Category Archives: nature

The beauty of souls and red rock.

Colorado Springs – I am still here with Soldier and Joy’s family, but having a quiet and slow morning, as Joy has taken the children to visit an old friend she ran into at church. Today is cold again, after a week of warm and sunny weather, and the winter season will settle in before the end of the month with freezing temps every night. The town lies at 6300 ft. elevation, with Pikes Peak in view, so one would expect a mountainous feel to the air and the seasons.

I’m a little homesick for my usual mild climate and the abundance of beautiful plants all year long. This Airbnb house is in a neighborhood that appears a little drab to me. Is the relative dryness of the region the region the reason that the leaves on the trees don’t turn beautiful colors, but merely shrivel and lose their color before falling? Out the window we see a broad and flat expanse of dirt and dry weeds between 40-yr-old housing tracts, where it seems more houses are now going to be built, so if you are a little boy who likes to identify excavators and cement mixers you will enjoy that view. I tire of it and lift my eyes just a bit to the large sky, and one morning, there was a sunrise palette.

All the males and I went on an outing to Manitou Springs on the weekend, where more than a hundred years ago bricks from ancient Anasazi ruins in the Four Corners area of the Southwest were used to build a full-size replica of cliff dwellings. It was fun for the boys to walk through the passageways and explore rooms cut into the rock, and there was even a small arrangement of native plants by way of a botanical garden for me to investigate while they went through the dwellings a second and third time. I love that red rock!

The natural beauty I have most appreciated has not been of the broad landscape, but what I’ve found close up, like the above, and the ubiquitous junipers and blue spruce that will stay fresh and green all winter, and which are a  clean contrast to the nearly aways blue sky. The town is known for the way the sun shines all or part of the vast majority of days. Yesterday I had the boys to myself for a few hours and they ran outside on the green grass; we scooped up leaves with a snow shovel and I taught them to run and jump in our little pile. The leaves smelled sooo good.

The most sublime images of creation I encounter day by day are the humans, with their souls that glow with the life God gave them, and who have the potential to be changed into His likeness as they follow the desires of their deepest longings. I am in awe of the parents’ conscientious care of the children, the thousand responsive decisions they must make every day about how to answer questions, how to deal with squabbles and tantrums and meltdowns — after they have already made many intentional and pro-active planning decisions.

I know, I also used to do that same job day after day, and I wonder at the person I was! It’s all of God’s grace, that we have the strength to do it again the next morning, and that the children grow up at least somewhat prepared to live without the constant supervision and training that they need early on. If they can learn to return to God time after time after time, to receive forgiveness and everything else they need, that will be the best thing.

rain with quinces

In the evening of this humid day I was cooking, and waiting for my computer guy, who never came… Rain began to fall about 5:00, but the air is mild, so I opened the windows wider so as to smell the indescribable and rare scents of these early rains. When you live where the whole summer is dry, often for five months, the first showers of fall are especially delicious.

I was peeling and cutting up the smallest quinces I’ve ever seen, and surely they are the most rock-like. For years I’ve been on the lookout for neglected quince trees, which I know used to be common, when I didn’t have time to experiment with them. Last month I was invited to go with my new neighbor Kim up in the hills to pick fruit at her friend’s estate. The word was, the fig trees were loaded.

When we arrived, we found that the figs were mostly not ripe. Passing over the monster zucchini, we picked kumquats that turned out to be more sour than lemons, a few apples and pears, and these dwarf quinces. Note to self: tiny quinces are not a good deal.

I interrupted my tedious quince prep to make tomato soup for dinner, using roasted cherry tomatoes of every color, preserved in the freezer from a distant summer, and other hoarded tomato treasures. Then I decided not to eat my garlicky soup after all, because I am going to the dentist tomorrow. I munched on a few handfuls of sunflower seeds.

Then it was back to the quinces: At this point they have been poaching for a good hour, and did get soft, but they are more sour than the kumquats, reminiscent of rhubarb, in spite of me adding extra extra sugar. Now I’m wondering if the tree they came from was some kind of sport — but no, there was more than one tree….

So many of my thrifty cooking projects lately have ended up terribly time consuming, but at least today I was able to feel appropriate to the fallish weather, in my efforts to use the garden harvest. The fresh and damp air was such a tonic that only laughing, not grousing, seemed natural. When I took this picture, a light rain was watering the earth.

 

Away from shadows and wilting.

For a half hour I walked my loop bending backward to take pictures of these crazy clouds. They filled the whole sky.

