Gardening is an instrument of grace. – May Sarton
Autumn leaves go very near the top of my favorite things list. I grew up a few hundred miles north of where I now live, just far enough away for seasonal change to be much more apparent. I remember watching for the colors to appear when temperatures dropped. After the first frost, scarlet Sumac, yellowing Sycamore and Sweet Gum were blazing drifts of foliage that popped out of the evergreen forests of Pine and Cedar along East Texas roadsides. A few years in Oklahoma are remembered as having beautiful fall colors. Some time living in and near Dallas when our boys were little brought us plenty of pretty leaves and fallen ones to pile up and scuffle through. My sweet niece sent me pictures of the brilliant confetti of New Jersey leaves just last week before Hurricane Sandy caused so much destruction in their area. I am grateful she and her family are safe, but know that so many others are ravaged from the brutal storm. Winds didn’t just blow away the beautiful leaves, whole trees were uprooted.
Swirling in the mix of my concern and prayers, I have thought how glad I am that Jen saw the beauty of those leaves and shared the images with me. In reality, I have lived a good deal of my life where the autumn colors were little changed, or at most subtle – South Texas, Southern California, Indonesia. For twenty years now, at home here on the South Texas Gulf Coast, I need to look more closely at the gifts of Autumn. I love the yellow leaves that swirl from Chinaberry and Elms, the little vermillion flags waving from Hawthorne and Crepe Myrtle. But most of all, I treasure the leaves that fall from my Magnolia tree, bronzed and gilded on one side that is lacquered shiny, and soft sueded brown on the underside. Magnolia leaves were my playthings when I was a child. A bank of Magnolia leaves graced our wedding. I stood in front of a Magnolia tree in Bogor on the island of Java. As I walk in these days leading to my turning 72, the turning of these magnificent leaves is with me again. I am thankful.
I will repeat myself: I love Magnolia trees. Just over a year ago, in May, 2011, I photographed Magnolia blooms from our tree, and posted them here with words about their beauty and my admiration of them.
We emphasize the fresh beauty of the flowers of so many plants in their seasonal displays of new life and color. Rightly so, for it is in the flowering that many growing things are the most lovely and appealing. We even use the term “gone to seed” to apply to things that are past this stage and are not well kept or have declined to become rundown and useless. Indeed, the annuals in our gardens will run their course, finish their blooming, and wither with the first frost to die, be uprooted by the gardener, and replaced with new, young plants come Spring.
But oh my, what we miss if we enjoy only the blooming of the Magnolia.
Once the creamy flower petals have become leathery and caramelized, they fall off, leaving a center cone that swells with seed. Early on, it resembles some exotic fruit, a blushing tufted pillow covered with velvet.
Songbirds love these seeds. Coveted by those who craft holiday wreaths and decorations, the vivid cones and seeds often get harvested by eager hands. If left alone, the seeds turn black and fall to the ground. I think I love Magnolias even better after the bloom.
It is easy to fall prey to complaining these days when the temperature registers 105 and most people, animals, and plants slow their pace and wilt. I remind myself that the same blistering sun that sears my skin and makes getting into my truck seem like opening an oven door also flavors my herbs and ripens the figs on our tree. Lord, help me be alert to the yes in every day.
i thank You God for most this amazing day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything which is natural which is infinite which is yes
(i who have died am alive again today, and this is the sun’s birthday; this is the birth day of life and of love and wings: and of the gay great happening illimitably earth)
how should tasting touching hearing seeing breathing any–lifted from the no of all nothing–human merely being doubt unimaginable You?
(now the ears of my ears awake and now the eyes of my eyes are opened)
I love the other living creatures God made who share my garden! This amazing dragonfly, butterflies who have found their host plants in the dill of my herb garden or milkweed along the path, ladybugs who help control other insects, the earthworms in our compost, birds that sing a hallelujah chorus to us every morning., even the naughty squirrels that raid the bird feeder. Each has its own lesson to teach, its own joy to share. May I have eyes that see, ears that ear, and a heart tuned to sing God’s grace!
“Field and forest, vale and mountain, flowery meadow, flashing sea, Singing bird and flowing fountain call us to rejoice in Thee.” ~ from Henry Van Dyke’s poem set to Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy.”
I admire Mary Oliver’s poetry. These lines, as do so many of hers, tug at my heart with an “oh, yes.”
I read between her lines that for me are describing the desire to be rid of the prickling, thorny, uncomfortable, and sometimes unnecessary things on which we spend ourselves. Oliver chooses a fox, a rose, and a tree – all created by God and lovely, although we are never told those things were created in God’s image. Only man, with all his questions and fears, is said to be made like Him and for being with Him, not just His creation. Only we have reason and relationship. I revel in this life in relationship with my Creator and the family He has given me. I know who answers my foolish questions and calms my fears. I am practicing happiness as I celebrate this moment. I think Mary Oliver likes what lies between her lines when I read them.
March 1 on a South Texas Country Road
Winter palette fades.
Painted over by Springing.
Weary gray tinges green.
Bare branch silhouette
Softens, hazed in chartreuse fog.
Baby leaves split tight coats.
Shiny buds unfold
Clover, dandelion, moss
Each green different
Why call it Red Bud?
It’s lilac, pink, violet.
Purple vetch vines, twines.
Blue wood violet,
Saffron puffs of sweet Huisache
Fill air with fragrance.
Tiny torches start to blaze,
scatter scarlet flames.
Not yet showing bloom,
Bluebonnets, Crimson Clover
soon add to Spring’s song.
Bleak chill of winter
Gives way to resurrection,
melody of Life.
I almost missed it. I nearly overlooked the cobalt and cloud blue ruffles of this tiny iris that seems to have bloomed overnight. Three years ago, I gave Joe a garden gift for Father’s Day: a mail order collection of iris bulbs in all shades of blue and purple. Eleven came up that year, all but one. The next year only three or four dusky green blades pushed through. Last year, none. So I wasn’t expecting to find this lovely offering. I am grateful to notice what this morning brought to light. Richard Wilbur’s poem adds to my note to self: notice what each morning brings!
In the strict sense, of course,
We invent nothing, merely bearing witness
To what each morning brings again to light:
Gold crosses, cornices, astonishment
Of panes, the turbine-vent which natural law
Spins on the grill-end of the diner’s roof,
Then grass and grackles or, at the end of town
In sheen-swept pastureland, the horse’s neck
Clothed with its usual thunder, and the stones
Beginning now to tug their shadows in
And track the air with glitter. All these things
Are there before us; there before we look
Or fail to look; there to be seen or not.
~ from Lying, by Richard Wilbur