Morning Joy

None of us ever knows what we will wake up to, but today for me was doubly amazing. In the early morning dim darkishness, in the murky, fuzzy, just-getting-started light of pre-dawn, I opened my eyes the way I always do first thing — tentatively. You know how it is – your brain is as un-luminous as the day, your eyelids aren’t 100% cooperative in the effort to lift, the rest of your body is solidly at anchor – and time is a mystery.

Try to put yourself in that state of mind for just a moment, in that place of one-degree-past-pitch-blackness, and imagine this image all dim and silhouetted, almost indistinguishable, none of the color, only the shape of the vase against the backdrop of windows and trees. It was quite something to wake up to! Even in my brain-fuzziness, I knew it was a vase filled with beautiful lilies, my favorite. And I had to smile.

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Lovely things give us pause, and lovely things that come from a kind heart, as these did, remind us how much kindness matters. In one corner of my life or another, there’s a mess. I know everybody has a mess somewhere, some minor and almost silly, like unfinished walls and untrimmed windows, and some major and heart-wrenching, like a ravaging disease or a house fire. Lovely things and kind hearts go a long way toward balancing the picture.

One of my current minor messes is a spackling mess. Yesterday was the wet-sponging stage, followed by one last filling in of not quite perfectly flat spaces. The funky triangular windows that came out of the bedroom wall and the living room wall were replaced with sheetrock, but my shoulder issues of earlier this summer put the finishing touches on hold. Now, thankfully, sustained overhead movement is no longer impossible, and I’m tired of unfinished walls.

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Sooner or later there will be paint!

So this morning, following the silhouette of lilies, following a cup of hot tea enjoyed in crisp, early fall morning air on my oddfellow’s bench, I went downstairs to get the cans of paint that I would need to paint these rooms. I then went out to the porch and set them down on the dropcloth Samuel’s got there for the little table he’s refinishing.

That’s when Beauty came to me in another unexpected way.

I looked up, toward the garden for some reason – did movement catch my eye? There she was, a beautiful doe, way out by the far pergola. I live in the woods and deer are all around. More often I see them running than standing still. But I never grow tired of their grace and elegance, even from afar.

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I’m sure she heard me. We had a stare-down, of which she finally got bored. That all you got, lady? You just gonna stare? There must have been some good grass out there. Promptly she went back to it. I wonder if she laments being unable to get into the garden. The eight-foot deer fence has kept her kind out for years. This year they probably gathered out there, shook their heads and said to each other Pathetic attempt at a garden! We sure could help get rid of some of that feast of a weedy jungle! … Nah, forget it. Feast or no feast, that fence is waaaay too risky!

None of us ever knows what we will wake up to but today I got one image of kindness and one glimpse of wildlife. Both reminded me that some things in the world are as they should be, and very good.

It Smells Like Earth

This morning as I made my bed, I again smiled at a gift I received last year, a small pillow filled with I don’t know – pieces of pinecone? I picked it up, held it to my face and breathed deeply in. The earthy scent of the filling filled me. My eyes closed, my body relaxed, my smile broadened.

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Gabi wrote a note to explain the un-ordinary pillow. It helps us get a good sleep, she said. Just have it near you in bed. Why would someone want a pillow filled with forest material? Why would I want one?

Trees stand tall all around me, some towering over 100 feet. Giants they are. This time of year my windows are wide open. Cool freshness wafts in. I hear birds chirping, squirrels chittering, insects singing, an occasional train in the distance rumbling, not much else except my confused hen (the one that thinks she’s a rooster) sometimes crowing.

Yet I love this pillow. And if I love it, I who live in the country, I can only imagine how other people in other settings might love the scent of earth at the ready, packaged neatly and freely evoking thoughts of earth’s predictable-yet-always-slightly-different cycles, of forest filled with boundless unseen dramas, of blessed, beautiful trees with fluttery leaf dances so high up.

