Category Archives: nature

The forest adorns itself and me.

black locust

In the middle of Saturday’s graduation party, Pippin and I wandered through a gate into the vegetable garden and soon found ourselves sitting in two chairs that seemed to have been set there just for us introverts, who were perhaps unconsciously following the advice given to introverts as to strategies for party-going.

After the weekend was over and we were both in our separate towns and homes again, in “recovery mode,” it was amusing how we found ourselves still together, after a fashion.

I was sifting through my pictures and notes on my phone and looking through my Weeds of the West, the book Pippin had mentioned when I asked her about a weed growing in her own vegetable garden. I was only a few pages away from finding it when on my computer a message popped up from her with a photograph of that very page.

Great Hound’s Tongue

It is Common Hound’s Tongue, Cynoglossum officinale, or “gypsyflower,” which she said she always pulls out before it makes its terrible stickery burrs — and this very minute, when I looked for photos of them online, I realized that these are the burrs which one September I noticed looked like Mrs. Tiggy Winkle! It’s also the same genus as beautiful wildflowers like the Great Hound’s Tongue I saw in Oregon eight years ago.

There is also another photo of hound’s tongue in my files that I think might be Pippin’s work, because it comes from her neck of the woods and I don’t remember taking it:

If that weed in Pippin’s garden looks strangely familiar to those of you who have been reading my last several blog posts…. That’s because hound’s tongue is in the Boraginaceae Family! Yep, it’s closely related to borage. Well, well.

The first full day I spent at Pippin’s, we took a picnic to the lake before working in the garden. There we also found some plants to look into further. There was a white flowering bush my daughter told me was a ceanothus called Mountain Whitethorn, though its flowers can be blue or pink.  We saw a recumbent berry that Pippin identified yesterday as a Dewberry, a name that echoes in my mind from the distant past.

And we all stopped to look at a lovely wild rose,
until Scout in his bare feet ran into some red ants, and from then on we didn’t linger.

wild ginger
merely mud

Back when we’d arrived for our picnic, before we had even got fully out of the parking lot above the lake path, we were hit by the scent of black locust trees in bloom — so delicious. And because a couple of my readers have told me that the flower petals are edible, we all tried them. They were a little dry and bland compared to pineapple guava petals, in case anyone is interested. 🙂

Right under the boughs of those trees Scout spied what he called “Botany Brooch,” and which I knew as the annoying sticky weed or catchweed, Galium aparine. But if you need a very temporary natural-looking piece of adornment, it lives up to its other nickname of “velcro plant,” and requires no difficult clasp to attach it, even after it  has wilted, which happens fast.

From this time forward, I will be less grumpy about this plant with a dozen nicknames, and who knows, you might even see me wearing a bit of it at my garden (work) parties.

When we returned to the garden that afternoon it was to plant Indian corn that Mr. and Mrs. Bread had given from their bounty. Pippin has never tried to raise corn before but she knows people who do, up there where the growing season is not long. It needed to be planted inside the garden fence so the deer won’t eat it; we decided to dig some “hills” here and there where there weren’t too many rocks to extract.

In the course of the afternoon the Professor brought us bags of compost and contributed to the dinner that was simultaneously in process. The children played all over the place, and helped to push the seeds into the earth, and discovered worms to feed to a toad that Pippin had found hiding behind a box. A salamander was unearthed and rinsed off and admired, and eventually let go in a wet area of the yard. I tried to take pictures of the striped bumblebees that are so pretty, compared to the fat black ones that I get down here.

blueberry flowers

High in an oak tree Ivy has hung a little basket of nest-making supplies for the birds. A flesh-colored button of a fungus was decorating the old stump, evidently the immature stage of what will become a dry and brown puffball type of growth; after I took my picture the children showed me how the little brown balls above would release their powder if broken with sticks.

On the other side of the stump, a splash of brightness — is this also a fungus?

Around the homestead of Pippin’s family, the forest is always sharing its life and beauty. I suppose there will never be an end of things for me to explore when I spend time there. But for now, my own garden realm is waiting for me so I will send in my report and say good-bye for now!

 

Nature’s art and nature’s artists.

Just before the weekend linked May to June, I drove north to see two of my children’s families and to be with Annie on the day of her graduation from high school. Her brother is graduating from college this month, too, so the afternoon barbecue was in his honor as well.

