Aloe Vera Love

aloe flowerI originally bought this little Aloe plant when I was a sophomore in college more than 20 years ago. I remember going down to the local Westside Santa Cruz Nursery and picking out two little succulent plants—a Euphorbia trigona that eventually grew about five feet tall (and I have no idea what happened to), and this little Aloe vera. I wanted to create an indoor plant haven in the breakfast nook area of the house my friends and I had just rented. Every plant placed in that space flourished wildly, and that sunny little breakfast nook soon became known as the jungle room. Every plant in the jungle room was so happy. I even had a coffee plant that flowered and produced about 20 coffee beans, something I’ve never been able to recreate.

Fast forward about five years. I was beating a hasty retreat, having purchased a van and dedicating myself to the lifestyle of a nomadic surf bum, I was finally moving out of that house and liquidating many of my assets. Not trusting this particular collection of roommates, I started giving away many of the plants in the house to responsible non-alcoholic types, including the enormous  Yucca I had brought to college with me.  I wanted to take the Euphorbia to live with me in my van, but its length and spines made it impractical in that small space. So I decided to take my Aloe vera with me instead. After about 2 weeks living in my van it became apparent that the environment was too extreme for the Aloe. It was not happy with the daily temperature swings, and a couple times it had baked in the direct midday sun, a definite no no for an Aloe vera. After only a couple weeks it already looked wilted and sad, shrinking a little everyday instead of growing. I realized I had to give it away if I wanted it to live, so I gave it to a friend that lived close to the Boardwalk. She planted it in sandy ground, in a protected little corner of her yard, and the plant grew with renewed vitality.

A couple years later, when I was no longer living in my van, I was presented with a gift from the same friend, a little Aloe vera pup she had dug out of her yard and potted. I have been doting over it carefully ever since, and it has grown large and impressive for an Aloe vera. It flowers 2-3 times a year, and usually produces about 7 seeds that never sprout. I have a large container full of frozen aloe leaves in my freezer, which has become my way of preserving the leaves broken off during the tumult of life.  I had loved something and let it go, and a little piece of it had made its way back to me.

I’d like to think it loves me too.

Posted for the DP Weekly Writing Challenge: Memoir Madness

Zig Zag

“Nature abhors a straight line.” – William Kent (via)

While nature provides many shapes that are pleasing to the eye, such as the parabola, the spiral, and the ellipse, the straight line is far less common in the natural world. It is human’s folly to try to impose such rigid regularity onto our constructs and architecture.

The zig zag is also a pattern that is seen regularly in nature, and sometimes it seems like an attempt at at straight line before the invisible artist that shapes the universe changes it’s mind.

Posted for the DP Weekly Photo Challenge – Zig Zag

The Age of Grasses


a path at Bamboo Giant Nursery

My Story about Bamboo

So part of the reason I like bamboo so much (besides the fact that it’s awesome) is that it was the first plant that I started to propagate and sell for cash. The story goes like this.

Once upon a time my Dad went through a Japanese Garden phase, (which is probably the root of my affinity for Japanese gardens), and planted some bamboo next to the patio of the house I grew up in. It was planted in a metal partition that was intended to keep this very aggressive bamboo (Phyllostachys aurea) from spreading. But after my Mom and Dad separated and my sis and I went away to college, the yard went feral. Of course the bamboo burst through the partition and started taking over the yard, sending shoots up over fifty feet away from the original planting. Every once in a while the rhizomes would even make it all the way under the house and send up shoots in the front yard.

For years I went over to help my aging mother with the yard maintenance, and I would just cut the bamboo down, and sometimes even dig up the rhizomes. Sometimes I would just grab a stalk of bamboo and start ripping up the long underground roots, like pulling frayed carpet fibers away from the carpet backing. When I was done I would just throw all the boo into the green waste. Then one day I decided to try to put the rhizomes in pots to transplant them. After some simple trial an error in methodology and substrate I achieved a success rate of about 90% with my divisions. I would mix in a lot of sand into the soil mix to help increase drainage, which is very important for almost all species of bamboo. I would go to the dollar store and buy gallon dish tubs, because the bamboo grew better in wide, shallow containers.

Soon I began selling divisions of Golden Bamboo (P. aurea) on Craig’s List, planted in dish tubs, and returned to my Mom’s house about once  a month to restock my supply. I also started selling other plants on Craig’s, but the bamboo was my biggest and most expensive plant for sale. I made almost $1000 selling bamboo in one summer. Not exactly the summer job I had in mind, but from there things started spiraling out of control, not unlike the rhizomes of bamboo tangling through the soil in my Mother’s backyard.

Now, 10 years later, I am a complete plant junkie. I still have many of the divisions of golden bamboo that I dug up. I don’t sell them anymore. Instead I planted them in large pots, and they are all bushy and 8-10 feet tall. They are waiting patiently, I feel, for a careless moment when they can escape their container and begin taking over my yard, the state of California, and eventually the entire planet. I’ve thought about planting some in the earth, but decided I was tired of  breaking shovels trying to dig bamboo out of the ground. For now at least.

Bamboo has gotten such a bad rap as being invasive and rampant, and in many cases its true. Golden Bamboo is considered an invasive weed in many areas, and seeing how it started sending a web of rhizomes out through my Mom’s yard I can understand why.

