Gardening

Growing vegetables, herbs, etc. in a small urban space

Sunchokes (and Anusara “first principle”) (a bit out of date, but not really)

I realize that this blog entry was in my drafts page; I never hit the publish button.  As I ponder the few intervening weeks of snow (in some ways it feels as if time just stopped, except for the work that piled up and the lengthening of the light of day), I treat this as a reminder to myself to come back to “first principle” to respond with the most light — even in this unusually harsh winter:

On my way to Friends Meeting yesterday, I stopped at the Dupont Circle Fresh Farm Market yesterday to buy whatever was fresh.  When I got in line with a daikon radish, a bunch of turnips, and a couple of leeks, I noticed the way the woman in front of me in line was holding her selection:  sunchokes.  Her hands were held as if she had just received prasad — the offering sometimes made after a puja so that the fruits of worship may actually be tasted and injested, incorporated with our senses and our whole bodies into our being.  “Your hands and those sunchokes are so beautiful,” I said, “may I take a picture and use it for my blog?”  “Sure,” she replied, “and shifted her hands a little so that it would be easier for me to frame the picture.”  We talked while we waited in line about potential ways to cook sunchokes and how happy we were that the farmers (these particular farmers’ must be incredibly good at working with cold frames) were out all year.

Seeing this offering of the earth itself, the farmers who tended the earth and grew the vegetables, the workers who made and repaired the vehicles that enabled the food to be brought into the city, the city and neighborhood for allowing the market to block off a street, the shoppers for supporting it, brought me back to my contemplations this week of what “first principle” means to me.  I mentioned in an earlier post that my focus for winter classes would be Anusara sequencing principles.  No matter what else we are doing or focusing on, it always starts with “first principle.”  The “first principle” is what we call in Anusara “opening to grace.”  For me, a large part of “opening to grace” is a recognition that all the nourishment we receive is a gift.  When we practice such a recognition, then we practice receptivity, openness, gratitude, courtesy, respect, delicacy, and reciprocal desire to serve and make offering.  How could one mindfully receive nourishment such as this fresh, beautiful food on a bitterly cold winter day, and not want to celebrate it by giving thanks, nurturing the earth, supporting the farmers and the market, learning how to prepare it as tasty and healthful as possible, and share it and other things with those around us?

gift

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Winter Gardening, Vikalpa Samskara, and Bhavana

My cherished friend Cynthia for who there will be a memorial service on Wednesday often said that her favorite time of year to garden was winter.  She was not only a passionate gardener who had established an exquisite ornamental garden over a period of decades, but also a scintillating intellect.  In winter, of course, she would tend the houseplants and have flowers from forced bulbs, but that was not “winter gardening;” it was just having some beauty in the house. Winter gardening for Cynthia meant sitting in her nice warm house, reading stacks of gardening books and seed and plant catalogs and planning ways to enhance and develop the garden come the new growing season.  Cynthia did not practice yoga or meditation although she asked about yoga and exhibited her habitual, engaged and polite intellectual curiosity about my practice out of friendship.

After I took care of the house plants this morning, I sat down with a gardening book and read it while I had my morning hot drink and thought of Cynthia saying this was the best gardening time.  This time last year, I was marveling that I had chard to eat from the garden and espousing the joy of sprouting indoors in order to have fresh food year round (still sprouting and recommend it to all especially this harsh winter).  This year I cannot even see the containers (see picture below after five days of melting and before another coating to come this afternoon), much less any plants outside, so spring gardening will be a completely different experience than it was last year.  I go back, then, to my books.  I read about edible container gardening for climates where spring starts later than is typical for DC.  I think about what I can start indoors and whether I will want to start with different plants.  In the space of time when I cannot actually garden, I develop my intellectual knowledge so that my garden skills and experience can still develop.  When I am out in the garden this spring, digging in the dirt, watching things grow, I will experience with joy in my very being the subtle and not so subtle differences from a dry, warm winter and a cold, snowy one throughout the whole growing season.

