Antipodean Arboreal Delights

I began the day by reading three more of Anton Chekhov’s short stories and scanning one illustration.

In her introduction to ‘Kashtanka’ (1887) Elisaveta Fen quotes a letter from Chekhov’s friend, the poet Polonsky, who wrote ‘the ending is not only unexpected but also significant, and this is most important. The colour of the language fully corresponds to the place, time and character of your protagonists.’

I will say no more about this finely crafted tale except that it is told from the, especially olfactory, perspective of a mongrel dog; and that the significance of the unexpected ending is, to me, that early attachment, despite abuse, is often paramount – in humans as well.

The next two tales benefit from the author’s medical qualification and practice.

‘The Enemies’ (1887) features a scene in which someone has just died as described by one who, as a physician, knows just how it could be. Fen says ‘Its atmosphere is conveyed with economy of detail, the impact of which on the reader’s imagination is the greater for this.’ Chekhov conveys the immediate impact of grief, with an understanding of psychology, whilst allowing that this will subside over time. The mutual hatred of the enemies, each from a different class, is ultimately extended to all other members of their respective classes. Such divisions still hold good today.

‘Varka steals up to the cradle and bends over the baby’ illustrates ‘Sleep. . . sleep’ (1888), which Chekhov himself apparently did not rate too highly.

I have to agree with the translator that ‘the story is a remarkable example of ability to identify with a young peasant girl, driven half-insane by deprivation of sleep, and to describe the visions that drift through her mind – visions and memories which, in a few sentences, paint the whole of her background, making this story a minor masterpiece.’ The effects of mental exhaustion are conveyed with personal and professional insight giving the author a highly developed capacity for empathy. I imagine there will be many, confined by Covid lockdowns to high-rise flats with no gardens, who identify with this.

This afternoon, while Jackie watered thirsty plants, I, accompanied by the soothing burble of the water feature, weeded

the final arm of the Rose Garden Brick Paving,

leaving three sets of stepping stones still to be cleared. I left the broom propped on the wooden chair in the shady corner.

This evening we dined on Jackie’s delicious lamb jalfrezi and savoury rice, with which she drank more of the Salento Rosato and I finished the Fleurie.

We began our drinks on the patio where, while we watched a preening wood pigeon, we were joined by the lonely collared dove which lost its mate to a predator earlier in the year.

We could also see that three of our Antipodean Arboreal Delights are now blooming simultaneously. The cordyline Australis has a heady honeyed scent that pervades the garden; the yellow bottle brush plant attracts bees, one of which, with a filled sac, is homing in in the picture; and the eucalyptus flowers take on the guise of little furry creatures.


  1. Both tragic stories are nothing short of brilliant, even though Chekhov himself valued them much less than his plays. Again, I am less than truly impressed by the illustration, perhaps because I have had my own vivid image of Var’ka since my teenage years.

  2. The bottle brush plant reminds me of Kniphofia.

    Anyway, it seems you are tackling the weeds well. A never-ending task at this time of year!

  3. Wonderful garden. Compliments. I like the Russian authors, but strangely enough Tchekov has always been on my to-read shelf… Hmm. Must be gathering dust.
    Fleurie… Quel dΓ©lice…

  4. I’m glad the lonely dove felt comfortable enough to stop in for a visit. Thank you for the exotic fuzzy flowers. πŸ™‚

  5. Your description makes me want to read Chekov. I’ve only seen his plays. On the other hand, I have never seen eucalyptus blossoms. What a thrill.

  6. Does the weeding ever end — or is it like painting the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco — when you finish the job it’s time to begin again!?

  7. It’s amazing how the features of your garden keep fascinating your readers day after day. I have lost count of the varieties of arboreal delights it contains.

    I felt sorry for the lonely wood pigeon. Perhaps Chekhov could have written a story from its perspective.

  8. After all that work in the garden, you conjure up a pleasant picture of having drinks on the patio at the end of the day. A bird bath is a ‘must’ for every garden – as your photograph shows so clearly!

      1. Indeed!

        I can recall as a primary school child, maybe 8 or so, the teacher saying to the class “You mustn’t start a sentence with “because”. I was an avid reader, so have always delighted in breaking that particular rule!

          1. By the way, totally out of context, I have never made sense of the saying “It’s the exception that proves the rule.” Can you explain it, in words of one syllable or even fewer syllables!

  9. Burbly water sounds ARE so soothing and good company!
    Aw πŸ™ on the little lonesome dove. So glad it can find comfort in your beautiful garden.
    The places to sit-a-spell look so inviting!
    I love the bottle brush plants! We have red ones here! As a little girl they always intrigued me and I was so glad no one used them to wash/clean bottles!
    (((HUGS))) πŸ™‚

  10. Phew! Chekov’s short stories sure pack a punch, even just the descriptions. Then, the illustrations! Yes, empathy is a good word to describe Chekov’s outlook. Also gloomy, tragic, and pessimistic?

  11. No livestock today – but lovely to see the ring collared dove. I wonder if it will find a new companion?

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