Gentle Viewers: For some reason, it takes about 90 seconds for the photos to load properly and to look clear. Please do not strain your eyes squinting at them. While we wait let’s have a relaxing stretch, remove our eyeglasses, and focus our vision on something distant out the window. -m
After weeks of clear 60-degree weather with birds and crocuses and daffodils all welcoming an early spring, we have a couple of weeks of unusual winter snow. Some 66,000 people have lost electricity, and most are snowbound at home. The sky and the forecast promise a hard freeze and several more rounds of snow this week. Meanwhile it’s a grand day for toddlers and dogs; they’ve never seen snow before. They’re all over the neighborhood rolling around in the snow and yipping while patient parents with coffee cups in hand trudge along dragging sleds and untangling leashes.
The sky wore a subtle distant loveliness; dove gray-blue in the snow clouds, a pale turquoise/robin’s egg blue wash in the clear streaks, and under a dark horizon a strip of light antique gold.
Here is a sweet gum tree, with its round prickly pods.
Monkey puzzle trees, with their sharp clacking scales.
January: The Sunny Break
A highlight of our winter days is the random “sunny break,” a term I’d never heard in any other part of the country. After a night of heavy winds and local severe thunderstorms knocking down trees and power lines all over the area, today’s Sunday sunny break was especially welcome.
Last night I hopped on an unfamiliar bus, found out it was going away from my destination, and hopped off a half mile up on a main road. That meant walking back in the dark with glaring oncoming headlights galore. Thank goodness I’d brought my fluorescent vest, so I waved that like a matador cape while crossing several odd side lanes and through weeds and over curbs. Then there was the draw bridge — an active working bridge, with blaring horns and bells when a boat comes by. In the dark I felt nervous about crossing, so I racewalked over the movable part. After crossing safely I had a moment to catch breath & bearings, and take in the view. Velvety darkness, storm clouds rummaging around to find the moon, bridge over bridge, twinkling lights.
After taking this photo I walked along feeling much more cheerful, found a bus stop with bus, and was on my way just in time for a warm welcome and Shabbas prayers. Getting lost and seeing the scenery just added to the beauty of the evening.
Walking in a real Autumn downpour. A glimpse of sumac and bird bath through a back alley fence; street view of trees; stone pool filling up with falling water and falling leaves.
10/20/18: Sweetpea Patch
Garden season is drawing to a close. Sweetpeas and Cosmos take a brave last stand.
Father Gus has retired for some well-earned free time. But his roses still remember him.
Holy Saturday, eve of Easter
12/31/17: New Year’s Eve
Walking home from Orthodox Liturgy past a park on the water.
12/25/17: Christmas Morning
Christmas Day on a rare morning of snow.
12/24/17: Sedes Sapientiae
On Christmas Eve, at the cemetery a last bush rose in yellow stood before the statue to Mary called “Sedes Sapientiae” — Seat of Wisdom.* A bouquet of ivory roses, most unpetalled and fallen down, lingered against the dark backdrop of the evergreen trees.
Right before an early gray sunset, cars began showing up. All over the grounds, people hurried through the cold and damp to bring bouquets and wreaths. (In one moment when I wasn’t looking, those trampled ivory roses in the photo were cleared away, replaced by the roses in bright salmon in the next picture.) Passing these people one by one, I tried to catch their eye to give a holiday greeting, and express some appreciation for the beautif+ul arrangements. But everyone kept their heads down, intent on their work. Finally I gave it up and set a course for the main gate, but wished that on this Christmas Eve, all these people would notice one another, and gather to exchange their stories, and then all go out to the cafe for a bowl of chowder.
A brisk snow set in, cool to the taste, softening the leaden sky and the outlines of the headstones.
*Sancta Maria, speculum iustitiae, sedes sapientiae, causa nostrae laetitiae, regina pacis, Ora pro nobis.
Holy Mary, mirror of justice, seat of wisdom, cause of our joy, queen of peace, pray for us.
10/17: Autumn on the High Plains
Scenes from a walk on a Midwest visit, on a last balmy day of autumn: a house in renovation, with wonderful details; a practical campus landscape of hot pepper plants and drought-resistant ornamental grass, and another of roses; a campus linden tree; and two churches in the center of it all.
9/2017: Smoke and Flowers
A serene view in a troubled sky, hazed from forest fires a few hours away.
6/2017: White Rose Arch
Roses soar up off the arch and into the clouds & sky.
4/9/17: The Old Alley Fence
The old alley fence enjoys a week of festive dress; Easter on the way.
2/6/17: Snow on snow.
12/24/16: Christmas Eve
A sunny break fell from the (fleetingly) blue, beckoning at the windows.
I reached the hilltop just in time: the last beam of sun was fading from this appealing tribute of roses. Those clouds rushed in with a cold wind and flurry of snow, then rain showers for a chill and foggy Christmas Eve night.
Last night after Confession and before evening Mass I took a stroll at the cemetery, in that special late-autumn hour when the visitors are gone with the daylight, and there’s a beautiful little interlude of darkness and silence before they lock the gates — just enough time to tiptoe in for a photograph or two. In the rain, the monuments and statues looked out over the holiday lights at the shopping center down below.
10/26/2016: Sweet Gum, and Gingko
Stepping around graves, in a breather between one rain squall and the next.
