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

Blowing through the Wild Grasses

Weed or wildflower? Messy or naturalized? Everyone has an opinion, and they often differ distinctly on the same little plant or plot. Part of the pleasure of good company will always be in its variety and the interest that it brings to life. Gardening tastes are very much in that vein.

Digital illustration: Wild Grasses

As a sometime gardener, however amateur, I can think of few styles of landscaping that I don’t find appealing and attractive in their own ways. I admire the near-perfection of elaborate, formal palace gardens and magnificent, fountain-filled parks with their follies and allees. I am fond of a rustic campfire-side bramble patch, punctuated by straggly hydrangeas run wild, down by the lakeside. There is both soul refreshment and eye appeal for me in a delicate Zen garden with bonsai, laceleaf maples and a barely rippling koi pond.

When it comes to my own gardens, I tend to walk just a little farther on the wild side. I hate to fiddle and fuss at length with the hard labor of a garden. I greatly prefer the genteel pleasures of the design of the garden, and perhaps the occasional artistic pruning to shape a rhododendron or sapling tree. But I’m not so wild about back-breaking rock picking and digging; I moved from incredibly rich but equally rocky volcanic glacial till of western Washington to the cement-like red clay of Texas, both places where putting a one-gallon root ball into the ground requires a pickaxe.

My first garden was an exploration of the beauties of cottage style gardening. Washington, temperate and moist, was ideal for a grand assortment of bulbs, flowering shrubs and cutting flowers, so I had profuse blooms and constant green with little effort. The traditional cottage style allowed me to squeeze a massive amount of lively growth into a normal city house lot, and the more I wedged into the ground, the less room there was for volunteer and invasive plants. Weeds had a tough go of it there, so it wasn’t especially hard to keep ahead of them.

There are plants I don’t invite to my parties. Much as I enjoy and admire most, I’m no friend of those pest plants that choke out others, cause massive allergies, or stab at me with cruel thorns, or those that threaten entire ecosystems, mine or others’. Good riddance to misplaced English Ivy, kudzu, poison oak and wild blackberry canes. Conversely, one of my particular favorite garden options is to find ways to encourage native plants to thrive. The more a plant is suited and accustomed to its environs, the more it will grow and be healthy and attractive and weed-proof.

Texas has reinforced that love in my aggressively. It’s a harsher climate than the Pacific Northwest’s in which I now garden, so what I plant and tend must needs be up to surviving and flourishing in those more demanding circumstances—or die. Even desert plants don’t necessarily have what it takes, since north Texas can still get true freezes in winter, and occasional snow, hail and ice. This last winter, a relatively mild one, still killed off a lot of specimen agaves and prickly pears and even cut some mighty oaks down to size.

I’m finding that the area’s status as an extension of the country’s central prairies may be the key to what will survive and grow here long term. When anything will grow, that is. I’m tending to my little wildflower meadow out back, to see if I can’t reintroduce something a little more self-sustaining than those long cultivated but seldom successful hard turf lawns that were popular in our area and surrounded our house when we bought it. Even better than the wildflowers, I’m finding, will be the ‘amber waves of grain’ I seeded in  among the wildflowers, the native prairie grasses.

Prairie grasses have some of the deepest, toughest and most tenacious root systems of any type of plants, and along with the leaves that sway in every breeze, often creating symphonies of susurration, they go to seed in many attractive ways. So I really am enjoying ‘sowing my wild oats.’ And Little Bluestem, Fountain Grass, Weeping Lovegrass, and many more. My backyard creatures will enjoy them, and their varicolored, many-textured attractions will beat any struggling, forced lawn that ever tried to eke out a living where its native cousins once roamed free.

Frozen Assets and Fallen Heroes

digital illustrationSad Story All Around

Sylvester from Sylvania, magnificent skier and scout,

Went off to explore the slopes one day, but the minute that he was out,

His girlfriend Sylvia opened the door to another particular friend,

And I needn’t tell you that soon enough, they all came to a tragic end,

For Sylvester’d forgotten it was late spring and roots sticking out of the snow

Tripped him at top speed; with a nasty fling he crashed to the gorge below;

Meanwhile, back home, Sylvia and Sid were having a high old time

‘Til Sydney’s wife showed up with a knife, and that’s the end of this rhyme.

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As If She were Our Blood

 

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Change of Venue for a Change of Seasons

I lived most of my life in northern climes. My childhood and many subsequent years spent in the Seattle area naturally color my view of nature and my connections with it, so even though I’ve spent the last four years putting roots down into Texan soil my inner imagery of the season of growth is of sprouts and blooms native to alpine, temperate, rainforest and coastal territory. I appreciate and admire the vast and varied beauties of this wildly different terrain that is my new home, and my heart still resonates joyfully when it comes to those northwest marvels of green and gorgeous living things as well. I don’t think I’ll have to tell you which region inspired these two poems.

