A Little Progress and Seasonal Changes

Yesterday I printed notecards here in my very house with my very own printer. After experimenting and learning that black and white cards look better printed here than they ever did with the company I was using, I went after it. I’m getting a better product at less cost, AND it makes it possible for me to print custom orders and assortments in small batches. It isn’t so much that the company I was using is expensive — though I think it is — it’s that it was a huge gamble and sometimes a sizable investment to order from them. I still have a lot of cards I will never sell, flowers. I took a shot on them that didn’t pan out.

Color, however — more learning. The card stock I got for this first experience is too heavily textured for nice color printing. My printer is up to it, but I need smoother paper.

As I worked I kept thinking of Erich Fromm’s observation that in medieval times the producer really did know his/her market, how much he/she could expect to sell and for how much. It made me think that we are not all living in the same era whatever the calendar says.


Yesterday I spent some time with my beans, standing in the little arched bower of their crazy tall growth. I told them how great they’ve been all summer in spite of it having been — for their human — a very strange summer. “You are an inspiring example of constancy,” I told them, noticing that on the ground, a young bean seems to have come up. Huh? It’s not impossible, but I hope that’s not the case because there is no way he/she can winter over, though in warmer climes they are perennial plants. For the most part the beans look tired and done. I’ve been harvesting for the past month and have a very large soup bowl filled almost to the brim with dried beans.

Another amazing plant has been a Genovese basil plant I started from the little leaves and stems that come in a small plastic container that they sell at the store. I rooted it, planted it, and it has grown to be the biggest, strongest and most flavorful basil I’ve ever grown. Two nights ago it was supposed to freeze. I went out to bring herin and found she’d sent down a root powerful enough to pierce grow bag and into the ground a good six inches. She is a dauntless and determined basil plant. I realized then that I can’t bring her in. To repot her and protect that root would demand a really big pot, so I took cuttings.

I know that all this is just what plants do and that humans have depended on it for thousands of years, but it still amazes me.


A big challenge for an artist like me is money framing a painting. I have another big painting on a panel that needs a frame. It’s not just for the hanging or aesthetics that the painting needs a frame; panels are a little fragile in the corners and a frame protects them. I thought of a GoFundMe for $100 and then laughed at myself. It’ll happen. I just don’t know when.

I’ve also stopped the note card business except direct orders. It’s a gamble at this point to order them printed professionally when THOSE costs have gone up a lot. I have found a way to print them myself — and the quality of the printed image is excellent, every bit as good as Vistaprint. Still, with postage going up so much, I imagine people will be sending less mail — may already be sending less mail.

I experimented with the Rainbow Girls in Wheatland Wyoming (aka The Three Graces) and that came out beautifully. I’m going to have to refine this for landscapes, but I’m optimistic.

I’m not whining. I have an income, few needs and the ability to choose (to some extent). The way I see it, after the past several years of craziness things are naturally going to be fucked up. Like other “bad” times in my life I figure my job is just to hold on. It’s worked OK in the past. I’m just really happy I bought my house when interest rates were so low and refinanced it when they went lower. Meanwhile, I live in a beautiful place, have friends and the opportunity to simplify my life to ride this out. It’s comforting and not comforting to know we’re all in the same boat. I’m a little worried by the recent election in Italy, but, as I’m learning from Fromm, people turn to authoritarianism when they’re scared and have lost faith. Maybe he wouldn’t put it that way, but it seems to me that’s what it boils down to.

One thing that’s doing VERY well are the Scarlet Emperor Beans of song and story. With 23 plants, you’d expect SOMETHING to happen and it has. Several things. One I’ve learned is how much they like living in a close neighborhood. I’ve learned that it doesn’t matter if you plant them directly 1 or 3 inches deep ; they’re going to come up and do just as well as the ones you’ve nursed into being in the house. I’ve learned they are just very very happy to be alive, and while they “like” my attention, they prefer it ensconced in their language which is sunlight, heat and water, all leading to a chorus of “Thank you, Martha!”