There were hundreds of crows, patiently digging up the new grass seed. Everywhere I went, one crow or other served as designated sentry to hop alongside from one headstone to the next, keeping careful watch and ready to sound the alarm to everybody else. But I was quiet about it, strolling along singing “Bring forth the royal diadem, and crown Him Lord of all” (that’s Sacred Harp #198, setting “Greenstreet”). They didn’t object at all.
10/11/2016: Sweet Gum
9/21/16: White Picket Fence
9/1/16: 50 Cent Lace.
This linen table runner with handmade crochet borders was a markdown at the thrift shop. Now it has a new home.
8/1/16: Interrupted Story
11/21/2015: Autumn Sun
A rare clear day, late autumn.
11/1/2015: Rain Walk
A two hour walk took in a patch of well-traveled woodsy park, and some neighboring front yards.
The weather gave us towering squalls of wind-flung rain, with interludes of calm and sparkling sun.
5/21/15: Golden Poppies
In a vertical rock wall with a dash of foxglove and Gerbera Daisy.
4/7/15: Cemetery April
On the way to the store, for the Saturday night vegetable run before Easter Sunday.
As small Catholic schoolchildren we were taught that during Lent the dogwood flower grows four petals to honor the cross of Christ, with a blush of red on each tip in honor of his sacred blood.
2/13/2015: Bishop’s Garden
On Saturday, got on the Amtrak after a wind chill of -35 F, and got off the train that afternoon in Washington DC, with a temperature of 65 F, a difference of 100 degrees. At the Washington National Cathedral, the winter Bishop’s Garden was full of strolling families. In three seasons of the year, flowering herbs fill the garden; but for now the stonework was set off by soft gray-green Atlas Cedar and rosemary.
2/10/2015: Snow Day
“When it’s snowing in Brooklyn, then snow’s what you got.” — Ferron
It is, and we do.
Main Street, 2 blocks from the center of town:
Main Street, Inn:
Center of town, shopping plaza:
Center of town, bird house:
Center of town, law office with a touch of old-time whimsy, a window 10 inches off the floor:
Stately house on the road, in textures of old craftsmanship.
House for Sale
Station platform. The river was a block of ice; the mountains were a faint slate-blue wash through the snow clouds. The only sound was the lovely harmonica chord of our train miles off, threading its way through the foothills. The silence captured in the valley and the ice sounded immense and expansive, like a starry sky.
12/2: Leek Salvage
An early frost finished off the garden. But in the flat frozen celery and flat frozen parsley and herbs, the leeks were still tall and shapely and looking fine. I picked them all to go with breakfast all week. Here is one. As an optimistic note, just behind it on the left is a baby version grown from a cut end in a dish of water for the next leek generation.
Here is Thanksgiving breakfast, a slice of Spam Musubi with festive non-edible garnish:
At work our colleague from Hawaii got out the authentic Hawaiian Spam cutter for making elegant paper-thin Spam slices, and the Spam Musubi shaping molds. She cooked up a batch of rice, whipped up some homemade teriyaki sauce, got out the nori seaweed, and made a whole basket of the most perfectly sliced and shaped individually wrapped little Thanksgiving Musubi for the whole office.
“We were afraid to offer any to you,” she said. “Because we know how you eat.”
But I was very touched that they offered it anyway.
As it happened, for the holiday season I filled my desktop with safe things — green juice, kale smoothie, blanched green beans, pureed zucchini simmered with onions and garlic and a touch of rice milk. So after all that greenness, as a late afternoon snack, the bite of Musubi tasted delicious.
On Monday I’ll tell our colleague and her team about Dad and his fondness for Spam. On his business trips to Hawaii and all over the Pacific, he was treated to innovative spam-based cuisine and memories of hospitality. At home he’d buy cans of it as an evening snack. Mom’s family, German butchers who prized good meat and prepared it with finesse, would look puzzled when Dad fixed himself a TV tray knosh of Spam with crackers and cheese. But I liked it, being since earliest memory something of a vacuum cleaner around food of any kind. While playing on the carpet with my toys, I’d come by to swipe samples from Dad’s plate.
After all these years, it was fun to have a taste of it again.
I took home my slice and brought it to church this morning for our annual Thanksgiving dedication of food up at the altar. Father read an unusually nice prayer about gratitude, and blessed our holiday victuals.
After Mass I stopped at the shrine to our Savior to light a candle for the family, and went back out in the drizzle and wind to pick up colored leaves and eat my blessed Musubi.
Blessed Thanksgiving to everyone. Aloha!
11/9: Red and Gold
A long walk on a drizzly Sunday, with autumn rainy season setting in.
10/12: White Mushrooms
It’s the one kind of foraging that I never do; the trophies are only for the camera. Still, when members of the Fungus Kingdom pay a fleeting visit, they’re worth a second look. In this part of the world they pop up anywhere, any day: in potted plants, in coat closets, and in mowed trimmed lawns, as these did:
Day and season in decline, but lingering in the garden.
9/7: Chestnut Trees
Every year at this time it’s nice to come across these sharp spiked burrs, a reminder of a remote and magnificent part of American history. (These are not horse chestnuts; horse chestnut burrs have much heavier spikes, and are not at all edible.)
Chestnut trees were a dominant fruitful part of the environment here until the blight was accidentally introduced in 1904. Nowadays we are lucky to have a few of these trees, but for the most part the trees grow only for a while and the burr nuts are empty. Our popular chestnuts in stores at Thanksgiving are imported; but research is underway to produce blight resistant varieties, with supporters like the American Chestnut Foundation.
