Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The Garden of the Longest Days

The meteorologist explained (or, rather, stated) that the period of the longest days, begun on June 20, were now at an end. But due to an astronomical peculiarity that I will never seek to understand the latest sunsets were taking place this week. 
Well, wherever you get those extra minutes, morning or evening, June in New England is a lovely month in which to enjoy them, and the last couple of weeks have been among the best I can remember.
          When I tried to capture this rare conjunction of long days and dry air with my camera last week, the images my camera was producing were highly at odds from the light I was seeing with the naked eye. So much darkness leaning into the frame. Where was it coming from.

           I am told the images I was creating were produced by what is called the Toy Camera Effect. So here are some photos taken (mostly) before I figured out what was happening and how to make it stop.
            From the top, the following plants are featured in these pictures. First,a deep red-violet spirea in the foreground (the red more pronounced in real light than in the photo). This variety is called Anthony Waterer; I can find no explanation for the name. It grew large as soon as we planted it; we have to pull it back off the path every year. In the background, the yellow flowers are evening primrose. They have dominated for the last week or two, having colonized patches here and there all over the garden.
           Second photo down features purple-blossomed spiderwort in the foreground. Again, this is the plant's moment. It lights up in the mornings mostly, spreads itself, grows everywhere (and gets yanked up unceremoniously by Anne, who is not a fan). I think it pairs nicely with all the yellow foliage of late June. We see it hear in front of a haze of Lady's Mantle blossoms, a lacy flower with a pale color that the 'toy' effect intensifies.    
            Third photo down shows red blossoming Coreopsis in the foreground, a scatter of cosmos around the low, dark-metal sundial, and in the background the red spikes of Astilbe.
            The fourth photo focuses on the big yellow blossoms of Achillea (called yarrow). You can see some of that purple spiderwort in the background, hemmed in by the emphatic shade of the toy camera effect
              The fifth photo features the light pink blossoms of a Penstemon (also called beardtongue; don't ask me why). The gray mass behind them is Artemisia, which spreads aggressively and gets pulled up a lot too.
           The last photo shows good old red roses. This classic vine was on the property (I won't say 'growing') when we moved here. It looked dead, but some pruning and fertilizing brought it back amazingly. 
             We will miss this June when it passes. The garden is thirsty already. When these best days of early summer come each year, I want to drag my feet to slow the circles down.              

Saturday, June 25, 2016

The Garden of History: What Happened to the Ashes?

            My thanks to Hingham Library for hosting us and "Suosso's Lane" last week -- as I wrote on Facebook after last Wednesday evening's program. Anne and I (as I also wrote) continue to be impressed by the number of people who to come our "Suosso's Lane" presentations because of their prior interest and knowledge of the Sacco-Vanzetti, "the case that refuses to die." And folks ask good questions, such as where were the defendants buried after the executions? I knew that Sacco and Vanzetti were cremated, but since I had forgotten the name of the cemetery, I wrote in that Facebook post, "Their bodies were cremated at the Crematorium in Boston's Forest Hills Cemetery. In both cases the ashes were returned to family in Italy."
             A day later I received this reply from Luigi Botta: "a part of the ashes of Sacco ended the widow; a part of both the Aldino Felicani Committee; the remainder, divided, families in Italy, in Villafalletto and in Torremaggiore."
            Surely a more complicated account. 
            The statement that some of ashes of each man's remains were commingled and given to "the Aldino Felicani Committee" reminded me of something that I had read -- namely, that the ashes had given to the Sacco-Vanzetti Defense Committee. That is surely what Mr. Botta is referring to, since Aldino Felicani was the head of that committee.
            But I also remembered learning recently that Felicani's Sacco-Vanzetti archive, consisting of records of the defense committee, letters, and other materials were donated by him to the Boston Public Library. I looked up what the library had to say about what it calls "The Aldino Felicani Sacco-Vanzetti Collection, 1915-1977." According to the library's three-page description of this collection, it includes the ashes of both defendants in the famous case.
             Aldino Felicani, a friend of both men, led the Sacco-Vanzetti Defense Committee for the full seven years of its existence. Felicani turned down other requests for the defense committee's papers, including one from Harvard, because he wanted the collection to be stored in Boston, where he believed the case was centered. The defense committee's headquarters were located on Hanover Street, the main avenue in Boston's North End, a heavily Italian neighborhood at that time. ("Suosso's Lane" -- pardon the obligatory plug -- depicts a tense scene in the defense headquarters during the last weeks before the execution when the committee's lawyers sought desperately for some legal machinery to halt or delay the executions.)
            I have been told by people better able than I to know that the library's Aldino Felicani Sacco-Vanzetti Collection is the most valuable scholarly archive of information about the case.
            It seemed likely to me that the ashes had been divided; some portion went to the defendants' families and some to the committee. I decided to look for a neutral source. I found what appears to me a standard account of what took place in Boston after the two men were executed by electrocution at the Charlestown State Prison, including crowd estimates (made at the time by sources such as the Boston Globe) of the Sacco and Vanzetti funeral, often described as the largest ever public gathering in the city of Boston until the celebration for the Boston Red Sox World Series championship in 2004.
            The funeral was held at the Langone Funeral Home on Hanover Street in Boston, where "more than 10,000 mourners viewed Sacco and Vanzetti in open caskets over two days." (From Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sacco_and_Vanzetti)
            On Sunday, Aug. 28, "a two-hour funeral procession bearing huge floral tributes moved through the city. Thousands of marchers took part in the procession, and over 200,000 came out to watch." Police would not allow the march to take its intended route past the State House and "at one point mourners and the police clashed." The Boston Globe termed these events "one of the most tremendous funerals of modern times."  
          The funeral march was an eight mile hike to the cemetery, during which the marchers -- according to Francis Russell's "Tragedy at Dedham" -- were attacked more than once by "Red-hating" residents of the neighborhoods they marched through. This fact does not appear in the Wikipedia account.
            After "a brief eulogy," the bodies were cremated in Forest Hills Crematorium, one of the first such facilities in the city. The Wik account concludes: "Sacco's ashes were sent to Torremaggiore, the town of his birth, where they are interred at the base of a monument erected in 1998. Vanzetti's ashes were buried with his mother in Villafalletto."
            I'm thinking that all of these accounts are true: Some of Sacco's ashes were given to his wife, Rosina; some sent to his family in Italy. Some of Vanzetti's ashes were sent to his family in Villafalletto in the north of Italy. Some of each man's were commingled and given to the committee; this portion now presumably resides in the Boston Public Library.
            I am grateful to Mr. Botta for his comment and the information, though I fear I may not able to tell him so. In a clear case of "Facebook goes international," Mr. Botta works in Italian, at least all the information Google provides on him is in that language. And while his English, while not idiomatic, is better than my Italian, which is non-existent, we may not have enough words in common between us to go any further.
            Yet, as has been observed already, Sacco and Vanzetti is "the case that refuses to die."

