The ever-marvelous Celi, she of the sustainably-farmed wonders at The Kitchens Garden, challenged all of us to share what we see from our back porch, patio, stoop, door, window or patch of land, and the images pouring in have been a delight. Each so different, each from some other far-flung locale around the globe–but each seen from the home turf of a person joined together in this fantastic community of blogging and readership that makes the otherwise disparate styles and locations seem we are all next door neighbors. What a superb thing, to shrink the world down to a size that can easily fit into a single embrace!So I give you a glimpse of what I see behind my home, too. Our house is situated on a city lot (about the typical suburban US standard of 50 x 100 feet), but it feels both less like a suburban place and much bigger because it backs on an easement, a small ravine for rain run-off and city/county service access. The ravine’s seldom wet (this is, after all, Texas) or used for services, so it’s mainly a tree-filled wild spot and a refuge for local birds, flora, insects, and an assortment of critters that have at various times included not only squirrels and raccoons but also rabbits, opossums, armadillos, deer, foxes, coyotes and bobcats. There have certainly been, along with the delightful bluejays and cardinals and wrens and chickadees, doves, grackles, hummingbirds and killdeers and all of those sorts of small-to mid-sized birds, plenty of hawks and vultures and, I suspect (since I know others not so far from here who have had visits from them) wild turkeys, though I’ve not seen the latter.What I have seen recently that is infrequent if not rare, is some very welcome rain pouring down on us here, so I’m showing you slightly uncommon backyard views today. The second picture is taken from our raised patio, but the first is the view as I most commonly see it: through the kitchen window, where I can stand safely out of the lightning’s reach (as on the day shown) and more comfortably in air-conditioned splendor than in the 90-105ºF (32-40ºC) we experience so often here. Believe me when I tell you that the intense green of this scene as shown is rather unusual for this time of year, when we would more often have much more brown and bedraggled plants all around us. But we also have the luxury of a sprinkler system, so if the ravine begins to droop in dry hot weather, we’re generally protected from terrible fire danger and can still be an inviting spot for the local wildlife to take its ease. To that end, and because I generally prefer the beauties of the more native and wild kinds of landscapes to the glories of the manicured, I have my new wildflower swath in place and it’s just beginning to show a variety of the flowers and grasses I’ve planted there; seen to the left of the grey gravel path in the second picture, it stretches from the patio all the way back to the ravine.
Chew on this: vegetables, especially raw vegetables, make for great relief from the heavier stuff in a meal. I’m not fond of some vegetables raw, and I know I’m far from alone in this, but most of the ones that are mild, sweet and/or snappingly crunchy are a pleasure and a refreshment in mid-meal. Their textural and flavorful contrast with the rest of the dishes are a delectable addition to the repast, and the big bonus is, of course, that many vegetables are, gasp!, actually pretty good for me.
Add some fruit and you have yet more opportunities for variety and full, fanciful flavors, a slew of great, vibrant colors, freshness and coolness, more vitamins and other such great stuff. Whatever you do, it doesn’t have to be complicated; in fact, it’s often best to leave things uncomplicated. Just enjoy the simple foods. Chomp, chomp. Yummy.
Shred together raw carrots and an equal amount of sweet apples like a Honeycrisp, Gala, Braeburn or Fuji. Mince up some candied ginger and candied mandarin peel. Dress the mix with lemon juice and honey. Toss in a goodly sprinkle each of brown mustard seeds and black sesame seeds. Since I served this with an Indian dinner, I suppose the sesame seeds could well have been ‘black cumin’ or ‘onion seeds’–those Nigella sativa seeds often used as seasoning in delicious Indian foods. But golly, the sesame seeds were just fine and dandy. A snippet or two of fresh cilantro or mint might be a great addition as well. Aw, you already know that there are endless options, don’t you.Where’s Waldorf? Salad
I’ve always liked the celery-apple combination in good old Waldorf Salad. So why not a version with celery root, I ask you. Since celeriac is a little bit of a tough vegetable, I think the traditional Waldorf presentation would be a bit like an apple salad with small chunks of wood in it. So when I made this salad I shredded the peeled celeriac. Then it seemed like I was headed in a slaw-like direction (anybody sense a theme in my salads?), so I left the peel on the apple I added to this one, too. Besides, being shredded as well, the crisp Granny Smith apple brought some nice bright color. I kept this one monochromatic but went for good juicy flavors, using the juice and zest of half a lime, lots of honey, a little pinch of salt, and a dollop of mayonnaise. For a slightly more Waldorf-like touch but nice brighter color, instead of raisins I’d add (and might, with the second day’s batch of the salad) diced dried apricots. Celery leaf is a logical garnish, but lacking that, I used simple flat-leaf parsley for its similar look and strong, snappy taste.
