One sees great things from the valley,

only small things from the peak.

~G.K. Chesterton

Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life.
It turns what we have into enough...

.........and more.

It turns denial into acceptance,
chaos to order, confusion to clarity.

It can turn a meal into a feast,

a house into a home,

a stranger into a friend.

~Melody Beattie

Don't be satisfied with stories,

how things have gone with others.

Unfold your own myth.

I hope you will go out and let stories,

that is life, happen to you, and that

you will work with these stories . . .

water them with your blood &

tears & your laughter till they bloom,

till you yourself burst into bloom.

~Clarissa Pinkola Estes

Friday, 13 July 2018

Summer Days Unfold

I have found, 
through years of practice,
 that people garden in order to 
make something grow; 
to interact with nature; 
to share, to find sanctuary, 
to heal, to honour the earth, 
to leave a mark. 
 Through gardening, 
we feel whole as we make our 
personal work of art upon our land. 
~ Julie Moir Messervy, 
The Inward Garden, 1995

We moved into our new/olde cottage in Wales last January. It was miserable. The weather I mean, the move was brilliant--exciting, fun, full of adventure. But the weather was another story. It took turns raining and snowing, it was windy and icy, and through it all it was cold, a damp cold that moves into your bones until you feel as though spring will never come.

Our back garden in February. More often than
not, we'd wake up to some snow. Sometimes
just a skiff, other times a blanket.
I spent all winter watching out the back door & windows from our hilltop vantage point; memorising the land, watching the weather moving across the hills, learning the curves of those hills, and maybe most importantly, watching how the light falls across our garden. For weeks I watched and waited and dreamt, and then I watched some more. 

To gaze is to think.
~ Salvadore Dali

Gaze I did, all the while dreaming of the coming summer & of how my garden would grow . . . or more precisely, how would it take shape. Even more than that though, I wondered how my days in Wales would take shape. What would be cultivated in the days to come as I spend some time away from Oxford? What would each new day bring? By May I was learning what my days would look like and how my garden would grow, and it's been better than I had even imagined.

The summer light comes into our
bedroom early and lights up the
sky blue walls. As I have my first
cup of coffee and read, it's like laying
under a summer sky, and I don't even
have to get out of bed. To someone who's
spent the last 10 years getting up at the
 crack of dawn to cook breakfast for
guests, this is a very good thing.

Eventually the morning beckons though,
and I throw open the french doors that
open out onto our terrace & garden beyond
to take it all in . . . a Sunday morning
 in our garden. 

The sky is the daily 
bread of the eyes.
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Blue skies & Shropshire
 hills are the backdrop for my laundry.

Blue and green are my favourite colours
 and it's easy to see why.
A green tree against a blue sky . . .
nothing lovelier.

Little things seem nothing, 
but they give peace, 
like those meadow flowers
 which individually seem odourless 
but all together perfume the air.
~ Georges Bernanos

The little views in our garden make
me happy too, not just the sweep
 of the sky & the hills. Each flower
tells a story, each blossom a poem.

In my garden there is a large
 place for sentiment.
My garden of flowers is also
 my garden of thoughts & dreams.
 The thoughts grow as freely as the
 flowers, and the dreams
 are as beautiful.
~ Abram L. Urban

The intrepid & unlikely traveller 
St. Francis, overseeing gardens
of ours from Washington state,
to Oxford, and now to Wales.

Praised be You, 
my Lord,
 through our Sister, Mother Earth, 
who sustains and governs us,
 producing varied fruits with
 coloured flowers & herbs. 
~ St.Francis of Assisi

My favourite colour palette for summer 
flowers is white, purple or deep blue,
and some pink. White for the summer
evenings, reflecting the day's sun back to
us once the sun sets, the purple or dark
blue is for the bees, and the pink just
 because I love pink flowers.

Science, or para-science, tells us that geraniums bloom better if they are spoken to. But a kind word every now and then is really quite enough. Too much attention, like too much feeding, and weeding and hoeing, inhibits and embarrasses them.
                                      ~Victoria Glendinning

Geraniums also hate having their
feet wet and when the weather is
warm, thrive just as well in the
shade as in the direct sun. They
always remind me of my grandpa,
who grew red geraniums in his
window boxes. Bright red geraniums
still say Summer! to me, and remind
me of all the happy hours spent with
him in his little Michigan garden.
I suppose he was my first garden
instructor, even though most of what
I learned was through watching him.
I was a quiet child and he was a quiet,
reflective man, so he pottered & I 
played in the best kind of quiet...
the silence of a garden.

The Language of Flowers . . .

Lavender ~ The original flower of Love,
meaning devotion & mystery.

Geranium ~ For gentility & esteem.

Lobelia ~ For distinction.

