After the Storm

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We are happy every year when the magnolia tree in our yard begins adding little upright buds that look like candles on an old-fashioned Christmas tree. The smooth, straight stick figures that hide tightly furled promise were described by poet Wallace Stevens  as “ghosts of its forthcoming flowers”  They look fragile as if bird or breeze could tip them over and onto the ground.

So after flooding rains and wind that snapped some trees, we welcomed the unfolding of huge ivory blooms.  Joe brought one to me as I sat on the porch swing this morning.  Its fragrance and beauty bring both tears and smiles. The magnolia is one of my earliest childhood memories.  Like pine boughs and gardenias, even if I close my eyes, the fragrance brings a surge of memory and story.

“Like the magnolia tree,
She bends with the wind,
Trials and tribulation may weather her,
Yet, after the storm her beauty blooms,
See her standing there, like steel,
With her roots forever buried,
Deep in her Southern soil.”― Nancy B. Brewer, Letters from Lizzie

Gift

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My neighbor recently brought me a gift:  a bunch of fragrant French Tarragon. tied with yellow ribbon.  Tarragon can be very frail, difficult to grow, but also quickly losing its sweet licorice like flavor. Unlike most herbs, drying the leaves weakens the flavor so this lovely gift needed to be used right away. As I later stood in my kitchen chopping the sweet smelling, silvery leaves to put into sauce for Tarragon Chicken, I smiled, picturing my neighbor as she cut and tied up my herb bouquet. I  packed up a serving of the dish to take over to her. Gifts are appreciated best by using them. Our gratitude is best expressed in making use of what we are given!.

What Is Mine to Do?

cereus

 

Photography courtesy of Pert Roddy Garraway, who grows these beautiful plants.

In my observance of Lent this year, I worked with others in an online retreat reflecting on the question “What is mine to do?”  The question comes from Jesus when he said” “What I just did was to give you an example: as I have done, so you must do.” When his own  death was approaching,  St. Francis told us, “I have done what is mine to do. May Christ teach you what is yours.”

 

For me, the answer to the posed question is simply that what is mine to do is to practice serving. I am not sure why, but my friend’s photo of her beautiful Cereus reminds me of serving.  It may be because this exquisite blooming only happens at night, when it is unseen by many. It does not require the brilliance of sunlight to bloom on, offering its beauty and fragrance. for a brief time.

 

I have become aware of the difference in helping, in fixing, as opposed to serving. When I worked as a registered nurse, my connection to patients was best applied in service to them and to their families as opposed to a goal of repair.  I am aware that in my community relationships, my parenting, and my grandparenting, my calling to serve may be played out in many different roles – in offering hospitality, in gardening and cooking and sharing the beauty of art and music. My joy in any of these is heightened as I realize that this, too, is serving.

 

“Serving is different from helping. Helping is not a relationship between equals. A helper may see others as weaker than they are, needier than they are, and people often feel this inequality. The danger in helping is that we may inadvertently take away from people more than we could ever give them; we may diminish their self-esteem, their sense of worth, integrity or even wholeness.

 

When we help, we become aware of our own strength. But when we serve, we don’t serve with our strength; we serve with ourselves, and we draw from all of our experiences. Our limitations serve; our wounds serve; even our darkness can serve. My pain is the source of my compassion; my woundedness is the key to my empathy.

Fixing and helping create a distance between people, but we cannot serve at a distance. We can only serve that to which we are profoundly connected.”

–Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen

Giving Back

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 In the area of East Texas where I grew up, lavish blooms of a vigorous climbing vine grew not only in back yards and trailing over porches, but also in the woods, where it draped over tree branches, adding clouds of light purple clusters of fragrant flower clusters to the late Spring landscapes. When I go back there even now I watch for the extravagant (if invasive) Wisteria that is loved by many.

A number of years ago I began to admire another vine that grows in our part of Southeast Texas that is also called Wisteria.  It is named Evergreen Wisteria because of its hardiness and its ability to bloom summer through fall.  Its smaller clusters of  deep, rich purple make it a spectacular garden plant.For support, ours shares a small gazebo with a Peggy Martin rose.  As much as I like these lovely purple blossoms, I recently learned something about the plant that makes me admire it even more. It doesn’t just soak up soil nutrients and water – it gives back!

This vine is not in the same family as our Wisteria in the woods, which some call Chinese Wisteria.  This plant is a legume, and much like other legumes, evergreen wisteria fixes nitrogen in the soil, which enhances the amount of nitrogen available for other plants growing nearby, It is a good companion plant for others which are heavy nitrogen feeders.

