Recently I was in Lyon, France, and got to stay in the lovely apartment of a friend in the old part of the city. The ground floor was built in the Middle Ages; consecutive floors were built during the Renaissance. The stones surrounding the doors and windows bear the identifying mark of the stone cutter. Hundreds of years of human history amidst these walls; thousands of years more are layered beneath them.
I painted this tiny sketch of the view from the kitchen (fifth floor), and left it with the key.
The migratory birds have joined the year-round residents, and the air is just zooming with bird busy-ness—courting rituals, nest-building, voracious feeding. And the songs! Cooing, burbling, chirping, chipping, liquid trilling, honking, quacking. All you in the northern hemisphere, go outside to watch and listen!
This is the week of the paschal moon, the first full moon following the spring equinox. Its brilliance startled me, shining through the stark branches of a snag. The tree may be dead, but it is full of life nonetheless. Easter is coming.
I like what Claude Monet accomplished in his paintings of snow, so I decided to spend some time with his “Effete de Neige à Giverny.” The painting is in our art museum now—a wonderful opportunity for me to study it. Gray-white, blue-white, lavender-white, white-white.
Then I came home and began to paint this copy of it. Slowly, quietly, just barely brushing any color onto the paper. Like snow falling.
Of course I don’t claim this painting as my own. The point is to learn from another painter, and this is one of the best ways. As I painted I felt the cold, and the lack of central heating in that farm house (where the inhabitants do not feel the lack, because no such thing exists yet). I trudged into that grove of trees beyond the buildings, I shoveled snow to get into the barn.
Right after I painted this, we got more snow at one time than I have ever experienced in my 40 years in this coastal climate. It looked like this. Trees broke under the weight of the sodden snow, power lines ruptured, people were without electricity for days.
I apologize. I only wanted to follow Monet through the snow!
My days have been consumed in care-giving. Seeing a loved one struggle is just so hard. Worry gnaws, weariness wears.
I dragged myself out for a walk by the pond. I stopped when I saw a Great Blue Heron hunkered on a log. Shortly the bird straightened up—I thought it was going to leave because of me—then it took wing, but flew low, dragging its feet in the water’s surface and plowing with its great open bill until it snatched the frog it had spotted. The heron wheeled up into the air in one fluid arc, the frog kicking in protest as it was carried right into a sky it had never experienced in its earth-bound life.
I was gobsmacked.
Never before had I seen a heron actually catch something. I had expected its quarry to be a fish; seeing the kicking legs that looked all too human, I felt a sudden despair for the frog that I wouldn’t have felt for a fish. Herons have long been a favorite of mine—their elegance in flight always takes my breath away. But this glimpse of life in the act of living was too close to what was in my days, that near possibility of a loved one making an ascension away from all of us.
Poet Mary Oliver recently made that ascent herself. Perhaps it is as she wrote, “the secret name of every death is life again.”
Peace on earth, good will.
We bury the 41st President of the United States this week. Let us not also bury decency, dignity, and the concept of the greater good. Those are qualities that he espoused, and we are sorely lacking such in the racket of our current uncivil discourse.
I sometimes disagreed with Mr. Bush’s choices during his presidency. No matter; he set an example of service and citizenship. We can choose to re-shoulder that challenge of civil discourse—and by “civil” I don’t mean mere political correctness. I mean vigorous, robust, muscular discourse, with an eye to what is good in each other.
Take up that staff and start the climb.
“I fear that he who walks over these fields a century hence will not know the pleasure of knocking off wild apples. Ah, poor man, there are many pleasures which he will not know.” —from Wild Apples, by Henry David Thoreau, 1862
This is one of my favorite November surprises, every year: the leaves are nearly gone, but many of the wild apple trees in the woods still hold their fruit. Some wild apples are good to eat; others are, as Thoreau described, “sour, crabbed, and quite unpalatable to the civilized taste.” However, if “frozen while sound, let a warmer sun come to thaw them, for they are extremely sensitive to its rays, are found to be filled with a rich, sweet cider…and your jaws are the cider-press.”
I am more than a century hence, and I might just give that a try.
This, right now, is the week when the ash trees along the creek are brilliant yellow against the company of firs and pines.
Right now. Autumn is about “right now”— everything is changing moment to moment. Don’t wait. Be in it while it’s here. Inhale it, revel in it. Yes, I have hoses to bring in, last tomatoes to gather, last chance outdoor work to do; but simply being in autumn’s color is a vital part of preparing myself for winter. Right now.
Blackberries are a scourge in western Oregon, really hard to get rid of. They spread over the top of other plants and crush or smother them. They spread (and spread and spread) from their roots and re-root where their branch tips touch the ground. Birds can spread the berries over long distances. (Do you notice the repeated word “spread?”) Their barbed thorns are absolutely vicious.
But oh, come late summer, those berries! Juicy sweet and warm with sun, eaten right from the vine—no other fruit tastes so purple!