Thursday, June 08, 2006

Book Learnin'

I believe I can learn just about anything from books. How to cook. Check. How to play chess. Check. How to knit. Check. How to do brain surgery. Check. Maybe not the last one. But I believe that if I have the right book I can do it. But sometimes I'm not always so sure.     I learned quite a bit about gardening from my Dad, vegetables mostly. Then I moved from southern California to Minnesota. Different climates. Different soil. I also decided never to use pesticides or anything that came from animals unless it's manure. And I wanted to grow perennials, lots of them, so many that I wouldn't have a lawn anymore. So I turned to books. I learned about companion planting and composting and how to start seeds indoors without any fancy and expensive equipment. I learned a little about garden design and a lot about native plants. I also learned that plants are expensive and it is going to take me years to get rid of my lawn. But none of the books told me about creeping charlie. Or orange daylilies.     Where I grew up, creeping charlie is a pretty houseplant. My Mom even had one for awhile. In Minnesota it turns out, you'd get laughed at for having it in the house. It grows everywhere and is one of the banes of people who like perfect lawns. My creeping charlie crept over from my neighbor's yard. It covered a muddy patch by the fence where nothing else would grow. We thought this was great because the dog would always walk through the mud. Problem solved. It gets pretty little purple flowers on it. What a great ground cover. We let it spread into the flowerbed where the rose bush lives. Of course it didn't stop there. It tried to consume the rose. Then it spread into the adjacent flowerbed. For the last two years we've been trying to get rid of it. But it's like Hercules and the Hydra and neither of us is Hercules.    It's the same with the orange daylilies. There was a small contained bed of them along the back of the garage bordering the alley when we moved into the house. How pretty they look with their bright orange flowers. Let's move some to another flowerbed. My gardening books talk about how wonderful daylilies are, how they add color and cheer to any garden, how they are so easy to care for. The books are not talking about the orange daylilies it turns out. Because those are as bad as the creeping charlie, worse even because they are harder to pull out.    It's not just gardening where books have failed me. Two years ago my Bookman and I put in a ceramic tile floor. He had vague recollections of helping his Dad put in tile once and I had vague recollections of watching my Dad put in tile once. But we had the Home Depot Flooring book. We could do this. And we did and the floor looks great. But beware, the book does not tell you to clean the grout off the top of the tile right away. It says you have to let the tiles set and then you simply wipe off the grout with a sponge. So we did what the book said. After the floor set we spent the two following days scrubbing and scraping the dried grout off the top of the tiles. We were very sore and very lucky that the finish on the tile wasn't ruined in the process.    Whenever I want to know something the first thing I do is turn to a book. Learn how to draw? Books. Learn a little html? Books. I trust that they will tell me what I need to know, won't lead me astray. Despite the growing experiential evidence, I find my belief in books impossible to shake. I want to believe that with a good book and a little practice I could do brain surgery. I want to believe it because my life is filled with books. I have lived so many lives through my books it seems only natural that I should be able to make real something from a book.  After all, if someone could put in a book how to build a house, how hard could it really be? But it's one thing to read about it and another thing to do it. Like installing a tile floor. And then there are things like orange daylilies and creeping charlie that get left out. No doubt there would be something really important left out of the brain surgery book too.    Sometimes, when the experience doesn't match up to the book, I think I believe in them too much. But maybe it's not really books I believe in. Maybe my belief in books is really belief in myself.