Flowers always make people better,
 happier, and more helpful; 
they are sunshine, 
food and medicine for the soul.
~ Luther Burbank.

 Our back terrace has been filled with flowers as
soon as it was warm enough for them (daffodils)
to survive. The lower garden has been a little more
problematic though, and has taken some thought about
 how best to reclaim it from the weeds. The very first
thing put in place on the 'lawn' was the Cotswold
stone birdbath from the Lower Slaughter Mill shop.
Then in April we planted the Hidcote Lavender
around it, just like I did in our Oxford garden (below).

It always seems to me as if the lavender was a little woman in a green dress, with a lavender bonnet and a white kerchief. She’s one of those strong, sweet, wholesome people, who always rest you, and her sweetness lingers long after she goes away.                                                          ~ Myrtle Reed

Forgiveness is the smell that lavender
 gives out when you tread on it.
~ Mark Twain

I've spent the last six months wondering, dreaming
and thinking about, looking at, then lately planning,
the little grassy space below our terrace. And by
'grassy', I use the word loosely. There are some
grass-like things growing there, but mostly it's
weeds and rocks and more weeds.

The green is where I'll reseed grass after laying
down lots of top soil and clearing out rocks.
The white is gravel paths or river rock to
define the patches of grass from the herbs
and roses, which is in red. It's definitely a
work in progress but more than that, it's
an ongoing labour of love.

I was for ever making plans, 
and if nothing came of them, 
what did it matter?
 The mere making had been a joy.
~ Elizabeth von Arnim,
 Elizabeth & Her German Garden

Speaking of labour, I've hand carried all the river
rock up our little hill. Every time Jack & I go 
for a walk, I bring along Sainsbury's bags &
as we pass by the river on our way back home,
I collect around 30 nice, smooth river rocks
for lining the paths. A little extra weight-lifting
(whilst walking uphill) is never a bad thing
for my 62 year old arms.

While I'm doing all the work of smoothing
top soil, laying rock, sifting soil, pulling weeds,
I have music playing on my little bluetooth
speaker. It adds to the music of the birds
overhead, the bees in the lavender, and
the soft breezes coming down the valley.

The other day I even had live music as
I worked in the bright sun. I was pulling
weeds and all of a sudden I could hear the
 most uplifting voices of a male Welsh choir
 wafting through the air. Our cottage is
 just across from the Baptist chapel and 
the black hearse parked out in front of 
it told me the choir was singing
 their goodbyes to a friend and loved one.

The Welsh male voice choir in part,
came literally out of the coal mines . . .

With every fibre of their being, they would commit to a sound that was both powerful and virile but yet moving and beautiful . . . Men who mostly did impossible physical jobs underground and who would never have expressed their emotions in words, felt no embarrassment in standing in front of hundreds of people and singing of their love, faith, joy and pain.           ~Tim Rhys-Evans

Later that day I received some heart-rending
and life-changing news of a death in our family.
Thankfully I was standing in our garden & had
 a little chair to sit down on when my knees gave
out. The flowers around me acted as scaffolding
 for my heart and they silently watched my tears.
I sat on our garden bench until long after dark,
as the full moon came up, the white of the
daisies helping to light the shadows.

Nothing retains its form;
new shapes from old. 
 Nature, the great inventor, 
ceaselessly contrives. 
 In all creation, be assured,
 there is no death – no death, 
but only change and innovation; 
what we men call birth is
 but a different new beginning; 
death is but to cease to be the same. 
 Perhaps this may have moved to that, 
and that to this, yet still the 
sum of things remains the same.
~ Ovid, Metamorphosis

There can be no better place to contemplate
death, and always with it then, Life, than in
a garden. Ancient wisdom literature often
uses the Garden as the image for beginnings
and endings. The image of the Garden of Eden,
where the relationship of creator and creature
is acted out on a verdant stage. The image of
Jesus meeting Mary in a garden, Eden being
reborn when morning has broken.

I am fully and intensely aware
 that plants are conscious of
 love and respond to it as 
they do to nothing else. 
~ Celia Thaxter

Just about a week after our family's crushing death,
Stuart and I attended a gaudy (a celebratory dinner)
at Linacre College, Oxford. We had been invited as
special guests in honour of Stuart's father who was
the college bursar for many years. The evening 
began in the college garden where we dedicated
a newly planted tree to him, and then spread some
of his ashes. Afterward, standing out in the 
garden still, there were many shared memories
that were a balm to Stuart and his brother's hearts.

We also dedicated this garden bench to their dad.
It's on our way home from our University Parks
walk, so a perfect way to stop and say hello.
(That's Stuart & I on the left.)
   Nevertheless, it means much
 to have loved, 
To have been happy, 
to have laid my hand on 
The living Garden,
 even for one day. 
~ Jorge Luis Borges,
 Adam Cast Forth

And things come full circle in a garden.
My father-in-law always had a lovely
garden and those remain my best 
memories of him. It's only fitting then
that a few of his vintage stone pots
now have a place in our Welsh garden.
I think he would have liked that very much.

