The Platonic Essence that a Rose is a Rose
Saturday, June 26, 2021
|Rosa 'Baron Girod de L'Ain' & Hosta 'Whirlwind'|
This blog is dedicated to my perceptive friend John MacLachlan Gray who says he does not understant my plant scans.
In 2001 when I first started scanning the roses and other
plants from Rosemary’s and my garden it was on a lark. I must have been bored.
But little by little I was drawn in and I tried to figure out my purpose. By
scanning the plants making sure the colour rendition was accurate and doing so
at 100% size I was going for botanical accuracy. I gave my scans the proper
botanical names and most important I put the date of the scan.
Through the years many of the plants I have scanned many
times. The plants that bid me goodbye do not make me feel too sad as somehow
their scans conserve their essence.
And is that word essence that pulls me to write this blog. I
have written how all the cats we ever had and the present two, Niño and Niña, all
have this identity/element that I call catness.
In Shakespeare’s we know "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet" is a popular reference to William Shakespeare's
play Romeo and Juliet, in which Juliet seems to argue that it does not matter
that Romeo is from her family's rival house of Montague, that is, that he is
In the late 50s Brother Edwin Reggio, C.S.C. inculcated us
on all things Aristotle. I admired the apparent exactness of the philosopher.
It was not until I studied philosophy under Ramón Xirau in Mexico City’s
Universidad de las Americas that I became most attracted to Plato’s world of
ideas. That everything we saw in nature was a poor copy of an ideal idea was a
concept I became drawn into.
In this century legions of photographers are using their
digital camera macro lenses to get close to roses and flowers. To me this is a
wasted effort that does no justice to the essence of these flowers. For me my
scans of my roses and other plants respect what they are (they are not cropped)
and somehow they become (I see it that way) essences. Each scanned rose is a
Platonic rose much like my cats are the essence of all the cats that we had
The paradox about this is that these days I see myself
scanning companion plants or plants that are close to each other. In some cases
they are roses in which Rosemary chose to plant clematis as companions. I take
time to arrange these plants before I scan them. I believe I am delving into
But if there is an excuse, justification or apology for
them I do the scanning with a modicum of respect.
The Magnolia grandiflora and the Timex on my Right Wrist
Friday, June 25, 2021
|Magnolia grandiflora 25 June 2021|
Of late I have been a melancholic man critical to the few
that happen to call me or visit. Yesterday after my younger daughter Hilary
came for dinner I drove her to Burnaby. I did not say much during the trip as
she delivered a well-deserved sermon on how I must count my blessings and move
|25 June 2021|
This morning I placed my Filipino Timex wrist watch on my right
wrist. Because I am right handed this feels uncomfortable. In the past when I
had been unkind to Rosemary I did this trick to remind me to be nice to her.
Now the trick will serve me well to keep Hilary’s sermon in mind.
Two days ago I scanned Rosa
‘James Mason’ and Magnolia grandiflora in
this blog. Today I noticed that the magnolia in a vase in my dining room had
turned yellow but it retained that lovely scent that is my favourite of all
With the hot weather there are all kinds of young women on
the street walking with extra short shorts and even though I am about to be 79
I still notice them and make head-turns.
I loved my
Rosemary until the end because she was like this magnolia, always beautiful and
providing company and conversation that those young ones could not. Not to
mention that few had legs to rival Rosemary’s. They, the young ones are in a
distant past. My 52 years with Rosemary will always be with me in a real and
To me, especially with my roses when they are past their
glorious perfection, I see in them a beauty that perhaps in our present world
that admires pristine beauty and brand newness cannot comprehend.
In that positive bent after Hilary’s sermon, I am that
magnolia. I can still provide a modicum of usefulness. I am useful even if it can
be narrowed down to my being able to scan this magnificent Magnolia grandiflora past
Companions that Make Me Remember Alleyne Cook
Thursday, June 24, 2021
|Rhododendron 'Golfer' & Rosa 'Complicata' 24 June 2021|
When Rosemary and I started gardening in our Kerrisdale
garden in 1986 in spite of my interest in shade tolerant hostas we did not want
to have a monoculture garden. By the time we had to sell our house with its
lovely and large corner garden we had such a variety of perennials, some
annuals, roses, hydrangeas and stellar tree specimens that it could have been
defined as a small botanical garden.
