Candlemas & Imbolc – Take a break, celebrate the returning light & have some comfort food!

February 1 & 2 fall mid-way between the Winter Solstice and Spring Equinox. The most ancient of cultures would have noticed this as a good time to have celebration and ritual. It is the downhill side of winter survival, a time of hope for the future, yet also a time of weariness of winter hardships. People were ready to celebration, to begin preparing for the coming planting season, to honor those who could assure them a successful harvest, and to rejoice in the returning light. It’s a time to clean out the ‘cob webs’ of winter.

dsc02180In Celtic tradition this mid-winter time is celebrated with the Imbolc Festival on February 1. The first written reference to Imbolc dates to the 10th or 11th Centuries in the writings of Irish monks. How extensively it was celebrated throughout the Celtic world no one knows for sure, but ancient Celtic architecture emphasizing alignment with the sun at this midway time in its cycle indicates celebrations go back much further. The Gaelic word Imbolc means “in milk” or ” in the belly”. Foods and beverages made with milk (especially ewe’s milk, as it is the time of lambing, thus fresh milk was available from the ewes) would be prepared, and milk beverages would be used to bless agriculture implements, such as a plow, and poured on orchard trees for fertility in the coming growing season. Homes would be blessed and candles lit.

IMG_0488.JPGIn Ireland, the day is celebrated as the festival of St. Bridget and blends ancient Celtic traditions with newer Christian traditions. St. Bridget herself seems to bridge the Celtic world, as her predecessor was the Celtic goddess, Brighid. Brighid (whose name has many spellings) represents light in many forms – candles, fire and Sun. Foods symbolic of the sun (see below about foods) would be part of the festivities. There is still debate as to who was real and who was mythical, the saint or the goddess. There are certainly overlaps in what each of them represents in their particular spiritual tradition – who they protect, and what their role is in handing out blessings. You can read delightful stories of both. I’ll go with the idea that both were real, and stories and tales down through the ages made them both mythical. I’m always ready to embrace a belief in a strong, benevolent woman who did good things and hands out blessings! I’m sure it is more than coincidence that Brighid and St Bridget have the same name, and both are seen as the personification of light returning and new life. Most Christian holidays follow in the footsteps of, and use many of the same symbols as, pre-Christian holy-days, it was the best way for people to incorporate the old with the new.

February 2 is Candlemas, celebrating the 40th day after the birth of Jesus, the first day his mother could take him to the temple. At the time of Jesus’ birth women had to wait 40 days after giving birth before entering a temple, a period of time they were considered ‘unclean’. On the fortieth day Mary could enter the temple with her baby and have him blessed, so the day is often called “the Presentation of Christ”, or the “Blessing of Christ”. This celebration is observed in many Christian churches, such as the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church. During Candlemas the candles that will be used in the church throughout the year are blessed. It is also a time of celebrating light, and of purification.

Looking for a sun symbol for mandala making, this very odd one was appealing! A pumpkin that froze, instead of rotting, creating an oddly textured yellow mass of yellow! One of my stranger mandalas! ;-)

Looking for a sun symbol for mandala making, this very odd one was appealing! A pumpkin that froze, instead of rotting, creating an oddly textured mass of yellow! One of my stranger mandalas! 😉

There are many versions of these celebrations, many traditions and interpretations. In reading about them, what appeals to me is the preparation for spring planting and the new cycle of life, as well as receiving the blessing of returning light.

It might be a challenge to celebrate hope and light, or seem irrelevant to do so at this time of such darkness and decline in the world, especially here in the United States. But perhaps that is even more reason to do so. Create your own ritual for blessing your home, fruit trees if you have them, and perhaps your garden. Lights candles, inside, outside, and do whatever “purification” and cleaning out you feel inclined to do in your physical environment, make it your place of refuge from the darkness. Make some special foods (food ideas below). Allow yourself to feel blessed by Brigid, either in her Celtic form or Christian manifestation. St Brigid is associated not only with spring and fertility, but also healing, poetry and smithcraft. Write a poem, plant some primroses, sow some early seeds. Let your spirit and your mind take a break and celebrate the light. It is here, we just have to let it in.

