Saturday, June 25, 2022

First Roses of the Season

William Baffin Climbing Rose
Hybrid Kordesii (Rosa x 'William Baffin')

John Davis Climbing Rose
Hybrid Kordesii (Rosa x 'John Davis')

Friday, June 24, 2022

Friday Ramble - The Measure of Our Days


Nearing the end of June, trees on the Two Hundred Acre Wood are gloriously leafed out and vast swaths of woodland are as dark as night. Here and there are shadowy alcoves several degrees cooler than the sunlit fields skirting the woods. Cedar stumps in the forest are cloaked in lichens from top to bottom, crowned with tiny green saplings and dewy, sparkling mosses, every one a wonder and no two alike. The place is a green mansion, a sylvan sanctuary that seems to go on and on forever.

Beyond the woods, strands of wild clematis wrap around the old cedar rail fence by the main gate, and the silvery posts give off a fine dry perfume. Below are hawkweeds, buttercups and clovers, daisies, tall rosy grasses and ripening milkweed, several species of goldenrod, trefoils and prickly violet bugloss, all moved by the arid summer wind and swaying in place. Open areas of waving greenery have an oceanic aspect, and I wouldn't be surprised to see the masts of tall ships poking up here and there.

There are birds are everywhere, red-tailed hawks circling overhead, swallows and kingfishers over the river, bluebirds on the fence, rose-breasted grosbeaks dancing from branch to branch in the overstory and caroling their pleasure in the day and the season. I can't see them for the trees, but there are mourning doves cooing somewhere nearby.

Fritillaries and swallowtails flutter among the cottonwoods, never pausing in their exuberant flight or coming down to have their pictures taken. Dragonflies (mostly skimmers, clubtails and darners) spiral and swoop through the air, a few corporals among them for good measure.

I began this morning with the words "It is high summer". Then I remembered that the solstice has just passed by, and I went back and started again. And so it goes in the great round of time and the seasons . . . There are many golden days are to come, but we have stepped into the the languid waters that flow downhill toward autumn.

Thursday, June 23, 2022

Thursday Poem - Fern Hill


Now as I was young and easy under the apple boughs
About the lilting house and happy as the grass was green,
The night above the dingle starry,
Time let me hail and climb
Golden in the heydays of his eyes,
And honored among wagons I was prince of the apple towns
And once below a time I lordly had the trees and leaves
Trail with daisies and barley
Down the rivers of the windfall light.

And as I was green and carefree, famous among the barns
About the happy yard and singing as the farm was home,
In the sun that is young once only,
Time let me play and be
Golden in the mercy of his means,
And green and golden I was huntsman and herdsman, the calves
Sang to my horn, the foxes on the hills barked clear and cold,
And the sabbath rang slowly
In the pebbles of the holy streams.

All the sun long it was running, it was lovely, the hay
Fields high as the house, the tunes from the chimneys, it was air
And playing, lovely and watery
And fire green as grass.
And nightly under the simple stars
As I rode to sleep the owls were bearing the farm away,
All the moon long I heard, blessed among stables, the nightjars
Flying with the ricks, and the horses
Flashing into the dark.

And then to awake, and the farm, like a wanderer white
With the dew, come back, the cock on his shoulder: it was all
Shining, it was Adam and maiden,
The sky gathered again
And the sun grew round that very day.
So it must have been after the birth of the simple light
In the first, spinning place, the spellbound horses walking warm
Out of the whinnying green stable
On to the fields of praise.

And honored among foxes and pheasants by the gay house
Under the new made clouds and happy as the heart was long,
In the sun born over and over,
I ran my heedless ways,
My wishes raced through the house high hay
And nothing I cared, at my sky blue trades, that time allows
In all his tuneful turning so few and such morning songs
Before the children green and golden
Follow him out of grace.

Nothing I cared, in the lamb white days, that time would take me
Up to the swallow thronged loft by the shadow of my hand,
In the moon that is always rising,
Nor that riding to sleep
I should hear him fly with the high fields
And wake to the farm forever fled from the childless land.
Oh as I was young and easy in the mercy of his means,
Time held me green and dying
Though I sang in my chains like the sea.

Dylan Thomas

It is perhaps the most exquisite summer poem ever written, and Dylan Thomas's creation is pure magic from the first word to the last.

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Happy Litha/Midsummer/Summer Solstice


A few ways of marking this magical moment in the Great Round when the sun seems to stand still for a moment... That is what the word solstice means, "sun standing still". It is we earthlings and our planet who are in motion though, not the radiant star at the heart of our universe. It is all downhill from here. After today, sunlight hours will wane until Yule (also called Midwinter or the Winter Solstice) on or about December 21st.

