Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Procession of Spring: There she is!

There she is!
In all her pretty
ruffled glory--
the first peony,
the zenith of
spring incarnate, with
opalescent petals of
maximum floriferousness,
serious star power
in the kingdom
of springtime,
for all to admire
and adore
in her fleeting moment
of gorgeosity!

May 2008

Sunday, April 26, 2009

The Ones I Can't Live Without: Favorite Nature Books

If all else failed, these are the books I would want in hand, these invitations to explore and savor nature.

Louise J. Halle, Spring in Washington (NY, Atheneum, 1947)-- chief among them. Halle was a young State Department employee in
1945, when he slipped out daily before sunrise, swooping through city, riverside and marsh on his bicycle, observing with relish the progress of spring along the Potomac. An especially keen birder, his writing is fine and nimble, from the scientific to the philosophic and lyrical, with a dash of humor. Such a pleasure! What I perhaps most admire is the quiet independence of his preoccupation, his solitary choice to spend each dawn in the natural world.

To snatch the passing moment and exaine it for signs of eternity is the noblest of occupations.

Edwin Way Teale, A Walk Through the Year (NY, Dodd, Mead & Co, 2978). In the winter of 1998 - 1999, I was bedridden for 2 ½ months (sounds rather Victorian) and survived thanks to my family, meditation, and this book. For 18 years, I had been a landscape designer, and enjoyed daily contact with the out-of-doors. This book was like water to the parched-- a daily sojourn through the seasons, with Teale recording daily observations of natural life on his Connecticut farm.

From his entry for May 9:

Out in the meadow I look up High above me two red-shouldered hawks spin in an updraft. Just as I get my glasses focused on one of the soaring birds, it sweeps back its wings, tilts steeply downward, and like an arrowhead, streaks in a long plunge toward the earth. I follow it down and down. I see it near the ground, open its wings, check its descent and begin climbing upward again. A hawk sporting in the air of spring.

Get's me every time.

Marie Winn, Red-Tails in Love (NY, Pantheon Books, 1998). Switching back from countryside to town--Marie Winn, nature columnist for the Wall Street Journal, tells a tale of love and high drama along with the inside scoop on the Central Park world of New York naturalists, the Regulars, as they are called. Delightful!

And lastly, favorite field guides, trusty companions:

Roger Tory Peterson, Peterson Field Guides: Eastern Birds (I'm sure there are more up-to-date editions than mine). My mother recorded every bird she ever saw in her copy, and I consult this more than any other single volume in my library. Though I still haven't figured out which kind of hawk used to soar by my office window last spring...

National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Butterflies. Irresistible. The chocolate-brown butterfly with blue spots I saw on Huntington Street on March 6 was, I learned, a Diana.

A Golden Guide to Insects. "Full-color," the cover helpfully states, "Easy-to-use". No truer words were ever written. See bug, can find. And, after all, there are more of them than there are of us, so it's kind of nice to know their names.

Happy trails!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Earth Day: A Hymn of Thanks

These are our local woods.

Just a 15-minute drive from home,
we can be on our favorite woodland path,
immersed in a symphony of green,
light pouring down through the treetops.

Nothing feels more peaceful.

Nothing connects us more to the earth.

Back at the trail head

Thank you, Mother Earth!

Happy Earth Day!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

I just wanted to hide in the moment

I just wanted to hide in the moment
A dappled woodland part
of my walk to work
curl up in a furl of sunlight
twittering birds
peaceful lull
light breeze brushing my skin
forever here
not there
in the beginning of a work day
but here
with the song of the cardinal
and bluebell.

April 14, 2008

Saturday, April 11, 2009

The Procession of Spring: The Yoshino Cherries

One of the most exquisite and evanescent experiences of the Washington spring: the flowering of the cherry blossom trees at the Tidal Basin by the Jefferson Memorial...

The Yoshino cherries, fragile, luminous, palest of pink blossoms, rim the Tidal Basin, shimmering from dawn to dusk...