I’m no Felix Mendel, but these all came from one packet of five seeds. The first year I planted one. I harvested seeds from it and, the next year, combined the seeds from that plant with those I had remaining from the packet and planted three. The next year I planted four. Then six. Then and then… They are all related to each other. I wonder if they’ve naturally selected in some way to do well in my small garden plot. This isn’t their native land by any stretch, though the altitude is. “This species originated from the mountains of Central America. It was most likely cultivated in the highlands of Mexico and Guatemala around 2000 BC.” And more.. Eat the Weeds

The Scarlet Runner Bean has also been called …Aycoctl by the Aztecs, and Ayocote by the Spanish. It’s native to Central America and has escaped cultivation in many areas. This bean is still on the home kitchen menu in its original range but the rest of the world grows it as an ornamental. Lots of folks also use it as a nectar attraction for hummingbirds and butterflies. Historically, Scarlet Runner Bean was in English and early American gardens by the 1600s.

There are some dozen and a half cultivars now. (Cultivars are made by man, varieties are made by nature.) The Dutch Phaseolus coccineus v. alba has white flowers. The “Butler” is stringless, “Painted Lady” has red and white flowers, the “Kelvedon Wonder” is an early variety with long pods, “Sunset” has pink flowers, and the “Scarlet Emperor” …has scarlet flowers. Under right conditions the Scarlet Runner Bean is the most productive of all the planted beans.

Various red runner beans…

I think next year I’m going to try a new system because this year’s system – with all those plants – wasn’t great. It wasn’t even a “system.” It was kind of “Oh shit, what do I do now?” My past methods didn’t work with so many plants. Then, because most of the light is at the top of 8 to 10 foot plants, they got top heavy. Reaching for the sun, a couple almost fell over. I guess I have a few months to research wires/netting etc. Anyway, out of this strange summer, that began with my not even wanting to mess with a garden, I have learned a lesson. Mess with the garden. It might be the best part of the whole show.

Poetry and Song…

I have a beautiful spider tending the wildflower garden. She does good work, too. Yesterday I watched as she caught a fly. She’s not especially large — her body is a little over 1 cm. She’s black and yellowish/green. Her belly is yellow/green to match the stripes on his back. I looked her up and she’s Agriope aurantia aka Yellow Garden Spider.

I had to laugh when I read this about their love life: “Yellow garden spiders breed twice a year. The males roam in search of a female, building a small web near or actually in the female’s web, then court the females by plucking strands on her web. Often, when the male approaches the female, he has a safety drop line ready, in case she attacks him.” Little guy risking his life because he’s driven by a higher force…

With my cell phone, it wasn’t easy to photograph “my” spider, but I finally succeeded though she’s not in the best focus.

A Noiseless Patient Spider
Walt Whitman

A noiseless patient spider, 
I mark’d where on a little promontory it stood isolated, 
Mark’d how to explore the vacant vast surrounding, 
It launch’d forth filament, filament, filament, out of itself, 
Ever unreeling them, ever tirelessly speeding them. 

And you O my soul where you stand, 
Surrounded, detached, in measureless oceans of space, 
Ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing, seeking the spheres to connect them, 
Till the bridge you will need be form’d, till the ductile anchor hold, 
Till the gossamer thread you fling catch somewhere, O my soul.

As for the flowers? I am not sure what they are. I thought zinnias, but now I don’t think so. Coneflowers? I’m a little sorry that it seems that they are all going to be yellow — if they make it to the first frost — but the San Luis Valley itself seems to have a natural predilection for yellow flowers. They came from a bag of wildflower seeds that had vague content promises and percentages on the bag. The garden was an experiment during the early summer drought to see if wildflowers would do better in the terrible heat of my south-facing yard than grass does. They did do better, so probably next spring all the dry patches will have experiments.

Sorry for all the politics lately. It’s just been surreal (again? still?) over here in the Home of the Brave. The following song can offend some people, but it’s probably my second all-time favorite. I love the imagery and dark satire. My first all-time favorite has experienced a bizarre renewal of popularity — more popularity than it had in 1985 when it came out. It’s very cool to hear it randomly played on the radio again. Teddy loves it. That, of course, is Kate Bush’ “Running Up that Hill.”