In the northern parts of the state winter was having its last fling all the way until Sunday; only a week before, Pippin had to put off her planting on account of snow, and I drove through a thunderstorm on my way up. When one downpour ended, the wind would blow the pine pollen around wildly, so that while Ivy and I lay on the grass birdwatching into the oak tree, a fine yellow blizzard suddenly whirled above and around us.

I stayed at Pippin’s. The morning of the graduation party, before I piled in the van with their family to drive up into Oregon, Ivy and I took a walk down the road and back. We saw strawberry flowers and the carcasses of wild animals, and some strange natural art.

It appeared that the same pine pollen that was plastered all over my car and lay as yellow dust on Pippin’s iris flowers had fallen on a driveway and then been washed by the rain into an intriguing design. We’ve been trying to imagine who or what prepared the asphalt “canvas” beforehand in such a way that the natural events could form these patterns.

Just a bit later, after Ivy had washed her hair for the party, she and Scout showed me their collection of artwork from the past school year. It was hard to choose which of several dozen pieces to take away on my camera, but here is a little gallery:

mermaid and squid
wolf

Bouquet of flowers including book-, pencil- and butterfly-flowers,
in a detailed and highly narrative and symbolic vase.

Self portraits by Ivy; note the pony tail at left.
Klimt style by Scout

And then, Pippin’s picture of the last storm Saturday evening, and Jamie:

 

I’ll be showing you more of nature’s art in another post, but here’s a bit more human artwork — clever and beautiful use of natural wood — which I saw just as I was leaving town to come home. I put my car in reverse and backed up a hundred feet to the side of the road so I could take this picture for Pom Pom especially, but I know there are lots of other art and mushroom lovers out there.

 

Sometimes both useful and easy.

When I posted about borage two months ago, half of the commenters said they also hadn’t had luck growing it. For some it didn’t reseed itself; for others, the summers were too hot. Kim said, “I have always thought it to be easy,” though she doesn’t have any growing right now.

bee drinking from oregano

The uses of borage was the subject of several comments; a couple of people said they didn’t know what they would do with it if it did thrive. But Cathy wrote, “It is such a captivating plant which attracts bees and creates curiosity from human garden visitors.”

And it is primarily for the bees that I thought to grow it in my Pollinator Garden, and so that I could behold that pretty sight of borage with bees buzzing happily around it. I let the insects make use of the plants, such as the oregano I always grow, but rarely use myself. The bees drink their fill of its nectar and last year I got good pictures of them doing it. So I guess I would use borage as material for my photo art. 🙂

I want the borage for its pretty, often gorgeously blue, flowers. I would like to have a few of those flowers to put in salads or in cold drinks in the summertime. Martha asked if I would be making tea with it — perhaps I would! They say that tea made from the leaves tastes like cucumber. Here is a picture from the Internet of one way I can imagine enjoying those blue accents, come August.

A young friend dug four borage plants from her garden and brought them to me at church just this month. Then the weeks of rain began, so they are still sitting in their pots, but looking very healthy.

I have come to suspect that borage is a bit thirstier than most of the plants in my garden, and that previously it has died from drought. The one I bought and planted this spring is looking good after the recent season of bounty, during which its little roots were surrounded by as much water as they could drink, day after day, no matter where they reached. Once the rains stop — as of this evening, there is no rain at all on the forecast — I may just have to squirt a little extra from my garden hose on the borage, beyond what it gets from the drip irrigation.


It won’t be long before this flower cluster opens, and the bees arrive!
To do their work, to get their sweet drinks, they will find to be the easiest thing.

The grump showed up with snowballs.

From the ascent with our Savior through Holy Week, through the Crucifixion, to the peak of Paschal joy – from there the only direction for the emotions is down. The sun went away right after the high holy days, also, and the thermometer dropped as fast as our mood.

But we came to the second Tuesday after Pascha nevertheless, the day when I always love to go to one cemetery after another with my snowball (viburnum) flower petals and sing “Christ is risen” along with varying numbers of other Orthodox who keep this tradition around here. And today I thought I might just go to the first one on the route, where my husband is buried. It was another cloudy and cold morning, and for reasons I probably don’t even know the half of, I just wanted to stay in bed.