IMG_0737Along with the many other lessons learned in the garden, my lovely Evergreen Wisteria reminds me of the value in perserverance, the joy of sharing beauty, the need for being trained on a Trellis that does not fail, and – that as I have been given, so I must give so that those who share my garden space can thrive.

“Beauty, youth, and strength are flowers, but fading seen.

Duty, faith, and love are roots and evergreen,”

~fom the Old Knight,by George Peele

 

Celebration

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This will be a week of seeing night skies shot through with neon sprays of light accompanied by gasps and ahs as dramatic firework displays entertain crowds while smaller scale backyard pyrotechnics fizzle and pop.

 I love better, bursts of bloom from our garden

 crepe myrtle trees heavy with crinkly scarlet clusters

lifted  against snowy clouds

free-floating in cerulean sky

I love better,stars blazing

 in the heart of a morning glory

Too, the tall spires of indigo salvia,

 fragrance from tiny white spears of sweet almond

seed fronds of native grasses waving and dancing

afternoon breezes coaxing music from wind chimes

celebration

 

 

Alone

004This small bunch of wonderfully fragrant Paperwhites blooms all by itself in an almost hidden spot by a pomegranate tree on the side of our house. Members of the narcissus family have a sap that contain a chemical that causes other flowers to wilt, so they should not be mixed in a vase with other flowers. This bit of garden trivia helps me to remember value in simplicity and  solitude.

Peace

Pewter skies and gentle rains yesterday gathered into thunder clouds and stormy weather today, so I stay inside, grateful for the morning last week when I took my camera into the morning light to receive the gifts of beauty offered by this climbing Noisette rose, whose name is Crepuscule. I don’t think the name is a lovely one, sounding harsh to my ears, but the word means twilight, that time of day just after sunset, and the flowers hold the memory of sunset in its unfurling petals. The loosely double blooms open nearly orange, fading to a rich apricot, peach, and yellow. The sprawling canes have light green leaves with rosy new growth. This rose has few thorns so reaches for me only with fragrance when I brush past it as I walk through the arbor, bringing me the “peace of wild things.”

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THE PEACE OF WILD THINGS
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
~ Wendell Berry

Alchemy of Sorrow

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shattered petals fall

fragrant still

garden gift of grace

“Sorrow fully accepted brings its own gifts. For there is alchemy in sorrow. It can be transmitted into wisdom, which, if it does not bring joy, can yet bring happiness.”

— Pearl S. Buck

Roses on a Rainy Day

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While many of our friends and family are wearing their warmest outdoor gear and shoveling snow, we have had a succession of cold, wet days that seemed to be just what the roses needed to cheer us with round mounds of fragile petals. I brought these inside more for their exquisite fragrance than for their beauty.  I knew they wouldn’t last very long in the dry warm air of my kitchen, and they didn’t.  At least, the blooms didn’t, shattering petals almost as soon as I put them into water.  But their scent remains.  I am grateful for the reminder of beauty experienced in ways other than my eyes and the lingering of joy – the way a phrase of song runs through my mind for days after it has been sung, the warmth of touch remaining after a hug, the smile that stays on my face even though the telephone conversation has ended.    

See and Tell

Pay attention         Be astonished        Tell about it       ~Mary Oliver

Small children often have a practice at school called show and tell.  That seems to be kin to Mary Oliver’s words.  First you have to notice, to really see before you can choose something to show or have its description to tell about.  I grow a great many herbs in my garden.  Each has unique characteristics of growth and appearance and fragrance. Part of the joy of tending this garden is in seeing and knowing the differences.

This Cuban Oregano is one of my favorites for its beauty – softly variegated colors on aromatic velvet leaves that I love to touch. I like the way it leans into our weathered wood fence as if to press its restoring oil into the splintered plank.  When I water the plants around it, I look for it, I pay it attention.  I am rewarded with fresh amazement at the loveliness of growing things, surviving the heat of summer and thriving.

“Seeing is of course very much a matter of verbalization.  Unless I call my attention to what passes before my eyes, I simply won’t see it.  It is, as Ruskin says, ‘not merely unnoticed, but in the full, clear sense of the word, unseen.’  I have to say the words, describe what I’m seeing…But if I want to notice the lesser cataclysms of valley life, I have to maintain in my head a running description of the present.”   ~ Annie Dillard, from Pilgrim at Tinker Creek