Last fall I decided it was time to start dressing up the half-circle of grassy undergrowth that fronts the road between the two entrances to our driveway. Siberian squills seemed like a perfect choice because they naturalize so effortlessly. They also bloom before the trees are in full leaf. I really wanted a sumptious carpet that left no doubt about Spring's arrival so I ordered four hundred bulbs. Once they arrived and I took stock of both the bulbs and the place I intended to plant them it was what was I thinking time. Rototilling around various tree roots and a very large rock yielded space to plant about 325 bulbs. Any number of things in the course of daily life interfered with my plan to plant the rest, in individually dug pockets, down by the main road.
Fortunately another one of my unachieved intentions involved repotting several houseplants. At that point I'd only gotten as far as securing some clay pots and saucers. I wound up using them to plant the squill bulbs even though they weren't on any of my gardening books' ideal for forcing lists. Nonetheless I am the kind of gardener who generally operates under the notion that There's No Harm In Trying. The bulbs got situated in the pots right before our first bout of arctic chill.
As luck would have it the former owners of this house left behind an old refrigerator. It doesn't take up too much room in the garage so I lobbied to keep it on hand. At the time I envisioned using the refrigerator to prepare and store home-made gelatin plates for paper and fabric printing. It was only later that I realized this would be a perfect spot for chilling potted bulbs. So: Game On.
Once I'd ordered the squills, and was waiting for them to arrive, I went through my favorite bulb supplier's catalog with a very greedy and totally unrealistic eye towards puchasing some of this and this and this. And who knows. I'm sure it's likely I'll eventually get around to growing at least some of the things that caught my eye. It's equally likely that I'll get around to making a few gelatin plates. Meanwhile I've had the perfect cold nursery for eight pots worth of squills. Every week or so I've checked to see if they needed water. By and large they stayed perfectly moist. Two weeks ago I started bringing the pots into the house. Right now most of them are just on the brink of peak bloom.
The squills currently command all available space in a sunny corner of our living room. Two of the nicest clay pots will be going to my friend Ann's house as part of her birthday gift. The rest will hang around making me happy every time I enter the room. Other people are also gladdened by the sight so I'm calling this one of my most successful inadvertent projects.
Did you know: Clear bright blue is an important component of a gardener's design palette. Years ago I learned, via a very interesting book called Color Echoes, that this particular type of blue makes the strongest and longest impact on our mind's eye. Perhaps it's worth mentioning that, if you follow that link, you'll find several copies of the book on offer for a mere penny. Of course you have to factor in shipping and handling as well; look for the volume in your local library system to see if you'd like to keep it on hand for your own planning and dreaming.
P.S. Just to conjour a brief memory of warmer weather - here's my favorite blue darling: Italian Alkanet. The plant's not very fussy but the stems get long so a bit of staking is advised. She flowers and self-seeds abundantly without becoming overwhelming. The thick fuzzy leaves add variety and interest to one's overall growing space. Goldfinches love the seeds. And I can't think of anything more pleasant on a sunny June morning that quietly watching brilliant flashes of yellow feathers moving among the blue petals. Finches sing so joyously when they've found a desired food source. Yes. Such moments of shared co-creative pleasure are well worth waiting for. Especially with so many happy blue booms brightening up the chillier and largely gray/white moment at hand.
In honor of today's much maligned (but my own personal favorite) holiday, I thought this poem would be a good choice. Especially since it focuses on something else which seems to rouse any number of knee-jerking viciously opinionated Beasts Within - the color pink. The former aversion has always struck me as rather sad. The latter is, frankly, so hilarious to me that I never bother to analyze why on either end of the spectrum. In any event this poem is from the book Longing Distance by the dazzlingly talented and much-missed Sarah Hannah.
The Colors Are Off This Season
I don't want any more of this mumble—
Orange fireside hues,
Fading sun, autumnal tumble,
I want Pink, unthinking, true.
Foam pink, cream and coddle,
Miniskirt, Lolita, pompom, tutu,
Milkshake. Pink without the mottle
Or the dying fall. Pink adored, a thrall
So pale it's practically white.
