In rain and light

© Gary Joe Wolf

© Gary Joe Wolf


Send me a leaf


Send me a leaf, but from a little tree

That grows no nearer your house

Than half an hour away. For then

You will have to walk, you will get strong and I

Shall thank you for the pretty leaf.


—Bertolt Brecht

(Translated, from the German, by David Constantine)


Tonight, tonight. The streets are slicked in rain, smooth like a bathing elephant’s skin. There’s the sweetness of being alive in the wet, the beautiful feeling of washed air magically coupled with the rich wildness of fall colors. Honeyed yellows deepening to red. Marmelade. Occasional veins of magenta. Some chartreuse, even paler than usual in the street lamp glow. Leaves.

Downtown there are ashes everywhere. Not from fires, per se, but the leaves of those street trees are lit in a burning yellow, loosing halos to the earth below. They lay in crowds around the tiny squares of soil surrounded by cement. I love the young things lining sidewalks and medians, dappled in their golden leaflets, but here in my neighborhood I am lucky and rich with ancient oaks and sugar maples instead, all shimmering in chiaroscuro.

The aesthetics of rainy nights never fail to floor me. The shine, the sounds, the solitude. Tonight I walked, wearing heels from a night out, click clacking down one street to another. A skunk was out–my sole companion, glowing white as it browsed one of the area’s larger lawns. It was a quiet, quick, nonchalant creature, not remotely interested in me or a car that sped and splashed by. They die that way, thinking that they can fend off station wagons by spraying them. But this skunk just stayed on the lawn, nibbling in the headlights as I watched under my hood with hands in my pockets. Eventually I turned away, my mind in the night, my heart and soul rinsed in warm weather and beauty.

I’m riding with the trees through transition. Last week I left Allandale Farm, the place where I’ve spent the last three years of my life. In August I’d begun my new position as the horticultural manager at Flora Explora, a landscaping company that deals primarily in Chinatown and Southie properties. It’s a big change, and I’m grateful for it. Leaving the farm and taking up with Flora is giving me the opportunity to learn about botanical entrepreneurialism as well as the space to hone my landscape design skills. And it’s given me a sweeter schedule, one that leaves me feeling more solidly on my feet. I wake up remembering my dreams. I’m alive in phases, in the changing moon and lengthening nights.

This evening as I strolled I stood below a ledge-grown maple whose roots bulged hiphigh. I felt a gnarl and raised my face, my eyes climbing crevices and arms toward the canopy. I listened to the sound of leaves, green but brightening toward yellow. Fallen raindrops fell again to lower leaves and limbs. My eyes were full of light, of the chlorophyll that, come morning, will keep working until it is all shut down and captured within wood til spring’s great bud break. I looked up, my chest full of light, my mind racing with life, rushing with the knowledge of all the ecology seen and unseen before me. My heart felt like the set of Ferngully. I felt like Ferngully. It was magic, and it was a tree, and it was two blocks away, and it is October.

Fenway Park: So good (So good!)


The Game and the Backdrop

Late October brings one thousand remembrances that creep in through the tasks. It is a time of analytical repose juxtaposed by all the hurry of putting gardens and fields to sleep, of sealing drafts and catching mice, of collecting sawing chopping splitting and stacking. There are apples to bring in, sauces to simmer, cookbooks to pour over in hopes of finding one more reason to keep the oven going.  Coats to be dug out. Mittens slated for darning and knitting needles and patterns fetched from hiding and put to work.

Autumn’s combinations of sitting and sprinting and, you know, this thing called the World Series, have sent my mind a-wandering to Fenway Park.

Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Oh, Fenway. Storied pleasure ground of fathers and sons, fanatics and franks, curses and delight, you are the unofficial last gem in our city’s emerald necklace. Green and lit, mown and chalked, you are our beloved theater, the treasure chest of tricks, our Neil Diamond music box.

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Lists of the Lately


It has been too long! But I am here, and as the season of growing things continues to ebb I’ll be coming back and posting much more often. In the coming months and years I aim to find the gumption to keep up with S&P, even in the madness of April, the thick green heart of July and the satisfying everything of September. I will do it. I think the secret is shorter posts and a less-anal attitude. Difficult, but possibly attainable?

As it often is, my time is mismanaged and short. And so, I shall offer some egotistical lists of the lately.

What I’ve been seeing:

Praying mantises on the mums – with an egg sack on one, and what we assumed to be a dying mother on the other, her body ravaged with the perpetuation of life. Another grand Dillardian drama!

A lot of gleeful kids picking out a lot of ridiculous pumpkins.

Warfare waged by squirrels in the canopy while I rummage for shagbark hickory nuts on the pasture’s edge.

Ember-colored leaves lilting past the window.

Autumn crocuses precociously busting out of their bulbs, entangled in their retail packaging and albino from a cardboard darkness.

(I brought it home for free. We’ll plant it in the garden in the rain and someday I hope it will bloom a light magenta.)


Apples. Mulled as a hot cider (a work perk), simmered into sauce, melded into butternut squash soup.

Cheese. And other animal fats. (They are All I Want.)

The last of the tomatoes. Sitting like asymmetrical harvest moons waiting to ripen, dappled with bulgur in a tabouli, dancing with cilantro in salsa.

Amazing Goan engagement party food! Curries, sausages, and, um, fancy cupcakes. (The latter’s a bit less Goan and a bit more Andrew and Melissa.)


Tolstoy. A lot of Tolstoy. (In fact if you’d like to join my little Anna Karenina book club you can do so here.)

Research on coyotes and wolves in the American landscape.

The private lives of bullfrogs. (Completely mind-blowing – stay tuned for more on this in the future.)


