Monday, June 18, 2018

Sunday, June 17, 2018

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 16, 2018

First Roses

William Baffin Climbing Rose
Hybrid Kordesii (Rosa x 'William Baffin)
 'William Baffin' was developed in Ottawa by Agriculture Canada at the Central Experimental Farm, and it is one of the hardiest roses ever created. The Explorer rose program later moved to Morden, Manitoba.

Vigorous and very resistant to disease, 'Baffin' dishes out gorgeous pink blooms all summer long, and it is hardy to zone 3 with little or no special treatment or winter protection. Given a wall or a trellis to climb, it will happily reach ten feet in height and almost that in width. Hallelujah, this is a rose that loves living in the north and flowers extravagantly until frost.

I found this specimen at an end-of-season sale three years ago and it looked so lonely and forlorn in its corner that I just had to adopt it and bring it home. Now it lives where I can see it from my bedroom window, and this summer it will be joined by two other breathtaking Explorer roses, 'John Franklin' and 'David Thompson'. I can hardly wait.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Friday Ramble - Enoughness

The adjective form of this week's word dates from before the year 900, having its origin in the Middle English enogh, and Old English genōh; both are cognate with the German genug, Gothic ganohs and  Old Norse nōgr.  The Old English geneah (it suffices) and Sanskrit naśati (reaches or reaching) are kindred words.

Roget gives us the following: abundant, adequate, ample, full, sufficient, suitable, acceptable, bountiful, comfortable, competent, complete, copious, decent, enough already, plentiful and satisfying.  Frugal and its noun form frugality are modern kin and words I sometimes use in conversation.

If you haven't already read Lewis Hyde's The Gift, Trickster Makes This World or Common As Air, think about it. In Hyde's view, to cultivate enoughness is see things a little (or a lot) differently, to make use of the gifts we have been given, to appreciate what we already have and embrace the non-commercial (or commonwealth) aspects of our creativity. We need to tread lightly on the earth, reduce our ecological footprint, lessen our demands on a world strained almost beyond its regenerative powers by human excess, greed, cruelty and contempt. Is the cup of our earthly days half empty or half full? It's up to us.

Cultivating enoughness, we use what we have been given with grace, respect and thanksgiving.  We partake of a wild and earthy fruitfulness, a careful abundance and an ethic of universal stewardship. We walk through this world rooted and knowing our place in it, live as the good stewards, artists and creators we were meant to be. Lewis Hyde says it a lot better than I ever could.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Thursday Poem - Directions

The best time is late afternoon
when the sun strobes through
the columns of trees as you are hiking up,
and when you find an agreeable rock
to sit on, you will be able to see
the light pouring down into the woods
and breaking into the shapes and tones
of things and you will hear nothing
but a sprig of birdsong or the leafy
falling of a cone or nut through the trees,
and if this is your day you might even
spot a hare or feel the wing-beats of geese
driving overhead toward some destination.

But it is hard to speak of these things
how the voices of light enter the body
and begin to recite their stories
how the earth holds us painfully against
its breast made of humus and brambles
how we who will soon be gone regard
the entities that continue to return
greener than ever, spring water flowing
through a meadow and the shadows of clouds
passing over the hills and the ground
where we stand in the tremble of thought
taking the vast outside into ourselves.

Billy Collins,
(from The Art of Drowning)

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Golden Treasure in the Woods

Large Yellow Lady's Slipper
(Cypripedium parviflorum var pubescens)
It's a time of the year when one signs in in the morning, looks at her photographic efforts from the last few days and decides to say as little as possible.  The photos say it all without her help, and the best thing she can do is be silent.  Let them speak, or sing in their own voices, in all their green, gold and rusty perfection.

I doesn't matter that she has been looking at wild orchids for years and capturing them with her lens whenever she encounters them. Every year, they are simply magnificent and beyond expression.  They are absolutely perfect, beyond perfect, and her little net of words is woefully inadequate. She will just sit here and look at them with her mouth open. Like WOW...

Monday, June 11, 2018

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Sunday - Saying Yes to the World

The love of wilderness is more than a hunger for what is always beyond reach; it is also an expression of loyalty to the earth, the earth which bore us and sustains us, the only paradise we shall ever know, the only paradise we ever need, if only we had the eyes to see.

We know so very little about this strange planet we live on, this haunted world where all answers lead only to more mystery.

Edward Abbey (Desert Solitaire)

Saturday, June 09, 2018

Lupins and Early Light

I can never walk past a stand of lupins without thinking of the Monty Python's Flying Circus sketch in which a bumbling highwayman named Dennis Moore (played by John Cleese) steals lupins from the rich and tries to give them to the local peasantry. Alas, Moore's efforts are met with derision by the people he is trying to hand his purloined florals to, and they demand other things instead, like Titian paintings, Venetian silver and art glass.

