love gathered softly to place in her hands

love gathered softly to place in her hands

It’s spring again, miraculous spring. Every street in town is lined with flowering dogwood, crab, pear – everywhere, boughs are in riotous bloom. In my gardens, something new unfurls daily. The woods are awash with wildflowers, and all along the driveway, violets gem the grass…

For me each year, the first violets of spring bear on fragile stems the weight of perennial tenderness. I stoop down to hook a finger beneath a bowed purple head. As I study the contour of this familiar face, I’m amazed by the power one simple flower wields over my heart and mind…

From the time I was old enough to toddle off to woods’ edge, I kept my mother in fresh-picked wildflowers. The first bouquets I carried home to her each spring always included several long-stemmed wood violets. One year, when I was seven or eight, Momma sent me off to the woods on a special mission to select only the choicest violets. I returned with dozens of flawless specimens. Together, we washed the flowers, a delicate task. We shook them gently dry and arranged them on clean white dish towels, taking care not to bend or bruise any petals. We snipped blossoms from stems. Then, after using tiny brushes to paint the flowers with a wash of egg whites and water, we sprinkled each one with a shower of sugar crystals.

Later, the house filled with the aroma of angel food cake pulled fresh from the oven. When it cooled, Momma frosted it with a white sugar glaze into which she pressed a pattern of sweet sugared violets. It was simply a vision, that cake, and young though I was, I was limp with the romance of a cake covered in violets…. (Alas, no photos were snapped of that eye-popping confection, but in my heart’s album, it glistens on a page all its own.)

Twenty years of violets bloomed and faded…

Then came a day like no other, a day I could never have imagined when I was a child wandering among the wildflowers – the day I held a newborn flower in my arms, a blossom fresh-plucked from heaven: our first child, our sweet Margaret, a precious baby girl newly home from the hospital, bathed and swaddled and dressed in a long white hand-smocked gown Momma had made for her. Margaret was just a day or two old when I looked from her face into Momma’s eyes and said, “I so look forward to all her firsts – her first smile, her first words, her first steps…”

My gentle mother had more poetic firsts in mind for her granddaughter. She said softly, so softly I barely could hear, “Imagine showing Margaret her first violet, her first star. . .” Momma looked at me, yet somehow right through me as the words fell from her lips. For a heartbeat or two, time stood still for me, just as it does when I chance to read a line of perfect poetry: the words ring and resonate – beautiful, mysterious, fleeting, bells in the wind…

When the snows of winter melted away to reveal Margaret’s first spring, I showed her her first violet with deep emotion. I showed her her first star. Sang her every beautiful song I knew, read her every good book I could find, pointed her toward every lovely thing I could think of, filled her days with as much beauty and poetry and joy and mystery as I could – love gathered softly to place in her hands, like the wildflowers I carried to Momma so many years ago…

As Mother’s Day nears, I have asked myself, what does it mean to mother another soul, to nurture another life? I believe it is to pluck from one’s surroundings the good things, the beautiful, the eternal, the true, and place them in another heart, like a bouquet of violets.

the old cottonwood speaks

FarmTree

I have not stood upon earth half as long as this aged tree. Has it any wisdom, then, to lend me? As questions find form, I suspend them unuttered in the hush of twilight.

Sensing my need, the old cottonwood speaks:

Child, you are built to withstand the storm, whether flood or drought, hail or heat, tempest or lightning strike, blizzard or blight.

Youth fades, illusions wither and fall away. But what is essential remains.

When at last you stand in simplicity, in stillness, empty arms upraised, you, too, can embrace the infinite.

I shall not pass this way again

0208_there is a way

I expect to pass through life but once.
If, therefore, there be any kindness I can show,
or any good thing I can do to any fellow human being,
let me do it now and not defer or neglect it,
as I shall not pass this way again.

~William Penn, (1644- 1718)

the rhythms that are at the heart of life

0196_the rhythms that are at the heart of life

The autumnal equinox is still a few weeks away, but everywhere, nature’s little signposts indicate change is coming: a fall-like coolness nips the morning air; squirrels and chipmunks hoard the season’s first acorns; seed pods unfurl; my garden’s last blossoms –toad lilies, sweet autumn clematis– are poised for their brief debut; the sky’s a deeper, more poignant shade of blue; lengthening shadows lace the lawn; cicadas and katydids sound the growing season’s waning hour; I instinctively reach for a sweater.

Even at its earliest edges, the turning of the year toward autumn is palpable. I grow thoughtful, more introspective. More than at any other time of year, I’m aware of the passage of time. Crickets chirp in the long grasses. I think of those I love – of our children, grown and gone to lives of their own; I weave together fragments of smiles and hugs and the remembered laughter of dear ones I’ve lost, hang new wreaths to their memory in my heart.

As I grow through the seasons of my life, I learn again and again to acquiesce, to love with an open hand, to release my need to hold on to a moment. I learn to accept change, mindful of the beauty of all that is fleeting, thankful for the blessings that, I know, are yet to come.

A gust of wind sends a maple leaf twirling to the ground; as it comes to rest along my path, I’m reminded of these words:

Summer ends, and Autumn comes,
and he who would have it otherwise
would have high tide always
and a full moon every night;
and thus he would never know
the rhythms that are at the heart of life.

