Thursday, May 9, 2013
My Aunt Edna called this vine Bluebells because that’s what her mother, Emily Rustenbach, called it. Mrs. Rustenbach had it in her yard in what was then a very rural area whose post office was Cypress, Texas. The Rustenbachs lived on Huffmeister Road, named for one of the early German families that settled the area. Now all of that once country part of Harris County is as complicated as the rest of the sprawling city of Houston, minus only skyscrapers.
I recently found out that he vine is officially called Clytostoma callistegioides (Lavender Trumpet Vine). It is an evergreen vine that grows moderately fast to 15 to 20 feet tall by as wide, climbing up on or clambering over anything that will support it with a dense foliage cover.
According to Texas gardening experts, “Lavendar Trumpet Vine is native to Argentina and southern Brazil. The name for the genus is from the Greek words 'Klytos' meaning "beautiful" and 'stoma' meaning "mouth" in reference to the beautiful open moth shaped flowers. The specific epithet is in reference to this vines similarity to Calystegia, a fast growing vine in the Morning Glory Family, Convolvulaceae. Other common names for this beautiful vine are Chamisso, Painted Trumpet and Argentine Trumpet Vine. The Plant List, the collaboration between The Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew and Missouri Botanic Gardens lists the current name of this plants as Bignonia callistegioides but we continue to list it as Clytostoma callistegioides until such time that this name gets broader usage.”
Apparently this vine has been documented in California (Santa Barbara) a early as 1895. Some important plant men who have written about it include Harry Butterfield and Dr. Francesco Franceschi and his partner, Peter Riedel.
“A great plant for covering a chain link fence,” the official description declares. I don’t recall the Rustenbachs having a chain link fence, but they certainly had a hog wire fence surrounding their swept garden yard. It’s a long way from Santa Barbara, California to Cypress, Texas, let alone Argentina and Brazil. As it turns out, the origin of this vine is way more exotic than my Aunt Edna imagined. I speculate that Mrs. Rustenbach received the plant as a “pass along” from a friend or neighbor’s garden, and she in turn passed it along to her daughter, probably sometime in the 1950s.
I never got a photograph of Aunt Edna standing near the arbor where the Lavendar Trumpet Vine grows in my Texas garden. This photograph of my mother, Tena Hollis, dates from April of 1906. At this point she was frail with a very tired heart, although you wouldn’t necessarily recognize that from this photograph. On this day, she and my oldest sister, Joan, were headed for a stay in Mother’s house west of Houston. She didn’t feel well, but she agreed to pose for this picture against the backdrop of this lovely vine. In spite of Texas droughts and occasional very hard freezes during some winters, the vine has prospered for 10-plus years in Leon County, Texas—sometimes coming back from the roots. I live away in New Mexico. Life goes on in Leon County. I was delighted by this close-up reminder that I made with my cell phone in April of 2013.
R. Harold Hollis—Albuquerque, NM (May 9, 2013)
Sunday, February 24, 2013
Wednesday, January 30, 2013
I was feeling like I had done something to nurture my own spirit, which prompted me to head to a retreat center in the Albuquerque South Valley, where a labyrinth is open to the public. I wanted to center myself, to get grounded as some of us say. When I got there, I discovered that retreat center is closed on Sunday. But as life will have it, one of the resident Sisters was waiting in her car for the automatic gate to open so that she could drive out of the grounds, and my good fortune was her permission to walk the labyrinth, even though it was Sunday. “If someone comes out and asks why you are here, just tell them Sister Kay gave you permission.”
My lovely day continued, and I headed south down historic Isleta Boulevard, which is part of old U.S. Route 66. I was bound for treasure—but the kind you can hold in your hand, put on a shelf, hang on your wall. I am a junker by genetic makeup, even though for the last several months I have practiced denying this by stepping back from the treasure hunting that once occupied a good bit of my leisure time. The hows and whys are another story. Part of my plan for this Sunday morning was to follow the walk on the labyrinth with a visit to a nearby trading post, where in the past I have lucked on to a few finds. As I drove, my lovely day was to be interrupted, however. I spotted a dead cat lying in my lane. “Oh,” I was repelled by the sight. I swerved to the left to avoid the cat, but I didn’t stop to take it out of the road. I never stop when I see what I usually assume to be someone’s pet. Not because I don’t care. I’m just squeamish. And frankly, I don't want to risk being run over by someone in one of his or her worst moments.