7/24: Atlas Cedar
Today my job sent a group of us to a class at a Microsoft store at the shopping mall. It was very very nice of them to do it, so I am not about to look that gift horse in the mouth. But I do marvel at the learning and expression style of today’s savvy youngsters.
The class took place while a good crowd of happy students were choosing their next upgrade and sharing excited comments with their friends on the other side of the store. It had pop music on a surround stereo system. What’s more, ALL of the walls formed one large flashing movie screen showing sweeping landscapes and elated stylish people, and product brand logos swooping right at our optic nerves. For the whole 2 hours. People WORK in bedlam like this? How can their brains handle it?
I’d rather work on a conveyor belt with Lucille Ball.
What happened to my country? Where are my smelling salts?
Afterwards I took a quiet walk and photographed some trees growing outside the mall. Like this lovely Atlas Cedar.
6/7: Celery Row
Last fall a few straggly celery starter plants were on sale, an impulse purchase with no real expectation that they’d survive our wet blustery September storms. Nine months and lots of celery later, it’s nice to ponder how life can surprise us.
Or are they crimson?
Either way: tulips growing over the parking garage, against a red maple in the sunset. Some neighbor’s work and faith (and bulbs) from some past autumn day.
4.13, Hiding in Plain Sight
Palm Sunday. On the way to the grocery store.
3.9.14: Spring Beneath the Wheels
2/25: Pull Here
What adventures wait behind this wall if we Pull Here?
Hardware store, declining sun, with my three fingers reflected close up in the glass. If only I could dodge the glare and show how really beautiful this was; gems on wood.
2/3 Springs Eternal
After a cold snap, the hard ground gave way to feathery tips of sweet-fragrant wild fennel.
10/31: Light After Death
After a bit of a discouraging day, on impulse I took another bus and went to the cemetery instead of going right home. The sun was just about to disappear over the horizon. I ran and ran through the graves, chasing the colors and light. When the sun was gone, I walked back to the main gate saying a rosary for the people at rest. What an incredible gift — to be alive in beauty and honoring them.
9/1: Suns at Night
It was 90 degrees today. So at dusk (and the dusk closes in earlier all the time now) it was time to go water. The garden is in full bloom. On June 15 the sunflower seeds went in, to brighten up a bare patch in front of the big metal garage vent. From those little black seeds from the Audubon Store feed bin, in only 10 weeks we had flowers. Tonight in the dark they loomed overhead:
It’s a still warm night under a slender crescent moon; with my vision, a crescent moon looks like a crab with lots of pointed feet and bright scales. This one floated over the flowers. There was a bright star up there, and a medevac helicopter flashing by to help somebody hurt, and in the distance some sirens, and the bucket handle and the pouring water, and the sunflower shadows floating over my skin, and one very pale cricket buffing its wings on the last hot day until next year.
8/3: The Sprinkler
Sunflowers stretch out in a good shower.
Image for late June: Pentecost
Clearly the color of the tiger lilies spread out and tinted all the sanctuary.
6/21: Still Together
Companions in life & onward. Cemetery sunset, solstice.
Images, 6/1: Blue on Blue
In a rare burst of blue in the heavens, the bees delved in to sweet-scented blue close to home.
5/5: Paskha (Пасха)
Paskha (what we Catholics call Easter) was an all-night prayer service. Church members were there all day Saturday, ironing vestments and cloths for the icon stands, and putting final touches on the floral arrangements. Each worshipper brought a gift basket too, brimming with meat, cheese, sweets, wine — the many good things that Orthodox people have given up, for some or all of the 40 days of what they call the Great Fast and we call Lent.
At 7:00 p.m. Saturday they took turns reading the Acts of the Apostles aloud in the center of the sanctuary. The tradition is to read the Acts all through in one language, then to start over and read it again in another language; they keep this up for as many languages as the congregation can furnish! The reading finished late in the evening.
At 11:00 p.m. the service began. At midnight the church was all darkened to represent the tomb:
and everyone left the building for a candlelight procession, chanting their way around the block.
Then the Resurrection service began, lasting until Sunday at 3:30 a.m.
Then, everyone went downstairs to their baskets. Each basket held a tall cake, baked to represent Christ’s tomb. Each cake was decked with a sweet-smelling lighted beeswax candle. There were five tables of baskets all lined up:
At 3:30 Father blessed the baskets with prayers and holy water; everyone sang their responses. Then each family broke open their gift basket — and fed their treats to everybody else! The basement was full of hospitality and celebration as people passed plates and bites of food hand over hand.
At 4:15, people piled into cars and headed for sunrise vigil at the beach. We arrived when it was pitch dark. Even the ducks were sleeping.
But not for long! The children stood so quietly and with such interest all night long, candles in hand. But they charged down to the beach with happy shouts, and chased each other up and down the shallows for the next hour. Then the sun began to come up.
At that, some people returned to the church to finish cleaning up. Everyone else hurried home to cook all day long — they were all meeting at the church at 4:00 p.m. for Vespers, and then a real feast!
But I went home and just curled up for a nap.
Christ is Risen! Христос воскресе!
5/3: Passion Friday Garden
Orthodox Holy Week, three church services today. Home in between for supper and a quick check on the shared garden…
Warmed to an early micro-spring by the parking garage right below.
