Words have skins like amber.

“Ralph Waldo Emerson once declared that language is fossil poetry. Many words that we use carelessly have, embedded within their amber-like exterior, the remnants of long lost perceptions and intuitions. When received thoughtfully and with some delicacy, words have the capacity to allow us to travel back in time, to imagine how and what the world meant to our ancestors. But unlike the insects, or dinosaur DNA fixed in amber, the meanings within words are changing, evolving, as human perceptions change.”

-Ken Myers on Mars Hill Audio Journal, introducing his interview of John Durham Peters about his new book, The Marvelous Clouds: Toward a Philosophy of Elemental Media.

I listened to this interview and have ordered the book, though I fear it will be above my head, like clouds. The author was not hard to understand when he was talking, and he spoke of so many things that I would like to “hear” him discuss further, after I get the book and can read the words on paper, and flip back and forth and underline a phrase here and there of his meaningful prose. How can I resist a book that contains all together in its title the words Marvelous, Philosophy, and Clouds?

Walking Pennsylvania woods and gardens.

It was fun to be in a different climate zone with lots of plants I’m not used to. All my cousins appreciate my love for the flora of their world. Elise has this huge tree in her little back yard, a pawlonia or Japanese Empress tree, which I remembered from three years ago. I took a picture of a small portion through my bedroom window.

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Renée and I walked in the woods twice in two days. Even the rotting leaves smell different in her woods from the ones at home. A different recipe – and the aroma is delicious. p1060017-beeches-euonymous

There are also a greater quantity of leaves than I’m used to, what with all the deciduous hardwoods. In the middle of one woods our path ran alongside a clearing where leaves collected from neighborhoods are dumped into big piles for composting. In my part of California the disposal companies might make mulch from the contents of the green bin, but leaves are just a small part of the mix.

Many of the trees were already bare, but birches and Japanese maples were still colorful.

And an invasive species of euonymus that is pink right now. It’s called Winged Euonymus because of the little rectangles sticking out like flags along the stems.

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Renée is such an accommodating host that she was willing to go down to her garden just to pick greens for our breakfast — in response to my answer about what I usually eat. We did this again for dinner, and I took pictures of her garden.

< One of the things she grows is Kalettes, a cross between Brussels sprouts and kale. We enjoyed lots of those in our stir-fry!

 

 

 

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p1060066On my last day in Pennsylvania, my cousin drove me to Longwood Gardens, a property of over 1,000 acres with several conservatories that make it possible to grow exotic plants all year. Right now they are having an amazing chrysanthemum show.

It was novel, the propagating they do with mums, such as grafting 100 varieties on to one stem. That plant was more freakish than beautiful; maybe it had also passed its prime. The 100-bloom domed plants were prettier:

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They have an intricate system for supporting the flowers in such a strict form.

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In 1906 Pierre du Pont purchased the land that has become Longwood Gardens. Previous owners had been farmers, and by 1850 the arboretum they planted had become an expansive collection covering 15 acres. Du Pont bought the 202-acre farm in 1906 to preserve trees that were in danger of being cut down. Then he proceeded to restore and develop the gardens, to grow fruit trees and plant a long Flower Walk, build a chimes tower, install fountains… many features that we didn’t have time to see on this visit, given the early sunset of November.

When Pierre du Pont died in 1954, the Longwood Foundation that he had put in place made possible a transition from private estate to international treasure. Trying to find if there was a connection between Kate’s Dupont Circle neighborhood in D.C. and this gardener, I did discover that Pierre was the grandfather of the Civil War soldier for whom the traffic circle was named. It is fascinating to read about this large and prosperous family through the generations.

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I loved the orchids, and the mandarinquat tree, and hanging gardens and succulents. Of course I won’t show you pictures of everything. But this Silver Garden was an especially lovely and soothing display.

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I must end my travelogue; though it seems incomplete in that I have had to leave out lots of experiences I might ramble on about, it is also a little too delayed for me to want to delve any more into those events. Now the pink leaves are no doubt fallen, and soon snow will be covering them along the forest paths. I came home and have returned to my everyday life that is never the same from one day to the next, so I will get back to writing about that.