Be outside in a field at sunrise and watch the sun come up. Try to capture the moment with your camera or cell phone.

Sip a mug of Jerusalem Artichoke (Earth Apple tea) in your garden at first light and drink in the light of this hallowed day as you do.

Float a wreath of wildflowers on a pond, canal or river and watch the current carry your offering away.

Make a sunwheel or sun mandala out of flower petals.

Arrange sunflowers in a vase and place the vase in a prominent place in your home. Sunflowers are the official flower of Ukraine and more significant this year than ever.

Plant something sunny and golden in your garden. Chrysanthemums? Marigolds?

Build a fire on your favorite beach after darkness falls and and toast sweet "stuff" in the dancing flames.

May all good things come to you on this longest day of the year!

Sunday, June 19, 2022

Sunday - Saying Yes to the World

I am a child of the Milky Way. The night is my mother. I am made of the dust of stars. Every atom in my body was forged in a star. When the universe exploded into being, already the bird longed for the wood and the fish for the pool. When the first galaxies fell into luminous clumps, already matter was struggling toward consciousness. The star clouds of Sagittarius are a burning bush. If there is a voice in Sagittarius, I’d be a fool not to listen. If God’s voice in the night is a scrawny cry, then I’ll prick up my ears. If night’s faint lights fail to knock me off my feet, then I’ll sit back on a dark hillside and wait and watch. A hint here and a trait there. Listening and watching. Waiting, always waiting, for the tingle in the spine.

Chet Raymo, The Soul of the Night: An Astronomical Pilgrimage

Saturday, June 18, 2022

And so it goes...

On a cold, bleak Saturday morning, the old guy in the garden smiles from his spot below the sun deck, the faithful gardener, not so much. Her bones protest the weather.

Early yesterday morning, the main household router expired, and several peripheral devices stopped working. There was no access to the internet on this computer, one wireless printer, two television sets (one on an Amazon firestick) and my smart watch. My Google nest (used mainly to set precise timers for baking) sat silently fuming, and there was no wifi access on my cell phone, ditto my eReader.

A telephone call or three to tech support established that my router was probably the culprit and an appointment with the mother company was made to replace it, but the earliest available time for a technician to come by was this morning. The new device has just been installed, and we are connected again. There will be some running about today to reconfigure everything, but we are good to go.

What to do? I was able to stay in touch with family members via cell phone, and I could check email on it, so that is just what I did. A dear friend dropped by at noon, and we went off to purchase lunch at a favorite vegetarian restaurant, The Green Door. While we were out, I found a lovely set of bamboo chimes for the old crabapple tree, then we came home for tea, munchies and fine conversation. Later I made another pot of tea and sat happily in the garden with Beau, a large mug of Earl Grey and a good book. The absence of working technical devices notwithstanding, it turned out to be a fine day, and Beau was delighted that I was not sitting here peering at a computer screen.

It is very cool here this morning, and there is rain in the offing. I am hoping to hear my new chimes sing when the wind blows, and now that my Google nest is working again, I can batch up molasses cookies and time their sojourn in the oven precisely. 

Friday, June 17, 2022

Friday Ramble Before Litha (Midsummer)

Here we are, just a few days away from Midsummer or the Summer Solstice. Next Monday is the eve of Litha, and the following day (Tuesday, June 21st) is the longest day of the calendar year with the Sun poised at its zenith or highest point and seeming to stand still for a fleeting interval before starting down the long slippery slope toward autumn, and beyond that to winter. Actually it is we who are in motion and not the magnificent star at the center of our universe. Our sun stays right where it is.

This morning's image was taken by the front gate of the Two Hundred Acre Wood in the Lanark highlands some time ago, and it is one of my favorites, capturing the essence of midsummer beautifully with the old rail fence, strands of wild clematis, field grasses and cool green tree shadows in the background.

It seems as though the golden season has just arrived, but things are all downhill from here. After Tuesday, daylight hours will wane until Yule (December 21) when they begin to stretch out again. The ebbing of daylight hours is bittersweet, but longer nights go along on the cosmic ride during the last half of the calendar year, and that is something to celebrate for those of us who are moonhearts and ardent backyard astronomers. There are some fine stargazing nights ahead. The Old Wild Mother strews celestial wonders by generous handfuls as the year wanes, spinning luminous tapestries in the velvety darkness that grows deeper and longer with every twenty-four hour interval.

