I have gratitude but it’s conditional

April 5, 2015

Savannah Morning News column

In these halcyon days of psychedelic color, enough collards to last through May, and maybe an end to the annoying collection of sweet gum balls, I am grateful. Some day I may even make it to the weekly Gratitude in the Square happenings. A new week, another downtown square, maybe a group hug. I like the concept. I like that word. Gratitude. But I have questions. If we like our squares so much, why don’t we sit in them more? At last Sunday’s 90th birthday celebration for Flannery O’Connor, people were sitting. They were standing. They were talking. They were socializing. They were getting their faces painted. And not just tourists. There were locals.

For most of the year, the squares exist to show off our town, to host weddings and to raise a little revenue for the city when we forget to feed the meter or we inch over the yellow line. Except last Sunday was church day. That meant I could park beside a yellow line and not get a ticket. Church dispensation. That felt good. My shoulders dropped a few inches.

I am waiting for the man or woman running for mayor who will rid the town of parking meters. Think of the money we would save. There are 3,000 meters downtown. Why not turn these meter maids into ambassadors? Looking for something? They might ask. Let me help you. Think of the good will. Think of how the squares would look without meters. Think of the publicity for the town. I’m grateful for the squares. They’re beautiful. The city keeps them in good shape. I just wish we used them more. Right now they are more of a movie set than a convenience for citizens.

I’m grateful to the man from AAA who came to make a new lock for my truck when I returned home and couldn’t find my keys. He was skilled and fast. He’s been doing his job for 15 years, he told me. I just wish he made more than $10 an hour.

I’m grateful my local bicycle shop gave me a 10 percent discount on a new lock even though the only time I go into the shop is to get air in my tires not to buy anything. I’m just sorry we have to be so vigilant about locking up our bikes.

I’m grateful we have neighborhood coffee shops that will donate coffee for events such as Flannery’s birthday party and that we have an independent bookstore that will organize an event for local authors to sell books and not take any money from it.

I’m grateful so many people pay attention to city matters and watch city council meetings on television and that the 40-something crowd seems to be tearing itself away from jobs to do random Rotary projects. I’m just a little confused why more of them don’t run for office. Everyone, black, white, newcomer, native, young, old, knows the system is broken, the system is rigged. How many more decisions about Waters Avenue and the It’s Amazing store do we need to hear to come to this conclusion?  I think there might be an election coming up. Yawn. Murray Silver is running. I think. Heard of him? Probably not. Run, Murray, run.

I’m grateful we have a school superintendent who has stuck around longer than the usual four or five years and that he or someone has decided to bring back chorus in the high schools. But what about music in the elementary schools? What about art and field trips where it doesn’t take a bureaucratic act of Congress to make it happen?

I’m grateful for new schools but what about all the people who ask me about the value of the pesos in New Mexico as if the state was not one of the 50 states? Seriously, when I was in Santa Fe I took a tour and the guide pointed out the letters USA on the New Mexico license plate. That’s because so many people think the state is part of Mexico.

I’m grateful we have a few bike paths but come on, people, we need more. The world didn’t come to an end when Price Street became a one-way street, did it?

I’m grateful every time a car stops when it’s supposed to and when a barking dog stops barking. I don’t ask for much. I’m grateful when someone drops off Easter bread, when independent Bernie Sanders gives it to his Democratic and Republican brothers and sisters, when a newspaper like the Indianapolis Star turned its front page into a powerful protest on the religious freedom front.

I’m grateful for the free tickets someone offered me to the Lucinda Williams concert. Except they were in row D, as in fourth from the front. That raised the bar. From now on I can’t buy anything less than that.

No one ever said gratitude doesn’t come with conditions.


Bring what you got: Plant Swap time

Savannah Morning News column

March 29, 2015

What will it be this time? What will arrive that will knock our socks off? A stag horn fern the size of Connecticut? A baby persimmon tree or better yet maybe a pomegranate? That would make me happy. Maybe some young purslane seedlings – my new favorite green to grow and eat – ready to pop into the garden. I know there must be someone out there who has them potted up and ready to go. That is the question for professional and novice plant-swappers, every spring, every fall. That is always the question at Savannah’s biannual plant swaps. This year the Saturday spring swap, which is always the first Saturday of April (and October) falls between Friday night’s Passover Seder and Sunday’s Easter celebration. The quintessential trifecta of events, spiritual, ritual and earthy. All festivals of a sort.

“Life is about balance and eating well.” I just read this on a can of gluten free French onion soup from Wolfgang Puck. To that I would add the act of sharing, sharing what we have, sharing what we have too much of, sharing stories, sharing warnings (“This plant is after world domination. As long as you know that you will get along just fine.”). That is what the plant swaps have become. Part bragging, part swagger, part acquisition. Maybe I should change acquisition to greed. Because that’s part of what makes up a gardener. We always want something more or something different. That’s who we are. It’s in our DNA.

But when a plant does well and exceeds its allotted space – can you say Mexican petunias? – we face a conundrum. To rip it out of the ground and compost it or give it away, maybe to someone who just moved to town and isn’t sure what grows and what doesn’t, maybe to someone who has a whole field to fill up? Either way it’s time to say bye-bye, Mexican petunia, and, if we’re going to be honest, to offer warnings. Keep an eye on this plant or you won’t have room for anything else.

That’s the question we growers of perennials pondered some 18 years ago when we decided to get together and swap our good fortune. How much walking iris does one person need? Once you have a successful pot of billbergia or queen’s tears (and I’m here to tell you: that non-complaining plant does reproduce), you want to share the booty. At last year’s fall swap, there must have been a dozen rooted stalks of this epiphytic bromeliad left behind, which is a shame because this plant is the master of neglect. This beauty can survive mostly anything (except too much attention).

The same thing applies to swamp sunflowers. They personify the nickname of our swaps:  “invasive by nature.” That’s why we love them. That’s what some anonymous person must have been thinking when he or she dropped off a flat of itty-bitty starts on my then-Tattnall Street house. She called them green monsters. I’m brave. I’m intrepid. I planted them. Then I found out how tall they get, how beautiful they look in the fall when there’s not very much color left in the garden, what a good cut-flower they can be. But now I can recognize them in their baby stages. Now I can pass them along.

The same with my umbrella flatsedge. Easy to root. Easy to give away.

The plant swaps have become down and dirty. People arrive early, some dragging Radio Flyers filled to the brim, some pulling up to the garden with their pickup truck to unload, some with a bowl of oranges or homemade coffee cake or fresh donuts to share if they are new to gardening or new to town and want to come with something to give away.

We operate on the honor system. Take some, leave some for others, leave your money at home. We welcome seeds, tubers, roots, starts and hand-written notes (we love hand-written notes) about where the plant came from. We like information on bees and vermicomposting. We encourage warnings (“invasive by nature”), but we’re a forgiving bunch because if the ipomoea quamoclit or cypress vine gets away from us (and it will, just so you know) we know what to do with it: bring it to the fall plant swap.

The plant swap is at my garden on West Boundary Street. There is no street address. It sits between Chatham Steel (501 W. Boundary) and Creative Coast (415 W. Boundary St). Need more information? Call me at 912-484-3045 or check out our Facebook page, Savannah Plant Swap.