Flowering Buddha 2

Six days after this picture of my
Buddha birdbath with Black Eyed
Susan vine, the thing has indeed
begun to flower.


Note the yellow flower emerging
from the leaves, stage left.
(Click on the picture to enlarge.)

The shiny black stone on the
right – one of my proudest
Rehoboth Beach discoveries –
is there to help train the
vines to converge onto the
Buddha. It gently holds
them down. The idea is to
create a kind of sunny
corona around the Buddha.


UD thanks La Kid – on her
way to another stay in
Ireland – for taking the

Lifestyles of the Rich and ‘thesdan

Here in Garrett Park (enter its zip code: 20896) we are rated, according to the latest national demographic thingie that people are quoting, “100% Top Tier.” That’s the highest category in everything – money, culture, education, home prices.

‘thesda – the vague area GP’s vaguely adjacent to – has for some time been ranked richest small city in America.

Here’s the language that accompanies Garrett Park’s category:

We’ve achieved our corporate career goals and can now either consult or operate our own businesses. We’re married couples with older children or without children. Every home maintenance chore in our lavish homes is handled by a variety of contracted services. We can indulge ourselves in personal services at upscale salons, spas, and fitness centers, and shop at high-end retailers for anything we desire. We travel frequently, sparing no expense in taking luxury vacations or visiting our second homes in the US and overseas. Evenings and weekends are filled with opera, classical music concerts, charity dinners and shopping…

I showed this paragraph to my across the street neighbor, a just-retired federal employee. We assumed British accents and talked about how we were looking forward to the charity dinner after the opera tomorrow night, at the end of which we planned to return to our lavish homes.

I said that the people putting the scale together seemed to have confused us GP/’thesdans with number two on the richest small cities list — Greenwich Connecticut, home of Brown University trustee Steve Cohen and other titans of post-industry.


Still. It can’t be denied that we beat them out. We beat out Palo Alto. We beat out Brookline.


Of course you can play with numbers in any number of ways and get different results, as Nate Cohn notes. Maybe we ain’t so hot.


I suppose we are bourgeois bohemians.

This is an elite that has been raised to oppose elites. They are affluent but opposed to materialism.

I suppose I was happy a couple of days ago having to walk very slowly, with great difficulty, to the post office (my neighbor Peggy was with me and didn’t notice anything) because, my ancient Nike women’s walking shoes having recently imploded, I had, in desperation, gone into La Kid‘s room and found sneakers that looked like these. They were too large for me and they flapped around like clown shoes and the whole show was so ridiculous that I finally ordered replacement Nikes. I suppose it’s true that I like that sort of thing.

“Fancypants Rich Kids School That Waitlisted Poor Kids For Being Poor Dumps SAT, ACT”

This has been a pretty big story all day, but UD was waiting for just the right headline (see above).

Peter Levine, Mr UD’s Friend, and Co-Organizer of the Tufts Summer Institute of Civic Studies…

… is interviewed in this article about scholars traveling to dodgy parts of the world. He talks about one of this year’s institutes, in Ukraine.

Some U.S. colleges with overseas-study programs won’t touch Ukraine. Tufts University, on the other hand, is drawn to the turmoil in the former Soviet republic, which the U.S. State Department deemed dangerous for travel.

The potential to help activists and scholars, Tufts professor Peter Levine says, outweighs the risks posed by an unstable country. He is leading a conference in Ukraine next month on civics studies, in part because the country exemplifies the struggles of a fledgling democracy.

“American universities, at our best, have people who should be getting on a plane to go to a country that’s in crisis,” Levine said. “Sometimes they do a lot of good.”

Indeed at the end of this week Mr UD and Peter meet in Warsaw (where Mr UD has been reconnecting with many Soltans) and then fly together to Lviv (“also known as: Leopolis, Lwów, Lvov, Lemberg, לעמבערג, Լվով, İlbav, Leopoli, Léopol”) and then rent a car or get driven to (can’t remember which) Chernivtsi (the summer school will take place in the “phantasmagorical university building“.)


