Tag Archives: succulents

Dear little things.

Sunday evening, and I’m quite worn out, from doing so little, seemingly – but the screens are getting to me. We only have two weeks left of church school on Zoom, for which I am glad. I love the children in my class, which is why it’s exhausting to try to be “with” them this way, and it must be difficult for them, too. In any case, half of them don’t seem to be present the way they were when we were together in the flesh. I think it’s because they are quiet personalities, and Zoom-ing takes a certain amount of assertiveness.

What I did today, not in order: I took a walk first thing in the morning, and another one this evening, just before it started raining. I listened to a story by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala; talked to my godmother on the phone; listened to four homilies on the Samaritan Woman, three of them from previous years and one given fresh this morning. It seems a whole book could be written about the history, psychology and Christology of this passage of scripture, Christ’s encounter with the woman at Jacob’s well. As with many of the lessons, the preparation I do is rich food for my own heart — but I often feel ill prepared to teach about it.

I sat in the garden a bit, and thought about small things that are lovable. Those olive flower buds I mentioned last week, and other tender new growth and flowers I’ve seen here and in the neighborhood. The landscape is already filling out, and it’s only May — which means the mass of foliage and living, breathing botany has yet to reach its summer peak of green-and-fruity.

My grandson Jamie is not little the same way, but he’s still not half-grown, and I have this cute picture. He’s one of the California grandchildren, of which there are only three, so I saw him in March when I was up there.

I bought a hanging pot of succulents last summer, and had to keep it in the greenhouse over winter. It’s kind of a scruffy jumble, but two of the three plants in it have flowers now, which is nice.

olive
succulents

mock orange

I was mistaken about the dear little things in the birdhouse: they are not bluebirds, but chickadees! It’s so obvious now, in this picture taken eight days after my last.

I’ve been busy like a bee in the garden. But if it rains tomorrow, maybe I will read more, and write about books…? Good night, Dear Readers! May God give us restful hearts. If we are sleeping, may it be deep and renewing; if we are awake, may our work make us tired with that good kind of fatigue that helps us go to sleep again, in peace. Amen.

Picking peas without complaint.

Mr. Kierkegaard was very hard to take in the last two discourses of The Lily of the Field and the Bird of the Air. I was happy for the non-hearers of his non-sermons — you may remember, he was not ordained so he didn’t consider it appropriate to call them sermons — that they did not have to listen to him audibly, on and on repeating himself, and stretching the bird and lily metaphor into nonsense.

Or so it seemed to my small brain. I finished the book last evening, when my patience was already tried by my eyes that had been burning for two days, and for what reason? No one knows. By the late afternoon on Sunday I’d followed a doctor’s advice and used some very expensive eye drops that changed the burning to a sticky-scratchy feeling. The burning had made me want to keep my eyes shut, but with the latter condition open or shut didn’t matter, so I was able to distract myself with reading. (Today they are fine!)

I sat in the garden, because it is so delicious, I want to be there as much as possible, with the bees humming and sparrows singing and flying back and forth, eating the sunflower seeds I give them. It is true, what Kierkegaard says, echoing our Savior, that we must learn from nature. And in some way we need to be like the birds and the lilies if we are going to fulfill our humanity. But we can’t learn about thinking from them. Thinking is something we humans specialize in, to such a degree that our minds dominate our fragmented selves. And that mind tells us, among other irrational things, to worry.

Our mind is what we use to accomplish our daily lives, to plan and execute our work. But it’s also where swirl the same unproductive thoughts over and over again, thoughts of regret over the past, or anxiety over the future. Complaining and blaming and angry thoughts. How can we plan without worrying at the same time? How can we bring every thought captive to Christ? Lord, have mercy!

Kierkegaard says in the second discourse that the bird and the lily are unconditionally compliant with God’s will: “In nature everything is obedience, unconditional obedience.” Maybe he is trying to get at what I have heard from fathers of the Church, about how creatures other than humans act according to their God-given natures. Humans were made in the image of God, which means that our nature is to be of love, and unity. But we are typically at odds with ourselves, and with our Creator.