4.14: Bolt to the Blue
My neighbor’s beautifully tended bed of winter greens is bolting into white and yellow blooms. Maybe he’s going to collect the seeds for next year. Or, maybe he just like flowers.
4/8: Grape Hyacinths
Nothing to nibble here. Despite the inviting name, look, and fragrance, the entire plant is poisonous.
Same photo technique as always: hunching on the ground in front of the homes of total strangers, pointing camera at the sun. This time for a deep breath of purple in miniature.
3/27: Brave new world of peas
And here they are, some of the 172 pea plants I planted on 2/23 — all thumb sized intrepid cuteness:
Here is some of the best news for the future of civilization.
The grape clusters are earthworm casts. On light-colored poor gritty soil, fresh casts would show up better, as dark-colored tiny spirals like a coiled rattler or a funnel cake. They’re the raw element of topsoil; organic matter eaten and digested and left behind by our worm friends. It’s the best sign of spring, and the best sign that the Earth still has some kick in her. Despite it all.
Hangin’ out. Right behind me a gunmetal-black storm squall rising over the trees was about to pour on their ‘ittle heads.
3/4: Here today, gone tomorrow
On Saturday I gave the kale patch some attention. After the winter season, the eight plants were surprisingly lush and filled out. It was nice to do some digging, pull out all the weeds except the edible ones, pat up nice little mounds of dirt around each plant, and trim off the dead leaves. In the end they looked positively spruce and ready for spring. It was a treat to trim a few leaves and just chew them raw while cleaning the kitchen.
And how lucky that they posed for a picture. Next day the patch was gone, sliced off at ground level and cleared away by somebody. A hungry salad fan??
If this were Thessalonica, Paul would tell me to rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all things, and go plant more kale.
Breath of Spring: Early blossoms under old evergreen.
2/21: Snowdrops on a garden walk.
They made it past the winter, all three kitchen geraniums (gerania?): nutmeg-scented, ginger-scented, and flowering.
2/7: Raining Rock
Last night after class instead of taking two buses with a 20 minute layover in a long loop to my house, I struck out straight across for 27 blocks, and was pleased to arrive home at the same time. It was a dark walk in a hard rain, against the traffic in reflective gear with flashlight.
One steep rock face was streaming with water. But a little crevice was sheltered from the wind and weather. The headlights glittered from the mica, and showed up a soft bank of new hard-washed spring growth.
1/20/13 January Light
A windowful of Paperwhite Narcissus.
1/13/13: Frost Forest
Sunday walk on a bright windless day.
1/12/13: Winter Garden
Frost is quite an occasion around here. Parsley, sage, rosemary; kale; our neighbor’s bed of winter greens; flowering cabbage.
1/2/13: Back to work
Morning, walking to the first workday of the new year.
12/31/12 Still here
Heaven knows I’ve stayed away for months and years at a time.
But on New Year’s Eve it did my heart good to come back for service. Up the path on the left, there’s a light on in the Priory parlor. In a minute, the priests will come outside and up the little walkway beyond this white birch, to step across to church and serve night Mass for the Feast of the Solemnity of Mary.
12/23/12: The Long View
Quiet evening down at the cemetery in a good brisk rain. From their long-range enduring view of the world, the marble Mary and Jesus, Mother Cabrini, and empathic angels presided over holiday lights down at the shopping village.
12/8: In the bleak near-winter
Small things seen (through the wonders of flash technology) while walking out for groceries at almost-7:00 on a dark morning. Those yellow Oregon Grape flowers were shelter for a hummingbird, who came buzzing right out to peer at my glasses and camera phone and then perched overhead, making angry-scissor noises.
plainest but most satisfying was this Dusty Miller in a round planter, looming from the twilight like tender edible silver coins:
12/1: Of all the trees that are in the woods…
the holly bears the crown.
And our nice new neighbor was giving away a whole carload! I carried home a supply for flower arrangements, and for safety’s sake started trimming the sharp tips off each leaf. How long does that take? Quite a while. Here’s a batch in the last ray of sunset.
11/21: Pure as the Driven
White snowberries in a hard driving rain.
11/14: We’re goin’ up the wall
Crawly-vines, fire escapes, rare blue-sky November.
The first frost came last night. Today I cut the pumpkin vine and potato plants into small pieces and buried them, turning over the whole space. That’s because the neighbors stop and look at the patch when they walk by, and I want it to look spruce and cared for even in the winter so they know somebody still cares for it and it still has a future. And lo and behold, under the wilted potato leaves there were two pretty little red potatoes. Just think, my Irish ancestors worked so hard coming to America so that I wouldn’t have to spend time grubbing in cold soil for na pratai to cook for supper! Anyway, I repotted the geranium, parsley, and fennel and brought them inside. (The parsley plant in its little flat was a free gift from the grocery store; they laughed when I tried to pay the dollar for it. “You want it, you take it. It’s already dead.” They should see it now.)
Last week’s sweet dinner guest (you know who you are, Dear!) brought this splendid orchid. A random sunbeam did the rest.
10/22: Hen & Chick Plants.
These hardy little succulents will grow on absolutely anything. All they ask is a chance to keep their feet dry.
Once a year they’ll shoot up extravagant stems and flowers. But for most of the year the hen is just content to have her chicks all gathered together in their nest.
10/11: Chestnut tree
These nuts on the ground looked thin and empty. And I didn’t really forage them — they’re in someone else’s yard. But it’s still the real article! It brings back fond memories of trips to New York City at Thanksgiving long ago; street cart vendors sold handfuls of hot roasted chestnuts imported from Italy for the luxury price of 50 cents.
