Every now and then the universe sends in something that tells me to "slow down!" The world has been moving at warp speed lately and this morning I took some time out to go into my garden and do some deadheading. Snipping or snapping off spent blooms can seem like an onerous task, but often that is the magic of the garden--many of the things you need to do in the garden are not exciting and take time. But, that's sometimes just what we need.
This morning, while looking closely at the various Cosmos scattered in patches within my front and side garden, I saw something move. First it freaked me out and then I looked closer. Yes--nature is wild! A Praying Mantis was sitting on the plant and since their advantage is camouflage, I hadn't noticed it until it moved, perhaps in an effort not to also get snapped off by me.
I once watched a Praying Mantis crawl on the outside of a screen door and they are extremely (painfully!) slow moving creatures. Watching paint dry pales in comparison to watching a Praying Mantis move. From that first sighting onward, I took the sighting of a Praying Mantis as an indication to me that I need to slow down. I hope to do some slowing down this weekend, but until then--it's full speed ahead.
If you find life is moving too fast--go outside, into a garden and try to find a Praying Mantis.
This has been a hot summer to say the least. My kids have been in the pool a lot and so have plenty of frogs! Wow, who knew there were that many frogs in the area? It seems unnatural--there are that many! I just took two out of the skimmer.
They were among the lucky ones, still kicking and when I put them down they hopped off. How long before they are back in the pool?
Yesterday there were baby turkeys. I didn't see those but my family and my neighbor did. Last week a skunk waddled out from the bushes mid-morning as if it was the most ordinary thing to do.
Maybe it was--for him. Later he hung a right around the back of the shed and then faced off with a bunny. The skunk rolled on its back and the bunny hopped perhaps to appear more threatening than he really was. It was like nothing I've ever seen.
The week before that my children were running a wild petting zoo with four baby bunnies having been born after the mother made a den (nest?) in my raised vegetable garden. I went out to water one morning to hear thumping every so often. Finally after some investigating I realized it was a baby bunny running from the water and into the sides of my raised bed. The next day there were two little sets of ears huddled together hiding beneath the cucumber vine and among the marigolds. In the evening there were three bunnies where there had been two. Within a day there were four bunnies total. I couldn't believe my eyes.
(Side note: My vegetable garden beds are raised to keep bunnies out. Now they serve as a maternity ward for them.) Later I came out to see my girls and a neighborhood girl each holding a baby bunny lovingly, patting them and telling me their names: Squirmy, Gucci, Chubs and Lily.
Two evenings ago, I found what looked like another bunny nest in the same place and we all watched as the mother bunny circled and finally jumped in to feed her babies. We watched goldfinches visit our feeder and what we think is a wren flying and perching on my vegetable gardens, then swooping under our deck to where we think she may have a nest of her own. This afternoon one of my daughters came across three baby birds in the pool.
Two died. One sat in the grass at her mercy while she sat patting it wondering what to do. Four more kids gathered around the bird wanting to help. Finally, I scooped it up with my shirt and put it into my raised vegetable bed so nothing could get at it. While my son bent over to see the baby bird, he spied a Black Swallowtail Butterfly caterpillar that must have been feeding on the dill growing in abundance. Perhaps the baby bird or its mother will be feeding on that catepillar before long or it will be left to grow into a beautiful butterfly.
Who knew my raised beds would serve as a functioning animal hospital for animals of every sort?
The walls I thought would be a barrier for my vegetables has become those of a sanctuary of sorts.
Gardens are definitely sanctuaries--for animals and humans alike:)
If only people realized that a lack of telling is not necessarily indicative of a lack of living. In fact, sometimes the lack of our ability to tell is the lack of time to tell due to all the living going on. That is the case here. I have a lovely moment to write about, but I will not do it justice to write about it now while I am so tired and there are so few hours in my days--these days. Let me just wait and write about it when I have a full belly of sleep for fuel. In the meantime, here is a photo to hold you over. Those are real flowers in fake shoes. The image looks hopeless and filled with hope all at once reminding me of a quote by Lady Bird Johnson that I am fond of. I will quote it in its entirety, "Where flowers bloom, so does hope – and hope is the precious, indispensable ingredient without which the war on poverty can never be won." If you ever feel yourself losing hope--get out into a garden. Any garden. Even just some random patch of dirt in the woods. Plant something and it just might grow:)
The world is opening up slowly but surely. Hopefully it follows spring's lead and petal by petal it stretches into a bloom so that we can enjoy life more fully. Imagine if flowers stayed buds forever?
What a tease.
The Massachusetts State Poetry Society had a meeting this past weekend. It was in-person at the Beverly Public Library, and it has been a while since I have attended any workshop or gathering in-person for the sake of being creative--even if only in bite-sized pieces. Poetry is sort of famous for being bite-sized, so this was a good start.
