“High Priest of Spring”

A poem for April, National Poetry month.

My dad was a man of business, but he had a romantic, poetic, creative side to himself which he didn’t really begin to nurture until his last years when he began to sketch, etc.

IMG_2366Every spring, as the wild bleeding hearts begin to bloom, turning the woods here into a fairyland, I think of this poem by him, found after his death. I posted it 6 years ago, but I still love to share it.

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Is it a good poem? I don’t know, but it shows his sensitive attention to and appreciation of the details of life unfolding on this shared land. It expresses his observation of life around him. Is that not what many poets write of?

It’s a delight to see this side of him, and sad we never walked the land together in the spring. He was all about business and “projects” when he was here. But he must have had his private moments with “the High Priest of Spring.”

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Dad was a Nature lover, very active in Sierra Club & supporter of Nature Conservancy. I call this his “On Golden Pond” picture.

Spring & Rosy Jam

Cold air keeps the Pacific Northwest in a holding pattern between seasons, at least for us two-legged ones, but in the world of flora and fauna, where there is light there is action!  Birds are hassling each other and singing their breeding and territorial songs, the robins being the last to go to bed. The chipmunk population in our yard has exploded! (This usually means the weasel population is low, and does not bode well for garden vegetable sprouts and peas, which the chipmunks “harvest” before us!)  A cold winter left our evergreen woods less green, many dead fern fronds make for an unusual brown underbrush.  New growth from wild bleeding hearts, vanilla leaf, false lily-of-the-valley, red huckleberry and other plants are a welcome sight of new life.   Longer days means more activity not only for nature but for us,  we take after dinner walks and work outside later in the day….bundled up as though it were January!

(Click on a photo to see slideshow, or move your cursor over pictures to read captions)

Though I’ve been harvesting nettles for steaming and pesto, and munching on miner’s lettuce while walking in the woods, as these and other fresh new plants and herbs become available for a spring diet it’s also time to use up old “stock” that I’ve hoarded all winter.  I forget, a lot, I forget to add dried Calendula blossoms to soups, dried spearmint to tea blends, etc.  Out of sight out of mind in our small house where jars of this and that get stored and tucked away many places.  I was surprised, while making a tea blend for a friend with a cold, to discover a pint jar of dried rose hips I didn’t know I had. Forgetting I’d bought some last fall, I’d bought more in January!  So this year, an “Easter treat” to share is rose hips jam.  It is the easiest jam in the world to make, and not only is it tasty, but with our lingering cold weather, there are lingering colds going around.

Rose hips are packed with the disease fighting antioxidant vitamin C. I’ve collected hips, but separating the fuzzy hairs from the seeds inside the fruit, or “hip”, is a challenge.  They can be used in tea whole (thus no fuzz) if simmered a bit. When you buy rose hips you get nice little pieces of dried red hips, clean of fuzz.

Pouring water over dried hips reconstituted them. Soak overnight and you have instant jam! My pint of rose hips reconstituted when I filled the jar with water, but it was very “solid” so I mixed in: honey, (which smooths the astringent taste) and added more liquid in the form of a warm spicy infusion (tea) made from fresh ginger, a teaspoon of cinnamon chips, a few cardamom pods, and two clove buds. After simmering on the stove 30 minutes, in a teapot, I added the infusion a little at a time until I got a smooth, spreadable paste.  Spread on crackers, it goes nice with a cup of ginger spice tea!

This is a great way to get vitamin C, especially for children or anyone who prefers tasty jam over pills!

Have a lovely Easter weekend, whether you celebrate Easter or just enjoy this season of hope and renewal! Mother Nature reminds us every spring there are always new beginnings and beauty to be found regardless of outer circumstances.

