Saturday, 18 June 2016

A wonderful book for gardeners, environmentalists, and students of American history.

I have just read a superb book:  "Founding Gardeners" by Andrea Wulf.  It is a must read for gardeners, environmentalists and students of American History.

Here is the blurb from the dust jacket:

From the author of the acclaimed The Brother Gardeners, a fascinating look at the founding fathers from the unique and intimate perspective of their lives as gardeners, plantsmen, and farmers.
For the founding fathers, gardening, agriculture, and botany were elemental passions, as deeply ingrained in their characters as their belief in liberty for the nation they were creating. Andrea Wulf reveals for the first time this aspect of the revolutionary generation. She describes how, even as British ships gathered off Staten Island, George Washington wrote his estate manager about the garden at Mount Vernon; how a tour of English gardens renewed Thomas Jefferson’s and John Adams’s faith in their fledgling nation; how a trip to the great botanist John Bartram’s garden helped the delegates of the Constitutional Congress break their deadlock; and why James Madison is the forgotten father of American environmentalism. These and other stories reveal a guiding but previously overlooked ideology of the American Revolution.
Founding Gardeners
 adds depth and nuance to our understanding of the American experiment and provides us with a portrait of the founding fathers as they’ve never before been seen.


And here is a review from the New York Times

"In 1961, when John F. Kennedy asked Rachel Lambert Mellon to design the Rose Garden at the White House, the commission established a strong link with America’s botanical past. And so, much more recently, has Michelle Obama’s organic vegetable garden, elsewhere on the grounds. As Andrea Wulf reminds us in her illuminating and engrossing new book, “Founding Gardeners,” the first four presidents were passionate botanists whose country seats became laboratories for their grander vision of an independent agrarian republic in the New World.
Perhaps projecting an underlying message to our present leadership, Wulf has written an ecological and historical narrative, revisionist in the best sense, combining the suspense of war and political debate with an intimate view of private lives devoted to the natural sciences and reinforced by long-distance friendships. “Seed boxes” appear to have been the currency of those friendships, exchanged in an international network that defied official hostilities.
Wulf, a British design historian, traveled to America and practically lived at the founders’ country houses, reading their correspondence about their gardens and their hopes for a country of farmers in the tradition of Virgil’s “Georgics.” The reader relives the first decades of the Republic not only through her eloquent and revelatory prose but through the words of the statesmen themselves, written mostly in private. We see, for example, George Washington briefly leaving his generals, just before the British invasion of New York, so he can compose a letter to his estate manager about planting groves of flowering trees at Mount Vernon. Except for one short visit, he would not be home for eight years.
Wulf begins with Benjamin Franklin, in London on behalf of the Pennsylvania Assembly at the time of the much reviled Stamp Act. Even as catastrophe loomed, he was urgently sending seeds back home to his wife, not just for the enhancement of his own garden but to be distributed to other Philadelphia plantsmen. Agricultural self-sufficiency was, he believed, vital for the increasingly rebellious colonies.
After the Revolutionary War, when Thomas Jefferson, then minister to France, joined John Adams for sluggish trade negotiations in London, they also engaged in the timeless British pleasure of visiting gardens, then dominated by the picturesque landscape movement praised by Alexander Pope, whom both had read. But what they recognized, to their great surprise, at places like Lord Cobham’s famous gardens at Stowe were groves of American trees and shrubs — obtained from the Philadelphia farmer and botanist John Bartram, who had introduced over 200 species to fashionable landowners through his London agents. “The irony,” Wulf notes, “was that the English garden was in fact American.” And as intrepid tourists and revolutionaries, Jefferson and Adams were moved by the classical follies in these English gardens, ornamented with motifs depicting ancient liberty in the face of imperial (or monarchical) tyranny.
According to Wulf, Bartram’s garden on the Schuylkill, overseen after his death in 1777 by his sons John and William, also played a significant role in the Constitutional Convention. At one point, the delegates were deadlocked over the issue of proportional representation in Congress. Farm and garden visits were on the unofficial agenda, so on a cool summer morning a group took carriages from Philadelphia to Bartram’s property, where they were impressed by the splendor of its collection of trees and shrubs from all 13 colonies, “their branches intertwined,” as Wulf puts it, “in a flourishing horticultural union.” This symbolism was not lost on three delegates who changed their votes to “aye,” or on Alexander Hamilton, the proposer of a more urban-centric society and the least interested in botany, who nonetheless planted 13 sweetgum trees at his house in New York, the Grange.
John Adams was the first president to live in what was soon to be called the White House, which was then, like most of Washington, surrounded by mud flats. The city was emerging from Pierre Charles L’Enfant’s grandiose plan in which, harking back to British landscape gardens, wide avenues were terminated with real classical “metaphors of liberty” — the Capitol and the White House. Oddly enough, the next president, Jefferson, did little to cultivate the White House grounds, despite his constant improvements at Monticello. Yet Jefferson’s contribution was on a far grander scale: having doubled the country’s territory with the Louisiana Purchase, he sent his secretary, Meriwether Lewis, along with William Clark, on the expedition to the far West that would begin to study the natural history of the American wilderness.
Throughout her narrative, Wulf squarely faces the institution of slavery, which made fertile and exemplary estates possible in the South. In one passage, she describes in detail the way an arboretum was transplanted from the surrounding woodland by Washington’s slaves in the midst of a freezing winter.
After James Madison’s term as president, he retired to his Virginia estate, Montpelier, and devoted himself to the preservation of the environment by conserving timber resources and once-­fertile land that had been depleted from overuse. In 1818, as the first president of the Agricultural Society of Albemarle, he made a prescient speech on the subject, filled with advice for living off the land without destroying it. His garden, like those of others laid out by the founding fathers, remains today as proof of his dedication to the natural world. In many ways, these gardens are among the greatest aspects of our heritage."


