a place of repose and inexhaustible beauty

On a brisk afternoon last November, I drove to the post office to mail a package. Walking back to my car, I spied a sycamore leaf on the sidewalk. Scooping it up, I examined its interesting form and delicate coloration. The leaf was something most passersby would likely overlook. To me, it was a botanical specimen, its unique shape rendered all the more interesting in juxtaposition to the angular stretch of sidewalk on which it rested. I ferried my little treasure home, traced its outline on paper, cut out the shape, and added it to my growing collection of leaf templates.

I began collecting leaf samples in the autumn of 2014, reasoning that someday I would enjoy having the outlines of real leaves to use in some future sewing or art project. My interest in leaf shapes over the past few years has made me develop a true reverence for them. The more closely I study the intricacies of nature, the more I’m enthralled. I think this has always been true of me. Nature whispers my name and bids me draw close, and closer still…

Because I wanted to preserve late autumn loveliness, I decided to design hand-beaded leaf ornaments as Christmas gifts for our children. Happy with the concept, I wandered around our property, plucking leaf-jewels from the grass, considering which kind of leaf would make the most fitting gift for each child.

A stalwart symbol of fortitude, a white oak leaf was my immediate choice for our youngest daughter, who moved far from home last August. The white oak is not only the state tree of Illinois, it’s also a reminder of our home, which nestles on a hillside heavily populated with oaks of various kind.

A red serviceberry leaf was my choice for our son and his wife. Like the white oak, the serviceberry is native to Illinois. When our future daughter-in-law first visited us in April of 2011, she and our son posed for a photo beneath the white-blossomed boughs of our serviceberry, an airy tree that forms a lacy canopy over our garden arbor bench.

I selected a yellow river birch leaf for our oldest daughter. While the river birch isn’t native to Illinois, it’s certainly a familiar icon of home. When our family moved to this house, we planted a river birch that has become the focal point of our front yard. Also, although many miles and state lines divide us, we and our oldest daughter both live beside the Mississippi. Because a deep flowing river connects her to us, a river birch leaf seemed just the right choice.

These hand-beaded leaves, traced from actual leaves gathered from around our property, were my favorite Christmas offerings to our far-flung children. I hope these small tokens of love will remind them of our strong family roots and encourage them to be attentive to nature’s loveliness…

*****

My family and I redesigned our Christmas tree this year. We left in boxes the baubles of previous decades and invented a new, woodland tree. At the top, we hung a simple star of braided straw, and a graceful papier-mâché bird with outstretched wing. We tucked among the branches a fox, a deer, a raccoon, a pair of winter-white wrens, a glistening acorn. There was a delicate sprinkling of wooden stars, and a quiet cascade of wooden snowflakes. Gone, the bright-beaded garland of yesteryear. In its place, the soft glow of undulating gold ribbon, gleaming like late summer sun on the Mississippi…

 

 

 

Before Christmas dinner, my loved ones clasped hands beside the sparkling tree. All heads bowed to hear once again the familiar words of my mother’s lovely Christmas benediction. I read the words aloud for the first time without tears… Ours was a sweet, simple, natural, joyful, meaningful Christmas. I’ll cherish its memory always.

*****

All too quickly, the holidays have come and gone. Our beloved children are back once again in their respective cities. As I write, freezing rain taps at the window. Glancing up, I notice our metal peace dove. She hangs from a prominent bough in our Japanese maple. With a coating of ice on her wings, the dove teeters precariously, just as peace seems to teeter in this uncertain world.

Braving the icy onslaught, our peace dove maintains a resolute southward gaze, as if focusing her vision on warmth, kindness, light, growth, renewal. In her beak she holds something precious: a leaf! It makes me smile… Her wings are spread wide, inviting me to rise with her above the heaviness of the fabricated world and soar free in the true one.

My true world is the real world: the world of nature –a place of repose and inexhaustible beauty where all are welcomed home.