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Garden of Verse: Poems of Memory and Places, Recollections and Losses

             So many beautiful poems, arresting lines and images in the June 2016 edition of Verse-Virtual. Among the poems that got to me Joyce Brown's  "Cultivation," calls to me by the title alone because garden poems are so ripe with metaphorical potential. And, as in this poem, personification is a natural gesture.
            "The poor beets didn’t have a chance," Brown begins. "Neither did my gentle bean and pepper plants."
            I know just how she feels. Some plants kept trespassing on the space that 'belong' to others. "I’m at a loss with vegetable aggression," the poet writes. (So am I.) We can't deal with it, but we know nature will. Nature also takes its course, and we know how things will end: "Winter will kill the garden anyway..."
            Winter -- yet another natural subject for more poems. With its own box of metaphors.

A poem about a place, Thomas Erickson's "St. Augustine" picks out the sticking-point details to make a convincing whole of the parts.

"Everything is the oldest here—
the oldest house, the oldest mission,
the oldest park where they walk past
the bromeliads and seashell geegaws
for sale on the site of the oldest slave market
in North America."
            I've been to this earliest of settlements, so florid and diverse (and such a contrast to the wintry-survivalist religious Pilgrim narrative of the Northeast). The place teems with old history and new green growth, and something in between like those "bromeliads," plants that grow on other plants with no direct contact with soil. The word itself sounds like a metaphor for human culture. And "St. Augustine" the poem puts us in the place, with its stark history and beautiful setting.

Two moving poems from Alan Walowitz, one with a title that says so much, "The Anatomy of Longing." A similarly thought-provoking, mystically creepy is line attributed to a doctor, "Medicine has no name for this," which by itself could be the father of many poems.
            "No Use," a poem about preserving memories when memory fails, takes us by specific routes to difficult places, like the poet's attempt to stimulate an older relative's memories of a shared past by studying a map:
"on a map we try to navigate
the bus routes through Queens
and the neighborhoods we’d pass
on our way to the city..."
            Everything in the shared, recollected world is meaningful, the poem suggests, but not so much when you can't remember it.