I wonder how a pillow like this strikes a person who lives near the sea, where saltiness would pervade the air, water would predominate the landscape and the rushing, ebbing, flowing tides, rustling dune grasses and hungry shore birds would replace the forest sounds. The waterfront scene is as lovely as the forest, some would say as lovely as the sea of waving grass in the plains or the jagged, white peaks of high mountains. All these places can be our connection to earth, to the intelligent design it presents, to things we often hardly give thought to – how magical and majestic are these natural wonders, how awesome and complex is the schematic that includes all the moving parts of this picture, how utterly spectacular is a sky that is different every single sunset and sunrise.

What do people do who do not have the natural world in their everyday life? I don’t mean you have to have a forest around you or a vast body of water in your sightline. I mean just a piece of nature, like Rachel’s pawpaw trees.

Once I had guests at the cottage, parents and two middle-school-age daughters. As we were exploring the garden, the mother said, “Girls, this is nature.” To me, quietly, she said, “The closest we get to nature is the fruit bowl on the counter.”  Oh, dear, can this be true?

Maybe nature – the wondrous creation of things not-man-made – doesn’t speak to other people the same way it speaks to me. Maybe I just want to think it has a lot to say if only we hear and listen, look and see, touch and feel. The older I get, the more I think there’s more to everything than we can ever know, and that makes it not only endlessly unboring, but also ever able to teach us something new, something we need to know, something that helps or serves something else. Maybe I just hope it.

One Determined Marigold

Various people in my world are struggling. Some have chronic pain. Some have jobs that make them crazy. Some feel creaky, obsolete, scared, unwanted, frustrated or alone. All of them are like my one little marigold.

Apart from certain, strangely-not-completely-out-of-control areas, my garden is a mess this year. I’ve had some perfect veggies, enough for the marginal labor to have been worthwhile, but roughly half of the space qualifies as a jungle. With the front porch project I simply haven’t had the time. Plus this aggravating shoulder of mine, unimproved after three weeks of physical therapy (maybe worse), holds me back.

Still, I like fresh green pepper on my pizza and Samuel said he’d make some the other day. My contribution amounted to walking to the garden for a pepper. The jungle mess did not encourage lollygagging – it wants to get about its wild business without critical observers – so I got my pepper and was about to leave when a spot of gold caught my eye.

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There it was, one single marigold, standing tall and beautiful despite the choking weeds not far away. I had not planted it. I am unconventional in a list of ways, but it would not even occur to me to plant a flower in the middle of a path. One of the seeds from last year’s lovely crop must have found its way to this spot.

In August of last year the marigolds I did plant were huge and just beginning to blossom. My granddaughter Rise, five years old at the time, sweetly gives you the idea how tall they were.

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By September they were so full and heavy they fell over with gorgeous weight.

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This year I planted gourds instead, and some of them are remarkable (see the one hanging in the upper left? it keeps getting bigger!), but no zinnias, marigolds, asters or any other purely-for-color-and-show plants. Yet here is this one flower – standing strong, beautiful in its own way, determined – despite the mess – to have its moment.

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What a lovely parallel. Just like each person I know who is not in ideal circumstances presently, each person struggling with this or that, my one marigold is determined to

Stand strong: It’s hard to endure pain! It’s hard to have no time for yourself, or be far from those you love, or go to a job that feels dead-endish or keep up your end of a deal when those around you slough off. It’s hard to see the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel, to remain positive when you feel like crap, to hold your tongue when someone is out of line, to go to the gym when you feel weak, to push through when you want to stay in your comfy little cave. Yet all around me I see people standing strong just like this marigold. It doesn’t care that it’s the only one. It proudly manages feeling like the first grader in the college class, being the newbie on the block, saying the words that are hard to say. Bravo, little marigold!

Be beautiful: See all the green around the marigold? The scene of mostly weeds (other than that one funky gourd) sets the stage for this one determined flower to shine. In our own mess of life, in the chaos or worry or disharmony we endure more often than we would like to, it’s easy to simply become part of the mess, to add to it, to blend in and become invisible. Instead we can choose to be the marigold – at least sometimes – and be other, be radiant, be beautiful.

