When I see—and smell!—the lily-of -the-valley blooming in my garden, I’m transported to my childhood in France. There May Day is a holiday, and though most associate it with the rights of workers, it’s also the “Fête du Muguet” (muguet being the French word for the flower). Giving muguet to loved ones on May 1 is a tradition throughout France. Where I grew up in the Loire Valley, the flower grew abundantly. I would hunt it in the woods surrounding our house and make a bouquet to bring to my mother. Now you can buy bouquets of muguet in florists, grocery stores, and the street corners of most French cities in the week leading up to the holiday. I continue to honor the tradition by picking a bunch on May Day. Nothing perfumes a room like muguet!
In Dallas for a friend’s wedding, I took advantage of beautiful weather to spend some serious lens time at the Arboretum and Botanical Garden. My Sunday visit coincided with the annual tulip festival, so there was plenty of color in the flower beds. What I didn’t expect was the walking color on every path. Apparently the Arboretum is a favorite place to pose for professional photographs, and girls celebrating their Quinceañera, the traditional coming out on their 15th birthday, were parading in their gowns. Like princesses, they posed in their sparkling tiaras and shimmering tulle skirts. I found myself ignoring the tulips and following the girls.
At 5:58 pm today, the sun crossed that imaginary line above the equator allowing us in Virginia to declare the beginning of spring. My daffodils just popped open after a few days of cold sunshine, and the climbing rose canes are showing their first red leafbuds. There’s hope! Though the prediction for tomorrow is more rain…
During this wet and gloomy winter, I’ve been reaching into my refrigerator for color inspiration. A purple carrot slice was a welcome surprise!
Walking through frigid woods looking for signs of spring. This orange blaze marker reminds me of the Mexican sunflowers that light a fire in my garden every August. It’s a warming thought, but planting time seems a long way off. For now I’ll have to be satisfied with ordering seeds.
Excited about the sun casting dynamic shadows across the wall, I grabbed my camera and started shooting. Lines, layers, shapes, patterns, textures—all appeared magically before my lens. I only had to frame and snap the shutter to capture an interesting abstract image. Suddenly the light vanished, and I was staring at a flat, blank, blue-gray wall. Nothing there! When the sun slid behind a cloud, everything disappeared. It was startling to realize that the image I was responding to was made up of waves of light passing through vegetation and glass, and my eyes and brain perceived its beauty. The experience left me pondering reality (not for the first time…).
Whisper of soft snow
on swaying leaves.
Am I not in the city?
Happy Valentine’s Day!
Every year, my husband and I spend one week of February in Vermont. We think of it as a visit to winter, since Virginia rarely provides the kind of consistent cold and snow we love, the kind that encourages cross-country skiing and snowshoeing on mountain trails. Last year it snowed almost every day, and I got lots of practice on my skis. This year was different. When we crossed the line into Vermont, the temperature was 58˚. During our first night it poured rain but by morning the landscape was frozen solid, so we were staring out the window at ice-coated trees. Over the next few days we took a couple afternoon hikes in dismal rain and mist, but the snow that had accumulated before our arrival had turned into hard icy chunks. On our last day we attempted to pole walk along a sunny riverside trail with temperatures in the teens and gusts of wind reaching 30 miles an hour. A little too invigorating! We decided to get our exercise in the indoor pool. And thankfully our apartment had a view of the mountain valley and a gas fireplace. We curled up in comfy chairs and caught up on our reading. On winter vacations, it’s important to be flexible!
On a trip north, we stopped in Connecticut to visit our grandsons (of course!). We were hoping for some winter activities, but warm temperatures led us to explore the Stamford Nature Center not far from their home. I was expecting squirrels, foxes, and birds of prey, so it was quite a surprise to encounter a Sicilian donkey, a couple of llamas, an otter, and a yak. Our grandsons were delighted, and for a few minutes I could pretend I was photographing in the Himalayas.
It sounded like something out of a fairy tale—a waxed bulb that would produce a blooming amaryllis without watering or any other consideration except sunlight. So like Jack, trading his cow for some magic beans, I handed over $7.99 to Trader Joe’s in December for a magic bulb. I couldn’t resist! It had already poked a stalk end above the wax, but I set it on my studio table and watched and worried. Shouldn’t it have a drop or two of water? What happens to the roots? With no assistance from me it grew vigorously, and by mid-January it was budding. Now I have four stunning red amaryllis blossoms greeting me each morning. I did a bit of reading about this method of growing bulbs—the roots are removed and the flower takes its nourishment directly from the bulb, so its energy is used up and can’t be saved for next year. I guess I’d better make my wishes now, before the magic flowers fade.
