“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.

Rhododendron rainbows – it’s a family thing!

This bright yellow rhody is in our back yard, actually it IS our backyard! So bright, it seems to glow even at night.

Here in maritime Northwest rhododendrons are ubiquitous this time of year. The tiniest little ramshackle house, hidden behind a huge plain green bush eleven months of the year, barely noticed, suddenly is eye-poppingly beautiful when covered with huge bright red or pink blooms.  I didn’t intend to be a “Rhody” person.  A fan of pollinators, I find rhododendrons are not that useful to most pollinators – hummingbirds and butterflies have no interest in them and bees seem picky, liking some varieties but not others.  Highly hybridized, most plants have one big showy spring bloom then sit quietly in their evergreen garb the rest of the year, blending into the landscape.  But over the years I’ve grown to appreciate their abundance of color and have loved individual plants as though they were pets.  It must be a family trait, both my parents loved rhododendrons, and one of my brothers has planted many here on family property, late-blooming varieties and ones known for their unique foliage.

A new & current favorite, this variegated peach colored rhody is in a pot where we lost to drought a 20+ year old, hot pink rhody.  I still miss it, a favorite, it consumed our front steps,  greeting us coming and going.

This year, a more typical northwest spring than we’ve had for several years, has made apparent one primary value of rhododendrons – in spite of cold, gray, wet weather, front yards and public parks everywhere are lit with the bright hues of rhodies. People make their annual pilgrimages to the many public rhododendron gardens to enjoy this rhododendron festival of color.

A small rhododendron, grows only about 18″ tall.

That’s how we (Mike is especially enamored by their colors) became rhody people. Living 15 minutes from Whitney Gardens, a second generation family rhododendron garden and nursery, we go to soak up the color of the giant, tree size blooming bushes. Caught up in the color bonanza, we buy one, or maybe two, with little thought as to where we will plant them. Alone I can resist, but Mike is powerless when surrounded by all those shades of purple, lavender, salmon, pinks, red, oranges, yellows – a rainbow of rhodies. And if they are a scented variety, he swoons. Ok, I swoon too. (note: we have not made that pilgrimage this year, and if we do, we’ll have more self control as we just planted 5 small Pacific Rhododendron starts, Washington’s state flower.)

Pacific Rhododendron, Washington State flower, less abundant but still found in many wild places.

Rhododendrons were first “discovered” by Europeans in the Himalayan Mountains and other mountainous regions of Southeast Asia , where hundreds of varieties are native. They are the national flower of Nepal, where they grow abundantly.  Archibald Menzies “discovered” the Pacific rhododendron in 1792, though they were certainly already known to native people. (An interesting paper on the history of the Pacific Rhododendron is found here.)  Rhododendron leaves are highly toxic (though I had a Jersey cow, Daisy, who ate some and seemed unaffected, but I wouldn’t recommend it). In traditional cultures wherever they grow wild, rhododendron leaves have been used as poultices for arthritis pain and headaches.

in spite of thick leathery leaves, occasionally some bug finds one that is tasty.

Rhododendrons have been hybridized to have many colors, scents, leaf color and shape variations, to grow to different heights, and bloom at different times, from the winter blooming Christmas Rhody to ones that bloom in June.  The ones we grow bloom early to mid-spring. Except for a rare bug nibble, the primary pest problem we’ve had are mountain beavers who chew off branches and carry them to their dens, where we find piles of branches. This has done serious damage some years, one young bush completely ‘harvested’ to the ground.  Larger bushes are “pruned”, not at all aesthetically, destroying many buds. We’ve also lost a few bushes to drought. But in our woodsy environment most thrive and have long lives. Shallow rooted, though we give them big planting holes with lots of “good” soil, as long as they get some leaf mulch, they seem to tolerate our clay soil.

This is our Christmas rhody, the first to bloom, though not at Christmas where we live.

