Change of Mind, Change of Heart (part two)

I think I'll go around those trees and behind that stump, and build some sort of play structure.

I think I’ll go around those trees and behind that stump, and build some sort of play structure.

Returning to my snug and solidly built home after a day on a precarious roof and in the crawlspace of a dangerously sagging structure, I remarked to my wife how “we had wanted more outdoor living, but came very close to living outdoors.” The day of our inspection was cold, and I nestled my stocking feet into my heated concrete floors, listened to an early winter downpour pelt our lifetime metal roof. I was thankful to be where I was. We took our home off the market.

We had many conversations after this: we had never really tried to learn how to live in the house. We had only focused on the shortcomings of floorplan and layout, hadn’t figured out what TO DO, as opposed to what we could not do. The yard would never be a ballfield or basketball court, but our daughter would not be seven forever, and in a year or two might not want those things. We could figure it out. I could make the yard more fun, more useful; I would make the garage more workshop and art studio, more roller rink and playspace, less parking.

Most importantly, the home is a giant cornerstone of our financial well-being. I had poured more than thought and hope into it, but also a massive portion of our resource and security. By trying to sell it quickly, we had damaged the perception of value to the real estate market, and we needed to recover. My wife and I have always agreed, one move before the school years were over, and we had made that move. To try to change homes within the drawing area of our daughter’s elementary, we were shorted on choice; we should wait until middle school when the drawing area would increase fivefold, wait three or four years for the value of our home to recover, until the real estate market changed, until we could reinforce our family security.

As 2012 built toward Holiday crescendo, I considered all these things, and particulary how to address the possibility that our yard might not be as restricted as I had been led to believe. I was fairly certain that I was not being monitored, but not so certain as to leap out from cover and level the clearing and install a lawn, for instance. Having put such great effort into creating nature, I had no interest in damaging it, either. I could not escape the question of whether at the end of the five year Mitigation period, a politicologist from the City might not still show up—but if I contacted them to learn for certain of my status, I could only be tipping them off that they had inadvertently lost track of me. Plans formed, and thoughts crystallized. I saw the New Year as a fresh opportunity: I would change, first my mind and then my actions.

For two years I had thought that the $5,000 which I set aside was a Survival Bond on the original 289 native plants of the Mitigation Plan, and I also thought that if I worked hard

Vine maple 'Pacific fire' among the yellow cedars to the left, 'Bloodgood' Japanese maple in front of the multi-trunked tree to the right.  Some 'Hino Crimson' azalea and cream- or white-margined hosta in front. Ooooh, yeah.

Vine maple ‘Pacific fire’ among the yellow cedars to the left, ‘Bloodgood’ Japanese maple in front of the multi-trunked tree to the right. Some ‘Hino Crimson’ azalea and cream- or white-margined hosta in front. Ooooh, yeah.

enough and smart enough, I stood a chance at getting it back. The conversation with my neighbor about her unbuildable lakefront mudpit, however, made me realize how wrong those thoughts were. The INTENT of the ordinance was not important; it is the LETTER of the ordinance the politicologists are concerned with. The only ways I might receive my $5,000 back is to either have the property exist exactly as it was when inspected, or to have my work since then approved. The one is not possible, as those plants are dead and the property so greatly changed; the other not possible either, as I have only passionately pursued the intent of the law and not the letter. The two possibilities for release of the $5,000–mutually exclusive, purely theoretical, neither to occur. The money is not a Survival Bond. The $5,000 is Schroedinger‘s Damage Deposit. And I won’t get it back, since Schroedinger’s Damage Deposit cannot exist outside of the bank, either. I realized: this isn’t even deposit money. This is “I’m sorry I did that” money. Schroedinger’s Damage Deposit is the first $5,000 of the fine I will pay if a politicologist ever does turn up…and I want my money’s worth.

I immediately stopped working on the companion volume to these pages, a document that has swelled to two 4-inch three-ring binders that I call the Codex Thistliana. Part gardening journal, part research paper, these books comprise my plant lists, receipts for purchases, field observations, hyrdrological studies, soil analyses, plant performance assessment, growth charts, and wildlife surveys; as well as printouts and excerpts of supporting science and anecdote from sources such as forestry colleges, timber companies, the departments of Natural Resources and also Fish and Wildlife, plus local and regional Native Plant and Horticultural Societies; certifications, training, and education I have pursued, AND a bibliography and footnotes. This document was to be the ‘reasonable use’ support for all my actions over the past two years and the ensuing three, my own substitute for the Mitigation montitoring I was to have contracted out to the dumbs**t who devised the original Mitigation Plan. Well over 2,000 pages now, it is only so much future recycling and a complete waste of my time.