A tinted room beneath a gable—
Ice pink, powder, feather-light—
Untried corner of the treble.
I want the lift, not the lower.
Bloodless pink stalled at girl,
No weight, no care, no hour.
So. It's still winter and we're once again anticipating significant snowfall. For the last month or so I've been going to physical therapy twice a week to undo a plethora of mucle and bone kinks that resulted from a truly out-of-left-field injury last November. This means I've been able to observe a larger frame of the local landscape on an ongoing basis. Last Thursday I stopped on my way home; parking at a partially plowed snowbank in order to take the pictures in this post and a few dozen more that I'm using as visual reference points for a writing project.
For the past four years this marsh has become a place I see any time I'm going somewhere on a north-south axis. It would be a great spot to walk around and think, or bird-watch, or take a thorough plant geek inventory. But it's posted No Trespassing and I pay attention to that kind of thing. I stood on the road side of the snow bank and used my camera quickly. But I wasn't so fast that I missed noticing the small but definite swell of buds on some of the tree branches.
A few days later my husband drove me to the hospital for blood labs. I asked him to take a different road so we could see if a particular (very lovely and ever so nicely framed on both sides by an extra-attractive red barn) witch hazel tree had begun to bloom. It had not. But we did notice a nearby willow tree's bright yellow-green haze. Then this morning I was doing some standing yoga with my eyes focused on the trees outside my bedroom window. They looked different than they did a week ago. Yes. I could see and feel that their sap has begun to rise. When I went out to get the mail the background sensation of their regenerated life force was not so much in the background. It happens that I'd received a package I've been eagerly anticipating but, in that moment, I was a lot more interested in the trees' first few measures of resurrection.
I've been spending this winter season re-connecting with the poetry I love most. My favorite poet is Loren Eiseley. My favorite book of his work is All the Night Wings. The poem I'm sharing is in that book. It's my favorite poem, ever. And for always.
If you should go, soft-footed and alert,
Down the long slope of shale
Into a tumbled land of scarp and butte
Beyond the pale
Of the herding men, where water is under stone,
You would be in coyote country. It is the place
Where tumbleweed is blown
Four ways at once, and your neighbors are not seen
Except in loping shapes
of tangible dust.
Once, if you're lucky, something may pause and lift
One paw and two grey ears
In a moment's trust
That is gone like wind.
This is the road. Go down
Over the harsh way. If you dare, go down
Into the waste, where lonely and apart
The road runs north. Somewhere here is my heart,
If anywhere. I spy
Nothing at all - and you in turn may try
The thistle and subtle stones,
Or you may go
Southward tonight - be certain you will not know
More of me than is found
In two poised ears
Or feet gone without sound.
As I prepare for the new lunar cycle beginning tomorrow, I've been reflecting on a group of pictures I took during the last full moon. The image above captures a detail from one of the first trees that beckoned to me while I was coming to terms with being a property owner. This is a concept that's always been fairly repellant to me. The idea of land stewardship also causes me to recoil because both commonly employed definitions of human-earth relationship imply an inherent power-over that I have consistently perceived as both literally false and psychically blasphemous.
It seems somewhat odd to be mentioning this now because, over time, I have learned how to believe and feel what I do believe and feel without needing to run my mouth about it. This, to me, is a hallmark of upgraded personal development and, thus, personality maturation. So I was glad when I began to reach that point. Finally.
I perceive that shift as something I came to embody in part because of what I had been learning from trees. They very rarely speak unless spoken to and then they refrain from editorializing. On the previously unexplored other hand of shifting daily experience I was not at all sure what to do within the freedom silence brings. I assumed that eventually I'd start writing about some of what went into birthing this specific kind of liberation. I now find myself at that point; it's time for me to describe more details about my quest to understand where I belonged within a new landscape because this is a process that's currently shared by many people whether or not it relates to a sudden shift such as moving to a new place in the literal sense. For many individuals the undeniable but perhaps unexamined shift to "a new place" is more abstract and figurative in nature. And, in a lot of ways, that's often more unsettling and harder to reconcile than situational changes that hold a concrete form and structure.
