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A Gardener’s Musings in Winter

February 16, 2024

A Gardener’s Musings in Winter

I.

Fallow ground rests below earth-toned rocks,
bare, brown hydrangea branches stretch tall,
a few hearty geranium leaves cling to woody stems,
the bluebird box is vacant,
only the greens of paddle cacti and elephant ears,
the passing shadows of brown house sparrows,
mock the cold, the wind that lifts sand, an abrasive shiver.

It is said that the meek shall inherit the earth
so I cultivate patience in this winter pause
waiting for nature’s signs
that it is time to sow, and seed, and feed,
not rushing to break the season’s silence
with the arrogant noise of one who thinks
she is the force in charge of growing.

Instead,
I wait and dream of
spring days, the return of
tousled blue hydrangeas,
buoyant red geraniums and
eastern bluebirds building, nesting
and filling my space with their joyful song.

II.

And then, in the garden shop
on a faux-spring February day,
I see them,
blushing petals, coral-pink,
hugging a butter yellow center
full of juicy promise, these strawberry plants
ready to rehome, someplace outside my door.

There are herbs
oregano, sage, and thyme
heady with earthy scent and
lime green lettuce leaves
delicate and tender
promising flavor in sauces and salads
shared with family and friends.

So I buy them all
these harbingers of bounty
and beauty and the dutiful work of
digging in the dirt
when true spring arrives
with soft rain, sunny skies
and the promise of never being completely finished.

For one’s health, it is very necessary to work in the garden and see the flowers growing.” Vincent Van Gogh


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A Word for 2024

January 16, 2024

A Word for 2024

Listen is my one word “spirit guide” for this year. Since I believe in the power of words this was not an easy choice for me. I know that words may console or hurt, open or close doors, heal or injure, cause laughter, tears, joy, or pain, and change lives. Words also have an eternal quality and once used can never really be taken back. This is a good reason to take time before using words in any format; and was one reason I took my time choosing listen as my word.

I wanted the word I chose to serve me well in any situation I am presented with this year. I weeded out some strong words that felt too limiting or specific- trust, create, transform, courage, and balance – were a few of those. Instead I chose the word listen because in comparison to other words I considered listen seems softer, more neutral, and more inclusive to me.

Active listening requires a quiet and fully engaged mind. This takes effort for me because my mind buzzes and wanders with abandon. Still, when I remind myself to listen, the noise and wandering mute and slow down. I pay closer attention to the world around me, to my inner conversations and to those conversations I share with others. The word listen sets an intention that helps me be present in important moments so they don’t pass by unnoticed. I figure it this way: if I listen I learn; if I learn I grow; and growth is cause for celebration at the end of a year or really anytime.

Note: The painting posted with this journal entry was completed in a workshop where I repeatedly used my word, listen, to refocus and engage with the teacher rather than with the distractions around me. I really heard the instructions and applied them as directed. Consequently, I learned more than I ever thought possible in a four hour workshop and completed a small still life I love. Thank you, Darcy Melton, a wonderful artist and teacher.


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Plums

November 6, 2023

Plums

What more can be said of plums?

Seductive fruits,
Crisp purple-black skin the color of night,
Soft yellow-red flesh the color of dawn,
An astringent, sweet bite
That quenches and cools and puckers.

What more can be said of plums?


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In October

October 16, 2023

In October

Painted with jewel tones,
scented with wood-smoke
and pine,
this cusp month
yields long yellow days to
even longer indigo nights,
and delights
with an urgent beauty
that is nature in October.


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Mingling Past with Present

September 14, 2023

Mingling Past with Present

For me, the most important moments in life are often unplanned, personal interactions. I remember such a moment I shared with my infant daughter and recount that memory in the following poem. I painted the portrait attached to this journal entry, from a selfie my daughter took recently and shared with me. I used the selfie photo because I have no photo of the baby my daughter was at the moment described in the poem. Connecting the memory with the painting mixes the past and present in what I hope is a realistic and meaningful way.

She Laughed

A giggle really,
chubby legs and arms waving,
toothless, wet smile playing
on her lips, in her eyes.
That first time took me by surprise,
forever changed
a forgettable moment
of mundane motherly chores,
changing clothes and diaper
after her morning nap,
into one sweet memory
filled with attachment, closeness, joy.
The giggle split the moment
into a before and after
I remember like this:

Before she laughs:
nothing remarkable,
nothing to share,
gray.

