Marveling at Growth: Caos, Caotico


It’s feeling a bit chaotic right now. That’s ok with me, but it’s draining if I don’t get enough sleep.

When I feel like this, I tend to smile to myself and my mind switches into Italian to keep from going cray cray.

I open my mouth wide and slowly say, “Caos, caotico.” Knowing I’ve been to the area of ancient Sicily once called Chaos, I remind myself that somewhere in the past, they cared enough about this state of affairs, to name a place after something we tend to deeply fear.

The writer Luigi Pirandello was born there. “I am a child of Chaos and not only allegorically but in reality because I was born in a countryside, located nearby entangled woods, named, in Sicilian dialect, Cavusu by the inhabitants of Girgenti [Agrigento].”

Since visiting that area myself, I tend to think about it, centering in on the idea of it whenever I feel like I’m spinning off balance with too much to do. Instead of getting stirred up by the feelings of chaos and unrest, I sit down calmly at its center and wait for it to pass. Caos. (Chaos.) Caotico. (Chaotic.)

Caos. Caotico. This is my manta.

A favorite vintage Murano glass vase.

At home there is still much planning, sorting and moving to do to make room for other things—mostly plants. Recently, I removed an old cabinet to make room for a large glass tank for my ferns. I’d placed the cabinet there with my ex maybe 17 years ago, and it was cathartic to change things around. Am still not sure how to get rid of the cabinet, but I’m working on it.

Removing things is not my forte, but I’m motivated to keep improving things around here. I can’t take in any more “free” things when folks need help. Part of me just wants to get a small dumpster right now, but I’m going to hold off on that until later. Luckily it’s not that bad, I just really am impatient to have things completed.

The vintage vase above is a large one and a favorite. I hid it outside in the Seed Studio—away from Felix. He loves to break large items made of glass. I think at 5 years old, he’s improving, but I’ll stash this above the fridge soon—just in case.

Seedlings of Sempervivum calcareum ‘Mrs Giuseppi’. I received the seeds during my stay with Panayoti Kelaidis last year.

Between stashing plants, protecting plants, and even dividing some of the hardiest of perennials, I’m trying to sow seeds, sort seeds, clean seeds, and shop for a few for next year too. This is all part of why I want the whole house to be more tidy and organized. It just makes life easier.

I love this time of year though when life shifts from being exhausted from the current year, to being excited about the crops to come. It’s part of the cycle of life and I enjoy this state-of-mind between now and March. This is my time to shine—a sort of golden hour in the dark of winter.

Fall color in the garden at Rancho Cistus, the home and garden of Sean and Preston at Cistus Nursery.

But it’s not winter yet. It can just feel like it is, and that’s also part of the experience of the seasons.

Some days are warm, some days are cold, and I never seem to wear the right clothing. Funny how owning a Jeep is some kind of comfort. I look forward to driving it again in some snow. It was life-changing last year, and honestly, kind of fun.

The book I’ve wanted since I saw it in Georgia at the Begonia Society Convention. It finally arrived!

Along with a pile of books from the library, this gem arrived this week. I’ve long wanted to see a copy, and was able to when I was in Atlanta, so I set about trying to find one online, and I did!

Rekha Morris also spoke while I was there, and it was great to go to her talk. She is a retired professor of art history so listening to her presentation in a dark room reminded me a lot of being back in school.

Standing behind North Falls, in Silver Falls State Park.

The real growth this week was being able to hike 8 miles in relative peace and quiet at Silver Falls State Park. I walk a 4-mile loop once or twice a week in town, and I went on one hike with Evan a few years ago, but overall, hiking has not been my friend since I had the swelling incident after climbing up Mt. St. Helen’s almost 20 years ago.

Our only great hiccup was the number of people either wearing incredibly strong fragrances, or else those who’d washed their clothing in incredibly strong smelling detergent. When I’m outdoors and I choke when someone walks by, you know it’s strong stuff. I react strongly to cigarettes and pot too, but not as badly now as Evan. Luckily we only had a few folks smoking joints on the trail. The fragrances though, wow.

I don’t remember folks smelling so strongly of it when I used to go out into the woods, but I wasn’t as sensitive to it back then.

Glowing in the cold morning along the trail. Forest bathing looks good on me, but it looked great on everyone we passed along the train this Thanksgiving.

That day I did great. I was a bit sore the next, and today I’m still feeling a bit stiff. Overall, the damage was not bad. By Monday I should feel better. It’s mostly my shins, but I can work to ease it from happening as badly next time.

I am more hopeful now than ever—and thankful too. This hike was exactly what I needed.

Evan and some very large Doug firs aka Pseudotsuga menziesii.

Internally I continue to improve and feel better. I’m happy to be alive.

After the hike we returned to the city, I was dropped off, I cleaned up after being outside all day, and then Evan came back to have dinner with John and I.

It was a holiday and we celebrated.

An unknown Philodendron purchased from a collection when the owner had to move.