Have its moment: The older you get, the more fleeting time proves itself to be. Time is so limited. Resources are so limited. So what. None of us will be here forever, or do everything we want to do or reach all of our goals. We are bound by our bodies, our relationships, our location, our circumstances, our education, our wisdom (or lack thereof). Bound. Having a bum shoulder has made me think a lot about the elusive thing we call equality. I can’t do what I want to do! I have a disadvantage compared to people with good shoulders! (Funny how you see things like good shoulders that you didn’t see before!) But this shoulder is mine, for better or worse. I own it. It is unique to me and limits me in ways I wish I could change right now. Alas, we do what we can while we can with what we have. This little marigold will be seen and admired by precious few people before it succumbs to the frost in a few months. No matter. In this season, this year, in this place, it will be like a gem in the dirt, determined to have its moment and do what it can despite its limitations.

I wonder if it grew in this spot just to bring these ideas to me.

Bouldering? Really?

The things we do can be divided into four categories:

  1. We did the thing and we’re glad it’s over. High school comes to mind. Potty training. Ill-fated relationships. Recipes that bombed. Escapes from terrible danger. Costly mistakes. Profound embarrassment.
  2. We did the thing and would love to do it again. We maybe even do it again, or do it over and over again. Being on a grand adventure with someone wonderful. Making a new friend. Spending time with an old friend. Listening to favorite music. Reading masterfully written words. Creating something to be proud of in the kitchen or workshop or garden or studio. Reaching a physical or athletic goal. Making someone smile.
  3. We never did it and would like to. We all have a bucket list, even if we don’t call it that. A place to go, a food to try, a goal to reach, a person to meet, a book to read, a concert to attend, a wound to mend, a house to build, a difference to make.
  4. We never did it and we have no interest, desire or compulsion. This is the category that interests me today. For everyone, just as there is a wish-list, there’s also a no-wish-list. Just as there’s a magnetic attraction to some things, there’s a repelling with others. Just as some things call our name, others appeal to us in no way, shape or form.

Like Mom with superhero movies. I say Mom, really, the characters are interesting – some are even well developed. The graphics are amazing, the story lines engaging/ hilarious/ thrilling, the settings larger than life. She says Nope.

Like Samuel with building stuff. I say, Samuel, really, the sense of accomplishment you feel from making this precise cut and watching the board fit perfectly next to the one before it – it’s great! He says I’m going for a run.

Like Lynn with a good movie. She says I’m going to bed.

Like Fred with blogging about golf. He says Writing’s not that fun for me. I’d rather just play.

Like me with climbing, a.k.a. bouldering. Samuel loves it. Lincoln loves it. Julia loves it. Rise loves it. Even Eppie, who’s not quite big enough, loves it.

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I’m happy to watch – I loved watching them! How are they all that strong?!

But I don’t get the thrill. I’m not interested. It doesn’t jazz me. I need to remember this the next time I try to convince Mom to watch the latest Spiderman, or the next time I imagine Samuel is helping because he wants to, or the next time I suggest a movie to Lynn or tout all the blogging benefits to Fred.

Yes, yes, the beat of their own drummer, all that. However, I also need to remember that when I was younger, I didn’t help my mom in the garden. Now I wish I had – I would have learned a lot that would help me in my own garden! This photo is from last year – the strawberries weren’t anywhere near as good as these this year. Help!

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Not very long ago, I didn’t get anywhere near power equipment, which would include any shop tool that was plugged in. Mainly I made food and acted as gopher for those who were building anything involving lumber. Now I use the chop saw and the drills/drivers on a regular basis and I can usually get the nail hammered in with fewer than 20 hits! (And wow! We’ve come so far on the porch since June 4!)

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I didn’t like small dogs. Now I smile big when I look at Coco! Ridiculous dog!

 

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I won’t use names here, but you know who you are — you who didn’t used to eat Mexican food, you who made naan bread recently because of your success making pizza, you who wore a sundress and a big funny hat to a Derby party — y’all did things this year that you’ve never done before. Bravo! Who else braved the newness of a thing? Who else pushed the envelope? You know you feel good about it! 🙂

I can’t imagine being interested in bouldering, but down the road, hey, you never know… And even if I never climb those walls, that’s okay. I’ll do something else!

