In the Shadow (How shall my heart be reconciled to its feast of losses?)

Updated 2007.09.12: Added brief bio and link for Renee Barret-Arjune.

Haddadada the gargoyle stands watch behind the maple in my backyard.

I'd rather be writing about something else, but this presents itself right now. Better I write it while it's fresh, and raw, and resist polishing the life from it.

Earlier this evening, I learned of the death of John Larsen, someone I knew from my old days in the East Village. We were neighbors, bar buddies, and, for a hot minute, boyfriends.

In March of 1996, I had just started reading Walt Odets' "In the Shadow of the Epidemic: Being HIV-Negative in the Age of AIDS", the first book I read which gave voice to feelings shared by many of my cohort, gay men of a certain age: survivor guilt, and a spiritual crisis which has ravaged many of us. I wrote:

March 1996

so far surviving
what will it mean to be alive
having outlived generation after generation
decades of death
the explosion widening until, finally
and yes, with some grim, righteous satisfaction
finally noone can truthfully say
they are not also affected

imagine how it will be
when your closest friends are strangers
when long ago you gave up hope
of growing old together
as everyone you've loved, and despised
has died, seven times over
when you've learned, and loved, and lost
and learned, loved, lost
and ...
When each new friend is met with the knowledge
that they too will leave soon
but it no longer matters
because, you think, you've already grieved their deaths too

the corpses pile up
against the walls you've built around yourself
walking along familiar streets
past the bars, your old haunts
you see tombstones, crosses, ashes
and you're not safe, even in your own mind
especially at night
when the walls must come down
and you must remember the dead

you want to believe you've come so far
but it hasn't even begun
I moved to Brooklyn in June of 1992. I'd lived 13 years in the East Village, in the epicenter of the AIDS epidemic. My move was neither well-planned nor well-executed. I knew I had to move. I didn't know how important it would be to me for my survival, for my recovery. Though I could not surface the thought at that time, let alone voice it, I was also running, trying to run, away. I couldn't face any more death.
January 25, 1994


glimpsed in a stranger's gait
darting behind another's mask
in that moment

for how long
must I never forget?

the epicenter
reaches to numbers inconceivable
my heart implodes

when darkness falls
how should I greet it

for a moment
I thought I saw you
but you left long ago
Reminders of the upcoming 6th Anniversary of 9/11 are piling up. My first day back at work from my North Carolina trip, I walked by the Deutsche Bank building - ruined in the attacks, condemned, and only now being dismantled - where two firefighters had lost their lives the day before. I could see the blackened scaffolding and walls of the building. I smelled the smoke, startled for a few minutes, taken back to the months after the attacks, when the fires burned for months, when we walked every day through the crematory of downtown Manhattan. I know - knew, met a handful of times - a woman, Renee Barret-Arjune, who died from injuries she received in the World Trade Center attacks. It's how we measure our distance from such things: who we knew, how many, how close.

Earlier this summer, Eleanor Traubman of Creative Times gave me a little gem of a book, The Wild Braid: A Poet Reflects on a Century of Life in the Garden. It's by and about the poet, Stanley Kunitz (1905-2006), written with Genine Lentine and with photographs by Marnie Crawford Samuelson. When we met at the Flatbush meet-up, she recommended this book to me.

I've estimated that half of everyone I've ever known has already died: from AIDS, chemical dependence or overdose, or suicide. I should have expected to feel resonance with a centenarian gardener-poet writing at the end of his life. Here's an excerpt from Kunitz' "The Layers":

When I look behind,
as I am compelled to look
before I can gather strength
to proceed on my journey,
I see the milestones dwindling
toward the horizon
and the slow fires trailing
from the abandoned camp-sites,
over which scavenger angels
wheel on heavy wings.
Oh, I have made myself a tribe
out of my true affections,
and my tribe is scattered!
How shall the heart be reconciled
to its feast of losses?
In a rising wind
the manic dust of my friends,
those who fell along the way,
bitterly stings my face.
Kunitz closes more hopefully:
no doubt the next chapter
in my book of transformations
is already written.
I am not done with my changes.
This evening, fresh with the news of a death of a friend, I look behind. Nor am I done with my changes.

Renee Barrett-Arjune worked as a compensation accountant at Cantor Fitzgerald in Tower 1 of the World Trace Center. She grew up in Brooklyn and lived in Irvington, NJ. She was active in the church where Blog Widow John worked at the time; I met her a couple of times through him. She was 41.

