Showing posts with label nature. Show all posts
Showing posts with label nature. Show all posts

Saturday, August 3, 2013

A Discovery of Garlic

It is finally August.  The air is thick with late summer humidity, the drone of cicadas and crickets, the smell of lavender, thunder storms and dry grass; the sun is at its strongest, its most radiant.  I've been out tending to my bit of earth and weeding as much I can around the side of the house where the roses are riding out the heat.  I have what you might call a greenish thumb: gardens enchant me and I'd like to plan and sculpt and keep a garden someday when my situation is a little more permanent.  Until that day, I am enjoy the garden as a place of discovery and endless musing.  This is good exercise for the writer's brain.

One such discovery this week was that of wild garlic clusters growing up where the irises are situated on the south side of the house.  Granted, in the few years I've lived here I'd always wondered what those white pod-looking things were but always tore them out in an effort to maintain order and never once thought to compare the shape to the typical bulb you buy in the produce aisle... or put it my mouth and bite down.  I was thrilled when that taste burst across my tongue, and I instantly had the thought that if this was some post-apocalyptic world, a discovery of garlic might just be a gold mine.  I wonder what Katniss Everdeen would trade for wild garlic.

These little garlics aren't single bulbs, but a little bundle of tiny kernels - exactly the size of popping corn.

Wild garlic kernels bursting from their pouch.
This discovery sparked to life old memories of similar finds from childhood.  My parents had green thumbs and hands when I was growing up: vegetables from tomatoes to squash to accidental corn; and wide variety of roses, flowering bushes and our own little patch of annuals (bachelor's buttons, zinnias, marigolds) we little ones took pride in.  My parents would use mint and basil and chives from the garden, and once in a while when Dad was doing his autumn-time chipper-shredding, a wild onion would accidentally wind up in the chipping pile and get into his eyes.  Once, I found a little patch of wild strawberries once growing cozily alongside the roses.  I remember my little heart jumping for joy when I saw those little red berries - and they tasted so sweet - different from the ones you buy in the store. 

The little strawberries made me think of the wild blueberries my sister and I discovered behind our relatives' cottage in Maine.  The cottage was a rustic little house - no air conditioning, antique furniture, a tide clock (which impressed me; everything about coastal Maine, tide pools and sea creatures fascinates a child who grew up in Nebraska) and the smell of saltwater and sand.  I first tasted saltwater taffy in this place, and perhaps even my first lobster.  I remember scores of family members - sadly many, many of them gone - crowding into that house.  And then the blueberries.  We were told not to eat the berries, but we went out when no one was looking and gorged ourselves.  Mom must have noticed it smeared on our faces or something because she flipped out: she thought we were eating the poisonous red berries from the bushes that separated the cottage from the neighboring plot.  Until we were caught, it was heaven.  Years later, we returned for a visit to find the cottage torn down and replaced with a snazzier, fancier, air-conditioned house. The blueberries were gone.  It was almost as if I'd dreamt them.

I think it was the idea that you could grow food in your own backyard that thrilled me.  Your own berries!  Your own tomatoes!  Your own herbs!  My father's parents had two or three apple trees.  I remember helping to pick apples and put them in baskets, and how the baskets were shaped: bucket-like with wooden slats.  Gramma would make pies and applesauce.  And I have the strangest recollection of being told to be careful of worms.  Papa would peel the apples with a knife, which I thought was strange because Dad had a special apple-peeling device with a crank that seemed to make it so much easier.  When the apple trees died, we played on the empty stumps until they were finally pulled out.  Gone were our apple adventures and the climbing posts.  Gramma and Papa's yard seemed so empty without them.

This love of fruit and veg thriving in the garden is still alive in me.  I maintain tomatoes, peppers and beans with my roommate. We are constantly fighting the weedy grape vines (that WON'T die no matter what we do to them) that have been blocking the sunlight from the tomatoes, and the "volunteer" trees that grow between the fences.  But there is something fulfilling in tending to these plants, deciding what stays or goes (if it's a pretty weed, it can stay), and discovering wild lilies or garlic... or finding that the violas, once bunny salad, have finally grown back and have flowered magnificently.  There is no greater joy than that.  

Gardens must be tended, but it's amazing what can grow on its own unnoticed in the shade, in the random corner of the yard, around the cedar tree, behind the shed... without having to be coddled, pruned or yanked out by the roots.  Writing is this way, too.  Sometimes you have to let it grow wild and rampant in order to see just what's in it. 

Bunny salad no more: my violas are finally thriving.