Background on the civic studies initiative here.

It was a beautiful summer Thursday in ‘thesda…

… which is odd enough, since July in these parts usually just sits there boiling. UD was back from the beach and back from her two-day recovery from the beach, and she was alone, Mr UD having left for Warsaw and points east (family reunion; helping direct a summer school in civic studies in Ukraine). Her sister the Morrissey fanatic called to suggest a walk around Lake Needwood.

Boring! said UD. Let’s go into the city.

Are you crazy? Tourists!

Being a ‘thesdan in the summer is like being a Sentinelese. There’s an exclusion zone around your neighborhoods which allows you to go on living your simple preneolithic life without intrusion.

The other side of this is obvious: You don’t go into Washington. UD works in Washington but typically waits until September to venture there.

Yet the bright sun and low humidity made it seem physically doable; and there’s nothing wrong with what Saul Bellow calls an occasional humanity bath.

With some reluctance, UD‘s sister agreed to drive over and pick her up. They had no trouble parking at Grosvenor metro and piling into a car that filled ominously up as they approached Judiciary Square.

of course wanted to head for the Botanic Garden, but her sister wanted the other direction – the Reflecting Pool. UD pointed out that on a (still after all) hot summer day with full sun, trudging around the treeless rim of the pool – in crowds – would be kind of stupid. UD described La Kid’s graduation on the treeless sun-infested Mall, where UD, all-asmolder, listened to the now-disgraced Brian Williams tell the kids fish stories…

They compromised: They’d walk through some other gardens – museum gardens – on their way to the Lincoln Memorial. And this turned out to be a great idea, since UD didn’t know how landscaping mad the federal government had become since her last Mall walk. The gardens around The Castle were insane… I mean of course this was optimal bloom time, which UD usually misses because she’s afraid of the tourists… But still. Wow. Lordy. The Haupt garden was full of massive African and Brazilian shit that blasted right out at you. Any garden can stuff millions of teeny pink flowers into a hanging container and water it every day and make this big insipid thing. This garden had some of that, sure, but mainly it was grotesque monkey trees and canopies with big black bursting pods and walls of creepy succulents. Yum.

Now, as they started further down the Mall, they saw that an enormous construction project blocked the thing almost entirely, so forget the Reflecting Pool. They headed back toward the metro for lunch at Teaism, happy to get out of the sun.

But lookee here. A chaotic crowd milled about ordering bento boxes and chai and no way were we going to be part of that. We were after silence, order, and air conditioning. Teaism only had air conditioning. We glanced inside a Native Foods (Morrissey fanatics eat vegetables) but that, thank God, was equally chaotic…

Which left a fancy sit-down white table cloth sort of place called 701 Restaurant. So we’d pay a fortune. So what.

But we were sweaty and dressed down and we wondered if they’d snub us, a couple of biddies with aching feet.

“Afternoon ladies!” said the bartender as soon as we entered. “The host will seat you in a moment. Enjoy your meal.”

“Sorry, ladies,” said a server a second later. “Host will be here in a sec. Good to see you.”

Up comes the host, all dressed and scrubbed and non-judgmental. “Table by the window? Right this way.”

It was pleasant to survey the still-sweating masses from our quiet chilly lookout.

The server, a burly fortyish man with thinning hair and an ironic attitude, opened with “Did they tell you? Two martini requirement this afternoon.”


UD is notoriously gullible. She will really believe anything if said with a crisp commanding demeanor.

His eyes went wide and we all giggled.

“But it is your birthday,” he continued, looking at UD, “so you will be getting a free dessert. Two free desserts.”

UD was fully on board now.

“You’re right on the button. Thanks. Looking forward to dessert.”

UD had the Skuna Bay salmon with mustard spaetzle, rapini, pomegranate, and pecans (with “your cheapest white wine” – to which our server said “I’ll pop over to 7/11 and get some Yosemite Road.”); her sister, butter poached Maine lobster, brussels sprouts, salsify, papaya, and red curry.