Since I began scanning the roses (that was my first entry
into what has become an obsession these days of our late pandemic) I did so as
singular specimens. Now I tend to do flowers and their companions. Like people,
plants in a garden have to share space. A large shrub must be prevented from
causing so much shade that it might not favour a nearby plant.
These two today share a space that is relatively shady. The
rose, Rosa ‘Complicata’ was literally
thrown at me in a small pot some 30 years ago by Alleyne Cook who said, “If you are going to grow roses this one has
to be one of them.” On a visit to his garden in North Van (his widow
Barbara now holds court there) I spotted a small rhododendron that had a
startling silver/white tomentum (the coating on the upper side of the leaves. I
asked Cook. He answered, “Golfer.” I thought he was joking so I asked again. I
received the same answer except this time it was louder.
|Barbara & Alleyne Cook|
As I see both these plants in Rosemary and my garden,
today 24 June 2021 I smile as I remember
that pleasant man who taught me so much about gardening.
God - The Unmoved Mover in the Bowling Alley
Wednesday, June 23, 2021
|Rosa 'James Mason' & Magnolia grandiflora 23 June 2021|
EL SUR –
Jorge Luís Borges
uno de tus patios haber mirado
sombra haber mirado
ignorancia no ha aprendido a nombrar
ordenar en contelaciones,
sentido el círculo del agua
del jazmin y la madreselva,
silencio del pájaro dormido,
del zanguán, la hemedad
cosas, acaso, son el poema.
To have watched from one of your patios
the ancient stars,
from the bench of shadow to have watched
those scattered lights
that my ignorance has learned no names for
nor their places in constellations,
to have heard the note of water
in the cistern,
known the scent of jasmine and honeysuckle,
the silence of the sleeping bird,
the arch of the entrance, the damp
–these things perhaps are the poem.
Translation by William S. Merwin
In this 21st century of intense polarization, in my blog
I am circumspect about my beliefs in politics and religion.
I was born and baptized in the Roman Catholic Church and both my mother and
grandmother raised me in the doctrine of the Catholic Church.
When I finished my 8th grade in a small school
in the mining town of Nueva Rosita, Coahuila, Mexico, my teacher (my mother who
taught in one room grades, 6, 7 and 8) realized that there was no high school
that was nearby except a Roman Catholic boarding school called St. Edward’s in
Austin, Texas. Off I went.
Even while there I was aware of the excellence of the
education I was being given by the Brothers of Holy Cross (the same order of
priests, nuns and brothers that hold court at Notre Dame in Indiana). Looking
back I can safely state that my education was a liberal Roman Catholic
education. I learned well my American civics, American history and world
history with what I now understand was neutral and free of indoctrination.
But it was Brother Edwin Reggio, C.S.C. who taught us
religion and it did not take me long to figure out that it was not religion he
was teaching us but theology with a heavy dose of philosophy from Aristotle to
St. Thomas Aquinas.
It was Brother Edwin who put into our head Aristotle’s
“proof” of the existence of God with the idea that He was the Unmoved
Mover. Brother Edwin explained it by
citing a bowling ball being returned at a bowling alley that comes up to the
line of balls on the rack, and which all moves except for the last one. This
started my path into my love for the thought problems of philosophic thinking.
In 1996 I traveled to Memphis to consult with the art
director of a book called Vancouver – The Art of Living Well (By Peter Newman
and Alex Waterhouse-Hayward). I was the photo editor. Brian Groppe was a
pleasant and religious art director. On a Sunday he told me as hopped into a
car from my hotel, “I am going to church.
Do you want to come?” I spotted a Magnolia
grandiflora in bloom across the street. I told him, “As soon as I smell one of those flowers I will have been to church.”
This magnolia, commonly called the Southern Magnolia (it
also grows well in my native Buenos Aires) has a scent that in my opinion not
only rivals the best roses but surpasses them all.