A Midsummer Garden’s Dream

Thunder grumbles in the distance as the darker sky approaches. More rain is coming, more manic wetness to quench the parched ground. Dimmer it gets as the wind begins to kick, then rest, then join with allied forces for a full-on offense. Best to wait this one out, hunker down and lull myself into fantastical daydreams.

Ah, yes, in my midsummer dream, in my wistful escape from the searing heat followed by the blinding storm, there’s none of this barbaric pelting, none of this furious, unhelpful, lashing-thrashing wind, none of the blazing, burning, unforgiving sunshine that preceded it. Only gentle rain falls, only kind rays shine.

In my fantasy, all the ambitious and infiltrating weeds get cropped out (I mean pulled up!) and the perfect ratio of rain and sun, day and night, cool and warm produces loads of spectacular lilies like this one that was smart enough, lucky enough, to have peaked between weather furies.

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In my imagination, there are dozens of prize-winning gourds (not just one) like this one that was clever enough to have climbed the fence and is curvingly perfect enough to stir feelings deep within…

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…and hungry enough to take all the nutrients it needs. Just ten days ago it hung a good deal higher.

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In the realm of garden perfection, in my visions of careful tending and consistent attention, the humans would take their minds off their silly porch project and clear out all these nasty, choking, unwanted grasses.

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They’d spent less time smacking tennis balls down the driveway for this young, endlessly tennis-ball-chasing, furry, golden, retrieving creature and more time making the rest of my expansive spaces resemble the reasonably well-kept row of rudbeckia. We’ll ignore those driveway weeds for the time being.

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(Now get the dog out of the way and show them how pretty a rudbeckia can be.)

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These daisy-like perennials are having a very respectable year, all except for this poor trampled thing at the end of the row. Looking on the sunny side, at least it’s not choked out!

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In my tender garden heart, all the gladiolas would be upright…

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…like this one…

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…instead of sadly horizontal like this one, a storm victim to be sure, though trying valiantly to show off its glorious blooms despite its precarious position.

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Lastly, if I had my druthers, I would make sure every growing thing in my dominion were as healthy, as vibrant, as unattacked, as simply lovely as this impatiens.

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I can dream, can’t I?

Oh My Gourd(s)!!

Every year the garden is different. Every year something or other does spectacularly well. This year, on a whim, I picked up some packets of gourd seeds. Never grew gourds before, but oh my! They went crazy!

I’m not sure what use gourds are – you can hollow them out to make birdhouses maybe? Wait for the seeds inside to dry and then shake them to make a rattling sound? Mostly they are just cool to look at. They are the punkers, the hipsters, the goths, the we-will-not-look-like-everyone-else garden produce (and so what if we’re not edible!?). With their own funky style, whether bi-colored, bumpy or (hey, it’s a stretch but someone might also think) sexily curvaceous, gourds are worth their salt just for the entertainment value.

Within the jungle of vines, here are a few of my beauties. I wonder why the yellow part of this kind is closer to the stem. I get that to some people the line between yellow and green might look like a stock report, but I see the profile of a mountain range.

This one takes the prize for Strength of Color and for Best Imitation of a UFO.

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This one, preferring the shade, wins Least Pretentious. The vines were so thick, it was tricky getting close enough for an up-close photo.

This one’s going for Bumpiest-Oh-Yeah!

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This one wants to be a child’s rattle when it grows up and dries out. A big child’s. It comes with a built-in handle.

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Going for the Audrey Hepburn waistline (though she’d never allow those hips!), this one has a sensuous streak.

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And finally – there’s one in every crowd – drum roll please! See if you can spot it from afar. I’ve labeled a few things to make it a little easier to find your way around.

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Well, this last gourd, the one I’m calling attention to, I know it’s there and I can barely see it myself in the big picture photo. So I won’t hold it against you if you can’t find it. Hint: Look carefully at the part of the gourd vines that decided to climb the fence, near that upper gourd arrow with the brown tarp tent in the background… How’s this for a beauty!!??

