Listening to My Garden

Wow.  Just went to my revel music garden and had a listen to my front yard.  I played the links, one right after the other and listened, just to my front yard.  That is what it sounds like.  They all have their own little, and sometimes big, voice.  Summer breeze rounding it all out at the end.  Perfect.

Listening to — I mean been reading The Secret Teachings of Plants.  I’m not influenced by that.  No, not at all.  Ha.

A. Ham


Pushing up some not so healthy hostas…

I shot Alexander Hamilton’s final resting place earlier this year, and was impressed with the wholesome hostas surrounding him.  These wilting yellowish leaves caught my eye today and, frankly, made me feel better: if the groundskeepers of Trinity Church are having a hard time fighting the heat (or whatever it is that’s causing some cranky vegetation), maybe there’s some green left in my thumb after all.

QUESTION: it’s been posed already (thanks Ralph!) but want to put it out there again .. anyone else having a rough a growing season?  If so, what do you attribute it to?  Is the heat doing us in?  Anyone want to argue global warming’s a myth anymore?  In 100 degree weather, does it matter?  Go ahead … gimme the dirt.


Remember how good movie theater popcorn used to be? Is it as nasty as it is now because I’m older and have lost my taste for it, because of the offensive faux butter they slather on it, or because of genetically modified corn? I got a few ears of corn in my CSA pick up on Wednesday, and grilled it last night. It was delicious but the kernels were tiny. I felt like I was eating someone’s baby.

QUESTION: Can they genetically modify corn to make it like it used to be?

My Revel Music Garden

My plots of plants are their own community.  Each is its own star, and sometimes its own diva.  They make their own music and sing their own song.  I love ’em, with their weird little quirks.  Sometimes they’re in harmony, sometimes off key.  They feed me and please me every time.

My tribute to them is to introduce them to you.

The front yard has the hostas & day lilies, surrounded by impatiens, my native plant garden which features some happy black-eyed susans in bloom right now (they always remind me of a photographic negative of daisies – and I may pair these in the yard next year), a couple container vegetables, a few herbs (growth spurt prone mountain mint, rollicking rosemary, and cheerful chives), some lovely jasmine circled by flowers, my container rose bush and the three potted zinnias.

The back has a potted Meyer lemon tree, several struggling beets in various containers for comparison purposes, some cautious carrots that once seemed on the fast path to success but have all but given up in this heat.  There are a few potted begonias who are delighted to live with me.  Along one side I have (yes, in this order) a pretty parsley, beyond robust sage, a sad little bit of rosemary, some thyme that doesn’t know where to end, and then a little cilantro book-ending the row, for diversity.  Then of course also out back are my prized tomato plants.  I usually have a bunch of potted peppers too but this year I just have one small container with a puny (but improving) cayenne and a mysterious chili pepper plant I bought from a small food market on Church Avenue.  The guy I bought it from doesn’t speak much English and all he could tell me (in English anyway) was that it was a chili pepper plant (that leaves it pretty wide open for type) and that it comes from the DR.  He, I believe, is from Bangladesh.  Nice guy.  They always invite me in whenever they have food there after fasting.  Further out back are the peach and cherry trees and the flowering dogwood/elderberries (whose leaves are turning a little brown at the top after a recent clipping to prevent my clothes on the line from landing in the bush, which every summer gets to be pretty ginormous).

The upstairs terrace is having its own little party.  I’m starting to think it might have something to do with the sun — like getting just the right amount now with only a touch of shade from the London Plane that sits in my neighbor’s yard, but shades mine.  The petunias are quite happy.  The peppers are in their element: cayenne, jalapeno and habanero have been having fun.  There’s an ivy put there at the beginning of the summer but she’s kind of off to herself in the corner, not quite sure what to do.  I’ll let her be for a bit, and move her at the end of the summer if she still hasn’t joined the party.

Some are stars, some are struggling.  I think they’ll all get it together in time, with more or less help from me.

QUESTION: What’s in your garden?  Go ahead .. gimme the dirt!