The drawings, though, could be a bit more nearly universal. Dandelions, in particular–I can’t think of many places I’ve visited so far that didn’t have a substantial contingent of that sunny little weed blossom. I hardly ever see their smiling faces without thinking of the adorable little enthusiast next door who peered over our fence and, seeing my mother pulling dandelions–and perhaps interpreting this as her enthusiasm for cultivating their charms–piped up to boast enthusiastically (much to her own mother’s chagrin): ‘we’ve got a MILLION of ’em!’ graphite drawingIn Return

Willingly as daffodils stretch out of the earth

At the first invitation of the sun,

So I come from the dark when my winter ends,

Turn my face up to the blessing sky,

And sigh at the promise of the spearing green

Arising by my feet, even if the icicles

Have not yet

Melted wholly away.

pen & ink

Avalanche Lilies

Amid the muffling drifts of downy snow

That draw the pearly winter sky down low

To kiss the earth once more in early spring

Are sparkling spears of palest glimmering

Green newness, first to show upon the white

And break the slope of frosted winter light

Uncurling soon to show the youthful face

Of spring’s renewal in this sleeping place

If still surrounded by the icy pale

Wild woolliness bedecking hill and vale—

The snow, though mighty, cannot fully stanch

The burst of springtime’s sparkling avalanche

 

When the Snow Lay Round About

Yes, it’s the 26th. The Feast of Stephen. And, amazingly, it is snowy. I’m still trying to wrap my head around this idea. I know, we’ve seen snow here before and even in much larger quantities, but after the overall increased heat and diminished precipitation of the last couple of years I was certainly not expecting anything snowy to happen, least of all right on the great day of Christmas itself. So it’s kind of amazing to have snow on the ground a whole day later. Oh, and pretty.photoThe snow is lying round about, all right, though not so deep. Relatively even, yes, and it’s definitely crisp. And did I mention pretty?photoHappy winter. Happy holidays. I’m happy to be looking out the window at sparkly, snowy, gleaming prettiness. Sure hope the ice on the road doesn’t slow us down any tomorrow, though, or my shallow delight and appearance-centric enthusiasm will undoubtedly flag. Unless King Wenceslas wants to come out and blaze the trail for us, which might be kind of cool. No pun intended. Aw, what the heck. Let it snow!

It’s Beginning to Look a Little Like . . .

Now, I don’t know if I’d call it exactly Christmasy, but in the relative scheme of things, it is beginning to look a tad more wintry around here than it’s been up until now. In my nordo-centric upbringing I was never exposed to such stretches of overheated weather that I’d begun to disbelieve in winter altogether by the time the second week of December was commencing. So it’s kind of a relief to hear that we’re about to drop down to freezing temperatures overnight within a couple of days here. To see some turning leaves actually, really, truly drop off and leave a tree or two naked; berries lighting up as rosy as Rudolph’s nose; to hear the branches both leafy and bare whispering cool secrets in anticipation of the frost that may or may not arrive before the clock’s run out on potential wintertime.photoThe embarrassing thing about this is that, having had seemingly all the time in the world myself to prepare for this winter thingy, I’m still not exactly ready. I’ve got a whole big, fluffy list of stuff I can–and maybe should–get underway, if not completed, before this mythic seasonal happening arrives, and no, said list is not small either. I did get a small few things done in the long, sloping stretch leading toward this change of the weather, but it’s never quite so much as I would have liked to have accomplished. Story of life, isn’t it. I guess if I’m honest I should say that it’s beginning to look a lot like every other year I’ve known, every other change–or lack of change–of the seasons. And you know, I’m okay with that. Life’s been mighty good to me, and if it can be this nice even when I’m so far from perfectly keeping up with it, lay it on me.

Oh, and I’d appreciate it if I can have a sweater to go along with the seasonal change too, just in case. Thank you.photo

A Sound Becomes A Light

photoOnly

In the interstices where

The calm exists, the stillest air,

A whisper falls as sweet as prayer–

A single word, as cool and kind

As falling snow, and intertwined

With light the stars have left behind–

A tender word that none can hear

But has it poured into his ear

By whom he loves most as his dear–

This modest word, spoken so low,

Both stops his heart and makes it go

Apace, swift as a river’s flow–

Such a small sound to mortal men,

He thinks–until his dearest then

Calls him ‘Beloved!’ once againphoto

Mystery Story No. 1

I don’t know when, where or how the first fictional mystery story came on the scene, but since I thoroughly enjoy a good puzzle of the not-going-to-affect-me-in-real-life sort, I do like a good mystery story. So sometimes I like to create mysteries of my own. Mostly, visual puzzles. Pictures that invite interpretation, participation and invention on the part of the viewer. Images that demand a second look, or a two-hundredth one, because there might be clues in there, tales to be uncovered, plots to be discovered, fun to be made from the gossamer webs of pictorial intrigue custom-made for playtime. So here, for (I hope) your delectation and mystery-mongering, is a collage created with puzzling in mind. Enjoy!

