Saturday, May 2, 2009

Be Watchful, and Strengthen the Things that Remain

Monterey calls itself the most historic city of California. It has preserved some of the oldest structures in California and the State Historic Park tour of adobes is a worthwhile adventure.

In an effort to get acquainted with my new neighborhood, having lived most of my life in my native northern California, I visited the many adobes, gardens and small museums and began rereading various California histories.

In an old book shop I picked up a copy of an out of print volume of LOVE STORIES of Old California published in 1940 by noted scholar of the period, Cora Miranda Baggerly Older. She presents 24 stories in chronological order beginning with "Love Rides into California," the story of a 20 year old widow and her two small children, who made the 1600 mile journey in Don Juan Bautista de Anza's 1775 expedition into Spain's northern territory. Older ends her collection in 1880 with a story about Robert Louis Stevenson.

Amatil and Olana, 1799, is the story of the star crossed love of the daughter of Chief Matilija and a man from a neighboring tribe. Today a cross above Matilija Hot Springs near Ojai, the Nest, still marks the spot where Amatil and Olana died.

"It is said that after the passing of the lovers the gray sage disappeared from the canyon slopes. And now they cradle the majestic Matilija poppy named for the chieftain, with its robes of snow and its heart of gold."

I've never been to Ojai, but as I read the story, I suddenly realized that there were Matilija Poppies growing in our garden. Above is a picture I took this morning. The heavy blooms are a bit droopy with yesterday's rain.

Native to southern California and Mexico they are genus: ROMNEYA, species: coulteri. Tall and showy, they caught my eye the first time I entered the garden that was to become my current home and I took their picture that hot July day even though they needed some tending and were perhaps a bit past their prime.

In my defense, there are many things I need to focus on here that keep me more than busy, but I admit that it took a story to learn the name and propensities of these flowers. Stories abound all around us, and sometimes it is the stories of old that can help open our eyes to what is now. Why did the gray sage pass away to be replaced by the Matilija Poppies? The New Western Garden Book suggests a less romantic possibility than the story I read and yet if the grave of the lovers were garlanded with these flowers it may have been all that was needed to repopulate the area with a new species.

Sunset Garden says "Invasive, spreading by underground roots; don't place near less vigorous plants...Tolerates varying amounts of water, varying soil types..." So these lovely flowers, like so much else in our world, must be placed carefully with an eye toward the future.

It's strange how often topics intersect. I have recently been reading some rather alarming statistics about demographics. It's a clear example of how today's choices form tomorrow's world. But I think that's a topic I'll save for another day, or least until after another cup of coffee and a chance to learn more. But think of this fact of demographics...a culture that does not replace itself can pass away in less than 25 years. "Be watchful, and strengthen the things that remain..." that's a very old quote that retains great application for today and it too can intersect many realms.



Sarah Beth said...

HMMMM, very engaging story! Can't wait to read your post on demographics. I'm interested in your thoughts on that.

Gretchen Joanna said...

I had some romneya in my garden for a while, but they were too rough-looking for the spot by the pool, where I now have a C├ęcille Brunner rose. Did you know they are also called the Fried Egg Flower?