One reason I came after all was that this year, finally, we were invited in writing, in the bulletin or in an email or both, to bring a picnic and to eat together at the third cemetery when we had completed our rounds of the graves and prayers. I had planned what I would cook this morning and bring, and I didn’t want to miss being able to hang around the cemetery longer. (Is there an “afterglow” among the graves? Oh, yes!) Though I did wonder, “Why this year, for a picnic? This is not picnic weather!!” I looked at the forecast and they did say the sun might come out by noon…. Please, Lord!

It’s pathetic how long I argued with the day and with myself. I got up late, but in time to cook sausages and load a basket with bread and butter. In the garden I cut a bagful of snowballs and remembered to bring in some fresh little flowers for the icon that essentially shows the Incarnation of the One who has destroyed death by death. I was humming the resurrectional verses about that as I went about my work, and all these activities showed me that I was indeed alive, and not even half crippled.

Last week I read Earthly Possessions by Anne Tyler, which a friend had recommended and lent to me. You might say it’s about half-crippled, dysfunctional and alienated people. It reminded me of Flannery O’Connor except that the characters weren’t real or strange enough to convey their lostness. On the other hand, there was no hope of their finding or being found by God. Descriptions of scenes or people always included details of ugliness or brokenness, but never beauty on any level, outer or inner.

I thought a lot about the novel at the cemeteries today. The narrator Charlotte would have found lots of tackiness to describe, had she been with us. The old parts of the cemeteries are not kept up. I found pictures just now that I had taken of these resting places in the past, including the most neglected one, where Nina is buried.

Five years ago she sat in her wheelchair at the concrete curb that surrounds the graves of her husband and son while we were singing. Now her dear body has been in the ground next to them for three years, and the plastic flowers hanging on her makeshift grave marker have lost all their beauty. Some artificial flowers are truly lovely, but please! If you decorate a grave with them, don’t expect them to live forever.

When I was on my way to the third cemetery, the sun came out!

Below is another scene from five years ago: the rockrose at Father D’s grave in its glory. He founded a monastery in our town, and the nuns who live there always like to visit this spot in particular. Now the bush is quite dead, and I wonder if anyone will replace it….

I saw many things that Tyler’s Charlotte would not have told you about: poppies, and beautiful children, and  elderly people who came hobbling with their walkers and canes and patience to sing to the departed, those we know are included in that company of whom we are told, in St. Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians:

“But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him.

For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words.”

What a mystery! We know so little about those who have passed from this life. We entrust them to God, and we don’t stop loving them… I shared my bag of blossoms with the children in our group, some of whom are newly baptized and had never been to a cemetery before. I told them it was okay to scatter the petals on any of the graves; we may not know the souls who sleep there, but we can still honor them.

The little guy on the left is five years older than when I took this picture on a Radonitsa in the past, and today he was one of the children who helped toss white petals and red eggshells on the graves. Those decorations look very pretty together, by the way.

We enjoyed our picnic. I remembered the butter but forgot my loaf of bread on the kitchen counter. Several people had contributed to the feast that it turned out to be. It seems likely that from now on we will keep this tradition, and I will plan to bring chairs or a waterproof picnic cloth so more people can sit around longer. But our priest and deacon didn’t linger; they were headed to two more cemeteries!

I came home via the paint store, where I picked up several color swatches to help me with my remodeling. My inadequacy in the realms of color and design is probably one of the things getting me down lately. The man at the store said that if I bring in a flooring sample they can tell me what paint colors look good with it. That was very encouraging, but I still brought home a few paint colors to help me at the flooring store. Don’t worry – I know all of these don’t go together!

It’s easier for me in the garden; there, if the tones clash, you can remove a plant much more easily than repainting a whole room. My husband used to claim that all the colors of flowers look good with all the other colors. I don’t agree, so I guess I am not entirely lacking in color confidence.

Two of the blues that I like are called World Peace and Sacrifice. (Seems like that could be the beginning of a poem.) I don’t understand how it is that one of them supposedly complements the rust color named Copper Creek but the other one doesn’t. That’s just one of the things I’ll ask the nice man at the Kelly-Moore store next week.

When I finally came home I saw an article in my blog feed: “Ninety Percent of Orthodoxy is Just Showing Up.” That was very timely for me; I realized that blessing the graves required me showing up there at the cemetery. My mood didn’t matter at all, and I’m sure it would not have improved by not going. But tomorrow my plan is to stay home and do only homey things. I won’t argue with myself about that!