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And if all else fails to arouse hope in you…there’s always Mr. Groundhog, the ‘ancient’ American seer of weather! There are no “executive orders” for canceling the coming of spring, so embrace it.

See below for foods and recipe.

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traditional-foods

For fabulous, fancier recipes for celebrating Imbolc , I recommend one of my favorite blogs: Gather.

 

 

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Mandala Chaos and Discontent Plant Bits!

img_7166Another of what I call a “simple story”, sharing a bit of wit and wisdom learned from pondering life’s experiences with Nature…

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winter quarters for plants that need protecting

Feeling gloomy today, so much negativity whirling around. I overloaded on the news yesterday.*  A woodsy walk did not calm the mind. Though uninspired, I decided mandala making might help. As I worked with tiny fallen petals from the geraniums hibernating in my office/storage room, I thought how they sit in the dark, soil dried up, having no idea their fate, yet blooming, petals vivid, almost iridescent in their mostly dark winter quarters. As they reach for the limited light coming in the window, their colors seem even more vibrant in the stressed conditions then they did in summer’s sun.

Hmmm. I was thinking of this metaphor of colorful survival and act of defiance in hard times, thinking how there is so much fear and concern our country is headed in the direction of fascism and wondering if there has been studies of how people survived, even thrived and held on to their values and principles in the face of fascism in other countries, when one tiny bit of purple statice in the top corner of the mandala started to move, as though some micro-bug was under it, rocking it back an forth, then taking off with it. Except there wasn’t any such propelling force, not even a breeze.

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note a few bits of statice trying to escape under leaves!

The sun was breaking through the heavy gray cloud cover. I realigned the rogue purple bit, several times, went inside to get my camera, but when I came out it moved again, then another bit moved, still no noticeable breeze, just a slight air temperature difference from the sun’s rays.

As I rearranged the rebels, quickly snapping pictures with strange shadows from the sun, pink petals began rolling over, soon there was mandala chaos! (I did feel a very slight movement in the air then.)  Though tempted to just sit and watch it all dismantle, I carefully carried the purple porch chair inside, rearranged the now subdued bits of flora, thinking – the winter of discontent! Even bits of flora will not stay put and ‘obey’! They too have “minds of their own.” (I’ve been listening to the audio of The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate, by Peter Wohlleben , Narrated by Mike Grady, so defiant plant bits are not too far fetch to my imagination! I highly recommend the book!)

The sun disappeared, but I am grateful for the multiple metaphors and bit of humor Nature once again provided!

mandala left overs with a very hardy pumpkin that seemed to defy temperatures in the 20s and teens!

mandala left overs with a very hardy pumpkin that seemed to defy temperatures in the 20s and teens!

 *  How to Stay Outraged Without Losing Your Mind is a short article on the importance of taking care of yourself for the long haul, and avoid becoming numb and accepting of these not-normal times.

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?

Happy New Year from my muse!

Happy New Year!

img_6768Water holding fire, stones & blooms, with little birds & evergreens, usher out the old and welcome in the new.

15823007_10208383395523141_4978219945121430358_nWhen I shared a favorite poem in a post after the election, I was inspired by its message: those who survive difficult times keep active learning, creating, writing, playing music, sharing conversation. (poem re-posted below)

With the goal of making a mandala ‘almost’ every day til the end of the year, I made 41 mandalas and 8 angels in 50 days. Some days it was a challenge.  There were several weeks of “sick days” with the winter “bug” going around, and 20-30 degree days in our old funky, hard to heat house that left me less than inspired, but my muse persevered.

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Such simple acts of creative expression and reflection, with Nature to inspire, can help focus in the moment, focus on the gifts and beauty around us. I recommend you let your own muse shine in 2017, in whatever ways you are inspired!

Not sure where my muse will take me next!

