The first four California seasons

“Have you noticed we all say ‘Y’all’ now that you’re here?” One of my critique group members asked me this after saying the word herself. I’m not sure, but I think every member of the group had just said, “Y’all” in our wrapping-up conversation. It’s true. I’ve rubbed off on them, as they have on me.

I’ve been pondering this and other changes today. You see, one year ago today, I was on a plane, my dog in the cargo hold, flying across the country where my husband waited for us to begin a new adventure. And what an adventure it has been so far.

I sat at a cafe this morning—sipping an artful latte—and read a journal entry I wrote after my first week here.

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What had already grabbed my heart by the end of that first week was one of my great loves here: the river and the beauty and life that surround it. I thought I’d share with you some favorite moments (and photos) from my first four seasons here.

Winter
Along with the river, the mild weather of this region and oranges growing in my own yard are some favorites of winter here.

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The riverbank is greener in winter because it’s the rainy season. This photo is from before my dog met a skunk. I can tell from the darker brown of her coat, pre-peroxide baths.

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Just one of the delicious oranges from our yard

Spring
Although some flowers bloom through winter here, spring really is beautiful, ushering in abundant blooms and drawing wildlife out of hiding. The trees leafing out means more shade, too, a welcome presence along running trails.

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The earliest blooms of spring

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An Anna’s Hummingbird visits purple flowers near the river.

Summer
There’s no way to sugar coat summer here: it is ridiculously hot. But the mornings are cooler (compared to what this Southern girl is used to) and dry. I didn’t enjoy trying to finish runs by 6:30 each morning, but I definitely embraced the lower humidity.

Dragonflies darted happily around the yard and posed patiently for photo ops. A baby owl grew up in a nesting box attached to our house. I’m hoping for a repeat of all of this next summer.

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Fall
Fall is my favorite season anywhere, and so it’s no wonder that this fall brought many happy moments. Clouds returned in September, followed by a handful of rainy days. The Sierra peaks in the distance have slowly turned white with snow. Trees transformed into vibrant colors, and at least one osprey followed the salmon run up the river. Fall here offers much to celebrate, and with the cooler weather, it’s easier to embrace being outside no matter the time of day.

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Leaves aflame (not with fire but with fall color)

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King of the river?

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One of countless salmon swimming upstream

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The Sierra peaks are even more snow-covered than this now. A promise of drought relief?

All the year round
I’m grateful for so many people and things that have remained steadfast the whole year. For my husband who has patiently weathered my homesick moments and encouraged my attempts at establishing roots here. For family and friends far away who’ve made the effort to keep in touch. For new friends who have embraced me into their lives (and into their language, too). All y’all are wonderful! 😉

I’m grateful for the great running and races here. For coffee shops and wineries and San Francisco not too close but not too far either. For Yosemite within driving distance. And, oh, the stars. How could I forget the stars? It’s darker here than anywhere I’ve ever lived. Just the other night, I noticed some stars in Orion I don’t think I’ve ever seen before.

Perhaps the greatest takeaway for me this year—a reminder I see weekly as I drive along a certain tree-lined, windy road—is that no matter where I live, this is truth:

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This message resonated with many of you, too. In my tree signs series, a majority of you chose this sign as your favorite.

As we head toward Christmas and a new year, I hope you’ll pause for a moment in all the busyness and ask yourself what you have loved about each of the last four seasons. What stands out to you? I invite you to share a few of your joys and delights from the year in the comments below.

Snapshots from home

Plenty of folks may say you can’t go home again, and I understand what they mean. But I went home to North Carolina for a bit of rest a few weeks ago anyway. Here are some snapshots and brief thoughts of my visit home.

It’s hard to balance the need to rest with the desire to catch up with dear friends and family, and so I ended up not doing as much of either as I had hoped. I am slowly realizing that it may always be this way on the visits home, the pull of the heart to spend time with those I love and the pull of the body to rest and soak up the nature of this beautiful place.

The cows came up to the near pasture on my hike through this most favorite of places:

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I always love this view but especially when the field is full of cows.

