We’ve long since established that I can’t dance. I couldn’t dance well enough to stay in a second-grade dance class; heck, I couldn’t even be trusted to remember whether we were supposed to show up wearing tights with our tutus or not, for the class picture before the big recital. Though it’s only fair to give myself credit for having been obsessed with the ugliness of our getups to such an extent that I forgot the part about the stockings, and I promise you, they were hideous costumes.
But you also know that I am enamored of beautiful dancing of nearly any kind, if allowed to watch it from a safe distance. So I think I can be forgiven for letting others take to the floor in real life and only doing so in my imagination and, occasionally, in my poems. I think any creature, real or imagined, that can dance beautifully deserves my attention and admiration (as long as it wears the correct tights with its tutu).
We are neither dead nor quarantined in a sanatorium. But a shared cold makes for a sad household. One impatient patient is perfectly capable of drawing a thin pall of gloom over home and holdings, but when both (or in this case, all) inhabitants of the place feel lousy, the plot, like the creeping crud in one’s lungs, thickens.
I’m sending a little bouquet of flowers, if only the handmade kind I don’t have to have a car to drive to a good florist’s shop to acquire, to both of us. It’s unpleasant enough to be ill, even a little bit, but when the entire family operation shuts down, there’s no one resilient enough to make all of the necessary chicken soup, commiserate and pat everyone’s head with a sympathetic sigh over his or her immeasurable suffering, and keep everything in the home place properly tended.
So we’ll sit around moping, dragging ourselves to do the required things as best we can and retreating afterward to sit among the dishes that still haven’t been put away three days after washing and that pile of papers mounting ever higher on the desk—not in the files—and try to focus mind and energy enough to write that one necessary report, edit that small sheaf of articles, go through that backlog of digital illustration records to find the missing image…and we’ll nod off to sleep again, interrupting ourselves in that only with dispirited bouts of rib-wracking coughing and wheezing and self-pitying snuffles.
I know perfectly well that this will pass, and though it feels interminable in its midst, rather quickly at that. What are a few days of ‘down time’ in one’s whole span of life? But if I have to sit back moodily on my enervated haunches for the while, at least I’ll send myself and my fellow inmate a batch of hand-drawn flowers and all of the well-wishing I can muster in my current state. Here’s to better days ahead!
A fond farewell should only end the start
Of what emerged from nothing to become
Much greater than its origins, a home
For all that’s good and gracious in the heart–
What had begun in silence has grown deep
And richer than imagining could guess,
A tapestry of joy and tenderness,
A score of blended notes that time will keep–
Whose voices came together first in this
True confluence of sound and sweet accord
Cannot again move aught but closer toward
Such harmony as, now it’s found, is bliss–
For in love’s benedictory refrain
Awakens what all hearts must sing again.
With gratitude to all at the Episcopal Church of the Incarnation, Dallas, Texas,
and especially to the choir, for welcoming us so kindly during this past year.
Breathe. Breathe, and think nothing–deliberately think nothing: not thoughts about nothingness, but no thinking. Just feel. Feel my breathing. Let it slow and deepen. Sense how my lungs are filling and how cool and soothing the air can be. Feel the inside of my eyelids becoming less dry and harsh, softening with the renewing almost-tears that mark the relief of closing my eyes after too little sleep and too long a day to follow it. Breathe.
I can smell the familiar scent of my freshly washed shirt collar that’s pulled up close to my chin, not because I’m cold but because it’s a favorite and a comfortable, so-soft shirt. All I hear is the gentle whirring of the air through the house, the light flickering of leaves outside the window in the slightest breeze, and a bird not far away, practicing its sweet and simple arias without tiring. The sun’s warmth, coming in the window, is blushing its way through my eyelids but still I keep my eyes lightly closed. I am content to maintain my steady breaths, my slowness, my calm, my emptiness, and simply to feel. My pulse ticks softly, steadily, unhurried.
There is no need to think of anything just now. Nothing I could think would change what is real in my world or better my place in it, at the moment, so it is good to turn off the thinking and just let go of my usual tense grip on it all for a little while. The world will wait for me.
I can visit other worlds if I like. Sometimes, with my eyes closed, I will. I can make such wonderful worlds inside, when I wish.
But for now, what I want most is this silence that I have sorted out from what’s outside of me; these slow and steady and uncomplicated open spaces I am cultivating and embracing on the inside. The warmth of the sun, through glass, caressing my face. The depth of soothing air moving through my lungs in a grateful, peaceful sigh.
