Duck and Cover

Crocus

Hellebore

No, this isn’t a post about earthquakes, or ducks.  It’s about the bits of color and soft petals showing up in the winter debris of our yard.  Though it’s the same flowers every year, it is like finding treasure when the Crocuses, Snow bells and Pulmonaria begin to bloom.  And tiny Violets, so hidden, peeked out from under their leaves in January, perhaps they’ve been there all winter!  Our one and only Hellebore is to me a miracle; I did not think they would grow in our ‘extreme’ shade (yes, I know they like partial shade) and clay soil.  I have come to call our yard “Clayville”.  A few years ago I planted the hardiest Hellebore I could find, nothing fancy, and though it looks pathetic, with just a few leaves year round, not lush and leafy like I see them in other gardens, it blooms cheerfully about the time winter becomes tiresome.

tiny, ground cover Violets

The strategy of these early bloomers seems to be stay low (duck) and be sure you have lots of leave debris around you (cover).  The Snow bells and Pulmonaria poke through moss, leaves or whatever is in their way, Violets hide in their own leaves.

Happy to see them, Mike weeded around the first crocuses to show up, and their almost-ready-to-bloom Daffodil neighbors.  They might be feeling a bit chilly at night, and with snow predicted for this weekend, their bright color may soon be gone.

Crocuses are remarkable, they boldly bloom very early, yet even rain will melt their petals, if it snows, they disappear.  Not so with the others, Snowbells well deserve their name, Violets just bury their heads again, the Hellebore and Daffodils will survive, albeit maybe not standing straight, if winter challenges their early arrival with a snow dump.

These early bloomers arrive each year in time to tell us, there is hope, the cycles of Nature begin anew, the world is not just a gray-green-brown blob!  Color will reign!

Snow bells

Pulmonaria, or Lungwort, always puts up one flower stalk very early, then fills in with leaves and more flowers later.

Nature’s Heart

An Oyster shell worn by time and the ocean into a heart-shape

There will be an abundance of quotes, articles, blog entries, and Facebook posts for Valentine’s Day about love, chocolate, and other related topics. What I find fascinating about Valentine’s day is the remarkable heart-shape, found throughout Nature, and having little resemblance to the human heart.

There is a debated theory that the heart-shaped seeds of a plant called Silphium, found in ancient Cyrene (now Libya) may be the origin of the heart shape representing love. Used both for seasoning and medicinally, the basis of the theory comes from one of the plant’s medicinal uses.  By regulating a woman’s menstrual cycle, it was used as a method of birth control. This connection to sexuality is the basis of the theory. This plant is thought to be extinct, though that too is debated.

A compelling theory, but it is not necessary to look to antiquity to find botanical heart shapes with a love connection.  Here is a sampling of plants which are likely growing in your garden, or seen while walking in the northwest woods. These are all good candidates for a heart-shape-as-symbol-of-love theory (some better than others!)

Violets, which even on this cold winter day are lush and green outside my door, have perfect, tiny heart-shaped leaves.  Used for many medicinal purposes, Viola tricolor is listed as a heart tonic in many herbal manuals.

Lemon Balm, or Melissa officinalis, a personal favorite, also outside the door, this year the hardy leaves surviving our mild winter.  Among its many culinary and medicinal uses, it is used as a relaxant, calming anxiety, and in treating depression.  Hey, chocolate makes the same claims and it is the “official” food of love!

Lungwort, Pulmonaris officinalis, a common garden flower in shady NW gardens, has beautiful, often speckled, elongated heart-shaped leaves.  It’s medicinal claims, clearing lungs and treating bronchial infections and coughs, may not be romantic, but who can be romantic with a bad cough! It may well have a role in a successful tryst on a wintry day!

False Lily-of-the valley, Maianthemum dilatatum, is a NW native wild flower with heart-shaped leaves.  It was used as a wash for sore eyes by native people…let’s see, there might be a connection here between the saying (while looking at one’s sweetheart) “you are a sight for sore eyes.”  Even if not directly love related, it is a lovely heart-shaped plant.

The blooms of Pacific Bleeding Heart, Dicentra formosa, while not as distinctively heart-shaped as domesticate Bleeding Heart flowers, are none the less heart-shaped at the base.  They are the singular host food for the caterpillar of the beautiful Parnassian butterfly. That alone makes it a love plant in my book! And of course the garden variety Bleeding Heart is a beautiful flower that evokes love by both its shape and passionate pink color.