Call of the Wild

Hello fellow revelers,  please check out my post below on my impressions of Wildman Steve Brill’s wild edibles tour that I took in Prospect Park last month (some of the pickings remain for edification and identification purposes in my living room — my oh-so-patient partner would be rightfully impatient right about now but, luckily for me, is not).  I would LOVE LOVE LOVE to hear from someone in another part of the country as to whether there are such tours going on elsewhere, and what you all are learning from them.  One of the things that surprised me was the sheer number of people who showed up for the tour.  What was even more surprising was that there was enough such sizable audience to support several more of the tours this summer.  Happily for all of us here in Brooklyn, there are monthly tours in Prospect Park through the end of the year (though I’m sure each is unique and worth checking out, given the movement of seasons).

So, revel friends, I am definitely looking for feedback on all things wildly edible outside the great Northeast (or even outside nyc for that matter).  Perhaps what got me thinking about this is an announcement on a podcast late last week:  It occurs early in the podcast (fair warning – the whole podcast is rather lengthy but an entertaining listen if you’re inclined), and announces that a town in Michigan is trying to ban a resident’s vegetable garden in her front yard.  From what I can tell, she’s not growing lewd zucchinis — it’s just that there’s some ancient regulation about only permitting “suitable” gardens visible to the rest of the world.  I didn’t hear any quick follow up on today’s podcast but the link above gives a rally cry for anyone wishing to give Michigan a piece of their gardeners mind.  I’ll let you know if I place a call tomorrow.

In the don’t be meantime, please pass around my

QUESTION: for residents outside the greater NY area, are there any Wildman equivalents in your neck of the concrete woods?  How about for non-urbanites?  Are wild edibles passe for you country folk?  Or are there tours and meetups and affinity groups for all you all too?  Anyone care to share some stories of their own adventures in foraging?  We would love love love to hear a review of any other wild edibles tours going on across the country.  Go ahead: Austin, Beloit*, Chicago, Detroit, Eden Prairie, Fargo, Grand Forks (anyone tell I’ve got family in ND?), Honolulu, Independence, Janesville, Kansas City, Lexington, Madison, Niagara Falls, Orfordville (anyone tell I’m from WI?), Potters Grove**, Quakertown, Reno, Seattle***, Tupelo, Universal City, Vancouver, Wichita****, Xenia, Yellowstone, Zion … Gimme the dirt!!!

*Boston, you almost made the cut.  This was a hard one because you’re so irresistible for so many reasons, not which of least that you rhyme with Austin.  But you’re not my hometown.  Sorry, you’re just not.

**Phoenix, I thought of you too.  Pasadena, you too (and I do hope to see you someday soon).  But, Potter’s Grove … how could I resist?  It just doesn’t get the attention it deserves anymore.

***I also thought of you, St. Paul, St. Louis and San Francisco.  I just always wanted to go to Seattle so I thought I’d send her a little shout out here.  You do still have my heart, SP, SL, & SF.  And you’re just so saintly.  You’re number 1 in my book.  Just not in this list.  sorry.

****Weehawken, I love you too.  You’ve always been there for me.  And you really are very awesome, even being in New Jersey and all.  We’re just a little close, you know.  And Wichita has just been sitting out there waiting for so long now.  I knew you’d understand.

Wild Edibles – Tour Highlights

I missed a Steve Brill/wild edibles tour in Prospect Park today but will try to catch one again in August.  Like most things gardening related, I imagine it requires more than once to get the hang of it and put what you’ve learned to good use.  Just one tour, like many things the first time around, can be fun and kind of thrilling, and leave you with plenty to mull over, but it gets better the more often you do it.  The Wildman, himself, warns that you shouldn’t be putting things in your mouth you aren’t certain of and that if there’s any question, better to leave it alone.  Sound advice, imho.  (I just realized that what precedes this could be misinterpreted by a certain contingent of my readership — if that’s you, get your head out of the gutter and put your hands in the dirt).