The Revolutionary Generation, Nature, and the Shaping of the American Nation
By Andrea Wulf
Illustrated. 349 pp. Alfred A. Knopf. $30

I sang to a fabulous Russian man I met today.

Friday 17th June 2016

Off I went this morning to my local Publix Supermarket  to get some more supplies for my 10th anniversary in SRQ party (by the way the party was great fun!).

I was in and out of the store in ten or twelve minutes but, "woe is me"  my car would not start,

I have a jumper cables, so I asked a man (I call him "man number one") who was returning to his car if he would help me.

He said that he was in a bit of a hurry, but that he would be glad to help.

Just then I caught sight of one of my local acquaintances (Dan), "man number two"  who had also been shopping at Publix.

I told the first man that I could cope without his help (and thank you very much!) because Dan was nearby,

Of course Dan was glad to offer his help, but man number one did not rush away for he wanted to make sure that I had gotten a charge,

Dan and I hooked up my jumper cables, but all to no avail.

Then "man number three" drove by in his huge Ford  F150 truck,  He saw my dilemma, but without my asking, he offered his help, thinking  that his truck might have a bit more energy to spare.

'Twas a good idea, but it did not work.

(Here I express gratitude  to man number one and man number three who then went on their merry ways.)

Man number two (My local acquaintance Dan)  drove me home and then back again to the Publix parking lot because  I had left my mobile 'phone at home.

Please be gracious to me, even though there is no point in owning a mobile 'phone then not carrying it on one's person. Mea culpa.

I called AAA.  As is always the case I was interrogated mercilessly(!)  until the AAA  clerk  conceded with "yes, you do have a problem".

I returned to the parking lot whereupon  the local AAA office called to say that I should expect service in thirty five minutes. A few minutes later the repair truck driver called to let me know he was on his way.

Even as I waited with the card hood up, two other drivers stopped and asked if they could be of help.

"He" was Alex. I heard his accented English so I asked "what part of Europe are you from?"  
"From Russia" he said.

Alex set to work with great diligence. In about fifteen minutes he determined that the car battery was as dead as the Monty Python parrot.  It had been installed by Triple A just seventeen months ago as a replacement for another AAA battery which had also  failed under warranty.

The receipt for that transaction was wonderfully stored in my filing cabinet -  wisdom would have told me to store it in the glove compartment.  Anyway, dear old Alex made a long call to an AAA office as a result of which I was granted a new battery free of charge, I would think so, a battery should last for longer than seventeen months).

The cool thing was that Alex, instead of charging me for a new battery and then leaving me to "fight City Hall", took the time and trouble to make that call.

Just before he left I said "Alex, I know that you cannot accept a tip, but if I get a survey call about your work I will give you top marks".

I added "before you leave I want to sing you a song".  His facial expression showed both confusion and bemusement.

"Don't worry" I said, "I think that you will know and like this song".

I then launched into a "la la" rendition of the first four line of the old Tsarist days Russian National Anthem.

Alex grinned from ear to ear.  Indeed he knew and liked the tune.

Here it is

Old Russian National (Tsarist) SAnthem

You'll know the tune  -    it is used in Tchaikovsky' 1812 Overture.

It's also used as a Hymn Tune ("Russia" )

God the Omnipotent

God the Omnipotent! King who ordainest 

thunder thy clarion, the lightning thy sword; 

show forth thy pity on high where thou reignest: 

give to us peace in our time, O Lord.