The New Year had not yet even arrived, and already I had changed my mind. Into the ground went several hundred daffodil bulbs, in hope of a cheerful woodland spring–or at least an unpleasantly bulimic Mountain Beaver feast upon the toxic tubers. Liberated from anxiety, I planted some non-native dogwood shrubs with bright coral stems; and though I was ready to put in those azaleas and hostas, add some Japanese Maples and that weeping and fastigiate Copper Beech I have been wanting, I also trolled through nurseries at Christmastime looking at some certain native plants: I am a firm believer in the mot juste, and there were one or two trees I needed to complete the picture of progression from clearing to forest, and a large number of shrubs to define the border between wild woods and cultivated garden. I found, at one boutique nursery, four dozen Evergreen Huckleberry, and magically: the same number of Oregon Box, my ‘greenicorn’ of almost two years ago. Even more magically, all of these were reasonably priced (despite the piano player and garden cafe). The ground was too frozen to plant, so I placed them on hold and ordered a half dozen Acer circinatum “Pacific Fire,” for their brilliant red bark, and a dozen Western Hemlock “Iron Springs.” Though ready to go off-script, I have built a texture and a ‘look,’ and these mutations of native vegetation well suit my purpose.

Tired of looking through or over the ridiculous Confinement Fence from my living

If I throw a sturdy rope over that branch WAY UP THERE, I don't think a swing will reach over HERE.

If I throw a sturdy rope over that branch WAY UP THERE, I don’t think a swing will reach over HERE.

room, I took it down and made extremely satisfying firewood of it; turns out, I had crafted a lovely view onto the clearing, now that I can see it. The floodgates had opened, now I cannot not be stopped: my mind is changed, and everything else will change with it. I got my daughter a kickass swing for Christmas, and could not wait to hang it from a tree branch. I had everything but a tattoo that said, “Landscape Rebel.” The revolution has begun, and though not televised, it WILL be visible from the street.

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19 Responses to Change of Mind, Change of Heart (part two)

  1. James says:

    You’ve got some extraordinary ground covers. Selaginella? Mosses? Pretty ferns I don’t know. Makes me envious, but I don’t live in a temperate rain forest.

    • calvincaley says:

      Thank you so much, James. Most of the mosses are of the true byrophytic type, maybe 12 to 20ish fairly distinct varieties…there are three or four native selaginellas and a number of liverworts also. I have been taking smaller plugs from the deep forest and transplanting about the clearing. Among the native mosses are a number of colonies of self-starters; I keep the dirt as clear as possible and let wind and moisture do their thing. Frankly, I have been shocked at how rapidly they have all spread, my moss bible (George Schenck) made me think it could take 5 – 10 years, but I really am at the two year mark for my doings. I also took a page from the Bloedel Reserve ( and planted a number of Scotch and Irish ‘mosses’ as placeholders; while not native, I felt pretty confident they wouldn’t “invade” (unless conditions for these are ideal, they usually don’t last more than a year or two, in my experience) and would likely get crowded out. Watching the native mosses colonize the Sagina subulatae is interesting. There are some commercially available club mosses and other groundcovers in there too–ok, I’m a cheater–but everyone plays nicely together and I am positive the bryophytes will win the day. I have planted a lot of ferns, but they only replicate existing vegetation: Western sword and one of the ‘universal ferns,’ maidenhair (the other ‘universal,’ bracken, is a garden bad guy and is religiously pulled). The most interesting native and naturally occurring fern is Deer fern (Blechnum spicant). Super cool, almost mid-century modern looking, I need more. A lot of mosses and ferns will accomodate some open exposures…check out Fancy Fronds, they are based not too far from me, and are a great resource, I hear.

  2. Deirdre says:

    Far Reaches Farm has double trilliums. You know you want some. I think you should look into some of the winter blooming Asian mahonias, too.

  3. Deirdre says:

    We were at the bellevue Botanical Garden today. The mosses in the woodsy areas positively glowed. It made me think of your moss gardening

  4. Chad B says:

    Calvin – off topic from this particular post, but I just wanted to say congratulations for being featured on Fine Gardening’s “Garden Photo of the Day”. A well-deserved honor!

  5. Pingback: Change of Mind, Change of Heart (part three, a change of plan) | A Thistle in My Sensitive Area

  6. calvincaley says:

    James, nothing to feel shame over! Mosses are what I chose because mosses were cheap and plentiful, and well-suited to the site. I have no idea which ones are what, for the most part, unless I am walking around with my field guide…and even then, guessing rules the day. Your garden of grasses and perennials suits your climate and your site, and most are as foreign to me as pavement to a pygmy. Most importantly, they suit your ‘eye,’ as made obvious by your glorious results. Really, aren’t all plants just ‘green things?’ They gain value by name and price tag only (there are a lot of plants I have paid dearly for which are growing of their own accord just a few feet, yards, or miles from where I ‘garden’), and I think it is unfortunate most folks don’t give themselves the freedom to just like what they like. “Knowing” doesn’t add anything.

  7. Pingback: Lessons Were Learned, and…HEY! Wait a minute! | A Thistle in My Sensitive Area

  8. Pingback: Something is Still Sensitive Here. Maybe it is just me. | A Thistle in My Sensitive Area

  9. Pingback: This has been a story, and I have been the hero of it | A Thistle in My Sensitive Area

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