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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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Finding harmonious energies in Nature

“Whenever I have read any part of the Vedas, I have felt that some unearthly and unknown light illuminated me. In the great teaching of the Vedas, there is no touch of the sectarianism. It is of [all] ages, climes, and nationalities and is the royal road for the attainment of the Great Knowledge. When I am at it, I feel that I am under the spangled heavens of a summer night.” Henry David Thoreau

One of my herb harvests became a herb mandala!

One of my herb harvests became a herb maṇḍala! View more on my Flora Mandala page.

We have certainly had some “spangled heavens” this summer, with warm summer nights, clear skied full moons, and an extraordinary meteor shower. Did you see it? Here in our woodsy home, surrounded by tall firs, we only managed to catch a few ‘shooting stars’.

Though most the summer has been warm and lovely, it’s also been challenging for me due to an infected tick bite, followed by several weeks of antibiotics, causing other problems, more drugs, yada, yada, yada. Tired, achy and hot on the 90+ degree days (those same sky-view-limiting trees like to hold in heat!), my muse was looking for a creative, calm distraction from bodily woes.

a few of my little color doodle designs

a few of my little color doodle designs

Ten years ago, sick with what was diagnosed as idiopathic gastroparesis (I wonder about that word “idiopathic”, does it come from idiot? Is it when doctors don’t know what the heck is going on and feel like idiots?), I started drawing mandala-type designs I called ‘color doodles’. The color and geometric foundation of my ‘doodles’ was calming, centering, and focused my mind away from constant nausea and pain. There was something soothing and healing in each little design as I concentrated on drawing it. For about 3 months I drew one design after another and the little drawings became transformational for me.

Geometric form has helped people order and calm their minds, homes and communities probably since people learned to draw forms. Geometric designs and architecture are found in all the great civilizations, from the Incas of South America to Egypt, ancient China, and the Indus Valley culture of India, with which I am most familiar.

Our tiny Vastu building has in common with all Vastu buildings a cuppula which corresponse with the open space below, or the Brahma, or center. The center of mandalas is also often called the Brahma or center.

Our tiny Vastu building has in common with all Vastu buildings a cupola which corresponds with the open space below, the Brahma center. The center of a mandala is also often called Brahma.

Vastu Shastra, (also spelled Vaastu and sometimes called Vastu Vidya) the ancient architectural principles of India designed to bring harmony to buildings, like many Vedic teachings, was lost as a science and art for centuries because many ancient texts were destroyed or misinterpreted by people and cultures who invaded, dominated, and suppressed the Indus Valley culture. But ancient buildings, both residential and temples, built according to those Vedic principles were not destroyed and through the efforts of Ganaparti Sthapati, who was an architect, sculptor, and teacher, there has been a revival in India of Vastu architecture. We were fortunate 11 years ago to find a young American architect who studied with Ganaparti. He drew up plans for a small Vastu building, designed for us based on the land and our Vedic astrologic charts. Though only a ‘mini’ example of Vastu Shastra, it is a lovely building and folks comment on the ‘energy’ of the building. (You can read more about Michael Borden, Vastu architect, and look at pictures of gorgeous homes built according to Vastu principles here: Vastu Design.)

a variety of flowers and berries make up this little manadala.

a variety of flowers and berries make up this little mandala.

When the ancient rishis, or sages, wrote the Vedic texts Thoreau refers to above, they wrote about Ayurveda, Vedic (Jyotish)astrology, Yoga, and Vastu. They understood the energy fields of the material world, including the earth and everything on it. The existence of those energy fields has been confirmed by modern science. The rishis understood the importance of working in harmony with those energies for health and well being, including the magnetic fields of the earth and cosmos. The rishis understood the magnetic fields of the earth to be laid out in a grid pattern. That grid pattern is a theme repeated in a Vedic astrology chart, in the architectural plans for a building build according to Vastu principles, and the patterns of mandalas and yantras, intricate patterns created for the purpose of calming and interiorizing the mind. The energy grids are the foundation of the sacred geometry found throughout Nature.