And don’t forget to tell me if you devise the novel of the century after being so deeply inspired by it. Wink, wink.digital collage

In the Shadow of The Mountain

Perhaps this is true of other places, but I only know my hometown’s version of it: in Seattle, or pretty much anywhere in southwest Washington, Mount Rainier is frequently known simply as The Mountain. Yes, we call it by its full name, or by its ‘patrinomial’ ID of Rainier, and sometimes even by its graceful older name Tahoma. But its dominance of the skyline when visible, and of the ethos–the spirit–of western Washington thanks to its potent influences on geography and geological and meteorological character, not to mention the power it has to wipe out half the state should it decide to wake from its long dormancy, all mean that whether in plain view or not it has a hold on the hearts and minds of the locals like no other single force, natural or otherwise.photoSometimes when flying in to SeaTac airport the mountain is not only clearly visible but brilliantly etched and jutting boldly through the clouds, if any. SeaTac International Airport sits between Seattle and Tacoma, and the zone so called for its equidistance was finally officially given that insipid and cheap-sounding name some years ago–don’t get me started on it–but it’s well worth flying to a place with any ridiculous name you could conjure if and when you get the right weather, enough sunlight, and an accommodating pilot who appreciates Mt. Rainier’s beauty enough to tip a wing to the mountain’s flank and give the passengers a clearer view.photoTruth be told, we’ve seen precious little of the mountain on our current visit. It’s been pretty overcast much of the time, including when we flew in, so yes, the photos here are from other times. I’ve known of visitors who left disbelieving we even have a Mount Rainier, never having glimpsed that big white heap of sugar in weeks and weeks of waiting. The fabled wet weather of the Northwest can indeed curtain off our magnificent totem from view for seemingly interminable times and make us long to be reminded ourselves that it wasn’t all an hallucination or a passion-fueled fantasy. Even when visible, Rainier very often sports a ‘hat’ or veil that keeps a little mystery close by; being large enough to create its own weather, this geological behemoth seems to be quite often crowned with a companion cloud that rarely moves very far off or disappears entirely.photoDespite all of this hide-and-seek, the imminent danger we all know quite well as natives makes us bolt, strap, glue and otherwise thoughtfully position many of our tall or breakable belongings as though to protect them from a petulant child, because we’ve been through enough minor earthquake shakers in our lives to know preparedness pays. Still, while rainy Washington makes floods a real and frequent possibility, if that dormant volcano in our midst gives the really big belch geologists tell us is historically overdue, whatever isn’t swept off in the violent and instantaneous post-blast lahars [pyroclastic mudflows] that will likely submerge the surrounding valleys (the primary lahar channel of which was home to my family for most of my youth) will be treated pretty much like a snow-globe being handled by a curious Godzilla. Game over.photoSo we have a certain amount of respect for The Mountain, never mind it being such a fixture in our existence. No, I don’t know anyone who’s ever grown jaded about seeing it, no matter how long he or she has lived in its shade. This is not your typical mountain, looking pretty but losing its allure gradually as you realize you’re rather close and it’s stopped looming higher. It’s set in a fairly impressive range of mountains yet is so much bigger and more prominent than the rest that once the sky clears you just plain can’t miss it, and that sight quickly makes its mark on you. In snow-time, its blue-white flanks rise up to pierce the sky and look so sharply delineated you think you could stick your hand out and grab a fistful of super-vanilla ice cream from just behind that house over there across the street. As the snow melts, streaks made of billions of evergreens and a few exposed rocky prominences reflect sun and sky and passing clouds’ shadows in a changing array of colors that tease you with seeming first as near as your own breath and then suddenly as far distant as a too-sweet dream. Driving there can nearly drive you mad: you look to your left and it’s sitting right across the closest pasture; round the curve and it has shot away as far as the moon; over the next hill, in an instant it almost seems you’ll crash into the bank of snow just ahead of your front bumper.photoEventually you get onto the foot of Mount Rainier, yes you do, and you realize it’s so huge that you can still have a view of the peak that seems remarkably like the distant view of the whole that you had from an hour and a half’s drive away. The flora and fauna of this glorious bump on the earth have changed relatively little in millennia, and just being in their midst for an afternoon’s traipse along the trails makes you think both that your own sort might go on forever and that if the mountain is really going to blow, perhaps its taking you along for the ride in instant smithereens might not be altogether the worst thing. That’s how magical The Mountain is, even after all of these years of living at its foot. It might kill me, but if it does it will have fed my spirits incredibly well for a very long time indeed. That mountain there, she may keep her chapeau of a cloud-let coquettishly low on her brow for long periods of time, but when she finally does doff it, Holy Mother of Gleaming Glaciers, she’s a beauty.