God the All-merciful! Earth hath forsaken 

thy ways all holy, and slighted thy word; 

bid not thy wrath in its terrors awaken: 
give to us peace in our time, O Lord.

God, the All-righteous One! Earth hath defied thee; 

yet to eternity standeth thy word, 

falsehood and wrong shall not tarry beside thee: 
give to us peace in our time, O Lord.

God the All-provident! earth by thy chastening 

yet shall to freedom and truth be restored; 

through the thick darkness thy kingdom is hastening: 
thou wilt give peace in our time, O Lord.

It's a grand and stirring tune which is also used for the more modern hymn "Christ all Victorious" 

Thursday, 16 June 2016

16th June 2016 Ten Years In Sarasota

I took possession of my condominium in Sarasota ten years ago today.

My pathway through retirement had been magical. I sold my condo. in Medford in two days. When I flew to Sarasota I bought a condo here within to days.  That was in April. The purchaser in Medford was glad to delay the closing until June.  The sellers in Sarasota were also happy with a June completion date.

All was going so very smoothly until I set out to fly from BOS to TPA via ATL using Air Tran.

The Air Tran desk in BOS was in a corridor, and it was a scene of chaos. Air Tran was canceling and changing flights at will.  My flight had been canceled,

When I reached the front of the line I asked the clerk if I could be routed via Chicago.  He said that Air-Tran did not fly in or out of Chicago. I told him that I had indeed used Air Tran to CHI.

"Are you calling me a liar?" he asked.

At which point a thirty something man in line behind me stepped up and said "He did not call you a liar, he simply stated that he had flown through CHI on A-T."  Hurrah for him.

He and I got re booked on a later flight to ATL.  By happenstance we each had aisle seats, and were side my side across the aisle.  He was anxious to get home to his wife and son (somewhere in the American south west, and I to get to TPA.  We had next to know time to make the connecting flights.

We arrived early in ATL  (cheers), but the were parked on the tarmac for thirty minutes, meaning that we each had missed our connecting flights.

Then we went through the long and tedious process of securing flights for the next morning, and of being assigned Hotels.

Again, by happenstance, we were assigned to the same hotel.  When we got there at about 11:30 p.m. he said "I need to talk with you".  We chatted over a snifter in a nearby bar, and he, by then knowing that I was a Priest, poured out his heart and soul seeking spiritual counsel. (You never know).

Plan A had seen me in TPA on June 15th in good time to get a rental car and then drive to Sarasota.

Plan B meant that I would arrive in TPA at 10:30 a,m. on June 16th.  That left me precious little time to get the rental car, and then drive to the Lawyer's office and sign the papers.  (My Lawyer was shutting up shop that day at Noon).  So, late that night in  my good Realtor in SRQ  got a call from me saying "help, would you meet me at TPA and drive me to the Law office.?"

That he did.  Just as we drove into the Lawyer's Parking lot at 11:55 .a.m. my Realtor got a call on his mobile 'phone.  It was from the lawyer.  I heard my Realtor say "we are just driving in to your parking lot".

Phew we had made it just in time.

These have been a good ten years for me.  I will celebrate with a soiree at my home with some of my new friends on Friday night.  Then on Monday I will have lunch with Kay and Barbara who now live in Bradenton, but who were parishioners at St. Stephen's in Pittsfield, and with my splendid new (since 2006) Sarasota friends Rob and Charlotte,

They have also been good years for my brother Martyn and his son Sam, for my sisters Maureen and Jean and their husbands, Bern and John respectively, for my first cousin Janet and her partner Steve, for my niece Beth and her b/f Jordan, and for my niece Anne, her husband Stuart with their daughter Olivia, together with a host of my friends from Pittsfield and Cambridge MA, all of whom have been pleased that I retired to this little spot of paradise -
From the Street (1)

From the Street (2)

Looking out from my Lanai to the Pond

From the air.  (A helicopter ride I took with my nephew Sam and his pal Toby.
Today, and since the massacre in Orlando 

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

"Somewhere along the road" A song which is haunting me - (sung here by Steeleye Span).

Of course I'd heard of Steeleye Span, but I didn't know much about them.

In recent months I've become a fan of the fabulous Maddy Prior, never knowing that she had been a part of Steeleye Span.

In my search of You Tube for her songs  I came across "Somewhere along the Road" as recorded by Steeleye Span.   In the mystery of  synchronization , or coincidence this was on Monday 13th  June 2016, a day on which the full impact of the killings at the Pulse Night Club in Orlando was sinking into my consciousness.

Thus the song is haunting me, and allowing me to bring a wee bit of hope to my maudlin heart.

