Poetry and Gardening

Musings from the days of a creative writer/gardener with a true appreciation for nature, meditation, and poetry.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Gift: Green Tree Frog

Every once in a while, you find a "friend" in the garden.  More often than not, it's a surprise, a little step back, an 'oooh,' then a smile and a laugh when you discover that "friend."  I find myself spending welcome time with those gifts and wanting to share them with other gardeners, or children, if they happen to be around.  Such was the case last night . . .

It's been exceptionally hot here in North Carolina lately, hovering around 100 degrees for the past four or five days.  Naturally, the garden suffers.  Colorful flowers start to droop, normally robust green leaves fold into themselves, everything tries to protect itself from the normally friendly sun.  We gardeners know that this is the time to help Mother Nature along a little and to provide some extra watering whenever possible.  I've been making it a point of trying to water in the morning, but last night, after a stunningly stifling day, I went to the porch to gather my watering pot and placed it under the faucet to fill while I put supper in the oven.  It's a big watering jug, so it takes several minutes for it to fill.  I didn't pay any attention to it until it sounded like it was near capacity, then turned back from the stove to use both hands to take the jug out to the porch.

When I reached for it, I noticed one spot on the handle was a brighter green than the rest of the jug and with a start, realized I had brought a rather large tree frog into the house with the pot.  He sat there, frozen into his spot, his fat little body anchored on the handle, even after I lifted the watering can to bring it outdoors.

All the way to the porch, I kept talking quietly (like the frog knew what I was saying), hoping he wouldn't hop off before I had gotten him outside.  My cat -- old as the hills but still spry -- seemed to realize that we had a "visitor" and would have been quite happy to follow him around the house had he hopped off, and I really didn't want to have a chase on my hands.

Outside, the frog remained on top of the watering can, so I started watering the geraniums near my door, then the pots of pansies that line the stairs.  Still, the frog sat on the handle.  I now had the chance to study him more closely -- the racing stripe down each side of his squat body, the large suction cups on his three-toed feet, the way his sides swelled with each breath. 

Still, he hung on.

By the time I got out to the mailbox to water the basket there, I noticed one of my neighbors taking a bike ride around the block with her little son, an adorable boy of five with light brown curls down to his shoulders and the most striking tiger-colored eyes.  He's a precocious kid, and I knew he'd get a kick out of the frog, so I called him over. 

His excitement spilled over, and though he reached out, he didn't touch the frog -- simply lowered his face so that his long lashes were almost close enough to touch the frog's body.  The conversation began.

"Does he like leaves?  Do you think if I give him some grass, he'll eat it?  Where does he live?  How high can he jump?"

We chattered for a while, and I shared my rather pitiful knowledge of what a tree frog does and what he eats.  Mostly, we just laughed every time the little frog moved.

We shared a good ten minutes of "frog time."  Then it was obvious the frog was done with us and wanted back to his natural habitat.  We let him go.  I went inside to get more water for the plants and told my husband of the adventure.  Then I realized I had no photographic evidence, so I went outside to see if I could still find the frog, and there he was -- hiding in the lip of my garbage can, enjoying what little shade it offered.  I took a photo with my phone and went inside, still smiling.

I love garden gifts!

The Frog by Hillaire Belloc

Be kind and tender to the Frog,

And do not call him names,

As "Slimy skin," or "Polly-wog,"

Or likewise "Ugly James,"

Or "Gap-a-grin," or "Toad-gone-wrong,"

Or "Bill Bandy-knees":

The Frog is justly sensitive

To epithets like these.

No animal will more repay

A treatment kind and fair;

At least so lonely people say

Who keep a frog (and, by the way,

They are extremely rare).

Thursday, July 1, 2010

W.S. Merwin: Poet Laureate

Though my garden is sprouting only Echinacea/Cone Flowers and my roses have been cut back to the quick of their lives (because of the rampant Japanese beetles), I have been thinking about gardening, still, and I realize that I need to continue writing about poetry and gardening, even if gardening is not uppermost in my mind at this moment.  I thought that I would devote today's blog to the items in my garden that are medicinal.  I was going to talk about echinacea and foxglove, but when the news came this morning that W.S. Merwin would be named poet laureate, I thought I would write about him instead.

Merwin is one of those poets with whom I connect on many different levels.  First of all, he grew up with those poets in the 1960s who wrote of freedom and activism; secondly, he is a Buddhist, thus I understand the weighted simplicity of his words; thirdly, he is committed to preserving the land beneath his feet, and since he lives in Hawaii, that land is exceptionally beautiful; and finally, I always thought he was one of the most romantically handsome of the poets who have written during the last thirty or so years.  (Look at some of his earlier photographs!)

I think we have made a good choice in Merwin, though I don't believe he'll do as many personal appearances as other poets.  He does have a distinctively American voice, unapologetic, multi-layered, full of angst about his family and the world around him.  I look forward to seeing what he will create for this country.

And, of course, he has written about gardens:

What is a garden

All day working happily down near the stream bed

the light passing into the remote opalescence

it returns to as the year wakes toward winter

a season of rain in a year already rich

in rain with masked light emerging on all sides

in the new leaves of the palms quietly waving

time of mud and slipping and of overhearing

the water under the sloped ground going on whispering

as it travels time of rain thundering at night

and of rocks rolling and echoing in the torrent

and of looking up after noon through the high branches

to see fine rain drifting across the sunlight

over the valley that was abused and at last left

to fill with thickets of rampant aliens

bringing habits but no stories under the mango trees

already vast as clouds there I keep discovering

beneath the tangle the ancient shaping of water

to which the light of an hour comes back as to a secret

and there I planted young palms in places I had not pondered

until then I imagined their roots setting out in the dark

knowing without knowledge I kept trying to see them standing

in that bend of the valley in the light that would come


The wet bamboo clacking in the night rain

crying in the darkness whimpering softly

as the hollow columns touch and slide

along each other swaying with the empty

air these are sounds from before there were voices

gestures older than grief from before there was

pain as we know it the impossibly tall

stems are reaching out groping and waving

before longing as we think of it or loss

as we are acquainted with it or feelings

able to recognize the syllables

that might be their own calling out to them

like names in the dark telling them nothing

about loss or about longing nothing

ever about all that has yet to answer