Notes on Beyond the Sky and the Earth

I just finished the book Beyond the Sky and the Earth: A Journey into Bhutan, by Jamie Zeppa. It's a beautiful and clear-sighted tale of a young Canadian woman's experience there. She starts idealistically and learns that the place isn't so ideal after all. This may be a common experience played out in exceptionally dramatic ways, but she's a good enough writer to capture important experiences quickly and lightly. Plus, on the truly light side, I loved sentences like, "The chicken throws itself out the window with a shriek of satisfaction." (After breaking the author's flashlight.) I laughed out loud at scenes of young Bhutanese children teaching her to cook after they learned that all she'd been eating was cookies-she'd been afraid of the local drinking water and afraid of the dangerous kerosene stove in her apartment. Their improvised English and Zeppa's ineptness in the kitchen added up to slapstick comedy. The book also contains beautiful descriptions of scenery, interesting facts about Buddhism, and a romance.

I'm updating the entry about our last South King County bike ride with a traced map of our route, in case you're looking for a good ride.

Wood-chip bonanza

After work yesterday, I spent three and a half hours moving and spreading wood chips that were delivered on Monday night. I want to make a wide strip along the north property line where I can plant some small trees. Smothering the patchy grass and dandelions with a foot or two of wood chips seemed like a good way to get started. I called Madison Park Tree Service last week and the man showed up with the load of shredded trees sooner than I expected-right before my book club arrived for dinner, in fact! Driving a small dump truck instead of a full-sized one, he was able to back up the shallow front slope and onto the level lawn near where I plan to spread the chips. As the material tumbled out of the truck bed, white steam billowed out of it-it had sat in his truck for a few days and started composting.

The tree man was interested to hear which small trees I wanted to plant. I said I was considering one or two Kousa dogwoods and a pink-flowering hawthorne. He recommended a hawthorne called Carriere and suggested a Franklin tree (franklinia alatamaha). I had researched the Franklin tree last spring before my visit to the Philadelphia botanic garden where the tree was first domesticated in 1803 and saved from extinction. It looks like a beautiful tree and I'd love to grow one. My concerns are that it may require more water than other trees and that it may be overly picky about the amount of sun. The tree man said he has one in his yard and it hasn't given him any problems. I'm so glad he mentioned it and I'll try to find one. But I won't plant anything until at least spring, giving the soil a chance to improve from the composting chips.

The pile of chips, when it had all fallen out of the truck, was about ten by six feet by two or three feet deep-a lot of chips! I spread (spreaded?) about a third of it last night and I feel like I inhaled a lot of it. My lungs are tight today and my right eye looks kind of weird. Maybe I'll wear a mask when I go back to shoveling. We still have them from when we removed our asbestos siding.

I need to take a few "before" "during" pictures of the area I'm mulching. It's a strip about 40 feet long from back to front, parallel to the north side of the house but far enough away to be in the sun. It will reach from right behind an existing cotoneaster shrub at the front, to the foot of a big multistemmed laburnum about two-thirds of the way to the back fence. The strip will be eight feet wide. I want the small trees I plant to have plenty of mulched space under and around them so that they don't look crowded or look like an afterthought in the lawn.

The mulch and compost experts (a/k/a self-described compost wackos) say to lay cardboard or paper down under organic materials in order to kill what's under it most effectively. A dozen paper grocery bags, a dozen or so used paper yard-waste bags, and a few cardboard boxes were in the basement, so I used those, soaking them with rain-barrel water before burying them under mounds of chips. The bags and cardboard didn't go very far. They only covered the first little section I worked on. Maybe I should start buying the newspaper and using that, or ask the neighbors for theirs. I already have asked our friends up the street to save me all of the leaves they rake from under their huge ash trees. They warned me repeatedly that this would be A Lot of Leaves. Just what I was hoping! And the guy behind us was mowing his lawn while I was shoveling yesterday, so I got some grass clippings to add to my compost bin. I mixed some of it into the wood chips pile too, trying to spread it thin so that it will heat up and disintegrate before my shoveling reaches that part of the pile. I told the neighbor I don't want too many grass clippings because of how they stink if they mat together. The raked leaves, on the other hand, won't do that. So I can collect as many as I can possibly get by raking our and the next-door parking strips as well as by bugging the neighbors to save theirs.