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Fields of gold

I almost missed my chance at taking this hike, so busy hiking and running and walking in other loved places, but if I hadn’t gone, I would have missed the lilies blooming: Continue reading

Celebrating Earth Day but not the pollen

Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice;
Let the sea roar, and all it contains;
Let the field exult, and all that is in it.
Then all the trees of the forest will sing for joy
– Psalm 96:11–12

Today is Earth Day, and I wanted to celebrate by sharing some photos of what’s blooming in my garden right now.

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The previous owners left behind lots of beautiful roses.

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Rhododendron in bloom

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A delicate iris

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Deep purple bearded iris … so velvety beautiful!

How’s the earth exulting (and celebrating spring and Earth Day) where you are?

One thing I simply cannot celebrate today, though I know it has to exist for all these wonderful plants to grow, is pollen. I’ve struggled with springtime allergies for many, many years. I had hoped the move might bring fewer allergies. Boy, was I in for an unpleasant surprise.

California has brought me the worst pollen-related allergies I’ve ever experienced. My tried-and-true allergy medicine is barely making a dent in what’s happening in my head and throat, and my constant coughing leaves me exhausted.

California won me over during winter, but in the NC2NC contest, I have to declare North Carolina a winner in the springtime pollen game. I never thought I’d yearn for NC’s thick yellow pine pollen. However, the drought and warmer-than-usual temperatures here in Northern California are making me sick. Bleh.

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North Carolina wins when it comes to the pollen war, at least for me. Are allergies getting the best of you, too?

Let’s talk about something more fun this Earth Day. I’ve been thinking about some of my favorite places on earth. Some are near home, and some I may never see again. One favorite I hope to visit again some day is Knocknarea in County Sligo, Ireland:

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Serene Knocknarea overlooks Strandhill (the little village you can see sparkling at the shoreline) and Sligo Bay. My husband and I hiked up late in the day to see this stunning vista.

Do you have a favorite spot on earth? If so, I’d love for you to describe it in the comments below. Happy Earth Day!

Easter gardens

Easter has long been one of my favorite holidays. The weekend leading to Easter was always a whirlwind of fun when I was growing up. My aunt, uncle and cousins drove down from Maryland, and we spent Saturday afternoon painting Easter eggs. I can still smell the boiled eggs and feel my burning fingertips as I raced to dapple on the egg dye before the egg cooled too much to hold the paint.

Sunday promised homemade bread for breakfast; a spectacular, joyful service; and a race home, where the aroma of lamb and herbs roasting in the oven greeted us before we even got inside. Dad hid Easter eggs, and after the egg hunt, my mom and aunt hid Easter baskets.

Eggs and garden flowers are inextricably linked in my memory, especially the pink azaleas that often bloomed right in time to conceal an equally pink egg. I was a terrible egg and basket hunter, while my brother was always the champion, but I always knew to check the pink azaleas for the pink egg. Somehow, Easter doesn’t feel quite the same without a hunt of some sort.

The joys of Easter Sunday always wiped away the somber Maundy Thursday service with its black draped cross, the haunting solo of Where you there when they crucified my Lord?, and the darkened sanctuary.

At this point in Holy Week, we have the somber moments yet to remember and ponder before we celebrate the joyous Easter. And as I look around at my own garden blooming, I am reminded of the two Easter gardens: one of darkness and betrayal, the other of light and joy.

Tomorrow will mark the point in Holy Week when we revisit the darker garden, the garden full of grief and trembling and betrayal, the Garden of Gethsemane.

When Jesus spoke had spoken these words, He went forth with His disciples over the ravine of the Kidron, where there was a garden, in which He entered with His disciples.
– John 18:1

Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and said to His disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” And He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be grieved and distressed.
– Matthew 26:36

To read the full events of that night in the garden, read Matthew 26:36–56. The upshot is this: Jesus asked his disciples to stay awake while he went a little ways off to pray. He begged God to change what was about to happen, but Jesus also submitted to God’s will. He scolded the disciples for falling asleep in the face of his distress. He prayed again; they slept again. Judas and the soldiers arrived to arrest Jesus, and the disciples fled.

The second garden is joy-filled. It’s the garden where an empty tomb awaited visitors Sunday morning:

But Mary was standing outside the tomb weeping; and so, as she wept, she stooped and looked into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white sitting, one at the head and one at the feet, where the body of Jesus had been lying.