The eight festive spokes on the old Wheel of the Year are all associated with fire, but the summer solstice more than any other observance. Centuries ago, all Europe was alight on Midsummer eve, and ritual bonfires climbed high into the night from every village green. Long ago midsummer festivities included morris dancing, games of chance and storytelling, feasting and pageantry and candlelight processions after dark. Prosperity and abundance could be ensured by jumping over Midsummer fires, and its embers were charms against injury and bad weather at harvest time. Embers were placed at the edges of orchards and fields to ensure good harvests, and they were carried home to family hearths for protection. Doorways were decorated with swags and wreaths of birch, fennel, white lilies and St. John's Wort which is in bloom now..

Alas, my days of jumping midsummer bonfires are over. I try to be outside or near a window with a mug of Jerusalem Artichoke (or Earth Apple) tea and watch the sun rise. There's a candle on the old oak table and a lighted wand of Shiseido incense in a pottery bowl nearby. The afternoon holds a few hours of pottering in the village, a quiet meal as the sun goes down, a little stargazing and moon watching later. We (Beau and I) cherish the simplicity of our small festive doings and the quiet pleasure of being surrounded by kindred spirits at such times, and as always, we will think of my departed soulmate. This is our third Litha without Irv, and his passing still cuts like a knife.

Happy Litha (or Midsummer), however you choose to celebrate, or not to celebrate it next Tuesday. May the sun light up your day from sunrise to sunset, and your night be filled with stars from here to there.  May all good things come to you.

Thursday, June 16, 2022

Thursday Poem - Epiphany


Lynn Schmidt says
she saw You once as prairie grass,
Nebraska prairie grass,

she climbed out of her car on a hot highway,
leaned her butt on the nose of her car,
looked out over one great flowing field,
stretching beyond her sight until the horizon came:
vastness, she says,
responsive to the slightest shift of wind,
        full of infinite change,
        all One.

She says when she can't pray
She calls up Prairie Grass.

Pem Kremer

Pem Kremer passed away several years ago. In life, she was a much loved professor at the University of Kentucky, and she was a fine poet.  I passed some of my happiest childhood days in the kind of boundless prairie fields she is writing about, and she captures the grandeur, spirit and vastness of such places beautifully.

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

Tuesday, June 14, 2022

Monday, June 13, 2022

Sunday, June 12, 2022

Sunday, Saying Yes to the World


It is only in the intentional silence of vigil and meditation, or in the quiet places of nature, that we encounter the song of the universe. Like the wind through the telegraph wires, this song echoes along the pathways of the cosmic web: it includes the celestial spinning of the planets, as well as the hum of insects and the dancing song of the grass; it includes the song of all the ancestors and spirits as well as the beating of our own hearts.

Caitlin Matthews, Singing the Soul Back Home

Saturday, June 11, 2022

Friday, June 10, 2022

Friday Ramble - Reflect


Feeling vaguely restless and in need of something or other, I went for a walk along the lake at twilight. I didn't know what the something might be, but I hoped I would have the wits to recognize it when I found it.

When I paused on a ribbon of beach near the bridge, the setting sun was painting a trail across the water, and the ripples at my feet held up a dazzling reflection, cloud islands and shimmering archipelagos floating in the seemingly boundless sky as Helios dropped out of sight for another day. Bulrushes and fronds of pickerel weed fringed the shore, every stem swaying and casting a fey reflection. Loons drifted on the current like little boats, and herons haunted the shallows nearby.

The scene was one of joyous untrammeled reciprocity - no reservations, no limitations and no holding back, just exquisite buttery light and deep shadow, inky shapes across the water, the cadence of the waves as they greeted the shore. As often as I come here at twilight, the place always leaves me breathless.

The word reflect has been around for centuries, coming from the Old French reflecter and the Middle English reflecten, thence the Latin reflectere (re meaning back plus flectere meaning to bend). Deflect and genuflect are kindred wordsUntil the late 1500s, reflecting had to do with diverting things, with turning them aside or bending them away. Some time around 1600 CE, we also began to use it to describe intervals of quiet contemplation, moments when we turn our attention toward the past, sifting through our experiences for little wisdoms, for mind scraps and snippets of times gone by. 

There were no deep thoughts by the lake that night, and my musings were probably closer to the original meaning of this week's word than they were to the way it is generally used now. As the sun went down in flames over the hills on the far shore, I  felt like bending in a deep reverential bow or gassho, but that was out of the question. I could manage a feeble, shallow movement of sorts, but anything deeper was out of the question. So be it. No reflecting, deflecting or genuflecting for this old bod.

