Along these lower creekside paths in my neighborhood, maintenance vehicles may drive when they are taking care of things. Recently I had seen one down there that didn’t look very official, an unmarked white SUV, just parked, with no crew around, and I wondered… who? Yesterday I saw it again, driving slowly along, then stopping, then creeping forward, and then at one pause a man got out, and I backtracked so I could talk to him across the channel, as he was lifting away a dead branch.
He said he worked for the water agency, and that as they clean out out the creek beds in preparation for winter, they want to preserve bird nests. He was marking any he found, so they would be spared.
That explains the desecration I saw a couple of weeks ago, seemingly random messes where it looked like elephants had trampled across the streams in places. Now I’m guessing it was humans with some heavy equipment for cutting trees and carrying them off.
These watercourses that flow from the hills are natural parts of the geography, but they also carry groundwater from the neighborhoods on either side, so it is a constant labor to preserve the ecology of the stream and keep it open, while not turning it into a mere drainage ditch. Occasionally they have to dredge out silt, and the stream looks momentarily ravaged, but quickly the willows and horsetail grass and myriad shrubs and vines start to fill in again. The egrets and mallards and frogs don’t get lost.
Darkness hangs on later these days, so I start my walks later in the morning. Today men with chain saws were already down in the dry areas of the creek bed as I walked by. One man was carefully grooming the lower parts of a small tree, getting it prepared for such time as fast waters will flow past. Let there not be any branches on which to hang debris and start the clogging-up again.
It’s been such a gift this summer to walk almost daily on these paths so close to my house. Each morning or evening the views are slightly changed, the birds and flowers presenting new events to witness. As the days shorten and the weather becomes a little less friendly, I hope I can still get myself down there often, and keep learning about this small corner of my world.
Xerophytes are plants that are xerophilous, which means they have special features that enable them to survive in very dry environments. One of my favorite xerophytes is the Bristlecone Pine, which I wrote about some years ago, calling them Gnarly Patriarchs.
Some of the plants in my home landscape are considered to be xerophilous, though to maintain a xeriscape such as I have it is not necessary to have nothing but xerophytes. A xeriscape, in addition to featuring drought-tolerant plants, uses deep mulches and other means of conserving water besides those that are built into the plants themselves.
In a patch by my driveway, enclosed on all sides by concrete, Mexican Evening Primrose blooms and thrives all summer with a little water once a month or so. It thrives so well that such an enclosed space as it lives in here is usually the best spot for this plant, unless you are okay with it taking over the whole garden.
The picture at right is of warrigal or New Zealand Spinach, an edible green, growing alongside a yellow mystery flower, both of which I consider quite xerophilous, as they lived in my back yard for months last summer with no water, and never so much as wilted.
That root xeros comes from the Greek, for dry. My current project is to incorporate more of these unthirsty friends into a plan for my front yard, and I hope to have them planted by the fall.
I can’t let Theophany pass without posting something. The poetry and the glory are truly over-the-top, on this feast that is second only to Pascha in conveying the fullness of our salvation, the marvelous works of the Lord.
At Royal Hours on Monday, and today on the feast itself, I kept taking out my little notebook to scribble down a few phrases that I could use to do research at home, with the idea that I could find prayers and hymns in their entirety on the Internet, for later meditation and writing. But I find that not everything is online.
And most of my scribblings turned out to be almost identical to the phrases that had caught my attention last year. That’s okay. It was good for me to read last year’s post, and probably some of you didn’t see it then or would enjoy it again as well, so here is the link: “We are watered by mystical streams.”
The very earth of our neighborhoods has recently been well watered by rains that we acknowledge to be gifts of God, so it seemed this week that all of nature was participating in our celebration of the baptism of Christ.
Water itself is a basic element of the cosmos and is fundamental in the the Creation story: “And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.” When Jesus came to him for baptism, John was baptizing people in the Jordan River, the same river their ancestors had crossed on their entrance to the Promised Land, and in the homily today we heard that he was calling the people to come back to that event, to their beginnings, to their first love.
The Spirit of God also appeared at Christ’s baptism to affirm that He is the bearer of God’s Spirit. It’s all about the renewal of the Spirit in our lives, as at Theophany we are reminded of our own baptism and pray again that the Holy Spirit would revive and refresh us, as the showers of life-giving rain water the plants and make them fruitful.
We celebrated Divine Liturgy in our “big church” and then processed singing to the small church — the rain kindly letting up so that we didn’t have to carry umbrellas along with our banners — where water was blessed and sprinkled all around. While some of us filled our bottles with holy water others processed all over the property and ended with blessing the bells.