A 'floating' mandala on a hot day of calendula, borage, feverfew, mint, rose and other flowers.

A ‘floating’ mandala on a hot day of calendula, borage, feverfew, mint, rose and other flowers. You can see in each flower a mini-mandala!

Consciously or unconsciously, people have always sought to reproduce and harmonize with these grid patterns in architect, art and the lay out of towns and cities. Examples can be found in stain glass windows found in the great cathedrals of Europe that have similar patterns to the mandalas of Hindu culture and yantras of Buddhism, or the patterns found in ancient Aztec and Mayan art and architecture, best known being Sun Calendars, or Sun Stones.

a little bontanical mandala I made at Grayland Beach of the flowers found amongst the dune grass.

a little botanical maṇḍala I made at Grayland Beach of the flowers found among the dune grass.

When my muse began to make botanical mandalas this summer, I realized the theme of geometric design has repeated itself in my life, often at times when I needed an outer expression of creative harmony. Our little Vastu building, my color doodles, labyrinths I draw in the sand at beaches, and now mandalas made of herbs and flowers, all have this theme of symmetry and geometric pattern. It is human nature to be attracted to these grid-like patterns as a way of finding harmony in chaos. We all seek that harmony. The symmetry brings balance, the creation process brings calming focus. I encourage you to try working with the harmonious geometric patterns of energy and Nature in whatever way you find to be creative.

another floral mandala in Nature! Part of the beauty of flowers is their harmonious forms.

another floral mandala in Nature! Part of the beauty of flowers is their harmonious forms.

I find the process of actually creating geometric designs most beneficial, but there are oodles of coloring books of mandalas and some of yantras available.  At the very least, notice the spirals and grid patterns found around you in Nature, from a conch shell or snail’s shell to the interior of a flower.  It is not difficult to find energetic harmony in Nature, even when there appears to be such in-harmony around us.

Nature creates beautiful harmonious mandals grid patterns everywhere, as in the center of this poppy.

Nature creates beautiful harmonious mandala grid patterns everywhere, as in the center of this poppy.

Wikipedia has a very informative page about mandalas in art and architecture, with scrumptious pictures! Mandala

 

 

Morning in Paradise & Forget-me-nots

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Peach Tree

Wow! If you are living in western Washington this first day of April, Nature is ‘fooling’ us in the most pleasant way…with blue skies, sunshine and warm temperatures, weather that makes one open the curtains and look forward to the day! I opened my curtains to see two Stellar Jays in the peach tree. Our lone Jay has found his mate for the year. Their bright blue feathers amongst the pink petals was a colorful portrait of spring love!

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Abby and I went for an early morning walk, the blue skies beckoning us out. This is the phase of spring for flowering bushes and trees and some of the humbler flowers, such as forget-me-nots and bleeding hearts, both the wild and domestic. The ‘humble’ flowers are the ones no one has hybridized into hundreds of varieties with rainbows of color, nor do they have festivals and shows to glorify them, but they are often favorites of bees, butterflies and other pollinators. Living in a woodsy environment, I appreciate the humble ones, they tend to be hardy, less fussy, and reliable.

IMG_4685Come with me on my morning walk and let me tell you about the ‘blues’, the forget-me-nots that grow everywhere in our yard, a few sneaking into the woods and joining the wild bleeding hearts.

 

The flowering current bush in it's glory outside my bedroom window, about 8' tall!

The flowering currant bush in it’s glory outside my bedroom window, about 8′ tall!

Most forget-me-nots are blue but pale pink and white blooms are occasionally seen

Most forget-me-nots are blue but pale pink and white blooms are occasionally seen

Forget-me-nots are in the plant family Borage, genus Myosotis,  There seems to be disagreements as to their character traits. They are mentioned as being annual, biannual, and perennial (I always thought the annual ones different from the perennial ones). They re-seed easily the same year, new plants growing late summer and fall for the following spring. But the seeds, which can stay dormant for decades if necessary, also grow new plants in the spring. Some sources say their origin is New Zealand, others claim they hail from the mountains of Europe. One reference stated there was a native North American species but I could not confirm that. Seeds of many plants hitched rides early in European settlement of the New World, so confusion as to whether they were here already or caught an early boat is understandable.