Her name is inscribed in a bronze panel - #N-48 - along the North Pool of the National September 11 Memorial at Ground Zero. The names of Cantor Fitzgerald employees and consultants make up 34, nearly half, of the panels surrounding the North Pool.


Heirloom Canna "Mme. Paul Caseneuve"

Heirloom Canna "Mme. Paul Caseneuve". Photo Credit: Blog Widow John

Earlier this week, while I've been in North Carolina, one of the heirloom bulbs in the front yard started to bloom. I was disappointed to miss its first flower. Blog Widow John was excited to see the bloom, and sent me this phonecam snapshot of it so I wouldn't miss it. This is his first guest post on the blog. Thanks, baby!

It's Canna "Mme. Paul Caseneuve", which I received from Old House Gardens (OHG) this Spring. This is the first time I've grown this variety of Canna. Introduced in 1902, it's growing about 3 feet high for me, not as tall as "Cleopatra" which I grew in the same container last year. OHG describes the flower as "heart-breakingly lovely" and it looks to fulfill that promise. The foliage has been attractive, dark bronze for me.

[Confidential to my readers: I'll get some proper photos of it after I return home this weekend.]


The North Carolina Arboretum


Today was our day to visit the North Carolina Arboretum. CC accompanied me for about half of the photos I took. It was a pleasure to be able to explore the Arboretum with another plants-person. It's been too long since I had the opportunity to do so.

Here are some photographic highlights of my visit. You can see even more photos of my visit on Flickr.

Annuals in Container
Annuals in Container
This is a detail view of one of the many combinations of annuals and other tender plants in containers around the plazas and promenade at the Arboretum. The plants here are:
  • Upper left: Golden Pineapple Sage, Salvia elegans "Golden Delicious"
  • Upper right: Coleus, Solenostemon scutellarioides "Coco Loco"
  • Lower center: Shamrock, Oxalis vulcanicola "Zinfandel"
It was interesting walking around with CC for this, since he's familiar with many of our "annuals" as year-round landscape plants. He recognized the Pineapple Sage immediately; I thought it was another Coleus.

Here's a full-on view of this container and its neighbors.
Container Plantings

Detail, Rex Begonia Leaf.
Detail, Rex Begonia Leaf

And here's that Begonia with its companions.
Container with annuals and tender bulbs

Passion Flower
Passion Flower

Pipsissewa (Chimaphila umbellata), on the Nature Garden Walk.
Pipsissewa (Chimaphila umbellata)

Flower of Franklinia alatamaha in the parking lot.
Flower of Franklinia alatamaha

Papyrus flowers.

Bark of Black Gum (Nyssa sylvatica), on the Nature Garden Walk
Bark of Black Gum (Nyssa sylvatica), NC Arboretum

Tiger Swallowtail on Hydrangea off the promenade.
Tiger Swallowtail on Hydrangea

Lichens on Rock, Nature Garden Walk
Lichens on Rock, NC Arboretum

Three-lobed Coneflower (Rudbeckia triloba), handicapped parking area
Three-lobed Coneflower (Rudbeckia triloba)

Scolia dubia, Flower Wasp/Digger Wasp/Blue-Winged Wasp
The beauty above is Scolia dubia, also known as a Flower, Digger or Blue-winged Wasp. Thanks to nafensler (Flickr) for the ID! I photographed this in the parking lot as CC and I were leaving the Arboretum. NCSU's Center for Integrated Pest Management has an apt write-up from a couple years ago:
Scolia dubia is a black-colored insect with metallic blue highlights on the wings and thorax. The brownish abdomen has two yellow spots near the middle of the abdomen and the tip is a red-brown color. Scoliid wasps are considered beneficial insects because they help control the grubs of green June beetles and other beetles. They are present in North Carolina from June to October, but they are most abundant during August. The wasps are often seen hovering a few inches above lawns, flying in loops and Figure 8 patterns. The female wasp digs through the soil in search of grubs, burrowing her own tunnels or following those made by the grubs. These are not a stinging threat to humans and no control measures are suggested.

Related Posts

Quilt Garden
Baker Exhibit Center


North Carolina Arboretum

The Quilt Garden at the North Carolina Arboretum

Update 2007.12.12: Added links to related posts and Arboretum Web site, including their page of past photos of the Quilt Garden.

