Musings on a Winter Day
It is February 1st, 1990, in the Coast Range mountains of Oregon and the days of constant rain have converted our normally docile mountain stream to a roaring monster. A break in the clouds signals a period of blue sky and triggers within me the irresistible urge to tramp about - to see what winter has changed thus far.
On closer examination the roaring torrent appears loaded with branches, bits of moss, pebbles - the scourings of last summer's debris. We will be starting soon with a clean streambed. Here and there a rhododendron has been undermined by the rushing water and will have to be moved come spring. Stream banks have eroded to the point that two single plank bridges that were quite safe and sturdy last fall now lack sufficient support and will have to be replaced. The waterfall in the lower garden that barely whispered last fall now bellows in furious tantrum. I can't imagine what holds the rocks in place against such fury.
From the bridge below the waterfall Rhododendron barbatum with its peeling red bark is just beginning to show color in the tips of the flower buds - they will soon be in bloom. Above and to the side of the waterfall R. calophytum is presenting buds the size of pullet eggs on every terminal. The mass planting of R. mucronulatum is partially in bloom and showing enough color to break the monotony of the never ending green. Rhododendron strigillosum buds are about to burst but are as usual sparse.
Massive moss covered boulders the size of kitchen stoves dominate the rock garden and further dwarf the already diminutive R. keleticum and R. radicans and the creeping form of R. keiskei. Here and there the first tender shoots of the daffodils are pushing aside the accumulated leaves in preparation for their early spring show and crocus and snowdrops are already out. Irish moss overflows the flagstone steps and creeps out to try an invasion of adjoining spaces.
The newly constructed gravel walks on a side hill have eroded to the point where they will require a pickup load of gravel to repair. Some advance thinking could have prevented this I conclude, with the wonderful wisdom of afterthought. I see the moles have undermined much of the lawn and left their mountainous piles of tailings. Wish I could accept this philosophically as merely their effort to make a living like the rest of us.
Over 20 years ago I rescued a plant of R. praevernum that Dr. Milton Walker had discarded as "hopeless." I've had it in a choice location beside the stream ever since and I see it now is about to fulfill its previous owner's prediction. It has only two small twigs remaining that are alive, but they each have an auspiciously large flower bud as though the plant were preparing to present the world with its progeny before its final demise. I hate to see it go after such a long and valiant struggle. Why must it take so long to die?
Rhododendron rex is budded modestly for only the second time in its 29 years of life. Next to it R. fictolacteum, its leaves gorgeously indumented, will bloom yet again. Perhaps this year I'll cross the two. They have cohabited so many years side by side - it is time they were wed.
Clarence "Slim" Barrett lives and gardens east of Eugene, Oregon in the lush Coast Range area. This is his second article for the ARS Journal, see "The James Barto Farm Revisited", Vol. 44:2, Spring 1990.