Rain then sun

Tuesday’s chill, dark rain sank me, drowned me. I drifted through the gloom, semi -reclined on the couch, bright yellow throw over my legs, streaming video on the laptop. Anyone peering in the front window would have thought I was ill and maybe in some soul space I was—not exactly ill but tired, damp, moldy.

I got up from the couch to make lunch, run a quick errand, make supper, do some minimal tidying up. I did not read a good book, make soup or bread, sweep up the leaves I’d tracked in from the front walk, do any of the items on my to-do list, exercise, meditate, write. I tell myself I need these down days but I’m not sure that’s true.

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I think of my sister every day. She’s hard to reach by phone these days. She’s sleeping a lot and not always making sense when she’s awake. She’s slipping away from me, from us. Last week I wrote her a letter and emailed it to M to deliver. I’ll do the same this week.

I think of her everyday but especially on a couch day like Tuesday when her image hovers like a warning, my last view of her as I left her in late October, lying in bed unable to tend to herself, bathe, feed, turn over in bed. She’s so frail and weak. She sleeps, wakes, sleeps again. I whisper to myself to move, to use my strong enough body, my agile enough brain while I can.

*****

Light returned. Two crisp, clear, sunny days. My to-do list still languishes with items unchecked but I got off the couch and out into the world. Walks around the neighborhood, dinner with a friend.

Yesterday, mid-afternoon, I went into the garden to empty some pots, put away chairs, cut back the rose bushes. As I walked around the house and into the back yard, crunching through leaves, I startled a Barred Owl—it soared across the backyard to a new perch in a pine tree near my compost pile, just above the garden cart I needed for my clean up tasks. I walked toward the cart as quietly as I could, not wanting to startle the owl again. It sat there as I retrieved the cart and went about my clean up tasks then flew off again, toward the field behind my house. 

I dumped the accumulated dirt and plant debris onto the compost pile and walked back toward the house slowly, stopping to look and wonder at the light glinting through yellow leaves on a Norway maple.

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And write about what I’m living

Mid-morning on a sunny, late summer Sunday, and a day wide open before me. I just did a tour of the garden, pausing to pull up weeds and then carry my handful back to the compost pile. The garden is thriving after our recent rainy season although the promising crop of blueberries all disappeared as they ripened—I have netting draped across the bushes but I think some critter must be getting underneath to feast. Any squirrels or raccoons out there with blue mouths?

I’ve been in summer mode. Lanquid in the alternating heat and rain. I started a few blog posts and then abandoned them. I’ve gone to work, walked down the block to look at the sunset most evenings that it wasn’t pouring rain, eaten ice cream with friends, sat on the back porch listening to crickets as it gets dark or bird song first thing in the morning.IMG_0057

I went to a Saturday morning Tanglewood rehearsal, spent a day with friends at a New Hampshire lake, a week in New Hampshire for work, and two weeks in England with my sister. Soon the university and colleges will start up, the pace is quickening as we approach autumn. Various writing projects are swirling in my head and I’m getting ready to dig in.

That “back-to-school” energy has also led to cleaning out closets and clearing off bookshelves—my house is in chaos with stacks of things to toss and stacks to move to a new location. The next step is shifting furniture around and eventually my guest room will be a combination guest room and office and the room that is now doing triple duty as laundry room, cat box home, and cluttered, messy office will become a utility room.

This is something I’ve thought about doing for years and am finally acting on because…drumroll…I’m making a transition from working full time for someone else to freelancing—hence the need for a more functional home office.

The clearing out process has slowed periodically as I discover old journals, folders of letters, and boxes of photos. I pause to thumb through and sometimes get lost in the dreams and fears and ideas from 10, 15, 20 years ago. One such find was a copy of the Berkshire Review from 1998, which included an essay of mine, “Transitional Seasons.”