Saturday, April 6, 2013


Adventures in Logophilia, Day 196:


This adjective describes something that is of a golden color or brilliance or something that is marked by a grandiloquent and rhetorical style.  Nothing is more aureate in nature than an awesome sunrise, methinks... unless it's a work of prose rendered in sharp, simple, beautiful words.

Sunrise by Sean MacEntee

Monday, March 18, 2013

Ombrifuge etc

Adventures in Logophilia, Day 187:


Anything that provides shelter from the rain - from an enclosed porch to an umbrella to a gazebo.  Any word beginning with ombro- will relate to rain, as ombros is the Greek word for rain shower.  On this note, one of my other favorite rain words is ombrogenous which describes a bog or that icky stuff called peat which depends on large amounts of rain in order to form.  Spring is by nature ombrogenous

Rain,rain and more rain........

rain in scotland by Nicolas Valentin

Monday, November 26, 2012

Wending to Winter

We had flurries for the first time this season!  Granted, the snow managed to stick to only a few surfaces before melting away, but winter definitely gave us a taste of its power today.  I enjoyed the blustery winds (even though my ears were seriously too cold) and the crisp smell in the air.  I don't enjoy it because of the inevitable Christmas tones that are blaring from every radio in every store right now - Advent does not begin until Sunday, after all.  In fact, I find myself looking forward to winter with a wild enthusiasm: the mercy of a warm, cozy place to return to after a walk in the cold; projects to keep me busy; queries to send.  For some reason, I'm finding creative energy in the cold and musing on unexpected things.  And that, my friends, is a good sign.  I'm not saying that winter will be perfect this year (when is it ever?) but it is more than bearable.  Here are just a few reasons:

Snowflakes on autumn-purple leaves.

Snowflakes on autumn-crimson leaves.

Berries and limestone.

Cherries in macro.

Another snow-kissed plant.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Adventures in Logophilia Day 25: Frisson

Today's word is:

I am currently experiencing a frisson (noun, pronounced FREE-zon), which is a French term for a sudden strong feeling of excitement or fear, a thrill.  We are going on a whale watch today.  That's pretty thrilling, I'd say, for a girl from the prairie, who has seen more buffalo than whales in her lifetime.  Coming to the ocean itself is always a new experience, like being on the edge of the world and knowing there is an entirely new environment with new creatures out there to discover by catamaran, kayak or tourist boat.  I've seen dolphins off the Gulf Coast of Florida and patted sting rays in Boston.  There is nothing like this new-world thrill. 

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Adventures in Logophilia Day 8: Entropy (Jillian)

Today's word is...

Entropy (noun) is a degree of disorder in a system; an ultimate state of inert uniformity.

So... it is fairies, then? 

Michelle sent me a lovely card once with a quote from A. A. Milne, which has followed me around ever since.  He says, "One of the advantages of being disorderly is that one is constantly making exciting discoveries." This quote was accompanied by an illustration of an 18th century gentleman in an untidy office reading a book with a cup of tea and smiling in contentment. 

It was once explained to me that entropy is what happens when neglect to pick up your room.  I don't know if this was an elementary school science-y thing or what, but all I know is that I cannot come into my bedroom these days and attribute the clutter of neglect to anything but the entropy fairies.  This is how shoes wind up under the bed.  They're taken off and kicked aside.  Papers aren't tidied from a morning of blogging.  Over here is a plate that once held my breakfast.  Under this thing is a copy of Melville's "Bartleby the Scrivener" that I'd printed out 1 August, forgotten since then.  It's like finding a favorite shirt that you've wanted to wear for weeks deep under layers of laundry; it emerges from the wash in a fanfare. 

I think we whimsy hunters are like that, too, when we think about a nugget of knowledge and seek to find out more about it.  And the internet with its twitterings (I like that word better than tweets, by the way, I'm not just being silly), pinterest-ventures and facebookings, is Entropy itself.  You can find anything in that gargatuan sphere!  Anything!  From a tutorial on how to bind your own journals to timelines of the First World War to fan chat rooms for Doctor Who where fans hang out their windows and snap pictures of a Tardis that has magically appeared for filming in the neighborhood.  As intimidated as I am sometimes by the vastness of the internet and my comparative smallness, I know in general it can be a good thing. There are corners on the web to look in and poke about and find little seeds that will eventually grow to fill the garden beds of a story.

Happy hunting!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Adventures in Logophilia Day 7: Petrichor (Jillian)

Today's word is...

Petrichor (noun) is the smell given off by the first rain after a long dry spell. 

I apologize once more for my calligraphy.  That c is rather lopsided and it throws off the whole word. Ah, to err is human. 