Dick Allen's poem "Two Cranes" connects sightings of two great, splashy, picturesque birds, outsize celebrity visitors -- dwarfing New England's smaller-scaled avian population -- to the American writers Hart Crane and Stephen Crane.
"Hart Crane was most surely
a Great Egret Heron, given to low croaking calls and sudden flights
across Thrushwood Lake at dawn or dusk, although
like Stephen, mateless."
            The poem ends with a beautiful line (I won't spoil it here) connecting these spectacular water birds to the writers' more dangerous love of the watery element.
            Robert Wexelblatt's "Self-denial" is a marvelous poem that puts me in a chilly mood right at the start: "His thermostat is set at 58." Thought is dressed in telling garments here, like the subject of this poetic meditation. I love this image:
"In the void of his closet, one blue suit,
a relic of prehistoric weddings,
hangs like a traitor executed long
            We've all probably encountered a figure like this somewhere, so zen and giving-up-everything that he doesn't quite exist any more. Maybe we are our foibles.
"Two Children on the Seaside Rocks" by Penny Harter is a poem about a painting that preserves a time and its truth, somehow both momentary and lasting. The particulars of images, unique living moments, the poem tells us, live in our memories and imaginations:
"The rocks striated brown shot through with moss,
the weathered boathouse and dock at low tide,
the hazy garments blowing on the clothes line
strung between two trees behind the outhouse—..."
            The poem does to the painting what the act of creating works of visual art does to its subject.. as the poem itself shows us in this marvelous image:
"catching time in a sieve, netting the light..."
            Maybe some poems do this too.
            See http://www.verse-virtual.com/poems-and-articles.html

Monday, June 20, 2016

First Day of Summer: Fiddling Around the Edges

Having absented myself for two weeks of the rapid-growth period in late May and early June, it's now clear that I will never catch up this summer to what the forces of nature and the Darwinian energies of green plant life have offered up this year. I'm just trimming around the edges.
            I can't remember a year when the perennials -- and the weeds (perennial, all right, in their own way) -- have covered every inch of ground devoted to planting space so quickly and then started in on the so-called paths, the dedicated people space that in theory allows us to walk around and look at what's growing. And even the pavement, where a semi-centimeter of space between stones or bricks has become living room for opportunistic seeds and roots.
            Maybe it's the bounce-back effect of a mild year following a cold year. The winter of two years back (2014-15) stayed cold so long that green growth started a full month later than usual. Last winter was considerably milder. Spring started sooner and every plant that grows in Quincy threw itself into a mad race to get there first.
            Weeds worked hard to stay a step ahead of the tall-growing perennials. Between the two of them, I'm worried about the little guys. The low-growing ground-covers and small-leafed spring bloomers that add variety to the plant mix and deserve a place in the sun. The Mazus, chased away by the long snow last year, faced a tough fight trying to regain some lost ground this year. Thyme plants and other Steppables that I planted a decade ago are facing a crunch. They're like the local saving and loan, the mom and pop grocery, trying to keep going when the big banks and national chains come to town.
            More striking still than the tyranny of the large over the small are the encroachments of ever-expanding plant colonies on the paths I labored to secure a few years back, when I still some big flat rocks to work with, plus the pieces of mal-adapted roof slates we stole from a dumpster around the same time.
            Prominent among the expanders is a tall grassy plant sold perhaps as an 'ornamental grass,' when 'rapacious conqueror' might be a better name. (It's sold as northern sea oats.) I introduced it into some spots a few years ago under the impression that I needed something with roots to hold down some bare ground, hard to even imagine the need for this now. The plant takes everything you give it, and then it takes what you gave its neighbors. It's closing over a path now that I once topped with gravel. I used gravel a sort of decorative topping, icing on a footpath. But if you don't put your stone down thick as a brick, plants such as this one will summon dirt (don't ask me how) to cover your gravel, turn it into mush, and sink their roots into the resulting slurry.
            Then we come to the tall rapacious "loosestrife" -- that I believe to be Lysimachia vulgaris, though 'strife' sounds right and I have let it loose -- that is consuming the middle of the perennial garden. It took a hunk of footpath there last year. If I don't make it stop this year, there may soon be an ocean of long-stemmed reddish-purplish wilders choking our brave green continent from sea to sea.
            While this may sound like ungrateful complaining, the aesthetic wildman inside me enjoys contemplating the overgrowth, the abundance, the brilliant symphonic mess of many plants seeking a place in the sun, merging their shapes, colors and flowers into a great dance of the plant kingdom as if evolution itself threw the seeds of generations upon the ground and said, 'OK, guys, go at it."
            And actually, maybe that's what happened.
            In the photos posted here we have, from top down: 
garden geranium in the foreground; 
a blue medium height phlox in foreground, low campanula in the background;
blue ansonia;
pink coral bell flowers in the foreground, campanula in the background;
pink lamium (dead nettles) in the foreground, goat's beard in the background;
stalks of purple sage in the background, a light yellow lady's mantle flowering below;
and the yellow flowers of achillea (or yarrow) rising above the vinca and pachysandra. 
            ... anyway here are some photos.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