The many celebrations I’ve been part of at church since Christmas have watered my soul immeasurably. Theophany (and the splashing of water on my head!) is like the final drenching of this season, so that I feel wet through with the love of God and His Church, with the joy spoken of in Isaiah 51 (and mentioned in my title here). I want to go on day by day and find His mercies that are new every morning. If I follow the counsel of my priest I’m sure I will. He said that we shouldn’t bother with New Year’s resolutions, except perhaps to imitate St. Herman of Alaska who encouraged a constant repentance, saying, “From this day, from this moment, let us love God above all.”
My sister joined me at the cabin on Saturday afternoon (This was almost two weeks ago now – I have been writing these reports from home); it was the first time just the two of us had spent any time together as long as we can remember – maybe since our younger sister was born! We didn’t have any real adventures, but we had a lovely time.
Unless you count losing our power as an adventure, but we are used to that. The cabin is off the power grid, but we have a solar collector and batteries that usually provide enough electricity for lights.
We were brushing our teeth, getting ready for bed, when the lights went out on Saturday night, and we never got the system going again. We think the batteries may need replacing. So we used lanterns and flashlights, and two dim gas wall lamps. The refrigerator runs on gas.
We read on the deck, until we got too hot, or too cold, or too sleepy. We cooked lots of vegetables, and Sister barbequed enough steak to make me happy for days to come. We talked about our favorite trees around the cabin, two of which I show here.
Storm clouds gathered all day Sunday, and we watched them eagerly, hoping some moisture would fall out, and in the late afternoon it finally did. Immediately the fragrance of the conifers and the duffy earth rose up and all around us and we felt better about everything. The trees were happy and able to exhale and share their essence again.
Monday I spent the whole day combing through the Sunset Western Garden Book and some books from the library, picking out the most flowery drought-tolerant plants that would attract bees, birds and butterflies, and making lists to prepare myself for an upcoming meeting with a landscape designer. She will help me with my garden at home, once the pool is gone and I am left with a vast dirt canvas on which to paint my garden art.
I know, that was a little odd — you’d think I should have been focused instead on nature’s glorious garden all around me. But it helped me greatly to invest some time in that landscaping project so that my mind would not feel as chaotic and overwhelmed as my yard looks right now. The mountains were a restful place where I would not be distracted by any environmental mess.
My sister and I collected firewood from the stash under the cabin deck, and pushed and pulled it up the hill in a cart, to build our magnificent fires. She built one, and I built the next.
We read, and talked about our reading, and planned our next sisters cabin retreat, which will include all three of us at a different cabin in October. This place will be closed down by then, to protect it from the snows, which we pray will be heavy this year. Sometimes the cabin is completely covered in snow, just a bump showing under the white blanket.
The storm clouds had gathered again that day, and serious rain began to fall in the early afternoon, and continued all day and night. We were gleeful, as if our own skins had been shriveled and were now plumping up again. We tried to take pictures of the wet skies. On our way to the firewood pile between showers I took a picture of the most common wildflower at the cabin right now, a tiny drenched penstemon.
Too soon it was the morning of our departure. It was certainly nice to have someone to work with, turning off the water valve and getting the cabin tidied up for the next family members who visit.
Once again, I departed late, but I didn’t expect to feel the need to take pictures on the way down, as I had done so much of that on the way up. I was really surprised therefore when the one-hour drive from 8,000 ft to 5,000 ft elevation took almost double that amount of time.
Now that I’m back home, I’m very glad I did stop a lot on that curvy road flanked by layers of wildflowers. Using my several wildflower guides I have identified three new flowers that I didn’t know before, or that I had wrongly named in the past, just from that morning.
The Meadow Goldenrod was popular with the bees. I had seen it in the meadow with the cattle on the way up, but here it was growing along the roadside.
Another plentiful flower along my course was milkweed. Like the goldenrod, it has a hundred miniature flowers making up its clusters, and the insects were feasting on nectar there, too. I think this one is Indian Milkweed, asclepias eriocarpa.
Years ago I had mistaken this next flower for something else. It is Bigelow’s Sneezeweed, which is an ominous name; one can imagine how it got that title. The blooms I saw were pretty far spent, but easily recognizable — and I actually was set straight on this one while perusing a guide from the cabin library.
So…the rain is blessing the forest, and the bees are blessing the flowers, and the flowers are blessing the insects with nectar.
It is comforting to remind myself of these things that were going on under my nose. At the time, I was hurrying down the mountain, to Pearl’s house, to get a granddaughter to take home with me. That will be the next chapter of my summer story collection.