No Hard Feelings

Even though I wasn’t in a great mood at bean planting time and wasn’t even sure I wanted to deal with it, I planted beans. A few inside, a few outside 3x too deep, a few outside the right depth. ALL of them came up and I gave 3 plants away. There are now 23 bean plants in my garden and they are the happiest beans I’ve ever grown even though none of them were named or got to “write” any poetry.

I guess they knew all along that they were beans, not Tang Dynasty Chinese Poets, and that being a Scarlet Emperor Bean is quite enough, thank you.

Last night I got to eat the first small handful from these plants. It was as delicious as were their forbears.

Today I was out watering their besties — the sunflowers on whom they rely to help attract pollinators and on which they wind the later vines of the summer. The sunflowers seem to like them, too. There were dozens of bees and then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a very tiny hummingbird of a type I had not seen before. I was pretty sure he was a Rufus Hummingbird, but not being a legit birder, how would I know?

From Audubon.org

Hummingbirds love the red flowers. The little guy fed on the nectar of the highest flowers, enchanting to watch. I didn’t move, I just kept watering. Later I did my research (like a good non-birder) and learned that I was right about the type and that he’s migrating. I thought of the wonder of how my beans reach 10 or 12 feet and bloom their hearts out just at the moment hummingbirds are traveling through.

Nature’s clock is so much more subtle and wondrous than spring, summer, fall and winter. Each being has its clock that tells it where it needs to be and what it needs to do. When things go haywire — like the blizzard we had on September 9, 2019 — every being suffers. Bear and I didn’t suffer, and Teddy hadn’t known enough Septembers yet to know it was a little odd, but I did have to deal with downed trees in my yard. That was a kind of pain. $$$

I remember being out at the Refuge and seeing a mountain blue bird hovering at eye level, looking me as if he were saying, “Help!” There was no food for him and he wasn’t supposed to be there. That year was a massive die off and what blew me away is that it took so long for people to see the obvious reason. Millions of migrating tiny birds caught in a blizzard.

But here’s my new “friend.” Audubon.org

I love these beans. They’ve taught me so much. I think they “know” me and my role in their existence. I look on the green pods I pick, cook and eat as a gift. “Thank you, Martha, for saving seeds and planting us so we can grow and do our thing.” After 5 generations I guess they’ve specialized to my yard. Every year they are taller and more productive. Their little garden is a small bean cathedral.

It’s Bean Too Long

Every day I spend a little time with the Scarlet Emperor Beans, and, this summer, which has been rainy and a little cooler (thank you god) they haven’t set on fruit in the same way I remember from years past. Just two during this whole time, two pods that are now quite large. Yesterday I went out to commune with them and saw that most of the more mature among them are sending out LOTS of beans and I was happy.

I looked at how they’re growing — some people cut back their pole beans so they grow in neat columns, but I don’t. For some inarticulable reason I think they need to be free to sort out their destinies. Some of them are now more than 12 feet high/long and they wind around each other in the higher reaches, finding support where they can and where I’ve given them what help I can. There are 23 plants in that small — 8 x 4 feet — garden. Several sunflowers live among them and some bean vines twine up their stems. It’s a happy small garden patch.

Last year I read an article in The Guardian about some scientists who, after long and detailed observation, were convinced that French pole beans grow with intention.

The issue of whether or not plants choose their actions and possess feelings or even consciousness is a thorny one for many botanists, with the more traditional-minded strongly disputing any notion of sentient vegetation. Although plants clearly sense and react to their environments, this doesn’t mean they possess complex mental faculties, they argue.

Guardian article

I think intelligence is an interesting question. What exactly IS it and do plants have it? I guess on a very basic level it’s everything a species does to ensure its survival and the propagation of its kind. Considering that humans (with their much vaunted intelligence) are actually capable of devising ways of destroying their species… Well, that’s a tough one, so I’ll go back to the beans.