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I know, I know – takes First Prize, right?? You be the judge…

Humdinger and Armageddon: Words of the Day

“It’s not very often I would use that word,” the forestry consultant said. “But that’s a humdinger.” A few weeks ago a very large branch fell from a red oak that stands next to my cottage. I can’t get my arms around the branch – the branch is that big. It fell straight back into the woods, thank God. But the now-damaged, now-without-its-counterweight red oak has another big branch positioned over the cottage and another pointing toward the utility pole that stands 40 feet or so from the tree.

The cottage of course I worry about. But the power line that’s attached to the utility pole – well, anyone knows you don’t want a massive tree falling on the power line.  The power company doesn’t want a massive tree falling on the power line.

The red arrow shows where the counterweight branch was. You can see the lean.

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Now all the weight is toward the driveway. This red oak easily tops 100 feet. Other trees stand in that area also, smaller trees (not small, just smaller) between the big, damaged tree and the utility pole. This is a humdinger because it’s complicated.

Could be nothing to worry about. Could be that red oak stands another fifty years.

Could be a disastrous domino effect. Could be a strong wind takes out the power line and demolishes six other trees and whatever else is in its path because the spread, the wingspan, of the upper branches of the red oak would simply grab ‘n go – grab everything between it and the ground and go strongly, heavily (we’re talking tons of weight here with momentum and gravity helping) in the natural direction of all that weight.

Just to the left of the trunk you can see the utility pole. See it looking miniscule there. It’s not miniscule, it’s a real utility pole, and it’s not that far away even though it looks far away. The tree is so tall, its fall would reach that far. For those of you familiar with my property, even though the tree is behind the cottage, its fall would easily flatten the chicken coops.

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We don’t know. I don’t know. The power company doesn’t yet know. Take the chance and leave it alone? Or play better safe than sorry and find a way to take it down? To complicate matters further, the underground septic tank for the cottage sits right where the bucket truck would have to position itself, and a bucket truck is too heavy to stand there. I don’t know where else they can put it though. And unless they use the big bucket truck with the longest-reaching boom, how else would they reach those upper branches?

My idyllic spot in the Virginia woods – private yet close to town, scenic, peaceful, enjoyed time and again by so many people, including my many Airbnb guests – has its challenges, its downsides, its uh-oh-what-do-we-do-now moments. In this way it’s a mirror, a parallel to the world we all live in every day. We have some elements of beauty, some moments of peace, some examples of systems functioning perfectly. We have a sun that shines, food that tastes wonderful, a bed to sleep in. Most of the time we have well more than we actually need.

And then a windstorm comes and a big branch falls and we worry. Or we encounter something super icky or ugly and we shudder. Or someone loses his temper and says hurtful words, or someone has her own set of struggles and walks away without helping us with ours. Or they take way too long to bring our food or fix the broken pipe or return our call. Or someone we love dearly breathes his or her last.

It’s a recurring theme around here lately. Maybe it’s just the recurring theme of human life that somehow strikes me anew every day: With the good comes the bad. With the bad comes the good. As much as we humanly can, may we keep our eyes fixed on the good – on the person trying hard (even if we don’t see it), on the sweet smiles revealing a good heart (even if that heart is hurting too), on the glorious colors of nature around us, on the wondrous good fortune of living where we can go about our business without worrying about shellfire exploding and without having to pee into helmets or step over corpses or sleep in cold mud.

Okay, maybe I have been listening to Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History podcast a lot lately. His “Blueprint for Armageddon” series about the First World War is so excellently done, starting with the suggestion that maybe the most important person of the 20th century is someone whose name hardly anyone remembers: Gavrilo Princip, the man who fired the shot that killed the Archduke and his wife in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914, thereby setting in motion the whole war machine as well as decades of repercussions. 

Carlin’s emphasis on the human factor within the extraordinary conflict is both as graphic as spoken words can be and as spot-on accurate as any historical overview I’ve heard or read in a long time. His use of first-person sources is first-rate, as is his ability to paint a picture that doesn’t include actual pictures (in my mind as I listen I see battle scenes and broken vehicles and sickening trenches so clearly!). Hats off to him for researching, organizing and weaving together so many compelling stories about what was supposed to have been the final battle, the War to End All Wars. If you can listen while driving or cooking or walking or whatever, you might find it as captivating as I do.