American chestnuts were once the most populous tree in the Eastern U.S. In 1904 they began dying off from a blight that attacks young trees as they start to grow taller. Fortunately some new resistant hybrids, carefully bred and nurtured, are off to a very painstaking start in the Southeast. Still, a tree like this is a rare sight.
10/4: Leaving in a Blaze of Glory
The mild-mannered tree at the window has turned over an old leaf, or many of them, as a brief bright encore to Fall. That little sunball mid-right is really camera flash against the windowpane. Two views, before & after sunset.
fanfare for the common viewer
Sunrise and sunset come in tropical colors these days, tinted by forest fires as far away as Siberia. Last evening the sky swam in a vague rosy amber; rush hour was a tangle of daytime headlights and a burst of sun kindling the phone lines.
9/25: Mischief in Argent
After a tiring day the bus stop was jammed with people. So I walked the 66 blocks home, taking it one little block at a time as a pilgrimage, humming hymns along the way.
Then in a forested cut through trees in heavy shade, the light played tricks on the eye: where was that little ray coming from?? At close look it was just mischievous graffiti spray-painted on a rock, in oversplash to the ivy down below:
A spider web caught a random ray of sun, setting in the alleyway between two houses, tinted amber by the forest fires halfway across the state.
9/9: White and white.
This flower bed of white roses, white impatiens, and silver Dusty Miller was especially luminous in early twilight under Venus with the new moon. Here it is with one ray of reflected rising sun.
8/31: Treasury of Blessings
Prayers by moonlight on the balcony, as the season falls to Fall: “O Heavenly King, the Comforter… treasury of blessings and giver of life…”
8/12: Texture for Art’s Sake: There has to be a mathematical formula to work out the symmetry of the stuff growing on this one rock. It’s our flash of summer, the time of year when we have the same temperature and rainfall as Rome! Some of our plants just thrive on these sunny warm days.
7/31: Dahlia House
This yard is packed with giant dahlias and sweet corn! Later the owners will set out a colorful beach umbrella, and a table stocked with potted dahlia plants and dahlia bouquets and a little coffee can for dollars.
7/17: Kingdom of Donated Stuff
A moment of appreciation for the donated stuff that has such a welcome home in this room.
Chair rug crocheted by Mom. Chair courtesy of neighbor’s Mom. Dining table and dishes courtesy of other neighbors (they were moving out that night and getting mighty tired of hauling furniture). Thrift shop flowerpot. Dollar doilie. And, the $2 purchase: a bitty bit of chocolate-scented peppermint, now taking over its new pot.
7/5: Kitchen Morning
scented geraniums, chocolate peppermint, Munstead lavender, fennel, stevia. Summertime!
7/4: Full moon night
It was such a beautiful clear balmy 4th of July night. For once it seemed only right to stay up a little late into the dark and sit out on the balcony with the new kale plants — at least until the bootleg fireworks all broke loose. That spark of light from the water bottle was a happy accident. Photography is 90% tricks of light.
Yet another house, built and cared for as somebody’s dream, condemned as not worth fixing up. The porch still holds chairs pulled up together visiting, and other belongings left behind. Meanwhile the lawn has run to yellow flowers. The flowers don’t know better; they’ll thrive in condemned yards just as well, a brief blooming season for a softer view.
A street mural portrait of the people who bring us grain from field to table. Grateful Bread Cafe could have settled for some wall whitewash and a toss of grass seed. But, no. No…
6/4 White Corsage
“…wandering through the still lanes when the fresh-opened blossoms fill them with a sacred silent beauty like that of fretted aisles… a bright spring day.” — George Eliot, Adam Bede, Ch. 7 “The Dairy”
White rose, courtesy of The Green Thumb Boys, makes the world a little sweeter.
Tikkun olam, Fellas!
This community garden shows a lot of work and care. Thoughtfulness blooming unsigned, like an icon:
5.27 In Your Sight as Incense
Saturday Night — off to the fruit stand for shopping! Practicing a new song I sang the whole way. These irises were living the refrain:
Let my prayer arise, in your sight as incense! And let the lifting up of my hands be an evening sacrifice. Here is the real thing, sung by astonishingly versatile Sergey Bezrukov, from a poem by Hieromonk Roman Matiushin. (The play is “Passion of Emel’ian,” an adaptation of Chekhov at the Railroad Workers’ Palace of Culture, 2011.)
5/30: Higher Ocean
“…trees are harps in the winter. Their trunks are the frames, their branches the strings, the harps the musicians. When the air is cold and clear, the world very white, and the harp music swelling, then the talking trees tell the strengthening, uplifting things.”
— Girl of the Limberlost, Gene Stratton-Porter.
All winter the thick tossing evergreens made a grand austere whip-moan in the breeze. But this weekend in a night rain with high wind the sound softened and filled out, as the new leaves of our deciduous trees spread their sails:
By the close of the weekend I had to face up that the new Chocolate-Scented Peppermint, all repotted and pampered, just wasn’t making it — its little sprig leaves had dried and dropped off. But every night since then it’s grown an inch a day, straight toward the window! Here it is tonight, far left in the wide pot, central row:
5/15 Innocent Pleasures
An old friend once reproved me with a Jewish teaching. It states that at the end of time, one question awaits us all. “During your life, how many innocent created pleasures did you allow yourself to enjoy?” Surely one of those pleasures is salvaging glittery costume bling from yard sales and curb trash, and arranging them on the windowsills. Here is morning sunshine on a glass tile, necklaces, scarf pin, and rosary.