First Lady Helen Taft and the Viscountess Chinda, wife of the Ambassador from Japan, planted the first two of over 3,000 trees given by the people of Japan to the United States in 1912 as a gift of friendship.

The blossoms shatter as the display fades, and the petals float down into the water and walkways in what the Japanese call "snow".

Photographed April 4, 7:30 am. Windy!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Broken Open

If you are in need of help getting through a rough time, here it is. If you are looking for the courage and resources to move on, begin anew, find your next path, I recommend this book.

In it, Elizabeth Lesser details what she calls ‘the phoenix process’—the experience of having everything around you burn down to ashes, and the shining new growth that can then occur. The re-birth, sometimes over and over, than can be needed in a healthy lifetime. Here’s help along the way.

'Whether you are in the midst of a big upheaval or riding the smaller rapids of everyday life, I want you to know that you are not alone, not now, or at any stage of the journey. Joseph Campbell, the great mythologist of the twentieth century, wrote, ‘We have not even to risk the adventure alone, for the heroes of all time have gone before us. The labyrinth is thoroughly known. We have only to follow the thread of the hero path, and where we had thought to find an abomination, we shall find a god. And where we had thought to slay another, we shall slay ourselves. Where we had thought to travel outward, we will come to the center of our own existence. And where we had thought to be alone, we will be with all the world.’ (p. xxiv)

Elizabeth Lesser, co-founder of the Omega Institute, is amazing. My friend Beth and I heard her speak recently at Sacred Circles, an annual spiritual and creative gathering of women at the Washington National Cathedral. It was Valentine’s Day, and the theme of the conference was ‘Love in Action’. Elizabeth said that the most valuable thing she’s learned backstage at Omega, hanging out with the luminaries she called "the wise ones", is that it’s so hard to walk the walk. She said: it’s up to me and you to walk the walk. We don’t need more prophets—we need each one of us to get prophetic and walk the walk.

Men, she pointed out, have been in charge of life on earth for the past 12,000 years—maybe even 200,000 years. We’ve made some progress- but also bungled some things terribly, hopefully not irrevocably. Women’s voices have been left out of the halls of power. If we’d been in the room, the outcomes would have been quite different. We might have talked some people to death (great laughter from the audience). But there would be a better balance of the full range of human intelligence and endeavor—heart, body, mind, soul. Most modern societies discredit emotional intelligence. Emotions are something we should keep in check—or life might be some kind of extended chick flick!

We need that better balance today. How to get there? No one is going to come and kiss us awake, Elizabeth told us. We’re going to have to rouse ourselves to action. Put your hand over your heart, she told us. Breathe in. Give a deep sigh. Pat your heart. It’s going to change the world!

Saturday, April 4, 2009

The Procession of Spring: Dumbarton Oaks

Dumbarton Oaks gardens are one of Washington’s most elegant gems and one of America's great gardens. Begun in 1922 by owner Mildred Bliss and the noted landscape designer Beatrix Farrand, they consist of a series of garden rooms cascading down a hillside, surrounded by softer, more informal plantings. It’s a marvelous experience to visit, ripe with surprises, vistas, splashes of color and ornament, intimate benches whereon to linger. It’s very romantic! But was also a delight with my two youngest sons on a recent spring day...

Yulan Magnolia (Magnolia denudata), east lawn, south of the orangery

Of this tree, Beatrix Farrand wrote, “This... has been christened ‘The Bride’, as when it is in full bloom in early April its loveliness is an enchantment. This tree should be preserved as long as it can be made to thrive and bloom well, and when its days are over it should be replaced by another as nearly like it as possible, as the sight of the white tree as seen from the R Street entrance gateway and as looked down upon from the orangery is one of the real horticultural events of the Dumbarton season.”

from Beatrix Farrand's Plant Book for Dumbarton Oaks. Washington, DC, Trustees for Harvard University, 1980.

Mélisande’s Allée, blanketed in blue scilla

Quod Severis Metes
As you sew, so shall you reap

The motto favored by Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss, that appears everywhere at Dumbarton Oaks. Good point!

To read more about the gardens and learn about visiting, click here.