In my trips to Washington, DC I like to linger by a huge
magnolia on one side of the Capitol. Since it is a very large and old specimen
I can imagine Abraham Lincoln stopping to sniff.
Today 23 June 2021 I noticed the first flower of my
magnolia (it did not blossom last year, has it this year, in honour of my
Rosemary?). Right next to it was the last bloom of Rosa ‘James Mason’. This Gallica blooms only once in May and until mid-June.
For me it was kind of neat to see one of Rosemary’s favourite roses, tipping
its hat to say goodbye until next year while the magnolia is here with a scent
that for me is ample proof that the unmoving bowling ball might just exist.
And of course, Brother Edwin would have smiled.
Two Mentors Together
Tuesday, June 22, 2021
|Rosa 'Brother Cadfael' & Lychnis coronaria - 24 June 2021|
In the Odyssey,
Mentor (Greek: Μέντωρ, Méntōr;
gen.: Μέντορος) was the son of
Alcimus. In his old age Mentor was a friend of Odysseus. When Odysseus left for
the Trojan War, he placed Mentor and Eumaeus (Odysseus' swineherd) in charge of
his son Telemachus, and of Odysseus' palace.
When Athena visited
Telemachus, she took the disguise of Mentor to hide herself from the suitors of
Telemachus's mother Penelope. As Mentor, the goddess encouraged Telemachus to
stand up against the suitors and go abroad to find out what happened to his
father. When Odysseus returned to Ithaca, Athena appeared briefly in the form
of Mentor again at Odysseus' palace.
It had to be on the death of my Rosemary on December 8,
2020 that I suddenly came to realize in a flash that while I have had many male
mentors in my life I had never considered that my mother, grandmother and
especially Rosemary have been my mentors, too.
The first two put into me the idea of manners, pushed me
to have equanimity (I have failed in this one, lots) and with their religious
influence gave me a path of honesty in what I did and still do.
But it was Rosemary who taught me about Canada, taught me
to be less of a passionate Latin showing my anger without consideration to
others and almost made me more patient.
Without Rosemary’s decisions, particularly the financial
ones, I would have never come with her and our two daughters to Canada and made
a career of photography. It was Rosemary with whom I learned the rewards of
sharing a garden and always seeing to the situation of our daughters and two
granddaughters. Her financial acumen has me at almost 79 years comfortably not
having to worry about money and knowing that when I am gone our two daughters
will have no financial worries either.
I traveled a lot before I met Rosemary in 1967, and then
with magazine assignments I also traveled. With Rosemary I learned the pleasure
of traveling while sharing experiences. When I suggested we might drive our
Malibu with our two daughters to Texas she was keen. She would book our hotels
on the way to make sure we would wake up to a nice buffet breakfast. Rosemary
had many talents and in the days of important travel agencies she could have
been an excellent agent. Now if I am
able to travel to Buenos Aires before the end of this year I will have to do
get all those reservations on my own. And consider that I am an idiot so it won’t
The other important mentor was Brother Edwin Reggio,
C.S.C. whom I met when I was 17. In a most unlikely occurrence Brother Edwin
and Rosemary became friends not too long ago before he died.
In one of my trips to Austin I took a lovely scan of
English Rose, Rosa ‘Brother Cadfael’. A year later I visited him again and behind
his desk I found my inkjet print framed with a brass plaque explaining its
origin. Brother Edwin had made it all.
I find it comfortably appropriate to combine that rose
with a lowly plant, Lychnis coronaria
that Rosemary adored. When she first started with this plant that seeds itself
every year (so it comes back), she would systematically remove any of the
shocking, fluorescent pink ones. Only white ones would do! She planted the
Lychnis in several places but also (most important!) in the pot where Brother
Cadfael grows. At about this time she would have helped me deadhead her white
Lychnis so that it would keep on blooming.
Today (scanned 24 June but placed in a blog further back
to fill the many holes that are there), while arranging the two plants on my
scanner, I felt that sadness of missing those two mentors who were so dear to
I was lucky to have been so properly mentored.
And anybody who has read my blog with some frequency might
note the Lychnis coronaria is a gray
plant. Rosemary loved gray plants.