5/11 Two Cups of Sun: Friday evening stroll instead of evening snack: a little feast for the eyes, in a neighborhood traffic circle.
5.10 Golden Rain, Golden Chain — I’ll figure out which species. They’re with us once a year & gone. Rapunzels all.
5.6 Potting Day
The plants below look serene and peaceable today. But putting their root-bound little bottoms into fresh spring pots was a handful. First, take water bottles to supermarket for refills of triple-filtered unchlorinated water. Lay out drop-cloth path from door to bathroom to kitchen alcove to balcony over the white wall to wall carpeting. Take bus to nursery center for bigger clay pots. Soak pots so the nursery labels peel off. (Pause to hear and appreciate delightful singing noises made by dry clay pots when they soak up water.) Go search street for more rocks for pot drainage. Bring rocks upstairs for a scrub with Bronner’s Soap and three changes of boiling water. Haul wash water 4 flights downstairs in buckets so it doesn’t get in the plumbing, or leak on my downstairs neighbor’s balcony, or splash on the carpet. Remove and wipe shoes. Remove plants from old clay pots, and soak old pots clean. Soak plants to gently uncomb their furball of root growth. Haul soak water downstairs. Remove and wipe shoes. Manicure roots and leaves. Re-pot everybody in bathroom. Take them to balcony. Clean off feet. Mix fertilizer in triple-filtered water, and give plants a soak and a leaf spraying. Drain plants on newspapers. Clean off feet some more. Clear off plant table and icon shelf, wash windows, clean icons, re-arrange. Wash and dry plant dishes. Bring in plants. Clean up mess on balcony, and in bathroom. Take out garbage. Take wet newspapers out to recycling. Clean and put away shoes. Clean off feet. Wait for photo-opp lighting. Here they are, left to right: 3 scented geraniums (2 nutmeg, one ginger), 1 chocolate-scented peppermint, 2 red geraniums, 2 orchids.
5.4 Beautiful Intentions
At the cemetery, the cut flowers were pounded by the rain. The tall displays on soaked turf couldn’t balance, even raised and braced against the headstones; their packing material soaked up the water and were too heavy to move. But life happens, and cemeteries know that. Some lovely things have every right to make a mess while staying lovely. Like a baby having a great time with his strained peas. Or Mary Magdalene seriously thinking you can clean off myrrh ointment with long hair and tears. The flowers took a beating today, but they’re nature to nature in beautiful intentions.
This view of Jesus seems more accessible because he’s lost a hand. Hit by the storms of life too, like so many of his followers.
A flower for the Sisters. In the nuns’ section, every name marker was covered under teeming water. Each was a clear pool of luminous silver, mirroring the heavens.
This headstone is wrapped in a rich, lush azalea in perfect bloom.
5.1 A rare morning sunbeam, right in the kitchen!
4.27 Before the Rain
Three days ago, a black line of weather squall followed me home.
The rain was already misting in over this potting shed, aged and weathered but still hosting its canopy of cheerful Japanese quince.
It kept misting over this church garden.
And just a moment later, just a few feet farther in the same garden, here was our change in the weather! In that building up ahead, the sudden darkness made the light come on:
4.24 Bigleaf Maple
Back in the day, in our post-war Levittown housing tract, every house had a Norway Maple. For one week every year the flowers carpeted the street in pale green-gold, tracing the edges of puddles and clumping up in the windshield wipers. But in the Northwest the native specialty is Bigleaf Maples, a much larger tree. The flowers hang in strings the size of a banana. Their flavor is a bit sweet at first taste, but follows with a strong green quality like raw broccoli flowers. Gathering or photographing them is tricky, because the trees are so very tall; here’s a zoom shot from a nearby bridge. I didn’t lean any closer — that’s a six-story drop into the ravine!
4.22 Empty: several blocks of family houses and gardens in a quiet historic neighborhood, some marked for demolition for the new commuter rail. Whenever I see traditional houses with extra detail and unique appeal, chances are that they were assembled from the Sears catalogue. According to kit-house expert Rose Thornton, Sears sold these kits and plans between 1908 and 1940 for families of modest means: “Building a kit home (12,000 easy pieces) was considered to be a simple task by the people who lived in the early 20th Century.”
Update: I was wrong about this first house; the friendly neighbors saw me looking, and let me know it was not a kit house, but was built in 1917 along with their houses, by the same contractor. This was someone’s gem once; it has a blooming mock orange tree, a front arched window, a whole wall of picture windows (until they were boarded up this week), and a deep porch with little American flag. Now the arched window is punched out, the house is boarded up, and some nicely crafted wooden child furniture was flung out to the yard with other trash and garbage.
This house has a deep scarlet camellias, white rhododendron, lilac, and flowering fruit trees. All the windows are boarded up, and there seems to be fire damage. I didn’t approach the house; there are people staying inside, and it wouldn’t be right to disturb them. Here are 2 shots, in 2 kinds of lighting:
4.20 Here is Oregon Grape, flourishing next to a comfortable-looking family home. House and plant will be demolished too; for now they can only stand and weave sunlight into color and cheer.