After she laughs:
late morning sun warms,
gold,
early summer-scented breeze cools,
green,
I feel happy.
Then I laugh, too.


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TJ, Face of a Rescue

August 9, 2023

TJ, Face of a Rescue

He seems wise for his age like he had to learn, earlier than most puppies would, a thing or two about survival. He is a large dog, not quite a year old, who sometimes behaves like the puppy he is and other times like the old man he will become one day. He was chosen for his new life because the owners he shared his old life with no longer wanted him, and his new owners had space for another dog, another family member in their pack. They found him on Craig’s list “free to a good home” and fell in love with his beautiful face and soulful eyes.

So the new family drove to another state, picked him up, and brought him home with them along with his worms, parasitic skin rash, and skinny frame. TJ’s physical needs were the easy fix, requiring proper food and a few vet visits for diagnosis and treatment. His fear and shyness are a different story; emotional needs that will take more time and attention to improve. Only consistent and unconditional patience, love, and kindness will heal TJ’s emotional scars, and help him learn to trust his new family and to feel safe in his new home.

TJ is learning a few new rules so he can live amicably with the others in his new family pack. The new family pack is also learning a few important lessons. With TJ, days and nights are different in mainly pleasant, sometimes unexpected ways. As TJ ages into his toddlerhood he, like any toddler needs frequent correction and a liberal use of the word no. TJ and his new pack are growing in tolerance and understanding of one another everyday. Because TJ is loved, he loves in return with hugs, and licks, and a deep desire to please. TJ is a rescue dog whose owners now understand that rescuing is a two way street; and that love often arrives on four paws.


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Art and Garden: The Border

July 11, 2023

Art and Garden: The Border

Artists and gardeners are creative risk takers. They will try to fill an empty space with grace and beauty no matter how small or large that space is. Starting with intention, gardeners and artists choose what they will create, how they will create it, and what story it will tell. They forge something new, unique and tangible into existence by manipulating shapes, colors, light, shadow, textures, and lines.

I am an artist and gardener. Inside my home studio I paint, draw, and write. I garden inside and outside my home. I recognize similarities in the creative processes of making art and gardens. At start, they both share an intimidating blank space. Once marked, the space is informed as a center of creation. When I am deep in that center, I focus on making ephemeral ideas concrete in a gradual process of change and modification. In the end, when only finishing touches are needed, I look at what I’ve done with satisfaction and actual wonder.

During the scorching month of June this year, I spent many morning hours sculpting a border outside the wrought iron fence enclosing my backyard. I wanted my border to provide an engaging, graceful, and seemingly effortless barrier. So to these ends I shaped the border with rocks, plants, glass, shells and the occasional garden ornament. My work was wearying. It required intense concentration of heart, mind, and hands. By the end of each morning’s labor, I was sweaty, overheated, sore and dirty, clothes and exposed skin streaked with earth. Still, when I would step back, to appraise my work-product from a panoramic distance, (just like I step back from a canvas) I felt pleased. If from the new viewpoint I noticed anything that needed tweaking, I’d make the change quickly and then walk away knowing I’d continue my efforts the next morning with renewed attention.

Essentially, I was hardscaping. Hardscaping is hard work; and using muscles I’d forgotten I had, I hauled pounds of individual rocks, bagged rocks, stones, pebbles, and plants from streetside to backyard. I took great care not to drop the bigger, heavier rocks for fear of breaking their smooth, curvaceous heft into smaller, sharper fragments. I dug out sod, added new plants and snaked the rocks and shells in a loose pattern around a few plants already thriving in the area. I wanted the border to appear casual but grounded, fluid but solid. Within the border, close-to-the-ground bird baths describe my love of birds; and a few carefully chosen garden ornaments evoke a sense of serenity.

As I worked from the North end to the South end of the fence a plan emerged much like one does when I start a painting. One rock placement, like one brushstroke, led to another until shapes emerged and I started spilling and piling stones, prompted by an unseen source of creative confidence. When I started the border I attended to the sizes and shapes of the rock groups. At this early stage colors and shades of stones were less important than their placement. Placement was essential for constructing the illusion of languid movement that was my intention from the start. Color would be my finishing touch.