 

 

Postscript: For those of you who enjoy reading my occasional musings, I apologize for posting them so infrequently. Since 2015, I’ve been studying embroidery, which has equipped me with a fascinating new means of expressing myself. I’m happy as can be with my needle in hand, but embroidering more has meant that I’m writing here less. I still have things to say, however, so stay tuned! If you’d care to connect with me on Instagram, I maintain a regular presence there. My account carries the same name as this blog: mypathwithstarsbestrewn .

My best wishes to all for a beautiful, nature-filled 2018! xo

Fling wide the door

It’s the last day of 2015, a simple, peaceful day here. As I write, our woods are white with snow; each tree wears an elegant poet’s sleeve or high frilled collar bedazzled with ice crystals. No wind stirs, and apart from the non-stop activity of furry and feathered visitors who frequent our feeders, the world seems hushed and still.

With two surgeries behind me now and one yet ahead to repair the ankle I shattered in my tumble down a dewy riverbank last October, all my days have been rather hushed and still, quiet and contemplative. Having no other choice than to sit quietly in a cast, ankle elevated, might seem a hardship – particularly this evening, when people will assemble at private soirees and other festive gatherings to pay tribute to the New Year. But not so for me. It’s my nature to be contemplative and my preference to ring in a quiet New Year at home.

A year ago, I posted A snow globe of memories, a loving look back to what Christmas was like for me as a little girl growing up in the early 1960’s. Since I’ve time on my hands and nowhere special to be, perhaps you’ll indulge my urge to reach for my snow globe and give it just one more gentle shake. . .

ANV 1963

A photo of me, circa 1963, fresh from a hot bath and ready to lounge by the fire.

It’s the last day of the old year… I am four or five, maybe six. (In this memory, I’m stitching together several years of a similar experience.) Fresh from a steamy hot bath, I lounge on my stomach by the fire in a flannel nightgown and a long, cozy robe, turning the pages of my new storybook or coloring with my latest box of Crayolas. Oak logs hiss and pop on the heavy, black wrought iron grate. I glance up often to feel the heat touch my face and to study the undulating greens and purples and white-hot blues that animate the heart of red-orange flame.

Daddy sits at the piano, playing selections from Rodgers and Hammerstein or Rodgers and Hart; Momma rustles about in the kitchen, putting away pots and pans from our evening meal; our calico kitty, Cleo, slides a friendly tail along my shoulder as she passes by on her way to curl up for a long winter’s nap beneath the Christmas tree. I watch her for a moment, then return to my book or my coloring, feeling happy, safe, and snug.

Quiet minutes tick by until Momma tells me it’s bedtime. Tonight, I know this means it’s time for our New Year’s Eve ritual. I jump up from my spot by the fire and walk with her through the kitchen to our back door with its bright crystal handle. Momma says, “Go ahead, open it! Let the old year out, and don’t forget to tell it goodbye!”

With a grin, I tug on the handle. “Goodbye, old year, goodbye!” I call, flinging wide the door. My small voice rings out over the frozen hills. The two of us, Momma and I, stand in the chill night air, gaze up into starlit skies, or perhaps an amethyst sky dotted with fast-whirling snowflakes. The night is so close, so perfect and still, I feel I might reach out and capture a star of my own to keep forever – a star of snow, or a star from heaven.

I’m too young to feel wistful about the onslaught of time. What I feel is a sense of peace, of reverence, a sense of kindly hospitality and courtliness, squiring the old year to the door as an honored, departing guest and bidding it a fond farewell.

In the morning as soon as I stir, Momma rustles me out of bed and down the winding stairs to our front door. She allows me the privilege of opening the white wooden door with its shiny brass handle to invite the New Year in. My New Year doesn’t officially begin until I pull open the big door to let the bright morning air sting my cheeks with pinpricks of cold and wild wondrous possibility. I feel elated, fresh and new, aflutter with all the good things that must surely be on their way. How I adore the prospect of a brand new year, what a thrill it is to swing the door wide to welcome it…

Momma sleeps now beneath the winter snows, but it’s only her body that sleeps. Her wise, blithe spirit lives with me still, and the lessons she taught me at New Year remain.