I continued toward my junking destination, where treasure lay waiting to be discovered on my Sunday morning search. In the first booth I walked into, a carving of the eagle and snake, the symbol on the Mexican flag, caught my eye. It was clearly the work of someone with talent, but not a professional carver. Naive such work is called. In another booth a small Navajo weaving was folded and laying on a primitive work bench, partially restricted under something else I don’t recall. Around the corner a piece of New Mexican religious folk art depicting the crucified Christ was in a lighted showcase, along with other pieces showcased as important. The image on this piece was drawn, then lightly carved and colored. INRI—(Jesus the Nazarene, King of the Jews). The art was done on a foot-long section of a small cottonwood and was marked with a tag “NFS”—Not For Sale. My face showed disappointment, no doubt.
Having taken the weaving and the eagle and snake carving to the front desk and made my way through the small store, I asked the husband, one of the two owners, about the piece marked not for sale. He gave me a little history and then remarked, “Everything’s for sale. What would you offer?” “I can’t do that—it makes me uncomfortable,” I answered. We worked through the uncertainty, and then I carried the religious piece up front, hoping that his wife would agree and give me a price. I beamed when she said okay. Once my little stash was gathered on the front desk, both the weaving and the religious folk art caught the attention of another shopper who inquired separately about each piece. “I’m buying these,” I interrupted, the question not having been directed to me. What a jerk, I thought instantly, about myself and my possessive response to the woman’s attention to my stuff! Like a dog or cat, protecting it’s food dish, or its turf. Tuck that away for further consideration.
As life will have it, I wasn’t going to be let off the hook when it came to the large yellow tabby lying dead in the road. On the drive back north, the cat was still in the road, but now a man in a wheelchair sat on the side of the road looking at the cat. A woman stood nearby. I tried to keep driving, but something in my would-be lovely day told me to turn around and offer to render aid. So I did. I pulled up near the man and woman just as a car was about to exit the driveway to the right of where the cat lay. Parking and opening the door of my car, I asked the man and woman, “Do you need help?”. Of course, they needed help, even though I silently hoped they would say that everything was under control.
So I got out of my car and walked over to the scene of mishap. The woman told me that the man in the wheelchair—I don’t know if they were husband and wife, or neighbors, or if she was his caregiver—was upset because he thought the cat might be his cat. He couldn’t tell for sure. How is this possible, I thought. Except for a solid smear of blood covering the cat’s partially open mouth, its body was otherwise unmarked by the blow it had suffered. Apparently, the damage that had resulted in death was all on the inside. The woman asked if I could get it out of the road. Using the toe of my boot, I worked the body of what I assumed to be a tomcat to the side of the road. At about the same time the young woman driving the car about to exit its driveway caught my attention. I don’t remember what she said, but I asked if she had a plastic garbage bag that I could use for the body. First she brought me two plastic grocery bags. “These won’t do,” I said. “That’s a big cat,” she commented. So I asked again for a plastic garbage bag. Then I used the grocery bags to handle the cat while I worked its body into the garbage bag. A gaseous odor came from the cat’s mouth. I can smell it now, three days later.
After bagging the corpse, I realized that the man in the wheelchair and his woman companion were leaving the scene. “He’s too upset,” she told me, because he doesn’t know if it’s his cat. How is it possible, I thought again. “God bless you,” she added and turned to follow the man in the wheelchair, who was already rolling his way down the side of the road. I was left to finish this job. I asked the young woman if she had an outside faucet where I could rinse my hands. Instead, she invited me into her house and showed me to the bathroom. I heard her talking to someone in another room—her grandmother, it turned out. I walked to where they stood in the kitchen, and where they were still quietly discussing the events, and asked for a paper towel so that I could dry my hands. Then with the help of the grandmother, we managed to contact the non-emergency number of the City of Albuquerque, discovering in the process that their home is located outside the city in the County of Bernalillo. We reached Animal Welfare for the county and were assured by the operator that someone would come to take away the body of the cat. “Most people wouldn’t stop to help,” the granddaughter had commented during all of this. I replied that this might be the first time that I had ever stopped in such a circumstance. I don’t remember. It’s been a pretty long life, and maybe I have stopped at some point on this journey. I shook their hands and excused myself.