I wrote the essay just after leaving a career as a social worker and, new MFA in hand, venturing into the world of writing, editing, and teaching. I describe being lured away from writing and into the garden. I muse on the lessons I learned in the garden—and in the pottery studio—about the desire for control vs. the need to let go and trust the process. At the end, I describe a spring day when I’d been trying to work on a short story but my attention kept being drawn to the world outside:

“I gave up the illusion of writing and sat in the garden. The redstarts darted and swooped, a pair of tanagers flew by, so close to me I felt the slight breeze they stirred; a hummingbird buzzed my red-shirted shoulder. My eyes flicked around trying to catch glimpses of brilliance. It felt difficult to return to the computer then, but I did, if only to record the experience of sitting with all that vibrant life winging around me. I felt blessed in some way and humbled, although those words are too intense somehow, too grand for what was a small experience, one morning, that’s all, in which I chose to be in the pulsing present moment. In the end, that’s all there is. I throw a hunk of clay on the wheel and slowly move it toward center. I rest my hands on the keyboard and write about what I’m living.”

What dazzles you?

Small glimmers of light, days of sun in the midst of ongoing wintry weather.

Early morning. I’m sleepy after waking early to the cat’s cries, cat feet treading up my body, cat nose sniffing my face. I get up, make the coffee, and lounge on the couch. At the bird feeder out front, cardinals, wrens, finches dart in and out and sometimes perch, waiting their turn.

Afternoon. Lunch with friends on a bright day. We want to sit outside but there are no tables available so we sit on a glassed in porch, looking out at the brightness, the sun, the wind. In a few months there will be flowers. Now the people are flowers, families, lovers, friends turning their faces to the sun. We talk, I dip my cheese laden bread into tomato soup, drink iced lemon ginger tea. We walk back to our cars, wind whipping my hair across my face, pause by our cars to continue the conversation, wind, sun, friends.

Later another friend and I head out for a walk but are stopped by the wind, stronger IMG_0227now, requiring effort to walk into it. Still bright. Still sun. We detour to a garden shop. Look at row after row of plants, tender, small, green, earth smelling. We think about buying pansies but decide to wait. My friend buys a basil plant, thinking summer, thinking tomatoes, thinking pesto. On to another garden store, the pull toward summer strong in us now. We buy dahlia tubers, imagining strong stems, big blossoms, bouquets on porch tables. Last year the rabbits ate my dahlias when they first came up but I’ll try again and if I end up feeding the rabbits, so be it.

What dazzles me? I want to say life dazzles me. I can feel those words forming in my fingertips, ready to appear on screen, but that’s more a wish than a truth. Life does dazzle me, when I let it in—the moments, snippets, breaths, in and out, in and out.

The garden in May

Various shades and tones of purple and pink dominate the garden bloom right now.

Deep purple tulips grab attention near the front door. IMG_0682

A small rhododendron anchors the east corner of the house. This shrub was in the yard when I bought the house over 20 years ago. It was starting to look worn out but a rigorous pruning last year has brought it back to life.

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Further down on the east side, a lilac forms a fragrant arch leading to the back yard.

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On the western edge of the back yard, a spring garden emerges from a tangle of straggly trees.

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Just in front of that garden is an old lilac that is blooming profusely this year, another shrub planted by the original owner of the house. It’s survived a winter storm many years ago that split it down the middle, a more recent summer storm that brought a tree down on it, summers of drought and summers with too much rain. I’ve pruned it a few times, fed it occasionally but mostly just let it be. It’s an ordinary looking shrub once the blooms fade, can be downright unattractive late in the summer when the foliage succumbs to powdery mildew. But right now it’s the queen of the spring garden, putting out its exuberant and fragrant blossom.

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Late April–writing and garden news

I subscribe to a writers’ newsletter compiled by Cigdem Kobu who develops and maintains the Inky Path website and writers’ community. The newsletter arrives in my email inbox each Monday and is packed with articles, tips, prompts, and other writerly inspiration. A few weeks ago, Cigdem posed the challenge to answer the question, “Why do I write?” and submit the results to her for posting in the newsletter. My brief essay appears in the most recent issue, here. Thank you Cigdem for posting this!