Fling wide the door

Maybe we all need to stand at our own back door to bid goodbye to what is passing, to stand a while and remember, to gaze out over the geography of our lives and allow peace to settle there, soft around our memories as flakes of sparkling snow. Maybe we should keep our old year company, then allow it the freedom to fade off into the distance, knowing we can keep what is precious and let go what is not.

Perhaps, after a good night’s rest, we can find it within ourselves to go with a child’s openness to the front door and tug it open to welcome a new day, a new year, a new now, fresh with the free air of what-might-be…

It’s there, now, in peace, in acceptance, in stillness – this moment, this life. Hold tight to sweet memories: they are yours to keep. And whatever you need to let go of, whatever you choose to let into your life, may today be the day to fling wide the door.

*******************************************************************************

Today marks the second anniversary of this small blog of mine. It scared me nearly out of my wits to begin, in part because I didn’t yet know you, my wonderful friends and readers, were out here in the ether, ready to welcome me. Having had two lovely years to form deep and lasting friendships with many of you, I cannot now imagine a time when you were not a part of my life. Thank you for being here with me in this quiet space, sharing thoughts and dreams, walking this star-strewn path. I so appreciate the gift of your presence.

A happy, blessed New Year to you, my friends, and much love. x o x o

~Amy

 

Filigree and scrollwork

0017_Ice feathers

Jeff recently captured this exquisite photograph of ice feathers, which are delicate structures of ice crystals. These ice feathers graced the branches of our neighbor’s dogwood shrub, where steam wafting from a dryer vent met subzero temperatures. When Jeff shared this photo with me, I was reminded of Annie Dillard’s lovely words:

The texture of the world, 

its filigree and scrollwork,

means that there is a possibility for beauty here,

a beauty inexhaustible in its complexity,

which opens to my knock . . . .

~Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

February 1st: cold and clear

0016_February 1st

February 1st: cold and clear. I slip outside at sunset to watch the winter sky ignite. My quiet step scatters fresh-fallen snow, and I stand at the crest of our hill, warmed to my marrow by a brilliant ember of sun. The cold is profound, and the show-shrouded woods are held in suspended stillness. All at once, a nearby snort, and the sound of hooves. From beneath the motherly refuge of a white pine’s low-limbed skirts, four young deer scramble to their feet and bound a brisk distance uphill. They pause to regard me with soft, dark eyes and lowered heads, ears swiveled, poised to flee, wild hearts beating, trees on fire. For a moment, we observe one another. Then the deer slip single file into the blue-black shadow of the far hill. Before they vanish, I capture a quick photo. The deer are indistinct, the encounter undimmed.

On this cold winter’s night, here’s to love

0013_On this cold winter's night, here's to love

Weather report: a blizzard is howling across the midwest tonight, sending ferocious blasts of icy north winds to obscure roadways, issue cases of frostbite, shake houses, claw at windows. The storm is expected to dissipate a few hours before dawn, but the mercury will continue to plummet, forcing a new round of school closings and community cancellations, temporarily locking everyone and everything in a deep freeze.

Jeff stepped outside in the darkness with his camera a few hours ago to capture this minute-long exposure of our storm-tossed woods. What fierce majesty resides in the forces of nature, what severe beauty chisels winter’s austere face.

Snuggled under a fleecy blanket tonight, I offer prayers for all those impacted by the storms of life – people and creatures alike – prayers for all who are lost in the chaos of weather or circumstance. Before I retire, I’m warming this winter evening with a calming passage from Katrina Kenison’s recent, heartfelt memoir, Magical Journey:

Our best, most human answer to loss is love: love that we carry forward with every act of kindness, generosity, and worship. Love that dismantles barriers. Love that heals. Love that is not something we do but that is revealed instead as who we really are.

When I’m wakeful with worries about the well-being of those I love or those impacted by events I have no control over, it’s good to reminded that love has the power to fill in every gap. On this cold winter’s night, here’s to love – the beautiful force that somehow manages to supersede anything nature can conjure.