I’ve also heard it said that if bamboo is so invasive then it would have taken over the world by now. But it is important to remember that the grass family (Poaceae) is relatively new in the plant kingdom, rising to its peculiar prominence during the most recent Cenozoic era. The Cenozoic is commonly known as the ’Age of Mammals’ (with our fauna-centric view of the world), but it could just as easily be called the ’Age of Grasses’. Even though Mammalia is a Class (K-P-Class-O-Family-G-S) and Poaceae is a family (two steps lower on the taxonomic hierarchy), there are twice as many identified species of grass than species of mammals. In fact, familyPoaceae is the fifth largest plant family, and three of the four most important food crops are grasses, not to mention the forage grasses provide for domesticated livestock. Grasses have not only drastically changed the course of human evolution, but the evolution of the entire planet as well.

Bamboo may still take over the world yet. It’s just getting up to speed. All it needs is another million years.

don’t let it escape!


Flowers in the School Garden

In case you didn’t know, I teach middle school. I also started and continue to run a school garden at my school. We have a summer watering schedule,  and students and parents have volunteered to come and water the unirrigated portions of the garden over the summer months. But I still like to stop by every couple weeks and check on how things are going, to make sure the equipment is still there, and make sure nothing is broken or destroyed. Unfortunately, vandalism is a big problem when you leave an area of a school open to the public. Sometimes it seems that teenager’s favorite way to enjoy something is to destroy it. This summer though, so far so good.

In my own garden that I see everyday, the growth and changes are subtle and hard to appreciate. But not seeing the school garden for weeks at a time, the growth and changes are much more dramatic. These are some photos from my last visit.

Now if we could just keep all the other garden pests out.

The Stopping

No one knows for sure why it happened. Scientists, theologians, philosophers, politicians–the brightest wavelengths in the human spectrum–each had their own theories. Some thought it was caused by solar winds, or the reversal of Earth’s magnetic field. Some thought the electronic infrastructure had reached critical mass and tumbled like a house of cards when some celestial door had slammed. Some thought that the deities in heaven and hell had all conspired to teach humanity a lesson for millennia of transgressions. Others blamed invisible alien forces. But for all the postulates and conspiracy theories nobody had any proof, and without a comprehensible reason for it a solution seemed impossible. Communication satellites failed. Fiberoptic networks stopped transmitting bits of information. The modern world as we knew it came to a crashing halt.

The implications reached much further than anyone could have predicted. Television and radio transmissions ceased. Cell phones became useless paperweights. The internet recoiled into the darkness of cyberspace. Electricity and petroleum and the capitalist industrial complex all became obsolete, untenable relics. Even guns and firearms stopped working, bullets and missiles suddenly nothing more than worthless props. Money became an outdated meme, with bartering for concrete goods and services the chosen method of trade. The written word once again became bound to paper, meticulously handmade books and pamphlets. The sailing ship and horse returned as the pinnacles of locomotive technology. Community gardens sprang up in every neighborhood and locality as people relearned to feed themselves.

Without computational models and artificial intelligence to help solve the problem, getting back to the old modern ways became an optimistic impossibility. Lacking possible solutions humanity had to adapt, to figure out different ways of living. And lacking the tools that it had become so dependent upon, humanity had to look to the past for methods of survival. The old ways became the new ways. The wisdom of ancients became the blueprints for tomorrow. And while many assumed the world as we knew it was slowly and inevitably spiraling to an end, that it was flickering feebly like a fluorescent bulb on its last legs and about to go dark forever, in truth the sudden change saved humanity from a slow and methodical death by apathy and self absorption.

Nature always finds a way.

Oops (by tobyct on Flickr)

DP Weekly Writing Challenge: A Lost Art

The Golden Ratio



There are lots of cool things about nature geometry, but one of my favorite patterns is the spiral. The Golden Ratio and Fibonacci sequence have been used to try to describe this natural pattern that most people consider very pleasing to the eye. The Golden ratio is represented by the symbol Phi (φ), which is roughly equal to 1.618033988… Phi is considered an irrational number because it cannot be expressed as a simple fraction, and its precise calculation requires an infinite number of decimal places and has no repeating pattern of numbers. Irrational numbers are not unusual in nature math. Phi’s better known cousin Pi (π = 3.14159…) is also irrational, and is used to calculate the various intricacies of arches and perfect circles. The natural logarithm is another irrational number used to explain many natural phenomena —
e = 2.71828182845904523536028747135266249775724709369995… I don’t know enough about mathematics to try to explain how these numbers are calculated. I just know that I’ve always found them confusing whenever I tried to wrap my brain around them in math class. 

These irrational numbers are responsible for explaining the shapes and patterns taken by the natural world around us. I find it completely appropriate that those things we find most pleasing to the eye seem to defy a neat mathematical explanation. If all the patterns found in nature can only be explained through the use of irrational numbers, it leaves me wondering. Is it the world around us that is naturally irrational, or Homo sapiens quest to define every little phenomenon with a neat mathematical equation?

Some things may beyond the realm of the rational brain. Some things are just irrational. Some things we should just take a step back from and appreciate without trying to explain.

Spirals are twists of nature. Photos of plants twisting.

DP Weekly Photo Challenge: Twist