Unexpected

To my beloved husband with great love and affection on our eighteenth anniversary: you continue to surprise me, all of these years after your initial unexpected appearance as the love of my life!

Digital illustration from a photo: The Base of the WallSnowing Amethysts

At evening, summertime holds breathless sway

When even crickets wait before they’ll sing,

And birds to roost go silent; everything

Takes pause because the lengthy heat of day

Has drawn a shawl of stillness down to lawn

And flowerbed and hedges, ’til a breath—

So shallow it could scarcely ward off death—

Is difficult to breathe ’til the break’s gone,

Until the night resumes its stealthy crawl,

Exhaling with a stirring wind that flies

Up, stirring blossoms upward to the skies,

Their petals dropping, ash-like, down the wall,

Crape-myrtle petals drifting down below

In waves of amethyst, a summer snow.Digital illustration from a photo: Amethyst Snow

What’s Wrong with this Picture?

photoThe answer, if you haven’t already guessed it, is Nothing at All.

Except, that is the problem.

I saw pictures in this week’s newspapers of international leaders meeting in the Tuileries to discuss whether it would be a good idea to attack Syria in response to the country’s use of chemical weapons on its own citizens. The Tuileries, if you don’t already know it, are exquisite, bucolic, gorgeous, peaceful gardens in the City of Light, Paris. A park full of such prettiness and solace as you’d find in any fortunate, war-free spot in the privileged world. Where it wouldn’t seem out of place to have a gathering of polite, well dressed, well-fed people speaking in confident tones of insight and wisdom and deciding what would likely appear to be, if you were out of earshot, where to go for dinner and a nice glass of wine after the opera.photoExcept that this opera happens to be a particularly brutal one, from the chillingly despotic callousness of a leader and his henchmen willing to murder their own countrymen en masse to the remote offices, boardrooms, streets and parks where a multitude of other leaders and citizens of other countries debate whether to kill some more humans in order to redirect the battle. What’s wrong with this picture, from my view, is the frightening sense that unless all of those who think it their business to intervene in such a disastrous situation are willing and able to have these theoretical discussions in, say what was a pretty, bucolic park in Syria and now exists instead in the heart of its darkest hours and gravest danger, they will never likely have a realistic sense of the probable consequences, good or bad, of any choice for the people ‘on the ground’, their fellow humans, and of course, ultimately for themselves.

Until we Americans have something of this literal kind of skin in the game, as it were, I can’t imagine how we can expect to do any right thing in such a situation, and I sense that this same problem might well apply to many other relatively safe, privileged nations and their leaders and citizenry. I would hope that reason and logic and wisdom will prevail no matter what is decided, or how, or by whom. But more than that, I hope that the tide worldwide will turn toward resolutions of all troubles and trials through some more honest, unselfish, patient and wholesome means that leaves all parties with at least the possibility of sitting at peace in any quiet and lovely place, eventually.photo

Way Out Back

The ever-marvelous Celi, she of the sustainably-farmed wonders at The Kitchens Garden, challenged all of us to share what we see from our back porch, patio, stoop, door, window or patch of land, and the images pouring in have been a delight. Each so different, each from some other far-flung locale around the globe–but each seen from the home turf of a person joined together in this fantastic community of blogging and readership that makes the otherwise disparate styles and locations seem we are all next door neighbors. What a superb thing, to shrink the world down to a size that can easily fit into a single embrace!photoSo I give you a glimpse of what I see behind my home, too. Our house is situated on a city lot (about the typical suburban US standard of 50 x 100 feet), but it feels both less like a suburban place and much bigger because it backs on an easement, a small ravine for rain run-off and city/county service access. The ravine’s seldom wet (this is, after all, Texas) or used for services, so it’s mainly a tree-filled wild spot and a refuge for local birds, flora, insects, and an assortment of critters that have at various times included not only squirrels and raccoons but also rabbits, opossums, armadillos, deer, foxes, coyotes and bobcats. There have certainly been, along with the delightful bluejays and cardinals and wrens and chickadees, doves, grackles, hummingbirds and killdeers and all of those sorts of small-to mid-sized birds, plenty of hawks and vultures and, I suspect (since I know others not so far from here who have had visits from them) wild turkeys, though I’ve not seen the latter.photoWhat I have seen recently that is infrequent if not rare, is some very welcome rain pouring down on us here, so I’m showing you slightly uncommon backyard views today. The second picture is taken from our raised patio, but the first is the view as I most commonly see it: through the kitchen window, where I can stand safely out of the lightning’s reach (as on the day shown) and more comfortably in air-conditioned splendor than in the 90-105ºF (32-40ºC) we experience so often here. Believe me when I tell you that the intense green of this scene as shown is rather unusual for this time of year, when we would more often have much more brown and bedraggled plants all around us. But we also have the luxury of a sprinkler system, so if the ravine begins to droop in dry hot weather, we’re generally protected from terrible fire danger and can still be an inviting spot for the local wildlife to take its ease. To that end, and because I generally prefer the beauties of the more native and wild kinds of landscapes to the glories of the manicured, I have my new wildflower swath in place and it’s just beginning to show a variety of the flowers and grasses I’ve planted there; seen to the left of the grey gravel path in the second picture, it stretches from the patio all the way back to the ravine.

