In this season when they are happiest, I took pictures of most of my succulents. Many of them are blooming, and it’s hard to get a good picture of that, because their flowers are often on a stem that stretches far from the mother plant before the blooms open.
They are pleasant images from my life, where this week the plumbers and other workers are busy doing repair work before any of my new construction can start. Just one day of it was unnerving for various reasons that are not pleasant, so I won’t bother going into all that. And eventually all will be well… it was good to sleep, and wake to hear the fountain singing.
I don’t know the names of most, but a couple that I do know here are Red Sedum and Hens and Chicks… The purple flowers are not a succulent, but bacopa or Sutera cordata.
The busyness around here makes me feel an affinity with these plants, which like the heat of summer, as I also do. They can live without water for long periods, but most of them require a little quiet shade in order to thrive. It occurs to me that I might brush some pine needles off the bench and sit a spell with my garden friends this very afternoon.
I don’t know what “time happiness” means exactly, but I have an inkling about the longed-for place that St. Nikolai talks about:
Moments of happiness are given to you only in order to leave you longing
for time happiness in the bosom of the ever happy Lord;
and ages of unhappiness are given to you
to waken you out of the drowsy dream of illusions.
O Lord, Lord, my only happiness, will You provide shelter for Your injured pilgrim?
– St Nikolai Velimirovich
And I don’t know anything about “ages of unhappiness.” My sad times can’t by any stretch be called ages, though it’s true, when one is in the midst of intense sorrow, time warps.
Today has been sweet and kind of dreamy. I stopped on the bridge over the creek and thought about how beloved this little patch of suburbia has grown, especially in the last three years. This is the season when the creek bed is so packed with plants, you can’t see the little water that is down there. It was quiet and warm. The warm part of the day is short now.
I was passing by the yard with roses, lilies and other plants that are wilted and ugly from drought, insects, and disease. No one cares enough about them to pick off a dead leaf. And then what caught my eye and made me stop? A weed growing next to the fire hydrant.
“Weeds grasp their own essence and express its truth.”
– Santoka Taneda
It occurs to me just now that I may have posted a picture of this weed once before, recently… if so, it is deserving enough for a repeat showing. It has been neglected just as much as the cultivated plants, which for a weed means it was not killed or pulled out. That has let its essential health and hardiness shine forth and produce tiny and flowers all over, decorating the wasteland beautifully.
Liam was with me for a couple of days last week. He is almost six and suddenly reads with astonishing fluency. Reading is downright fun for him, I guess that’s why, and the more you do something you love, the better you get at it. I was pleased to realize that he would be just the person at just the stage to appreciate The Disappearing Alphabet by Richard Wilbur, so I searched through my bookshelves to find it. We read it together with many giggles.
The artwork, by David Diaz, is much more pleasing to me than that in The Pig in the Spigot, another of Wilbur’s books for children which I wrote about here once. Each page is devoted to a letter of the alphabet, with a short verse musing on what would happen to our beloved world if that letter were no more.
After reading the book, then eating dinner, we went on one of my creek walk loops. Immediately we began to practice our mutual love of plants and their names. My grandson is starting to understand that I don’t know every plant, and our nature study is more of a joint effort now, with him not saying, “What is this?” so much, and saying, “Grandma, look!” more.
But he brought up the subject of the alphabet also, as we walked along, saying, out of the blue, “If there were no letter N, we wouldn’t have pain! or lanes! — or extensions!”
Our walk took longer than I planned, because I had forgotten about how it’s our habit to meander and pick things, as I had started out with Liam in Flowery Town years ago.
We ate quite a few new-green wild fennel fronds on this walk, and even some slightly older ones, comparing the flavor. And several times he reminded me that we must take the route home that passes by the pineapple guava hedge, because he was eager to taste the flowers I’d mentioned.
We ate flower petals, and got to bed late, and the next morning the boy picked more right next to my garden dining spot, which he added to our breakfast feast. Rarely is it truly the right weather to eat breakfast outdoors here in my city, and this may have been my first time to do it with company so agreeable.
The middle of this second day was spent at my church, where the end of the children’s week-long summer program featured a long session of water play, and Liam was delighted to get all wet and to eat a popsicle.
Even here, he drew my attention to a tree blooming right above, which I’m sure I’d never noticed before. Our rector said he planted it himself “way back.”
While children were settling down for the Bible lesson that morning, another boy showed me this fly that he was admiring on his hand. I think Liam was already waiting patiently on the other side of the circle so he didn’t see it.
Later that afternoon I had planned to have him help me clean the greenhouse, but then realized he’d like better to pick sweet peas to take home to his mother. I have only a little patch that I didn’t pull out yet. He was diligent about that task for nearly an hour, and collected a large jarful. I made headway on the greenhouse, and we took breaks to study the bumblebees that only recently decided to mob those flowers.
One day we had read Monarch and Milkweed, and the other, I showed him my milkweed plants; the Showy Milkweed is in a jungle behind the fig tree, where I hope, if Monarch caterpillars hatch out, the birds might not notice them…?
Liam helped me to see my flowers without a magnifying glass. As we were looking at some tiny succulent flowers, and I was trying to get a good picture of them, I began to notice little black dots on them. “Are those holes in the petals, can you see?” I asked him. He squatted down and looked hard, and told me that they were things on the ends of hairs coming out of the middle of the flower. Ah, stamens! When I enlarged the photo, I could see, too:
We washed rocks! Liam had been examining and organizing one of my collections of pebbles and stones and such in the house, and out here I had him put these larger stones from the Sierras and from the Sacramento River through some sudsy water and a rinse, so they could wait presentably until I find a use for them.
