Saturday, April 30, 2005

Redbud Woods


Yesterday, I took a walk up University Avenue, looking for the disputed Redbud Woods. Cornell students have been demonstrating and were hauled out of Day Hall by police; two others chained themselves to a little sycamore tree outside the administration bulding in symbolic protest of Cornell's plan to pave over this small woods. Cornell claims that they can only attract world-class freshman students if they can park their cars near to their dorm. The neighborhood association and the city's Landmarks Preservation Committee have been against the idea, but Cornell sued, and the state's Supreme Court ruled that it was an appropriate use of land under the zoning laws in existence. Though I've done plenty of walking to and from Cornell, and all around, I didn't recall ever walking through Redbud Woods, so I decided to check it out.

It's perfect timing to take a walk up University Avenue. Past the gorge entrance at the east end of Court Street, up the hill, the old cemetery looms to the right and the forsythia cascade all along the road in abundant bloom. Large houses full of student rentals and year-round residents are on the west side of the street overlooking the city. Before the four-way intersection with Willard Way and Gunhill Road, the entry way to Redbud Woods is on the right. A crumbling asphalt path winds through the woods. Lo and behold, a pink haze comes into focus as I walk and I see that the woods is indeed full of redbud trees coming into bloom. A deer crossed my path. This is the ideal way for people living on University Ave (as we call it) to gather their thoughts while making their way to the campus without a car. Such pocket parks are so essential to a quality urban life. It seems terribly regressive that Cornell wants to create another ugly parking lot that just encourages more driving. I'll be adding my voice to let Jeffrey Lehman (president of Cornell) know that this is not sustainable.

I took another route back downtown--a way I had gone many times in the past. Out of Redbud Woods, I headed south on Stewart Avenue past the new West Campus dorms, where freshman would live with or without their cars within a block away. The safety walls built around the construction site had "No parking" signs splashed on them. Graffiti artists added "in Redbud Woods." In a few minutes, I arrived at the bridge over Cascadilla Gorge. Right before the bridge, there's a walking path that heads down the hill overlooking the gorge. I wanted to see what spring flowers were blooming. The small gardens nestled in beds on ledges amid rocks by the old European-style houses as the path winds down the hill overlooking the gorge and rushing water far below. At one spot in the path I noticed a patch of garlic mustard budding out, just getting ready to bloom. I turned around and decided to pick them all, as there were only about 15 or 20 plants amid the vinca. But if they were left to go to seed, they would probably be taking over by next year. Pulled them by the roots and carried the bundle home and stuck them right in the bucket along with the dandelion greens I had picked earlier in the day at home. I had filled the bucket with water so as to keep the greens fresh until processed later in the day.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

The spring is too busy. Trips south to DC area and NYC give a foretaste to the spring coming here. After seeing cherries and crabapples in bloom down there, and trees lit in pale green lining the streets, it's exciting to come home to barer branches and be able to still watch the slow development.

Indoor gardening. Keeping all the little seeds watered and transplanting to bigger pots as needed. Getting more regular about giving a 1/2 strength fish emulsion fertilizer to the seedlings.

Outdoor gardening. Weeding: it's always a meditation on whether or not to pull what. Today was perfect conditions for weeding. After a long dry spell we got some gentle rain, and so much easier to pull out the newly vibrant plants. Many so-called weeds are desirable—they're just volunteers, after all—seeds in the wind, on hoof and alimentary system of birds and other creatures. Some are encouraged and others are yanked. I pull with regret the red dead nettle, with its purple flowered umbrellas, which looks delightful now, but it's better to catch it before it goes to seed. I need the room and into the compost pile it goes.

Competition is stiff in the plant world and life is often brief. Few species manage to survive to old age. Ancient trees inspire us with awe. Old people are honored but more so in the past; that respect is decreasing as the old become less rare.

Each year different plants manage to survive the winter. Last year, I had spinach and lettuce come back in the spring after having been covered by leaves during the cold of winter. Those so covered this year did not survive, but others that were not purposely covered are now offering small leaves for salads: radicchio, cress and arugula. Gathering greens for a salad in the early spring is like a miracle. There doesn't appear to be enough of anything, but little bits pile up. It does help to go out almost every morning to get some more, as things keep growing even in these cool temperatures. Also you always find more on each foraging trip. In addition to the greens that survived over the winter, there is corn salad that has seeded itself all over. Wild violets I have encouraged in certain areas to seed out and are now spreading under the crabapple tree and provide vitamin-C rich greens. Their main competitor now is lemon balm. I use some of their leaves too, but will pull some of that out, as I prefer more violets. There's also still some garlic mustard that I missed earlier. A bit of spearmint is good. (Another thing that is spreading and I have to pull out some.) Dandelions are getting bigger and I will dig those for cooked greens, but some of the smaller plants, I pick to throw into the salad. There is a great abundance of garlic chives now, as well as regular chives. Garlic chives are another rather aggressive plant which looks charming when in flower but seeds mischievously everywhere, and the deep roots are hard to pull out without a hand spade. So I will use them liberally and dig some out later.

Asparagus is poking up a few inches in purple. Next week's dinner!!

Tuesday, April 5, 2005

The teeming activity of spring! Let me categorize the activites:

Indoor gardening. Started seeds last week of tomatoes, tomatillos, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, and some flowers: zinnia and calendula, and a couple of herbs I am short of: sage and hyssop. The sage died last year, and the hyssop is so lovely, and it doesn't always come back like it should.

Soak parsley seed to sow outside!

Outdoor gardening. Pick dandelions. Weed! There's so much grass in the paths of the garden that never got dug up last year, and it's just too narrow to mow in the paths, I believe. I had been hoping Steve would do that for me as a regular practice, but he seems to be more absorbed in other activities, so I should just do it myself. Good exercise!

When the ground is dry enough, sow seed of peas, snow peas, fava beans, lettuce, spinach, mustard, arugula, carrots and radishes. Plant sets of onions, and finally this year I have gotten hold of Egyptian onions! I love anything perennial, and these should supply instances of onions, green or otherwise, at different times of the year. It's hard to always have a supply of green onions handy just when you want them for that batch of peanut noodles or tabouli, so I'm hoping the Egyptian walking onions will help. Yes, I suppose their walking habit will be a little irritating but I'm that kind of casual gardener who can sometimes be led by the plants and not be so controlling that everything must be in its place where I want it. That's too exhausting! I see the strawberries that Margaret gave me last year are spreading into the next bed; even worse the wild raspberries by the fence are bending over and taking root in my flower bed! Should that be allowed?

Cook. Dandelions! First time this year. Today I did the meat version with bacon. (Next time vegetarian for Rachel [and me] I promise.) Yes it is a lot of work, and I always feel slightly crazy but that's when I meditate. I'm trying to explain this in the checkout line of the grocery store, when my mother asks me about echinecea and tobacco.

Observations. It is essential to sit on the beautiful days, at least for a little while, perhaps in the sheltered sun of the south-facing patio after the rocks have absorbed the sun for a few hours. Listen and look. Last week I saw a single cedar waxwing in the crabapple tree-the scout. Today there are maybe a hundred. They come in for a few minutes, eat the crabapples and flit around, then all fly off, usually to the top branches of the big walnut (?) trees behind the Red Cross shelter. Then after a while swoop down again for another visit to the crabapple tree. Each one is like a miniature painting.

Take a walk! That is something that I tend not to do enough of once garden season starts because there is always so much to do here at home, but it is so good to walk and get away and observe other people's gardens and just do that walking meditation and stretch.