Color was necessary to mimic a cool, shallow stream of water wending its way through the center of my rocky border to somewhere even colder and deeper. The watery illusion was contrived by quenching the center of my border with blue-green sea glass. I scattered the glass sparingly in some spots and more amply in others to imitate the narrowing and widening of water as it sluices through spaces between rocks and roots. The color is exactly right; it works. The glass, my imaginary water, looks lovely in the sun as well as in the shade.

The suggestion of water is perfect because it is hot outside my home on a small island off the Southeast Coast of Georgia where summer ignites and humidity climbs. I and my garden bask and bake in heat’s grasp and need water to slake a thirst felt in skin and bones and roots. Water surrounds my island. It flows through creeks and rivers into the Atlantic ocean. That is the journey I visualize for my constructed water made of glass. While real moving water would bubble and gurgle on its way to the sea, water sounds in my border are made by birds splashing in birdbaths. Birds sing as they flit about the border from plant to branch or rock.

This garden work is finished; the space is filled; and I am satisfied with the result. I like what I’ve created. Nothing needs to be refined. The new border is a charming replacement for a once rather unattractive space. I’ve created an unexpected addition to my garden area that rewards my creative risk taking everytime I water the plants, hear the birds, or just observe the border and all its elements from afar.


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Let’s Cheer for Carnations

June 16, 2023

Let’s Cheer for Carnations

Do you know that florists do not sell carnations because they are not considered to be “premium” flowers? I didn’t know that until I tried to buy carnations from a local florist. He told me, a little imperiously, “No we don’t sell them; they aren’t premium flowers.” Hmmm. All kinds of gaudy and loud “stuff” packed every surface in every corner of said florist’s shop. If I wanted to I could buy figurines, paper products, linens, candles, and artificial flowers of all sizes, shapes, colors, and types but I could not buy a carnation. I am sure the flower arrangements being feverishly created in the back room would not contain carnations either. However, those arrangements in all their “premium” glory could include a shiny bauble, paper napkin, or any other tchotchke as decoration.

I love carnations. They are inexpensive, quietly beautiful, and humble. Carnations grow in a plethora of colors (all with different symbolic meanings) that are appropriate for so many moods, messages, and occasions. The scent of carnations mixes the aromas of clean air, starched linen, and vanilla together in a most pleasant way. With ruffled petals, carnations look like they are ready to dance and yet they are never raucous or ostentatious. Carnations are sturdy, even vigorous, standing tall days after other cut flowers droop and fade in quiet defeat.

Here are some carnation facts I learned from a variety of sources. Carnations are the second most popular flowers ordered online. Only roses are ordered more often than carnations. Carnations, properly called dianthus, are the flower for the month of January. The word dianthus is derived from a combination of Greek words, dios the Greek name for the god Zeus, and anthos the Greek word for flower. Dianthus means divine flower. I ask you, how can a divine flower not be a premium flower when its name promises something lovely and beatific?

Let’s talk a little about Zeus who lent his name to the genus, Dianthus. Zeus was the most powerful god in Greek mythology. He was the king of the gods, ruling all the other gods as well as humans. Zeus governed the sky with thunder, lightning, clouds, rain, and winds. In fact the thunderbolt was Zeus’s weapon of choice which he used to strike down his enemies. This is quite a prodigious lineage for one of my favorite little flowers; and one considered too lowly by my local florist to sell in his shop.

Should I go back and share some of this information with the florist? Do you think he might change his mind about carnations or do you think flower snobbery is an immutable flaw? I think I’ll just be a quiet champion of carnations and enjoy their beauty whenever I can. I’ll let Zeus take care of the florist who perhaps should be extra careful the next time he is out in a booming Southern summer thunderstorm.


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Because I Have To

May 11, 2023

Because I Have To

A writer whose work I enjoy and whose opinion I value, asked me why I had written the poem, An Afternoon in Darien, about an interaction I’d had with a feral kitten, rather than writing a prose piece. The question gave me pause. It prompted my thinking specifically about the poem and generally about how in my writings and paintings I focus on moments rather than on the big pictures in which the moments live. In both mediums, I try to tell small stories; snapshots of the meaningful happening inside a much bigger, but more peripheral, context. My stories describe connections because to me they matter more than all the noise around them. I believe that even in momentary, wordless connections, volumes of emotion can be shared and change is possible.