There is a little plant called reverence in
the corner of my soul's garden, which
 I love to have watered once a week.
~ Oliver Wendell Holmes

And now with summer well under way, I know how my garden & my days here will take shape. Just like with any other garden or life, the days are filled with lessons of death and blossoming, with moments of peace along with moments that come like a quick thunderstorm. But through it all, and in every day, the present moment is the only one that speaks and hold sway. As Erwin Schrodinger and his cat came to know, there is only our present moment and if we want peace or beauty or joy, we have only to look to what is present. Spring has come and gone, autumn has yet to be, but right now it's the fullness of summer and in the words of Jesus, that is sufficient unto the day.

For eternally and always there is only
one now, one and the same now; the
present is the only thing that has no end.
~ Erwin Schrodinger

Friday, 22 June 2018

Summer Still Life

And with that one day of the year,
when the sun shines on us the longest,
starts streaming through the windows.

Geraniums, soft curtains and
a gentle breeze . . .
a still life of summer.

With a few flowers in my {window},
 half a dozen pictures & some books, 
I live without envy.
~ Lope de Vega

. . . and so begins my first summer
in our cottage in Wales. Contentment,
peace & grace in abundance.

Monday, 18 June 2018

More Messing About in Punts

A river seems a magic thing. 
A magic, moving, living part 
of the very earth itself. 
~ Laura Gilpin

The Cherwell, tributary of the Thames

What is summer for, if not
 for row, row, rowing your
 boat gently up the stream? 
Especially in Oxford, in
which case it would be
poling your punt 
gently up the river.

Being on a boat that's moving
 through the water, it's so clear. 
Everything falls into place in 
terms of what's important 
and what's not.
~ James Taylor

Punting is a perfectly romantic
pastime for couples, and a quiet
time-out together for families. 

I choose to listen to the river for a while, 
thinking river thoughts,
 before joining the night and the stars.
~ Edward Abbey

A punt is a long, low, flat boat and
is propelled by a pole pushed off
from the back of the boat. It takes
no small amount of skill to pole a
punt, using the pole as a rudder and
trying to stay clear of getting 
it stuck in the river mud.

The sea, the great unifier,
 is man's only hope. 
Now, as never before, 
the old phrase has a literal meaning: 
we are all in the same boat. 
~  Jacques Yves Cousteau

Punts can be rented at Magdalen Bridge,
Oxford. You can either have someone punt
you or you can go it alone, but word to the
wise, most novice punters end up spending 
a lot of time sideways and in the shrubbery
 that lines the river.

Summer is the time when one sheds one’s tensions with one’s clothes, and the right kind of day is jeweled balm for the battered spirit. A few of those days and you can become drunk with the belief that all’s right with the world.
               ~Ada Louise Huxtable

What makes a river so restful to 
people is that it doesn't have any doubt . . .
It is sure to get where it is going,
 and it doesn't want to go anywhere else.
~ Hal Boyle

Punting the Cherwell River
along Christ Church Meadow,

Peace I ask of thee, 
o River Peace, peace, peace 
When I learn to live serenely 
Cares will cease. 
From the hills 
I gather courage 
Visions of the days to be
 Strength to lead and faith to follow
 All are given unto me Peace
 I ask of thee,
 o River Peace, peace, peace.
~ American Camp Song

Rivers know this: 
There is no hurry,
 we shall get there some day.
~ A.A. Milne,
Winnie the Pooh

When breezes are soft and skies are fair,
 I steal an hour from study and care, 
And hide me away to the woodland scene, 
Where wanders the stream 
with waters of green . . .

. . . Where the sons of strife
are subtle and loud
I often come to this quiet place,
 To breathe the airs that ruffle thy face, 
And gaze upon thee in silent dream,
 For in thy lonely and lovely stream
 An Image of that clam life appears
 That won my heart in my greener years.
~ William Cullen Bryant,
 'Green River'
 in Poems of Nature

Summer afternoon,
summer afternoon; 
to me those have always
 been the two most beautiful
 words in the English language.
~ Henry James

Stuart and I do our punting from the
Cherwell Boathouse, just off the
Banbury Road in Oxford.

It's a perfect way to spend a quiet evening
together or a fun afternoon with friends.
We pick up our punt at the boathouse and
punt down to the Victoria Arms pub in
Old Marston,
for food & drink & more drink . . .

. . .  and then we punt
back under Stuart's capable care. By the
time we get back to the boathouse and land,
 we feel so languid and relaxed, it's almost hard
 to walk for awhile. It might have something to 
do with the ciders consumed, but who's counting.