Since I missed the tour today, I thought I might finally get around to ticking off my to-do list a post that I’ve been meaning to bring you for awhile.  It’s highlights from the last tour I went on in June.  To anyone who might be considering it, I would highly recommend the tour.  Set aside about four hours and $20.00 for it — the $20.00 is just a suggested donation anyway (although I certainly suggest donating the full amount — it’s money well spent).  In addition to spending several hours wandering through gorgeous nature, meeting several very cool people, eating some yummy wild food, and beginning to learn how to identify that yummy wild food, Steve Brill is pretty entertaining and keeps the tour interesting.   He’s a funnily curmudgeonly type, eager to make kids laugh and adults chuckle with some well-practiced lines.  (One of his jokes did go amusingly awry when, drawing the listener in with an increasingly hushed voice, he delivered the punchline in a booming voice without realizing that just behind him was a baby who quickly stole his thunder by breaking into a wail that only a seriously stressed baby can deliver).  Who wouldn’t love a man who saves the corniest of jokes to ply you with as you’re eating your way through a forest.  (Yes, pun intended — and a nod to the Wildman, since this is exactly the type of groaner you might hear on one of his tours.)

If you’re not up for the stream of one-liners that are tucked into some very useful information the Wildman dispenses on the journey, you can keep your own pace (which is another thing I appreciated about the tour, and which sets it apart from most other tours).  It’s recommended you bring a whistle in the event you get separated from the others; lacking a whistle (and being laughably bad at whistling without one), I brought a harmonica but didn’t end up needing it.  There are some helpful pointers on the website and in his book Identifying and Harvesting Edible & Medicinal Plants, that helpyou prepare for a foraging tour, including, for example, spraying your clothes with insect repellent and wearing white, which repels bees – this is why beekeepers wear white – and makes ticks more visible.  The book, and I’m sure pointers from those who have gone on a tour (see QUESTION below), also help you know what to bring and how to get the most from the tour.  I brought several plastic baggies, a few hard plastic containers, and post-it notes, a pen, a notebook, and my phone for snapping pics of the plants.  I found the hard plastic containers to be pretty useless and wish I would have saved the space.  I did end up using the plastic baggies (I should have brought many more, since I ended up having to store several different plants together and if the post it at the base of them came loose, I didn’t know chickory weed from jewel weed).

The tour is popular.  I shared it with about thirty other people, ranging in age from 6 months up, representing what appeared to be a broad cross-section of Brooklyn’s population.  There were couples, a few single individuals, and a family or two.  The group gathered for a sign-in that took about twenty minutes (a long time, I know, but it involved Wildman doing a roll call, having people sign waivers, and offering for sale and/or autograph his own impressive collection of books that he’s authored and which he, equally impressively, has illustrated).  He is a self-taught both as a botanist and artist, which is especially encouraging since it can seem impossible at the outset to ever be able to master the task of distinguishing an edible plant from a deadly one.  Although he is quick to caution the eager tourists, he nonetheless makes it seem a reachable goal to sustain yourself, if need be, on a diet of wild edibles.  He also offers quick advice on how to prepare each plant he covers, some of which I’m sure are in his cookbook (which I don’t have but someday may, once I’m able to tell the difference between a chickory weed and jewel weed without to the book, and the app (“Wild Edibles”), with its “important disclaimer” that I’m pretty sure I can guess what it says, or the pack of Wild Edible cards that I picked up in the shameless promotion start of the tour (disclaimer – Wildman did say that someone else made the cards).

In addition to the specific plants we reviewed, I picked up a few tidbits that are generally good to know.  In this category:

1.  Birds are flying dinosaurs – berries are brightly colored so birds can find them and help themselves.

2.  Just about all plants have some level of toxin in them.  That toxicity is to ward off predators.  To humans, it’s only dangerous if we eat it in massive quantities that no one ever would.

3.  It’s wise to cook all mushrooms – wild, raw, or not.

Some of the plant varieties we plucked, tasted, and took home include (disclaimer – the links that follow are not from Wildman, except for the one on chickweed, but are included to show some additional sources of info on the topic): quickweed, hedgemustard, mugwort, wild cherry tree, wood sorrel, honewort/wild chervil, chickweed, … more to come …


QUESTION: have you ever eaten anything in the “wild” and gotten sick?  What was it?  How old were you, and did you learn your lesson?  Or do you still pop random weeds when you think no one is looking?  Go ahead .. gimme the dirt!