Wherever my particles land up after this old life is over, I would like to think that they will remember how the setting sun was reflected in the lake that night, how beautiful the world was at the end of day, how perfect the light. It is always about the light. Always.

Thursday, June 09, 2022

Thursday Poem - The Greatest Grandeur


Some say it’s in the reptilian dance
of the purple-tongued sand goanna,
for there the magnificent translation
of tenacity into bone and grace occurs.

And some declare it to be an expansive
desert—solid rust-orange rock
like dusk captured on earth in stone
simply for the perfect contrast it provides
to the blue-grey ridge of rain
in the distant hills.

Some claim the harmonics of shifting
electron rings to be most rare and some
the complex motion of seven sandpipers
bisecting the arcs and pitches
of come and retreat over the mounting
hayfield.

Others, for grandeur, choose the terror
of lightning peals on prairies or the tall
collapsing cathedrals of stormy seas,
because there they feel dwarfed
and appropriately helpless; others select
the serenity of that ceiling/cellar
of stars they see at night on placid lakes,
because there they feel assured
and universally magnanimous.

But it is the dark emptiness contained
in every next moment that seems to me
the most singularly glorious gift,
that void which one is free to fill
with processions of men bearing burning
cedar knots or with parades of blue horses,
belled and ribboned and stepping sideways,
with tumbling white-faced mimes or companies
of black-robed choristers; to fill simply
with hammered silver teapots or kiln-dried
crockery, tangerine and almond custards,
polonaises, polkas, whittling sticks, wailing
walls; that space large enough to hold all
invented blasphemies and pieties, 10,000
definitions of god and more, never fully
filled, never.

Pattiann Rogers, from Firekeepers

Wednesday, June 08, 2022

Tuesday, June 07, 2022

Red and Purple, Together

Early June, and there is a steady parade of first appearances in the garden behind the little blue house, in local hedgerows too. A few days ago, I looked at my notes for other years and realized we are a week or two behind this time around.

The first buttercups, clover, daisies, salsify and vetches are blooming in a field down the road, and a colony of poppies is dancing there in scarlet profusion.  The crinkly texture of the poppies with the sun shining through them is astonishing and we (Beau and I) stop to stare - the blooms seem to give off light, not just hoard it or wave it casually on its way. Generous creatures, poppies.

Here and there are tufts of the purple weed known locally as Creeping Charlie, Ground-ivy or Gill-over-the-ground.  I wasn't aware of it, but Glechoma hederacea  has a whole cornucopia of medicinal uses, and it is in common use as a salad green in many cultures.  European settlers carried it here on their travels, and it thrives in its "purpleness" wherever it finds itself, turning up in diverse habitats like vacant lots, parks, hedgerows and curbs, in residential flower beds and carefully manicured lawns.

Tall spires of Russell lupins in shades of pink and purple sway back and forth in local gardens, and shrubberies are full of bumble bees doing their happy appointed thing. When the rain stops, I shall be out with camera and macro lens (and wellies), moving to and fro with the wind as I try to capture the wildly boisterous hues on offer. At least I won't need to water the veggie patch today - the place is wonderfully soggy.

The differences between these madcap early June doings, and the state of things a few weeks ago is striking.  Gone are the drab khakis, dusty grays and wilted taupes of recent memory - there are reds and purples everywhere, and even the greens dazzle.

Monday, June 06, 2022

Sunday, June 05, 2022

Sunday, Saying Yes to the World


There is no mystery in this association of woods and other worlds, for as anyone who has walked the woods knows, they are places of correspondence, of call and answer. Visual affinities of color, relief and texture abound. A fallen branch echoes the deltoid form of a stream bed into which it has come to rest. Chrome yellow autumn elm leaves find their color rhyme in the eye-ring of the blackbird. Different aspects of the forest link unexpectedly with each other, and so it is that within the stories, different times and worlds can be joined.

Robert Macfarlane, The Wild Places

Saturday, June 04, 2022

Friday, June 03, 2022

Friday Ramble - Clouds in My Cuppa


Clouds, cooler mornings, rain and fog have been our lot this week. Oilskins and rubber boats wait by the door, and umbrellas bloom like peonies out in the darkling street.

On our walks, tall trees float into view like the masts of wooden sailing ships and then disappear again in the mist. There is the swish of early commuters splashing through lovely deep puddles when they think nobody is looking, the grumble of buses, the soft growl of motor vehicles heading uptown for the day's toiling.

Through the kitchen window comes the smell of rain and wet earth as I sip my mug of tea, the sound of branches in the garden shedding their cloaks of wetness, jubilant robins in the overstory singing down more life giving precipitation. This may turn out to be one of the wetter Junes in recent memory, but there is never enough rain for the robins, and they are giving the day their all.