In the midst of last Sunday’s snowstorm, Snowflake the barred owl lived up to his name. He napped all day, unperturbed as the snow piled up on his head.
A Barred Owl has decided to hang out in our backyard red cedar. He comes in every morning around 6, and leaves on his evening rounds every afternoon as dusk is falling. He perches in the same place, a branch only about 10 feet off the ground. When we approach, he is usually snoozing, but he opens his eyes and looks down, hardly ruffling a feather. Then he shuts them again and proceeds with his nap. He’s certainly been patient with me and my camera lens. The only thing that seems to rattle him is the pack of crows that comes barking through the yard, stopping in the cedar to harass him. He’ll sometimes fly away, but then we’ll discover him back on his branch as we cross the yard. At first we were stunned by his calm presence, but its been more than a month since he arrived. Our grandsons met him at Christmas, and it was a delight to witness their wonder at being so close to this wild creature. They named him Snowflake, because he comes in winter. Every now and then Snowflake misses a day, but we figure he’s had a particularly filling meal (or he’s giving the crows something to think about). We will appreciate him as long as he is willing to put up with us.
Cold sun sets
on darkest day.
Full moon rises
to light our way.
The ceiling and walls are newly painted. The floor is scrubbed and waxed. The windows are clean inside and out. My plants have moved back under the windows, and the new honeycomb shades are installed. And, most important, the printer is back in its spot and recalibrated. I am officially back in my studio after the ceiling repair, and it feels like an entirely new space. Nothing on the walls yet, but for now I’m sitting at the table in the morning enjoying the glow of warm sunlight through the shades, sipping hot green tea, and relishing the sense of possibility. I’ll be back to work soon.
On a rare sunny day, I tackled garden clean-up, discouraged by the vines that had overtaken plants and hedges. It doesn’t take much neglect before the garden becomes a jungle! At least the growing season is over, I told myself as I yanked a particularly hardy length of vine snaking through the privet. It turned out to be a rogue bean plant that had worked its way into our neighbor’s yard. I was able to retrieve all the seed pods still dangling there, a generous contribution to next year’s garden and a nice reward for my efforts.
My parents are buried in Arlington National Cemetery, just a few miles from my home. My father was a small town lawyer in Ohio in the 1930s, but he had earned his J.D. at Ohio State through the Army Reserve, so he was called up early and served as a staff officer in England and France throughout World War II. He met my French mother after the liberation of Paris, and when they were posted back to the Pentagon, he decided to make the army his career. When he died, he was buried in the National Cemetery, and when my mother died a decade later, she was buried with him. It’s very convenient for me to visit their grave, and I make a point of going on their birthdays, and St. Patrick’s Day (my father’s favorite celebration!), and in the week before Veterans Day. Their spot is on a slope with views of the Potomac River and the monuments beyond, and the fields of uniform white grave markers encourage awe and contemplation. All these men served their country, and so many of them gave their lives in that service. It struck me during this year’s visit that few people realize their wives are buried here, too. On the back of many stones are their names and the words, “His Wife.” The wives also served, “holding down the fort” when their husbands were away, often raising their families alone. Just being an army wife requires a willingness to move often, to help the kids adjust to new schools, to host gatherings, to find new friends, and to do everything they can to ease the responsibility that rests on the shoulders of their military spouse. Of course now there are women buried here who served as soldiers and officers in their own right. But this year I made the point of walking around to view the back of the gravestones to honor those other veterans, the wives: Sarah, Evangelina, Janice, Martha, Lottie, Noel, Lillian, Mildred, Carmen, Gisela, Roberta, Ruth, Dorsey, Irene, Anna, my mother, Aliki, and so many others.
Whatever outcome you’re hoping for in today’s elections, it’s good to remember we’ve survived other bizarre chapters in our political history. This eggplant at the market brought to mind another president popular with cartoonists and comedians.
Walking in the woods as the sun sinks behind the horizon, I stop and listen. It's late October, and the crickets are singing their goodbye songs. I stand on the path absorbing the call and response, the variations of pitch created by rubbing back legs together. The music is so hopeful yet so sad. Once we've had a hard frost, the crickets will disappear. The evening woods will be silent, punctuated only by the tapping of the piliated woodpeckers and the occasional barking of crows.