This pulsing relationship among practical experience, study, and joyous understanding is our true practice (sadhana).  Steady practice includes not just actual doing of postures and meditation, but also repeated study for enhanced intellectual understanding of what we are experiencing (vikalpa samskara), and joyous, non-intellectual contemplation with heart and spirit (bhavana) of the burgeoning of combined experience and study.  When we appreciate on the mat and off that there will be times for practical experience, times for study, and times just to rest with a rich fullness of contemplation of the fruits of experience and study for the joyous recognition of beauty and consciousness, then we will never be empty.  We will not suffer from the confinement of a blizzard or an injury because we will know that it is time to shift our focus from being on the mat or on our meditation cushion or out of the garden (or whatever it is that is your work or hobby or course of study) and more to studying what others can teach us in words or demonstration.  We will know that the more we enhance our practice with both practicum and book learning, the more we can move towards an ever refined and steady abiding of whatever is our passion in our hearts.

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Cherry Blossoms

When I ventured out into the streets yesterday morning to get some air, greet some neighbors, and get some fresh vegetables if possible, I saw that a very large branch had come off of a cherry tree a block from my house.  I have lived in my house long enough to have watched the tree grow from a three-foot sapling to a tree that has swollen past the confines of its row house corner yard.  The branch that broke off in the snow was four or five times the size of the sapling when it was first planted.  I spent an hour walking and then made sure I went back to the tree.  It was starting to bud.  It was warm last month, and it’s getting lighter every day. I don’t have high confidence that the buds were far enough along to force blossoms.  I thought I’d give it a try.  Whether I see blossoms early or not, I can use the branches to stake young herbs in another 7-10 weeks.

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A Moment of Insight (and suddha vidya)

A rather conservative co-worker, who was one of the people who would have to go grocery shopping last night lest the family be without perishable food for a few days, was talking to me about the impending snowstorm (including me advising him of the one forecast for next Tuesday/Wednesday).  “It shows,” he said, “how easily our infrastructure and food supply can be disrupted.”  I gave it a little pause, and then replied, “this is why I talk about gardening in our own yards and switching away from agribusiness to a more sustainable and self-sustaining way of living and seek to shift myself, though it is difficult.”  He said, “hmmm,” letting the idea stick in his mind, but not wanting to carry the discussion further.  I know him well enough to have dropped it for the time, but also know he will think about it and perhaps over the years, for his beloved daughters or out of perceived necessity, start making small shifts.

In yoga practice, the concept of suddha vidya — illuminative wisdom — is both revealed and practiced.  When we start practicing or even before, we may have occasional and early insights into fundamental truths of being, but without steady practice and contemplation they will be fleeting and not shift our way of living.  If we practice and study continuously, though, our insight will become steadier, more consistent, and will start to illuminate all states of our being on and off the mat.  The more I practice, the more it is illuminated for me the connection of all beings and my need to live in a way that is more open, tolerant, loving, and aligned with the complex web of our interconnection.  My co-worker’s insight might not have been “yoga,” but it was indeed a moment of illuminative wisdom in its recognition of a misalignment of society that tears at the fabric of our being.

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Nightblooming Jasmine in Winter (and sadhana)

I walked into the dining room yesterday and caught a hint of an exquisitely sweet fragrance.  I knew the paperwhite bulb I was forcing was only in bud.  What was it?  I went to look and saw that there was a single blossom on the nightblooming jasmine.  Inside, in winter, the single bloom emitted as much apparent fragrance as dozens outside.  I have had this plant for 12-13 years, since it was in a three inch growers’ pot.  The last time I repotted it was several years ago, but I faithfully bring it inside and out every winter/summer cycle, and feed and water it plentifully.  In response, it keeps getting fuller and offering blooms.  When it is outside, it can have dozens of blooms at once.  Sometimes I harvest the buds before they open and use them to scent green tea.  When I find open blossoms in the morning, I harvest them by the handful and put them on my alter or in the bedroom, where they will provide scent for a day or two.  Outside in the summer, while profuse, the blooms last only a single night.  Inside in winter (with an average 24-hour a day temperature of 61-62F), the blooms, though coming more occasionally and only a couple at a time, can last for three or four days.

