Posy

First fill water then add
An arrangement of flowers
Bring brightness inside

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Gardens Delight

A garden is such a bountiful space, I’m in awe of it, marvel often at all that it has to offer! The year before Jasper’s birth we planted the garden but didn’t tend it at all.  That was the year I learned that you don’t have to.  That a garden is beyond a place to plant vegetables and fruit.  It doesn’t need a gardener to enliven it, rather it will enliven the ‘gardener’.  That year our plantings limped along and the entire space sprung up with red clover, milkweed, chicory, Queen Anne’s Lace, evening primrose, goldenrod; and oh it was intoxicating.  We gave up going to hunt for what we’d planted and simply moved through the labyrinth of eight foot tall chicories and towering evening primroses to the center, where we eventually had a bed to sit and be with the garden that had grown itself, to be with all the beings that came fluttering, crawling, buzzing, humming from flower to flower.  We harvested next to no ‘food’ but we were well fed all the same, and when asked, “So how’s the garden doing?”, I’d reply, “Abundantly.”  We had friends visit and they’d look at the jumbo ‘weeds’ and shake their heads, “You have food growing in there?”  We’d walk inside, sit for a spell, and they’d experience what the garden was doing.  It was amazing.  One of our friends drove  up a few times that summer . . . she spent most of her visits just being in the garden.

Since then we’ve shifted how we garden, and sometimes it is we who are gardened.  The asparagus goes to fern and a thicket of milkweed, goldenrod, Quenn Anne’s Lace, pokeberry, and chicory fills the beds; each year in different measure.  Last year goldenrod was predominant, this year it’s milkweed.  We laid out straw pathways so we could get to where we’re planting and aside from a few vagrant docks and dandelions, the wildflowers are keeping their growth either at the edges or in the beds . . . we pull some and leave some.  It feels as though when we read the living language round us, we begin to communicate differently, in ways that every ‘body’ understands and when we’re speaking the same language, it’s not that the world suddenly starts to hum and vibrate, it always is, it’s just that we begin to listen and understand it more or less, joining in participation.

I’m made aware of this when a car comes up the driveway, the folks driving are lost, gps told them to go this way and they have no idea where they are, why don’t their cell phones work, how do they get to where they want to go, are they even in Rockbridge County anymore, where are they??  Often they’re edgy and nervous, some of them leave in a hurry, some of them stay a while.  All of them reflect back a common thread:when they enter places off the gps, it feels like they’ve dropped out of the known world into unknown territory, yet we are here on this planet simultaneously the whole while long, as has the universe been humming whether we listen it or not.

Yesterday I went to pick zucchini and beans, and the sounds coming from honey bees, bumble bees, wasps, hornets, and three hummingbirds moving about was melodious. They each have their own particular noise, some buzzing some thrumming a bit of whirring mixed up with hovering, and together they make music in motion. Plump black and rust ants march from goldenrod to Queen Anne’s Lace, caterpillars munch on milkweed leaves and dill, butterflies dance about the flowers landing to drink, and there’s food for everyone all in a small little colorful place with eloquence written on the rustling pages of maple leaves flecked in orange.

After picking I stayed in the garden for a while, enjoying musing on literacy with the lively muses. Wondered if the emphasis on literacy for everybody may take away rather than be of service to at an individual level.  What expressions that a child wants to utilize energy on get suffocated when they’re not yet interested in becoming literate, on a schedule determined for them from without?  While they are developing something else from inside themselves at the time . . . .but are forced to give their energy and attention to decoding alphabetic symbols regardless, before they’re willing to or have generated interest from within.  Does something of value get squashed this way?  What would happen if not everybody in the nation was literate?  Would we see something new and unanticipated rise out instead?  Literacy is a tool, it serves those of us who need such a tool.  Not everybody may have a need for such a tool, just as not everybody has need of nor knowledge of the use of a potter’s wheel or a tractor.  What would happen were we to give children the gift of applying themselves to what they’re drawn to, even when it ‘seems’ to be nothing at all, rather than the ‘gift’ of enforced literacy?  Might they be setting themselves up for an unknown forward in their formative time and space?

I mused for a spell, easy to do as though the sun was out it wasn’t swelteringly hot; there’s a slight coolness and clarity to the air now. Crisp as a fresh apple, it has a slight bite that tingles. An awareness flickered: summer’s winding toward something else, so I soaked up the sights and sounds and smells and motivated: to create art with what’s growing now.  Got up and walked about, nibbling on a mixture of mint, anise hyssop, and tulsi, chewing and macerating them into tea.  The zucchini and beans were joined by a few zinnias added to the basket, some goldenrod stems, a bunch of unripe pokeberry, a sprig of phlox, fragrant nectary Queen Anne’s Lace, a milkweed leaf, two cleome petals with their oddly skunky smell, a bit of tansy, a smartweed plume, red clover leaves, and on the way out orange jewelweed; hummingbirds love dipping their long beaks into these, flying quickly from one dangling gem to the next.  Then back inside shaping little scenes of wee folk, expressing gratitude with flowers; though small in number and size, very big food for the heart.