Everything that must Happen and Change and Do will have to wait for me while I am so very un-busy just being. That is enough for now; sitting, eyes closed, breathing, silent, open. For now, that is everything.
This week that is far from a fatuous statement, even from a happy-go-lucky bit of fluff like me. I am always well aware that my life is, was and (I hope) ever shall be a dance party, a dessert buffet and a self-indulgent lounge-by-the-pool compared to most others’ lives. I am grateful to be such a spoiled, blessed or insulated–depending upon your definition; I would admit to all of them in vast quantities–person and like to think that I would never take such wealth for granted.
There are always sharp reminders for me in the family, friends and friends-of-friends who are doing valiant daily battle just to be alive, and if able, to maintain a modicum of quality and dignity in that life, when they are the unwilling hosts of those unwelcome shadow companions of chronic illness–physical, mental, and/or spiritual. I do wish that there were some magic wand I could wave that would miraculously lift away all of those torments and remove the dense dark clouds of them forever, from all people. That is simply a dream, and I know it. But this week I have particular reminders quite close by, and in many ways, of how fortunate I am, and yet also how resilient and remarkable the people and the world around me are as well.
I mentioned yesterday’s storms: the tornadoes that shredded roofs, trees, tractor-trailer trucks and neighborhoods as though they were so much tissue paper. The hail that shattered shelters and windows and destroyed crops. The rain that immersed the already open wounds of the storm-beaten regions in additional water damage. And of course the early high temperatures in the area that will contribute to faster decay and more difficult cleanup and repair work to follow. And not one little iota of the damaging aspects of that touched our home or us personally. Even my tiniest dainty garden sprouts are still thrusting their green leaves upward today. In brilliant sun.
As oversized as All Things Texan can be, the moods of the weather at its wildest are for the most part quickly forgotten by the broad Texas sky, which today is intensely blue and dotted with the mildest of cotton-wool clouds and polished with blazing warm sunlight. The trees, following a light pruning by the winds that mainly took off deadwood and weak twigs in our neighborhood, are lifting their green crowns in thirst-quenched pleasure once more. Barring nuclear winter, it seems that the sun in north Texas always tends to return rather quickly after the darkest and angriest of nights.
The thunderclap that affected me more directly this week was not from the stormy skies of a tornado system but via a telephone call from ‘home’: Mom’s recovery from her pair of spinal fusion surgeries hit a serious setback. Her pelvis cracked in a stress fracture. What does it mean? Many more weeks of immobility and pain for someone who has already endured years of it. Another surgery–tomorrow–for the installation of yet more hardware to stabilize her fragile frame. Total bed-rest for what must seem an eon to someone who has been a virtual shut-in for a long time, the woman famous for a lifetime of being out and about taking care of all the rest of the world before her stenosis, scoliosis, Parkinson’s, and joint inflammation all combined to beat her into submission. But whose telephone calls have never ceased to be mainly aimed at reassuring those around her that she maintains her love and concern for them—us–and is bracing for whatever the next phase of her fight brings. I hang up from the call and rather than going to pieces in sadness, frustration and anger over the cruelties that her health has dealt her incessantly in these last years, I am weirdly comforted that her doctors are keeping a close eye on her and have a plan for dealing with the current circumstances; that she and my father are, however nervously it may be, committed to seeing through yet another surgery and recovery process; that my sisters and relatives living nearby are keeping a close eye on them and my aunt yet again stepping in willingly to assist with Mom’s care. And that across the world we have a collective host of family and friends who are all cheering them on, willing her well, hoping and supporting in the one way that we can when we are not physically on hand or trained surgeons either one.
In the midst of all of this, the choir-conducting member of my household has the particular and specially challenging time of year that so many western musicians find mighty intense: Holy Week. Never mind that my spouse is in rehearsals for several major upcoming concerts with his and other groups at the university: yesterday afternoon he had rehearsal at 2 pm for next week’s concert with his Collegium Singers (early music choir) that will join them with the university’s Baroque Orchestra, so at the end of that rehearsal he went straight to conduct the orchestra’s rehearsal; when that one finished at 6 pm, he dashed straight over to conduct a rehearsal of the Grand Chorus, which is a combination of his Chamber Choir and Dr. Jerry McCoy’s A Cappella Choir for a major concert on the 25th of this month. Amazingly, he still made it (just) in time to meet me at 8 pm to attend A Cappella’s own concert with Dr. McCoy.