Where I fit within humanity's molting and mutating form and structure, and how/what to write about my experiences, was something I have fretted about with a few close friends and within innumerable journal pages. Periodically I worried over it the way many people I know would fixate on whether or not to cut their hair, where to move a particular piece of furniture or whether to replaint a room or their new home's exterior and, if so, what color to choose.
Needless to say the type of garden variety human getting-nowhere-fast obsessiveness I'm describing proved crazy-making as well as unproductive. The tree above first beckoned to me when I went through the first (r)evolution of choosing to shut out/off my chattering brain so that I might begin to understand more intuitively where I fit. From there I believed it would grow clearer to me how I could most authentically and usefully perceive my place in the new landscape. To that end I settled my open palms on the tree bark at either side of the little doorway pictured above. I leaned my forehead very gently against the edges of the hollow space in front of the doorway; acknowledging that visual portal without attempting to psychically barge through it. Yesterday I read an old journal that refreshed my memory concerning how I addressed the tree. I told it with utmost sincerity: I have no intention of kicking ass and taking names. I need your intelligence a lot more than you'll ever need mine.
There was a beat of utter silence and then I felt the tree's good humor radiate much like a human's richly amplified belly laugh. This was a powerful enough experience that I remembered that part of the moment even before I read about it in the journal yesterday. I also remembered the care and tenderness with which I placed a thin bed of cornmeal and tobacco into a different shelf-like opening in the tree's trunk. Atop this standard offering mixture I placed an amethyst crystal point and a tiny fragment of elestial quartz on top of the cornmeal. This is for you. So that you might help me learn what love and working together means around this place. I carefully slid my palms back up the trunk until they were once again resting on either side of the little doorway-looking portion of the tree.
We'll take this slowly. That's what I felt the tree telling me and that's what being here to date has proved to be all about on all kinds of levels: taking things slowly. At this point, moving closer to four years of living here, I am continuing to learn where and how I fit. I'm also learning how to release attachments concerning what else does or does not belong here. From time to time I've peeped into the tree hollow where I left the two crystals; watching them sink slowly but surely into the deeper unseen levels of the tree trunk. Sometimes I've stuck a tentative finger into the hollow in order to feel the top edges of the crystals. During this past full moon's inspection tour I noticed they have finally faded from touch as well as view.
The white pine above is another tree that began vibing an interest in our arrival very soon into things. Nearly everyone who visits gravitates to this particular tree whether or not they are That Kind of Person. It's not very old so we have concluded it was not part of any deliberate landscaping efforts. The original landscape plantings were quite carefully arranged by someone who clearly knew what they were doing. This strongly intentional human-land interaction bookended a six and half year period in which the property was generally ignored and untended. The lawn and field were mowed and foundation plantings were dutifully hacked into the sizes and shapes that many people consider mandatory. But beyond that the existing plants and trees followed their own groove.
This reality has been very vexing in some aspects, such as the dauntingly overgrown perennial bed which I still haven't set right. And the massive amounts of pachysandra which have consumed so much turf I have reached the conclusion I no longer have the luxury of choice where it's concerned. I'm going to have to start pulling it up in large quantities. And it definitely does need to be manually pulled because, when in our second spring here we attempted to rototill it out of a small portion of the aforementioned perennial bed, this only succeeded in tripling the root system's hold on the space.
Little evergreens, however, are not viewed as unwanted interlopers. The sloping ground at the back of the field contains a wealth of very young white pines. The larger WP and tiny fir tree pictured above are growing adjacent to the driveway in terraced ground that flanks the basketball backboard. In addition to about a dozen evergreens there are a couple of Japanese dogweed saplings that I would like to relocate to the perennial garden. It was during my most recent full moon walk that I realized my perception of the backboard bed as a problem area has shape-shifted into the realization that it was a flourishing mini-nursery for trees that do well here.