Though he may well have sprung from the roots of ancient earthbound deities, the Green Man remains alive and well and, at this season, inhabits garden and woodland alike, filling sun and shadow with his mischievous magicks. And this presence is a very welcome thing indeed. Few things can compare with the appearance of those tender sprouts, however miniscule and vulnerable, that bring new signs of life to the winter’s loamy floor, unfurl their banners on the tiniest twig of the smallest shrub. The mere sight of one small tip of leaf can bring an upsurge of life to the dormant veins of even a hardened person who’s waited through the dark and chill for newness to arrive.
Did the long freeze of January kill that little sapling that I found? No, here’s the faint, alluring swelling of a bud, the blushing edge of a leaflet, soon to open wide in exuberant yellow-green shouts of Spring. Has the ice of the short days and long, long nights wholly buried and killed my favorite herb, both branch and root? No, I see a hairline stripe of promising verdure in the bony bark of its woody little stem. Life is a bold, determined act, and with its brazen call brings out the denizens of Earth, first the bud and then the bloom, one small broken seed shooting out a multitude of growing things at the conjuring wave of the Green Man’s hand. Like him, I cannot help but grin when the world begins again to wake in leafy laughter.
There is, of course, one overriding, excellent reason that Ireland should celebrate the remembrance of her patron saint with a vivid display of everything-green. Ireland is the Emerald Isle. I’m not Irish, but I suppose I can pretend to a certain level of affinity on the strength of two excellent reasons of my own, the first being that my Viking ancestors (if any of my Norse forebears were actually so intrepid and aggressive) had a pretty good chance of crossing paths somewhere along the line with their counterparts in the British Isles, Norwegians having gone on various exploratory and marauding forays in that direction. My patronymic (Wold), after all, sounds suspiciously more Anglo than Nordic to me, no matter how many in Norway do share the name.
The second and far kindlier tie I feel to Ireland is because I was born in the Emerald City (Seattle’s nickname) in the Evergreen State (Washington’s), surrounded by every known flavor of green and a few yet undiscovered, and I think it was anything but coincidental that on my one visit to Ireland thus far I felt remarkably at home even in the middle of the winter, when the chill and snow still couldn’t entirely subdue the exquisite greenness of the land. It may not have hurt this sense of connection that some of the locals on that trip asked me what part of Ireland I came from, given that my accent apparently wasn’t heard by them as being wildly different from some in the UK. In any event, as green and growing things resonate so deeply in my heart and soul, I can’t help but celebrate the beauty of Green while millions are wearing, spending, planting and drinking it, and otherwise rejoicing in the character seen as protector of the great green land of Eire on this most Irish of days.Here in this Emerald Land
Because there is no sapling in the earth
But that springs out when water wakes its seed
And sunlight calls it up in urgent need,
I think the rain and sun of equal worth–
Yet all the riches of a blooming world
No greater shine than that most humble weed
Whose leaf invites the passing deer to feed
Because its banners, sweetly green, unfurled–
No flower can surpass, exotic bloom
Outdo green’s living beauty or exceed
Its life-affirming sweetness when we heed
The subtler potency of its perfume–
And so I bow my head, ecstatic–sing
I lived most of my life in northern climes. My childhood and many subsequent years spent in the Seattle area naturally color my view of nature and my connections with it, so even though I’ve spent the last four years putting roots down into Texan soil my inner imagery of the season of growth is of sprouts and blooms native to alpine, temperate, rainforest and coastal territory. I appreciate and admire the vast and varied beauties of this wildly different terrain that is my new home, and my heart still resonates joyfully when it comes to those northwest marvels of green and gorgeous living things as well. I don’t think I’ll have to tell you which region inspired these two poems.
