Bamboo, New Beginnings, and Hope for Change

The theme for this post is new beginnings and hope. Hope for a new start, for faith that things can get better. This begins as a shaggy dog story, but will return to the theme in the end. You’ll have to trust me on this.

Years ago, in the early 80’s, Gretchen and I moved to sunny Southern California. We were fleeing the pacific northwest where we moved after college graduation to start our new life together.

We loved the northwest, the people, the food, the landscape, almost everything, except the rain. The unending damp of the perpetual Seattle drizzle finally got to us. We had a made a pact with each other, when we made this leap, that we had to stay at least 2 years in the NW before throwing in the towel. Although true to that original vow, we lasted hardly a day longer than that before fleeing to drier climes.

The NW had been our origin story. Our next new start was in Gretchen’s home town of Manhattan Beach in Southern California. When asked, I always tell people that Manhattan Beach is a few miles south of the LAX airport. In other words warmer and drier.

Bambusa Oldhamii – A clumping bamboo. It’s been in this spot for over 30 years

We bought an old tract home just off Sepulveda Boulevard that was built in 1947. This was 1982, and we have been here ever since. Along the way I developed an interest in growing bamboo.

The first bamboo I acquired I actually brought home with me in the overhead bin of airplane. I had dug it up from my parent’s house in Walnut Creek CA. Roots, dirt, and culms were wrapped in a large, black, plastic bag. The type of bamboo was a giant timber variety named Bumbusa Oldhamii

Over a couple of years, my collection grew to 5 types. I had to learn the difference between clumping bamboos and invasive running bamboos. I learned the hard way that running bamboos required actual barriers to keep them where you wanted them to live.

Mexican Weeping Bamboo – the backyard phoenix, also a clumping bamboo

One of my bamboos is a variety named Mexican Weeping Bamboo. Wikipedia tell us that:

The Mexican weeping bambooOtatea acuminata, is a clumping bamboo native to central and southern Mexico and Central America

The plant produces thick stands of culms with long narrow leaves. The weight of the leaves cause the long thin clums to bend, or weep. The clump’s vegetation can reach 25 feet (7.6 m) or more in height and width in its native habitat.

Reading about bamboo (in books!) I learned of an odd behavior that most bamboos exhibit. Bamboos propagate normally by sending out shoots that pop out of the ground that turn into the culms we admire. What most people are unaware of, and have never seen, is a bamboo flower and seeds.

Since this happens so infrequently, the phenomenon is known about, but seems to be only partially understood. We are talking about entire clonal communities going to flower at the same time after several decades of asexual reproduction. This has been seen to affect a specific variety across continents and even world wide if it has traveled that far. After creating seeds, entire tracts of this variety then die. All at one time.

Phyllostachys Nigra – commonly known as Black Bamboo because the culms turn black when exposed to the sun.

One of the myths/beliefs was that the great bamboo stands go to seed during times of stress, such as a prolonged drought, when they would drop tons of seed for the humans and animals to consume helping them to stay alive until the next rains came. I always liked that idea.

Well, one day in the late 80’s/early 90’s, I was in the backyard and noticed seeds coming out of the top of the Weeping bamboo. Then as predicted, the clump dropped it’s seed, and died as predicted.

Shortly thereafter, our lives changed again. Our first son was born in 1991, our second in 1994. Suddenly. we were a family. Meanwhile, the Weeping bamboo started sprouting from the dropped seed in various places in the yard.

The last stand of that bamboo is now in the SE corner of our backyard hiding a power pole. I was trimming it just the other day and happened to notice that it has seeds again. The last time it dropped seeds was about 30 years ago.

I am sad to see the seeds because it means that I’m going to lose the plant again. Soon it will turn brown, die, and have to be cut down.

But here’s the thing. I also know that it’s a new beginning. And coincidentally, Gretchen and I are also starting our next chapter. The kids are grown and graduated from college and embarking on their next adventures, Gretchen and I will both be officially retired soon. I retired in the fall of 2017, and Gretchen is retiring from her job as an elementary school Science teacher at the end of this this school year. In fact, she is conducting her last class ZOOM meetings this week.

Somehow, this bamboo’s cycle of death and rebirth has clocked the major epochs of our lives. Come next spring, Gretchen and I will delight to the sight of new bamboo seedlings coming up in the strangest locations. New life finding a way in the unlikeliest of locations, as we figure out what it means to be retired together in these times.

I turn 67 this year. The seedlings that sprout next spring will create new plants that grow into colonies that will sprout again in about 30 years. By that time I’ll be in my late 90’s.

I’m looking forward to it.


Nationally, we are simultaneously facing the trauma of upheaval and strife, and hopefully new beginnings.

We have recently entered a period of having a national dialog that (in my mind) has three main components:

  • Racism and economic disparity that have deep roots.
  • The Covid-19 pandemic that is really only months old, although it seems like forever right now.
  • And finally, a tragic/comic President and Senate that seems to bestow gifts the privileged, and inflict neglect and punishment on the disenfranchised at the bottom.

The timeline to master these problems is different for each. Racism is so deeply embedded in the American culture that it will take years to erase and set right.

The demonstrations across the country, triggered by the murder of George Floyd, have pushed the issue of systemic racism back into the national conversation. Calls for, at minimum, police reform will hopefully bear fruit.

On the other hand, we seem to be losing focus on controlling the spread of the Covid-19 virus. I fear that this loss of focus, exacerbated by the large on-going demonstrations will cause a second round of outbreak and death. It seems clear that we will be living with the pandemic until a vaccine has widespread availability.

Race issues and the pandemic are hard, long lasting problems. however, the problem of Trump and the Senate are easy. We must vote the miscreants and criminals out of office. I can’t say this enough. Vote.

I have joked about this, but I am also deadly serious. I will vote for any candidate that is opposing Trump in the fall elections. I wish I could vote against McConnell and the other sycophant republican senators, but I can’t. I can only send money to the campaigns of candidates attempting to unseat them.



As I finish this piece, I am looking out the window of my office at the bamboo. I know that in a couple of months it will be gone. But I also know that it will be back. The new stand more green and lush than before.

With hope, I believe that by then Trump will be in the rearview mirror, and Covid-19 will be under control.

Racism and the economic divide will not yield so easily to short term solutions. It took many decades to become entrenched in our culture, and will take time to weed out. But I believe that the protests sweeping the nation will raise awareness and result in positive change.

So, here’s to the end of some things and the fresh start of others.

Peace, Love, and Brotherhood.



    1. Thanks for taking the time to comment. The problem we have here is allocating enough water to keep the plants looking healthy. The giant timber bamboo always looks a little ragged because of this. Be safe.


  1. This is a wonderful piece. Enjoyed reading it. Unsettling and disturbing times, we all need to keep the faith that we can overcome all the issues you clearly identified in your blog. We can’t lose hope and yes we need to vote!


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