SURPRISE!

 

That’s what plants in the garden are still shouting this late in the year. I am agog to find a stalk of gladiola blooming yellow, even after the frosts we’ve had. Wandering the yard after a long walk last week, I spied a tall stem of hollyhock sporting vermillion flowers amidst the other blackened stems and seed buds. Wha???

Then, in the herb garden was a blooming calendula where I’d planted seeds way last spring. Some sprouted and grew about an inch and a half and stayed there all summer. I dumped the soil from one of Neal’s grow pots onto the area, and a few weeks later, this calendula was where it should have been by June. Guess it helps to amend the soil from time to time.

Lavender is still blooming in the herb garden, as well as echinaceas up the front walk. What is going on, anyway? Back behind my Japanese Willow, the red dahlias that should have been here by September at least, have finally arrived, short and spindly, but here, nevertheless. I will dig them up and replant next spring in an area with more sun.

Obviously, these surprises can point out gardening lessons.

Even in the pouring rain, outside my bedroom window I can take delight in the two mounds of mauve heather. Every year I go out when it’s the least wet and cut myself some heather here and there to make some flower bundles for my tiny vases. Just today, my garden tour in the surprise of November sun netted me the vision of a hot pink blooming rose, royal blue lithodora, and the beginning dusky rose blooms of the baby hellebores that sprouted up this past spring.

Speaking of surprises—

Lots of us gift our friends with amaryllis bulbs at Christmas time, and they us, so we all can watch the beauty of Nature unfold into gorgeous red blooms. When it was done blooming, I placed mine from last year on the garage floor and ignored it where it sat without water in the dark most of the time until last week when I noticed—surprise!—a green leaf had begun growing. I found a pretty red pot, put the plastic white pot containing the bulb into it, refreshed the required amount of soil on top, fed it a teensy amount of fertilizer, and placed it inside where I can watch the miracle of growth again this Christmas. I love saying “Oooh!” and “Ahhh!”

My friend Sherryl gave me the idea for how I could give another surprise for Christmas to my plant-loving friends. Because she buys tulips from a company that sends only in bulk, 50 at a time, she shares with her friends. She plants a cluster of tulips, usually three, in cute flowerpots, then gives the recipients the colorful little garden-to-go as gifts. That’s a good idea because it circumvents inadvertently feeding those nasty rodents that like tulip bulbs for breakfast, lunch, and dinner when you plant the bulbs into the ground. I love foiling them! Nyah-ha-ha!

No matter what season they arrive in, typical or not, or from what provenance, I am grateful for the surprises the miracle of Nature provides me with. I hope this season provides you with an abundance of wonderful surprises as well!

 

 

 

 

SMALL JOYS–THE GARDEN IN EARLY MARCH

“How could we tire of hope?

–so much is in bud.”

–Denise Levertov

 

SMALL JOYS

 

We gardeners on the Oregon Coast have had enough of winter and its rain, rain, rain, all too often combined with hail, snow, gale-force winds and freezing temperatures. Either we don our rain coats, pants, and hats, brave the chill and wet, and do the bare minimum of what needs doing outside, or we stand looking out our windows and sigh, feeling despondent.

 

Instead, to beat the late winter drear, we could take a step, or several, towards the small joys, while waiting for the great ones, and relish the impermanence of Nature. Behind my window beaded with raindrops, I see the beginning yellow blossoms of the forsythia and the peach blossoms on the quince. Two deep rose camellia flowers have bloomed for a month now on the small bush we planted late last summer.

 

I see the bare, crimson branches of the red-twigged dogwood, a welcome jolt of blazing red against a dripping grey sky. I observe also the leaves emerging from the ‘Dark Knight’ buddleia, with its promise of deep purple spears, smelling of honey, come summer.

 

The pansies and primroses bloom a happy hello from their pots on our front porch and the pink and cream-colored hellebores do the same from their bed tucked in behind the barberry bush.

 

In the back hedge, I witness the pinkish hue of the leafy arrivals of the snowballs, the honeysuckle, and the wild currants, all shouting, “Soon!”

 

The stalwart daffodils have withstood every weather indignity, several sometimes at once. Alongside them, the nibs of hyacinths and tulips chant, “We are rising—just wait until we rise!”

 

The birds at the feeders—the chickadees, juncos, and scrub jays, the swarms of robins on the ground and in the sky, and the hummingbirds as hungry for red blossoms as I am—assemble in the herb garden. Any minute now the acrobatic swallows will arrive to give birth and raise their babies.