Rhododendrons come in all sizes, some can be pot grown, some like more sun, others more shade, many different bloom “styles” appeal to people’s personal sense of what makes a pretty flower, and you can probably find one in your favorite color.  I highly recommend, if your climate is right, growing rhodies for the pure benefit of color therapy, especially wonderful on a gray spring day.

Mom and I, squinting in the sun in front of a huge rhododendron at her house in Seattle. Happy Mother’s Day Mom, you live on in spirit in the many flowers we both love!

The rest of the year rhododendron’s shiny forever-green leaves remind us of eternal life.   I’m quite sure whatever corner of heaven my parents are hanging out in, they have planted rhododendrons!

 

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

 

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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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

 

Celebrating Cycles

Hellebores are a lovely blooming plant that seem to bridge winter to spring

Hellebores are a lovely blooming plant that seems to bridge the transition from winter to spring

March is a month of transitions for Mother Nature, and like humans often are at times of change, she seems unable to make up her mind…should it be spring? No, let’s have a little more winter! Two weekends ago the buds of the flowering current outside my bedroom window were swelling each day with hot pink, ready to burst open. Now, with temperatures in the low 30s at night, and staying chilly and cool all day, they seem frozen in time, waiting for the announcement – SPRING IS HERE!  The two wind storms we had recently seemed to be Nature’s spring cleaning, bringing down trees, branches, flooding and cleansing rivers and creeks, and creating ponds and streams where there were none! Now maybe she is ready for spring!

Already gone, crocus offer an early pollen treat to bees.

Already gone, crocuses offered an early pollen treat to bees.

March is also a month of celebrations. Past years I’ve written about the joy of early blooming flowers (Primrose Cheer, Pulmonaria), the celebrations of International Women’s Day, the birthday of Girl Scouts, and the many spiritual celebrations of the season (A Season of Celebrations, a Season of Forgiveness).

A sign of Nuture's consistencies, I take photos of the same blooms year after year, here our early bloom "Christmas" rhode, which blooms early March

A sign of Nature’s consistencies, I photograph the same blooms year after year, such as our early blooming “Christmas” rhododendron

Celebrations and transitions.  Nature seems both predictable and un-predictable with her annual cycles. No matter what the season, we often make comments of doubt…”will spring ever come?“… “will this rain ever stop?” or  “will this drought ever end?“. Yet even with the dramatic impacts of climate change causing unpredictable shifts in previously predictable seasonal changes…the seasons still change. The world so far keeps turning on its axis, keeps orbiting around the sun, and, triggered by the changes in light, plants, animals, insects, and probably humans in ways we’ve lost touch with, respond with the beginning of new cycles of light.

Pink and yellow seem to be the colors of early spring, with forsythia joining the daffodils as bits of sunny yellow.

Pink and yellow seem to be the colors of early spring, with forsythia joining the daffodils as bits of sunny yellow.

I’ve always wondered why we don’t celebrate the New Year in spring, rather than January 1, which here in the northern hemisphere is the ‘dead’ of winter, and in the southern hemisphere, the middle of summer.  Spring and fall are the times of transitions, the times of new beginnings or endings.  In Ayurveda those two seasons are recognized as a time of change and movement, having definite impact on human health and well-being.

Another plant waiting to burst forth is domestic Bleeding Heart, this one in our new little "chicken coop" garden, safe from deer who munched it last year.

Another plant waiting to burst forth is domestic Bleeding Heart, this one in our new little “chicken coop” garden, safe from deer who munched it last year.

Change and celebration.  We celebrate life changes we intentionally plan in our lives – births, weddings, graduations, new jobs, retirement, and we honor with celebration historic events, auspicious religious dates, etc. When the unpredictable, and often unwanted, transitions occur, we try to cope and make sense of them through celebrations, we might “celebrate” a divorce, our recovery from a serious disease, the death of a loved one (which we call a “celebration of life”, yet we are acknowledging and honoring both their transition and our own life change).

