delicious!

Karatsu is a small ancient port city with population of approximately 100,000. Small enough to walk from the riokan to the central district, taking-in it’s sweet small castle perched on a knob over the sea.

I loved this poster, obviously designed from a child’s drawing..
It had really impressive stone walls…

Walking over several bridges brought us to another version of OZ.
We discovered several surprising & satisfying adventures,  one close to the main temple…

They have an annual festival [a bit later in November than we were there.]which features large  “floats” several hundred years old. These are stored & displayed in a museum close to the shrine with this Tori gate. Each is built on a very heavy wood carriage with wooden wheels… weighing several tons, we read.

Atop these were made colorful figures of highly lacquered paper-mâché supported by bamboo frames. They looked like molded plastic. Dragons, fish, & other mythic creatures. Each is made &maintained by a neighborhood of the city to compete for presentation & handling during the parades, some of which are at night so there is lighting involved as well… plus music specific to each.

 I made several videos of a video being looped as part of the display which conveys more of the action, excitement & skill with which these huge constructions are pulled through the streets:
A sculpture noting that festival…
My eye found the geometry of this laid stone quite sensible… beautifully drawing observant strength in hexagonal gravity… adding possibility of three surfaces to the more usual two-axis polarity of piling blocks horizontally. I saw the concept useful in any number of situations. The vine loves this geometry as well!

One last discovery was the restored home of a worldly gentleman who was a local coal baron at the turn of the last century. The home he built, with a view of the sea, bridged East & West in several unusual ways. There were two facades. One mimicked .. in wood, it was explained… European stone.

It was, at every turn, an example of the amalgam of East & West on which we had been feasting for these rich recent days… the home is noted for having a rare private Noh Theater, 
with generous backstage spaces for actors & orchestra…
Japan holds a history celebrating these many contrasting aspects…

I observe deep grace in a culture which understands substance [time] 
with a third aspect transcending yes or no polarity.
Delicious geometries
The city seal…

The city viewed from above…

Walking a back way home we wandered onto the campus of a high school. I saw these archery targets as interesting sculpture. Severely spare compared to a wall of bales offering a paper target.
We had interrupted an archery class…
I respectfully requested a pose…
I appreciate the complexities of several traditions dancing together…
Next day we returned by train to Tokyo, meeting Ryan, after yet another memorable meal.
Arriving a bit too suddenly…


Sand Mandala In Florida…

I want to share a small story from inside our holiday travels from home to Minnesota to Florida then back home…

We were a traveling quartet consisting a delightfully determined doyenne in her mid-90s, a gay couple noting our 20-year relationship at ages 65 & 70… plus our Downs brother Mark, 56… who has thus the most unique abilities of us all… despite that each of us presumes ourselves as being the one keeping us all together… We are right!

I amused myself viewing us as some current emanation of archetypes from Commedia dell’arte :

Our knight Stephen leads, taking charge to attend the timing of our route while further easing our rather necessarily elastic procession with thickets of tickets, tags & so forth… without which… really… we would be quite adrift! Thank you my dear. I appreciate your Otto.

Who am I except to love the challenge being concierge for Helen… who often needs my arm for support while also using her faith and cane with facility… relying only sometimes on using a wheeled chariot. All the while keeping an eye out behind me to appreciate Mark reliably, stoically tracking with us… quite present in his own traveling mode. He clocks decades of travel on several continents with his speedy family… I take joy & an amused heart with him.

The day before our own last one in Florida we took brother Mark to the airport in Tampa to meet his plane taking him directly back home to Minneapolis after our warm week. Stephen is permitted to accompany him to the gate, finding their lunch once comfortably beyond the potential delays of security. Helen & I then had a generous hour for our own lunch together. We’ve bonded significantly more deeply this visit. I am older than her first son, thus making me eldest after her… if in-laws count.

I love telling the story of her, standing in Soundcliff’s kitchen some years ago while I was dancing my usual cooking duties. Hands on hip, she declared, “Gordon, you are not the daughter-in-law I had hoped for… but… you’ll do just fine!”

I’ve long loved my mother-in-law!

I know, actually, that I enjoy a rare function in this family… I am more genuinely an “out-law”… I can bridge to variously useful exits from intractable habit…

Once Mark’s plane is lifted out of our caring reach we reunite into our long-comfortable trio…

We’d read about a sand Mandala being made by a Tibetan monk at the Museum of Fine Arts in nearby Saint Petersburg. While we’d also debated the Dali Museum… showing an exhibit of M.C. Escher’s work… we chose the rarer, more temporary thing.

This small “comfy” museum displays its own surprisingly definitive style… but after discovering we needed to make a bit of a hike along its old Floridian Spanish-Deco facade from our parking spot… past the now closed original central entrance… trekking-on to the far other end to find the current entrance through a newer addition, I walked ahead to secure a wheelchair to meet a well-exercised Helen at the door. She’s a trooper, yet was happy to be invited to ride-in to see the monk, whose work occupied the center space of the entrance forum… but, he wasn’t there!

In spite of the published schedule the artist seemed to be on “monk time”… leisurely in returning from lunch to the working exhibit we had come to see. When, after waiting a reasonable amount of time, we inquired what the friendly desk person might predict… admitting some disappointment. He cheerfully refunded our admittance fees.

We wandered deeper into the museum to await his arrival, discovering delightful, sometimes disparately displayed, tidy, if small, collections inside. Soon, one of the attendants actually sought us out to report the monk had returned & was back at work on the Mandala. We joined a small group who were also interested.

While none of my photographs are in good focus, one can see that the painting has obvious thickness as the sand is carefully piled upon the surface. They show his slow progress on what was to be a week-long process of carefully sifting of colored sand out of pointed tubes into a complicated delicate design which will then be destroyed… a very traditional religious practice as a prayer in the of the ever-temporary permanence of the present.

I appreciate the skillful blending of colors in this small flower’s detail…

I made several videos of him working, realizing he was as interested in chatting as he was in making artistic process… I wonder if he will completely fill all that area seemingly “blueprinted” on his work surface.

“The Venerable Losang Samten, renowned Tibetan scholar and former Buddhist monk, [who had] served as an attendant to His Holiness the Dalai Lama” [quoting the museum’s site] might predictably have been  aloof… yet in this reality he proved to be genuinely friendly & quite appreciative of our interest.

He made easy eye-contact with his small audience, but came quietly first over to honor Helen’s venerability by showing her a small bowl of white sand, explaining that it was from a local beach. Did he somehow know she had been enjoying that beach for decades?  Other more brilliantly bowls contained watercolor dyed sand, while many more are naturally colored, using as example some from Sedona…  familiar to me, of course, as I explained I had lived there. When I requested to see, he gently handed me his tools to observe that there were several sizes of openings to allow more or less quantity of sand grains creating lines of various thicknesses.

When Helen inquired to learn he was Tibetan, she mentioned having visited his country. He obviously was joyfully impressed…  happily posing with her!


Our wild cherry tree has been reclining for more than 40 years. Terry-san has suggested we devise a prop… a crutch. 

I have a good deal of difficulty believing that the tree’s weight won’t simply push such supports into the soil which seems unable to support it in the first place… 

Thus, I became fascinated in appreciative study of both the simplicity & rich variety of methods & techniques of props & supports for trees I observed in Japan. I am still taking improbably complex lessons.

 Visuals must, for the most part, suffice to share this study… suggesting others have danced with  these problematic notions for a long time.

While my gardening guru Doug-Oh! might call such manipulation
I can easily appreciate results of such faithful effort… which can be seen generally… here in Tokyo. 

Some were nearly invisible isometric webs transferring weight inside a large system…