Identifying connections is one thing. Another is rendering them succinctly and yet vividly enough for the reader/observer to really experience the moment. How do I capture the gold nugget using words and/or paints to hone it even further and make it shine within its circumstance? How do I describe any interaction using keystrokes or brushstrokes to lay bare relevance? I try to do this by choosing my tools and my perspective very carefully; avoiding using, what I consider, random, irrelevant words, colors or marks when I work. My method involves whittling down the rich palette of tools available to me until I’ve chosen the ones that best invoke the story I want to tell. As with all things that matter, this is never an easy task; and while it is an effort that often eludes me it is also one that rarely fails to reward me.

By way of an example, here’s what happened recently at an estate sale which I went to because art supplies were listed as some of the items offered. I walked through the house out into an art studio that smelled musty and was truly packed with art supplies as advertised. The big picture included canvases, storage bins, paints, easels, drawing pads and pencils, clay pieces, brushes, frames and other sundries that find their way into an artist’s studio. The snapshot within that bigger picture was an old, stained, wood storage box with one rusted hinge keeping the lid from closing. Dried oil paint and linseed oil scented the box. It held some worn and ancient tubes of paint squeezed into contorted shapes by the hands of the artist who used them. I wanted the box. I wanted the box not just for itself but more importantly for the connection it gave me to the artist who once-upon-a-time used it and the contents within it. The box is a conduit between me and someone I will never meet but with whom I share a need to create.

The woman running the estate sale blathered on about the artist whose house I was in and whose supplies I might buy. I pretended to listen. My husband blathered on about the box and its contents being no better than trash. I didn’t even pretend to listen to his criticism. Instead, I fingered the paint tubes and imagined where in my own studio I might place the box. I wondered if any of the paints were still usable. I thought about how I’d just decided to give my acrylic paints a rest and to start painting with oils again. Finding the box and the paints linked me to the artist and, if any of the paints are usable, will link the artist in a tangible way to something I paint.

The box and its contents inspired a connection. Describing that is only limited by my skill to choose words and colors that give life to what resides in my imagination. It is my imagination that will galvanize any creative works that substantiate the moment when a simple artist’s tool box stopped me and made me really look. I will paint the moment on canvas and write about it in a poem; or maybe this time the words in this prose piece are enough.

And one last share? Maybe I have taken a circuitous route to answer the question that started all this pondering because the answer might just simply be “because I have to”. All creatives express themselves through their creations first and then put the end results out into the world for others to respond to and appreciate with their senses, minds, and hearts. How the artist/writer sees the world can not be separated from what is created. Afterall, all art is personal first before it is universal.

I’d like to finish with this quote from Richard Price. The quote speaks to me of the importance of finding the kernel of human connection inside the larger story because for me it is that kernel that makes a difference. Price said: “The bigger the issue, the smaller you write. Remember that. You don’t write about the horrors of war. No. You write about a kid’s burnt socks lying on the road. You pick the smallest manageable part of the big thing, and you work off the resonance.” Richard Price


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Cabbage Roses

April 13, 2023

Cabbage Roses

Through memories
that comfort or sting,
writing across continents and time,
years open,
conjuring old angels and demons.
Intrepid,
follow the meandering path
that leads to harsh truth,
(or is it illusion?), and
coaxes raw beauty
out of the ugly bruise.
Dare to explore
in that house
in that time
in that room,
where
pink cabbage roses,
climb the walls,
an optimistic blush
inside the mind’s eye.
Imagine,
their sweet scent
lingering,
coaxing fresh air into
the too dank past.

How The Poem, Cabbage Roses, Came To Be

Memories are elusive and unreliable. They can be crystal clear; but often they are murky, blending together into a confusing assemblage of questionable events. Memoir is an attempt to put the truth of any memory on paper so the memory can be shared with others. Yet to lay bare the memory in written form means some aspects of the writing have to be fiction. I believe this is true because none of us is capable of remembering everything but we are all capable of remembering snippets of everything.

What triggers memory? Sights, scents, smells, the experience of deja vu, and reading or listening to the memories of others arouse memories in me. I marvel at how the emotions conjured by memories are so universally human. I started thinking about all of this after listening to a writer read a small part of her larger memoir. While her actual memory was particular only to her, I recognized the emotional continuum passed by memories from person to person. I felt those emotions and recognized the truth in the tale. In the poem, Cabbage Roses, I try to expose those common threads of emotion and truth.


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