Happy December!

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Found Cousins and Founding Fathers

These men were the reason that Philadelphia became a place we visit for historic tours, and their life-size statues made me really glad I had come. However, if it weren’t for the fact that my cousins live here, I wouldn’t have made the trip.

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It was less than four years ago that I “found” my Pennsylvania cousins after losing contact with them for most of our lives. They were on the east coast, our family was on the west, and when we were children our parents didn’t have the means to get us all together. When my aunt died, I had the time and money to go to her memorial, and since then her three daughters and I have been getting to know each other.

Grace picked me up at the Philadelphia airport; we had made plans to visit some historic sites, so we did that right away. It was still less than one week since the national election, so our government and constitution and the events of our country’s founding were pertinent to all that was on our minds and hearts.

At the National Constitution Center we sat in a theater-in-the-round for a show called “We, the People,” which had rousing recorded music and multimedia images, but was focused on the live performance of a real human with a pleasant voice dramatizing the story of the Constitution of our nation. It was short enough for the shortest attention span, I think, and went by too fast, but I loved the presence and speech of that woman and was glad that our admission fee was contributing to a quality presentation about something fundamental and important to us all.2016-11-14-12-10-29

My favorite part of this place was the bronze statues. Being able to walk so intimately among them and look in their faces was very affecting. I admire those signers of the Constitution, and others of the Founding Fathers who weren’t there at the time, so much! I know, one isn’t supposed to say things like that without mentioning sins that we moderns judge them for. But I don’t think many of us could hold a candle to their bravery and principles, their intelligence, and the hard work they did to hash out the Constitution. I am supremely grateful to them, and I loved this exhibit for reminding me of that.

I like that they have Benjamin Franklin sitting down; he was over 80 at the time and it is said that “though he did not approve of many aspects of the finished document and was hampered by his age and ill-health, he missed few if any sessions, lent his prestige, soothed passions, and compromised disputes.

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Alexander Hamilton’s statue is standing alone, not in conversation with anyone. I would like to read more about the man and find out if there was an artistic reason for that attribution of body language in the placement of him. A day or two after this my cousin Renée played some music from the Broadway musical “Hamilton” for me, and I liked it a lot. If any of my readers has a book about Hamilton that you would recommend, please tell me.

Grace and I went next to Independence Hall, where the Constitution was actually signed, a 250-yr old building whose exterior is largely intact. It was built as the state house for the colony of Pennsylvania, the main part of the building completed in 1748.

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The furniture in the Assembly Room where the signers met is mostly not the original pieces — in fact, the interior of the building itself is nearly all reconstructed/restored — except for two items: 1) the inkstand  used to sign the Declaration of Independence, and 2) the chair that George Washington sat in to preside over the Constitutional Convention in 1787.

“At the successful conclusion of the convention, Benjamin Franklin stated that he had looked at the carved sun at the top of the chair many times, but had never known whether it was rising or setting. With agreement on the Constitution, he announced that it was a rising sun, symbolic of the promising future of the United States.” That is why it is called The Rising Sun Chair (picture below).

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Benjamin Franklin’s house used to stand a short walk from Independence Hall. Now its site is a historic exhibit; you can look down into a hole and see some of the brick of the original house, which was Franklin’s Philadelphia residence in the last decades of his life, and you can walk among the rooms that are no longer there.

I liked this exhibit, because of the quotes from his letters printed on floor plaques in the various “ghost rooms,” evidence that he was away a lot in those years. His wife had moved into the house in 1765, but he left for England that year and didn’t even see it until ten years later. He wrote lots of instructions about what he wanted done in and to it, though, plans for curtains and dishes and things. He wrote about his friends, and about building his library:

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Years ago I had turned down an offer from my husband to visit Philadelphia for a day; I told him I’d rather wait until we could stay three nights in the city, so that we’d have two whole days for touring places like this, and more. But now that I’ve had my brief walk-around, I feel satisfied for the time being. Maybe if I spent more time reading about the people and events who are memorialized here, I’d want to come back for longer. But on this trip I was ready to go home with the cousins, and for the remainder of my stay, to live in the present.