In this month of Mother Nature’s transitions and new beginnings, I suggestion we join her as she ‘celebrates’ with bright colored spring blooms, rainbows on a stormy day, bird courting songs and new births.  It might seem a time of unknown social and political unrest, you might be going through a personal and unpredictable challenge, but it is all part of our human life cycle here on this amazing little planet. Such times of unrest have occurred before, will occur again, yet we “keep on truck’n”.  It is easy to focus on that which is uncertain, yet by focusing on the certainty of Nature’s cycles, we are reminded of our own cycles, personally and collectively.PumanariaConsider this an invitation to celebrate life and light this month! You have much to choose from – St. Patrick’s Day, the Spring equinox, Easter, Holi (the Hindu celebration of color and lights), or whatever you embrace as your own celebration of transition! In celebration we learn to cope, come back to our center, embrace the inevitableness of change, and remember that, like Nature, we keep on going, cycle after cycle.

 

To view more spring flowers check out some of my pages:

Garden Flowers

Wild Flowers

 

 

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

Memories of the Season

Been wanting to write something Easterly or springy, but the mind has darted and danced around in other places this week. Yes, Easter and spring are in the “air”, a favorite time of year for me, a time when Nature expounds on and explodes with rebirth and rejuvenation, setting a fine and beautiful example for new beginnings.  Yet, as much as I feel those energies, I am drawn to my inner world of memories and concerns.

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gorgeous flowering tree in Carrie Blake Park, a favorite dog walking spot of ours in Sequim. I took mom there once to see the ducks.

Concerns are cancer related. A short reprieve from a medication ends. I am to go back on it…for five years.  I have questions doctors and internet searches can’t answer, symptoms and side-effects difficult to live with, and fears hard to set aside. In other words, I’m human, living in a body that doesn’t always cooperate with the program. Watching the PBS 6 hour documentary this week on the history, ups and downs of knowledge, treatments, and attitudes about cancer reminds me cancer is a foreign landscape we still know relatively little about. The film ended with a recent “theory” – each person experiences cancer uniquely. How it manifests in someone makes it their own personal disease, explaining wide variations of response to treatments. I’ve observed this in myself and those I know who have struggled with cancer, whether they chose ‘conventional’ or holistic approaches to treatment. Interestedly, it seems allopathic medicine is recognizing what ancient healing modalities, such as Ayurveda, have known for thousands of years….. it is the person that needs to be treated, not the disease. Latest cancer treatment research focuses on bolstering the immune response in an individual. Unfortunately, these treatments are still in the research stage and been used successfully for only certain cancers. IMG_1244Well, I did not want this post to be about cancer, it’s only one of the mind distractions.  The other does have to do with the season. This week is not only Easter, April 3 is my mom’s birthday, the first she is not here to celebrate. She would have been 94. This year it comes as Easter weekend unfolds. For the past decade Mike and I have spent every Easter with mom, and we have celebrated each of her birthdays with fanfare!  Over the years we’ve taken her on fun trips around her birthday, had parties with friends and family, sometimes just had quiet, lazy weekends here watching spring unfold in the woods. Mom loved Nature as much as I. She enjoyed the watching the hummingbirds at the hot pink flowering currant bush, the bumblebees in the crocuses and rhododendrons, and like a child, she never lost her appreciation for the wonder of the spring eggs laid in abundance by our chickens and ducks, just in time for Easter……and her birthday.

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Flowering current blossom, when they bloom the hummingbirds arrive!

Mom was a holiday person. Every traditional holiday was celebrated at home during our growing up years. Decorations, carefully packed away, were brought out for Christmas, Valentine’s Day, St Patrick’s Day, Easter, etc.  As she aged, she continued to do so in her home on a smaller scale, but in the last years, the roles reversed and I would set up her decorations, always buying and adding some new, pretty little item just to give her something. It was my way of thanking her for all the years she brightened our lives with holiday celebrations.  We live in a culture deficient in rituals and celebrations and I always enjoyed and appreciated the little ways she honored the holidays.

Mom

Happy April memories: Mom with Easter animals, a birthday orchid in front of flowering currant, an Easter picnic 2 yrs. ago., her lovely smile on her 90th birthday. Center, one of my favorite photos of mom as a young person.