Dragonfly

I love being with dragonflies by the pond.  They dart about so swiftly, landing briefly before gliding up and around again, playing games of chase and tag.  Their shimmering wings make a funny rustling sound, like tissue paper, when they bump into one another.  Sometimes a hummingbird zips to and from the jewelweed patch, beak needling speckled orange blossoms between them and I marvel at how fast life moves around the pond; except the trees reflected on the watery surface where even the sky is in motion, and there sitting still and hidden upside down is a great blue heron!  Interesting where dragons fly, elegantly delightful, body blue the color of sky, no clouds gathering wool . . . dreamy days flashing by . . .

There’s a story by Doris Stickney that from time to time I tell with slight alterations and embellishments, her tale goes like this:

“Down below the surface of a quiet pond lived a little colony of water bugs. They were a happy colony, living far away from the sun. For many months they were very busy, scurrying over the soft mud on the bottom of the pond. They did notice that every once in awhile one of their colony seemed to lose interest in going about. Clinging to the stem of a pond lily it gradually moved out of sight and was seen no more.

“Look!” said one of the water bugs to another. “One of our colony is climbing up the lily stalk. Where do you think she is going?”

Up, up, up she slowly went …. even as they watched, the water bug disappeared from sight. Her friends waited and waited but she didn’t return…

“That’s funny!” said one water bug to another. “Wasn’t she happy here?” asked a second… “Where do you suppose she went?” wondered a third.

No one had an answer. They were greatly puzzled. Finally one of the water bugs, gathered its friends together. “I have an idea. The next one of us who climbs up the lily stalk must promise to come back and tell us where he or she went and why.”

“We promise”, they said solemnly.

One spring day, not long after, the very water bug who had suggested the plan found himself climbing up the lily stalk. Up, up, up, he went. Before he knew what was happening, he had broke through the surface of the water and fallen onto the broad, green lily pad above.

When he awoke, he looked about with surprise. He couldn’t believe what he saw. A startling change had come to his old body. His movement revealed four silver wings and a long tail. Even as he struggled, he felt an impulse to move his wings…The warmth of the sun soon dried the moisture from the new body. He moved his wings again and suddenly found himself up above the water. He had become a dragonfly!!

Swooping and dipping in great curves, he flew through the air. He felt exhilarated in the new atmosphere. By and by the new dragonfly lighted happily on a lily pad to rest. Then it was that he chanced to look below to the bottom of the pond. Why, he was right above his old friends, the water bugs! There they were scurrying around, just as he had been doing some time before.

The dragonfly remembered the promise: “The next one of us who climbs up the lily stalk will come back and tell where he or she went and why.” Without thinking, the dragonfly darted down. Suddenly he hit the surface of the water and bounced away. Now that he was a dragonfly, he could no longer go into the water…

“I can’t return!” he said in dismay. “At least, I tried. But I can’t keep my promise. Even if I could go back, not one of the water bugs would know me in my new body. I guess I’ll just have to wait until they become dragonflies too. Then they’ll understand what has happened to me, and where I went.”

And the dragonfly winged off happily into his wonderful new world of sun and air…….”

There’s a dragonfly snippet from a larger poem I like called The Two Voices by Alfred Lord Tennyson that says . . .

“Today I saw the dragon-fly
Come from the wells where he did lie.
An inner impulse rent the veil
Of his old husk: from head to tail
Came out clear plates of sapphire mail.
He dried his wings: like gauze they grew;
Thro’ crofts and pastures wet with dew
A living flash of light he flew.”

Garden of Life

The garden is popping and lively now at the height of summer.  Echineacea and zinnias provide a place for butterflies to convene and sip while sitting.  The zinnias are beautiful.  I love how their petals curl open from the center, forming swirl upon swirl of soft tongues that shape a whole flower head.  Amidst them the zucchinis and squashes are growing bigger than ever, thriving off the straw and shavings we spread in the beds last autumn from in the chicken coop, and the bees are heard and seen climbing around inside their bright yellow blossoms.  Lamb’s quarters are sending silvery powdery seed clusters out and the mint is running rampant.  When we walk through the bed and brush against them, they release refreshing scents all around.  This year the broccoli and cauliflower grew big but bolted right away into bitterness; feels like it’s the year of squashes, beans, cucumbers and tomatoes, as the lettuce did much the same as the brassicas, and the peas kind of grew and dried up really fast as well.  So far, this year’s medicine is showing up as lots of yarrow, Queen Anne’s Lace where ants climb about; less bee balm than ever, hardly any prunella.  Changing climate in these mountains, after eight years of feeling out the growing pattern, it’s shifted.

