Pasque flower and Platelets

Spring has finally arrived in our part of the southern Rockies, at least as far as the wildflowers in our yard are concerned–and these natives have much more experience in discerning the change of seasons than I do, so I’m inclined to trust them. My favorite of all is pasque flower, a wild relative of anemones and buttercups that is the first spring flower to bloom in dry mountain grasslands like ours.


The photo above is the patch in our front courtyard with its blowsy blossoms open for passing pollinators, which right now means ants or early-emerging flies. Those silky hairs are part of the plants’ insulation, keeping their tissues–especially the delicate petals–from freezing on nights that can still be pretty wintery here at 7,000 feet elevation. How can you see these and not smile? (The mule deer that wander through our yard before dawn love them too, only they love to munch them, so every spring Richard makes chicken wire cages to protect the delectable blossoms.)

Four mild days in a row last week gave our last fall’s planting of spinach and mixed lettuces a real boost (by “mild” I mean that while the temperature may be 24 degrees F at dawn, by noon it’s in the low sixties and still climbing). After spending the winter hunkered close to the soil under a double layer of row covers, these greens have now decided to get serious about growing. (The row below is “Monet’s Garden Mesclun from Renee’s Garden, my favorite culinary seed supplier.)

Which means I’ve been picking fresh greens for lunch–not huge amounts, mind you, but a handful goes a long way, as the salad in the photo below demonstrates. That’s a simple mix of fresh lettuces, arugula, spinach, mache or corn salad, and spring herbs, including cilantro and chervil. (All grown from seed planted late last fall, overwintered under row covers and now sprouting handily. The seeds are from, you guessed it, Renee’s Garden Seeds.) I picked the greens and herbs about fifteen minutes before I made the salad, washed them, patted them dry, and put them in a bowl. I sprinkled on a pinch of salt, drizzled a tablespoon of Stonehouse Lisbon Lemon olive oil and a tsp of balsamic vinegar on the greens mix, tossed them, and then added golden raisins and pumpkin seeds. Heaven in a bowl! Add a toasted half of a whole wheat sourdough bagel (baked by my sculptor husband), and that’s my favorite lunch.

With all of this spring-ness, you’d think things would be going just swimmingly here. But the past few days have been rocky. Richard and I have been circling around each other some of the time since late Friday afternoon, snappish and easily
irritated. (Okay, for the sake of honesty, let me make it clear that
I’ve been snappish and easily irritated; Richard’s been less deft at
communicating than usual, and touchy.)

We finally figured it out tonight: It’s the platelets, specifically Richard’s platelet count. Late Friday afternoon, his oncologist, Dr. Klein called to report that his platelet levels are low. Platelets are colorless blood cells that do the finger-in-the-dike thing when holes appear in blood vessels: they clump and plug up the leak so you don’t bleed to death. They’re made by your bone marrow, and when levels of platelets in your blood drop, it’s an indication that your bone marrow and perhaps your immune system are not in good shape.

In Richard’s case, it’s about the Temodar, the chemo drug he’s taking to prevent his brain tumors from reoccurring. One of the main side effects of taking intense doses of this particular drug is that it nukes your bone marrow. So instead of starting on his third five-day cycle of chemo on day before yesterday, he’s on furlough until Wednesday when we see Dr. Klein. Since the chemo makes him pretty sick for about half the twenty-eight day cycle (five days of high-dose chemo drugs, 23 days off, of which recovery from the chemo takes up at least a week), a respite sounds like it would be a good thing.

So why are we both a mite on edge? It’s not the platelet levels, but what they imply: he may not be able to continue with the chemo, and that’s one of the main tools for keeping the brain cancer at bay. Oh. Well. Expletive deleted.

Funny thing: now that we figured that out, the stress levels are way down and we’re okay again. Huh. I think there’s a lesson here….

Oh, and one more thing: remember that tomato “farm” I planted last month? Here are the seedlings grown big and floppy, having been transplanted from the tiny seedling pots into bigger pots so their roots can stretch and grow a bit before they go out into the wild world of the kitchen garden next week. It’s a bit hard to tell in the photo above, but these larger pots also rest on a tray with a wicking mat underneath to keep their roots moist.

The nine varieties I’m growing this year range from sturdy super bush (bred specifically to do well in containers) to persimmon, the queen of tomato vines, which produces huge orange fruit bursting with citrusy sweet flavor and weighing in at a pound or more per tomato. All come from Renee’s Garden–my appreciation to Renee Shepherd for her ability to select and produce varieties that are delicious and easy to grow.

And they’re beautiful too, all eager to go outside, stretch toward the sun, bloom, and reproduce. But that’s for later. For now, it’s spring, the pasque flowers are blooming, and tomorrow is Richard’s next brain MRI. Wish us luck.