Given what we've seen of tree destruction during the hurricanes, a tornado, and a couple of earthquakes, we perceive these volunteer offspring as the next generation of shade-makers. The originial landscaping of the perennial bed included a Japanese dogwood. It's now been in the ground since 1976 or thereabouts. Since our arrival it's never flowered very much. And, beyond that clue, the branch structure has been ailing quite noticeably for the past two years. I'm not sure if our continued judicious pruning will be enough to revitalize its life force. It may, bit by bit, be removed from its former spot of glory. So I'd like a few of its offspring to be introduced into other portions of the bed.
My beloved kitty girl has consistently displayed a much more direct process of new-place integration. After a week of nervous uncertainty she explored just enough to discover the prolific small rodent population. From there she developed a keen sense of turf seemingly overnight. How she came to further grasp the specific size and breadth of the property has been something of a mystery to we humans. She just got it a week and a half or so into things.
While we were hammering out the purchase agreement for this place I knew both realtors and the seller were bemused by my insistence that the "old" couch over the garage be included in the deal. But I also knew it was a very solidly made and entirely serviceable seating option and that it would be a very long time before I'd be able to afford something comparable to take its place. This is what my room-of-my-own looked like with nothing in it but the couch. I'll spare everyone images of what the same space looks like in the present tense.
At first everybody but me was referring to this space as my studio. I couldn't say that word with a straight face. And I didn't want to become somebody who could say it, let alone somebody who woke up one day with the realization that I considered the word a critical part of my identity. At the old place I had a room that was basically mine although my husband had a desk in the corner near the door to the living room and everyone who visited had to walk through the space in order to get anywhere else in the house. I referred to it as my workroom. That word didn't travel well especially at first; mainly because I did very little work and a whole lot of gawking out the windows.
For blogging purposes I started calling it the study-oh but after a time that felt really mannered and self-conscious and just the sort of twee re-naming that causes me to wince when I'm reading other blogs. Just say it plain. That's one of the first and most valuable things I learned about writing and verbal communication. And every time I've ignored the guideline I've sooner or later regretted it. Hence, in the walking-around world, I've always called my personal space the room over the garage. And while it's mine in theory, it also doubles as a guest room upon occasion. It's also the place where my son loves to spend quality time alone together. In fact, he refers to the times we spend up there with him talking a gazillion words a minute and me listening while I putter around with my paper projects and fabric scraps as you mothering me.
Nothing could make me happier or more convinced I'm doing allright at nurturing and nourishing a full grown man than to have him feel a special attachment to the space where I go to get away from everything else in order to dream and create (and gawk out the windows) undeterred. A long time ago I unplugged the phone that lives up there. I never go anywhere near the internet. I listen to the same seven or eight cds without growing tired of them. I listen far more to human-driven silence and the wealth of ambient noise. A few times a month my husband or I will declare it date night and then we'll go up there to draw together. Or he surfs on his laptop while I fiddle around with paper projects and we listen to a cd or three of his choice.
An old steamer trunk that originally belonged to my great grandmother sits beside the couch under the windows. The stick and the bark on top of the trunk are recent gifts from the fallen friends. There's also a clay saucer full of special stones and shells and so forth. Sometimes I light incense. Other times the buddha incense holder just sits there and holds his own counsel as buddhas are wont to do.
My son spent last weekend sleeping over and lounging around on the couch pointedly saying how much he loves this particular space. I just as pointedly ignored the implication. I know he covets the room over the garage although he likes his designated bedroom in the house. And he knows he's always welcome to spend as much time as he likes in my room over the garage. During the winter, when I turn the heat down and shut off the water, and during the dog days of summer when it's suffocatingly hot in this space, I spend my creative and professional writing time in the dining room. Going up to the room over the garage becomes a special treat that generally involves my son. My husband periodically mentions how we should go up there but it's a lot more cozy to stay in the living room with the fireplace. We sometimes discuss installing a pellet or wood stove where the "old" couch currently lives. We can't decide which. And more to the point we also agree that getting one or the other for some other part of the main house (we can't yet decide which kind of stove or which part of the house...) is far more important.
While my son was visiting it snowed almost constantly. This didn't result in very much precipitation but it did provide a nice background as we sat on the couch conversing. I got caught up on the doings and locations of all his important friends, going back to junior high school. I'm really happy for him that he keeps up with the most significant people in his life because I do too and have found it an immeasurably powerful experience as the years roll by.