Tonight on the streets of Kensington, more people, more moon than usual.  Today, in the doctor’s office in Bay Ridge, reading one of the only remaining magazines, Parenting, readers sent in sweetnesses they’d heard — Mother: goodnight, son.  Son: goodnight, moon.  Goodnight, Leiby.  Rest in peace, beautiful boy.

Couldn’t Armageddon Have Come and Taken Leiby Kletzky’s Killer?

It being a Wednesday, when I typically get a little extra time to garden, I was going to regale you all with my recent successes growing big vegetables and bountiful flowers.  On a day like today, though, in my usually quiet and relatively peaceful corner slice of Kensington, Brooklyn, it feels like nothing can be right or good or wholesome anymore.  Two days ago, apparently on his first walk alone in the world – a walk that was supposed to be a mere three blocks from where he’d spent the day to the home of his loving family, Leiby Kletzky (8 or 9 years old, by different accounts, the only boy in a family of five children) instead got turned around and somehow fell into the hands of what can only be thought to be a psychotic murderer.  The man accused of killing Kletzky is Levi Aron (35 years old today, a divorced and, not that it matters, childless man), who worked as a clerk at Empire Hardware on McDonald Ave. between Cortelyou and Avenue C.  He’s from Memphis originally.  He looks familiar.  They both do.  I’ve probably seen them in the neighborhood before.  Aron doesn’t look like a killer, unless you look closely at his eyes and know what we suspect we know now.  Those who purport to have known him say he was a loner and maybe a little weird but, as these stories always seem to go, he was generally quiet, kept to himself, and no one ever thought he would do something like this.

Leiby’s remains reportedly were found in Aron’s apartment and another location where Aron reportedly disposed of them.  The gruesome details are already available elsewhere.  I don’t know that I could stomach repeating them here.  For those not yet familiar with the story, it is worth recounting some of what preceded Kletzky’s abduction and Aron’s capture, in case there is anything at all that may be learned from this unthinkable tragedy.  According to the articles I’ve read and what I’ve heard in the neighborhood since yesterday about this time when helicopters began buzzing above us, Keltzky was snatched on 18th Ave., near Dahill Rd., in Boro Park, a neighborhood that meets my own neighborhood of Kensington at the end of the block where I live.  According to reports, the boy had just a few blocks to walk from summer day camp at 12th Avenue and 44th St., for the first time on his own after much pleading with his parents and a note from them granting him permission.  It is said he got lost on what was supposed to be the three-block walk home, and Aron, a random stranger on the street, was who he happened to ask for directions.  Surveillance cameras from the surrounding area and records from a dentist’s office where Aron appeared on Monday to pay someone’s bill helped track down the suspected killer.  Although some of the earliest reports of his capture mentioned two other people who were staying with Aron and who were also being held for questioning in connection with the murder, more recent reports have not mentioned them.  As of approximately 4 p.m. today, the two blocks where Aron is said to reside (in an upper level of a house owned by his parents), which is also believed to be the site of Kletky’s murder, were blocked off by police, with various media vans swarming the area, and clusters of Hassidic community members quietly milling about, standing close to each other and their children.

Boro Park is a tight-knit, primarily Hassidic neighborhood.  Although I’ve lived just next door for more than ten years, it’s also inexplicably an easy place in which to get a little lost, or turned around at least.  Looking at a map, the streets seem well-organized and reasonably arranged.  And I’m not one to easily lose my sense of direction but I have, in the same area where Kletzky lived and on the same streets where he found himself turned around.  Boro Park seems to me to be a place out of time.  Traffic is minimal off the main streets, and groups of people walk together, women with children and boys among the men.  I usually see the mothers in pairs, in their wigs and long skirts in the middle of summer, with a gaggle of children around them.  The men stride ahead wearing big hats, and white socks to their knees.  Odd birds, they all seem, from afar .. pleasant enough though never particularly friendly.  I had a friend, years ago, who lived with me for a summer and found himself drawn to their community.  He came from a non-Orthodox Jewish family in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and sought to learn more about the faith from them, who he viewed as religious purists.  To my surprise, the Hassids welcomed him in.  He began wearing his yarmulka with pride, and spent evenings with them engaged in their rituals, listening avidly as they spoke in thick accents of what I will never know.  They wanted him to live there with them, and to marry one of their own.  He began singing their songs, and praying, really praying.  He would rock back and forth, “davening.”  But when he said it, it came out like “dovening.”  The name was peculiar and attractive to me … like the noun peace turned into a bird and a prayer in one spiritual swoop.  They never welcomed me in.  I’m not Jewish, and didn’t ever express an interest in being anything more than a person passing through their streets to find some store or location inside, get what I needed, and get out.  His experience, however, helped me understand that what I perceived as their exclusivity was not a slight against me or any of my non-Jewish friends and neighbors.  It’s just their way.