Quilt Garden, NC Arboretum

The Quilt Garden is one of a series of gardens bordering the promenade at the North Carolina Arboretum. It's redesigned every year with a different combination of annuals in a different design based on traditional quilt patterns of North Carolina.

As you approach, from ground-level, the garden is colorful, but the pattern is not obvious. You climb the stairs to the overlook to get the full effect.
Quilt Garden, NC Arboretum

Quilt Garden, NC Arboretum

The center of the overlook is aligned with other features of the landscape, and a view to the mountains beyond, to give you the view in the photo at the top of this post. This is as formal as the gardens get at the Arboretum.

Back at ground-level, the plants themselves are interesting. C.C. noted that they could have spaced the yellow more closely to fill in the pattern.
Detail, Quilt Garden Plants

And from the right angle, the pattern reveals itself at ground-level as well.
Quilt Garden, NC Arboretum

Related Posts

The New Baker Exhibit Center
The North Carolina Arboretum


Arboretum Quilt Garden, Past and Present, North Carolina Arboretum

The New Baker Exhibit Center at the North Carolina Arboretum

Baker Exhibit Center

Today I got to spend most of the day with Christopher C. of Outside Clyde.We met at the new Baker Exhibit Center at the North Carolina Arboretum. When I was at the Arboretum last fall, it was still under construction. It's only been open about a month.

It's a beautiful building. It holds a great room, an exhibit hall, and a greenhouse which was not yet open. Not shown in these photos, this building also houses a gallery shop, with fine arts and crafts of mostly garden-related subjects and themes available for purchase. It opens on two levels. The lower level, with the main entrance, opens to the parking lot. The upper level opens onto the Arboretum's promenade, which includes the Quilt Garden. I'll have photos from that later.

Entrance Sign, Baker Exhibit Center

Great Room, Baker Exhibit Center

Aroid Foliage, Baker Exhibit Center

Great Room, Baker Exhibit Center

Exhibit Room, Baker Exhibit Center

Baker Exhibit Center Greenhouse and Upper Entrance

Related Posts

Quilt Garden
The North Carolina Arboretum


North Carolina Arboretum


Oconaluftee Indian Village, Cherokee, NC


I am much looking forward to tomorrow, when I get to meet Christopher C. of Outside Clyde. This will be my first chance to meet another gardener-blogger.

So it's late and I must get to sleep to be rested and fresh for tomorrow. Here are some photographic impressions of today's visit to Oconaluftee Indian Village in Cherokee, North Carolina. The first set of photos, including the one at the top of this post, are from the exhibit itself. The second set comes from the Cherokee Botanical Gardens which shares the grounds with the exhibit, a self-guided tour with signs identifying many of the trees, bushes, and cultivated plants important to the Cherokee.

Pottery Tools
Pottery tools

Weaving a white oak basket

Blowing a dart
Blowing a dart

Log canoes
Log canoes

Mossy Roof
Mossy Roof

Shadows on a red clay wall

At home I've been reading a book on moss gardening by George Schenk. The Botanical Gardens offered numerous object lessons in how well-grown mosses should look. I'm struggling to achieve this in my own garden.






Exploring Biophilia Through a USB Microscope

Tiny Strawberry. Credit: Michaela and Cassandra.

I'm in North Carolina this week, visiting my parents with my sister and nieces. It's a confusing time, with both my nieces and parents demanding both my sister's and my attention. "Which imaginary friend do you want to help me feed?" "Did I show you this?" So I welcome activities which can engage everyone, including me.

For this visit, my father bought an inexpensive USB microscope. I've been thinking about getting one of these myself, so I welcomed the opportunity to play around with one. It also turned an otherwise ordinary trip through the backyard with the nieces into an expedition. We collected samples - "specimens" - along the way, for examination under the microscope. Here are some of the highlights.

Moss and Lichen from a decaying stump. Credit: Xris.

Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis). Credit: Michaela and Cassandra.

Tip of a fern frond (unidentified). Credit: Xris

Diseased Leaf, Credit: Michaela and Cassandra.

Another Diseased Leaf. Credit: Michaela and Cassandra.