Anyway... petrichor.  This harkens back to last season of Doctor Who, the episode written by Mr. Gaiman entitled "The Doctor's Wife."  Petrichor was part of the psychic door code on the TARDIS.   In order to open the door to one of the old control rooms, Amy must think of "the smell of dust after rain."  This is why I love Doctor Who.  And Mr. Gaiman's poetry-in-prose.

Oxford Dictionaries says this is a rather new construction from the 1960s.  Petro, meaning rock.  I gave it to a background character in my recent novel - back ground as in, he lived five hundred years before the characters did, but he founded an important abbey and he needed a last name, and petrichor for some reason was on the tip of my tongue.  No matter how old the word actually is, is a marriage of science with poetry.  I can't say why I'm drawn to words like petrichor and downwelling, except that perhaps these words point to simple but vivid descriptions of things that I would other wise find trouble putting into words.  They're also mysterious.  Did the scientist (I'm only assuming it was a scientist) who invented this word realize how it rolls off the tongue?  Perhaps he didn't know, but that leaves the door open for us.  Not to reinvent meaning, but to add dimensions and colours and shadows to it.  The smell of dust after rain could very easily become some legendary person's name, the name of a ship at sea or a new shade of blue.  The possibilities are endless.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Garden Metaphors for Writing (Jillian)

I've dabbled on and off with the curious magic that is gardening.  I say "dabble" because I could never quite accomplish the splendor and variety of my parents' garden growing up.  I've had dreams in recent years of planting roses and filling beds with flowers, but most of my successes seem to dwell with seeds in pots and little indoor projects.  Through this dabbling, I have learned a few things that have been astoundingly helpful in my writer's life.

  • Michelle once compared a novel I have been working on and struggling with to berry bushes.  This is a para-paraphrase of her lovely metaphor, but hopefully it works.  You plant berry bushes and they grow for a few years before they produce any fruit.  But the plant is still alive, still growing, still getting ready for that fruitfulness. 

  • Along the same lines, I've thought about seeds.  You have a seed.  You plant it in the ground or a vessel of some sort filled with soil.  You water it.  You put it in the sun.  Notice how it doesn't sprout up immediately.  For weeks you water the seemingly empty, fruitless pot of dirt.  The days pass and you wonder why nothing is growing, why nothing is beginning to show for all the effort.  And then at last, with enough patience, a little green shoot pushes up and into the open air.  Just when you'd given up hope.  The point of this is that you have to keep watering the little pot of dirt.  You can't see the plant yet, but it's there.  Same with writing.  Something may not be working.  A chapter or a scene might be stalling, but you never know what might be happening underneath the surface.  You have to keep watering it - or writing it - until it pokes up through the surface.  Never abandon it.

  • I also had an amarylis bulb, bought on clearance in January.  It already had a green shoot coming out of it, so I assumed it was ready to grow and blossom.  Nope.  I let it sit out for two months, and watered it.  It didn't grow.  I despaired and finally put it in the garage so I wouldn't have to look at it.  Fast forward to April, and I'm gathering pots and soil to grow violas, when I rediscover the amarylis, still sitting there.  On a whim, I pick it up, plunk it in a pot and forget it out side.  Two weeks later, I look out and see that it has shot up a foot and is sporting at least six bright red buds, all of which open to full glory for a month.  Yes, I abandoned the amarlysis, but it came back.  It proved me wrong, as these things tend to do.  You may think a piece of writing is dead when it only requires a little patience, a little time to be dormant, and a little love.

  • Violas.  The seeds are tiny.  The flowers are sweet and resilient.  I bought white ones on clearance last year and they grew till September.  This spring, I was excited to discover they had seeded themselves in the landscaping in front of the house - white faces thriving in lovely clusters in the wood chips and in cracks in the side walk.

  • I went wild with the idea that if little tough flowers could grow in between the cracks in the cement, like weeds do, they could grow in tinier vessels as well.  Hence, a thriving viola, grown from seeds (above) inside a glass votive holder and broken (and otherwise useless) tea cups, straightened by a paper clip, and sporting a blossom and two buds. 
So... if violas can grow in the cracks in the sidewalk, my ideas can thrive in unusual places.  I just have to be a little patient.  And try not plant too many seeds in one little jar. 

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Artist Date (Jillian)

I have begun to revive the practice of going on purposeful artist dates - just me, myself and I. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the concept, it is basically the act of taking yourself out to recharge your creative batteries - do something simple but stimulating and freeing.