This morning's lupins live in the abandoned garden behind a small brick bungalow in the village.  The elderly woman who lived in the little house had a wonderful garden surrounded by high hedgerows, and the garden could not be seen from the street.  It always reminded me of the secret garden in Frances Hodgson Burnett's The Secret Garden. There were fruit trees and blackberries and hawthorns, antique lupins in blue, purple, pink and cream, coneflowers, cornflowers, daisies, phlox, peonies and hostas.  The place was full of birds and bumbles in the summer, and it was an oasis of serenity. I loved visiting.

The house was sold a few months ago, and its owner has moved into an assisted living community. The property will be bulldozed this summer, and the lot filled up with townhouses, no green space involved whatsoever.  My friend's fabulous garden will soon to be a thing of the past.

This summer I am thinking of my friend and her fabulous garden rather than comedy sketches, and I am feeling a little blue. Some of her lupins, cornflowers, peonies and hostas will be coming home to my own garden this weekend, and I shall think of her whenever I see them.

Friday, June 08, 2018

Friday Ramble - Holding the Sun Within

Oh, how they hold the sun within, these gloriously yellow gerbera blooms. Kin to dahlias, daisies, marigolds, calendulas, coneflowers, chrysanthemums, zinnias, and the great towering sunflowers, they drink in summer's morning light and store it within the frilly tutus of their lavish petals. 

Little earthbound suns, they dish out abundance like honey, and even the old garden roses behind them are moved and uplifted by their frothy golden magnificence, by their almost imperceptible swaying movement, by the soft, sighing music of their duet with the wind.

Now and then, I falter as all living creatures must from time to time. On dreary days, I mourn the paucity of light in the world beyond my windows and find myself filled with vague longings and a gentle melancholy.

Then I remember how my garden loves the light in summer, and I am renewed by the remembrance, do a little blooming of my own within. If I could only take in light and store it as flowers do in their season - I am working on it.

Thursday, June 07, 2018

Thursday Poem - For the Children

The rising hills, the slopes,
of statistics
lie before us.
The steep climb
of everything, going up,
up, as we all
go down.

In the next century
or the one beyond that
they say,
are valleys, pastures,
we can meet there in peace
if we make it.

To climb these coming crests
one word to you, to
you and your children:

stay together,
learn the flowers,
go light.

Gary Snyder, from Turtle Island

Wednesday, June 06, 2018

The Jester's Cap and Bells

Canadian columbine (Aquilegia canadensis)

Tuesday, June 05, 2018

In the Pink

Swamp Butterfly Weed, also called Swamp Milkweed,
Rose Milkweed and White Indian Hemp
(Asclepias incarnata )
On a recent walk in the Lanark Highlands, I recorded pages of blooming "stuff" in my field notebook and pulled it out this morning for another look - not a shabby gathering for just a brief ramble in the woods, fields and fens of the Two Hundred Acre Wood and along the beaver pond.

Anemone (Canada, Rue, Wood), Bird's-foot Trefoil, Black Mustard, Bladder Campion, Boneset, Brown-eyed Susan, Buttercup, Cardinal Flower, Catnip, Chicory, Clover (tall yellow and white, short  pink, white and purple), Cohosh (Blue and Black), Common Milkweed, Crown Vetch, Daisy Fleabane, Dandelion, Day Lily, Deptford Pink, Elderberry, Everlasting Pea, Fragrant Water Lily (white), Hawkweed (orange and yellow), Heal-All, Hedge Bindweed, Honeysuckle, Lambs Quarters, Large Yellow Lady's Slipper, Leafy Spurge, Milkweed, Miterwort, Motherwort, Oxeye Daisy, Pickerelweed, Queen Anne's Lace (Wild Carrot), Red Baneberry, Rose Mallow, Shrubby Cinquefoil, Sow Thistle, Snakeroot, Spatterdock, St. John's Wort, Swamp Butterfly Weed (Swamp Milkweed), Thimbleberry, Thimbleweed, Toadflax, Tufted Vetch, Turkish Mullein, Vipers Bugloss, Vervain, Virgin's Bower (Wild Clematis), Wild Basil, Wild Bergamot, Wild Cucumber, Wild Parsnip, Yarrow, Yellow Goatsbeard

Such exercises are never simple laundry lists, but an expression of the abundance on offer here in summer, an appreciation too of what Mother Earth holds out to us in her own good time and seasons - they're also powerful reminders of what a special place this little blue planet is.