My day of loveliness had actually begun on Saturday, although I didn’t realize it at the time. I had started reading a book on the Penitentes of New Mexico, which I had found at an estate sale in the North Valley. This historic group in northern New Mexico is known in English as the Brotherhood of our Father Jesus of Nazareth and for its acts of asceticism and self flagellation, especially during the period of Lent. In his book on the Penitentes, Fray Angelico Chavez writes about Nazirite history. According to a popular Internet source, the proper noun Nazarite comes from the Hebrew word nazir, meaning “consecrated” or “separated”, someone who takes a vow. In modern Hebrew, the word nazir is commonly used for both Christian and Buddhist monks.
I haven’t connected the dots of my weekend, but I know for certain that there is a connection. Isn’t there always, if only we can see it? Some would say, “silly”, at the suggestion of finding a relationship between a book on the Penitentes of northern New Mexico, a man’s loss of his pet (or was it his pet?), and the circumstances leading to stewardship for a short time of a piece of local folk art depicting the crucifixion of the man we know as Jesus of Nazareth. I guess I’m just silly like that.
A Lovely Day—Albuquerque, New Mexico (January 30, 2013)
R. Harold Hollis
Wednesday, January 23, 2013
I don’t know anything about Jimi Hendrix, although when he comes to mind, such as he did yesterday when I saw the Quote of the Week written in marker on the white board that hangs on the wall of the cardiac rehab workout room at University of New Mexico Hospital, I have some vague memory of him. He died on September 18, 1970, two days after my 27th birthday, so I wasn’t too young or too old to be a Hendrix fan. I just wasn’t drawn to him or his music, I guess. I do know that he was legendary in his lifetime time and has become even more of a legend in 40-plus years following his death.
If I hadn’t confirmed that Hendrix indeed is the source of the quote above, I could just as easily attributed it to Gandhi. “We must be the change we wish to see in the world.” A friend includes that with her signature as part of her email messages. This change is blood kin to the power of love Hendrix speaks of. “The power of love is a curious thing / make one man weep, make another man sing. / Change a hawk to a little white dove / more than a feeling, that's the power of love.” That’s what Huey Lewis has to say about it, including the reference to hawks and doves.
“How do I love thee? Let me count the ways”. So penned Elizabeth Barrett Browning before 1861, the year of her death, and sometime before the American Civil War, which began in 1861 and cost the lives of over 1,000,000 Americans—3% of the population of the United States at the time. Her sonnet concerns a more personal kind of love.
I remember as a 20-something in the 1960s being drawn to the tenor of the times. It was the time of Viet Nam and the killing of war protestors at Kent State and Haight Ashbury and love-ins and bell bottom trousers. I remember my own pairs of bell bottoms—mostly in some embarrassment—but I don’t remember much about Jimi Hendrix except a vague recollection of hearing of his death on the radio news at the time. Janis Joplin died just two weeks later. Both deaths were the results of an overdose. I knew little about hard living or drugs. But a longing in my heart? Yes, I knew about that.
I was a teacher at the time, sweating out the war like the other males of my generation—that is, the ones who hadn’t joined up or gotten drafted. I hadn’t even remembered until I looked it up right now that the birth years of those primarily affected by the draft lottery held in December of 1969 were the years 1944 to 1959. I was born in 1943, but I sure as hell worried over the lottery after my teaching deferment had been revoked and I had been called for a physical and been classified as IA. I guess I lucked out. I never got called. I remember feeling what a bullshit war it was. Little did I know at the time. In so many ways I was sheltered and naive. No doubt, I was more naive than many of the students in my classes at a wealthy suburban Houston high school.
As I walked the treadmill in cardiac rehab yesterday morning, the quote from Jimi Hendrix got me to thinking about how far I’ve come since 1970, and yet I haven’t traveled far at all. My body has changed, I’m recovering from heart bypass surgery—something I hadn’t imagined even 18 months ago. But my heart remains unchanged. Cynicism aside, I know the power of love to change us—if we are willing.