Spring is finally here–it felt very slow in coming this year. Each day I go for a slow wander around the yard to see what’s coming up, what wintered over well–or not. I note that last summer’s drought and months’ long watering ban took a toll, especially on shrubs which went into winter stressed. I see browned leaves, some dead branches, especially on the two mountain laurels. They won’t bloom much this year. Yet I’m pleased and surprised by the resilience of most of the plants.

At the front of the house, clumps of tulips add bright, hot colors.

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The andromeda on the east side of the house is covered with creamy bloom.

IMG_0672The lilacs are full of flower buds, which will soon be deep purple, fragrant flowers.

IMG_0678The small PJM rhododendron is in full bright pink bloom.

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October garden report

The long weekend is winding down. The weather has been October at its best–clear, mild, cloudless sky. Leaf color is approaching peak. It’s that time of year when I drive around, doing errands, going to and from work, in a state of awe. Every year. Without fail. Astonishment at how beautiful it is, especially on a bright day when the light shines through the scarlets and yellows and oranges.

The garden is winding down. No frost yet so there are are still some aIMG_0054nnuals blooming–a few dahlias, the nasturtiums, which have taken over the raised bed, the potted up New Guinea impatiens are all still in bloom, although not all very enthusiastically. Asters are starting to go past and the phlox are finally ending after blooming most of the summer. Soon it will be time to cut things back but not quite yet.

Tom and Lily cleared out the back bed this summer. They left one small area of perennials–some cat mint, a few transplanted roses, some Japanese anemones. This all surrounds the spot where I buried my cat Sam a few years ago and I didn’t want their digging to exhume him–so, the Sam memorial garden.

IMG_0059Today, Tom planted a kousa dogwood at the front edge of the dug out bed. I think the white bracts will be stunning against the tall evergreens at the back of the yard.

I’ve been thinking about what to plant in the raised bed next year–more zinnias in a range of colors, maybe some marigolds and snapdragons. No cleomes–they dominated all summer until I tore them out–and fewer nasturtiums.

And that’s the report from the garden.

Catching up

Here’s what’s happening in the garden in these early days of July, a time of hot, bright colors.

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And the raised bed has taken off–it’s bursting with lush plants, with the cleome ruling all.

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Happy almost July 4th!

And thinking about those meandering paths…

A conversation I had recently about purpose in our lives has been buzzing quietly in the back of my mind. I had the conversation this past Sunday, a quiet rainy day at the end of a quiet rainy weekend. I’d drifted a bit through the weekend as sometimes happens when I don’t have much scheduled. On these drifty days, I read, relax, putter in the garden, connect with friends in person or by phone, and am mostly content but there can be a nagging sense that I should be more –well, purposeful with my time. And the person I was talking with on Sunday echoed this thought in talking about her own day-to-day life.

For me this buzz is mostly background noise since my days are filled with going to work and maintaining my life outside of work. But the low buzz is there and gets louder on weekends and other stretches of leisure time. “What can I do that’s purposeful this weekend?” I wonder. “How can I be productive?” All too often, this wondering turns into fretting.

As I type this I think about my previous post on garden paths and my appreciation of meandering, whimsical paths. And this leads me to thinking about writing, which requires frequent strolls along those meandering paths. So, sitting here on a bright late June morning, I wonder if, for myself, I should shift the internal conversation. Maybe it’s less about purpose and more about simply being awake and receptive.

IMG_0036In order to write, I need to wake up and let myself see, not just what’s going on in imagination but also see the detail of my small world. The Japanese iris with its silky fall of petal, the waves of daylily bloom, orange and yellow and burgundy.

Right now the crows are busy and noisy–I suspect there’s a cat or a raptor out there somewhere. Sun is filtering through branches, lighting up the top of the maple tree and the big pine. Everything else is shadowed. The sky, glimpsed through trees, is clear and blue.