Most of the species listed this morning provide shelter and sustenance for wild cousins, munching for the furry and nectar for the winged.  Always of particular interest is milkweed which draws Monarch and Viceroy butterflies and serves as nurseries for their eggs and caterpillars.  Stands of kindred Swamp Butterfly Weed near the pond sport bright pink buds, and they sport dragonflies and damsel flies as do the silvery spatterdock leaves a little further out.

The tall water grasses along pond and stream were in ceaseless windy motion this week, a panoramic blur of dancing emerald green that made focusing a sometime thing.  A family of wood ducks detached themselves from the reeds and flew away protesting to splash down in the center with much quacking, beyond the loving scrutiny of eyes and lens. A few swallowtails fluttered in the distance, and the air over the water was full of iridescent dragonflies. It's all good, even if the deer flies and mosquitoes were out and about in profusion.

Monday, June 04, 2018

Dragonfly in the Wind

Common Baskettail (Epitheca cynosura)

Sunday, June 03, 2018

Sunday - Saying Yes to the World

The world is its own magic.
Shunryu Suzuki

Saturday, June 02, 2018

Little Dragons of the Air

Female Four-spotted Skimmer
(Libellula quadrimaculata)

Friday, June 01, 2018

Friday Ramble - Fragile

This week's word comes to us from Old French, thence from the Latin fragilis or frangere meaning to break. Tucked somewhere in there is the Indo-European bhreg and the Gothic brikan, both meaning to shatter. In modern parlance, the word means easily broken, damaged, delicate, brittle, frail, vulnerable, flimsy, lacking body, strength or substance.

Fragile things are assumed to be anything except robust or bright, and not vibrant by any means, but it isn't necessarily so. Fragile, bright, robust, vibrant and strong are not mutually exclusive, and they abide harmoniously together. Could anything be more fragile and at the same time, more vibrant and brimming than these all-too-brief earthly days?

I am still coping with the consequences of cancer surgery and aggressive chemo and radiation, but for all that, I am cheerful. There is comfort in knowing that no matter how unpleasant things are from time to time, I can trounce this thing, and by golly, I am going to do just that.  I am fortunate in having a wonderful oncology team, the support of family, colleagues, and friends both near and far.

Although I feel fragile, frayed and rather tattered at times, it passes, and there are always brighter times ahead. I have a mantra to get me through rough moments: I am stronger than this, and this is making me stronger.

This weekend, Himself and Beau and I will replenish our inner directives in the Lanark woods and on the shores of our favorite lake. There is comfort in wild places, and perhaps there will be dragonflies and herons this time around. I still can't go very far, but by golly, every step dishes out wonders for eyes and lens.

Happy June everyone!

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Thursday Poem - Sleeping in the Forest

I thought the earth remembered me,
she took me back so tenderly,
arranging her dark skirts, her pockets
full of lichens and seeds.
I slept as never before, a stone on the river bed,
nothing between me and the white fire of the stars
but my thoughts, and they floated light as moths
among the branches of the perfect trees.
All night I heard the small kingdoms
breathing around me, the insects,
and the birds who do their work in the darkness.
All night I rose and fell, as if in water,
grappling with a luminous doom. By morning
I had vanished at least a dozen times
into something better.
Mary Oliver
(from Twelve Moons)

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Eyes of Heaven

The irises reside in a sunny hillside alcove on the Two Hundred Acre Wood, surrounded by a dense thicket of armored Prickly Ash. Because of the wicked thorns, I usually avoid the area, and local deer also give a wide berth to Zanthoxylum americanum. The thicket is a secure nesting place for indigo buntings, and they flit merrily in and out in summer, lighting up the hill with plumage in a fetching variation of my favorite color.

In Greek, the word iris means "eye of heaven" as well as "messenger", and our sumptuous summer blooms take their name from Iris, goddess of the rainbow. As messenger of the gods, she carried their missives between heaven and earth along the prismatic trail, and another of her sacred tasks was escorting the souls of deceased women along the same path to the Elysian fields, the final resting place of those who were heroic and virtuous in life.

There has always been something alluring and powerful about irises and the number three.  One form or another of the three-petaled iris grows in almost every tropical or temperate corner of island earth, and the flower has been cherished by individual cultures for time out of mind. In its regal purple form, the iris symbolizes royalty and divine protection, and it was venerated by Merovingian monarchs like Clovis who used it as a device on their military banners and painted it on the walls of their dwelling places.  I've always found it incongruous that the iris was used as a heraldic device by a legendary confederation of bellicose Frankish tribes. After the Merovingians, along came the combative Carolingian kings, and the iris became the "fleur-de-lis" beloved of France today.  

For ancient cultures, the iris represented life, virtue and resurrection.  For us, it is the essence of summer, and when it comes to purple, the irises have it all.