Everything fell into place. The fresh air, the views onto the Navy Memorial with its weeping fountains, delicious food, a young version of Antonin Scalia lecturing someone at the next table.

As he brought out my sweet colorful whatever with a candle aflame upon it, our guy asked where we were from, clearly expecting Terre Haute.

Bethesda? I live there too. Grew up there. What are you doing downtown in the summer?”

“Where did you go to high school?” UD asked.

“Whitman.” Where for decades UD‘s ‘thesdan playmate’s mother taught.

The sisters blew out the candle together, one of them no doubt wishing something having to do with shacking up with Morrissey.

We talked some more about ‘thesda with our server, who knew about Garrett Park and its trees; and as UD signed the bill she sensed an entreaty of some sort from him… Entreaty’s too strong a word, maybe, but something having to do with finding our company good and wanting to hold onto it for a little longer.

Snapshots from Home


How did this thing come about?

One thing of which you can be sure: UD didn’t plan it. She could never have planned it.

First she bought the birdbath. If you click on the picture and enlarge it, you can just make out the drips coming from the bottom of the basin. The birdbath was beautiful but began leaking soon after I bought it. I turned it over and let it be a kind of pedestal for the buddha.

Then there was that black container. It sat empty, some distance from the birdbath on the deck. I hadn’t yet decided what to plant in it.

Then Les UDs went one afternoon to Brookside Gardens, in whose little store UD bought some Black-eyed Susan vine seeds. She did it mindlessly, vaguely, distractedly… the store was about to close… she barely checked to see if it needed full light or anything. She certainly didn’t give any thought to its climbing habit and whether she could accommodate it. She just liked the sketch of the flowers on the packet.

Weeks later UD idly dropped the seeds into the container (turns out you’re supposed to soak them, etc., etc.), and as they began to show themselves climbers, UD had an aha moment: Let’s see if we can fit the container under the structure holding up the birdbath. If we can, we’ve got legs for the vine to climb.

At about the same time, UD figured out a solution to the leaky birdbath. She went to the basement in search of a shallow but not too shallow plate that would fit into the bath and collect water. She found a silver plate that looks something like this, only the Greek design along the edges is open and lets water flow out.

The plate fit perfectly, and its silver went well with the mottled gray and black of the original bowl.

So now UD was able to turn the bowl over and let the buddha sit in the shallow water. Birds began to appear again, drinking from the plate, and excess water drained down through the openwork along the edges of the plate into the vine below. A drip system!

UD loves to watch the vine do its thing; she loves to help train it along the legs and up to the top of the basin, where she hopes to have a flowery buddha soon. When the thing does flower, she’ll take another picture. Or rather she’ll have her sister take another picture.

Funny, the things you remember.

No – the things that never go away. That lodge in your mind. All my life I’ve thought about the last page of Karla Kuskin’s children’s book, Just Like Everyone Else. My parents must have read it to me… I must have read it…

The final line –

Then Jonathan James flew off to school.

– seems to have echoed down the years for me. Who knows why. Flew off to school.


A German Filmmaker Working on a Feature About…

Wojciech Fangor will interview Mr UD. Details as the project proceeds. Put fangor in my search engine for my Fangor posts.

The Blissful Garden

I love to look at your garden. It’s so … blissful.

A young woman said this to me yesterday. She was walking her dog by my house.

I was standing on my toes, trimming the ragged top of a … what? I don’t know. I’m bad on identification. A honeysuckle tree?

The loppers cut blindly; I couldn’t see up there. Every few moments I stood back to see whether I’d gotten the tallest shoots.

Over the years I’ve sculpted this unexciting bush/tree at the edge of my front lawn. It anchors one end of my split rail fence. I’ve flattened the top and let the sides spread, and it’s become a dense respectable looking something.

Why is my garden blissful? Because I do think she found the right word. The other word a lot of people use is peaceful.

Well, it’s a green garden. Not eco-green (though with my absolute lack of chemicals I guess I get eco points); all-green-plants green (with very occasional touches of non-green). For inspiration on green gardens and what they can be, scroll through these images. And these.