In my unboring path recently, I’ve gained a fresh perspective on one funny word – humdinger – because of a recent strong wind, and one age-old word – Armageddon – because of a most fabulous history lesson. I wonder what words will pop up next…

Green Turtles, Pink Boots and Blue Ears

Turtles don’t wear boots, definitely not pink ones, definitely not shiny plastic pink ones that are attached with velcro. No matter. This turtle has boots.

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Whether a fluffy green turtle named Flllfffl dons pink shiny boots, or a moth named Betty is scouting out home zone possibilities on your property, or a superhero named Iron Man is heroically facing the Big Bad named Thanos, the world is a better place because of it. (“Flllfffl” is the best I can spell it, btw – that’s what she said his name is!)

I’ve been thinking about how we suspend belief so selectively. I was all into the Marvel movies (and would watch them all again!) but Star Trek doesn’t do anything for me. Mom can enjoy Mary Poppins float in on a magic umbrella but has no interest in a superhero that can stop a speeding ballistic missile (that scene from Captain Marvel is etched in my head!). And little Piper, my granddaughter from Seattle, sees nothing irregular in a turtle wearing pink boots!

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But it works in reverse, I come to see. For reasons having to do with this little darling living in Seattle and me living in Virginia, Piper and I communicate via video more than in person. She calls me Oma but I think she sees me as the Chicken Lady. She LOVES my chickens. I have walked to the coop, phone in hand (pointing away from me and at my feathery friends of course) more times than I can remember because as soon as we get on a video chat, she says Chickens! If it’s already too late here and too dark outside, I’m sure the call is over in her mind. Check out. Done. If there’s no chickens, why bother?

Coming to see Oma included the natural excitement of seeing the chickens for real. The ride from the airport was too long, but finally we arrived at Golden Hill. No point even going into the house on a beautiful day – let’s go see the chickens!

My first clue should have been when this untimid child timidly hid behind both of her parents. Brad was amused but Beth said Oh, yeah, she has a problem when it’s a real animal. I went in and picked up Whitey anyway and brought her out to show her to Piper. See? Fluffy head, blue ears… Yes, this is a real chicken…

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and this is her real blue ear.

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The photo doesn’t capture how the blue is almost shimmery.

No can do.

Turns out there is a big difference between a real chicken and a chicken on a screen. Small shrieks of terror told this astute Oma that maybe awkward, weird, ungainly chicken movements and throaty, cacophonic, random chicken noises on a screen are one thing, and an omg-it’s-getting-too-close-to-me chicken in the hands – jerking its head randomly and slightly the way chickens do (oh, look, a little human!), a little dirty on its feet from the scratching around in search of delectable bugs (hey, it’s spring and bugs are everywhere!) – is quite another. Whoa, all too real, no thanks, can we go look at the garden now?

Ah, the garden. Oma loves her roses right now!

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I guess we all have our ways of filtering out, shutting down, blocking, or otherwise not having to deal with what’s too scarily real or too stupidly unreal. Likewise we open our arms, hearts and waking hours to what’s appealingly real or fascinatingly unreal. I think we are allowed. It’s a big, full, amazing world, but we would overload our circuits if we took it all in. We draw the lines around ourselves, redrawing them depending on where we are, who we are with, what they day feels like, what our present self can handle.  The lines are wiggly and wavering. They have gaps big and small, with ways to expand when curiosity or security define the moment and ways to tighten up when fatigue, fear and sorrow don’t let us be so open.

Piper is doing just the right thing, drawing the lines where they feel somehow, mysteriously where they should be. Those weird chickens are outside her feel-good zone right now, so, yeah, hiding behind the big people she knows she can depend on makes sense. That turtle with the pink boots – watch him prance around awhile and then rip open that Velcro and pull his boots off when you’ve had enough of that. Why does a turtle need pink boots anyway!?

Oh, but am I still the Chicken Lady? If I’m not, that’s okay. We can redraw the lines.