As I said, though our summer started out hot and dry, it has been cool and pretty wet most of July. I haven’t experienced that kind of summer since I started growing Scarlet Emperor Beans. I realized yesterday, standing with them, what they seem to be doing. The two most mature plants that get the most sun each sent out ONE pod into which they poured all the sun, all the water, all the energy to ensure that next year there will be Scarlet Emperor Beans. The two pods together probably will yield six seeds if they make it all the way to ripe. That’s not a lot, but it’s a future.

NOW they’re throwing out little beans like they are “supposed” to. “Here, Martha. We had to take care of our future. Now you will get some beans for your supper.”

During my life as a teacher I encountered all kinds of intelligence — devious, survival driven, hopeless, curious, resigned, determined, imaginative, divergent, autistic, questioning, even “I’m not very smart, teacher. I’m only going to college to give my mom a break,” and he wasn’t lying, but he sat in front of class and did every assignment to the best of his very limited ability. I also had to learn about the various formally defined “intelligences” and took a test at Disabled Students Services to determine my fundamental intelligence which is kinesthetic. That explains a LOT about me as a person (and learner, and teacher) but not how I happened to end up an English teacher.

My experience with “intelligence” leads me to think my beans are pretty smart. Maybe they can’t read, write, or run companies, but they have clearly done some math in ensuring their future. They also seem to communicate with each other and assign tasks (or volunteer?) They’ve responded to this unusual summer with wisdom.

And, strange as it sounds, when I’m hanging out with them, I feel a kind of energy. I think I’m part of whatever it is they are. I think they know that I’m a key component in their survival. I think they say, “Thank you.”


Even to me my gardening style seems a little kooky. It’s always an experiment. Some experiments succeed and some don’t. I’m not too hopeful about this one which is supposed to evolve into a patch of wildflowers… The burlap is alleged to protect the seeds from birds and wind and provide a covering through which the little plants will poke their optimistic heads. It’s only been five days so I’m keeping my own optimism.

So far the beans are persisting in teaching me the lesson of patience and faith. Another one poked his happy little head up out of the 3 inches of dirt under which I planted him. “Hello!” he said a couple of days ago.

“Wow, dude,” I said, “Are you sure? It’s pretty crowded in there. I’m not sure this is a good idea.”

“Sure is pretty up here.”

I have tomatoes to put out now and Genovese basil. I have to be one of the least inspired gardeners in the whole world. I do it because — I don’t know! Could it be in my blood? An urge to get out there and put stuff in the ground and water it? The plants themselves do some of it. The spring bulbs and iris come up every year with all their irresistible beauty. One of them that the wind was abusing is here in my house.

The message of a garden is always the same. Hope. It’s not my plants’ fault that I’m in a bad mood, a gray funk, a generally “over it” state of mind and heart. In my tiny world my fridge is on the blink. It’s kind of working, working enough, but the freezer isn’t cold enough. It freezes ice cubes, but… I did everything in my power — attempted to clean the coils but I don’t have a tool to take the little back off the fridge. So, it’s chugging along kind of working until a repair person can come out in 3 weeks.

And then, humans keep being inhuman…

A few days ago I wrote about envy which led to a discussion about want or desire or something in the comments about that, how it’s a problem for people. It is. I admit I tried to “rise above it” but that’s only possible in a conversation. In real life it’s not so easy. I honestly think NO one, no human is satisfied. We always wish for some other thing and sometimes it’s very vague. Yeah, right now I WANT a working refrigerator (and better knees) because my fridge is iffy as are my knees. But there is also a vague kind of yearning in the background for something I can’t fully define, but it involves people not randomly and whimsically killing others. It involves a lot of things that are completely NOT in my power.

Tu Fu 2022

Finally! The first bean! Tu Fu is one of the Scarlet Emperor Beans I planted too deep — 3 inches! I don’t know why I did that — bad advice from Mr. Internet, I think, very stupid because this isn’t my first rodeo or bean. The packet from which the original beans came is in my seed box, but did I look at it? No. Or rely on previous (successful) experience, good God no, never that.