When he first arrived it was after dark on Friday. We went, almost immediately, up to the couch. He promptly relieved himself of his phone, wallet, and car keys; arranging them carefully on the antique trunk. I found myself occasionally distracted by how carefully they were arranged. The tableau would have made a killer image for one of those don't say much, be as cryptic as possible with what you do say type of blog posts. All I'd have to add to the image is: a special guest.
I thought things like: Too bad it's too dark for a good look at the arrangement. Too bad I'd have to interrupt the flow to go fetch my camera. And then inevitably: too bad I personally have a pretty low tolerance for those kind of blog posts and wouldn't feel at all authentic or honest if I started caving in to the seemingly endless wave of micro-expression. And then finally, while my son was tippy-tapping out text messages with the friend he was planning to visit the next day: god I love this couch. I'm so glad I built this room around it.
It's very quiet outside. Today I saw a hawk with feathers so puffed-up against the cold that at first I thought I was looking at an owl. Am spending a lot of time obsessing over my seed and garden catalogs - trying to decide which variety of garlic and shallot sets to purchase. Also trying to decide if I want to grow some fingerling potatoes. And which cucumbers, etc.
Saturday I posted over here about the trees that were cut down on New Years Eve. My original intention to visit the stumps with a few land healing essences was postponed by a day. As I approached the first stump I noticed there was a partially concealed portion of the trunk, from quite near the tree's top when it was standing, that was small enough for me to carry it away from the road. I also found a very small fragment of a branch stub that the tree's spirit seemed to be offering as a keepsake for my Special Stick collection. Once these pieces were secured I went back to gather a few pieces of bark from the second tree. I'm not sure why I didn't think of that when I originally confirmed that all the cut sections were much too heavy for me to move.
I learned alot from the act of acknowledging the stumps. Most importantly I realized the two trees' presence would be a part of the landscape as long as their roots remained in the ground. I also realized I could gain greater insight about them by studying and drawing the inner mappings of the trunk sections. Plus my son is planning to visit this coming weekend. I'm hoping he and his father can get a couple of sections moved inside the stone walls of the field. That's all I ask for now; the wood can be sliced into stepping stones as time allows at a later point.
Even if this doesn't happen I'll have the tree top which I hope to carve in some way and incorporate as a decorative tribute within the main field garden bed. In the image above I've circled the area of the tree that matches the piece I retrieved after the ceremonial healing gesture. Carrying this gift back to the house was unexpectedly moving. In order to transport it in the least physically taxing way I was cradling it in both arms held close to my chest. The wood had a strong and vital energy rather than feeling like an inert object well removed from its original life force. Even though the tree has appeared quite dead ever since we moved here I felt the slow full vibrations of wood language thrumming through my coat straight into my heart. Life speaking to life is what I felt, without a doubt. In fact the only other time I have absorbed such a strong presence of a tree's spirit energy was with a very large and very much alive tree. But that's a story for another post...
Today's book-look features a volume I've loved ever since I first held it in my hands and did a quick flip-through at the local apothecary. Herbal Rituals by Judith Berger is extremely readable. The text is both practical and spiritually nourishing. It also has that enviable quality of evolving right along with any given reader's level of expertise. That means it isn't the sort of time-money investment that you're likely to outgrow. Instead it's far more likely that you'll grow into it and it will grow beside you.*
As both writer and reader, I greatly admire Berger's ability to construct and maintain a both-and continuum where practicality and spirituality are concerned. I'm also consistently grateful that the unabashedly poetic and evocative nature of the writing style stays true to a very obvious emotional/visionary core without veering into the problematic (and, for me personally, highly distracting and massively irritating) arena of purple prose.
Chapters are titled by calendar month and a keyword or three which describe qualities that align well with both the relevant cycle of natural world and corresponding human driven awareness. Berger deftly weaves thoroughly engrossing stories about each month's highlighted herbs and how they may be used to enhance and heal various aspects of typical daily life. She also includes quite compelling stories from her personal experiences, both past and present, which consistently emphasize the powerful possibility of living close to natural earth rhythms irrespective of our geographic location.