And they said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.”

When she said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, and did not know that it was Jesus.

Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing Him to be the gardener, she said to Him, “Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have laid Him, and I will take Him away.”

Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to Him in Hebrew, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher).
– John 20:11–16

I love John’s account of Mary mistaking for Jesus for the gardener. Her eyes and brain and heart weren’t ready yet to see the risen Jesus standing in front of her, alive, in the garden. Are your eyes and brain and heart ready?

I’ll leave you today with a tour of my Easter garden. Most of these flowers I can identify, but I need your help with one of them. I hope you enjoy them. May these blooms remind you of the joy of Easter.

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A few blooms still remain on the tulip magnolia, but some days, it looks as though the tree sneezed and shed many of its blossoms.

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I was delighted to see that some gardener before me had planted pink azaleas here. Yay!

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An iris blooms amid a mass of leaves. The clump of bushes is taller than other irises I’ve seen, and so I was surprised to discover this bloom. I’m enjoying the almost daily surprises in my new Easter garden.

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The Jerusalem Sage I planted recently is now blooming. You can see the second whorl starting to bloom, too.

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We still have a few oranges left to eat, but the trees are already beginning to flower.

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Any idea what these are? I’m enjoying their red/yellow and pink/white color combinations.

Happy Easter, my friends! I’d love to know what’s abloom in your Easter garden and how you celebrate the joyous day.

Finding home in a garden

My mother asked recently what was blooming in my new garden, and her question provided the initial inspiration for this post.

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These yellow flowers have been blooming since we arrived here.

The beautiful early spring weather has also encouraged me to share some photos with you. While locals assure me this is too early—February can still bring freezing weather—spring is here nonetheless. I plan to celebrate even if winter resurfaces later.

I still find myself unsure about planting anything given our extreme drought, but I must tend the garden that surrounds me, coaxing it to be its beautiful best. Even if I don’t plant something new, the gardening chores—pulling weeds, picking up spent camellia blooms, trimming dead blooms—invite me to put down roots of sorts, to invest my time and make myself at home in this garden.

I’m excited to see what will spring up. Perhaps this is a tulip magnolia?

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Will this unveil itself as a tulip magnolia?

I’ve discovered mint, and the lavender continues to bloom in force. A variety of yellow flowers bring cheer as they open, and several camellias are showing off.

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The most prolific of the camellia bushes

Familiar plants remind me of home and remind me that this new home is not so foreign after all. There are unfamiliar plants, too: smaller, quieter blooms I cannot yet identify but welcome with eagerness.

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I carried my camera on this morning’s walk, hoping to capture the early spring in pictures. Cheerful birdsong filled the air, a hopeful soundtrack to accompany the beauty budding out on trees and along the ground.

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This tree started blooming a week or two ago and stopped me still mid-stride when I noticed its first blooms, stark against the dark limbs.

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Little purple flowers grow amid grass and rocks by the trail.

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My favorite moment came as I readied the camera to take a close-up of the purple ground-cover flowers. I heard the deep buzz—the kind that rattles your brain in a way a bee could only dream of doing—before I saw the motion. A hummingbird reveled in the purple flowers, too, and I just managed to click the shutter before it sped off, too shy of the dog and me to linger longer.

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Not my best shot but my favorite surprise of the morning.

Before I left Raleigh, one of my dear friends prayed for God to show off for me out here. This morning felt like God delighting in the early spring “garden” and wowing me with hummingbird moments.

Is it humanity’s origins in the garden that cause us to crave what gardens provide? Though not all of us enjoy the feel of cool dirt caked under our fingernails, God can speak to us and make us feel at home in the “gardens”—cultivated or wild—surrounding us.

Some of you may be grumbling that spring seems impossibly far away, but know that the earth is at work even under ice and snow, preparing a showy display of spring for you, too.

And all too soon, I imagine I’ll be wishing to trade places with you to escape the scorching heat and drought of this place. To shore up my spirit and embrace Jeremiah 17:7-8 (flourishing like the tree that doesn’t fear when the heat comes), I need to drink in these beautiful moments so I can call upon God’s showy, golden, thriving spring garden once it is just a memory.

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How do you see God showing off for you these days?