The promise of spring

“Ha!” I can hear many of you saying as you sit blanketed under snow today. Or is it a “Bah!” that you’re calling out to my promising the return of spring.

Spring seems an unreal probability in this wintry season. Even here in the south, we got a little sneeze of snow last night. Not enough to cover the world with its cleansing white cover, but enough to get the local kids excited about a school delay and enough to glue the little kid still inside me to the windows as the snow drifted down last night. I dream of a proper snow day while many of you are ready for it to just. go. away. already.

I will admit to wishing for warmer weather. too. This has been an unusually cold winter, and if it’s going to be this cold, I’d prefer snow to accompany it. While I’m busy wishing for more snow or warmer weather or both – after all, it could be warmer here and still snow, too – I thought I’d share some photos from my recent visit to San Francisco’s Japanese Tea Garden with you.

Some of the trees in the gardens are bare, but there are cherry blossoms, too. And nothing promises spring to me as much as a cherry blossom. So enjoy these photos and a cup of something warm. I promise: spring is on its way, but for some of us, it can’t get here soon enough.

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Nothing promises spring to me like a cherry blossom

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Someone is having fun training these shrubs (trees?) to grow like this.

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The koi and the trees’ reflections mesmerized me in equal measure.

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More reflections, thanks to a clear, still day

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I love the shape of this gnarled tree and am thankful for winter’s opportunity to see the flinging shape of its branches.

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A garden of dwarf trees, while a pagoda looms over the garden

A quick note about this garden of dwarf trees. Sometimes even trees get caught up in wars, and these dwarf trees are no exception. The Hagiwara family that cared for this garden from 1895 to 1942 was, according to the plaque nearby, “forced to relocate” during World War II. I guess that’s the genteel way of describing the internment of Japanese Americans during that war. The Hagiwara family left these trees in the care of a landscape architect Samuel Newson, who later sold the collection to Hugh Fraser. Fraser’s wife gave the collection back to the tea garden in her will, and they’ve been back here – flourishing – for almost 50 years.

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One last picture of these hopeful koi (I didn’t feed them, but they hoped nonetheless.)

What are the signals or promises that you look for to prove that spring will return?

Among the ancient trees

My husband and I spent the weekend out in California’s Bay Area, and while it wasn’t his first trip to the area, it was mine. I wanted to find some things to do that would be new for him, and so I polled friends on Facebook for some suggestions. Several friends mentioned Muir Woods, and one used these words: “A few minutes north of there is Muir Woods where you can stare at the bottoms of very big trees.” I thought, “I must go.”

Another friend who lives in the Bay Area cautioned that traffic had been terrible getting to Muir Woods and that several of her out-of-town friends who tried to visit there had given up because of that. But I was determined. After all, how can someone who writes about trees miss out on this opportunity?

We tried for an early start, getting breakfast bagels to eat in the car, and that seemed to make the traffic and parking problem less of an issue. Even in the parking lot, I felt like I was entering an enchanted place.

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A tree canopy in the parking lot invites visitors into this enchanted place.

I quickly realized my friend’s comment about staring at the bottoms of these trees was dead on. It’s hard to even imagine the scale, and I post these pictures knowing full well that even the pictures don’t do justice. It’s like seeing the Grand Canyon in person instead of looking at its pictures. Pictures alone cannot convey the majesty of this place.

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Looking up at one of Muir Woods’ majestic redwoods

Muir Woods is a national monument, instead of a national park, because the landowners who were donating the land wanted it saved more quickly than national park status would have. William Kent and his wife Elizabeth Thacher Kent bought the land to protect it from logging that wiped out much of the redwood growth in the area, and then they donated it to the federal government, hoping to ensure it would remain unlogged, which it has. The Kents asked that the place be named in honor of John Muir, the great conservationist who played a key role in the National Parks movement. In his letter thanking the Kents, Muir wrote of this place: “This is the best tree-lover’s monument that could possibly be found in all the forests of the world. You have done me a great honor.” Continue reading

Humor and other diversions

Originally, I thought today’s blog post would be my response to Chad Stafko’s snarky Wall Street Journal article about runners, Okay, you’re a runner. Get over it, but then I read Mark Remy’s hilarious response here in his Remy’s World column at RunnersWorld.com. So I’ll just share the links with you and tell you a different story, though it also has to do with emotions like anger and humor and other things integral in the aforementioned articles. Enjoy! I’m curious to know which article you relate to more.

