The Bastard Bush of Snob Hill

"Furled" by CB Adams

"Furled" by CB Adams

Is there such a thing as a bastard in the plant world? We don’t really know.

There is, of course, the Bastard Cabbage, the Bastard Toadflax, and the Bastard Mustard Plant, but these are only common, vulgar names.

We know that in the human kingdom that bastard is an old term to signify a son who could not inherit (ala Prince Herbert’s “What, the curtains?”) because he was not born out of his father’s (ala, the King of Swamp Castle’s) marriage even though he was the proverbial fruit of his father’s loins, even though such fruits can be of either sex. 

This, compared to illegitimate daughters who were still eligible be married off, or sent to a convent, or employed as a servant, or dreamed Cinderella dreams. How perfectly medieval.

We have pondered the etymology and gender of bastard all summer (leading to an unproductive sidetrack of reading-up-on William the Bastard) as the bush established itself in the yard. And even if bastard today tends to be gender specific (even though history says not), we might still feel free to apply it to the bush, to which we have (rightly or wrongly) assigned a femininity.

After all, we regularly hear young women refer to each other as dude, dick, and son of a bitch (which is doubly perplexing to us), so why not bastard? Especially given that the root of bastard is thought to be from the Latin, bastardus, or perhaps bastum, which is the same as “pack saddle,” which may stem from the idea being of a child produced from a relationship with a traveler.

You may be wondering what all of this has to do with a bush because if it is just a question of genetic lineage, then bastardism need not apply. Let us quote one of our favorite Tricky Dick Nixonisms: “Let me say this about that.”

We have adopted a bastard bush.  Or more appropriately, we rescued this bastard bush from landscaping euthanasia. For more than 20 years, this bush thrived at the edge of a Mother’s deck. It was not indigenous to this property, having been transplanted from its original home at our Parent’s former domicile, where it had thrived for at least a previous 20 years. 

 It is a common bush with common name, Rose of Sharon, but to Mother, it is a vulgar name, a name not to be spoken because Sharon is the name of the woman a former brother-in-law married after divorcing our Sister. Mother had enjoyed, maybe even loved, this bush for 30 years, but through no fault of its own, she condemned it now because its moniker was a too-painful reminder of one our family’s great trials (to say nothing of the damage to our Sister and Nephews).

And now we understand from whom we inherited our tangled associative tendencies, including the list we compiled of all the names we would never name either of our sons, drawn from all the people who had offended, bullied, us sometimes in our lives.

So Mother had decided (now ten years post-divorce) that she could no longer endure the bush’s presence. She summed up her animosity by way of a phrase from Flannery O’Connor’s Mrs. Shortley: “That bush is an abomination!” (Rose of Shortley, perhaps?)

And like a medieval king, it was off-with-its-head, except it was off-at-the-roots.

Mother had mentioned off-handedly that she was going to have her gardener remove the offensive shrub along with some invasive bamboo, a sap-drooling Mimosa tree, and some clumps of decorative grass that no longer interested her. Always on the lookout for free plant material, we asked if we could have it. This pleased Mother because she was glad for it to live, just not within her line of sight.

So that is how the bush came to Snob Hill. And with it we felt it required a new name. If Mother inquired about the health of the bush, we wanted a name that would not conjure unpleasantness. We tried:   

  • M-m-m My Rose of Sharona, by way of The Knack
  • Rose of BetterNotPickIt, with thanks to Neil Young and Linda Ronstadt
  • Rose HasItsThorn, from GNR
  • Nat King Cole’s Ramblin’ Rose, or was it the Grateful Dead?
  • Neil Diamond’s Cracklin’ Rosie
  • And even Rose of Shawan, after a family surname and a great-grandmother who grew them

But none of them stuck. As didn’t Rose of WhatsHerName (too polysyllabic). And neither did Rose of Slut nor Rose of Crotch Jockey, keying off Mother’s preferred nicknames for that person. “It’s not fair to the plant,” she said.

For a bit, we promoted a sex change and referred to it as Rose of Sharon, but pronouncing it like Ariel Sharon, with a long o and emphasis on the second syllable. This proved unsuccessful. Not many got the joke. And most importantly, Mother was not a fan. It may of failed for her because this alias still reminded her of you-know-who, in the same way that gosh-darn-it is only a mask for the real intent of god-damn-it.