 

Past Easter posts:

A Season of Celebrations, A Season for Forgiveness

Egg Enchantment

Hare Hare Everywhere

Memories of the Season

Celebrating Cycles

 

When carrots give hope!

the guard at the gate and his friend moss rock

the guard at the gate and his friend moss rock

January 20 was an uncomfortable day for many people, myself included. Not wanting to focus on the ‘changing of the guard’ in Washington D.C., and recovering from my second bout of flu/cold virus, I did not want to feed myself, or the universe, fear and negativity. I’d had enough of that. So I went to the woods. A peaceful walk down our trail ended in a place where I often offer prayer. I poured out my heart to the Divine above and the Earth below. Part plea, part invocation, I felt heard in that somewhat quiet place, with Nature as my only witness.

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Turning around, I was enchanted, as always, by the winter sun filtering through the open canopy of a mixed conifer and deciduous forest. The bare branches of giant, aptly named, Big Leaf Maples allow the low, side-ways sun to flood places shrouded in shady tones under the summer canopy. This light will eventually awaken the first signs of wild bleeding hearts, nettles, and other early spring plants, which will thrive until the Maples block the light. But it is early, and the winter has been exceptionally cold for the NW. Here on our hill the ground was frozen with heave and ice crystals from mid-December until just last week. No signs of spring in the woods…but signs of survivors. Impressive are the tender leaves of little-green-plants-whose-names-I-forget that are fresh and green, while others around them succumbed to weeks of being frozen.

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The peacefulness I was feeling as I stooped to photograph the brilliant green glistening water of a wintertime mini-pond was rudely interrupted by loud repetitive gunshot. For the past few years we have been hearing gun shot frequently. A gun enthusiast  seems to spend his free time on holidays and weekends shooting whatever, somewhere across the street from where we live. But this was closer, and louder. After a minute or so of repetitive shots, there was a long volley, and then it stopped. I suspect it was a celebration salute to the moment of transition in D.C.

My moment of woodsy peace was broken. Abby was gone, though I didn’t see her leave. Though I wanted to make a mandala in the woods, I reluctantly walked back to the house to find a shaking dog on the front porch. Not willing to go inside myself, mandala making took place on the back porch, with whatever I found close at hand.

"survivor" carrots, minus the big ones I ate and the ones in the mandala!

“survivor” carrots, minus the big ones I ate and the ones in the mandala!

The biggest surprise find was the carrots. I noticed them when the ground first froze and heaved back in December. Left behind when I dug out our two little rows in the fall, the frozen ground had pushed them up, but also held them tight. I wrote them off as frozen food, soon to be mush when the thaw came. I forgot about them as I struggled through December into the New Year being sick. Frozen carrots in frozen ground were not on my mind!

But on this sunny day, there they were, brightest color around, freshly washed from the rain, half out of the ground, green tops long gone.  They stood like little round-topped, slightly tipsy sentries, and not the least bit mushy! About a dozen carrots, most small, edible, and tasty!

I made my mandala and thanked Mother Nature for giving me a small, somewhat humorous sign, that “we can survive” (and even be bright and colorful doing so!).  The next day, as millions marched peacefully throughout the world, I have no doubt we will!

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A medicine mandala for hope, with anti-viral and anti-bacterial usnea, leaves of pain-relieving fever few, another survivor of the below freezing temperatures.

How did you survive inauguration day?

Changing Times

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Blueberry leaves on a sunny fall day

Between times. That’s where both the weather today and the “climate” of our country seems to be.

The last several days have been beautiful fall days with blue skies, sunshine, and a touch of clouds. Autumn crispy cool temperatures in the shade made sitting in the sun even more delicious. BIG windstorms predicted for the next few days, with remnants of a typhoon swirling around the Pacific Ocean hitting us Saturday, create a feeling of anticipation.

img_6036It was calm when Abby and I took our morning walk, the forest felt “moody” and I wondered if trees anticipate the approach of storms. I’ve often observed animals seem to.  The ducks in the park where we walked this afternoon, usually assertive in checking to see if I, as a human, brought food (I never do), were quietly tucked into the reeds, barely visible. I assume members of the plant kingdom also have a sense of pending changes in the atmosphere, as plants have been shown to be very sensitive to environmental stimuli.  I ponder how we humans once had that ability.  There are cultures still, removed from our technology consumed societies, where people use their intuition and attunement with Nature to “predict” change. With our dependency on TV and internet pundits, we look more for answers outside ourselves, for the weather and much more.  Though people often say they feel the impact of changing weather, seasons (even the political “climate”) on their health and well-being, we’ve lost, from lack of use, the sharpness and nuances of many innate instincts people once depended on.

