Breathe Beauty

This spring, I go from “hard work in the garden” days, to “collapse on the couch” days. With so little sun and so much rain, I feel an urgency on those good days to do as much as possible.  Monday, for example, I was able to inoculate the orchard with Wine Cap mushroom spawn.  That involved shoveling and hauling lots of wood chips from the pile, via a wheelbarrow, over to the trees, laying layers of wood chips in patches near each of the four trees, then spreading the spawn, then more wood chips on top.  (This is on top of old wood chips that are already around the trees.) I also put some compost in patches that I had missed last week.  I also planted chamomile and sunchokes that I had received in trade at the Plant Swap on Saturday.

Then, after, while I am taking a hot Epson salt bath for my aching muscles, I imagine that I will blog about it the next day–but I just haven’t have the energy for much more than Netflix for two days after any garden work days.  So I haven’t blogged about the Fedco tree sale, or about repurposing the garden bed behind the garage for three new blueberry plants, or about spreading seaweed mulch near the trees, or adding compost, or planting kale and more peas.  I haven’t blogged about any of it.

Meanwhile, between the work and the collapse, it is easy to miss the ephemeral beauty of it all.  The other day, I noticed I was missing something. I stopped to sit on the deck, and then walked around the yard, not working. I just looked at bushes and flowers and ferns, paying attention to what was there, appreciating the miracle of plants and their growth.

Violets

These violets came up on their own in a crack in the pavement near the bulkhead.

Fiddleheads coming back!

I thought the fiddlehead fern I planted last year had died, but here they are coming up again near the big old pine tree.

Golden Seal coming up

And here is the golden seal that I planted last year, also coming back after seeming death!

I finally sat down again on the deck, and after I had been there awhile, the hummingbirds boldly flew in to drink from our feeders.

It is hard for me to have so little energy this spring.  I wish I could do much more in the garden, and not be so exhausted every time afterwards.  I guess this is my new reality, this balancing act. But I am reminding myself to appreciate the beauty around me, to notice the color purple on the patio (as Alice Walker might say), to be grateful, and quiet enough for the birds to fly around taking no notice of my presence. To breathe slowly enough for shadows of joy to sneak in.

Hummer shadow

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Local Beauty

When we moved to our current neighborhood we were surprised and delighted to find so much natural beauty within walking distance of our home.  I felt like a kid again in those first morning walk explorations of the surrounding terrain.  I learned that we are nestled between small brooks that feed into Capisic Brook, and that there is a path through the woods between the brook and the Rowe (formerly Hall) school. I learned I could walk into the woods that were part of Evergreen Cemetery, up to the ponds where turtles, frogs, and birds abound.

But one treasure I wouldn’t have found if I hadn’t learned about it first, and then tried to hunt for it.  It is quite hidden, except to those who are hiking on the Fore River Trail, which is just beyond my usual strolling adventures.  But if you know where to find it, you can also access it off the side streets on the other side of Brighton Avenue. This is Jewell Falls, and I walked there yesterday morning.  Can you imagine?  A waterfall in my own neighborhood in Portland! The spring snow melt and rain gave it a great flow and the rushing sounds were like music, morning sunlight dancing to its rhythms. Gratitude.

Jewell Falls

New Year Beauty

New Year Sunset with Margy

Margy and I watched the New Year sunset at Kettle Cove. It is one of the few beaches we know of on the east coast of Maine, where you can watch the sun set over the water, in winter.  (This is because the beach at that point faces southward, and the sun is setting further to the south than in summer–a perfect alignment.) In 2019, I intend to visit the ocean more often.  It is so close to us, and yet it is so easy to forget to drive 30 minutes to experience this beauty.

Despite all the hard things that are plaguing our beloved world, may we remember to seek out beauty and joy each day.  May we remember color and light and shade and darkness and shine and curve and flow and rhythm.

Oak Leaves

In the spring, I learned that acorns of the white oak were less bitter–and were more widely used for food–than those of the red oak.  At that time, I was walking through thousands of acorns in our neighborhood, and thinking how great it would be to use them for food.  I also walked through thousands of dried-up oak leaves, but never saw any white oaks.  You can tell the difference because the leaves of the red oak are pointy and the leaves of the white oak have rounded lobes.

This fall, there were barely any acorns. Oaks do that.  They choose certain years (mast years) to collaboratively put on a full production of acorns, and others years, not so much. This may be a rough winter for the squirrels, who grew their families large on last year’s bounty.  But imagine my surprise when I saw these leaves on the pavement during my morning walk.  You might have to look closely. White Oak and Red Oak Leaves

Amidst the pointy ones are some small round-lobed leaves.  The tree is about two blocks from my house, a smaller oak right next to a big red oak, standing in someone’s front yard. I am going to guess that it might be a white oak. I look forward to the next mast year for acorns, to see if I can distinguish them from each other, and maybe try making acorn flour.