I think the blossoms of yoga and meditation sadhana (practice) are not dissimilar to the way this plant blooms.  With steady care, they will always bloom, though sometimes more than others, sometimes with a different character, and sometimes with just growing periods with no apparent blossoms.  Sometimes, there will be a wild profusion of vision and offering, but those tend to be fleeting.  The memory of the intoxicating perfume, though, keeps us tending the practice, knowing it will come again.  During the time between the wilder experiences, the nectar still comes, and though in less dramatic ways, perhaps all the sweeter for coming in a time wh

en we are just practicing and tending and not expecting any great revelation.

jasmine

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Looking on the Bright Side

My body does not respond well to cold.  I’ve learned how to dress and to hold my body, so that I do not get stiff and paralyzed by the cold, but I am more easeful with heat.  Still, there is a big upside to the continuing unseasonably cold winter:  I won’t have aphids on my roses in February.  It should also push back the mosquito season.  That is a very good thing.

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Robin Redbreasts (and the importance of sequencing in time and space)

I am working from home today.  I looked out of my window and saw a flurry of birds going from one roof to another.  There were the usual starlings, but among them were five robin redbreasts.  They definitely do not belong here this time of year.  Instead of getting the usual song in my heart from the first sighting of the robin redbreast of spring, I am filled with concern.  What are they doing here?  Will they survive?  How can they get worms out of the frozen ground?  Have they been confused by the warming pattern over the last several years?

I know that the robins are out of place here this time of year from a combination of learning and observing over the years what is supposed to be their season in this part of the world.  So too with many things that at one time a place, a practice, a relationship will serve and another will take us away from what is optimal.  As with yoga practice, we learn for ourselves and what is around us, what is optimal when and where, by a combination of study and practice.

There were also a few gulls. We see those around town sometimes because of the tidal basin, but not usually here in my back alley.  Is there some kind of special bird conference going on that I was privileged to witness?

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The Exquisiteness of Order (Winter Theme)

By order, I mean how things are arranged in space or time.  Even chaos theory presumes order in that sense.  On and off the mat, there is a certain order to things that is optimal.  We do not plant seeds and then till the soil.  Or think of the difference between peeling and chopping vegetables and then cooking them or cooking them and then peeling and chopping them.  One or the other is not necessarily wrong if you do not have a specific dish in mind, but which you choose will dictate the results. Once you have gotten started in the sequence, though, the path shifts and is partly set.  To reach an exquisite rather than a disgusting result, the next steps are ordered by the initial choice.

If only one musician is playing a single note, then there is no possibility of discordance.  Add more musicians and more notes and who plays what notes when can mean cacophony, a catchy tune, or an extraordinary and ecstatic work of art.  None of us are alone and none of us are playing just a single note, so in the great fabric of our being, it is best to understand how to make music.

Sequencing on the mat is more subtle than what poses should be done in what order in a particular practice to emphasize backbends v. forward bends and twists to be able to do the strongest poses with the least possibility of injury, as important as that is.  The order in which we apply the Anusara principles not only aligns the physical body, but brings symmetry to the physical and energetic bodies, helping us to feel more in harmony in everything we do on and off the mat.  I am, in this, a decent musician and not Bach, but the more I pay attention to the optimal sequence of things (keeping in mind that over most things we have no control as to when, whether, and how they happen) and the more I learn and appreciate the exquisiteness of order, the more I feel, understand, and experience the subtleties and joys of harmony.

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Sprouts, Orchids, and Arctic Winds

This morning I misted the orchids.  None are blooming right now, but an orange catteleya I received as a gift several years ago is budding, as is my favorite epidendrum, which offers up a host of delicate, greenish, spidery blooms every February. It brightens my day to spend a little time tending the house plants when it is most wintry outside.

I rinsed sprouts.  I have both bean sprouts and a salad mixture going.  I started new batches of sprouts as soon as I returned from NYC.  I was grateful for the offerings at the grocery store, but pine for at least a little something truly fresh.  I’d had a little chard, parsley, and chives that made it through the snow storm.  Much to my surprise, I even managed to salvage enough from the garden to include in an omelet after the ice storm the other morning, but the day-time subfreezing temperatures and icy winds have finished off the outdoor garden until March.  I think I am going to get some burlap and start some micro-greens in addition to salad and bean sprouts.

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