IMG_4696Not all who study them agree on the number of species, 50 seems an average. Apparently it is difficult to tell many of the species apart. There is agreement that forget-me-nots like to grow in damp woodland areas. I find this true, when they grow in drier corners of our yard they get yellowish leaves and dry out. Their bloom season here begins in March and they bloom well into summer, the dainty little blue flowers blooming up the stock as it grows taller and gets “gangalier” I often pull some of them mid-summer, when there is more leaf and stem then flowers, letting them reseed with new ‘fresh’ plants. The plant contains pyrrolizidine alkaloids and though a few in a salad is ok, caution should be taken for internal consumption. 

Another spring bush adding vivid color to our morning walk is this quince

Another spring bush adding bright color to our morning walk is this flowering quince

Whether native or not, they quickly become ‘wild’ flowers, in a more polite, not so invasive way as other ‘invaders’, such as non-native buttercup. One article said they were ‘invasive and hard to control’, suggesting the use of a herbicide. Yikes! I appreciate that they return every year, sometimes in the same places, sometimes showing up in new corners of the yard or garden. Should they appear where they aren’t welcome, they are easily removed by pulling, coming out ‘clean’, leaving no root pieces or runners, (as compared to morning-glory which is very invasive!).

There are many delightful stories as to the origin of their name, some are in the Wikipedia listing, other stories, both true and fanciful, can be found on other web sites. They are the Alaska state flower, the one place they are ‘glorified’ with a festival! I appreciate not only their reliability, but their color, blue being under-represented in the flower world and a delightful addition to spring color. That’s what makes them unforgettable!

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our 'chicken coop' garden

our ‘chicken coop’ garden

Bleeding heart, both the wild and domestic, is also beginning to bloom. Last year our big plant was eaten by deer for the first time, so this year I divided it and put half in our new, tiny, “chicken-coop” garden, created in a now empty back-yard chicken coop. It is happy in it’s new home, and with other deer and mountain beaver treats, very protected! The plant remaining ‘outside’ has been sprayed with a commercial deterrent of garlic, eggs, etc. So far it is happy too!

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Wild bleeding heart, which I’ve written about before because it carpets the woods here for the next two months, is just beginning to bloom.

Early morning walks are not just for people and dogs enjoying the flora and blue skies, but for ants looking for a drink!

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Pear tree

Pear tree

Hope you enjoyed this walk-about and seeing some of what is blooming this first day of April here in our woodsy paradise!  Abby and I will be enjoying the day in the garden and sitting in the back yard under our ‘ancient’  little pear tree!

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Raised bed in the backyard, with blooming blue plumonaria, primroses, including a purple denticulata, and bleeding heart. Other perennials just beginning to grow include columbines and geums. Sweet woodruff will fill in the blanks!

Tulips, Swans and Snow Geese

IMG_4605Yesterday we took a trip to the tulip fields of Skagit Valley. This essay is my rather pensive after-thoughts, which you can skip and just enjoy the pictures!

Lovely layers of shape and color at the Roozengaarde display garden.

Lovely layers of shape and color at the Roozengaarde display garden.

Like re-reading a book, or watching a movie you’ve watched before, revisiting places can lead to very different experiences than previous visits. We are, after all, not the same person we were yesterday, or last week, or 10 years ago. Perhaps you’ve experienced the phenomena of returning to a place of your childhood and thinking, “Wow! I remember everything as being bigger!”, well, of course it was, you were littler! It’s all a matter of perspective in the moment.

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amazing how the mucky mud nourishes such a bounty of beauty!

My first trip to the tulip fields was too long ago to still have vivid memories of it. My second visit, 9 years ago, was with Mike after a doctor’s appointment in Anacortes. I was one year into 2 ½ years of being intensely ill with 24/7 nausea. Based on doctors’ predictions, I was learning to accept being nauseous might be my every day life from now on. The tulip fields were a haven of color, a playful respite for us from medical appointments and worry.

