Friday, September 29, 2006

Cat in the Garden, Ownership

Cat in the Garden

You willed an orderly lawn into shape out of arid wasteland, and bushes up out of bare twigs; you raised a housecat on your lap from a stray and spitting kitten. And now your tomcat glides like a serpent through the high grass and underbrush, its golden eyes shining, joyful tremors running through its glossy coat.

"Me? I am a wild beast in the forest primeval."


I've long since held an affection for sparrows because they are merry and poor, because they are grey as old rags, dishevelled as tramps, carefree as children; chatty, satisfied with life and somehow entirely democratic; for this and other reasons I have always regarded them with affection as they eke out their little lives.

Begone, you worthless thing, beat it, you miserable sparrow, get lost, you wretched creature! Where is my cat, where is my cane, where is my gun? You mean to tell me, you little bandit, that you took my first cherry off my little tree?

Čapek, Aesop 2, 3/9

A few artistic liberties here, with "forest primeval" and "little tree" for "wild jungle" and "dwarf cultivar," respectfully.

Thursday, September 28, 2006


You wretched, worthless, ugly little monster, who nibbles away my tender seedlings and gobbles my scarcely-emerged sprouts, you who work your way into every corner of my house in your aimless and repulsive haste, hide under my blankets and swim in my drinking glass; you wriggling little beast, snapping at me with your pincers, I beg you--what on earth are you good for? What purpose do you serve? What contribution do you make? Is there any creature under the sun more worthless than you?

"I'm not useless, sir; I have accomplished something immeasurably useful during my lifetime."

And what exactly have you accomplished, Mr. Earwig?

"I had lots of children."

Karel Čapek, (who else?), Aesop the Gardener, 1/9

Apparently I've started another wee Čapek project. This should take me four or five days; some of these are one-liners. In a short life update, I've beaten the strep and mostly beaten the mono, I figure--at least, I'm only moderately more tired than seems usual. I'm back at work, and somehow our little garden plot is still producing cukes, carrots and peppers. No earwig problems for me, fortunately.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

How to Grow Clouds

It takes a lot of work: it is necessary to weed very carefully, to toss out muck and small stones by hand, to kneel on the earth, bend over, dig about in the soil, water profusely, collect caterpillars, exterminate aphids, loosen the ground and serve the earth; when your back hurts from all this and you straighten up and look at the sky, you will have the prettiest clouds. Probatum est.

[the entirety of Philemon originally in Lidové noviny, 6 September 1925]

Monday, September 25, 2006


I spoke of clay, and a gardener became angry with me. Garden soil, he said, is no clay; it is earth, humus, a useful and living substance; whereas clay, we all know, is dead matter, marl, slag itself. I was ashamed of myself somewhat; the gardener was right. Why, then, did the Lord create man out of clay and not out of soil? It is not written that Adam was made out of humus. It is not said that the Creator made him out of fine leaf mold. He carefully set the humus and leaf mold aside for the Garden of Eden. We gardeners, therefore, do not fritter away the best soil on doubtful pursuits.

--Karel Čapek, Philemon (4/5)

I had fun with "marl" and "slag." Also leaf mold. Mmmm, leaf mold.


I made a discovery: each plant has not only its own leaves and flowers, but a certain kind of root as well. You who don't mess around in the soil, laying waste to weeds, have no conception of the hidden wealth of roots. There are roots that are light, fleshy, sickly pale; or fat, arborescent, rich as a shock of hair; creeping, woody, swollen, tuberous, stubborn, brittle, strong as catgut, shallow and deep, plump and starvingly scrawny, rosy as living nerves and black as dry rot, hirsute and bald; I tell you, life under the ground is just as rich as above it.

--Karel Čapek, of course, Philemon part 3 of 5.

This is the least intentionally funny; but as the man wrote gardening treatises among other things, I'n inclined to smile along with him anyway--hell, it was excellent adjective practice. [N.B., I had originally rendered the adjective "brittle" as "crunchy." Fine on candy wrappers, but here...]

Saturday, September 23, 2006


Don't think I have a collection of them. I only have the four clay pots and some hens and chicks; but the vegetation involved suffices to astound me.

The first little cactus looks like it has a mind to grow itself a piece of raw mutton; it is red tending to violet, fat, and very comparable to a job terribly botched; this wonder of nature is, honestly put, a little loathsome.

