Monthly Archives: February 2007

Calibanus and nolina

It has rained here the last few days, great gasps of storm to knock potted plants off the porch. One pot broke. A Calibanus hookeri, bought cheap from a big box store that did not know what it was, and it sat out on the porch all night, roots exposed in a pile of sherds. I took the excuse to divide it. The growers had put two plants together in the pot, a cheat to make small, slow-growing plants look larger. They sit tonight in their own unglazed terracotta pots, awaiting the next storm. There is another pair still in its original pot — I went back to the store for it — and another I have been coaxing along for a few years indoors, now potted up. 

Near them, a Nolina longifolia, looking right now like a small, trunkless pony-tail palm but with much longer leaves. I’ve wanted one for three years now, since we saw one at Boyce Thompson Arboretum in Arizona. I think, in fact, that the one we saw is the one in this photo. Boyce Thompson is one of very few arboreta allowing dogs: Imagine me and Becky and Zeke standing in front of this plant the first week of January 2004, the two of them waiting patiently for me to stop gaping. I scoured the nurseries until this past December, when I finally found one. It arrived this month with a couple new agaves and a cactus that will eventually be 30 feet tall unless I kill it. I dimly remember putting them in pots a couple weeks ago. Someday I will struggle to repot the Nolina grown large in the fourth or fifth pot after the one it’s in now, and I will be struck by how long it has been since he left, and it will not seem that long.

White roses and trout

MB Eric reminds us: [Update: Sorry. You know how married people start to look alike after a while.]

It’s White Rose Day. On this day in 1943 Sophie and Hans Scholl and Christoph Probst were guillotined.


The Nazis executed Probst (right) and the Scholls (left) for blogging, or at least for getting as close to it as they could gven the technology of the day. From the Jewish Virtual Library:

One day in 1942, copies of a leaflet entitled “The White Rose” suddenly appeared at the University of Munich. The leaflet contained an anonymous essay that said that the Nazi system had slowly imprisoned the German people and was now destroying them. The Nazi regime had turned evil. It was time, the essay said, for Germans to rise up and resist the tyranny of their own government. At the bottom of the essay, the following request appeared: “Please make as many copies of this leaflet as you can and distribute them.”

The leaflet caused a tremendous stir among the student body. It was the first time that internal dissent against the Nazi regime had surfaced in Germany. The essay had been secretly written and distributed by Hans Scholl and his friends.

Another leaflet appeared soon afterward. And then another. And another. Ultimately, there were six leaflets published and distributed by Hans and Sophie Scholl and their friends, four under the title “The White Rose” and two under the title “Leaflets of the Resistance.” Their publication took place periodically between 1942 and 1943, interrupted for a few months when Hans and his friends were temporarily sent to the Eastern Front to fight against the Russians.

The members of The White Rose, of course, had to act cautiously. The Nazi regime maintained an iron grip over German society. Internal dissent was quickly and efficiently smashed by the Gestapo. Hans and Sophie Scholl and their friends knew what would happen to them if they were caught.

People began receiving copies of the leaflets in the mail. Students at the University of Hamburg began copying and distributing them. Copies began turning up in different parts of Germany and Austria. Moreover, as Hanser points out, the members of The White Rose did not limit themselves to leaflets. Graffiti began appearing in large letters on streets and buildings all over Munich: “Down with Hitler! . . . Hitler the Mass Murderer!” and “Freihart! . . . Freihart! . . . Freedom! . . . Freedom!”

The Gestapo was driven into a frenzy. It knew that the authors were having to procure large quantities of paper, envelopes, and postage. It knew that they were using a duplicating machine. But despite the Gestapo’s best efforts, it was unable to catch the perpetrators.

One day, February 18, 1943, Hans’ and Sophie’s luck ran out. They were caught leaving pamphlets at the University of Munich and were arrested. A search disclosed evidence of Christoph Probst’s participation, and he too was soon arrested. The three of them were indicted for treason.

A few years back I read some letters from Hans Scholl to his sister. One of them struck me: it was a heartfelt paean to a quintessentially German piece of music, one whch Scholl felt expressed all that was good in the German people, something worth holding on to even in the darkest of times. I post part of that piece here, as a small remembrance of their sacrifice.


taricha torosa 2.JPG

The first of the two ponds is murky. Light penetrates only an inch. We walk past it to the second. The Sunday afternoon breeze has blown the duckweed to the second pond’s east side. We sit on the west. They are there beneath the water, hundreds of them.