That last bit is particularly important to me. It's something I'm very passionate about sharing with others because the earth-human disconnect need not exist at any given individual level. Not unless we lack sufficient willingness, imagination and committment to feeling the earth's pulse irrespective of whether we're standing on concrete or the forest's floor. This particular aspect of ongoing reality is so clear to me that I am greatly nourished, encouraged and inspired by the tender way Berger writes about the wild nooks and crannies of her adult home in Manhattan and her childhood Brooklyn neighborhood just as fluently as she writes about her bucolic early adulthood experiences in upstate New York.
Herbal Rituals is quite user friendly for both seasoned and beginning herbalists. Berger focuses on one or two herbs per chapter. She writes indepth profiles of the plants which include detailed instructions for how to incorporate them in the ebb and flow of our daily lives. The herbs she includes are very common throughout North America and many other parts of the world. I have read this book straight through a number of times, as if it were a novel, ear-marking recipes I want to try** along the way. Last fall I started setting aside a bit of quiet time during the first week of each month to read just that month's offering. I give myself time to pause in reflection of my own experiences. Sometimes I make notes and other times I simply ride the wave of both memory and mindful inter-relationship.
Earlier this week I curled up with my cat and a favorite quilt to read the January chater. The qualities Berger focuses upon for this month are Resting, Being, and Listening. I especially enjoyed her remarks on walking silently in the falling snow; linking arms to maintain connection with a walking partner rather than relying on chatter. I find her perception of snow as a sentient being with its own wishes and abilities for making healing contributions to a larger Whole to be absolutely fascinating.
The herbs highlighted in this chapter are Garden Sage and Thyme. Over the years I have tried all the recipes for both herbs which pleasurable and effective results. This particular read-through has inspired me to make some special trips to the field gardens in order to visit the thyme patch and two adolescent sage bushes. Yesterday I visited these friends during the hushed symphony of snowfall. Today I knelt down deep into the rain and asked for both plants' medicine spirits to visit my dreams. This evening I plan to spend some quality time sketching some of my impressions of the plants' response to my request.
*Nowadays this book, published in 1998, is harder to find in a store on or offline. It may be off the charts pricey through a used bookseller. So I suggest keeping it on your watch-list until you find it for a reasonable price. Meanwhile, see if you can find it at your local library or through inter-library loan. Amazon no longer carries the book but you can use their Look Inside feature to view a small writing sample. The excerpt is not what I would have chosen to best showcase the book's inclusive nature but it's a fair representation of basic writing style.
** Berger's recipes are extremely clear and thorough. The first remedy I made was a soft violet-flower salve which is a very nourishing and gentle ally for breast self-examinations. My favorite to date is a lavender-sandalwood cream that's my go-to "comfort food" for relief from headaches. And my Type-A son loves having me give him full head massages with just a hint of the cream applied to my fingertips. The most recent recipe I've prepared is an infused evergreen oil that's still brewing in my herbal cupboard.
Growing amaryllis bulbs (staggered to bloom in succession so there's always something pretty to look forward to during gardening's lean season) is one of my favorite winter rituals. This one was planted with hopes it would bloom for new year's day or soon thereafter. It's an Appleblossom and it had three puffed-up pod shaped buds on new years eve. The largest bud bloomed full yesterday and a fourth bud started to swell quite dramatically.
This is what the first bloom looked liked on New Year's morning. Amaryllis flower stalks usually produce four or five flowers. This stalk has four buds. The bulb has produced a second flower stalk that's growing very quickly. Below is an image of the second bud to open on the first stalk. These flowers are pretty much the first thing I see in the morning.
When it's sunny I also see a variety of rainbow lights cast from a prism Jim gave me on our first wedding anniversary. I tell time by the shape and position of the rainbows. It's a fairly accurate system and far more pleasant than staring at the digital clock that lives on the other side of the room so I won't stare at it during the wee hours when I'm having trouble sleeping. Mercifully enough insomnia is not a problem right now. I've been slumbering deeply in an ocean of detailed dreams.