In order to write I need to let myself see without purpose. It’s all too easy to wander around the garden noting what needs to be done rather than simply noting the shapes, textures, colors, scents–Monarda and phlox about to bloom, roses pink and cream and the glistening backs of Japanese beetles feasting, bristly prickly nettles, fine blades of grass grown thick in the rain.

Paths

IMG_0384“I’d like to put in a couple of paths,” Tom said. He led me around the side of the house and gestured to the grassy path that leads between the rhododendron and the daylily bed toward the back porch. “Here’s one place–get the sod up, put down some bark mulch with rock edging.” “Sure,” I said. “Less to mow.” He then headed toward the area with the raised bed. There’s already a dirt path of sorts that cuts around the edge of that bed toward the side where the water faucet is. “And here,” he said, “put some bark mulch here, make a real path.”

In fact I don’t know if this will happen this year, especially the path that requires digging up sod–it might end up being more $$$ than I want to invest in garden projects. But it got me thinking about paths. These would be useful, logical paths, places I already walk regularly, sensible paths.

IMG_0383But I’m intrigued by whimsical paths. I’ve created a few of these over the years although they’ve all ended up overgrown. When I put in the bed in front of the maple in the front yard I made a path curved through the middle. It was partly practical–gave me weeding access–but it was also a path to nowhere and that entertained me. It soon became home to Siberian iris volunteers and is now just part of the bed. There was another path I made into the middle of the circular bed in the front—I even put down paving stones and placed a bird bath in the middle, hidden from view unless you walked along the path–but that path too became overgrown and the bird bath now sits in the back yard.

And this is all an interesting metaphor, of course, for paths through writing—or simply through life.

Of peonies and other flowery musings

Here’s the view out my living room window for June 1. JuneViewThis is what I see when I sit to drink my morning coffee. You can see the winter damage on the rhododendron closest to the house–more pruning is needed.

The bloom color at this time of year is pink, purple, blue, white. Yellows and golds will come soon and then in mid-summer the hot colors–the flame of crocosmia and hot pink phlox.

The tree peony only had 2 blooms this year–winter was hard on it as well. The blooms were deep magenta, big and blowsy, reminiscent of the tissue paper flowers I made when I was a kid. The plant always blooms in late May and inevitably the weather turns hot just about the point that the blooms appear.

These blooms are short lived in the best of conditions but the heat propels them along even faster–the buds open, flowers spread their petals out, and whomp they’re gone, in the space of a hot day. I wanted to get a picture of them this year but didn’t move quickly enough.

Sometimes I clip off one of the flowers and bring it in to float for a few days in a shallow dish of water but this year the 2 flowers bloomed and fell in less than a day. Once the bloom has passed, this is an unassuming plant with fairly ordinary green foliage–but for a day or two in spring, it prances and preens–look at me, look at me.

The regular peonies, which are dotted around the various garden beds, are slower to bloom and they retain their blooms in full glory for longer–the challenge is knowing when to cut a big bouquet before a pounding rain, again inevitable at this time of year. So far only one flower has appeared and I cut it yesterday to put in a glass vasepeonyvase on the mantel. Hopefully the buds that cover the plants will survive the rains to come over the next couple of days.

There wasn’t much of a garden here when I moved in–some foundation plantings and a small bed in the back. But this modest array of shrubs and plants got me started on my gardens and many of the plants have lived on: a peony; 4 rhododendrons; an andromeda; several lilacs, including one with deep purple blooms; an azalea with hot pink flowers; a patch of white Siberian iris; some Jacob’s Ladder, coreopsis, and Ozark sundrops. I’ve lifted and divided and replanted in new locations and it’s all going strong.

Although life in a garden is often a story of transience, of beauty that blooms and fades quickly, falls prey to pests or storms, it can also be a story of continuity, of resilience. I don’t know who planted everything originally. Maybe the couple who were renting the house. I like to think it was the original owner–a single woman like myself who had the house built in the late 50s and lived here for many years. There was once a deck on the back of the house—I like to think of her sitting on that deck sipping coffee before work, looking at the rhododendrons in full bloom.