The second cactus decided to adopt a shape that seems to have come out of a tinsmith's fantasy. It must be doing this intentionally; it looks like a some sort of manufactured good.

The third one is made up of pretty little fat purple and green sabers with a clear eye towards stylization; the whole thing, though, is speckled with some sort of tropical rash that looks like thick, white, mildewy pustules. It seems to not be contagious, at least.

You should see the fourth monster grow. This hair comes up first, a little star comes out of that, and a green tassel sprouts under the star. Finally the whole thing turns into this horned ball thickly set with prickly stars. I cannot begin to imagine what will happen next.

The strangest of all, though, are the ordinary hens and chicks. I set the first one down and ignored it; let it show me what it could do. Well, it does something interesting; wherever the fancy strikes it--in its armpit, round the back, on its head--it throws out a green leafy head. This breaks open, rolls into the clay, sends out a rootlet and grows like crazy.

I can't even imagine what I would do if a child started to grow in my armpit or on my breast or on the back of my neck. Some hens have twenty chicks on themselves; that's an outbreak of fertility; it is motherhood completely unleashed.

--from Philemon or On Gardening, Karel Čapek

The final verb has the sense of "all hell breaking loose, I get the sense, but am unsure how to render it further. Apparently hens and chicks (genus Sempervivum--I mean to get some for the side of the house) are more succinctly called houseleeks, but that's nothing I've ever heard, and I don't care to use it. Part of me assumes Čapek was actually basing these on real cacti, and I'm tempted to poke around some pictures looking for what these might be based on. My mother's got all the good cactus books, though.

Comments, again, are welcome. There's three parts left to Philemon; I hope to get to one a day through Tuesday.

Friday, September 22, 2006


I was so proud of it; it was full, lightly frosted, and curly-headed like a younger version of František Langer; but suddenly out of God knows where came the caterpillars of the white cabbage butterfly, which, should have gone and eaten some white cabbage over in Strašnice and left my Savoyards in peace if their name were accurate; they devoured everything down to a filigree of veins.

Before that disaster I had been inclined to reorder my system of values and deem cabbage as the queen of the flowers. Well, it's not true, the queen of the flowers remains the rose, by the obvious fact that it cannot be eaten.

Presumably man too must be distasteful, if he is to become the king of all creation.

--From Philemon, or On Gardening, by Karel Čapek.

I'm pleased with this, even if I had to wrestle a bit about the fact that Czech has two remarkably different words (zelí and kapusta) to refer to "regular" and Savoy cabbage, respectably. Well, with various modifiers zelí can also refer to red cabbage and kapusta can also reference Brussels sprouts, but...yeah. The brassicas are inbred and complicated. Čapek was growing kapusta, they were white zelí caterpillars, hence his frustration. I'm more concerned with the rambling in the first paragraph than anything.

I enjoyed throwing in "Savoyard," though, and in a lighter, shorter work of Čapek I feel no harm in doing so. Langer was a contemporary of his at the Lidové noviny, a newspaper where much of his shorter writings appeared.

[edit 8 pm. Some wording in the first, longest sentence (suddenly, laced, etc.); change to "deem" in the second. edit edit: changed my literalism at the end of the first para to "filigree of veins." I like that a lot better]

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Ah, so it's strep too.

That would explain the four hours in the emergency room today; the 103-degree fever, the morphine, and the liters of IV fluid replenishment.

Am now on antibiotics too. And hopefully, finally, on the mend from the sickest I've ever been.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Ah, so it's mono, then. That would explain a few things.

Like the, uh,





Friday, September 08, 2006

Joy. I've spent since Sunday in the grip of a feverish internsity.

Oh wait. Strike the "-ish intensity."

The Lips show was goood--it was their VT debut (according to them; Nate presumed they'd done in once-plus in the eighties and lost it in the drugs.) and they rocked the house. Light show, balloons, Martians and Santa Clauses in the wings--they even sang happy birthday. But not to me, since I spent the second half of the concert way back in the bleachers with my head in my hands.

It was vastly better than not going. But fuzzy-headedness, temperature swings, and massive muscle pain. I'm supposed to work the next three days and everyone else is sick too. Whee.

Doctor tomorrow, more later.