4.5-4.10: High Plains of the Llano Estacado: Plants, and Dwellings
Home again, recovering equilibrium after a dose of dust, sand, and essence of stockyard. It’s all a natural part of life after several years of drought. Here is Grulla Wildlife Sanctuary.
In a normal year, that salt flat would be a lake flocking with sandhill cranes. In any year, it abounds in coyote, antelope, prairie dogs, and diamondback rattlers. Here below is sotol, a native plant used to make a potent liquor hailed as the “national drink of Chihuahua.”
Here is a prairie dog mound. I kept my distance; these mounds host not only the dogs, but other creatures, some of them scary and speedier than I am.
What an awe-inspiring experience, to witness the hunting ground of one of the very last bison herds in America! (The last Comanches were “rounded up [!!] in 1874” and sent to Oklahoma, making the area “safe for cattlemen,” according to Roosevelt County History.) Our Host recounted memorable meteor showers viewed from here, and regaled us with the story of how he very nearly placed his foot on the beautifully camouflaged coil of a diamondback. At Eastertime we stood on that ridge looking at 360 degrees of horizon. There was not a sign of man or any sign of life. It was silent as the moon. The only noise was one small tumbleweed a mile away. We could hear it touch down on the salt lake, then tumble over and over.
Here are more Southwest plants.
This is Filaree, delicate lavender-pink blossoms with feathery fern leaves. According to the tireless Arthur Lee Jacobson and his book Wild Plants of Greater Seattle, Filaree is “common in sandy, gravelly, dry soils where topsoil is scant or absent, the wind blows unimpeded, and the sun beats down….” That about sums it up.
To my chagrin, I can’t determine this one below. It deserves a name too — this plant thrives and blooms in sand where all surrounding plants have given up the ghost. Prickly lettuce? Wall lettuce? Reader I.O. had a more educated guess: “Unfortunately I believe your photo of ‘still growing despite 3 years of drought’ is a toxic invasive plant known as tansy ragwort. We used to pull them up and destroy them in the cow pastures when I was growing up because it would kill the cattle if they ate it. I’m not positive from the photo, but it looks like it to me. I always found it a little ironic that it was so nasty but had pretty yellow daisy-like flowers. Anyway, despite trying to poison me (he he) I love your blog!”
Somebody’s backyard. Assuming this is Yucca.
Ooh, Prickly Pears on the street. Cultivated? Wild?
There were a few cultivated flowers too. These lilies were a nice Easter display at the Spanish-language Dia de Pascua Mass at St. Helen’s.
Someone invested major daily watering effort in these garage irises. Only 2 houses in town had watered pet plants like these. Brought to you courtesy of zoom lens and my obtrusive back-alley-sneaking ways.
But the strongest lingering impression was a place with no flowers at all. The town cemetery has no fence either. No grass. (They do have a family of foxes though.) The headstones are mostly in the older settler sections of the founding families; nowadays most of the graves are marked with a mound of red dirt, and a little plastic tag. On Easter my hosts stopped by for quiet time visiting the various graves of their students. It was heartening to see and appreciate how hard people worked to create something lovely and tasteful for their loved ones. This grave includes dried roses, plastic and cloth flowers, and an artist’s rendition of Jesus at prayer. The shiny balloons and cherub suggest that the family buried their child.
Here too are some dwellings and other architecture.
Under the Public Works Administration, a mural was commissioned for the Administration Building at one campus, ENMU. The day I passed by there, the murals looked lovely in the morning sun. This one decorates the Music Department wall!
My New Mexico host family were kind enough to stop the car and pull over in a massive cloud of dust every time I bounced and hollered “Photo opp! Photo opp!” (Of course, 9 times out of 10 I just ogled out the window with heavy sighs of regret, not wanting to be a perpetual pest. No shots of the veal calf yards, for instance — the security systems might not take kindly to extra attention.) But we did get a shot of a charming feature of gracious living in one yard: a real bread baking oven, outdoors for the summer weather! I would really have enjoyed learning to use an oven like this. Interesting that in the whole area there was not one bakery for fresh bread. Hm…
Here was a private town hospital! Back in the early 1900s, a doctor would enter a town, build himself a hospital, hire nurses, and refer his patients there. In our day it sounds like a quaint system — but today the downtown has no clinic at all. (This doctor was a prominent historic figure. Hearing about him must have made an impression — his apparition appeared in my dreams later to advise me about my health.) The hospital is abandoned now. A passing neighbor remarked that the old patient records are probably still locked inside! Who knows?
My favorite photos were of houses with a story — places built with simple humility, or with thoughtfulness and care for gracious living. Those of us from places with inflated real estate prices might find it hard to believe, but a house and land here can sell for $15,000. And, the area was FULL of deserted dwellings! If not for the tendency of rattlesnakes and pit bulls to hang out in old foundations, I would have ventured closer and spent more time looking around.
This beautiful long rambling farmstead was designed with a greenhouse porch (see the glass panels with the southeast exposure) and well-cultivated large trees — a rather rare sight. The elegant little benches for visiting in the shade completed the picture.
The emotional effect of this large empty house on its generous lot is impossible to convey in any picture.
This house below is not abandoned at all. The owner must be fond of windmills; they say at one time he had 100 of them in the yard! This gives a perfect idea of the WEATHER all week long — half of photography is random accidents of light:
The moon and stars were bright too. Here’s a more traditional Southwest silhouette, probably with a red tile roof.
