It may not have been fellowship exactly, but my time today with my fellow creatures the plants was intimate and lovely, and I spent hours pruning three of the trees. That is something God does to us, and maybe that’s why it makes me feel particularly tenderhearted toward my horticultural “children.”
First the plums, for which I had to move up their solstice pruning a week because I won’t be here at the summer solstice. Lots of other weeding, feeding, planting — and naturally, trying to take pictures of insects. I was eating breakfast in the garden when I noticed syrphid flies on the toadflax, and wondered how I could ever have confused them with bees. They don’t have the same flight pattern at all, and they even buzz more like flies.
The last thing I did was to spend an hour with the manzanita bush that I’d named Margarita a few years ago, about the same time I told her history. (You can see more pictures of her via that link.) It was this task that brought me into the sweet communion with the plant that is enjoying her 15th spring on the property! I can tell she is happy because she’s putting out lots of new green leaves, while the berries are still mostly green, too. I must never have paid much attention to this tree in other Junes, because I hadn’t seen the contrast of the new growth with the old leathery leaves, many of which are turning brown, which is normal.
In order to survey the wandering branches and find the dead wood and make decisions about how to thin Manzanita while keeping her twisty and graceful form, I must have walked around and around her a dozen times, noticing and snipping twigs and whole branches that were revealed as needing removal, one by one with each changed view. I mused about how she has grown and changed; countless parts of her have died and been cut away, but she gradually has become a little taller. Since her youth when I realized that she wanted to grow northward, time and again I have helped her to do it in a nice way, and every year she gives me pink flowers for Valentine’s Day.
I drove over the hills yesterday to be with friends for the afternoon. It was the most glorious day for it; the pastures were green as green, with sheep or black cows grazing, or just full of mustard at its peak of brightness. Little yellow-green leaves decorated some of the oaks, and in the middle of a mixed forest of oak and bay I came upon this venerable and silent grove of olives.
I never would have chosen this cardigan sweater for myself, but it has turned out to be a splendid gift Iris and Pathfinder gave me. Every time I wear it, I feel that some of its extravagant energy radiates into my bones and helps them rejoice. And not Christmas Red, but truly Christmasy. I become my own ornament!
I wore it to church yesterday, when the weather was foggy and chill, making me content to keep my wool sweater on all day. On the way home I stopped to buy a bag of black oil sunflower seeds for my feeder, and impulsively added a (little) live conifer to my cart. It’s not prickly like the one I had a couple of years ago, but rather a soft and drapey Leland Cypress. I’ll keep it outdoors for another week at least, because I’m sure it doesn’t want to be treated like a houseplant.
Then, I’ll add my favorite evergreen-appropriate decor, maybe a couple of birds and a pinecone. (The sweater I’m keeping for myself.)
The highlight of our Thanksgiving season was a visit from Kate and family, including that baby I met back in January, who came from India this month for various family get-togethers and his baptism. Glory to God!
He and Kate and Tom did land first in Colorado to meet our newly relocated clan family, a few days after I’d come back here. So I wasn’t present when Raj encountered snow.
Two days after my return, my part of the state was inundated with smoke and ash from the Butte County Camp Fire far to the north, and the day of Raj’s baptism far to the south I was not physically present. My friend and I were here in what looked for a few days like a thrift store, organizing donations to the fire victims. Myriah did not lose her house, but she did certainly lose her home.
As soon as Myriah drove on to the disaster area with lots of sweaters and socks and new coats, the Glad Group began trickling in, starting with Pearl’s family from Wisconsin and San Diego, and continuing with Raj and his parents, then Pippin’s people from northern California. Everyone wanted to meet Raj! And of course, to see his parents whom they’d been missing for a year and a half.
Until Wednesday, the smoky and cold air had continued to hang over our county oppressively. Then RAIN, glorious and cleansing, fell from the skies, and overnight the Air Quality Index fell from the 160’s (similar to what I experienced in Mumbai last winter) to below 20. All day Pearl and I baked pies, and yams in orange sauce, and prepped the turkey dressing. With the rain came milder temperatures overall, so we had to leave the door and windows open at times to vent all the oven and stovetop heat, and for two days we had the comforting background music of steady pattering and drumming. Pearl took lambs’ ears and dodonea from my garden to add to spider mums from Costco and created table decorations for the feast.