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My day started off all wrong yesterday. I had gone to bed the night before anxious about an email related to some work I’ve been doing, and the emails started up again early in the morning. Confusing, long emails filled with the “my way is right” subtext.

By 8:30, my breathing was jagged, and my mood was, too. I knew I needed a diversion. I had the perfect thing in mind. Over breakfast, when I would normally be checking email or Facebook, I decided to cull my growing magazine pile and came across an article about an art installation at the local museum. An artist, Tom Shields, had put chairs in trees. You read that right. The magazine article included some great pictures, but this was something I had to see for myself.

I grabbed my camera and plenty of warm layers to combat the chilly wind and headed out the door. On the way to the museum, I bought a salted caramel hot chocolate. There are very few foul moods that a salted caramel hot chocolate can’t make better.

Here was my first look at the little patch of woods, a mini forest of sorts, where the chairs were. I knew they were there but wondered how close I would have to get before seeing them. The title of the installation is Forest for the Chairs, but at first, I was missing the chairs for the forest.

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The camera could see what my eyes could not. Can you see the chairs yet?

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A closer look

I felt like I had stepped in Wonderland, or an Escher drawing or maybe even Oz. Continue reading

What to do during the shutdown

You may be wondering what to do with your time while we all wait for broken politics and broken politicians to reopen the National Parks. I have a few suggestions.

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National Parks are still closed eight days later, and though there’s access to some places, some of the closing measures seem punitive, designed to make citizens as mad as possible.

I simply don’t understand this quagmire, but instead of letting it make me despondent, I’ve searched for ways to be grateful and to fill my time with activities that soothe and heal and calm my soul.

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Nothing beats a stunning sunset at the close of the day. I could have missed this one had I been focused on watching the nightly news instead of sitting on the porch swing at the close of day.

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The federal government can’t shut down autumn. Get outside. Visit a state park (or even parts of National Parks that you can still get into. Or simply go for a walk in your neighborhood.

Fall is here, and it’s bringing its beauty with it. The government can’t mess up some things. So go outside and look for the change of seasons. Visit a pumpkin patch. Go leaf collecting. Fill up your bird feeders and see who’s still around looking for seeds.

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Good reads!

Even if the weather isn’t cooperating where you are for outdoor adventures, or autumn hasn’t yet made an appearance, there are still ways to tune out the shutdown. Read a good book!

I’ve been catching up on my unread book pile lately and thought I’d share some of them with you.

A friend and fellow writer posted an interview with Nadia Bolz-Weber on her Facebook page recently, and as soon as I listened to the interview, I was hooked. Bolz-Weber is the author of Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint, a stunning memoir in which Bolz-Weber describes the damage done to her as a child growing up in an ultra-conservative church, her subsequent path through alcohol, drug abuse and recovery (not to mention a few tattoo parlors) and into a Grace-filled life as a Lutheran pastor. If you have read this book, I want to sit down and talk about it with you over coffee.

But this book isn’t for everyone. It may not be for you:

  • If you mind salty language (Bolz-Weber can make even sailors blush sometimes).
  • If you think church shouldn’t welcome certain groups of sinners (not you, of course, but the really bad sinners like drag queens, swindlers, alcoholics, government officials … ahem).
  • If you think God’s grace can only happen to certain people who then go on to live out perfect, conventional, acceptable lives.
  • If you think a female Lutheran tattooed “pastrix” (a pejorative for women pastors) has nothing to say that could change your heart about or for God and those whom God calls us to love (our neighbors, our enemies, ourselves).

Anyway, like I said, if you read the book, I’d love to discuss it with you.