There's nothing . . . 
absolutely nothing . . . 
half so much worth doing as
 simply messing around in boats.
~ Kenneth Grahame, 
The Wind in the Willows
(River Rat to Mole)

Messing about in boats . . .
one of the very best things
about an Oxford summer!

Tuesday, 12 June 2018

The Pause That Refreshes

I searched up and down the earth — 
and found it in my own soul.
 I implored heaven and hell —
 and the field daisies answered me.
 ~Muriel Strode (1875–1964), 
My Little Book of Prayer, 1904

After the 2106 elections and the reports of how much it had influenced both the U.S. election and the Brexit referendum, I deleted all of my Facebook accounts, both the personal and the business accounts. Then this year, after growing weary of the numbing sameness of Instagram, I deleted that account as well. It got to the point where if I saw one more latte or muffin or someone's breakfast, I felt like my head would explode. After awhile, all the scrolling through photo after random photo looked the same. Since then I've never once regretted deleting those accounts.

Over the past year I have kept active on Twitter, but even that account is going to be deactivated for at least a month. Perhaps just a quick pause to refresh my senses & soul, or after that time, it may go the way of all my other social media, and all the 1s and the 0s chronicling my life will be permanently deleted. 

If a tree falls in the woods 
and it's not
posted on social media,
did it really happen?
~ Me

In part, what's happened on social media seems as though people who don't even know you feel they're entitled to have expectations about who you are or what you believe. There's also the false sense of entitlement to information about you. Other than to our close family and friends, we owe nothing of ourselves to anyone who isn't personally invested in our everyday life. What I've found is that if you give even a small part of yourself away, boundaries can blur for people very quickly and social media interaction can become instantly ominous. People must be blocked or muted. Now where's the fun in that?

Soon silence will have passed into legend. Man has turned his back on silence. Day after day he invents machines and devices that increase noise and distract humanity from the essence of life, contemplation, meditation... tooting, howling, screeching, booming, crashing, whistling, grinding, and trilling bolster his ego. His anxiety subsides. His inhuman void spreads monstrously like a gray vegetation.    ~ Jean Arp

*And as a disclaimer: The bottom line is that this about my experience only

It does not and should not diminish anyone else's experience of what they choose to do with their time and energy. For instance, people love sharing food photos, which is fine. I do it myself when it's in the context of joy, fun, friendship, celebration. For me though, all the random sharing of the vast quantities of food we consume in the west, only reminds me of the people who have food only because they foraged it from the garbage dumps outside Nairobi, or begged for it on the streets of Calcutta or Sao Paulo. 

**Further disclamer: But that's just me. And I choose to not participate in it. 

Sharing a celebration that involves food and togetherness is one thing, I repeat--I do it myself, but the constant drone of "here's the massive plate of food I'm eating and paying more for than what a person in Zimbabwe makes in a year," I'm just not interested in. For me it only accentuates the chasm between the haves and have-nots in the world, between the over-fed and the barely-fed. And I'll add after a few reactions to this blog on Twitter last night, this isn't judgement on someone else's choices, it's only about how it feels to me, how I'm wired. And guess what several Twitter person(s)? I get to feel that way and it has nothing to do with you, which proves my point about social media in the first place.

Anyone, anywhere can look up and see a beautiful cloud, a colourful sky, a full moon; can see the smile of a small child, or a speck of hopeful beauty in the midst of their perhaps difficult life. That's the gift of creation to us. It's pure Grace, there for all, like the rays of the sun. That's the kind of grace I like to share publicly.

I do realise I live in two extraordinarily beautiful places, Oxford and Wales, but even when I lived in Yakima, Washington where trust me, no one moves for the beauty, I managed to find beauty every, single day. The deep blue of the sky, the clouds over the Cascade foothills, or the way the air smelled after a thunderstorm. Moments of grace, available to all.

A little oasis of beauty I created 
in the not-always-beautiful
Yakima, Washington.

So even though I may be moving away from social media, I'll still be experiencing moments of beauty all through the day, still photographing what I see and love. I don't write in a journal or a diary, I take pictures. At the end of the day I go through them all, think about my day, think of what I learned, where I found meaning, when I laughed, when I felt sad. Not being on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter won't change that one iota--in fact it may even make it better, deepen my days being away from the shallow chatter of the world of Twitfacetagram. I'll be less present in that world but more present in my own . . .

. . . taking a pause that refreshes.

I love to write and I love to photograph my world, and that I'll continue to do. And when the spirit moves me, continue share it here. In the meantime, it's time to batten down the hatches for awhile and move further up and further in to the real and present world around me, because in the end the Present Moment is all we really ever have.

Solitude is a silent storm that
breaks down all our dead
 branches; yet it sends our 
living roots deeper into the
 living heart of the living earth. 
~ Kahlil Gibran