The Garden of History: Memorial Plaque Needs a Place in the Sun

           At two public programs on "Susso's Lane" last week participants at the Crane Library in Quincy and the Center for Active Living in Plymouth shared their reasons for having an enduring interest in the case of Sacco and Vanzetti, Italian immigrants executed in 1927 largely because of their radical political beliefs. One man in Quincy told me he had read all the books he could find on the subject and still remained open to be convinced one way or another on the issue of their guilt.
            In Plymouth a woman told me the story that came down to her from her mother. Her mother told her a relative (an aunt, I believe) who lived in the North Plymouth had fish delivered to her home by Vanzetti on the day of the crime for which he was accused. Vanzetti was making a living selling fish from a pushcart in 1920. Her relative wanted to testify to this face in court, but she spoke only Italian, and Sacco and Vanzetti's defense attorneys told her her testimony would be without value if she could not give it in English.
            No courtroom interpreters in those days. Not much concern for the presumption of innocence either when the defendants are made to sit inside a metal cage in the courtroom.
            Another person at the Quincy talk told me that the lower level of the Dedham, Mass. courthouse (where the trial was held) houses a photo of Sacco and Vanzetti sitting inside the cage in the courtroom — along with a third person. Who was the third person? he asked me.
            I didn’t know. I’ll try to find out. There’s always something new to learn when it comes to the Sacco-Vanzetti case. Several historians have called it “the case that will never die.”
            Historian Robert D'Attilio attended the Quincy library and spoke during the question period on the proposal made by a group he is part of -- The Sacco and Vanzetti Commemoration Society -- to install a memorial Sacco-Vanzetti plaque plaque (created almost 90 years ago by a famous sculptor) in a fitting public place.
            D'Attilio left us with a handout titled "Working Paper for the Installation of the Borglum Sacco Vanzetti Plaque in the North End in Boston."
            Here are some facts from this paper. The two men were executed in Boston in the electric chair at Charlestown State Prison on Aug. 23, 1927. Their funeral took place on a Sunday, Aug. 28, from Langone's Funeral Home in the North End, a largely Italian neighborhood. "According to newspaper accounts," the paper states, "it attracted more than 200,000 people, the largest public gathering in Boston in the 20th century." Many mourners marched the 8.5 miles to the Forest Hills Cemetery, where the two were cremated.
            The executions did not put the case to rest. Books, articles, essays, poems, dramas, films, and other works centering on the case were produced in the years afterward, and some keep coming. Novels, even (can you imagine that?). The entire legal transcript, six volumes, were published and remain available. The working paper states, "The Sacco Vanzetti case became indelibly known as the 'Case That Will Not Die.'"
            A volume of the letters that Sacco and Vanzetti wrote from prison were also published a year after their death. These letters moved readers all over the world, and that volume is still in print in a Penguin Books edition.
            Words from Vanzetti's last letter were included on a memorial plaque. The defense committee and Felix Frankfurter, who had written widely on the case and would become a Supreme Court justice, approached famous memorial sculptor Gutzon Borglum, the man responsible for the Mount Rushmore presidential memorial, with the idea of a memorial plaque.
            Borglum incorporated these words from Vanzetti's last letter (written to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow Dana) into his design: "What I wish more than all in this last hour of agony is that our case and our fate may be understood in their real being and serve as a tremendous lesson to the forces of freedom so that our suffering and death will not have been in vain." 
             He created a plaster model in 1928; the bronze plaque was cast a year later.             Borglum's plaque was offered to the state governor and the Boston mayor repeatedly over the years and refused by the authorities, with an umbrage that implied that Sacco and Vanzetti were common criminals and murderers. After the bronze plaque was rejected in 1957 it disappeared, and was probably destroyed. The plaster cast was displayed in the Community Church in Copley Square in 1971 and then donated to the Boston Public Library as part of a scholarly collection relating to the case, where it has been kept on the library's 3rd floor, a poor placement for a piece of public art.
            In 1977, the 50th anniversary of the execution, Gov. Michael Dukakis issued a proclamation stating that the two men had been unfairly tried and that no stigma should be attached to their names. An attempt was made to rebuke the governor in the state Senate, testifying to the enduring unwillingness by many in state government to accept that the trial was flawed and unfair.
On the 70th anniversary, in 1997, Mayor Thomas Menino and acting Gov. Paul Cellucci "formally" accepted the plaster plaque at the library for the city and state. But the plaque remains to this day upstairs in the library.
            The Sacco-Vanzetti Commemorative Society, formed in 2006, seeks to connect the case "under its real aspect and being" -- to quote from Vanzetti's last letter -- and "to draw connections between the struggles of Sacco and Vanzetti and similar struggles today. "
            Because of the importance of the Sacco-Vanzetti case to the Boston Italian-American community, the committee believes that the best site for permanent public display of the memorial plaque at the head of Hanover Street on the Greenway "at the precise spot where the funeral of Sacco and Vanzetti passed."
            The group seeks the support of the community, according to the working paper, to respond to "Vanzetti's final words: 'I wish and hope you will lend your faculties in inserting our tragedy in the history under its real aspect and being.'"