I had braved the smoke one day, wanting so much to get Pippin apples for pies, and drove a half hour to our favorite apple ranch where they still had stock of four varieties. I brought home Pippins, Romes, and Pink Ladies. It is still a sadly nostalgic thing for me to go there alone, but I am trying to embrace the joy of having such a rare and wonderful farm to go to, where I can find two or three dozen different varieties of apples over the course of the season. It makes me want to embrace and cherish apples more actively, too!
I looked and looked online to find a recipe for pumpkin-chocolate-chip muffins, the hankering for which had come over me when thinking of how to get ready for my crowd. I discovered just in time that I had my own “best” recipe right here on my blog. It made a generous batch, enough for everyone to enjoy while waiting for the primary offerings of the feast.
When the rain stopped briefly we looked at the newly-washed and radiant garden, and breathed in those scents that are like an autumn feast in themselves. A whole flock of bluebirds visited the fountain for baths and we wondered if they were washing off soot. My fava beans that sprouted when I was in Colorado are doing great. I cut a butternut squash down from the trellis to roast for soup, and Ivy found giant fruits on the arbutus (Strawberry Tree).
After everyone had arrived, the “usual” fun began. This time, I think the unique circumstances of my recent sojourn in Colorado, followed by the fire and smoke, followed by the rain that kept me from walking, all contributed to lack of sleep, so that I felt alternately flat and in a hole — maybe in a flat-bottomed hole? — for days. But I did manage to take a few pictures, so now in recovery I have the vision to see them as a cohesive expression of a moment in our Glad cultural history.
The Usual included wrestling and snuggling and staying-up-too-late-talking with brothers, daughters, aunts and uncles, and all the assorted kinfolk that one only sees once or twice a year anymore. Oh, it is hard being scattered over the continent and globe!
I didn’t have it in me to go with everyone to San Francisco, the aquarium etc. at the Academy of Sciences on Saturday, and to Fort Point, so the smiling picture of Raj I also stole. But Sunday after church Kate’s and Pippin’s families and I did go to the redwoods! It was a dreamy time to go, almost winter and after several steady downpours had removed every trace of dust from the big trees, and both Pippin and the Professor helped me in my ongoing botanical studies.
I learned that the lichens that hang from the trees like tresses are lichen fruticose, and that the needles in the tops of the coast redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens) resemble those of their cousins the giant redwoods (Sequoiadendron giganteum) that grow naturally in the Sierra Nevada. Big leaf maple and hazelnut trees made splashes of light and color in the groves that were dark in midday, the close canopy blocking the light from way up there. We made little impact on the deep quiet of the woods, strolling on the duffy paths — but that atmosphere was broken by a big crash and boom, the sound of a tree falling somewhere in the park. If everything hadn’t been thoroughly wet, we’d surely have seen some dust raised by that event.
When Raj was carried into my house last week and met the third or fourth new crowd of relatives in a fortnight, he did respond to my face and voice with a sweet smile. Perhaps the FaceTime sessions truly did help him to remember my voice, adding to whatever deeper memories were embedded from those newborn lullaby sessions with me nine months ago.
Now Pearl’s and Pippin’s families have departed, but Tom, Kate, and Baby Raj will be with me for a few more special days. A good rest and a forest walk have perked me up quite a bit, so I have hope of making the most of the rest of this week and entering into the joyful work and celebrations ahead.
I will close with a few lines [surprised to see that out of all the many stanzas we used, I chose the same lines three years ago to share here] from the “Akathist of Thanksgiving” that we read together on Thanksgiving evening, and which express my mood right now:
I was born a weak, defenseless child,
but Thine angel spread his wings over my cradle to defend me.
From birth until now Thy love has illumined my path,
and has wondrously guided me towards the light of eternity;
from birth until now the generous gifts of Thy providence
have been marvelously showered upon me.
I give Thee thanks, with all who have come to know Thee,
who call upon Thy name.
Thou hast brought me into life as into an enchanted paradise.
We have seen the sky like a chalice of deepest blue,
where in the azure heights the birds are singing.
We have listened to the soothing murmur of the forest
and the melodious music of the streams.
We have tasted fruit of vine and the sweet-scented honey.
We can live very well on Thine earth.
It is a pleasure to be Thy guest.