Eight years it’s been since we found our homestead and moved to make our abode here.  It’s been an experience with much learning and unlearning too.  The past two years we’ve shared our hens eggs with black snakes.  This year we found one had moved in again, and it was eating all the eggs.  We disturbed it enough to keep it going before coming back again and again to the nesting box, eight feet up off the ground in the chicken run; it would lay coiled up hissing and striking at the long pole we’d poke in there.  We’d hoped to scootch it out and into a bucket to relocate, but it got the better of us every time, all seven feet of it lunging out before it would drop and slither away into the underbrush.

While I wrestled with how to get it out of there without ending its life, it sealed its own fate when one day Layla went to feed the chickens and found one of the chicks that Goldie had hatched out, eight weeks old, stretched out in the shape of a snake from head to shoulders; the black snake coiled up above having regurgitated it probably after constricting and attempting to swallow it . . . .was it too big to gobble past the wings or had Layla interrupted it while it slowly sucked, I don’t know, but this was a bit too much for Layla.  She’s been caring for our chickens since she was around seven or eight, and is now, at fifteen, our primary chicken keeper.  When she found the chick in this state, she took the pitchfork in her hand and went for that black snake with murder in her eyes!  She stalked it for a half an hour before she got it, after which Anousheh spotted a second one coiled up in a nesting box!  Layla stabbed that one too, her outrage at the dead chick greater than seven feet of hissing striking intimidation coming at her and this time when it dropped out and tried to get away, our dog Clover had come by to see what was going on, and was on that snake in a second.  Her method is very interesting:: she throws the snake in such a way that it falls hard and is somewhat dazed from the impact.  She does this repeatedly until the snake is too stunned to do anything and then she gets in there and bites it quite dead.  Two snakes in one morning.  We moved their extremely long bodies to a bower of bee balm and yarrow to lay to rest intertwined with respect.

I feel a twinge of regret every now and then, wondering whether there was another way, and then I realize this is part of unlearning and learning:: an attitude perhaps around death and endings and beginnings and life that meets you in your face and shows you that it’s all part of a whole, and how you greet it is where an essence lives, what comes after springs from that, coiling and uncoiling, neither this nor that but this and this and a bit of that as well.  I wrote a short poem afterward, may work on it some more, later . . .

It comes together
At the tip of a pitchfork
Thrust just so and it whips
Like a Rudyard Kipling tale
Wrapped around the tines
Mouth open wide fangs bared
Hissing and striking
Until there’s no more
Thinking, grappling, or hooks
Only dueling
Only deliverance.

. . . . in the meantime I am thankful for the eggs we now enjoy and find it ironic that our hens flew into the peach trees and ate up all the peaches, save the ones ripe enough to pick and ripen a bit more in a brown bag.  They have moved on into the boughs of our laden apple trees, where they’re pecking at the fruits.  Snakes eat eggs and die, do we eat the chickens now that they’re eating up the fruit?!  Fair trade for eggs laid?  Many questions, how many variations of response, is there reconciliation?  Sooner or later we go to the river and swim with trout and in those fluid moments there are neither questions nor answers, just so many leaves fluttering above in layers between us and the blue sky floating by, snakes on rocks nearby sunning, and we are all together in a spiral, dancing with and part of a garden of life.

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Mid-Summer Swinging

O will you lay with me
Beneath a shady tree,
On a ship we’ll set a sail
Row out to meet a whale,
Under the clear bright skies
We’ll swing and shut our eyes,
O will you come with me
Out to the apple tree.

summer days . . . rains washed out the patchwork shovel mending of the driveway, re-rutted and grooved them anew, similarly in the garden . . . the bales of straw we so cleverly laid out on pathways have kept the weeds down, however, they have also sprouted! What a chortle!

the beds are giving chard and peas,
hairy motherwort, nuzzling bees,
the ‘new’ garden flower
blooms magenta hour after hour,
ladybirds spotted inside the fold
sit dark red on yellow quietly bold

the old mulberry tree fallen over long ago has rejuvenated and sprouted shoots, with a bit of pruning and clearing of thorny thicket we climb around and upon the gnarled intertwined trunk . . . in crevices where bark has decayed there’s plants sprouting and down low from out of cracks, mushrooms climbing; what a tree, majestic is she!! . . . we enjoy fruit and shade at her side where she does abide with a bramble left behind her where rabbits reside . . .

this solstice we gathered and celebrated mulberry, hummingbird, hollyhocks, and daily lilies, simple pleasures with daylong arms and firefly nights.