I didn’t expect to be this happy over the emergence of a bean, but I guess that happens every year.

You may be asking “Why Tu Fu?”

Simple. MAYBE he’ll be the ONLY bean (I don’t know). And, if that’s the case, I want the poet who wrote my favorite Tang Dynasty poem. He also had to CLIMB to get to the sunlight. He might feel a sense of accomplishment.

Gazing at the mountain

Preparing to climb Mt. Tai
All around me, Zhao and Jiang
a distant blue
Good Fortune, the God of Time, bestows and
Balanced in dawn’s early light are Yin and Yang

To the layers of clouds I bare my breast, while 
From the corner of my eye
I catch the sight of flying birds
As I struggle to reach the top
From the summit all the mountains seem small.

I changed the last line to the one my friend translated for me when he wrote the poem for me on a scroll.

Sometimes I feel sorry for myself because I can’t easily climb anything, but then I think, I live at the same altitude as the highest mountains in San Diego County. A mountain is a mountain is a mountain. A mountain can challenge me, but never to judge me. The ring of mountains around me? They just remind me of the immensity of time, sometimes even that they were not always here; that there were Rocky Mountains BEFORE these Rocky Mountains. The great gift of a mountain — as Tu Fu writes in this beautiful poem — is perspective.

望 岳

岱 宗 夫 如 何
齐 鲁 青 未 了
造 化 钟 神 秀
阴 阳 割 昏 晓
荡 胸 生 层 云
决 眦 入 归 鸟
会 当 凌 绝 顶
一 览 众 山 小

You can see more here, along with the story behind the poem and something about Tu Fu: https://100tangpoems.wordpress.com/2017/02/21/gazing-at-the-mountain/

Scarlet Emperor Beans, Fifth Generation

Dear Readers:

As I finished this post, I realized it’s more a letter than a blog post. SO…

Yesterday I surrendered to my own need to PROPERLY plant Scarlet Emperor Beans. Long time readers of this blog know what that means and yeah, it is a little insane, but…

A few weeks ago, with totally the wrong attitude, I put 8 straight in the ground outside, too deep as it happens. I’ve been distracted by a friend’s personal problems and NOT in the best mood. When the beans didn’t come up I realized what I’d done. “OK Plan B.” Again, without the best attitude, I took a few of last year’s beans outside and planted them the right depth. But something didn’t feel right and THEY haven’t (so far) come up even though the days have been hot and the nights warm — for here. Of course if they come up, they will be greeted with thunderous applause.

Yesterday, as I watered the bed where the beans have been planted, mildly inspired by the tomato and basil sprouts in the house, I thought, “You know what you need to do.” So now, in a fancy germinating tray (that I didn’t want to bring into the house) sitting on a thrift store TV tray (that I didn’t want to bring into the house) are five peat pots in which I’ve planted Scarlet Emperor Beans in my traditional, correct way. They are by a window in my living room that needs desperately to be washed, but because it has old aluminum storm windows, is taller than I am, and won’t open from the inside, chances are it will not be washed in my life time, except the inside which is very clean. OH well. Someone in the life of my house fastened the windows shut with two-sided foam insulation tape. I understand WHY, but really not a good idea. I wish I had the money to replace these windows with new vinyl windows, but I don’t. Home ownership is really a waste for me because it doesn’t matter that I have a mortgage anymore. Tthe standard deduction is greater than my itemized deduction. The advantage — and it’s MAJOR — is the dogs . But I would love the outside of my house to be someone else’s problem.

I have not named the beans yet. It’s tempting fate to show so much interest in young, unfledged things, sort of the “don’t count your chickens” idea. Even so, there’s really no problem giving them the names of their ancestors since they really ARE their ancestors (being plants). So far I’m thinking of Tu Fu, Lao She, Cao Xueqin, Li Ho and Pearl Buck. If any come up outside I’ll take names from the Shui Hu Chuan.