Nurtured by our parents, Both my sister and I have a life-long love of nature, and she has clearly nurtured the same in her children. My nieces picked out all these samples. They identified, and I gathered many of the specimens (there was poison ivy about). In a half-hour expedition, we collected about 20 samples, most of which went under the microscope. Much of that half-hour was taken up by observing the wildlife: electric blue damselflies, swallowtail butterflies, a frog, fish, a cardinal, and a rabbit. My nieces each carried their own binoculars. They're 7 and 8 years old.

All the images are snapshots at 10X magnification. This microscope also offers 60X and 200X, but the controls are mushy and it's difficult to hold an image in the narrow field of focus. The software is intuitive; my nieces figured out the controls before I did! My nieces did most of the manipulation of framing and lighting for the images above. I've credited the photos accordingly above. It took me some exploration to figure out how to capture an image and export it to a JPEG for upload. I did some tweaks for image capture, and some post-processing for shadows and contrast.

They're brilliant, sometimes scary-smart, children. It's a privilege to share and explore the world with them.


Tornado Damage in Prospect Park South, Caton Park and Beverley Square West

Update 2007.08.09: The National Weather Service says that this was the strongest tornado on record to hit New York City.

Evening update: By the afternoon, the National Weather Service (NWS) confirmed that there had been an EF2 tornado, but only in the Bay Ridge section of Brooklyn. They also reported that it traveled northeast, which would have placed it in the path of Sunset Park, Kensington, and Flatbush.

Update 16:30 EDT: I've got the Flickr set up, and I'm uploading the remainder of the photos as I type.

Totalled. This was on Rugby Road, north of Church Avenue in Caton Park.

I just got back a half-hour ago from my tornado walking tour of my neighborhood, Beverley Square West, the adjoining Prospect Park South Historic District, and Caton Park. I'm home today because none of the subways were running this morning, and our local line, the B/Q train, is down due to trees on the tracks near the Church Avenue station, around the corner from Prospect Park South, which sustained heavy damage.

Cortelyou Road Station (Q Line), closed
Cortelyou Road Station, Closed

Chainsaws will be serenading us for the next several days. I have lots of photos to upload, once I can clear enough space on my hard drive to accommodate them. I should have plenty by the end of the day, so check back later.

The National Weather Service hasn't made the determination, but from the reports, and from the damage I saw, I think it must have been a tornado that tore through Brooklyn this morning. When I went out this morning, the local news channels were only covering the neighborhood of Bay Ridge. But later reports include Sunset Park and Kensington. There's still been no mention of Flatbush on the news, but these neighborhoods form a rough path through central Brooklyn. There's a track of damage through Brooklyn, not just localized damage, which is just what one would expect to see from a tornado.

Marlborough Road, south of Albemarle Road. Note the two trunks left standing in front of the house on the right; they were both snapped off.
Marlborough Road, south of Albemarle Road

The damage I saw, especially in Prospect Park South, just looked odd. It wasn't any one thing. There were trees, such as the one at the top of this post, which clearly had problems before they were blown down. Those we would expect to be fall in heavy winds. But there were many trees with clear, clean wood, with no signs of disease or other problems.

Twisted and split limb of Norway maple, 125 Argyle Road
Twisted and split limb of Norway maple, 125 Argyle Road

Every kind of tree was affected. Most of the smaller trees were simply blown over, snapped at the root flare, separated from the roots. Some of the larger trees were also toppled, their roots pushing up sidewalks. But many were snapped off at the trunk, or their upper limbs and branches seemed to have been shredded off. I saw large limbs whose damage could only have been caused by twisting. Upper limbs of trees didn't just fall onto rooftops, they were blown up onto them.

Parks Department beginning to remove a toppled street tree in Beverley Square West.

Parks Department beginning to remove a toppled street tree.



An EF-2 Tornado Strikes Brooklyn on the Central New York Weather Blog of WKTV in upstate New York has some great radar images and the complete text of the National Weather Service's statement confirming the tornado.
August 16, Brooklyn Eagle: While Bay Ridge Captured Attention, Flatbush Areas Also Suffered from Brooklyn Tornado
August 10, Brooklyn Eagle: The Path of The Brooklyn Twister; Heroic Efforts Help Affected Brooklyn Areas Recover from Tornado Damage includes an excellent map of the path of the tornado

A Tree Blows Down in Brooklyn, photos of damage in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn Row House blog

NYC Hazards: Tornadoes, NYC Office of Emergency Management (OEM)