 

Everywhere in Oregon now, you can hear frogs croaking in the sodden fields and ditches.

 

What a relief it is to look with alert eyes and realize something good is happening out there beyond our walls.

 

Indoors, hands that yearn to be stuck in soil instead busy themselves creating pieces of art for the garden. I create a gazing ball from an old bowling ball, attaching broken pieces of glass and mirror in a pattern that will reflect sunshine and blooms from spring through fall. My husband paints his own version of prayer flags that will festoon the pergola.

 

As Herman Hesse said in the last century, “It is the small joys first of all that are granted us for recreation, for daily relief and disburdenment, not the great ones…a thousand other tiny things from which one can weave a bright necklace of little pleasures for one’s life.”

 

Ahh!

An Answer

I revised this older post first written seven years ago because the message in it is relevant right now–and probably forever.

INVICTUS

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

–William Ernest Henley (1849-1903)

When my husband and I saw the film Invictus seven years ago, at the end of the film, the full-house audience stayed seated until the screen turned black. I like to think everyone was thinking about the message of the story or their memories of the time when apartheid was in full force, not only in South Africa, but here. Or maybe they were thinking how inequality still exists here at home with those who don’t look like us. I hope formulating their intention to change things kept people in their seats.

The poem “Invictus” hung on my classroom wall all my years of teaching, not only as inspiration to the students who may have read it but also for myself. Facing daily adversities requires something a person can grab hold of for strength, and this poem was my reminder that no matter what was done to or around me, I alone governed how I reacted. While we cannot control what is done to us, we are in control of how we respond. This lesson is not easy to learn, taking me at least 55 years before I REALLY got it.

Viewing this film also took me back to the school year of 1979-1980 when one of my students was a foreign exchange student from South Africa. Les was a good-looking, swarthy, sturdily-built lad and much in demand on the football field. In class, he did his assignments and was socially appropriate. He seemed so nice, I wanted to know why he embraced apartheid. Finally, the time came when I could ask him, when my asking would not embarrass him. How could a class of whites who appeared to be well-educated as his father was, for example, continue this racist division I asked him. I wasn’t making comparisons between his country and ours, I assured him, but I wanted to understand. When you know a thing is wrong, why do you keep doing it?

“If we do not keep separate,” he told me,” they will overrun us. They are many and we are few. They will destroy us. We will not have the country we know. Everything we worked for will be gone. I don’t harbor them any ill will. Most people don’t. It’s just better this way.”

I thanked him for answering me honestly. I didn’t debate the issue out of respect for that honesty. Besides, my little arguments would change nothing. But I understood.

Fear, then. Fear keeps us choosing to do the wrong thing. Later, after much reading of enlightened authors and my own life experiences, I learned we do what we do for two reasons. Our choices always boil down to these two reasons: fear or love. Always.

So when I saw Invictus, I thought about Les and wondered how he’d fared in the last 37 years through all the changes in his homeland. I wondered if he became the master of his fate, the captain of his soul. I wondered if his life has taught him well, and he now bases his actions on love.

THE FIRST IRISES

 

Friday night the irises were still pointy buds the shape of miniature mummies, tightly wrapped in parchment sarcophoguses. Saturday morning when we opened the front door, there they were, deep purple and yellow blossoms fluttering in the breeze, triangular centers blazing their arrival.

The first irises always remind me of my friend L., who loves the sight and scent of them. Yesterday, I sent her a close-up photo of what she loves.

Like all of us of a certain age, L. has lived through adversities and emerged a beauty, inside and out. When I see the iris, I think of how L. and her sister S. built a literary journal from scratch, one that is now nationally respected, one that literary contests pull their prize selections from year after year.

L. and S. researched for more than a year how to put a literary journal together. At first, they had their detractors. One of them was a columnist who wrote that they were doomed to failure because they didn’t work from the bottom up, i.e. sucking up to every literary persona in town who might one day be a player in their venture, and because of all things, at their opening party, they giggled a lot.

I hope they are giggling still, two decades later, being nationally renowned and all. These sisters continue to meet their goal while remaining kind and generous. They’ve featured years of good writers, some of them beginners, and brought many to national prominence. Quarterly, they also produce a bulletin of solid writing advice. Having done what they intended to do from the beginning, one step at a time, working hard, ignoring harsh words from large egos, they’ve persevered.

Persevered, like the first irises every spring that weather winters’ storms with the intention of bringing joy just by being. As I gaze at their purple, lavender and yellow blossoms, I imagine them giggling a lot.