This activity could range from venturing to the local craft store for modeling clay and spending an afternoon twisting it into shape. Or it could be spent trying to figure out a sewing machine. Or simply take a long, thoughtful walk. Last week, I watched a movie. This week on my day off, I decided to plant flowers in the pot on our front porch which until then had been occupied by a very dead geranium. "Enough is enough," I thought. "It's finally spring, and I have an artist's urge to do something!" Hence the violas and purple allysum you see below.

It was a nice little creative project to accomplish in one afternoon. I didn't go ahead and tackle the garden like I'm tempted to do, but I know that will follow. These little bursts here and there are nice bits of encouragement I've been able to give myself. And flowers, with their bursts of color, really do give hope for brighter days ahead. Nature is in our veins; creativity is our natural interaction with the world, so I am not going to apologize for smiling with pride on my little flowers every time I leave the house!

Apart from the neighborhood squirrels digging in the pot for non-existent acorns, I'm satisfied to call this a success!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Wolf II (Michelle)

Here is a picture of a wolf, perhaps more appropriate to the one Billy Collins is describing. Not a cartoon wolf, that is.

Wolf (Michelle)

I'm getting back into fairy tales --- I'm honestly never that far away anyway --- having just bought an anthology of essays by male writers on their favorite tales. This is a counterpart to Mirror, Mirror, On the Wall by women, which I read back in the fall.

And today I ran across a lovely poem by Billy Collins in my niece and nephew's poetry anthology (Poetry Speaks to Children) which got me thinking in fresh ways about the tales. No matter how much I think about fairy tales, there always seem to be new angles.


A wolf is reading a book of fairy tales.
The moon hangs over the forest, a lamp.

He is not assuming a human position,
say, cross-legged against a tree,
as he would in a cartoon.

This is a real wolf, standing on all fours,
his rich fur bristling in the night air,
his head bent over the book open on the ground.

He does not sit down for the words
would be too far away to be legible,
and it is with difficulty that he turns
each page with his nose and forepaws.

When he finishes the last tale
he lies down in pine needles.
He thinks about what he has read,
the stories passing over his mind
like the clouds crossing the moon.

A zigzag of wind shakes down hazelnuts.
The eyes of owls yellow in the branches.

By the way, if anyone knows where I can find a good computer wallpaper of classic fairy tale illustrations (Rackham, Dulac, etc.) please tell.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Birds (Michelle)

Pennsylvania has finally surrendered to spring, and the yard is full of dandelions, greenery, and birds. I watched six goldfinches jockeying for position in a flowering tree the other day, and I am trying to learn a few birdsongs. My sister and her children are embarrassingly good at identifying birdsongs --- while I'm still not entirely convinced that kildeer is even a bird, really.

So, spring is sprung, and it's appropriate to return to the subject of birds.

Here, Adam O'Riordan at the Guardian's books blog wonders why birds remain such powerful, fertile images.

Here, there are recordings of birdsongs. As a novelist, at least, I find that I am constantly in need of expanding my concrete knowledge of the world --- to describe not a tree, but an oak, a maple, an ash. Likewise, with birds --- who croaks, who warbles, who screams.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Botanical Inspiration (Maren)

As Spring approaches (oh, please say that Spring approaches!), my mind is turning more and more to garden planning. I keep turning over in my mind the different things I would like to plant this year, and it turns out that a lot of these have their inspiration in literature. I want to plant blackberry bushes because they appear in The Wind in the Willows. I want to plant feverfew because it appears in Dealing with Dragons. I want to plant lavender because Harriet Vane's potpurri smells of lavender in Busman's Honeymoon. Almost every plant imaginable has some significance in some work of literature, and is therefore tinged with meaning.

On the one hand, this meaning seems as if it must come from the work of literature, right? I mean, my response to feverfew very clearly comes from Dealing with Dragons. That's undeniable.

At the same time, however, does our response to roses come from the way they are used in literature, or does literature merely reflect the way we feel about roses? Would Beauty and the Beast speak to us in the same way if Beauty's father had picked a buttercup or a daisy? There is something serious and complex about a rose that makes the Beast's rage somehow comprehensible, even if we do not understand it.

In Hamlet, when Ophelia drowns under the willow tree, somehow this seems to make sense (and not just because willows grow near water). There is something melancholy about willows, beautiful as they are. Even The Wind in the Willows has something of this sadness in its nostalgic tone, as bright and playful a story as it is.

The role played by flora in literature illustrates a give and take between nature and art. The natural world and the artistic one each lend themselves to one another in such a way that a person can never be absolutely certain whether meaning is bestowed by art or whether it belonged, somehow, to nature in the first place.


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