Thursday, December 26, 2013

Have Yourself a Merry

Post 84

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmastime

This has been a tough early winter, only made more intense by my mother's having shattered her hip and gotten a hip replacement. Today my husband and I, our daughter and my father celebrated Christmas in my mom's room in a rehab hospital. And we had a good time. I packed a picnic with every one's favorite foods and  there were lots pf presents. We left when my mother started nodding off.

Because of my mom's health I went up to New York (where I grew up,) during the glittery, busy week before Christmas. And this meant that when my mom did not need me, I got to wander lit-up New York.

When I was younger I used to tell people about New York's pearly night sky, how sometimes it reflected back mauve or puce, cerise or alpine green as weather and pollution dictated. No non-New Yorker ever believed me, they were sure it was just a romantic exaggeration. But I love New York and know that nothing about it needs exaggeration. I did not add colored filters to these night photographs. Reality is enough.

Forgive me thou for the above Park Ave. glitter, Picasa added the twinkle before I figured out how to turn it off.

So--time for a Christmas evening at Tiffany's.

And at the Frick

And then throughout the town.

 And of course the Nymph of the Plaza

So Merry Christmas and God bless us, everyone.  One of the beauties of Christmas is that it is as if there is current in the atmosphere that helps us to connect to what is most benevolent, generous and real within us.. It is as if there is a cosmic slip-stream to join with that can help bring out what is best within us.We join together to celebrate it, and it brings comfort and joy.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Taking Account

Post 83

What follows isn't always easy.

Winter has come quick and hard.

Which I can spin as a good corrective to the main weakness of the garden this last summer. For now, in the advent of bleak midwinter, is a good time to take account.

What did not work in the garden this year; An excess of zinnias. I was swayed by a large, cheap flat of multicolored zinnias at the farmstand. And instead of giving the extras away as I should have, I stuck small clumps of them in places they didn't belong, where they were too tall or too multicolored  to work. And then, of course, once I realized they didn't work, they were too big and full for me to have the heart to yank them out. 

To pull off the wild garden, it can't be too wild.  Next year no tempting flats of zinnias for me. I'm going to start my own instead, and just one variety, my favorite.: Queen Red Lime. That way they will unify the garden . A garden flourishes thanks to, not only the gardener's creativity, but also their self-criticism. 

Is it really so icky out or am I just grouchy from a cold that wouldn't go away?  I'm feeling the low-energy imposture blues. Time to stop writing before the self-criticism devolves in to mawk.

Thou I will wonder, does the water in a fire hydrent freeze like all the water around it, or is there some means to keep it liquid?  As you may guess, I never had physics in High School, just chemistry and lots of biology. And I often feel the want of it. My husband says it has to do with pressure.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Empathy, Or The Second Annual Beauty of Decay Post

Post 81

For a gardener, Fall can feel traumatic. What one has loved is passing away.

It is hard not to identify with the garden if one has subcreated and tended it with love.

Recently, at my day job, I got a reference call. The question? What is empathy?

The dictionary definition was too technical for the caller; she asked me if I could explain it. I said, approximately," It's like when you watch the evening news and you see a woman crying cause someone or something has died. Part of you hurts just seeing her go through it. And you'd like to make it better for her, just like you would like things to be made better for you when you're hurting."

This time of year we see a lot of stuff dying around us. Even though we've been told that plants do not feel pain, their seeming demise projects a somber quality, even though the colors of the turning foliage are the essence of liveliness. It's a suggestive paradox.

A long time ago I worked at a company that was loosing money and where it felt like everyone was fighting. At lunch a co-worker and I would go and sit in a quiet corner of St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York, trying to get some peace. I remember feeling as if all the world's misery was on my shoulders. I did not know it then, but I was heading into a depression. My friend said she felt it too. There was so much constant  disruption around us, it was as if we could feel peoples' pain bleeding into the air. And all we could do was breathe it in.

 Like I said, long time ago. But empathy can sometimes be almost a double-edge sword. People who are sensitive to others' pain sometimes get taken advantage of because of it. They breathe in others' pain and let it become their own. And frankly, I do not know of a human being on this earth who does not have enough pain. Nobody needs more.

For me, this season is useful for thinking about such things. As I get older, I feel I get freer, strong enough to feel empathy but also to keep better boundaries so as not to breathe in others' pain. And I've learned to mistrust people who expect or even ask me to do so. 
Most of us want most of the good stuff in life, much of which most of us never get all at once. I have found I need certain things, like privacy and freedom. I feel self-conscious easily. I dislike being guided by anything but my own small portion of intelligence, my conscience and the Holy Spirit. I hate control, and I consider underhanded attempts at control mean and ugly. I like to cooperate. I like to know what is going on and the more I know what is going on, the easier it is for me to cooperate. Nevertheless, I also know that at the center of life is Mystery, one that should not be too easily defined or confined.  I believe the laborer is worthy of her or his hire. And I know that love makes things thrive and if there is no thriving, then there is no love. And that I, like most of us, need to be loved and to love. And all this, of course, is nowhere near the definition of what I need. Like everyone, I am too complex for any such shorthand. But with age, I have at least learned a few basics.