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My ‘woven’ egg.

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Last year’s post, Egg Enchantment, showed the little window eggs I make. This little green chick lived in an old chicken egg, from my childhood, that broke. It is now housed in a sturdy new duck egg home!

So I’m missing Mom. Missing doing something for her. Missing showing her the fresh eggs laid by our young duck, sharing with her new ways of decorating them, showing her the new daffodils we planted, blooming brightly in the sun. There are sad memories mixed in with happy ones.  Last year she had a major fall a few days before her birthday, leaving her spirit shook and her face bruised.  We took her out for a birthday lunch and she was quiet, but enjoyed a hardy meal.  A second fall a few weeks later, on Easter Sunday, resulted in a stroke that went undetected until I arrived and noticed her struggling with speech. Inadequate care at the adult family home she moved to just a few months earlier required a second move. But though I am ‘free’ of the extreme stress, management, demands and ‘crises’ of her care, I’m also void of the person with whom I have shared the simple pleasures of Easter and spring throughout my life. With her April birthday, and Mother’s Day a month later, spring, Easter, and the joys of watching life unfold, are all wrapped up with Mom memories in my heart and mind.

That’s all. Thanks for reading as I indulge in a bit of wallowing.

Wishing you all

Happy Easter/Spring!

Celebrate however fits your beliefs, but DO celebrate! Find someone to celebrate and share this joyous time of year with, or do so in honor of my mom!  😌

Enjoy previous Spring posts:  Egg Enchantment,  Hare Hare Everywhere,  A Season of Celebrations, A Season of Forgiveness.

A memorial page for Mom: Ruth Hubbard

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A little bunny weaving to wish you Happy Easter!

Egg Enchantment

IMG_8725It’s been a few years since I pulled the boxes of Easter decorations out of the attic. Among the bunnies and a few misc. decorations are egg boxes filled with colored eggs. Full of personal history, delightful whimsy, and beautiful colors, many of the eggs have become very fragile over the years. Some, already cracked or broken, are still carefully tucked into the boxes, too precious to part with.

Eggs seem to hold within their ovoid shape a magic that has captured human fascination forever. Books and the internet are full of stunningly bejeweled, intricately painted, and carefully carved eggs. I share with you some of my more humble collection.

A basket filled with an assortment of dyed eggs. Decades of raising bantam chickens and Muscovy ducks gave me an abundance of eggs to ‘play’ with, using natural dyes, food coloring, oil dyes, and various techniques for decorating them.IMG_8708

Growing up I was enchanted by the few ‘window eggs’ we had. I found the large, hard-shelled Muscovy eggs perfect for my own creations.

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Though Paulie Rollins, a remarkable, talented artist who lived in Quilcene, raised many breeds of poultry herself, she would take all the duck eggs I would give her. In trade she gave me a few of her beautifully hand painted eggs. Sadly, a few have broken, including the little forget-me-not egg in the lower right corner. I met Paulie through her daughters’ involvement in Girl Scouts. She moved away, but recently I found she has a web site of her beautiful art. http://paulierollinsart.blogspot.com/

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In 1987 I traveled to Sweden and Germany to visit friends in each place who I had met when they were traveling in the USA. I wanted to be in Germany during the Easter season because many of our Easter traditions have Germanic origins. Spending the Easter holidays with my friend Shiva in Nuremberg was a memorable experience. Previous to the holiday we traveled throughout Bavaria. Many towns had a town square with an Easter egg tree. Nuremberg is famous for it’s Ostermarkt (Easter Market), a huge market in the town square with vendors selling many crafts (and some non-crafts). I was so enchanted, I kept going back to the market to buy more eggs, each in it’s own individual box. Like most the eggs at the market, the ones pictured are from Yugoslavia. When I flew home I carried on the plane a basket full of two dozen hand painted eggs, many of which I gave away. Here are a few of them. There is more I could share about my Easter in Germany, a culture rich in both sacred and folk traditions. I did adopt the tradition of making a small Easter tree inside each year. Not this year, so no pictures.

