Tag Archives: spring

Spring Zoë

When the sun was just rising above the groves I drove away from my sister’s house and about an hour north to visit the Monastery of the Theotokos the Life-Giving Spring, which is nestled in the foothills at about 2,000 ft. elevation. It was Sunday morning and I wanted to attend Divine Liturgy there; the service was starting at 8:30.

Christ’s mother Mary is called the Life-Giving Spring because of course Christ is Himself the Water of Life. Just as the name of our first mother Eve means life in Hebrew, Zoë means life in Greek. There is an icon associated with this name of the Theotokos, and a feast day on the Friday following Pascha.

It was a beautiful drive, especially as the road climbed very gradually into green hills scattered with large patches of lupines and poppies. This year California’s Central Valley received more rain than usual, and the landscape is still gentle and lush everywhere. Many of the plants that will eventually be stickers and thorns are still pretty wildflowers.

I had reserved a room for the night at St. Nicholas Ranch retreat center just next to the monastery, and I parked my car there and walked through the gates and up the hill to the monastery itself. I had never visited here before, and didn’t know that this little hike would right away give me the opportunity to take pictures of wildflowers. 🙂

Then I entered the courtyard of the church, through a hall lined with mural icons of saints, in process of being painted; once I saw two of the sisters painting when I passed through. The courtyard has four planters with walls on which one can sit. They are filled with many ornamentals, but especially palms and bugleweed, a species of ajuga, which right now is in full bloom, its blue spikes standing boldly up from the mat of green leaves.

On my drive to the monastery I am sorry to say I had wasted time in my too-frequent mental lament over the unsightly palm trees that dot the landscape in the warmer areas of the state. Of course in their essence they are not ugly, but the way they have been used makes them appear that way. I think sometimes it is because they aren’t incorporated into any symmetry; or they stick up in an ungainly way out of context of their setting (for example, in Northern California where I live, and where conifers naturally and more healthily grow), often as a solitary botanical oddity. The majority are also not maintained and many have more dead fronds than living ones.

Here at the monastery I was given a huge gift, in encountering palm trees in all their glory. Many species of palms have been incorporated into the landscaping, and someone obviously gave thought to how to arrange them in the most beautiful way. Gardeners care for them and trim the dead fronds. My feeling about them has forever been altered, now that I’ve seen palm trees as they certainly were meant to be.

On one side of the courtyard is the church, where I spent the next couple of hours settling my spirit that had been jangled by all the activity of getting there. What a magnificent temple! The nuns’ singing transported me to heaven, by way of Greece. The whole service was in Greek, though the Gospel was read in English also. At least 50 other visitors were there with me, including several families with young children; I heard that they come from all over the world, and I personally met people from British Columbia, and from various points in California that are several hours away. I had words with a monk who I think  was from Greece, judging from what he said to a question, “I don’t know, I don’t speak English,” and from how another person translated for him so he could answer me.

After the service we walked across the courtyard to the dining room where dozens of visitors ate lunch provided by the sisters. It was the Sunday of St. Mary of Egypt, and the story of her life was read to us from a perch high on the wall above, as we ate in silence in the trapeza style of Orthodox monasteries. We filed back into church to complete our meal with prayers, and then thick and sweet Greek coffee was served in the courtyard.

After a little coffee and cookies and socializing, we were invited to another room to hear a talk from (Korean) Father Gregory on St. Mary of Egypt, in English. It was very encouraging! Her life and example of repentance illustrate spiritual truths that I have been hearing from every direction in the last couple of weeks, and which I hope to consider altogether and write about later.

I shopped in the bookstore and bought a little icon of St. Porphyrios, who has blessed me so much this Lent through the book I’ve mentioned here, Wounded by Love. And then I returned to my room for a rest before Vespers which was to be at 3:00. The next string of pictures starts with a view of the monastery from just outside the window of my room, and includes scenes from a stroll around the property that evening.

It was a deep and quiet sleep I fell into that night after spending the last Sunday of Lent at this special place. I skipped the morning service that was to be at 3:00, and walked up the hill again for for a lovely breakfast, which I shared with only two other women, as most of the visitors had departed the day before.

I want to tell you about the hearty breakfast menu: On the table waiting for us was a bowl of cut-up grapefruit; a dish of rice and white beans lightly flavored with tomato and other good tastes; oatmeal cooked with cashew milk and fruit – we thought dates and blueberries and maybe figs; cookies with molasses; good bread; peanut butter; and a bowl of walnuts in their shells.

Down the hill again, and I packed my car for the drive home, full to the brim of blessings from my oh so brief, introductory sort of pilgrimage to this holy place, and already imagining my return. But before I descended to the valley again I had one more stop to make, about which I will tell you in my next post.

Jamie and a jay.

Hailstorm, thunder and lightning, only two days ago. Oooh, my tender plum blossoms!

The next day, I cleaned the bird feeders of seed that had sprouted or turned to nut butter. This morning they are both full again with two types of seed, and a blue jay came to eat black oil sunflower seeds. I hadn’t seen a jay in months.

Here is a little house finch I watched through the window for a full ten minutes last week, as he sat alone on the feeder, not eating, while his chapel perch swung gently in the breeze, in and out of the dappled sunlight.

Maybe he was debating about whether he was hungry enough to bother with the inferior food behind him. Did he see me through the window, was he pleading with me to freshen the offerings?

I wonder if he was the same fellow who flew right to the screen door yesterday and clung to the rail, seemingly trying to peer in and locate the human he held responsible for the mess of the tray feeder especially. Well, today everyone is jubilant, doves, juncos, finches, the whole bunch of my friends.