The houseplants keep needing my love and attention and on top of the work I have to do, I’m sorting them and moving them over and over. The goal now is to get them situated and then paint some more walls before taking photos of them again. I need to change up the house a bit.

I need to redo the bathroom too, but that’s a big project in an old home with only one bathroom. Sigh.

Part of me thinks that the spouse on the spectrum may need to go on vacation for that, but we’ve not yet crossed that bridge.

A Philodendron giganteum received in a trade. I finally have a nice start of the plant above to send back to this Instagram friend, but I’ve waited a bit too long…

So not a lot of rest going on around here—and it feels chaotic—but there’s wild and fun growth and change! So many positive and good things are happening. I just need to keep checking things off of my list and keep going to bed early.

I need to be ready for whatever comes next!!

Thankful and a bit lost in the fog of November 2020


This week it was a challenge to write anything. My energy has gone into staying in control, remaining calm, resting as much as possible, caring for all of the houseplants, and doing anything else (within my power) to keep an even keel.

Novembers are often foggy here, and this year I’ve driven back and forth to my jobs in the pea soup of PNW weather, and this led me to making actual pea soup. I’ve been on autopilot, continuing to keep my head up as I float through the pandemic, the continued isolation, and the work that I do. Most years, pea soup fog doesn’t inspire me to make pea soup. In 2020, I feel like grasping any meaning out of the smallest of things, will create meaning, and I crave meaning to find my footing.

Right now I’m losing my grip a bit.

In the last 2 weeks three people who attended my small Catholic high school at the same time as myself have passed away—one from a heart attack, and two others from COVID-19 related complications. Two of these people were barely known to me, the other was someone who bullied me in junior high and high school. As can be imagined, it’s torn open sores I’ve long kept buried. At unexpected moments I just start to cry uncontrollably and I’m not sure why but I know the tears must fall and time will pass and it will feel better.

And this week the United States celebrated the holiday of Thanksgiving. For the first time ever it was deeply reflective. I’ve never heard so many friends and acquaintances simply state that they’re happy to be alive and employed. The stunning honestly has felt good to me. It is nice to see the basics not being taken for granted.

Those who are having a more difficult time are grateful for their family and children. I live in a home with 4 cats and a man who was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome only in the last few years, only because I insisted I couldn’t take it anymore. While the initial shock of that process of diagnosis is better, and things are better, less than a year ago we lost my mother-in-law, and we’re still processing that since the pandemic kind of swept us both away from that. He and I only have my family now.

I kind of thought not seeing them meant I could just work and keep my head down, but the work I do allows me to think a lot, and it turns out my family was thinking of one another a lot this week, and after 47 years, my mom finally retired from cooking a huge Thanksgiving feast. She has had a blast talking to everyone on the phone this week. My eldest brother even called me to talk, to apologize for things, to laugh about things, and Dad caught a salmon and ate fresh fish eggs alone on the holiday. I called Dad and we talked about a Sitka spruce I’d given him. My family got closer by being distant from one another.

It’s foggy in my mind as I plan now. This is likely how we all feel. My job is seasonal though and we spent the month cleaning, sorting, straightening, organizing, and it’s a draining process physically and mentally. I am not in charge of planning crops, but my input is always appreciated and I keep reminding myself that’s part of my job. I need to get off of autopilot soon and take charge of my direction. Part of working in horticulture is being in the right frame of mind during the correct season. I love that about this work, but I am just a bit off right now.

To that end I’ve been indulging in things I should have been enjoying for months now. I’m finally listening to podcasts, and am reading books I’ve wanted to read. It is helping. It is time to order seeds, so I am shopping, and I’m filling orders for my own shop.

It is sad for me to complain now about feeling emotionally drained when up until now I’ve handled the pandemic so competently, but the fatigue is really hitting me hard. What I avoided doing this week was writing a post that felt unreal to me, since I’m always the cynic making fun of the obviousness of many of us using plants and gardening as therapy. This kind of therapy is not always good and can often be seen as a way to feel in control when we’re emotionally losing it. (Believe me, it’s more obvious than you might realize.) I just couldn’t push beyond myself this week to write up something fresh but I can leave you with some gardener advice for this season…

1 – Read books that challenge you now. Buy books from local bookstores that need your business.

2 – Start buying seeds now. Purchase them from trusted domestic growers.

3 – Believe it or not, you can even shop for plants now from many small nurseries. Purchase from licensed businesses.

4 – Listen to a new podcast. Join a Zoom lecture. Try something novel and new.

And finally, of course I am thankful. I am thankful to be alive right now, but I am terrified with worry concerning who will be lost next. I can only focus though on what I can control, and right now I want to move forward into December with an eye on who is going into crisis and how can I help. As wiped out and exhausted as I sound, I know it is sound advice for myself. And I am thankful for my employment, my health insurance through my husband, and my plant community. I will continue to support small businesses in the city and state and I hope you can do your part to help them too.

Please stay safe, stay home, and if you need to go out, wear a mask.