The California newts are mating.

They come out of the woods after the rains — the females with new, sharp keels on their long tails, the males with new little suction cups on their toes to grasp the females — and they find the nearest water of around a foot in depth. There the males offer up spermatophores, which the females may or may not accept and place in their cloacas, fertilizing their eggs. The eggs are laid in spherical packets, stuck to submerged twigs or to the ground. They hatch in two or three weeks.

The newts often walk some distance before finding water. We found one a quarter mile away this afternoon from this the nearest pond. We two have hiked here before. Becky was stricken with remembrance, with desolation. The woods are moist and the creek running, and she laid her right hand on the moss-covered bole of a bay laurel and sobbed. That part of the trail was especially steep.

The newts weave in and around the stands of egg packets, now seeming to nip at one another, now clasping one another, sometimes a dozen at a time. Adult newts sometimes eat the eggs themselves, and they are likely the only animals that can. The gelatinous cloak that covers the eggs is loaded with tetrodotoxin, the same poison in fugu and blue-ringed octopus, the same poison in the skins of the adult newts themselves. Children capture newts here all the time, molest them briefly and then reluctantly loose them back into the world, and no blaring headlines result in the local newspapers. There is a fatality on record in Oregon: someone decided to swallow a newt of a closely related species. The toxin shuts down the nervous system, paralyzing the respiratory and then the circulatory system. A few garter snake populations have evolved an immunity to the stuff. I walk to the east side of the pond: a blanket of duckweed obscures the mating. Little snouts break through the leaves here and there, newts coming up for a gasp of air. They dive again and the duckweed swirls in their wakes. A few of them walk the shallows, their outlines rendered vaguely beneath a carpet of minuscule red leaves. They are comical in cadence, a child’s wildly imagined windup toy, limbs wheeling in absurdly exaggerated arcs one after another, spines flexing leftward and then rightward. Somehow they scale impossible, overhanging four-foot cliffs, walk miles through the forest.

The carpet runners I bought for him are rolled up in the garage, soiled beyond repair. I will take them to the dump on Wednesday. The sunny corner in our bedroom where once he slept is full again, cycads and sundews and pitcher plants in the window above bare hardwood floor. We cleaned the house the day before Chinese New Year, something between tradition and obsession, and little of his hair remains. I am impatient with his memory. I long to be full of something else, or empty altogether. Westward, a ridge backlit in late-day sun, and on it ten years ago he stared down two coyotes as Craig and I watched. This landscape breeds some things that will seize up your lungs whether you swallow them whole, or leave them alone to multiply beneath the surface.


Raven with purple high-tops
Raven with Purple Sneakers. Matthew Yellowman, artist. A gift from Becky, received yesterday.

The world goes on regardless. They call me back into it. Seven years ago they called me back, their song not meant for me but I took it anyway, walking with the dog in a blur of loss and I heard them, atonal and grating from the power lines.

“We are here,” they sang.

I don’t know if I have ever seen the same raven twice. Two of them in the tree outside this window yesterday, probing the pollarded plane for insects. One against a field of blue as I walked. They are a pestilence in the desert, flock there by the tens of thousands disturbing the wildlife. So we’ve got that in common too. Ten years ago Sharon and I drove past an afternoon congregation of them, a thousand of them merrily dissecting a vacant lot outside a small Mojave town. “It looks like they’re waiting for a Who concert,” she said. “Counting Crows” I replied, earning a Look. Ravens follow humans and their edible garbage deeper and deeper into the Mojave each year, and many of them supplement their steady diet of cheese-coated fast food wrapping paper with an occasional baby tortoise.

I enjoy seeing ravens in the desert but it is more and a guilty pleasure, much as is seeing myself in the desert. Hitchcock’s nightmare comes true but it is not the revenge of the wild: the profusion of ravens rather one more aspect of the injury we do to the wild.

We walked this weekend on Bodega Head, after we took the dog’s old things to the shelter for donation, and along the clifftops we talked of whether Zeke would have enjoyed being there with us, where vertiginous trail met cliff crumbling toward the ocean. I stood at the edge, watched splayed blue-black wings shining off against a flawless sky, heading out to sea. The Birds was mainly filmed in Bodega, and the old church is still there and the old school. The movie didn’t end the way the filmmaker had intended: there was no budget to cover the Golden Gate Bridge in brooding ravens, his vision of an emphatic wild arisen to assert itself again. We are here.