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Big Leaf Maples, unique to the Northwest and so awesome, some 13″ across, make great leave mulch. Seen here with tiny vine maple & osier dogwood leaves.

I believe people truly in-tune with Nature through their intuition and instincts, without the hype and drama of headlines and social media, prepare calmly for such changes – in the weather, in the seasons, in their own bodies, for they know these events are part of life – both inevitable and necessary, with both “good” and “bad” outcomes.
img_0528As devastating as “natural” disasters are (“disaster” being a human applied label), we hear also of the benefits afterwards…….beautiful wildflower blooms in deserts after unusual rainy seasons and flooding, seeds that need forest fires to sprout, etc. I’ve always called our wind storms (which usual occur in November) Nature’s annual pruning, as necessary as the pruning we do in our yards, or when we cut our own hair! This fall pruning makes for a stronger tree, more able to withstand the possible heavy snows of winter. The debris brought down by storms have a myriad of useful purposes, leaves for mulch, trees that become nurse logs, or divert streams, creating pools for salmon to spawn, and so forth. Nature goes for the big picture and there are benefits to what we see as disastrous to our human lives.

Modern technology that provides accurate forecasts definitely saves lives, unquestionably a good thing, people can better prepare for storms, hurricanes, etc.  I suspect our ancestors were able to prepare also by listening to their own intuition.  These events are not evil actions of Nature, but part of Nature’s cycles, to be appreciated even as we prepare for them.  (This is not to downplay the tragedy of lives and homes lost in the recent hurricane, or in any natural event. I hope we all rally to help those impacted.)

Or maybe such powerful events are Nature’s way of getting angry with us for misbehaving, a Mother pushed too far saying Enough! Pay attention!

Stay cozy as fall, this season of change, brings us good excuses to snuggle in, make soup, or a bowl of comforting pasta (suggestion below) and read a good book, no power required as long as you have your flashlight or candles!

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Spring Rites

IMG_6300Lacy green leaves dabbled with lavender mix with tiny white flowers and border the entire length of the trail as I walk in the woods. Stepping over vanilla leaf plants crowding into the path, I marvel, as I do every year, at the fairyland created by the wild bleeding hearts and miner’s lettuce. Bleeding hearts cascade into the backyard, mixing with blue forget-me-nots. It’s magical. Mother Nature is a master landscaper!

bleeding heart with forget-me-nots

bleeding heart with forget-me-nots

I’ve likely written of this magical time in the woods before, and perhaps shared the poem below, but it seems appropriate on this day of celebrating Mother Earth to post a poem written by my father, a life-time member of Nature Conservancy, active in the Sierra Club, and who once told me “John Muir is my guru”.

Earth Day 1970 (I was there, in D.C.!) was to educate ourselves about the need to protect, preserve, and cherish this temporary home of ours, to change our attitudes and ways of living on the planet and become better stewards. We’ve made some gains, we’ve a long way to go. (here’s an nice article on some of the gains: Victories Since the First Earth Day)

Enjoy the poem, the pictures and most of all, enjoy and care for the blessings Mother Nature has given us! (side note: in a twisted cosmic joke, I’m getting a ‘root’ canal procedure today!)