One of the first questions posed by my neighbor friend (a white woman) with young boys of her own was who the killer was — meaning what race/religion.  Was it racially motivated?  Was he Arab or white?  The question struck me as odd.  But, then, talking to another neighbor friend (a white man), he said he had asked his girlfriend (a black woman) the same thing when she told him they’d found the boy (he’s been around longer than I have — he didn’t have to ask whether they found him alive).  Like me, she was surprised by his question … pausing to determine whether there was reason to be offended.  He said that if he was Arab, all hell would break loose here.  Nearly as much as Boro Park – where the boy lived – is a Jewish community, its neighbor, Kensington – where the boy died – is heavily Muslim, with a stark increase in its Pakistani and Bangladeshi residents seen in the past ten years.  One of the 9/11 terrorists drank at the corner bar I’ve mentioned.  When I saw his picture in the paper, he looked familiar to me, and I vaguely recalled seeing him there.  When my religion-seeking Jewish friend called from Wisconsin after 911, he left a message, “Hello, Kensington West Bank?”  Yes, although it really doesn’t matter one shit’s wit to the boy’s family, it is better the killer was also Jewish.  Better to know that madness and tragedy know no distinction in race, creed, or kind.  Better to know that, no matter how safe and sequestered a neighborhood feels, you can’t trust anymore that it is.

As I listen to the helicopters that continue to circle overhead, I’m still astounded by how quickly all this took place.  Kletzky went missing on Monday.  Posters were up all over the neighborhood by yesterday.  The copters were heard so loud it was hard to sleep last night.  Now the articles say that the FBI, the local Hassidic law enforcement (Shomrim — it’s not technically law enforcement but for those of us who live here, effectively, it is), and the New York City police department worked together to capture the suspect.  I’ve heard some grumbling that if it were anyone else, they’d have to wait the requisite 72 hours before a missing persons report could be filed and police would react (but that since it happened in the politically influential Jewish community, the case got special treatment).  Now police commissioner Kelly is saying that the suspect saw the massive search for the boy and panicked, and killed him.  All of this strikes me as a bit absurd.  I hope it’s not true that anyone else would not get the same prompt attention that Keltzky’s family got.  I’m also not sure where the Commissioner is coming from when he basically puts himself into the mind of the killer (or gives credence to what the suspect has said), and suggests that a community’s efforts to locate a missing child led to that child’s death (that he “panicked” because of it).

My condolences to the family.  Please pray for them — that they be able to survive this.  I’m sure it doesn’t matter to what god, goddess, universe, fate or feeling you pray.  If you have that feeling, please do it, since it may be all that we can do.

Everything’s a Blur

After my brief abduction by alien mushroom plant invaders last week, I’ve had quite a bit of catching up to do on household chores and other mundane duties. Although my weekends are typically waaaaay more exciting, Saturday was dedicated to laundry. On my way to pick up more clothespins from Walgreen’s, I ran into a friend in front of her usual spot on Church Avenue. A couple other regulars were gathered there to smoke and look at the day. This person and I hadn’t been in touch lately, mostly just exchanging messages on her medical condition. In one of those exchanges, she shared a bit of meaningless gossip about a mutual friend. She brought it up again Saturday and, to punctuate her point, said, “You shoulda seen the look on your face when I told you that.” I pointed out that we had been on the phone. The truth is that, were it nearly anyone else, I could have replaced “the phone” with “Facebook,” “texting,” “tweeting,” “online,” “emailing,” “messaging,” or fill in the blank with any other sort of cybermunication. The truth is also that nearly anyone else would not have been hanging on the corner having this inane conversation or patronizing the bar behind us for that matter – it’s become a bit of blight in my otherwise pretty cool hood. My friend, like the other regular clientele (and I mean the truly “regular” customers – not those who go to gawk at them), are largely technilliterate. Although it was a welcoming place when I first moved into the neighborhood, it’s known for mistreating its customers and hosting violence. It’s a blue-collar bar where the running joke, surely inspired by the age of its patrons and the attendant physical conditions of the most regular of regulars, used to do with a stool at the end of the bar that they called the dead man’s seat since anyone who sits there dies. And it’s true: anyone who sits there dies. Don’t ask me how I know this stuff. It’s my neighborhood, and I’ve been here awhile.