IMG_4633A few years later I went to see the blooms on my way home from visiting my good friend, and cousin, Shaun on San Juan Island. That trip was a landmark for me, driving myself after 2 ½ years of being too sick to drive. Initially it was not an easy trip to make, but 3 days of walks, chats, and sitting among spring wild flowers, listening to Shaun talk of her passion for “her” baby oak trees and the land she loves, I felt renewed and on the road to recovery. The tulip field visit was peaceful and calm (few people visiting that day) and symbolic of finding my way back to myself. (click to read more about Shaun the Oak Lady of San Juan Island)

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behind the display garden was fields of daffodils, which are still in bloom and dot the landscape with ‘fields of gold’, just as lovely as the tulips.

Yesterday’s trip was very different. A simple day trip, it was a compromise after canceling two attempts in the past month to go away for a weekend. I’ve not been feeling well, exhausted, probably from a reoccurrence of Epstein Barr virus, and in a lot of physical pain. Traveling has become challenging for me.

Our trip to the Tetons last year, and a California trip to my niece’s wedding the previous year, left me discouraged about future travel plans. By the return trips, the joy of the destination was lost in physical pain. Even a trip an hour from home results in stiff sore legs and sciatica pain, reaching our destination I can barely get out of the car. I say ‘we’ because I no longer drive an hour away by myself, my right foot in numb pain from neuropathy, and a torn meniscus in my right knee which gets worse when I drive, makes driving even short distances undesirable.

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At the Skagit Valley Food Co-op, a favorite place to shop, I bought Mike his chocolate Easter bunny, who visited the tulip fields with us!

Today’s trip to the tulip fields was a challenge, but I was determined to go, knowing that ‘getting out of Dodge’ was important for both Mike and I. And the blue skies were irresistible. By the time we arrived in Skagit Valley I was already grumpy about bodily pain and discomfort.  Hungry, we headed to Skagit Valley Food Coop where the deli was packed with folks on lunch breaks. After a car-picnic in a local city park, we were off to the fields.

IMG_4524The color was dazzling, the fields just beginning to burst forth in their vibrant, almost psychedelic rainbows of color. But I found myself more interested in the swans flying in numerous small flocks into a field just beyond the tulips. By the time they all landed there was a ‘super flock’ of hundreds.

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IMG_4558The workers picking tulips in the fields made me wonder what it must be like to live their work-a-day life of low pay, listening to their Spanish language radio songs, chatting among themselves as they worked side-by-side while tourist’s “oohed” and “aahed” over the flowers. And I wondered why some of them wore masks.

IMG_4578The big display field at “Tulip Town” had the most blooms, and people, but was off-limits to me, I could not walk the distance from car to the ‘entry point’. Over the years the tulip fields have become, out of necessity, a more managed tourist destination. I was able to take a few distant pictures, it reminded me of a surreal Peter Max style painting!

IMG_4604Roozengaarde display gardens were busy but not too crowded. There were enough people  it was not easy to sit and ‘soak’ in the color and beauty of the carefully laid out patterns of blooms, and for me it was not easy to keep walking.


IMG_4650As it turned out, the highlight of the day was not the tulips but the swarm of white birds we saw in the distance, moving as one, turning, banking, turning again. A graceful bird ballet. We followed them and found ourselves watching a massive flock of snow geese settle into a field.

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This close up photo shows only a small number of the Snow Geese. I took many videos of their noisy, moving feast.

One of my hoped for trips a month ago was to the Snow Geese Festival, which I’ve wanted to go to for years.  I was very grateful for this unexpected opportunity to watch, in awe, literally thousands of birds in such a feeding frenzy as to hardly pay notice to the cluster of human “gawkers” who gathered. (see video below to hear and watch the snow geese)

We left the Snow Geese, went into La Conner, which was quiet and ‘sleepy’, stores beginning to close at 5:00. After a simple supper at a picnic table on the river we started the trip back to the (very packed out!) evening ferry.