You possibly think of Japanese gardens when you think of all-green gardens. My garden has stuff in common with Japanese gardens, and the peaceful, blissful vibe passersby pick up on is I think probably similar to what you feel strolling around landscapes in Kyoto, etc. (This example, however, is in Portland Oregon.)

I’ve got lawn. It’s weedy, but it’s a rich smooth calm expanse because it’s well-established and I mow it regularly. Motionless baby rabbits currently spend all day on it, eating white clover. There’s a massing in front of the house of rhododendron, viburnum, korean spice bush, butterfly bush, hydrangea (I guess I can do some identification), maybe boxwood (not sure; three large very sculptable bushes were here when we bought the house from the sons of Munro and Margaret Leaf, and I’ve planted around them). Lower down there’s hosta and liriope and vinca and ferns and ivies.

Our lot is very wide. On the other side of the lawn I planted pachysandra five or so years ago, and it’s now thick and beautiful. Looks sort of like this. Halfway submerged in it are our topiary bulls – an homage to the author of Ferdinand the Bull, who lived in our house. They look sort of like this, since we stuff them with moss rather than plant things on them. Even so, the pachysandra always makes it way up into the bulls. I snip the plants off. I prefer the way the bulls look mossed.

Whenever I see the word sphagnum on my bag of moss, I think of Cecilia Bartoli singing Rossini’s “Canzonetta spagnuola” — in my fevered mind, there’s some connection between spagnuola and sphagnum.

What else? Out front again, black river stones lie beneath another edge of the fence. I planted some small light green grasses in among them a couple of years ago, and they’ve come up well.

I like the combination of black and green. I could look at kiwi fruit all day.

The bulls are not my only non-organic element. In the middle of the lawn sit two brown butterfly chairs (our house looks very ‘fifties modern, so this seemed the right way to go), and between them, on a black metal stand, there’s a luxuriant yellow coreopsis spilling out of its (yes) black container. The only negative here, I’ve discovered, is that our many birds enjoy the plant so much that they congregate, and shit copiously, on the butterfly canvas.

Speaking of birds and rabbits – Anyone who reads this blog knows that UD‘s garden attracts insane amounts and varieties of wildlife. I chronicle the more dramatic viewings (hawks, a mink, big effing snakes) in these pages, and I inevitably feature more than anything else the ongoing surreal drama of ever-increasing deer families everywhere. I mean, they live on our property, behind the house, high up in the woods, and they’re just always here. But there are also hooting owls and barking foxes at midnight, and an orange cat who tries to kill all the birds, and turtles and voles and once I found a dead rat. Racoons and opossums go without saying.

Hovering threateningly above all of this are the trees. Very old, very big, very everywhere trees. Parts of them are always falling, especially during the violent summer storms. Right now a haul-away job awaits UD in the very thick of her woods, where, two nights ago, a bunch of pretty big branches came crashing down.

But anyway. The point is blissful. The point is peaceful. In sun and calm weather the trees benignly shelter UD’s carefully clipped, carefully planted green swathe. From a low-hanging branch she’s hung wind chimes she got in Bali, so there’s the pleasant low click of the cylinders in counterpoint with the wood thrush.

I think the blissful peaceful feeling comes ultimately from the ‘total world’ effect of all this green. There’s very little traffic, so it’s quiet; and the houses in every direction are, like this one, swathed in green. The houses are small, so none competes with the natural setting. I think at the moment all those soft silent rabbits in particular account for the way-Henri Rousseau feel of the place.

UD’s Sister, the Morrissey Freak…

… called her five minutes ago from North Carolina, where she’s just gotten back from a Morrissey performance.

I was in the front row, and at one point Morrissey pointed to me and said “I know you. I watch your YouTubes.” [UD‘s sister sings versions of Morrissey songs on a series of YouTubes. She’s actually got a pretty big following.] And he said “I’m going to embarrass you.” And he handed me down the microphone. I sang a line from Jack the Ripper.

A photo from the concert.