The Green Man is on the Move

digital artwork from a drawingThough he may well have sprung from the roots of ancient earthbound deities, the Green Man remains alive and well and, at this season, inhabits garden and woodland alike, filling sun and shadow with his mischievous magicks. And this presence is a very welcome thing indeed. Few things can compare with the appearance of those tender sprouts, however miniscule and vulnerable, that bring new signs of life to the winter’s loamy floor, unfurl their banners on the tiniest twig of the smallest shrub. The mere sight of one small tip of leaf can bring an upsurge of life to the dormant veins of even a hardened person who’s waited through the dark and chill for newness to arrive.

Did the long freeze of January kill that little sapling that I found? No, here’s the faint, alluring swelling of a bud, the blushing edge of a leaflet, soon to open wide in exuberant yellow-green shouts of Spring. Has the ice of the short days and long, long nights wholly buried and killed my favorite herb, both branch and root? No, I see a hairline stripe of promising verdure in the bony bark of its woody little stem. Life is a bold, determined act, and with its brazen call brings out the denizens of Earth, first the bud and then the bloom, one small broken seed shooting out a multitude of growing things at the conjuring wave of the Green Man’s hand. Like him, I cannot help but grin when the world begins again to wake in leafy laughter.

A Visitation from Gotcha and You-Know-Who

Ha! Just when the 100°F+  (38°C) weather has dragged on long enough for me to start whining about the lack of lively things happening in my garden and haul out the photo albums of earlier spring and summer shots to moon and maunder over, This. We came driving down to the end of our driveway last night after a concert and I saw something shining in the farthest reaches of our headlights. Then a twitch of movement. Saw a flash of pinkish color in the dim illumination.

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Halt! Who goes there?

After three years of living in Texas and only one sighting of an armadillo other than the variety occasionally spotted in a sort of worn-area-rug likeness on desolate stretches of highway, there in my own backyard were a pair of waddling ‘dillos searching the perimeter of the house for tasty bugs and grubs. I’ve known, of course, that living on a property that shares its back border with a little greenbelt ravine, we have all sorts of creatures–possums, raccoons, birds, insects, squirrels, wild rabbits, and the assortment of neighborhood cats and dogs that keep an eye on them all–there were likely armadillos too. I’ve heard from various locals of such residents as wild turkeys and coyotes, as well, and heard from a bobcat itself that it at least formerly inhabited our little slice of the semi-wildness. But other than the one unfortunate flat armadillo that I once found run over on a neighboring street, I’d not seen any hard evidence of their inhabiting this spot.

So it was a delight to see these funny, eccentric looking and shy nocturnal visitors not only in the neighborhood but in our own yard. They were remarkably unmoved by us, even when my chauffeuring spouse stopped the car, rolled up the automatic garage door and let me clamber out with my little camera to try to catch a glimpse of them to keep. They were already rounding the corner of the house almost immediately after we spotted them, so I crept indoors and out the front door. Our porch lights are meant only to light the porch, so there was no real way to see the critters in that dark, but as soon as I stepped out into the black I could hear bits of rustling off to my right. Yes, they’d come out to investigate the front flowerbeds and rummage in the buffet at the foot of the oak trees.

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You don’t scare us, we’re just deeply disinterested in your measly (and inedible) humanity when there’s an all-you-can-eat bug fest here.

Lacking any fabulous infrared spy camera or night vision goggles for the occasion, I simply took my little point-and-shoot in hand and, well, pointed and shot. Aimed for the scuffling and shuffling sounds as best I could. Caught a couple of quick little glimpses as the flash went off in its nearly random way. And rejoiced that these delightfully surreal animals had decided for once to pay me a visit when I could actually be on hand to appreciate it. Life does go on, no matter the weather, the season or the condition of my plants. After all, if the plants had continued to be too vigorous, the insects wouldn’t find such rich dining on them and there would be little fascinating forage for my miniature garden-zeppelin friends. And I do thank them for helping with the insect-control efforts here. And probably, for some free fertilizer in the bargain, especially if I startled anyone with my camera flash.