And, oh yes, I was talking about Holy Week. Because of course as my husband is still the interim choirmaster at the Anglican church, he had last weekend’s Palm Sunday services (and Evensong) to conduct, tonight’s Tenebrae service (a ‘service of darkness’ that may have special meaning for many after yesterday’s intense weather slamming the region), tomorrow’s Maundy Thursday evening service, these all interwoven with the usual things musical and administrative continuing at the university; midday and evening services on Good Friday, Easter Vigil to fill with music on Saturday evening, and Sunday morning Easter services. And all the while, day becomes night, night passes, and the sun takes over the Texas sky once more. That’s how it goes.
I merely follow in the wake of all these events and life dramas, taking up the slack in the sails of our little boat as I’m able, and keeping us provisioned with food, clean clothes (keep plenty of black shirts laundered for concerts and services!), and my numerous and sundry checklists of what to do, where to go when, and things we mustn’t forget to bring along. It makes me tired to think of doing what everyone else around me is doing; I’m just glad if I can keep fairly close as I follow them. But I suppose I’m just a little bit like the elephant-following sweeper who is reluctant to ‘leave show-business’, as I wouldn’t trade this Job, however modest it may appear, for anything else on earth. Because the sun, when it shines on me, is so incredibly life-affirming and bright and joyful that I can’t say no to its urgings to come out of the dark and Do things, however small they may be.
Since several people have asked, I’m posting a list today. No, it’s not one of those house-fixing lists I mentioned full of projects. But related, in a way, as it constitutes my contract of To-Do fun with my yard, garden, flower beds, and planter pots. It’s my seed and plant list–what I’ve put in thus far, and some of what I intend to add, the latter being primarily a larger batch of the listed Wildflower Sowing Mix. It’s my own blend, by the way, concocted from reading up on and observing what is native and/or simply adapts well in our part of the landscape. Starred (*) items are known natives or very long established growers here in north Texas, and items marked with two plus signs (++) are ones I’m emphasizing in placement or quantity because they’re particular favorites of mine.
For the Front Yard Flower Beds:
Blue-Eyed Grass (Sisirynchium)* ++ I’ve long been attracted to the tiny-orchid flowers of this miniature lovely, and was thrilled to discover the plant is native here. A surprise bonus when moving to a place that has a generally less easy climate than my place of origin in the Pacific Northwest.
Chives, Garlic (Allium tuberosum)
Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)* ++
Garlic (Allium sativum) I don’t cook with a whole lot of garlic since marrying a Supertaster, but since they’re beautiful plants, I figure I’ll get what little garlic I need for cooking and have the garden attraction besides.
Lavender (Lavendula angustifolia)
Penstemon (Penstemon spp.)*
Showy Evening Primrose (Oenothera speciosa)* ++
Snow-in-Summer (Cerastium tomentosum)
Spreading Petunia (Petunia x hybrida ‘Purple Wave’)
Texas Bluebonnet (Lupinus texensis)* ++ Seriously, how could I not put in any of this classic when I’ve moved to Texas? Not to mention that I’m a sucker for blue flowers. And things that will self-perpetuate once established.
Herbs (Planted front, back, indoors and out)
Basil, Sweet (Ocimum basilicum)
Borage (Borago Officinalis) ++ A rather magical herb, in my estimation, with its refreshingly cucumber-like flavor and exquisite bright blue flowers.
Chives, Onion (Allium schoenoprasum)
Parsley (Petroselinum hortense)
Italian Flat-Leaf @ John: I’ll try to have it fully in leaf when you show up here!
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) ++ I have one healthy plant going, and since it seems to thrive in this yard and I love the plant and its culinary qualities, I have a feeling it will get siblings eventually.
Vegetables (Mostly integrated into the flower beds, for fun)
Beetroot (Beta vulgaris ‘Tall Top Early Wonder’)
Kale (Brassica oleracea ‘Dwarf Blue Curled Vates’)
Carrot (Daucus carota ‘Petite ‘n’ Sweet’)
Corn (Zea mays)
Sweet, ‘Silver Queen’
Sunflower, (Helianthus annuus)* Mixed Colors +
Tomatoes (Solanum lycopersicum)
‘Black Sea Man’
Cardinal Climber Vine (Ipomoea sloteri) [Backyard]
Crossvine (Bignonia capreolata) ‘Tangerine Beauty’ [Backyard]
Morning Glories (Ipomoea)* [Backyard]
Passionflower (Passiflora) [Front Yard] ++
Blue (caerulea) I grew this one in Washington and loved its exotic look.