What other things did we both like to do while he was visiting? Eat ice cream cones, and judge matchbox car races, and read Winnie-the-Pooh. Many times during his last hours with me, lines from Pooh or The Disappearing Alphabet would come to his mind and he would say them again, looking at me with a twinkle in his eye, knowing I liked them, too. He especially liked these from the page about the letter L:
“Any self-respecting duck would rather be extinct than be an uck.”
I was so grateful to Liam’s parents for making this intimate visit work out. Next time I see him, he will be more grown up, and a different boy. But probably not all that different. I hope we can always find a way to share our love for words and plants and many more details and gifts of this vast world in which our loving Father has placed the two of us as grandma and grandson.
Not infrequently the feeling of unreality comes upon me: It doesn’t compute that I am living a full life without my husband. He has not lent his strength to the shovel, or played music while I made dinner, or given me an opinion about one single thing. For three years. Really?? My mind does its best to go along with my body as it sleeps alone, and wakes up alone, walks alone, and makes always unilateral decisions. But occasionally it says, “Wait a minute! I’m confused… Who are we…? I don’t like change!”
I think that’s part of the reason I act as though every little thing I think and do must be documented here or in my bullet journal, or my garden journal, or a letter to someone. I am watching myself, noticing that this strange woman does get up every day so far, and worships, and comes up with new ideas for the garden; she has friends who act as though she is as normal a person as can be.
Of course I mostly go with that assessment without thinking about it. My, do I have friends! They are the greatest. Since Mr. and Mrs. Bread gave me a new Chapel Birdfeeder for my birthday, I also have blue jays enjoying my garden like never before.
Book friends! Several women readers at church have started a reading group. They read Jane Eyre first, but I didn’t join their ranks until this spring when they are giving themselves six weeks to read Work by Louisa May Alcott, a book I’d never heard of. How can I even finish Middlemarch and write about it, much less finish Work? It does seem that I am testing the limits of this new life I am creating, and I act at times like a silly crazy woman. Would I rather spend time on Work or housework? I don’t even know!
My friend “Mr. Greenjeans” and his wife gave me a tour of their garden the other day, and quiche afterward. He is an encyclopedia of plants and loves to experiment with exotic seeds in his greenhouse. This year he has potato towers that have an upper storey that will be for melons!
I was interested in his mystery tree, which he thinks sprouted from one of the seeds in a packet that was a South American mixture. I was thinking “Africa” when I went home and searched online for some tree from that part of the world that had these green-tipped narrow trumpet flowers, and the same kind of leaves. I couldn’t find anything. (My friend Father C. in Kenya said they have this tree, but he doesn’t know the name, and his pictures didn’t look very similar.)
Soon Mrs. Greenjeans clarified that the source was likely South America, not Africa.
Update: Lucky for me Anna in Mexico saw my post and in her comment below she identified it as nicotiana glauca or Tree Tobacco, originating in Argentina.
My farmer friend has also been successful in growing several seedling trees of Red Mahogany Eucalyptus, which makes great lumber, and the Australian Tea Tree, which puts on a gorgeous display of white blooms, and from which he explained how I could make tea tree oil, if I would accept one of the trees he was offering me. But I took home a lovely columbine instead, which I know can find a small place in my garden.
Mr. Greenjeans also makes dough at least half the time for our Communion bread baking teams at church. For some months I have tried to pick tiny pink specks out of the dough as I am rolling it; today I heard that they are from Himalayan salt that he uses! So now I am happy to see them.
I was able to do all these kneading-rolling-cutting things because my sprained finger is finally better! Here is our team leader putting some prosphora into the oven this morning:
Team Leader and my friend (Nun) Mother S. have invited me to go walking or hiking a few times lately. Once we went to the same park I last visited the day of Jamie’s birth, the day after my husband’s funeral! Because of a downed tree blocking the trail …
… we weren’t able to take the shady route by the creek, and the sun was hot, so I lent Mother S. my hat.
Not as many wildflowers caught our attention in May as three years ago in March, but I did find a few.
Back home in my garden, the red poppies have opened, later than the pale yellow by a month. My skirt blew into the frame for contrast.
The last time I walked by the creek – at least a week ago! – I cut these roses, which because of the way they naturally fall over a fence are curved all funny and do not work very well in a vase, unless you put them on the top of the hutch the way I did, so that they hang down above my head as I sit here at the computer. Sweet things!
Last weekend son Soldier and his family were here, which made for a splendid couple of days. Liam is nearly six years old. He reads everything, and I saw him poring over a few books from my shelf…. That was a new thing, and a little sad, because he never asked me to read to him, but he did help me cut up my snowball clippings. He is good with the loppers or rose pruners.
Tomorrow I’m showing one elderly lady from church my India pictures. The next day I’m visiting my friend E. who is 102 now and who gave me the knitting needles that her mother-in-law gave her when she got married! This weekend my friend O. has engaged me to feed his cat Felafel while he is on a trip, and give him thyroid pills in tasty pill pouches. I met Felafel tonight and he is very friendly and agreeable.
For Soul Saturday I’ll make a koliva because my goddaughter Kathie’s 3-year memorial is near. And Holy Spirit Day, the day after Pentecost, is the same as Memorial Day this year; we have a prayer service at a cemetery. It’s quite a week, busy with various good things. And this is really me!