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Two long-tailed blimps bumbling around in the dirt by night . . . what could be better!

Of Half-Baked Gardens, Discount Shopping and Fellow Travelers

There’s always the possibility, when one is Out and About, of meeting a kindred spirit moving through the dimension with something like a parallel purpose. No matter how often this might happen, I don’t remember it very often when I embark. It takes that sudden moment of recognition in the presence of one to reawaken the spark of companionship and adventure that these confluences allow.photoToday my fellow traveler and I were both in search of tall grass, it seems. I’d gone to the home improvement store to buy cabinet latches, but having discovered recently that it’s the end of the main plant season at many such places here in north Texas, I always make room if I can for a few minutes’ perusal of the mark-down racks of plants; having determined that there’s no room in the budget for major garden renovation, I’m equally determined that I won’t leave the current yard completely untouched. The one-dollar bonanza becomes a greater than ever enticement.photoLast time I did that sort of shopping I was lucky enough to find a batch of half-dead baby crape myrtle plants marked down to almost nothing and in just a few days of careful and shaded watering and pruning I’ve managed to revive them to a surprising degree. With that encouragement, I dove back into the store’s leafy aisles and found, today, a half-dozen pots of scrawny native grasses. Hurray! Just what I’ve been seeking lately, once again. These, too, were far past their peak but potentially rescuable.

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Some fellow travelers don’t even seem to mind hanging around with an old bag on a shopping trip . . .

It was when I got up to the cashier’s counter that I looked down at my shopping cart and saw a big grasshopper gazing back at me. Whether with curiosity or challenge, I wasn’t quite sure: it had obviously grown ‘attached’ to the grasses I was carrying and mightn’t have been too well pleased that I rudely stole them from the shelves like that. But the bug wasn’t so awfully put out, after all, because it clearly enjoyed its new landing spot on my old carrying bag and enough so that it plainly didn’t want to let go when I tried to encourage such a move. It took me some serious effort to pluck the thing away from the bag, and I must admit I was moved to contemplate whether I might not have felt exactly the same had our positions been reversed.photoYes, I still flicked the creature away. Our mild-to-nonexistent last winter here has left us with enormous populations of all sorts of insects, not least of all grasshoppers that in parts of Texas are reaching fairly near to Biblical plague proportions. I’ve seen plenty of evidence that while our grasshoppers haven’t yet reached such an outlandish census level, they’re in large enough forces that they’re lunching and munching exuberantly on our property as it is, so I didn’t see a great need to import yet another diner to our all-you-can-eat buffet.photoNow we shall see whether I can get these past-prime grasses I captured to revive enough to settle in thoroughly to their new home here. I don’t doubt there will be plenty of insects right on hand, not least of all more big, hardy grasshoppers, munching away on them as they grow here too. We’re all really on this big journey together, after all.

Ten Thousand Kinds of Green

 

photoIt takes very little time upon returning to the Pacific Northwest for me to be reminded of one of its central characteristics that became so imprinted on my heart and mindset through my many years of dwelling there as to be interchangeable with my entire concept of wholeness and well-being: the color green. The millions of colors that can be called Green, to be more precise. Having been born in the Emerald City of the Evergreen State, I can confirm that they have earned their titles both the hard way (rain–sometimes seemingly endless–rain–oh, and snowpack and glacier runoff in the spring) and entirely honestly. The city and the state are genuinely, deeply, exquisitely green.photoOther places may be green with envy. Yes, there are certainly other spectacularly green places on earth, some of which I have visited, among them to wit: Ireland, Allgäu, and the jungle that straddles the Panamanian border with Costa Rica (a tropical cloud forest) all rife with verdure and also with all of those forms of watery nourishment that bring about such burgeoning beauties in their respectively green-glorious regions. Each green place is unique in the character and flavor of its glowing, growing vegetation, and each gains its place in my heart as much through its variations of verdancy as by any other means.photoWhat it all comes down to is that these things grow on me as much as on the face of the earth, filling my senses and my emotional center in ways that few other things can. This recent return to my mossy, leafy, grassy, graceful green roots merely reminds me of what lies deep within me all of the time. The west coast is so rich in tints and hues and tones and shades and variations of green that I cannot imagine an existence without them and know that green will always be the color against which completeness and contentment and ecstasy are best measured.photophotophotophotophotophotophotoMourn the tiresome persistence of the rain at times, if you must, but once you have been drawn into the corridors of the green world you will likely find it irresistible, too. It bursts with the presence of renewal and strength, lures you with the dappled dream-world light that only a leafy and towering tunnel of trees can create, and makes the heart ache with that yearning form of delight best found in things that sing of secrets, promises and hope.