WILDFLOWER SOWING MIX [Backyard]
African Daisy (Osteospermum)
Annual Phlox (Phlox paniculata)
Artichoke (Cynara cardunculus var. scolymus)
Baby Snapdragon (Linaria maroccana)
Baby’s Breath (Gypsophila muralis)
Black Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia triloba)*
Blazing Star (Liatris spicata)
Blue Flax (Linum lewisii)
California Bluebell (Phacelia campanularia) ++
California Poppy (Eschscholzia californica)
Candytuft (Iberis sempervirens)
China Aster (Aster x frikartii)
Chinese Forget-Me-Not (Cynoglossum amabile)
Clasping Coneflower (Rudbeckia amplexicaulis)*
Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)* ++
Crimson Clover (Trifolium incarnatum)*
Cupid’s Dart (Catananche caerulea) ++
Dwarf Cornflower (Echinacea)
Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea)
Gloriosa Daisy (Rudbeckia hirta)*
Indian Blanket (Gaillardia pulchella)* ++
Lance-Leaf Coreopsis (Coreopsis lanceolata)
Lemon Mint (Melissa officinalis)
Lupine (Lupinus perennis)
Maltese Cross (Lychnis chalcedonica) ++
Mexican Hat (Ratibida columnaris)*
Moss Verbena (Verbena tenuisecta)
None-So-Pretty (Silene armeria)
Plains Coreopsis (Coreopsis tinctoria)*
Poppies (Papaver somniferum) ++
Red Hot Poker (Kniphofia uvaria)
Red Poppy (Papaver rhoeas)
Rocky Mountain Penstemon (Penstemon palmeri) ++
Rose Mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos)
Salvia Blue Bedder (Salvia farinacea)
Scarlet Sage (Salvia coccinea)
Shasta Daisy (Chrysanthemum maximum)
Shirley Poppy (Papaver rhoeas)
Showy Evening Primrose (Oenothera speciosa)* ++
Siberian Wallflower (Cheiranthus allionii)
Sulphur Cosmos (Cosmos sulphureus)*
Texas Bluebonnet (Lupinus texensis)*
Wild Annual Lupine (Lupinus lepidus)
Wild Cosmos (Cosmos bipinnatus)*
Live Plants Added
Bicolor Salvia(Salvia sinaloensis)
Blueberry(Vaccinium corymbosum ‘Biloxi’) ++ You may recall that I really dislike eating blueberries–but I know the birds and creatures will like them if I leave them, and I think the plants are beautiful!
Clematis (Clematis, var.) I’ve put in several varieties, and the first leaves are beginning to appear, so I think I had better give those little green pretties something to climb up soon or risk their meandering in the underbrush.
Columbine (Aquilegia ‘Origami Mix’)
Corkscrew Rush (Juncus effusus ‘Spiralis’)
Eastern Redbud (Cercis canadensis) The first of our little city give-away adoptees appears to have survived the winter, but won’t yet show its bud growth.
Fig Tree (Ficus carica ‘Brown Turkey’) I found a sturdy fig tree rooted in a three-gallon pot for four dollars. How could I refuse? Even if it turns out to be only semi-productive (though I’m told they grow well enough here), the leaf will be a nice variant in the yard.
Forsythia (Forsythia x intermedia) A good shot of early color is always welcome.
Horsetail Reed(Equisetum hyemale) Strangely for a place that verges on drought, the yard here has one or two water-collecting spots! So wet-footed plants should do fine.
Lamb’s Ear (Stachys byzantina)
Mexican Plum (Prunus mexicana)
New Zealand Flax (Phormium tenax) Going for a bit of large-scale drama, here. (You can see the NZ flax’s big burgundy swords in front of the wet growing bed above.)
Red Cabbage (Brassica oleracea var. capitata f. rubra)
Soapberry (Sapindus saponaria)
Texas Sage ‘Desperado’ (Leucophyllum frutescens)* ++
Tulips (Tulipa spp.) Of a white unnamed variety; oh, yes, I did succumb. I put just a dozen in my front porch planters. Half of them were soldas orange, but buying a generic handful of bulbs, one gets what one gets, no? And white tulips are beautiful too, so I shan’t complain.
Variegated Flax Lily (Dianella tasmanica) ‘Variegata’