A hat with a sperm whale on it. (Shameless plug: I’m taking orders for fingerless gloves, mittens, and hunters mitts (fingerless gloves with a mitten flap). Email me if you’re interested in a pair!)

Spiced plums and bourbon peaches.

A lot of jars of dried herbs – sacred basil (Tulsi), lemon thyme, mullein (flannel leaf) and Cascade hops flowers. (I don’t make beer, but I do like falling asleep, so sometimes a pot of hops is made before bed. It works wonders.)

(I want to point out that the scientific name is improperly represented in this image, as the genus is capitalized. Faux pas!! Source.)

Anyway. It’s good to be back. Tell me what you’ve been seeing, too.

The Dog Days are over

Dearest reader, I write you from a table full of birthday flowers and vitamins, a teapot and plants, crabapples and tomatoes and peaches. Spearmint is hung from window to window, fully dried. We got through the storm. We’re getting ready for supper.

The lack of new entries may suggest a lack of concern for this little blog, but I’ve in fact been thinking often of writing, often of ecology. There are, however, only pittances of time for the actual writing of city life and psuedo-urban homsteading, and I am reminded that these very full august weeks, so ripe and fraught with anticipation and deeply colored blooms, are perhaps the most inauspicious days for starting and keeping up with public writing. These days, filled with bike grease and electricity and dirt and ball jars, leave little space for essays but instead the smallest of vignettes.

Everything is in sketches, with summer seeming like it’s moving just past that tautness of dog days and making way to spread seed. The winds of Irene only intensified this sense of near-urgency, filling Hyde Park and Boston and all the Eastern Seaboard with winds that change seasons.

Most of my time is spent working and riding. I pedal down Cummins Highway, from Washington Street to Hyde Park Ave, my eyes lost in evening primrose that rises five feet high before parasoling into a sturdy canopy of soft yellow flowers and leaves. For money I prune the stately rhododendrons and tricky holly at a woman’s house on a hill. And at the Arboretum, where my internship is quickly dwindling, where I won’t work another full week, I continue to water and tend to very small trees and the larger, stronger ones in the nurseries, admiring the deepened green of their leaves, the slowly growing trunks, the first fruits born to develop and briefly foster the beginning of a new generation.

When we find ourselves at home we’ve been doing a bit of food preservation – plum jam and nectarine butter, pickles and frozen elderberries, blueberries, marigolds and dyer’s coreopsis (not for eating, but to be used in the late fall for wool-dying). I will write more on these things later, but for now I’ll leave you with a feast for the eyes, all the product of a very pleasant Saturday.

See you soon!

A Drumroll and a Red Carpet

Hello! And welcome to the rather overdue grand opening of Spokes and Petals, a blog created with the intent of sharing thoughts about living in the city with color and grace and wide open eyes. Living in a city full of names and salutations.

I am obsessed with biophilia. I love the living, breathing, growing plants in abandoned lots. The struggling trees that line wide avenues, the mullein spiking its yellow flowers rebelliously and softly in a church yard. I’m also completely head over heels forever in love with bikes with all their steely poetic forms, the sound of a coast, the awareness necessitated by being behind a handlebar.

Spokes and petals are two of the most integral things to keeping my life seamed and stable in the city where I live. The concrete expanses and radiating highways that ring Boston and cut through it in the bizarre bovine paths that this place is known for are intimidating at best and ugly at worst. But to have the wherewithal of trued wheels to travel them by and the primal curiosity of an eye that is trained to fixate upon stems and leaves – the late afternoon hues of chicory, outstretched queen anne’s laces, trees graceful with washer women’s limbs – means to see the city as an entity of entities, rather than a collage of rock dust and sand.

I grew up in the little rust buckle metropolis of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I didn’t know the names for many things, nor did I have the language to talk about them. I loved “the natural world” but had some difficulty understanding it in an urban context. I saw beauty in the oriental poppies and raspberries of my Grandparents’ back yard and found fascination with the sounds of my father’s vegetable garden late at night, as I listened to nightcrawlers making their way through leaves and dew-damp soil and tomato vines. I loved the flowers, I dug up the worms. Milwaukee’s natural world was a series of individual places and snapshots. There were trees on my street; their seeds fell in helicopters that my dad picked up and threw. There was green filling in the sidewalk; I didn’t know what to think about it, but I respected it.

In my adulthood I like to think that I understand my environment more wholly. I mull over ecosystems and their strangers and cohorts. I use worms to compost my kitchen scraps and know many of the latin names for the flowers my grandmother grew. One of the sidewalk weeds that I spent my childhood thinking was clover has been revealed as wood sorrel, Oxalis spp, a delightful lemon-flavored delicacy found in woods and residential neighborhoods alike (and a delicious treat for the weary weeder). Delving into one’s environment is a perpetual adventure, one that requires all of the curiosity and humility one can muster to avoid becoming overwhelmed or cocky. I try to see things through the eyes of my five-year old self while striving to remember the nomenclature, jargon and tips that I’ve slowly accrued throughout several years of time spent on farms, gardens, woods, wildernesses, and now the urban wilds of Boston’s Arnold Arboretum.

In keeping this blog I hope to celebrate the biodiversity and vivacity of the city, though I also intend for these pages to help me ease my writing back into somewhat of a public eye and to grease my chain by pedaling out some metaphors, recipes, stories and questions. Feedback is always welcome, and if you have questions of your own about your environment – urban or not – please feel free to share them. While I am far from an expert I enjoy piecing together parts of puzzles and have a deep fondness for sleuthing.

Anyhow, I suppose that this is enough of a welcome and hello for one night. Thanks for reading, and I hope to see you again soon!

An umbel of flowers from my garden's elderberry tree

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