Meanwhile, this was a beautiful autumn for oak trees. Usually, it seems, the oak leaves hang on the tree and go from green to brown without much fanfare.  But two weeks ago, they were a translucent gold to rival the maples. Today, we had our first snow storm, but the snow is spotted with oak leaves everywhere, pulled from their branches by the wind to land on top of the snow.Oak Leaf Gold

This Grandmother Pine Lost

White Pine Cut with markingsIt must have been a big machine that cut down the grandmother pine tree.  I found no disturbance around the stump when I climbed up to it to offer my grief and respect.  The weeds and small brush nearby were there as before, with only fresh wood shavings and pine sap falling over the edges of the stump.  Nothing huge crashed to the ground when they took her. So it must have been a big machine.

I discovered her absence on my walk near Capisic Brook the day before, but didn’t have the strength to approach her while there were lots of workmen in the Rowe school construction zone nearby.  Ironically, they were making a children’s playground, spreading wood chips and such–perhaps that was that her wood they were using?  But why?Workers at the school

I met this tree last winter when I was measuring old white pines around my neighborhood, after I discovered that our white pine was definitely over 100 years old, and perhaps even 160 years, according to her circumference.  At that time, I was also mourning all the cut pines for the construction of the new elementary school.  I found this pine with a yellow tape around her trunk.  She was one hundred and two inches in circumference, just like the white pine in our yard. That is when I knew she was one of the grandmother trees.  I made an inquiry on the school’s Facebook page, but the person who responded didn’t know about the situation of the tree.

And now the white pine is gone.  I went to the place where she had stood, and expressed my sadness, and I did the best I could to honor her.  I counted her rings, making small markings after each 25.  (You can see those marks if you look very closely at the photo above.)  I got to 100, and then the outer rings were too difficult to see clearly–but I guess there were at least 20 more–so 120 years old?  Maybe even 130?  That would mean she was likely a small sapling in the year 1897 when both of my grandmothers were born.  She observed a century of animal and human life from her vantage point above the brook.

People in U.S. society are still thinking of trees merely as resources for our needs and wants.  But we have to begin opening our minds to the idea that the trees have their own lives, their own being-ness.  Scholars are learning that the forest is a living community of trees and other plants and animals and fungi, all interconnected in a network underground, supporting each other and all of life.

Recently, I had a chance to read The Overstory by Richard Powers.  The novel tells the story of several people, all with some significant connection to a tree or trees, who come together to protect old growth forests in the northwest United States.  Powers borrows from actual science and activism in telling his fictionalized version.  I especially loved the character of the woman botanist whose research suggested that trees were communicating and caring for each other. Because of that hypothesis, she lost all her funding and academic connections.  Eventually she found her way into work as a forest ranger, until decades later when other scientists caught up with her insights.  Two other characters spend a year living in one of the oldest redwoods, to try to protect it from the logging company.

Of course, the forest between the Rowe School (formerly Hall School) and Capisic Brook is already badly degraded. It is not old growth or pristine.  It is encroached upon by invasive plants and runoff pollutants. But it is still a living system, a wetland, a wild community in the midst of city streets and buildings.  And so I walk along its path, I cherish it, I pick up litter. I try to bear witness.

Capisic Brook Forest

Hell Strip to Esplanade

Planting the roadside strip

Lisa & Myke at work, photo by Margy Dowzer

Last month, Margy and I were talking about the crabgrass that has overrun the lawn in so many places, including the strip between the sidewalk and the street. This strip seems to be referred to by many names–from “hell strip” to “esplanade.”  She is working on other strategies for other places, but I had the idea (after some internet research and an appreciation of what someone in our neighborhood had done to theirs) to see if hardy perennials might eventually outcompete the crabgrass and solve the problem. Then it truly would be shifting from a hell strip to an esplanade!

I started off by moving some turkish rocket from our backyard garden to the front. Turkish rocket is a fast growing perennial vegetable with beautiful yellow flowers. I had planted some last year, excited to try it, but this spring discovered that I didn’t really like the taste of the greens–they were too sharp and bitter for me.  But the flowers were amazing.  So I decided that I’d move it from the food forest to the strip.  Another friend came by and transplanted some yellow day lilies and blue cornflower that needed a new home!

I put out a call on our permaculture meet-up, and was gratified when another member, Sandi, responded by saying she had a lot of perennials that needed dividing and we could have them. That’s the thing–so many wonderful perennial flowers multiply of their own accord and expand out of the area they are originally planted.  So why not use that spreading habit to achieve a better use of the roadside space–for pollinators and for beauty. So I went out to her house and we dug up a whole bunch of plants.

That weekend, our friend Lisa was visiting, and she jumped in to help me with the transplanting effort.  And it was a big effort!  In the end, we had 24 new plants along the strip, mostly with blue or yellow flowers, which we tended to alternate.  Several patches of Siberian iris and several patches of allium; anise hyssop, heliopsis, calendula, white ruffled iris, goats beard, astilbe, mallow, and lady’s mantle.  The other day, I added some catnip–another plant that can spread, but hey, maybe it will outcompete the crabgrass, and we’ll also have catnip for the cats.  The whole thing doesn’t look like much yet–a bunch of scraggly transplants, only a few with any flowers right now–but we’ll see how it goes next summer.  If we can get a load of wood chips, we may put down some cardboard and wood chips between the plants.  But that can happen later too.  I will let you know how it goes.

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