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Spring Rites

Come, come High Priest of Spring,

Come to this sanctuary, following a path

Lit by pale rose and white wild bleeding hearts

Held aloft by leaves of green lace;

Come on a carpet of coiled fern fronds

Interwoven with the dark green of succulent nettle tips;

Come under the vaulting arches of red alder

Whose twining branches out waited winter to greet this time;

Fill your breast with perfume

Floating down from a million bursting leaf buds and

Rising from a million more life forms

Stirring in the rich moist earth;

Be bathed in cloud filtered sunlight tinted green by emerging leaves;

Listen to the chorus from a thousand pulsing frog throats

Providing backup for robin soloists marking territory boundaries;

Come, it is time, as you have for centuries beyond count,

To bless the life cycle renewal of yet another spring.

199DSC009753, Harry Hubbard (1919 – 1998)

Spring mix - Vanilla Leaf, Bleeding Hearts and Miner's Lettuce

Spring mix – Vanilla Leaf, Bleeding Hearts and Miner’s Lettuce

The Background of Life

"classic" NW - ferns & moss growing on Big Leaf Maple

A “classic” – ferns & moss growing on Big Leaf Maple.  A background scene in NW woods.

 

We all have a background to our lives, that which is not the focus, not the front-and-center, but as in a photo, the setting which makes up the background.  It is like the backdrop on our particular stage of life.  Because it’s so familiar, sometimes what’s in the background becomes unnoticed until it is disrupted and catches our attention, then, briefly, it might move to the foreground.

For those living in a residential or urban environment, the background of life includes perhaps the ‘hum’ of certain noises that are constant, as well as various buildings, empty lots, the neighbors second car that seems to always be parked in the street and the ubiquitous Rhododendron, unnoticed until it bursts into colorful spring bloom. Ever notice that if you leave something in the yard for an extended period, you just don’t ‘see’ it after a while?  Even the neighbors purple garage door becomes mundane after a few months!

We pass these background ‘props’ every day en route to our activities and daily dramas.  If asked, sometimes people aren’t able to identify these ordinary props in their life. (Remember the older Newlyweds game show, they’d ask one of the spouses to describe something in the couples every day life, like the color of a room, and the person wouldn’t be able do it.) Someone unfamiliar to your neighborhood might notice something you barely take notice of any more.  In our homes  it is much the same, the hum of the refrigerator, the knickknack on the corner table you couldn’t describe if asked.

As I sort, delete, and organize photos on my computer today I’m drawn to the photos I’ve taken in the woods.  I have folders for ‘wildflowers’, ‘birds’, ‘butterflies’, ‘garden flowers’, ‘Mt. Rainer’, etc.  but the photos of daily life in the NW woods, the flora that’s here whether flowers, critters or butterflies show up or not, are really just as remarkable as these “showier” facets of Nature. These are of the ‘common’ plants most people in the Coastal region of the Pacific Northwest have in the backdrop of their lives if they live in or near woods.  Some of these are seasonal, most are not. They are the plants that make the Evergreen State green.

My deep appreciation for what makes up the background of life here is obvious by all the photos I’ve taken of the trees and plants I see every day. I never lose my awe of  giant Douglas Firs and Big Leaf Maples, of the lacy needles of Hemlock, or the brown fibrous bark of Cedar.  The ferns, evergreen bushes, and tiny plants that make up the understory of the woods seem the stuff of fairylands to me.

To someone who does not live here, who might be walking in the PNW woods for the first time, or who only gets to do so occasionally, these stalwarts of the woods are anything but ordinary.  It’s nice to see with fresh eyes these remarkable plants that are the backdrop to life on the Northwest stage.

I selected some of my favorite photos taken over the past 7 years to share. Hope you enjoy this walk in the woods. No woodland wild flowers (though most of the plants shown have blossoms), no colorful berries, no birds or critters, no butterflies, no exotics, just native green stuff….plants, trees, and a few fungi (because in a NW woods, fungi are abundant!).

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(Click on fern photo to start slide show of photo gallery below, or roll cursor over bottom of each photo to read captions. Not all photos are captioned. Most photos are taken in the woods where we live, a few from nearby walks.)

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