Autumn in An Unexpected Place




I might have been sitting on an agreeable rock or  lying under a Chinese Tallow tree, one of our few Texas Gulf Coast trees that can be counted on to scatter scarlet and gold leaves in the Fall.

I might have traveled a few hundred miles north to woods that were a childhood delight for me when the leaves turned.

But I only traveled to the Medical Center. I only lay on a hard, narrow table under a computerized tomography scanner that rotated around my body, assessing my lungs – a painless procedure that is a tool for detecting and identifying problems in my body. I have done this many times before because I have nodules in my lungs that need to be monitored plus some respiratory difficulties. But when I looked up from my narrow perch, this time I saw this illuminated image. And it took my breath away – in a good way. It made me smile, and I thanked the technician for this gift.

I thank God for the natural beauty which someone photographed. It takes little imagination to shut out all the antiseptic environment in that room and be transported to “light pouring down into the woods and breaking into the shapes and tones of things.”


Directions (excerpt)

The best time is late afternoon
when the sun strobes through
the columns of trees as you are hiking up,
and when you find an agreeable rock
to sit on, you will be able to see
the light pouring down into the woods
and breaking into the shapes and tones
of things and you will hear nothing
but a sprig of birdsong or the leafy
falling of a cone or nut through the trees,
and if this is your day you might even
spot a hare or feel the wing-beats of geese
driving overhead toward some destination.

But it is hard to speak of these things
how the voices of light enter the body
and begin to recite their stories
how the earth holds us painfully against
its breast made of humus and brambles
how we who will soon be gone regard
the entities that continue to return
greener than ever, spring water flowing
through a meadow and the shadows of clouds
passing over the hills and the ground
where we stand in the tremble of thought
taking the vast outside into ourselves.

—Billy Collins, The Art of Drowning


Listen! the wind is rising, and the air is wild with leaves,
We have had our summer evenings, now for October eves!  ~Humbert Wolf

October evenings in our part of Southeast Texas don’t get cooler and then cold. We are as likely to have echoes of summer heat as to welcome sweater weather. But that does not mean Fall has not arrived.  We may not have trees blazing with orange and red and gold, but we do have autumnal flags.


a scattering of scarlet crepe myrtle leaves

a skittering of breeze stirred grasses

and pumpkins on my porch




Finding a Place to Grow


I have never been fond of palm trees in my garden landscape. To me, as close as we live to the coast, they seem much more at home near the ocean, fitting right in with the sand and sun and waves. However, I adore ferns, and grow several different varieties in our wooded back yard. But as you see here, there is definitely a friendly relationship between these ferns and the large palm where they so happily grow. I noticed this cluster of ferns when I took my 6 month old granddaughter out in her stroller for a walk one morning. This palm is the centerpiece of a small pocket park in their neighborhood. I don’t think I had ever truly paid attention (sorry, Mary Oliver!) and been astonished at the sight, and certainly had never talked about how these graceful little ferns happen to find enough to grow on in what seems to be just a notch left by palm fronds as they age and break off.

In this case, the palm’s growth habit (aging?) creates a little pocket where debris and leaves collect. The point where the palm fronds once attached to the trunk – called boots – collect leaf litter that composts to create a growing medium that ferns love. This is a natural occurrence  in areas like ours  where wet, humid conditions favor the ferns.

The ferns are epiphytes. This means they are growing on another plant that serves as a host, but they don’t get their nutrition directly from the host plant or cause any it any harm. Spanish moss is another common epiphyte.

Another little fern called the Resurrection Fern can be found growing on a palm trunk, although the most common choice for this fern around here are the large old live oaks where the fern grows along the branches looking like brown moss until it begins to rain. Then it transforms into emerald lace!  (See my previous post

I am glad I paid attention to these feathery green surprises. One day tiny spores were  floating around and a puff of wind carried them to just the right spot to root and grow. I am reminded of the lovely phrase used by Hildegarde of Bingen:  A Feather on the Breath of God. Maybe we can learn to let go enough to be shown just the right place to grow. And it just might be an unlikely place, an extraordinary place, one we would never have known to dream of.

“Pay attention

Be Astonished

Tell about it.”  ~ Mary Oliver




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Milkweed and Lantana in our garden have continued to thrive and bloom in our South Texas heat.  I am grateful for the splashes of color from their small flowers.  But I am more grateful that they provide nectar for these giant swallowtail butterflies.  I understand that this butterfly will feed only from these plants, and afterward will find my Meyer lemon tree where they will lay their eggs.  These, of course hatch into  caterpillars with voracious appetites for citrus leaves, and then form their chrysalis where they become these lovely winged creatures. The cycle never ceases to amaze me.  I am blessed by this beauty.

Without stretching the comparison too far, I consider how, given the choices I have for the care and feeding of my soul, I choose that which nourishes me in the best ways for growing and changing.  I want to be more intentional in my choices of entertainment, the books I read,the art and music I enjoy,  the thoughts with which I fill my mind.

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Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies.”

Philippians 4:8   The Message