Making the World More Beautiful

We get our images from all over the place – from real life, from books, television, movies, YouTube, wherever. Images stick with you sometimes, like wallpaper inside your head, a permanent part of the structure. I read a lot of books to my kids when they were small. One image, from one of those books, was this.

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The character you see, Miss Alice Rumphius, had a grandfather who had traveled to faraway places and then become an artist and lived by the sea. She told him, “When I grow up, I too will go to faraway places, and when I grow old, I too will live by the sea.”  

“That is all very well, little Alice,” said her grandfather, “but there is a third thing you must do.”

“What is that?” asked Alice.

“You must do something to make the world more beautiful,” said her grandfather.

“All right,” said Alice. But she did not know what that could be.

Whenever I turned to this page, where Miss Rumphius, as a young woman now, goes into a conservatory and lets “the warm, moist air wrap itself around her and the sweet smell of jasmine fill her nose,” I was right there with her. I was in that big glass house where the beauty of gorgeous, growing things filled me too, enveloped me too, transported me too. Almost.

The way she puts it: “This is almost like a tropical isle…. But not quite.”

So she went to a real tropical isle (and I’ll tell you later how she made the world more beautiful.)

I’ll settle for a real conservatory.

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Monday was the perfect day to visit the Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens in Richmond, Virginia. There you get the real deal – the huge glass house, the pool with fountains, the pathways with multiple shades of green leafery hanging from stone archways…

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…the azaleas bursting with color…

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… even a turtle scurrying off under more incredible blooms.

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But in that conservatory, oh my, you are indeed transported. The wing of the building with the orchids left me speechless. This gives you some idea.

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I know you can buy orchids in the grocery store now. Yeah, yeah, flowers, you say. Look a little closer at these flowers! Their colors, delicacy, form, patterning, individuality, splendor! Let your eyes fill up with the beauty of these blooms and tell me if you are not, even in a small way, transported to a place of wonder…

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In this same conservatory is a special room for incredibly beautiful butterflies and moths. You enter through one door into an airlock space, then through another door into a larger space where flutterings happen all around you and even on you! This weary traveler used Mom’s leg as a pit stop for a few minutes. She, post-back-surgery, wisely limiting her walking, happily hosted him. Uhhhhhh…. Is it going to fly off soon?

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He was perfect and delicate up close.

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But not quite as pretty as his fellow flutterers. They were not so easy to photograph. Orchids just sit there of course. These fellows do land here and there, but often they close up their wings so you can’t see their glorious spreads. I caught a few – some on plants, some on metal grates, some on the rotting fruit put there for them to feed off. Again note their colors, delicacy, form, patterning, individuality, splendor!

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Whoever made this conservatory, whoever grows and maintains the orchids, whoever protects and oversees the butterfly/moth room – these people have surely done something to make the world more beautiful.

Miss Alice Rumphius, for her part, planted a few flower seeds – lupines, one of her favorites – at her house by the sea, and then fell ill for a long time. From her bed she saw out her window that the blue and purple and rose-colored flowers had come up the next year and she said, “I have always loved lupines the best. I wish I could plant more seeds this summer so that I could have still more flowers next year.”

But she was not able to.

The next spring, when she was finally able to get around a bit, she saw a large patch of lupines on the other side of the hill! The birds and the wind had dispersed the seeds and her one small act, her few planted seeds, had made the world just a little more beautiful.

Then Miss Rumphius had a wonderful idea!

She ordered five bushels of lupine seeds from the very best seed house and sowed them everywhere she went. The next spring, and every year after that, there were more and more lupines. Miss Rumphius had done the third, the most difficult thing of all!

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Now let me think… For my part, what am I doing to make the world more beautiful?…

 

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Miss Rumphius, Story and Pictures by Barbara Cooney, Viking Penguin Inc., 1982

Oh, Glorious Redbud

I might be able to convince myself that I can make food or do jigsaw puzzles or dig in the yard, but I draw the line at technology. Last week I was out of my mind trying to get the pictures in this post to upload, tried this, gave up, tried that, gave up, chatted with the person you can chat with who might be able to solve the problem (that didn’t help either), got distracted making Easter dinner for eleven people and a very cool Easter carrot cake / cheesecake with my sister — wanna see?…

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…and the only way I am uploading photos now is through my phone’s hotspot (which I have never used in my life anywhere) but hey, it’s working.