Walking through this autumn world is a chance to rehearse what's been learned during all one's  cycles of growth and decay. To feel empathy without losing boundaries. To morn with the dead and exalt with the living. To be more circumspect and subtle than innate bluntness may normally allow. To affirm, while in time, that the outworn sometimes needs to go so that the new can be given space.

To bless the beauty of decay and hopefully, but wisely, await what follows.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Dogs, Autumn Leaves and other Intimations of Immortality

Post 82

Falls coming on.

Leafy duff in piles of fluff
Beguiles my dog
Who jacknives in,
Snorts and spins.

A purple leaf
Breaths on his nose,
He smells the cloves
Warming in the wine,

As we homeward trek;

Through flecks of life once lived
Trampled rainbow signs
Of all we hoped to bid
And all we knew must die.

Any dog can smell a coming meal;

Like the brightness of dead leaves
Bringing out this brighter feel
-- To what indeed may come
When all we know is done.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Small Decisions, Big Payoff

Post 80

Spring is change as beginning. Spring's flowers, after winter's dinge, jolt us with pleasure -- colors, smells,warmth, a liveliness once lost, now regained.

Gardeners share this enchantment at least as much as others. Sunny days bring us outside to work, of course, but in a flush of blooming exuberance, also to buy. The lure of the nursery with its rows and rows of promise, the dreams of future beauty piled on beauty, make a harmless temptation easy to give in to. Most of us are suckers and buy and buy and buy. Why not?

Well -- if you are starting a garden, no problem. Especially if you keep buying through gardening's three seasons. However, many of us keep buying for spring, even after we have sufficient spring bloomers, but lag at buying into the year as the flush of newness lessens.   Undreamy facts such as weeds, humidity, bugs and plain habituation have a way of lessening our original unnatural exuberance. Meaning many gardens look great from April-June, maybe July, and then go kaput.

 So how to keep going? Well. it's pretty simple really. But it takes self-discipline, which, of course, I stink at. And so it has taken me ten years to do what I might have done in three. But boy, is it worth it.

It's all in the small decisions. Every time you want to buy a plant or spread some seed, ask yourself --  when it will bloom? If the answer is spring , make sure you love, love, love it. If the answer is summer, make sure you love love it. And for fall... just get the darn plant if you like it at all. Because you will wind up love, love, loving it.

Think of the garden as a racehorse, you want/need an extrafast sprint at the end. Channel Velvet Brown whispering into the Pie's ear right before the end of the National.

Because winter is coming. Even though my garden still has two perennials yet to bloom (mums and wolfsbane,) winter's time is right behind them. And how much better to go into it with all the joy of the full drama of autumnal abundance. That way the decay can be rich and strange, not rote and predictable, making the next transformation into spring all that much more magical.

Friday, August 23, 2013

The Peaks Keep Peaking; or, Yup, a Garden is Female

Post 79

Two posts ago I said the garden was peaking out. I inadvertently lied. Because the garden is still peaking and is going to continue to do so whatever I say.

I think I have finally figured this out. There is no peak; there are peaks. Call it a blooming mountain range. The above ground peaks start at the end of March and end sometime in October/November. And a winter camilia is just a token of the peaking going on under the earth through winter as roots grow and seeds burst open. But here I am, waiting for the garden to lessen it's impact just because the solstice is passed.

Luckily, the garden will have its way and show delight regardless of the odd, theoretical words this gardener gets stuck on. Which seems a good cue for perhaps some finer words, apropos as summer comes to a close.

by Nancy Byrd Turner
Who makes a garden plans beyond her knowing.
Old roads are lost; old dwellings have their day;
And she herself, far summoned, passes hence
An unfamiliar way;--

But no, she has not perished with her going;
For year by year as April's heart is stirred,
Spring after punctual Spring,

Across the little acres' wintry grey
Comes slowly traced, an old authentic word
In radiant lettering:

A shining script of tendril, vine and whorl,
New green, faint rose, clear lavender and pearl,
Petal by delicate petal, leaf by leaf,

As though her own hand from the Mystery 
Wrote, for all earth to see, upon a fadeless, beauteous scroll,
Her brief for immortality.

Who knows? It is all a big fat mystery, however we see it. We might as well enjoy it, allowing our mistakes the mercy they deserve,

and our harmless delights the respect they deserve, the dignity they harbinger and the beauty that perhaps they foretell.

by Edmund Spenser

August, being rich arrayed
In garment all of gold down to the ground,
Yet rode he not, but led a lovely maid
Forth by the hand, that which was crowned
With ears of corn, and full her hand was found:
That was the righteous Virgin, which of old
Lived here on earth, and plenty made abound.