At around the 56 minute mark, you can hear Morrissey admire her YouTubes of his songs, and you can hear her sing her line (“Crash into my arms.”) from Jack the Ripper.

Baez in Bethesda

When Joan Baez received Amnesty International’s Ambassador of Conscience Award this week, it made me nostalgic.

Baez hates nostalgia as only someone who has lived long enough to be the object of every old hippie’s nostalgia can be. For a lifelong pacifist, her language about it is positively violent: “I think I’m trying to strangle people into coming up to the present so much of the time, because people tend to live aeons ago.” But there’s nothing wrong with being knocked back to the past now and then, and the occasion of her award knocked me back.

It knocked me back to 1968, to after-school afternoons I spent in the biggest bathroom in my parents’ house in Bethesda (good acoustics), playing my nylon string guitar and singing Child ballads the way she sang them, the way I learned them from listening to her. Geordie, House Carpenter, Queen of Hearts — they were all songs of doomed lovers, all fraught tales set in the darkest of keys. Matty Groves, an adultery and murder ditty, had twenty three verses. I knew them all, and went into long trances, chanting them in my little echo chamber.

There are certain soprano voices – Kathleen Battle’s, Julia Lezhneva’s – equipped with an absolutely eerie high-piping perfection, a radically original and expressive force. Joan Baez was my first encounter with this type of unsettling sound. Long before I knew anything about the operatic voice, I was haunted by the folk treble, and spent hours trying to produce it myself. “Beauty brings copies of itself into being,” writes Elaine Scarry in her book, On Beauty and Being Just. Beauty inspires imitation. Wherever Baez was when those notes streamed out of her, I wanted to be there too.

Almost fifty years later, I still pursue that treble. I’m at my baby grand in the living room now (the guitar leans on a wall nearby), but the tattered Joan Baez Songbook remains my favorite thing to play. W.H. Auden called music “the best means we have of digesting time,” and I think that’s because – for me, at least – the making of music never changes. It’s always in some ecstatic way the journey back to tonal paradise.

Think of that whole “lost chord” idea in Arthur Sullivan’s famous song. The chord he keeps searching for was “the harmonious echo / From our discordant life.”

No doubt Baez will receive the Amnesty International award for her political work with a sense of irony. “I’m a little concerned about offering hope,” she said in a recent interview. “But one has to bash on regardless.”

At a young age I sensed the serene concord Baez had somehow made all the discordance of life yield; I sensed the way she summoned that harmonious echo again and again. And that’s also a form of bashing on – keeping the long song going, verse after verse, whatever the circumstance.

Having heard Baez, how can I (to quote the great old American folk song) keep from singing?

“Silt, Muck, and Swirlies”…

… is the title of UD‘s latest dispatch from her hometown, Garrett Park, Maryland.

UD’s friend Sarah (who just got back from…

… Gore Vidal’s house) leads the charge against noise in her neighborhood.

UD’s father interviewed in 1972…

… on CBS News. About his cancer research.

A Swarm of Bees in May.

Here’s the nursery rhyme. I just found a massive swarm of bees in May.

I was in my backwoods.

Mr UD ordered a new chaise lounge, and for some reason they sent us three. I’d carried one of them on my head (thinking, as I did so, about my time in Bali, where women carry things on their heads) out to a clearing I’d made under a honeysuckle canopy. The idea was to create a very hidden green space – kind of a natural bird blind or something. As I hacked and raked and then settled the chair, I noticed a huge sound – like an oncoming train. Down the the path a bit, midway up a very old tree, what looked like thousands of bees were swarming.

Back inside, I emailed the Montgomery County Beekeepers and heard back right away from someone wanting to know if the swarm was still there. If it was, he’d be out immediately.

I went to check, and although bees buzz around as you walk, the swarm is gone. No more sound of an oncoming train.

But the beekeeper I’m emailing with tells me to

Feel free to call me directly if it shows back up. Usually they will swarm to a tree while they are looking for another location to call their new home. Usually it is not too far from where they were when they swarmed so you may want to go back out and check later in the day.

UD learns about bees.

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