This tree, the one I tried to write about in the first place, looked this pretty a week ago. Its leaves are coming out now but just pretend it still looks like this.

It had to have been standing there in that same spot at the one end of my driveway when I moved here eight years ago. You can’t miss it, right? I’m talking about the pink one. Please note: I am not responsible for the pink tree bearing the name “redbud.” Do you see red? I don’t see red.

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But I hardly remember seeing this tree the first few years, which tells you something about how busy I was with other things, how un-focused. Shall we say blind?

Maybe I just didn’t know what I was looking at. I did not grow up with redbuds. Maybe the climate in New Jersey is too cold for them? Certainly they don’t grow in Vermont, where I spent twenty-some years. But in Virginia and south of here (maybe north of here? maybe Maryland or Pennsylvania? I have no idea), you find them randomly all over the place. I especially like their splash of color along the highway here and there.

Two years ago my son Bradley transplanted a smaller one to the front of the cottage. It was small in comparison with the one at the end of the driveway, but big enough, i.e. the roots were already deep enough, that he did not have much hope for its survival.

We chose the wrong time of year to transplant – May (!) of all times. It had fully leafed out by then. To be honest, I didn’t even know what kind of tree it was. I just knew it was getting too big to stay in the back corner of the garden (as were some others, but this one was in front of them and had to come first). Look how big it is! This is a tree that started as a stick with wet, icky, short white tentacles at one end that you take for roots, the kind of stick you get in the mail when you send the arbor foundation a donation. I’d say it did pretty well.

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But getting it out was not fun at all for Bradley.

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Poor tree. If it had a way to protest, I’m sure it would have. Wintertime, folks! Wintertime or fall or springtime is best for transplanting! At least wait until after my leaves have fallen and I’ve gone dormant!

Oh, well, what did we know? I was just glad for Bradley’s muscles! He even smoothed out the dirt after moving the tree. Piper was so small two years ago!

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It makes me think about how many things I have done or continue to do with so very little understanding. These are a few items on my very long list, which does not include the aforementioned tech stuff.

  • Something is wrong with my rhubarb. It’s not growing as well as it did for a few years. There’s a reason for that, but I have no idea what it is. Maybe it needs food? Maybe it gets too much sun? Maybe I should look it up?
  • Some of the plants I put in the large planter boxes last year have returned. I think. I mean, I think they are the same. Maybe they are weeds. Maybe they are a perennial, which would be nice! I’ll wait a bit and see.
  • Weeds have definitely barged into the strawberry bed. They are purple flowers, quite pretty actually. But maybe I am beginning a losing battle?

 

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Sandy and I moved many clumps of these purple weeds, and they look nice (for now) next to the arbor that leads into the garden, though I suspect we will be moving them out of the strawberry bed on a regular basis.

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Back to that redbud Bradley transplanted two years ago – I did know to keep it well-watered, especially in the heat of summer. Every evening I watered that poor tree, knowing full well it was complaining about being jerked around and relocated. I had hope! This is what it looked like initially. Pretty good, huh? Looks healthy!

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Bradley was doubtful, un-encouraging, disbelieving. Brace yourself, Mom, It’ll probably die. Every time I gave him a report about it (The tree’s doing well, Brad! It hasn’t died yet!), he’d say Don’t get your hopes up. I kept watering and watering.

Look at it this spring! Two years later and it has flowers. I think it survived!

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The redbuds bloom just before the dogwoods. Here’s a close-up of the buds I saw last week in one of the trees we transplanted this winter. I think it too is going to survive.

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Pretty soon they will be gorgeous white flowers. Oh, right, that was last week. By the time I got the pictures to attach, those buds bloomed. Now it looks like this.

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Soon something else will bloom. Don’t ask me what – I have no idea! I might know a little more about gardening than about technology, but not much. Right now I’m just glad to be able to post something again.