This list could go on and on, other NW species with heart-shaped leaves are Wild Ginger and some Trilliums.  If you are looking for heart-shaped seeds, several mallows, specifically the Velvet-leaf plant, have little hearts.

Hearts are everywhere in Nature. Who has not found a heart-shaped rock? And, this is weird I know, but the rear view of several animals, Mule deer in particular, are a nice heart-shaped patch of white.  Maybe not sexy to you, but I bet it is to an amorous potential sweetheart for the deer!

Happy Valentine’s Day!

nothing says "Be Mine" like Bleeding Hearts & Forget-me-nots!

Wet Comfort

Looking out the window today I thought what a comfort rain can be.  There is an ease in rain, it is after all what we Northwesterners experience as our ‘default’, the weather that always comes back to us after periods of snow, hot sun, or dry spells.  Like most folks, rain impacts me in different ways at different times.  I remember, when going to school in Eugene, hearing on the radio one November that it had rained every day for a month.  Not just drizzle, significant, measurable rain for thirty days.  I was impressed, though I have no doubt since lived through many similar months.

Fully aware what lack of sun can do to ones mood, I have had my share of ‘cabin fever’ and winter blues.  Yet there is a psychological relief when it rains after a dry spell, not just in the summer, but winter too.  Maybe not the dramatic relief felt by those living in monsoon climates, whose dry spells are months long and to whom rain brings to live plants and the hope of survival. In the northwest, if it hasn’t rained for a spell, it brings a relief more like putting on a favorite sweatshirt and slippers after you haven’t worn them for a days, and sitting down with a cup of tea.  It’s subtle. It’s comfort.

I met a man at the end of our driveway today.  He was on a bicycle, pulling a bike trailer, the kind used for kids, a German Shepard by his side.  He was looking at a map and I asked if he needed help.  He wanted assurance he was headed toward the Hood Canal Bridge.  He had been camping and bicycling in the Olympics for four days. I commented that it was too bad the weather turned wet this week after last week’s sunny, dry, albeit cold, days. Thinking he might be from elsewhere, I remarked this might not be the best time of year to experience the Olympics.  He replied with enthusiasm “oh, I love it, I love the weather!”  He had ridden in rain, snow, and ice (he didn’t care for the ice) camping along the way.  He was celebrating his 47th birthday. He lived in Kingston. I asked about the dog needing breaks, “that’s what the trailer is for” he responded.

This man found the rain invigorating, inspiring, and enjoyed a solitude and Olympic experience few would relish!

Born in November, traditionally the wettest month on record, perhaps I was programmed in those early days of life to find comfort in the sounds and smells of rain.  I love water and am grateful not to live in a dry climate.

To my thinking the real culprit of winter ‘blues’ is darkness and we have more than our share during our short winter days.  I think rain without dark clouds would be lovely, and we would have many rainbows!

Note:  This is my first  blog in this new location on the internet.  I hope those who have been following my musings and ruminations have found this new site, which I think will be my itertnet home for some time!  Welcome!

Slow down…

This photo has nothing to do with this post, except it shows the slow, transforming power of Nature, as the ocean carves these 'sea stacks' at Ruby Beach, Olympic National Park