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The display garden has many different bulb flowers, loved this highly scented hyacinth display!

It was not the predictable fields of vivid color that will stay in my memory of this day, nor did I feel the peacefulness of previous trips to the fields, it’s the ‘chance’ events of the day – watching hundreds of swans in flight, seeing thousands of Snow Geese swarm, land, feed, even watching the field workers, the real energy behind the surreal bonanza of tulip bloom each year.  It was a good day. Of course I wish was not in pain.  (and I wish Abby had not gotten sick.)  There is a sadness knowing such a simple day trip was so physically uncomfortable.  I’m learning to accept a life that stays closer to home.  As I look at the woods out the window and the bouquet of tulips we have from ‘our’ local tulip field at Red Dog Farm, I am grateful home is a lovely place to be – and stay.

Happy Easter all! IMG_4634

For more “Eastery”  posts from past years, you can read about, and see pictures of, eggs and bunnies at these links:

Egg EnchantmentA Season of CelebrationHare Hare Everywhere

 

The View

 

the view on these frosty 24 degree mornings!

the view on these frosty 24 degree mornings!

New day, New Year. Mike and I both having a second go around of a winter bug. Yesterday was Mike’s day of misery, which I was hoping to avoid it, but today Mike is better and I’m miserable (those who’ve had this bug know the misery!) and grumpy, so grumpy Mike called me a professional grump!

The peach tree out my window in winter frost and full of birds, all that is visible is a plump Varied Thrush.

The peach tree out my window in winter frost and full of birds, all that is visible is a plump Varied Thrush.

Yes, grumpy. I was hoping for a healthier start to the New Year. Last year began while I was recovering from a mastectomy, two years ago I was diagnosed with my first bout of invasive breast cancer right before New Year’s Eve. Lots of health challenges and surgeries over the years have given me more than my share of ‘sickly’ New Years! So the ego is grumpy, feeling like I’ve paid my “dues”. I wanted a year that started off relatively healthy, in spite of a painful, dysfunctional knee that has a torn meniscus.

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But as I lay in bed being grumpy, I’m also deeply grateful. Grateful for this view. DSC06244Through decades of health challenges, through the seasons of life, through the seasons of the years, this view of trees….in mid-day sun, or swaying in the wind on a stormy day, or silhouetted in the moonlight… deciduous trees winter bare or green with new spring leaves, towering evergreens reaching for the sky, a flowering currant ablaze in hot-pink blossoms in spring, or it’s bare, red bark branches adding color to the winter landscape….fills my view.

DSC09531When I lay in bed I can watch birds and chipmunks eat the red berries and seek shelter in the Honeysuckle vines covering the garden gate trellis.  Intertwined with pink roses in the summer……they add to a view alive with life, color, and seasonal change.

If I open the window, I sometimes hear birds that fill the branches of the peach tree, or between the car noise on the road, the sound of stillness. The stillness is less and less, but it’s rarity makes it more precious.

peach tree in spring

peach tree in spring

from my bed I only see the trees and sky.

from my bed I only see the trees and sky.

For over 35 years I’ve watched these trees grow, and watched some come down. It is not a ‘picture perfect’ view, not a ‘million dollar’ view…it includes the functional surroundings of our life…a duck coop, a rainwater tank, our trailer, and a garden sometimes lovely, often weedy, in the winter rather bleak. But is it still a window on Nature that keeps me sane when the body has kept me housebound. It is the view I stare at when life has overwhelmed me, when the mind is numb, when my thoughts don’t know what to do with themselves, except stare at the trees. And when I am feeling grateful.

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My 2016 resolution…. let gratitude grow like the trees out my window. Even the most challenged of lives has blessings. May your view in the New Year include seeing your blessings daily. Even when you’re feeling grumpy!

Picture taken through my window last year of occasional visitors.

Picture taken through my window last year of our occasional visitors.

 

 

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