Mother didn’t say why, but we suspect it may be that she leans less toward the Judeo and more toward the Christian tradition. There is a certain form of irony in this because 1) Rose of Sharon is mentioned in the Bible, 2) said plant is not a true rose, and 3) is not the same plant as the bush we know today. If only flora confusion were the root of unrest in the Middle East…

One half of Us took a cue from Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath suggested Rose a Sharn, as a tip of the hat to this bush’s hardy and resilient character. But the Other Half quickly dismissed this as: Too Joad family. Too Beverly Hillbillies. Too Gomer Pyle.

Besides, the Other Half of Us said, “That whole titty thing at the end is indelible in all the wrong ways, and I’m not talking about breastfeeding in public.”

In the end, we chose Rose of Snob Hill. It’s safe. It’s appropriate. And it’s accurate. Rose is happy on the hill and is thriving, especially with the mild and wet summer. His/her roots are going deep. And we can all live with that.       

Freaks and Beeks - The Art of Warre, A Beekeeper's Journey

I came out last Sunday…to my neighbors.

That is, I revealed that my backyard is now a bee yard, home to two beehives and the possibility of a third. This was big news to those at our annual summer picnic. We are a small neighborhood of twelve homes on a private drive, and there isn’t usually much that occurs without someone noticing something at least some of the time. We window monitors.

But I managed to buy 200 pieces of Western red cedar board ends, unload and stack them on the driveway, store them for a couple of weeks, reload about half of them to take to my father's workshop, and return a few weeks later with the components for three Warre hives, store them on my porch, treat them with ECO Wash in the front yard, install them in the backyard, and finally introduce two packages of bees to their new homes without so much as a “Whatcha doin’ there neighbor?” So much for all those Crime Stoppers stickers in our windows.

Oh, and I had even paraded around in my bonnet, pants, and long white goatskin gloves that make me feel like a cross-dressing Jackie O or Audrey H impersonator. Maybe this says more about what my neighbors expect from me than I realized.

And, that do-it-yourself cloaking device kit wasn’t a waste of money after all, honey.

So when, between bites of fried chicken and seven layer dip, I happened to mention something about “my bees,” well….let’s just say, heads did turn. I watched as this conclave of homeowners, which demographically skews more Downton Abbey than How I Met Your Mother, began an impromptu game of telephone as the news of my bees worked along the line of lawn chairs. I was surprised that by the time it reached the end someone hadn't blurted “What? He watches Glee?”

But the news made it intact. And, as I have come to expect, the first question is almost always “Why did you get into beekeeping?” or “What made you get into beekeeping.” Fair questions both, but, as with so many things bee-wise, it elicits something unique because no one ever asks, “Why did you get a dog?” or “What made you get into cats?”

No, beekeeping is its own brand of endeavor and people react correspondingly. Though most people are wary of an encounter with a bee or bees, they nonetheless overwhelmingly have a positive curiosity about them. And news accounts in recent years about their potentially imminent demise brings forth their protective instinct that is more save-the-baby-seal than get-off-my-lawn. Bees are like Sally Fields, people really, really like them.

In the hypothetical sense, anyway, because the people who congratulate my beekeeping endeavors are often the same ones who also say that bees freak them out with thoughts of anaphylactic shock, stingers, and B-movie swarms of killer bees (not with the fondness of those old Saturday Night Live skits).

For this reason and a few others, including my latent orneriness, I did not take the proactive approach promulgated by the fine folks in my beekeeping club and leaders of the beginning beekeeping course I attended. No, I did not “reach out,” nor soften the opposition, nor build an approval rating. Instead, I extended to my beekeeping the same bug-off attitude that I have carefully nurtured during my twenty years in this neighborhood known as Snob Hill. I’m actively seeking a Beware of Bees sign to post on my gate. I do not recommend my approach for everyone.

I was prepared for whatever backward backlash that my neighbors might launch. I even memorizing the number of the city ordinances allowing for bees, but they surprised me. They were pleasant and supportive. They told me about neighbors from years ago who raised bees. They wanted to know how long I’d been a beek. They wanted a tour of the hives. They wanted to know, of course, when they could expect some honey.

My beekeeping journey has just begun. Out of all us world citizens, those of us who also serve as bee stewards are a special sort of minority. And among those of us who are in that minority, I have down-selected myself into an even smaller minority. That is, I have chosen the Warre approach to beekeeping. It's philosophy appeals to me. More on that decision in my next posting.

Stay tuned. Don’t worry. Bee happy.