I haven’t been too successful myself of late, in thanking God for everything. For ten years now, I’ve found it helpful to use my writing to steer my mind in the right direction, but lately the load is too heavy to steer. Writing does not accomplish the task of “bringing the mind into the heart,” which is what Saint Theophan tells us we need to do. When my mind is burdened I can’t make sentences that would substitute for prayer, or other more receptive activities, say, watching a bee.

C.S. Lewis’s feeling, “Actually it seems to me that one can hardly say anything either bad enough or good enough about life,” comes to mind, but only weakly applies to my difficulty conveying a simple experience like picking peas this evening.

That Big Friendly Giant pea patch I’ve got is a wonder of my garden world. It just keeps growing and being green and lush, producing new baby pea pods every day. I wander around the edges of its kingdom and peer into the jungle of vines, trying not to miss any of the ripe ones, wondering if I should let this or that one grow one more day. I’m pretty sure that one day this week there are going to be about a hundred of the sugar snap peas all ready at once. Each pea pod is lovely and tender-crisp, and begs to be eaten the moment after being picked.

The day is filled with this kind of incomprehensibly good thing, which I would like to share. I think those are joys flowing out of my heart, so they are easier to express than sad things,  though of course I can’t say anything “good enough.” I’ve tried taking pictures of the pea mass, but this is a case where you have to have your nose following your arm into the dim and cool interior, all the while the sun warms your hair. Pictures are worthless.

As to the other side of Lewis’s quote, saying anything “bad enough” about life — that’s not my calling. I think that line might have been from a personal letter that he wrote, expressing empathy with someone who was suffering. I know I have had experiences that seemed very bad. And my cry amounted to, “This is not what I want!” But at this time in my life, if I ever manage to “take them captive,” I try to put those thoughts in quarantine.

Kierkegaard finally admits that we do have difficulties that the bird and the lily escape, when he writes of an “…enormous danger — a danger in which a human being is indeed situated by virtue of being a human being, a danger that the lily and the bird are spared in their unconditional obedience, which is happy innocence, for neither God and the world nor good and evil are fighting over them…”

That makes me think that if the author were writing blog posts today, he might remind us that we do not war against flesh and blood, viruses, stupid humans, wicked empires, etc, but against “principalities and powers” in the spiritual realm. Every time I get distracted it’s a waste of time and a missed opportunity to use my mind to better purposes. The pandemic is showing me how prone I am to this.

I did have three more friends in my garden last week after my godmother’s visit. Everyone wore masks. They were on two different errands. My goddaughter Sophia had found some plum wood for my wood stove, which she and her new husband delivered. And my goddaughter Mary’s father and brother came to finish my garden icon project that I began five years ago. But you know what? — it’s past my bedtime, and this post is too long already. I’ll explain tomorrow about the elegant completion of my garden. ❤

(The cactuses are not mine.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To feel astonished is to be disturbed.

I only got a face mask last week, and this week I tied a piece of drapery cord to the ear loops, so that I can leave it hanging around my neck when I am not exactly “in public.” Otherwise, I might be fined $1,000 if I am discovered without it covering my face.

On this morning’s walk I never needed it, as I went earlier and on the southern creekside route that is less traveled. In some places honeysuckle escaped from a back yard and has climbed all over the trees along the bank:

I began to think again, as I have done so often throughout my life, about the verse,

The world is so full of a number of things,
I’m sure we should all be as happy as kings.

Every time I muse it is from a new perspective, of course. Today I considered how king and happy are words with many levels and shades of meaning, and in our minds they live in a context that is rich with metaphor and our individual experience.

A child might think he’d like to be a king, and tell people what to do, and order his servants to bring him cookies or pizza whenever he wants. But we older and wiser ones think, How happy can a king be, anyway? What a job, being a king!! Too much work, right? I’m sure some kings (rulers) get into the business because they want to profit from it, but true happiness could never result from that motivation.