After a while I thought maybe they were blending together too much to be quite as interesting, and my neck was getting tired. By then I was closer to home noticing the street view, and several unwatered lawns in the neighborhood with a cheery wildflower/weed display:

DESPAIR

So much gloom and doubt in our poetry –
flowers wilting on the table,
the self regarding itself in a watery mirror.

Dead leaves cover the ground,
the wind moans in the chimney,
and the tendrils of the yew tree inch toward the coffin.

I wonder what the ancient Chinese poets
would make of all this,
these shadows and empty cupboards?

Today, with the sun blazing in the trees,
my thoughts turn to the great
tenth-century celebrators of experience,

Wa-Hoo, whose delight in the smallest things
could hardly be restrained,
and to his joyous counterpart in the western provinces,
Ye-Hah.

-Billy Collins

The Green Doctor, kindred souls and squashes.

While I was waiting at the fairgrounds gate I saw people leaving with their arms full of watermelons. A woman walked past me wearing a green t-shirt with bold letters proclaiming, “Things go better with kale.”

Then my friend Linda arrived. We entered the Farm-Garden-Homesteading-Everything show and soon found ourselves at a poultry exhibit. When she invited me last week I hadn’t investigated ahead of time what all there would be to see, and chickens were a happy surprise.

As we were admiring the different breeds one exhibitor explained to us that the truest Rhode Island Reds are a very dark mahogany color, and there was a rooster to demonstrate it. He told us about the “Frizzle” gene that causes the feathers of any breed to grow backward.

We got into a discussion with him about whether the upcoming winter would be warmer than usual. He mentioned seeing scores of baby lizards at what would normally be too late in the year, and wild birds setting on new clutches of eggs. I wondered myself yesterday when I saw a bird pulling rice straw out of my strawberry barrels.

Last week I heard another opinion, that the lack of sunspots of late foretells a cold winter coming. I didn’t even know what sunspots were, and will like to see how winter reveals itself. A related question of no import is whether I will remember any of this come winter!

A young woman I’d met briefly at church was at this fair, selling wool that comes from her family’s fiber mill. Another friend was at the medicinal hemp oil booth. I listened to a bright lady from the South talking for 45 minutes about fermenting, as she occasionally sipped from her bottle of kombucha. I even took extensive notes on that talk, and her recipe for kimchi, knowing full well that I will never make it.

More applicable to my life was the cherry tomato tasting, from which Linda and I and even Master Gardener people at a separate booth concluded without a doubt that Green Doctor was our favorite. It was developed by two women who are both doctors 🙂 . By contrast, I ate a little Yellow Pear, while telling the volunteer behind the table that one summer I had grown this variety and thought I must have got a “lemon” of a pear because every fruit on the vine was tasteless. She answered flatly, “They always are.”

For someone like me who avoids shopping, the shopping at this event was certainly great fun. There were two places with vintage clothing and other used items, from which I chose aprons! One seed booth featured corn, beans, and amaranth, all of which were appealingly laid out in varied and rustic baskets. I did indulge in a packet of orange amaranth seeds, and Linda bought a scoop of the Hopi type below; we will share with each other.

By the time we reached the moringa booth I still had some adventuresome energy to expend, but was slowing down a bit in the legs and feet. When I saw the jug of very green drink they were freely offering, signed “Peppermint Moringa Tea,” I helped myself to a cup, and it felt like Strengthening Medicine. From what I learned, the leaves are in fact concentrated nutritionally, but more pertinent to my situation long-term were other aspects of the plant, that it is easy to grow and can thrive in my area, and — look at these dear seeds! I have to try some. Linda bought a small tree. Now I am trying to figure out some way I might organize all my hopelessly burgeoning garden ideas.

It was refreshing to listen to a motivational speaker who was urging us, not to maximize our financial wealth, but to find ourselves and our joy by digging in the dirt and learning how to grow things. To talk to a man who has been hand-forging beautiful tools for fifty years. We hated to leave his booth, where the trowels, coat racks and trivets wanted to be hefted and stroked and admired, and their creator seemed content that they be appreciated, knowing that most of us couldn’t afford to own them.

Hundreds of people all in one place with whom one might discuss natural pest controls and sheep breeds, Mason jars and succulents…. and species of scented geraniums. Linda and I each took home a little nutmeg-scented plant which will remind us of our outing together. I have a few close friends who are fellow-gardeners and who love to share our excitement with each other, but never before have I had a day as full to the brim of like-minded folk as bright and colorful as the squashes we had come to see.

Whatever winter will bring this year, it is not yet upon us, which means more hours and days I might prepare for it, while bringing in extra basil, strawberries, and figs. Now that I’ve returned from the dream-invigorating festival, it’s back to the Real, my own garden.