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IMG_8746 This cute little lamb reminds me of another German Easter tradition, a lamb cake. The cake Shiva made was simply and traditionally decorated with powdered sugar, and of course scrumptious!

IMG_8738This chick seems to be offering up praises as it reaches for the berries!

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My good friend Terra painted for me the lovely egg pictured below probably 30 years ago, using the same techniques used by Ukrainian artists to paint eggs.  It is not hollow, but rather left to dry, the yolk becoming like a rubber ball inside. This is how the intricately painted Ukrainian eggs are preserved, making an egg that will last for years and be less fragile than a hollowed egg. This egg sits in a special little clay bird’s nest made by Phoebe of Daily Bird Pottery.

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IMG_8791When a chicken lays it’s first egg it is often small, sometimes as tiny as a songbird egg. Called a ‘pullet’ egg, because the hen is in her ‘pullet’ (think teen-ager) stage. I’ve saved many of these small eggs over the years. Some, too tiny to blow out, I let dry in the frig for a year before decorating. (The photo left shows a Muscovy duck egg, which is a little larger than a store bought “jumbo” egg, a small banty egg, and a tiny pullet egg compared to a quarter.) Below a small glass “basket”is full of dyed and un-dyed pullet eggs.

IMG_8787The two eggs in the upper left corner in the basket below were decorated when I was a child with dyes that ‘floated’ on the water. I always remembered doing these and loved the swirling rainbow effect. With my abundance of eggs to experiment with, one year I went looking for and found similar dyes and made a new ‘batch’. The new dyes were thick oils, they produced vivid colors and felt thick on the egg. I love the colors, but wish I could find the more muted rainbow dyes of my childhood that seemed to absorb into the shell.IMG_8771Speaking of old eggs!  Here are some vintage paper eggs, also fragile with age. Remember these honey-combed paper eggs?IMG_8757

There is more I could write about Easter eggs, and eggs in general, but you might be egged-out by now! Though we no longer have hens laying eggs, there is a box full of duck eggs from a very broody duck, and a container of carefully dried and preserved little bantam eggs in the frig waiting for decorating magic!

IMG_8785Wishing you a lovely and peaceful Easter!

Past Posts related to Easter, eggs, and early spring:  Hare Hare Everywhere,  A Season of Celebrations A Season of Forgiveness, Fall Food and Eggs, Primulas, The Magic of Trilliums

 

 

Last One Standing

(I apologize for once again writing about chickens. There are no excuses….just chicken stories.)

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Millie is a Belgian Bearded D’Uccles Mille Fleur, like our Old English Game bantams, she is a ‘true’ bantam, not a miniature of a larger breed.

Spring has arrived. Happy Spring!  My first spring in 35 yrs. without a rooster and his harem clucking around, scratching for grubs and worms, running to the site of any human digging for easy pickings, and generally acting like spring chickens, regardless of their age.

After the loss of two hens and two roosters last year, Millie, our ‘rescue’ chicken, who moved in a few years ago, is the lone survivor. The last one standing. She does not like to be in the open, she has never ventured into the garden, has no interest in where the action is.  In her little coop she is either on the roost in the house, or, if outside, under the house . She always wants something overhead…a roof, a floor, a Rhody bush, anything will do as long as there is no sky above her.

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Millie, safely watching the world from under the porch

Before Abby the dog arrived last summer, Millie had learned it was safe to go from coop to back porch, where she hung out, under the partial roof, looking for handouts, preening, and talking to anyone who would listen. Millie is a talker, she will carry on a conversation with me for quite sometime. When I walk by her coop and call out “hello Millie”, even if she is inside, she answers.