“The ‘whole good’ cannot be had, it would seem, without mustering all the strength of our inner life. Even in the sphere of external possessions there are goods which inherently demand, if they are to be truly ours, far more of us than mere acquisition. ‘My garden,’ the rich man said; his gardener smiled.” – Josef Pieper

A king who has nothing but leisure will not long be king. And the thought of leisure made me think on something else that I have returned to again and again, the title of Josef Pieper’s book: Leisure, the Basis of Culture. He presented it as five lectures in 1947. I have never read the book, I say to my shame. Until now, the title alone was evocative enough. I did get another book by Pieper which I have not finished reading, and right now I can’t find it on my shelves, either. But thanks to Goodreads I have been nourished this morning by excerpts from various of his books. (All the quotes in brown here are from him.) And I found a helpful review (I have read many such reviews) in case you’re interested, by James W. Schall: “On Pieper’s Leisure and Living Well.” This short explanation of Pieper’s idea of leisure is good, too: “It is not laziness, but rather an inner silence that enables one to see reality.”

But long before I got home, I continued to think about that book I haven’t read, as I walked up and down the path pictured at top. I didn’t want to continue up to the street and on my usual loop, because I knew there were many people walking on the pavement above; my own newly mown swath by the creek I didn’t have to share with another soul. It was my own little kingdom for a while. So I turned around and came back, and I did that three times altogether, which added up to about two miles.

I’m afraid I had gone back to thinking about work instead of leisure, giving a nod as I passed by, to the idea of culture. What about all the work I need to be doing in my kingdom of my house? We have completed the fast with its spiritual labors, its fitness training for the soul, and are reminded that we can live, especially during this Bright Week, “Renewal Week,” in the glorious light of the Resurrection. I know our priest said something last night or this morning, about what our focus should be, but I forgot already. The sun was shining this morning as is so appropriate on the mornings of Bright Week, so I took another screen shot of the church during the streamed Morning Prayers.

In spite of its being Bright Week, I was thinking about how as a king I could really use a few servants, in order to get my work done — even one servant! I’m sure the construction workers are all wishing they could get over here, too, and finish a few tasks that will liberate me to be a good steward over that part of my realm, and create culture, if you will.

But the kingdom of my soul…. it has servants enough, doesn’t it? My body, with its legs and arms, and mouth and brain. Even when we can’t do our usual kinds of work, we can bear the responsibility for our souls, by “strong activity” that Pieper describes:

“…Enduring comprises a strong activity of the soul, namely, a vigorous grasping of and clinging to the good; and only from this stout-hearted activity can the strength to support the physical and spiritual suffering of injury and death be nourished.”

Enduring, grasping, clinging… those sound sound like the realities of my days.

And he warns us: “Separated from the sphere of divine worship, of the cult of the divine, and from the power it radiates, leisure is as impossible as the celebration of a feast. Cut off from the worship of the divine, leisure becomes laziness and work inhuman.”

Those of us who know how to be thankful have the power to enjoy leisure and to escape boredom: “The vacancy left by absence of worship is filled by mere killing of time and by boredom, which is directly related to inability to enjoy leisure; for one can only be bored if the spiritual power to be leisurely has been lost. There is an entry in Baudelaire’s Journal Intime that is fearful in the precision of its cynicism: ‘One must work, if not from taste then at least from despair. For, to reduce everything to a single truth: work is less boring than pleasure.’”

Oh, poor Beaudelaire! By the gifts of God throughout my life I have eyes (hmm – more servants!) to see the beauty and glory around me and to know to Whom to give thanks. So I was ready when I saw one of these by the creek! It’s a Mourning Cloak. This is not my picture, but mine were good enough for my Seek app to help me identify it:

“Happiness… even the smallest happiness, is like a step out of Time,
and the greatest happiness is sharing in Eternity.”

The plague of coronavirus that seems to cover the earth is not the only plague that afflicts us, or the most ruinous one. That many humans are unable to obtain true leisure or to enjoy it, is a terrible disease. It seems worse to me than the true laziness I surely fall into.