Back to the blurring … it’s 3:33 a.m. here, and I’ve woken up after my first online dream ever. I try to take note when I dream of someone for the first time after meeting them. It says to me I’ve incorporated something about that person or the relationship, that it’s become part of my consciousness. I can’t quite explain what I mean that this dream was “online,” or even relay the plot to the extent there was any. The dream, simply, somehow concerned itself with online existence. There was nothing fantastical or otherworldly about the dream. It was everyday ho-hum, regular old doing online stuff, but I was existing inside it .. inside “online.” It was not just passive (which is, why, I think it felt different than the few tv dreams I can remember – one, for example, I had when I was about 15 years old and in it I was in a sitcom that was popular at the time). But my activity in the dream was not particularly active either. It wasn’t like I was racing through a cyberworld as on the kids’ show Cyberchase where they have to get the bad guy before he takes over cyberspace. It wasn’t even particular to this blog. I was online, and I seemed to have no existence apart from what I was doing online.

This is, without question, a transitional time. I may have mentioned (or not) that I’m an unlikely blogger. In college, I was the last of my friends to use a computer. (That was, obviously, in an era where there was even a choice). I check the mailbox that hangs next to my front door every day, and every day there is something there I should look at. I have a checkbook, and I use it. I believe in cash, and I use it. I like the feel of a book in my hands, and most pages I view online overwhelm me. But all of that is slowly beginning to change, against my will or not. I worry about my credit card bill getting stolen from my mail. I find there’s not much use for a checkbook anymore except to pay bills or make donations; I don’t remember the last time I stood in a checkout line and wrote out a check (although I have done that in my life and I believe those of us who can say that are dwindling in number). The convenience of someone else keeping track of how I spend my money and spitting back reports of it (a la is a temptress who may seduce me soon. As for the almighty book, my Kindle sits in my inbox (physical inbox – I do still have one of those) waiting to be fired up. And as to my self-imposed segregation from cyberspace, as of two months ago, I write a daily blog, am training my eyes to not swirl from the advertisements on every page I view online, and, for the last three years, my work has required at least nine hours a day nearly without interruption in front of a computer. And now I’m dreaming online. My suspicion is any resistance is a hopeless cause; I should probably just float on in with all the other folks. Modern irony: if there’s some cybertastrophe that destroys all that is the internet, those folks in front of the local bar who now seem to be lagging may come out smelling like roses.

I also suspect that my avid gardening this year may have metastasized from my fear of the other side. If there is an opposite of “online” it’s not offline; it’s under the line, in the ground. Although you can bring all the gadgets and advancements you want to gardening, it is at its core setting hands to earth. It’s a perfect antidote to the nine+ hours my fingers spend clacking at the plastic keyboard. I think I’m not alone in this drive to ward off media overload with my gardening. It seems everyone is doing it these days. Then again, gardening is probably no more a reaction to the fast paced internet-dominated world we live in than is any other “back to the land” trend like slow food, home brewing, the DIY craze, or any other such hippy hobby that’s seen a resurgence in popularity lately. Evidence? Just check out all the blogging on that stuff.

That’s it. I’m going back to bed. As for you?

QUESTION: do you remember your dreams? what’s the last one you had? have you ever had a cyberdream? do you have any garden dreams? is your gardening an effort to get off the keyboard and back to the land? is it to figure out how to live off the earth in the event of a cybertastrophe? Go ahead .. gimme the dirt.