Yesterday the power went out for a couple of hours. It was an interesting experience because I didn’t lose phone service (huh?) and my laptop said, “You have a personal hotspot with your iPhone. Would you like to join?” so I went online via my phone’s G5. This is the first time that opportunity has existed and wow. It made it possible for me to check the outage map, for one thing. Also, after the last long power outage that resulted from the fire we had in town, I bought what my mom would call a “toy” a rechargeable lantern that charges via a USB cable and has the ability to hold the charge to keep an iPhone charged. I quickly saw what a good investment that was — not yesterday, probably, but certainly if the power were out for any length of time.

The cool thing about the power being out was that it brought people out of their houses. I Planted some sunflowers in the front flower bed and, while I was doing this, people walked by, including a guy whom Dusty T. Dog absolutely adored. I haven’t seen him and his wife in two years.

The best news is that the wind has been normal for three days and yesterday we had a clear blue sky and a gorgeous sunset with peach-colored, fluffy clouds.

I hope you’re all doing well,

Martha, Bear and Teddy

Go With the Flow?

…A hundred thousand lost coins.
Climb up the nine hills, don’t give chase.
(Hexagram 51)

One of the aspects of being older — for me — is understanding how few things I control and how little I know. This morning’s prompt, “flow,” made me think of a saying from back in the day, “Go with the flow.” Any 18 year old is going to — paradoxically — turn their will toward going with the flow, sometimes even with the idea that “going with the flow” is going to make things turn out the way they want them to. I think of that sometimes and wonder how I could have believed I KNEW how things should turn out or should be or even WERE (are?). At some point I realized that going with the flow was not an act of will, but an act of surrender.

Sometime last week I decided I’d better grow some tomatoes and basil because, you know, caprese. I got out the seeds — tomatoes saved from tomatoes I grew last summer and Genovese basil seeds I got from somewhere (??) and put them in some seed-starting dirt. I didn’t want to drag out the large and fancy seed starting trays. I didn’t want to get that involved. I put them in the kitchen windows and gave them sandwich bag hats to wear until they sprouted — which happened yesterday. This morning when I got up and saw one of the tiny tomatoes reaching for the sun with all its little heart and tiny new leaves, I thought, “Oh damn, I love you guys after all.” Yep.

Seeing them optimistically reaching for sunlight, yesterday I put my back into cleaning out the tomato garden which is in the VERY back yard (dog’s yard) where there is more sun, and heat reflects off the south-facing garage wall. I built the little tomato garden last year and fenced the dogs out. So… Maybe in September I’ll have caprese 2/3 of which I grew myself. The store has OK tomatoes but basil? No… Sooner would be better but that’s not up to me. 🙂

Getting them started in fresh mozzarella containers, you know, channeling their inner caprese


Cobalt blue isn’t in my usual pallette. My two go-to blues are cerulean and aquamarine. A tube of cobalt blue came with the dozens of tubes of acrylics I inherited last year when my friend Louise’ husband, Alex, died. I have used it and I liked it, but I haven’t been painting much since I got the paints so I don’t know if it will have a future with me.

It’s uncomfortable not painting. I feel a little pressure because I have beautiful materials and an easel, things I dreamed of having, and I’m not in there with them. I’m in a kind of “life-doldrums” I think. I know that happens, that it will go away, and it’s OK. The best work I’ve done has been after a period of not painting. Yesterday I took down my art blog. It was just attracting spam comments. I wasn’t writing and no one was reading. This morning I will clean up some of the details on this blog. I look at moments like these as opportunities to prepare for the next great thing, whatever it may be, just like right now farmers are out there putting seed potatoes in the ground. It’s going to be a while before anything “happens,” but when it does?

I planted Scarlet Emperor Beans yesterday, I don’t even know how many — I think 9. I put them right into the ground. I figure I can cover the sprouts if I have to. Temperatures are unseasonably warm, even at night, forecast to continue well into the next couple of weeks. I couldn’t see setting up the baby plant nursery in the house for those giant beings if they could just go out where they are supposed to be to start with. I have iris about to bloom, which is insane. They are usually June flowers here…

OH well…