Pippin and family are here to celebrate Jamie’s birthday which was earlier this week. He is the boy who waited to be born until his mother had been able to participate fully in saying good-bye to his Grandpa Glad. It was the day after my husband’s funeral that he came into the world, and I had let you all know about those events with this post, “Death and Life in Springtime.” So, Jamie is four years old! We have lots of good things planned for the weekend, about which I might share afterward, including a visit to Grandpa’s grave.

“They say” we will have a few sunny days now before more rain comes. When I shopped for the bird seed yesterday I bought a couple more plants which I will set out as soon as possible. Here’s a picture of all the new things, with a couple of old things:

bacopa and calendula

And below, the ginger-scented geranium I bought at the big farm festival last summer:

It’s been hanging out in the greenhouse all winter. When it began to bloom I wanted to have it in the house where I can see it all the time and get a whiff now and then.

Happy Spring to all my dear readers and friends!

In the depths of your being.

During Lent our women’s book club at church is reading Wounded by Love: The Life and Wisdom of Saint Porphyrios. Merely reading the words of this 20th-century saint as he tells about his life is “wounding” me with his own love, which of course flows from God Himself through that human life that received much grace.

Yesterday was sunny and the biting winds had calmed. When I went out to cut some asparagus and then to look more closely at the plum blossoms, the orange chair invited me to sit down; immediately the ergonomics of the Adirondack design and the enclosed spot between the rosemary and the fava beans began to apply a balm to my body and soul, and before my face started to burn I went back to the house to get my book and sun hat.

This is what the view was like, from my cozy corner:

Did you notice that black chair by the rosemary above? I actually got too hot after a while and moved to that one. Then I was closer to the tray bird feeder and I took this picture; it was almost as hard for me to see the birds as they are to see in this shot, everything was so sunny bright.

I alternated between being lost in the saint’s tale of his youth in Greece, and being conscious of the deliciousness of my situation and how it seemed to be the perfect lenten activity and food for the soul that had been given to me. Truly, if it were not Lent I no doubt would be busy about more “useful” work. But here I was, enjoying the first days of springtime, watching the bees — the first sighted this year — working the rosemary.

And then, what was that –?  on my hat, making a rustling noise and scratching feeling through the weave. I raised my hand, and a bird flew off into the redwood tree. I could see his profile up there, smaller than a dove but larger than a finch… and then he was right back down to the feeder, and he was a sparrow. Did he land on me because he didn’t recognize me as a human, or because he did recognize me as the lady who fills the feeders?

In the front garden the pale yellow California poppies have sprouted all over the place, and one bloom opened. This picture of plum flowers shows my bedroom window up above.

As my bones warmed from the solar heat, my heart soaked up joy from Father Porphyrios. There is so much I want to share with you about him, but for now I’ll just offer this quote from the second part of the book, which collects some of his teachings. Then I need to get out of this cold corner of my house and into the sunshine again.

“Man seeks joy and happiness in heaven. He seeks what is eternal far from everyone and everything. He seeks to find joy in God. God is a mystery. He is silence. He is infinite. He is everything. Everyone possesses this inclination of the soul for heaven. All people seek something heavenly. All beings turn towards Him, albeit unconsciously.

“Turn your mind towards Him continually. Learn to love prayer, familiar converse with the Lord. What counts above all is love, passionate love for the Lord, for Christ the Bridegroom. Become worthy of Christ’s love. In order not to live in darkness, turn on the switch of prayer so that divine light may flood your soul. Christ will appear in the depths of your being. There, in the deepest and most inward part, is the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is within you [Luke 17:21].”

–St. Porphyrios

[I’m sorry to give you the same quote that I see I posted before, when there are so many other good ones! Well, they will come, God willing.]

Asparagus shoots up, and I wait.

The rain continues, glory to God! But… it’s hard to get enough endorphins to keep in a good mood, when the rain keeps us indoors. A few times I’ve put on Celtic music and danced in order to get muscles exercised and my whole self warmed and enlivened. Yesterday I went for a walk that had to be shortened when the weather forecast proved wrong, and in spite of my longish raincoat I came home drenched.

But a few minutes previous, I had just got on to the creek path when I came upon a eucalyptus limb that had fallen the night before, when there had been no significant wind. Those of us who stopped to analyze the situation finally saw where the tree (on the left below) had broken, higher up than this picture shows. The log must have bumped lower limbs that forced it to flip over before it hit the ground.  We thought it likely it was so waterlogged that it snapped off from sheer weight.

One day neighbor Kim and I walked her dog between showers and I saw this friendly face on a cactus. My own garden is looking fresh and clean; asparagus are pushing up and the fava beans getting taller.

This morning a couple of ladies were coming for tea, and I found one calla lily with which to decorate the table. Last night when I thought to bake a cake for the occasion, I remembered these Brazilian Cheese Rolls that I love, and made them instead. I knew I had all the ingredients on hand, too, and since I’m still working on Using Up, they worked out perfectly.

 

The only starch in the recipe is tapioca flour, so they are grain-free. The first stage of dough containing hot milk, butter and tapioca is gluey. After it rests a few minutes and egg and cheese are added, lumps of the soft dough are pulled off and baked. This time my rolls were smoother on the outside than I remember. The inside is always moist and chewy with that dense mochi texture.

My remodeling project is not making much progress, because the architect seems to keep my small job at the bottom of his stack. I can’t apply for a permit until I have certain drawings, and who knows when they will ever be done. In the meantime I have plenty of work to do on my end, all falling into the broad category of Housework, but not so much that I can’t enjoy the rather restful pace I have fallen into, in my waiting. Lent begins on Monday, and especially in that first week I’ll be glad the house is not yet filled with sawing and hammering and men in boots tromping up and down the stairs. By the time construction starts the rain will likely have stopped, and in every way we will be feeling the lightening of springtime.