Since I like to alternate between fiction and nonfiction these days – an easy way to cleanse my reading palate – the next book I picked up was Louise Penny’s The Brutal Telling, the fifth in her Inspector Gamache series. I don’t want to give too much away because it is a mystery and is the fifth in a series set in a small Canadian village with characters I’ve grown to love, but I will tell you this: The Brutal Telling is Penny’s best book yet. There are more in the series, and I’m woefully behind. So she may have better later books, but The Brutal Telling is haunting and magical and masterful. I love what Penny writes on her website about her own books: “If you take only one thing away from any of my books I’d like it to be this: Goodness exists.” This belief in goodness comes through in the way she writes, and the goodness in her complex characters shines through even the darkness inside them.

Next up on my list to read: Alberto Salazar’s 14 Minutes: A Running Legend’s Life and Death and Life. That’s not a typo. This world-class runner, now a coach to running greats such as Mo Farah, Galen Rupp, Dathan Ritzenheim and high school phenom Mary Cain, spent 14 minutes dead. No pulse dead. My husband has already read the book, and I’m looking forward to the inspiration it promises.

How about you? Are you finding good ways to distract yourself from the government shutdown? What about your favorite books that you’ve read lately? I’m always looking for recommendations to add to my to-be-read book stack.

Gifts of figs and flowers

Those of you who have followed this blog since the beginning may remember how much I love figs. They were the subject of my very first post.

While it wasn’t anywhere near fig season when I wrote that original post, we’re right smack in the middle of it now. I pass by a laden fig tree every morning when I’m out walking the dog and have to fight the urge to pick a fig or two as I go by.

So when a friend of mine emailed me last week to ask if I’d like some figs from her tree, I responded with an enthusiastic yes (and probably a “Yippee!” in my head). She delivered them a few days later on her way to work.

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A friend’s gift of figs

I was touched by the fact that she had even thought of me for the figs (instead of not thinking of me at all or instead of offering something I don’t love, like zucchini, for instance). Perhaps she remembered me talking about how much I like them? Whatever the reason, I am grateful she thought of me and even took the time to deliver them to my house.

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I had fun photographing them in the morning light, but it was hard to resist eating them before I was done snapping pictures.

Her simple act of kindness and friendship fueled me and fed me. And it made me wonder whether we take time often enough to look around at the simple abundances in our own lives and, instead of letting those gifts go to waste, think, “Who would enjoy this as a gift?”

Garden gifts
My mom always shared what she grew in the garden – including zucchini (which my brother and I wish she had shared all of instead of keeping any for us. Oh, the zucchini trauma stories we could tell).

She made the most beautiful bouquets of flowers to take to people and would even send bouquets of gardenias in to work with me because she knew I loved them so much. She doesn’t garden as much as she used to, but the flowers still bloom and create a beautiful space surrounding my parents’ house, and I like to think of her garden as a gift to her neighbors.

She has rubbed off on me that way. I try to plant flowers each year that will give me enough to share with others. And I save more random glass jars than most people, so that I can always have a “vase” handy.

However, there are still seasons of the gardening year that I haven’t quite figured out, and I hate those times when I want to bring someone flowers and head outside to find that nothing terribly pretty is blooming.

My mother-in-law loves gardening and giving flowers, too. She often sends me flowers for special occasions, and this is what arrived at my doorstep from her a few weeks ago:

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A beautiful gift of orchids

She knows I struggle with orchids (I do much better with outdoor plants that have a better chance of surviving my bouts of neglect), but she promised these are easy to care for. I really do hope I can keep the plant alive and blooming.

I love the way the afternoon light filters through the orchid’s petals.

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For those of you who garden, do you share what you grow? Do others share with you? Do you think it strengthens friendships to offer homegrown gifts or even store-bought gifts of fruit or flowers? For those of you who don’t garden, I’d love to hear what simple gifts you share with your friends. What ways do you share the crop of kindness and abundance from your own life with others?

Oh, and to my friends who live nearby (you know who you are), it’s baby lacebark elm tree season at my house. Let me know if you’d like one of the elms for your own yard. They’re a gift I’d love to share with you.