Poetry also has a habit of being famously impenetrable or snobbish. But, like so many things in life, if you can push past your own preconceived notions about poetry you'll see it's just words like everything else.
It's a magnifying glass for emotion and feeling.
It tries to get right to the point.
Its love for the heart of the matter can be seen as obstinate at times.
This is where this weekend's workshop on Acrostic Poetry comes in. Acrostic Poetry is quite possibly the perfect ambassador between people and poetry. It provides the suggestion of structure but does not slap you across the knuckles with its rules as some forms have a habit of doing. It simply provides a very entry-level chain link fence where you can see outside, but you are asked to play within its boundaries. What you play is up to you.
Some may see the fence and find it, well--offensive (pardon the wordplay:). It seems too elementary. In fact, you may remember writing an acrostic poem in elementary school. What an insult to your intelligence, because while you may not be up for the snobbery of a Shakespearean Sonnet, you will not be subjected to the ABCs of an Acrostic! Pfft!!
Well, I must admit to you, my attitude was quite the same. It had been years--decades--since I'd laid eyes, let alone my own pen, onto an acrostic poem. And yet, I played along.
I was brought over to the fenced in area.
The rules were simple and clear--refreshingly so.
So, I played.
And . . .
I absolutely loved it. Simple enough for my overwhelmed mind to participate and yet once I allowed myself to forget about the world beyond the fence, I felt safe and had some fun with words. I didn't drone on as I tend to do with prose. I picked and plucked and tried to put together a bouquet. Rearranging, crossing out, rewriting. It has been so long since I'd allowed myself to work at a poem that wasn't simply "freestyle." The "rules" offered just enough challenge without making the exercise daunting or frustrating.
So, I encourage you. I implore you: write an Acrostic Poem. Here's a link to get you started: Acrostic Poem
Many thanks to Jeanette Maes, President of the Massachusetts State Poetry Society, who facilitated the workshop this past weekend. The poem I wrote is titled "Gardening" and it could do with some reworking, but I'll include it as it stands currently.
It felt good to take a snapshot of thought and force it onto paper. There is a satisfaction in creating that we cannot, as humans, dismiss or constantly defer. I'm glad I shook myself from default to get my hot mess of a self into the car and to that meeting so I could start to remember why I love poetry and words as a medium, so very much.
You've heard me mention tea before. I drink it. And sometimes--the teabag tag has a bit of wisdom inscribed on the back. Recently I was sipping a cup of Echinacea tea with honey and felt like the universe was speaking to me through a tea tag.
The tag read, "Are not flowers the stars of the earth? - Clara Lucas Balfour" Yes!! I love flowers and earth--and stars, but what really struck me about this particular quote was how relevant it was to the current middle grade manuscript I am working on. So relevant, really, that I immediately pictured this quote situated, as you see so often, at the beginning of a book--after the dedication, but before the very first chapter--setting the tone and atmosphere through which the author wants you to walk on your way to reading the very first words of the story in your hands.
I feel that quote is the effervescence (had to look that word up:) I want spritzed all around the reader a split second before they begin digesting the very first words of my novel: Secret Lives of Leaves.
What is Secret Lives of Leaves about, you ask? Well, it's my answer to the Secret Garden, which I felt was too much about the secret and not enough about the garden. My Work-In-Progress starts out with a boy who is obsessed with outer space (planets, stars, rocket ships--the whole nine!) and there is a progression toward realizing that Earth (that planet we all live on) can be equally fascinating and ripe for discovery. A classic "don't know what you have 'til it's gone" type mentality or "it was with you all the time" or "should have looked in your own back yard"--that sort of thing.
Indeed, "Are not flowers the stars of the earth?" hits all the right notes of my middle grade novel and might even serve as a pitch except for the copyright conflict. Not knowing a lot about the author, Clara Lucas Balfour, I looked her up and found the extended version of the quote--which would never have fit on my tea bag tag--but I will end with it here:
“What a desolate place would be a world without a flower! It would be a face without a smile, a feast without a welcome. Are not flowers the stars of the earth, and are not our stars the flowers of the heaven.” – Clara Lucas Balfour
This is the story of The Little Clematis that Could
A little over two years ago, we were preparing to move. We had outgrown our house and needed a bit more room, so like a crab we molted--shedding our old shell in favor of a new one. Being a gardener, I had so many plants in my garden that I wanted, but couldn't, take with me. One particularly striking plant was a Clematis vine with big, beautiful, purple/blue blooms that ushered in the spring brilliantly.