As I posted my thoughts about trees falling, and falling trees, I reflect on how incredibly boring this topic, and no doubt many of my posts, would be to the majority of people in our urban, fast paced society.  A whole blog entry on trees falling down! Get a life lady!  My blog certainly does not follow the ‘rules’ for keeping a blog interesting – be clever, fast paced, contemporary.  There are of course wonderful blogs full of philosophical, even spiritual sentiment and positive guidance.  I hint at such in some of my posts.
Perhaps my slow blog, (should I start a ‘slow blog’ movement?), moving at the pace Nature often moves here in the Northwest (think slugs, snails, big trees,mountains, though some of them move quite speedily when erupting!) might slow down a few readers. If I put people to sleep that would be a great service as insomnia reaches epidemic status!  
If slow is not your thing, think about this, in Nature life forms which go, or grow, slow – giant tortoises, elephants, Redwoods, Spruce, even our Douglas Firs – will out live us, and most everything else.  Obviously not all in Nature is slow – gazelles, waterfalls, bamboo, move or grow quite accelerated! But we’re talking slow here.
To create what we want requires focus and intent.  In order to eliminate something in our personal lives or as a society we need to turn our attention, thus our energy, away from it.  Our energy, or life force, is designed to nurture and create.  Continually staying focused on, and pushing against, what we want to bring an end to nurtures it.  Seems counter productive doesn’t it?  Right now in the world many well intended and energized people are not creating the future, but are engaging, and thus buttressing, the status quo.
Psychologists, philosophers and spiritualist alike have expounded upon this truth. It has come down through time.  I humbly subscribe to it, having seen it work in both the grand scheme and my own little life.  
So I offer up small, anecdotal reflections and stories about Nature, for it is my simple but steady way of staying focused on what I believe is a powerful antidote to the stress and troubles we all face.  Reconnecting to the slow, healing power of Nature, drawing from it substance to nurture and create our future as individuals and as a society shows wisdom. Nature offers us lightness and teaches us humbleness, it shows us when to slow down like a tortoise, when to take action like a gazelle.  We must first slow down to allow ourselves to be in its presence.
Are you falling asleep yet?  Good-night!

Evergreen, ever growing

About 75 rings tell age and history
of the cedar, some years
wet, some droughty.

A few weeks ago we came home to a fallen tree across the driveway, not just any tree, it was the cedar snag that stood, dead as a door nail, for the 30+ years I have lived here.  Not particularly old, for a conifer, this tall tree towered above its surrounding, and living, neighbors, mostly Big-Leaf Maples and a few smaller cedars.  It was the look out of numerous birds and the convenience store for a variety of woodpeckers.  Many a fascinating bird sightings came from just looking up to the top of this cedar beacon.

a well used tree, the cedar snag came down
on a windy day

It began to lean a few months ago, but often trees lean a long time before falling, so though inevitable, it was still with sadness we saw this giant bird perch lying on the ground.  No doubt it will be missed by the resident woodpeckers even more than by us. Finally having a chance to see the tippy-top, it appears they excavated it down to a thin bit of wood, but it was the wet ground, causing the base to rot, that brought down the tall timber. Retired as a look-out and feeding station, it will now become firewood.

It is always with mixed emotions we decide to intentionally fall trees, but this winter it was with resolve we made the decision to do so. Our summers have been getting darker and darker, even on days when the rest of the NW might be enjoying sun.  Unlike children, trees do not noticeably seem to get taller, it seems to happen both subtly and suddenly. When I realized I could no longer hang clothes to dry, for the window of sun in our yard was less than a few hours, I looked up more. Accustom to blaming cloddy clay soil for our gardening challenges, I had failed to notice, until a few years ago, our sun seeking veggies were having a difficult time growing, even surviving, in the shade of giant evergreens.  The Douglas Firs had become sentinels whose job, it seemed, was to keep the sun out.

Aware of our woodsy surroundings, long ago I resigned to growing modest primulas, mugworts, and other shade “tolerate” flowers, but for decades I managed short season and cool weather veggies in a plot on the south side of the house.  Peas, lettuce, beets, and even some summer squash seemed to adapt to the short, but often intensely hot, mid-day sun (trees do hold the summer heat).  It was my own growing summer ‘blues’ that made me realize we had been engulfed by the firs surrounding us.  When I would go somewhere, anywhere, even the post office, I would notice there is SKY ‘out there’!

two giant Grandfather Firs frame the half moon

After saying good-bye and thanking them for their majesty and the warmth they will be providing as firewood, a few tall firs were fallen to open up sky to the garden and our own sun-seeking souls.

The first tree down showed some rot, so perhaps that was a good one to fall, before it fell in a less opportune place.  The next few seemed to fall almost gracefully, hitting the soft ground with more whoosh than thud.  As the last tree fell, an Eagle flew over, circling.

Though a wider window of sky now exists between the stands of the giants,grandfather firs that will never be taken down, ancestors of all others, the space opened by the fallen trees is barely noticeable.  Nature, the original succession planter and sustainability grower, has young trees behind, to the side, and in front of the ones that fell. They too will now thrive and grow with the added light.  We are not greedy, wanting only a bit more sun, and in love with the trees that surround us, this next generation of tall timbers will be here long after we are gone.