Somewhere along the road
Someone waits for me
Beyond the present storms that blow
Waiting patiently
No secrets held in an open heart
A spirit that soars over mountains
Somewhere along the road
Someone waits for me

Somehow a guiding light
Always shows the way
To those who lose their way by night
Searching for the day
A day away from happiness
Tomorrow will bring a new sunrise
Somewhere along the road
Someone waits for me

Sometimes when winds are still
Perhaps beyond this silent hill
A voice will come to me
Raise your eyes and see my world
Raise your voice and sing out
Somewhere along the road
Someone waits for me

Somewhere along the road
Someone waits for me
Beyond the present storms that blow
Waiting patiently
No secrets held in an open heart
A spirit that soars over mountains
Somewhere along the road
Someone waits for me

Somewhere along the road
Someone waits for me

(Rick Kemp)

Monday, 13 June 2016

When Gwen lost her knickers and other silly tales

I was reminded yesterday of the time when my boss, Gwen, lost her knickers.

This would have been in 1965 or 1966 when I worked as a Civil Servant in the U.K Ministry of Defence "Inspectorate of Armaments" in an office on Woodland Rd, Clifton, Bristol.  We were housed in one of those marvelous old Victorian Houses.

I was a "Clerical Assistant", (office dogsbody) - the lowest rung on the Civil Service hierarchy ladder -  a ladder which I did not plan to climb.

My boss Gwen was a cheerful and kind woman who took the country  'bus into Bristol from her home in the country village of Bitton.

I too took a city 'bus.  Gwen and I would then face a short walk up a fairly steep hill (Elton Rd) to get to the office.   As  fitted my station I had to be the first to arrive.

One morning Gwen arrived, already chuckling. She said "Michael, I am an old lady and you are a young man so I shouldn't tell you this.  But I lost my knickers when I was walking on Elton Rd".

She related that the waist band elastic had given way and that she had to muster as much dignity as she could as she stepped out of one knicker leg and then the other.

What amused her greatly is that her noble performance had been watched by a young school boy from the nearby Bristol Grammar School.  She recalled that she saw him "wide eyed with wonder and bemusement".

Old fashioned knickers  (or bloomers).

I vested in a hurry yesterday morning  ( a practice I deplore in others!) just before the 9:30 Eucharist at St. Margaret of Scotland Episcopal Church in SRQ 

I was in a hurry because I had been lolly-gagging in the parking lot - chatting with a charming late 70's/early 80's woman who was "vaping" before the service began.

As she puffed away she could't wait to tell  me that the flavour of the vaping liquid she prefers is called "Sex on the Beach".

She delights in telling young male shop clerks/assistants that she wants sex on the beach.

In my hurry I tied my cincture incorrectly, I knew it, but didn't take the time to adjust it.

Cincture, the rope which lay and ordained ministers use as a belt around their albs

I didn't tie it correctly, so as I ministered Communion it slithered down to the ground, just like Gwen's knickers.  

Laking her aplomb I somehow managed it to get tangled up around both angles.  A lay eucharistic minister came to my aid, and untangled and removed it.

There was no school-boy to witness my indignity,  Instead there were 80+ worshipers who were captivated to the point of laughter at my performance and rescue.

Later I said to the congregation  "now of course you will forget my very fine sermon, but you will always remember the day when the preacher got his knickers (cincture) in a twist".


Sunday, 12 June 2016

Orlando FL June 12th 2016 - not a time for politics or instant analysis.

This ghastly massacre  has left us all stunned.

The tragedy has opened the flood gates for political comment from the right and from the left.

I am not ready for that.


Here are the latest figures  "Orlando Police say the death toll in the early morning shooting remains at 50, with more than 50 others injured in the attack at the nightclub. It is the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history".

No political statement or meme is helpful to me.

For you  see, if I were to be killed or maimed in such a massacre I know that at least eighty of my family members and friends would be shocked to the core.

So I cannot but think of the (at least)  eight thousand people  who are living in deep grief and despair today.

I cannot but think of the Police and Sheriffs Deputies  who had to make a decision in the face of the tragedy, knowing that they were damned if they did, and damned if they didn't,

I cannot but think of the scene of carnage with greeted them. Which one of us could bear to see such a scene of horror?

I cannot but think of the firefighters and EMT's whose task it was to attend to the wounded and the dead.  Which one of us could bear to see such a scene of horror?

I cannot but think of the undertakers and funeral directors whose job it has been and will be to remove the dead bodies, and to work with family members to arrange good and respectful burials,  Which one of us could bear to see such a scene of horror?

I cannot but think of the Pastors,Priests, Rabbis and Imams whose task will be to minister to so many grieving people,   Which one of us could bear to minister in the face of such ungodly horror?