Knowing I couldn't uproot that large plant I noticed a "volunteer" down at the base, which was a small stem sticking up that had taken root and could be separated and taken with us. So, that's what I did--took it with us. In the crazy chaos of the move it got lost and quite frankly I forgot I had even taken it up as it was not the only plant I had taken a division of and moved around. That little plant found itself all alone and down the Cape, still in its second-hand pot, all winter long.
The next spring we went down to find a pot on the banister. It had to have been found by someone and placed there because it surely would have blown off onto the ground if it had been left there for months during the snowy, blowy winter. I almost didn't recognize it with no leaves and no label, just a desperate little stick of a stem with nothing to distinguish it from any other little stick of a stem just trying to survive a long, cold, lonely winter. But, alas--I had a suspicion it might be that Clematis.
We moved into our new home and I found what I thought was just the right spot for that little transplant. When I pointed it out to my mother she said, "Oh no, that won't grow. Clematis don't like to be transplanted." Hurrumph. Well, it was in the ground and I was going to water it and see what happened. And guess what?
It grew. It started growing and I went out and bought a pretty metal trellis for it to climb and I anticipated how beautiful it would be, but--a groundhog came along one day and ate everything in that garden right down to the ground including the Clematis. All I could think about was how much that little plant had survived and yet, just as it started to thrive it was cut short. So short--surely it was a goner.
With expectations very low I gathered a few tree branches and lay them over the spot where the stem still appeared in its heavily munched state. I figured perhaps the branches with their twigs sticking out all around would deter any hungry animal the next spring. I waited and waited and then--
Signs of life. The vine started to stretch and green up. The sticks I had covered it with were not a problem as the vine wound around, through and up. It grabbed hold of the metal trellis I had supplied it with the year before and it kept climbing up and up and up. There were lots of leaves now and it was spreading out in all directions.
Watering it one day I noticed a big hole behind it--clear of the sticks that had been placed in front of the trellis--between the trellis and the house which was about four inches. Bunnies! A bunny had decided to dig a nest for her babies back there behind my Clematis vine. How? Why? I don't know. Perhaps it seemed like a safe place for my Clematis and for some baby bunnies. Somehow the digging didn't bother the roots of the vine enough to kill it. The bunnies stayed, until they left.
Before too long the vine was green and healthy and continuing to climb so I cut away the branches I had put in front of it to protect it and was able to fully admire it. But then. Those bunnies. They were hungry and began to chew on all sorts of things in my garden despite the plentiful clover: my Amelanchier tree, a swamp Azalea I had planted only weeks before and yes . . . that Clematis vine.
The infuriating thing about it was that those bunnies didn't even eat the whole thing. This time they just took a nibble low on the vine so as to cut the power to the rest of the plant that had so miraculously climbed that trellis. Snapped it in half and walked away so that slowly the leaves of the top of that vine started to brown around the edges and curl inward toward itself. Feeling defeated and somehow emboldened I pulled away the dying part to toss into the compost bin and made a trip to the store where I bought chicken wire.
With little chicken wire experience I cut through it, shaped it, cut my hands up plenty, got about twenty mosquito bites as I worked, but was determined to surround the base of the Amelanchier, the Azalea and that Clematis with something strong and unpleasant. Life went on.
The summer was hot and rainy. With so many things growing I didn't notice the Clematis as much. Perhaps I didn't want to. It had been such a roller coaster seeing it grow and then be cut down, then grow and then severed once again seemingly beyond my control. But, there appeared to be hope. Somehow it grew and climbed once again and there was even what appeared to be a bud. Well, that could not be because this vine only ever bloomed in the spring. And this particular plant only ever grew to be eaten by animals soon after.
Yesterday was a beautiful day. Labor Day. A holiday and the last gasp of summer. We sat out in the backyard to enjoy the sun and the air. I had sat down with my garden book to try to look up the name of a flower I had forgotten the name of. That's when my daughter pointed and yelled, "Mom!"
She was pointing to a big, beautiful bloom on my Clematis vine. It was September 6th. That little plant had seemed to live and die and live and die over and over and somehow, against all odds, it was blooming its heart out. It was a sign of hope. A sign that things don't always work out the first time, or the second--but at some point there will be a bloom of color and joy to savor and appreciate.
The big, violet bloom was also a message. It was telling me not to give up--ever. That little plant was surviving against all odds and there it was blooming for all to see.
So, I'm passing this message along to you because it's not a message to keep to myself.
It is a message meant to be shared.
Don't give up
Sometimes a gal just has to sit and be silent with her thoughts. The school year has come to a close and the bustle that goes along with that has kept me away from posting, but I've been busy in the garden. Here's one of my newest additions: art and nature doing their thing. Hope you're enjoying the arrival of summer and taking time out to soak in a little silence along the way. Happy Summer!