Here is my favorite scene of all. It’s outside Lingo, NM. This shot didn’t catch it, but the full moon was just rising over that tree:
All week I was wishing for some little bit of realia that I could drop in my pocket and carry home. At the end of the trip right in the middle of a Main Street I found a little horseshoe, completely flaked over with rust (little nail still attached) from some child’s pony. I couldn’t have wished for anything better.
Tuesday 3.27 Stampede at Night
Our break room newspaper says that now one third of Americans over 46 are single; and at that age without spouses or families to care for them, they are getting clocked with extra medical problems and bills and so are “five times more likely to live in poverty than their married counterparts.” (3.10.12 Rachel Swarns, NY Times: “More Baby Boomers are Now Growing Old Alone.”) That left me gaping with my parsnip spoon in midair. It’s clear enough what all the downsides are, to being single when you’re young and the friends are scattering off to get married. But I’d always believed that in the end the wellbeing factor would all even out and the single people would start to catch up. And now look.
To mull that over, after work I had to go walk in the rain. It was enough to make me go buy chocolate at the health food bulk bin. It was 65% cacao, fair trade, free range, but it tasted like road tar and made my hands shake. That is addiction for you once you start leaving it behind. Anyway, once it got dark the rain really set in. Then, this very subtle fragrance stopped me. It was a big herd of daffodils, like pale ghost ponies with circus collars and big ears:
This is only a little slice of them. To get the full effect of the whole slope I’d have to lie on the ground and point the camera flash into somebody’s bedroom. Still, sitting on a rock in the rain with this nodding tiny stampede I thought about Gavrilia Papayanni, who wandered all over the world without a penny taking care of poor people until she was 95, and said “Nothing is cheaper than money.” Is life really about doing well? Or is it about leaving something pretty for the rest of the 33%?
Sunday 3.25: Kale Finale
The flowering kale stood compact and sturdy all winter. Now with a sunny day or two it’s shot up and gone to flower & seed, while the usual spring flowers take over. Hm, can we eat this kind?
Sunday 3.18: Swamp
This morning the idea woke me up that it was time to go look for skunk cabbage. (And no, don’t eat this “cabbage”! The website webmd.com actually says it’s good for what ails you, but have they tried it? Our local tree expert says it’s sky-high in uric acid, the chemical that makes gout so painful, and eating it has caused his friends “transcendent pain” throughout the digestive tract.) Anyway, for viewing only, I was hoping there would be some just curving out of the ground, like big maroon parrot beaks. But nature had the head start: they’re in bloom already. Here is one from right beside the path. It would be nice to show you the whole yellow field of them as they stood in the black mire. But one more step, and the cell phone and I would be mired ourselves.
Steps Into Spring
Sunday 3/11 was especially dark and rainful. But it still seemed a sure thing, that with a little patience there’d be something nice to look at within a short walk from home. Sure enough, even in pale wan light under the drizzle, there were two.
Then not two days later we had a sullen yellow dusk and out of nowhere a big shower of snow, great handfuls of it coming down like chowder. So I hurried into layers of bunting and went to post a letter, and to think about Maxfield Parrish. That day I’d confided to someone that Maxfield Parrish is my favorite painter, his plain landscapes that is, not the harlequins or Arabian princes so much but the oak trees and watermills. And my someone tried with a lot of patience and kindness and skill to explain to me that it is not possible to have a favorite painter who is Maxfield Parrish, because he is not a painter or an artist but just a commercial designer who did calendars and ads for Jello. Other people have tried to explain this same thing before. So walking in the snow I felt puzzled about it, because if you like to look at someone’s paintings, doesn’t that mean he is a painter that you like? And he has this way with sunset especially, that enamel looking azure over gold like nobody else. So still feeling puzzled I went in to the post office out of the snow. Then in the time it took to flip open the after-hours mail slot and turn around, all the west was already cleared to a shine with a high wind, to one starlet and half a sky of azure over gold. So that felt like answer enough, and I took out my rosary and started on the Sorrowful Mysteries heading home.
Steps out of Winter
A late snowshower moves uphill to the lights of someone’s suppertime, but already we have daylight after work.
Walking on the Greenway
Sunday was overcast, chill with a steady breeze. It was a free day for a three-hour walk on the bicycle trail, to view the view and hopefully meet other nature walkers. So I made a pot of lentil soup to have dinner waiting, then packed lettuce and almonds and a brown-rice tortilla and the bowed psaltery, and set out.
The season was not quite verging into spring. The brightest colors were subtle hues in the bark of different trees:
As the sun began to arc down, the day turned much colder and the road a lot harder on the feet. Fortunately I hit on a good prayer for company to finish out the walk. Then home, to a hot Epsom-salts foot soak and Sunday pot of lentil soup and early bedtime.
In the Bleak Midwinter
Midwinter is the time to look out for witch hazel.
Witch hazel shows up in fine print on labels of cologne and aftershave, but it’s also a tree. And every year it fools me. I catch sight of something shrubby that looks like the first forsythia. But when I run over to check, it’s a tree covered with yellow flowers, each with a red heart and long fine curling petals. Best of all, on a still day they have a sweet fragrance. It’s not a flowery perfume, but a plain clean sweet smell, like an old pharmacy with glass vats of colored water in the window.
Witch hazel blooms in whatever sleet and snow comes along. But just as the days get longer and the song sparrows start in and the sunshine feels warm, just when the first forsythia opens up, it’s gone. It only stays in bleak times.