~Hal Borland, (1900 – 1978) 

petals to cushion the hard places

Those of you who have been following this blog for any length of time know that nature is my primary focus. The flora and fauna that inhabit my gardens and populate nearby fields, woods, and waterways are not only the focal point of my lens, they are also my teachers. I absorb many spiritual lessons while observing the quiet examples nature unfurls before me.

Some people claim to have a spirit animal – a creature who, for them, embodies certain inspirational qualities or characteristics. I don’t have a spirit animal, but I do have a few spirit flowers. And one of my special favorites is sweet alyssum. I’ve long identified sweet alyssum as the poster child (as it were) for resilience. Each year, when autumn’s first frost descends, it lays waste the garden – impatiens and begonias crumple, other fair blossoms faint dead away. But not sweet alyssum. While the flowers around her keel over, she holds her head up, spreads ruffled skirts to the cold, and enchants the air with her sweet perfume. I’ve often thought to myself that I wish I could be as plucky as sweet alyssum when adversity comes to call .

0194-petals to sweeten the hard places

This spring, a seedling of sweet alyssum took root, of all places, in a thimbleful of poor, pebbly soil between the sidewalk and the storm drain in our turnaround. While pulling weeds in early May, I spied the little pioneer, sighed and shook my head at her unfortunate location, and left her to grow. And grow, she did. All summer I watched, with a combination of amazement and admiration, the development of this unlikely little plant.

This sweet alyssum is not only resilient, she’s brave. She isn’t luxuriating in a soft garden bed with others of her kind. She’s out there on her own, quite literally between a rock and a hard place. And she isn’t just eking out an existence under harsh conditions. She’s actually thriving – her leaves are supple and verdant, her blossoms number as the stars. If you look closely along the storm drain, you’ll see a sprinkling of her tiny, white petals; these represent acts of compassion to me, kindnesses falling soft as petals to cushion the hard places.

Perhaps it’s unusual to emulate a flower, but I do. I want to be just like this little sweet alyssum – someone who faces hardship and blossoms anyway; someone who remains sweet in spite of difficult circumstances; someone who scatters petals of kindness to ease the path; someone who not only can survive life’s losses and challenges, but can grow through these experiences with grace and beauty.

It’s just a simple little flower blooming by a storm drain in our turnaround, something most people would never notice or think twice about. But this flower has given me a new example of what it means to be strong.

 

a pattern of my own choosing

0192_a pattern of my own choosing

While rummaging around in the old hand-painted storage chest that houses my collection of fabric, embroidery floss, and pattern books, I unearthed a piece of unfinished embroidery I began designing years ago. I imagine I set the project aside to work on making a gift for someone else – a Christmas ornament, perhaps. Life got busier, days dissolved into years, and I forgot all about this half-finished patchwork until I unrolled it and held it again in my hands. I was surprised by the prettiness of the intricate patterns I devoted my time to years ago. I thought to myself, it’s funny how the process of creating a work of art –whether it’s stitched or composed or painted or sculpted or written– can be so much like life: when you’re deep in the middle, you can get so close to it, become so accustomed to its contours, or so annoyed by distractions, or dejected by your mistakes, that you can’t see it clearly anymore; you can forget how beautiful it is.

The embroidery I used to create this piece is called blackwork. Blackwork, which was at its zenith in the days of Henry VIII, was worked with black silk thread on white linen to create patterns that mimicked lace. Only the wealthy could afford to wear costly laces at that time, so those who desired the look of lace and were deft with a needle worked to transform strips of linen into lacy, expensive-looking collars, cuffs, and sleeves. Here’s a photo to illustrate how blackwork looked in its heyday:

0192_wiki image of blackwork

[Photo credit: Wikipedia]

Although the patterns in blackwork appear complex, they’re actually easy to stitch. Each design is created by outlining a shape with a running stitch, then by sewing one simple, straight stitch after another to form a pattern.

I run my finger over my own tiny stitches and meditate on this unfinished piece of blackwork. The flight of years, the joys, sorrows, sunlight, and shadows through which I’ve passed have made me view this piece differently now than I did when I began it. These stitches have moved from something merely decorative towards something more metaphorical.

I examine the varied patterns. Some are delicate and spare, others are heavy and intense; some step forward with warmth and presence, others are cool and recede. How very like people these patterned squares are; each one is unique, and beautiful, and connected to the others around it. What a diverse, yet harmonious, gathering this is…

You might care to guess which square is my favorite.

I’ll tell you: it’s the unfinished one.

0192_a pattern of my own choosing, closeup

Why? Because it holds possibilities. It’s not too late to go back and begin again with a brand new color, or even an entirely different pattern. Just as in life, it’s not too late to change, and that’s what I find appealing.

However, I’m content with the color and pattern I’ve chosen, so now, all I must do is take up my needle again. It’s been a long time, but I know how to do this, of course I do! Just as in life, I can move forward at any time with a pattern of my own choosing.

How do I begin? It’s simple, really: day by day, moment to moment, breath by breath, stitch by stitch.

Just look at this beautiful work of art I’m creating.

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(This is the second in a 5-day Photo/Story Challenge series. I was nominated to this challenge by Kristine, a wonderful writer and friend who blogs regularly at candidkay.)