I know that most people I talk to are feeling at loose ends at least occasionally these days, when it might be expected that we would be able to use all this extra time to accomplish more than we do. Are we lazy, or working? Something is going on in our souls, and I think that for me it may be partly attributed to this idea that Pieper sets forth:

“Wonder does not make one industrious, for to feel astonished is to be disturbed.”

I only pray that I will be disturbed in the right direction, toward Him Who fills all in all.

Christ is risen! Truly He is risen!

My birthday Christmas in March.

My birthday hasn’t yet arrived, but since I’m unlikely to see any of my children on the proper day, the family I was with just a few days ago gave me a celebration. (Soldier had planned to come here from Colorado with Liam day, but he wisely cancelled that trip.) Presumably we’ll all be holed up apart from one another when I cross over to a new age.

The first special thing Pippin did was to drive me and the children to a succulent farm she’d been wanting to visit. We took a picnic and ate on the way; it took us a while, as it’s in Fort Jones, sort of in the middle of “nowhere,” and not a place that succulents would grow naturally, but the whole operation is in greenhouses. Maybe some of you have ordered from Mountain Crest Gardens. If you like succulents, you would have feasted your eyes on the long rows of charming species and collections.

One of them I did not find charming, only strange:

Pippin wanted to get me a few for my birthday and I chose these that are different from anything I already have:

I put them in my car to keep them safe, and I checked on them one day to see that they weren’t getting too cold. I didn’t notice then that the one on the right had evidently gotten too cold, and no wonder. My car looked like this one of those mornings.

I knew I wouldn’t be keeping that plant outdoors in the winter here, and I don’t know why I didn’t have more sense about how cold it would get in my car. At least, it is only damaged, not killed. Scout also came home with a little succulent, and Ivy collected various leaves and stems off the greenhouse floor which I told her were likely to grow into plants if they were in dirt, so she put them all together in one pot when she came home.

The second birthday surprise was nothing anyone could have planned: a big snowfall of the powderiest sort, followed by a morning when we could easily walk down the road a few paces to a good spot for sledding. That day Jamie had looked out the window and beamed, “It feels like Christmas!” and when I asked why, he said because of the snow.

I realized then how special a treat it was, after their relatively dry winter, that this dumping of perfectly fun snow should happen while I was there, and actually, on the perfect day. I had tried to make my visit other weeks that should have been more wintry. Now, in the middle of March, came my birthday gift from God.

If not for the children, I’d have been happy to look at the snow through the window, but being able to accompany them and watch them literally throw themselves into it was the joy and the gift.

They were thankful for this late snow because when it was Christmas on the calendar their family had just returned from my house and collapsed sick. They couldn’t even eat their Christmas cookies that had been laid by.

As we were pulling on our snow boots and rummaging around for the bibs and gloves, Scout said, “When we come back we can have tea with leftover Christmas cookies!”

Jamie broke trail heading for the little hill alongside the railroad track, and soon the children had smoothed out a sledding run. But after a while they all seemed to like as well merely rolling down the railroad embankment, or in the case of Ivy, just diving and splashing around in the snow, eating it.

Two days before, I had walked through the forest with the children, trying to identify species of lichens, and noticing stages of manzanita growth or death. This day the manzanita blooms were set in fluffy white.

On the embankment next to where freight trains run many times a day, snowballs form on their own, maybe from the wind of the train rushing past?

We did go home and eat those Christmas cookies and drink our tea. The Professor blew a path through the snow for me to walk on back to where I was sleeping, in a sort of guest cottage across the street. The next morning  the scene showed my tracks with no new snow.

Too many of my children have moved to where the winters are cold and snow is common, and the older I get, the more I try to avoid visiting them during the winter. I should try to remember that every visit I have had in snowy weather has been fun; remember the last time when I taught Liam and Laddie to make snowballs? This week’s snow made good snowballs, too! It was another blessed birthday to remember. ❤