Sunday, December 9, 2012
Yesterday I gave away a jacket that I bought at the Gap more than 20 years ago. Many times over the last 10 years when I’ve gone through my clothes to see what I am willing to give up, I’ve considered that jacket, deciding to hold onto it. Along with the jacket that was destined for the Rescue Mission here in Albuquerque, I filled up three 13-gallon bags with trousers and shirts. Some of the trousers were left over from my professional life—a time when I didn’t hesitate at dropping $100 on a silk tie or a commensurate amount on a pair of slacks or a blazer or suit. As if these leftovers are gold, I’ve hoarded them, for the last 12 years. But, as life would have it, the moths had a field day one year early in these 12 years. No surprise about the love of moths for wool—or rust that corrodes and ruins and “thieves that break in and steal” (Matthew 6: 19). In fairness to the truth, some of the clothing had already found its way to some thrift store or donation box.
Over the years, along with the periodic need to just clean things out a little, disasters of one kind or another have beckoned to my closet. I remember well Hurricane Rita from the season of 2005 that particularly affected the Gulf Coast. I boxed clothes, boots and shoes and took them to the center in a small town some 45 miles north of my home in rural east Texas. Any time, any season is a worthy time to edit one’s closet, in spite of what my frugal Texas German mother used to caution me when I was in one of my moods to thin out my closet. I wouldn’t be getting rid of everything—an exaggeration, of course—you might wish you had that stuff one of these days. She advised regarding her own clothes that she no longer wore—”you can give it away when I die.” That’s what we did, and we did it with gentleness and mindfulness.
A sense of mindfulness has been a part of every effort I’ve made to thin out my closets—which I now have both in Texas and New Mexico. In spite of these efforts, the closets remain too full—the clothes, the boots and shoes, still too many. Excess upon excess, even though by comparison I’m probably not as serious a culprit as I imagine. Regardless, excess is still excess.
At this time of the year we are reminded of the role consuming plays in our lives. I’ve walked the aisles of Walmart. With only modest exceptions, my humble efforts at gift giving are not defined by the perceived needs or wants of my family, however. Even though we have many individual needs, all of us have shelter and food, and most importantly we have each other. I’ve shared my own gifts in buying coats for kids as part of the campaign of one of the television stations here in Albuquerque. Toys for Toys, a cash donation for one of the food pantries, lap robes, socks and body lotion for residents of a nearby nursing home, shirts and socks for a senior whose name was placed on the Christmas tree at Walmart, excess from my closet for a homeless shelter—that’s my list. It’s not enough. It can never be enough. I’ll do my best to accept that.
Recently in the news, much has been made over the New York policeman who spent $75 on a pair of boots and socks for a barefoot homeless man. As it turns out, all is not what it seems. The man is not homeless, and even though he received a pair of boots and socks, he is shoeless once again. His circumstances are way more complicated. Apparently he hid the shoes because they are “valuable”. And, of course, the turn of events of the story have once again given anyone who wants or needs to justify his or her reasons for not reaching out to the poor, the homeless, those in need. In an opinion piece by Paul Brandeis Raushenbush, Senior Religion Editor for the Huffington Post: “Yes, we have a responsibility to ask the questions of why people are poor, to lobby for better treatment of the poor, to support agencies that who [sic] have expertise with the poor, but we also should be inspired to give directly to the poor. Not because it is the most effective, but because the direct encounter with those who are suffering, and the courage to give without controlling how it is received is important for our own spiritual well being.
The homeless man in New York responded to the policeman’s “offer to buy shoes by saying ‘God bless you’. When we overcome our city honed instinct of isolation and suspicion to do an act of kindness and show compassion to the stranger it is, in that moment, a blessing experienced by both the giver and receiver.” (I need to add that this instinct for isolation and suspicion is in no way limited to something that is “city honed”. Cynicism thrives way beyond the boundaries of the city.)
Mr. Raushenbush goes on to conclude, “In this messy world, that is more than enough.”
Read the entire story:
Monday, October 8, 2012
In The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel for the Elderly and the Beautiful, Sonny, the young Indian who owns and manages the hotel, advises one of his guests who is appalled by what she has discovered once she gets to Jaipur: “In India, we have a saying—everything will be all right in the end,” he explains. “So if it is not all right, it is not yet the end.”