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Millie on the porch, waiting for a hand out

The arrival of Abby, the murder of Studdily, her rooster coop mate (from an unknown predator), the death of the last old hen from our Old English Bantam flock (she moved in with Millie after the rooster died), was all too much. Before living with us, Millie had been the lone survivor of a flock of chickens who were slaughter. Alone again, Millie became a reluctant recluse. She is happy for our company, Mike pets her good-night every night when he closes up her house, and most winter days I would go out to feed her sunflower seeds from my hand, holding and petting her. She would tell me she appreciated the attention, after all, chickens are not designed to be loners. When the temperatures dropped into the teens, she got to live in my office. She enjoyed that!

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Millie, this afternoon, hiding in the shade of a huge fern, discovered lungwort (pulmonaria) blooms are tasty!

But spring is here and she is tired of  her solitary life. She lets me carry her to where I am sitting in the sun, or pulling weeds. She hangs out briefly, but soon finds cover…running under, or onto, the porch, burying herself in a big fern, or finding shelter under a rhody.  She and Abby ignore one another. Abby does not make the connection between the chicken breasts in her homemade food and Millie, but one look at Millie, you can see it is hard to connect her to most anyone’s idea of a chicken!

Millie has body control ‘issues’. Occasionally she stumbles and falls over, my theory is it’s caused by the feathers sticking out from her feet, even though they are clipped back. When she runs, or tries to fly, once she gets started there is a momentum she seems unable to control…..stopping is a clumsy crash landing.

Millie is a character.

And she symbolizes the end a dream I never quite succeeded in fulfilling. Unexpected challenges with the body were never part of my childhood dream of living in the country. The first three years I had mononucleosis, which morphed into CFS/FMS. Neuromuscular and structural conditions were made worse by cutting, splitting and stacking firewood, digging in gardens, cleaning out a cow stall, hauling hay bales, etc. It all compounded to rein in my vision of how I imagined my dream would unfold.  There were the demands of full time jobs, some times long hours…and two years studying for an MS in psychiatric rehabilitation. None of these ‘distractions’ were conducive to the daily requirements of a country lifestyle. (Pre-Mike, I lived here alone for ten years, pretty much ‘doing it all’ when it came to everyday tasks, chores, and projects.)

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bantams of many colors

Through it all there were chickens. The squawks, soft cooing and clucking from the coop as beautiful bantams, in colors of red, brown, black and gray, talked among themselves…working out relationships, raising families, sending out alarms; rooster crows and clucks to call hens for a tasty morsel, were the background music to my life as it unfolded, with its unpredictable adjustments. Chicken coops were built, moved, rebuilt. Chickens were lost to predators, unknown causes, old age. New chickens came from in-flock baby chicks (it is true, banties make wonderful moms), some were ‘planned’ families, some not.  Once while I was away, a house sitter let the chickens out and did not count them when they came back in evening. A hen had disappeared, only to reappear weeks after I returned, with nine tiny chicks. Only a banty could hide, and survive three weeks (the time it takes for eggs to hatch), in a forest that is home to raccoons, coyotes, weasels, the occasional bear, bobcat, and cougar. Occasionally, when the flock dwindled, I would bring in new chickens.

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Our old rooster and his little flock of geriatric hens

Feed them, love them, do your best to protect them, and bantams provide endless entertainment, abundant stories, the comfort of their gentle voices…and eggs!  I cannot speak for the large chickens raised for meat, as well as eggs, for I’ve always had bantams. They are very alert and fly into trees and hide in bushes when they sense danger, they know how to survive in the ‘wild’.

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Little Red Hen, ‘famous’ due to her photogenic face on my cards, her social personality, diminutive size (even for a banty) and unusual life (written about on my old blog)

The past five years or so, with our dwindling geriatric flock, there have been no eggs, but their company in the garden, their clucks, coos and crowings, from dawn to dusk (and the occasional night crowing!) were my assurance that one part of my country-life, childhood dream, had come true!

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a curious Old English Game hen

Now there is just Millie, the final chapter in my life with chickens.

(sadly, and since I wrote this piece, in early June while we were on a trip a large raccoon moved rocks and pulled away chicken wire to dig into Millie’s coop. We returned to no Millie, and much grief, at losing a lovely pet, and ending our life with chickens.)

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