There's something restful about a rainy day. If I could climb the old maple in the garden, I would perch right up there with the robins, trilling for more days like these fine soggy hours just unfolding. Getting there in oilskins and wellies might be difficult though, and what do I do with my tea and the umbrella?

Thursday, June 02, 2022

Thursday Poem - When I am Wise


When I am wise in the speech of grass,
I forget the sound of words
and walk into the bottomland
and lie with my head on the ground
and listen to what grass tells me
about small places for wind to sing,
about the labor of insects,
about shadows dank with spice,
and the friendliness of weeds.

When I am wise in the dance of grass,
I forget the name and run
into the rippling bottomland
and lean against the silence which flows
out of the crumpled mountains
and rises through slick blades, pods,
wheat stems, and curly shoots,
and is carried by wind for miles
from my outstretched hands.

Mary Gray from Wild Song: Poems of the Natural World

Wednesday, June 01, 2022

Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Let There Be Red


June would not be June without clay pots and planters of red geraniums (cranesbills) blooming on the thresholds of houses in the village, and tomorrow is the first day of June. Here we are again, heading toward another summer solstice.

Beau and I have noticed on early morning walks that many of this year's geranium offerings are attended by purple petunias and marigolds. There are also some splendid coleuses in rainbow shades, and sometimes all four dwell comfortably in the same pot, geraniums, petunias, marigold and coleus. What a riot of aestival color!

My gypsy soul craves spectacular coleus strains like "Dragon Heart, "Rainbow Dragon", "Kingswood Torch" and "Chocolate Covered Cherry", and I am looking for other places in the garden to plant them this year. Ditto some of the more arty amaranth varieties in local nurseries like "Joseph's Coat", "Molten Fire" and "Early Splendor".

A pot of geraniums on the cobblestones in front of the house is a long standing tradition, and every year, I think of their ancestors who graced our threshold in years past and greeted everyone who came to the door. I remember their shape, their color, their texture, their green and rather peppery fragrance, their joyous blooming. They were perfect expressions of summer, and I thanked them. Happy June, everyone!

Monday, May 30, 2022

Sunday, May 29, 2022

Sunday, Saying Yes to the World


Stars, too, were time travelers. How many of those ancient points of light were the last echoes of suns now dead? How many had been born but their light not yet come this far? If all the suns but ours collapsed tonight, how many lifetimes would it take us to realize we were alone? I had always known the sky was full of mysteries—but not until now had I realized how full of them the earth was.

Ransom Riggs, Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

Saturday, May 28, 2022

White Empress in Bloom

Great White Trillium (Trillium grandiflorum)

Friday, May 27, 2022

Friday Ramble, River


To trace the history of a river or a raindrop . . . is also to trace the history of the soul, the history of the mind descending and arising in the body. In both, we constantly seek and stumble upon divinity, which like feeding the lake, and the spring becoming a waterfall, feeds, spills, falls, and feeds itself all over again.
(Gretel Ehrlich, from Islands, The Universe, Home)

This week's word comes to us through the good offices of the Middle English and Anglo-Norman rivere and the Vulgar Latin riparia, thence the proper Latin riparius and ripa all meaning "of a bank" or simply "bank". The word's closest kin is the adjective riparian, and we use it to describe the fertile ground along waterways and those who live in such places. To be called riparian would be a fine old thing.

From the quiet alcoves and fields of their beginning places to the lakes and estuaries where they end their journeys and merge into their greater kin, a thousand and one little rivers in the Lanark highlands lift their voices, murmuring, cooing, laughing, singing, occasionally roaring. At sunset or in cool morning light, reflections of sky and clouds and trees fill every pool and eddy. After dark, the moon pours its light over everything and Luna seems as much a dweller in the quiet waters as she is in the sky above.

Solitary voices, choruses and concertos, there is attentive presence and connection in every note, and what a metaphor for life and journeying. If I could have named myself, the name would probably have been "River". As it happens, the youngest member of the family now wears the name, and I was delighted when it was chosen. I would like to be around to explore puddles, rivers and tide pools with her in a few years.

Wherever we land up living out our days, we are never far from rivers, and they are fine motifs for wandering. If we are lucky, we will know many in our lives, learn their dialect and cadence, trace the patterns of their ebbing and flowing, commit their rumbling chants and fluid harmonies to fragile memory — the canticles of earth's rivers are ancient stories, and they are the music of our journey.

A peaceful river and a few golden summer full moons, what more can one ask for?