The drawings, though, could be a bit more nearly universal. Dandelions, in particular–I can’t think of many places I’ve visited so far that didn’t have a substantial contingent of that sunny little weed blossom. I hardly ever see their smiling faces without thinking of the adorable little enthusiast next door who peered over our fence and, seeing my mother pulling dandelions–and perhaps interpreting this as her enthusiasm for cultivating their charms–piped up to boast enthusiastically (much to her own mother’s chagrin): ‘we’ve got a MILLION of ‘em!’ In Return
Willingly as daffodils stretch out of the earth
At the first invitation of the sun,
So I come from the dark when my winter ends,
Turn my face up to the blessing sky,
And sigh at the promise of the spearing green
Arising by my feet, even if the icicles
Have not yet
Melted wholly away.
Amid the muffling drifts of downy snow
That draw the pearly winter sky down low
To kiss the earth once more in early spring
Are sparkling spears of palest glimmering
Green newness, first to show upon the white
And break the slope of frosted winter light
Uncurling soon to show the youthful face
Of spring’s renewal in this sleeping place
If still surrounded by the icy pale
Wild woolliness bedecking hill and vale—
The snow, though mighty, cannot fully stanch
The burst of springtime’s sparkling avalanche
A necessary understanding of the importance of imagination in my life turns the very idea of coming in for a landing on its proverbial ear. Not, I assure you, in the sense of making a crash landing, my dears. It’s simply that the exquisite security and comfort of realizing it’s time to let my imagination take over, rather than inviting me to curl up and suck my thumb in a cozy fetal position as though my project is a fait accompli, makes me eager to take to the skies. Quelle surprise! Here am I, lazybones extraordinaire, looking with pleasure upon the prospect of digging in to work with a passion.In the meantime, it’s a joy when the creative juices begin to flow. The laws of physics have taught me, as has long experience, that a body in motion tends to stay in motion. In like manner, a spirit dancing the glorious dance of invention tends to build up steam and grow increasingly hungry for further invention. Boredom and lassitude and dull deconstruction have no place in the middle of the rushing river; everyone to the oars and full speed ahead!Just as bad attitudes and actions tend to lead to more of their like, an awakening of the creative urge can spur an upsurge of yet more desire for innovation and art. The muse is a hungry creature. A ravenous creature. Mother of invention that she is, I think perhaps her middle initial is ‘&’. I hope I can be a good acolyte, if not precisely her child. It feels so good to move forward and upward, to fly.
Along with all of the other, perfectly legitimate and obvious, reasons that I celebrate every year when I am remembering the arrival of my next-younger sister on her birthday–the first one remembered mostly anecdotally given my tender years on the occasion, and all of the subsequent ones fitting days for delighting in the gifts with which her continued presence graces me and all of her circle of influence so consistently–I rejoice in the greater sense of appreciation for nature that she has given me.She is something of a bouquet herself. Indeed, she is beautiful in the way of pretty things throughout nature, and also filled with liveliness and energy and purpose and growth that inspire me and amaze me regularly. I look on her as an enhancement of the world a little like a human bloom in its garden, unfolding each day and year with new surprises and joys that reinforce the very image of goodness in life.In a more concrete way, with her love of the outdoors and its grand presents, pleasures and promises she has taught me and continues to teach me to appreciate the natural world as well. As much as our garden-genie mother shared her love of interacting with the created spaces in nature and even getting outdoors appreciatively on day hikes, in parks and on strolls wherever we could, the number-three sister in our quartet has given me yet greater love and sympathy for the breadth and depth of possibility in all those realms of nature and more. I will never keep up with my sister’s skill and prowess when it comes to being physically ‘outdoorsy’ as athlete, gardener or explorer, but every time I step out any door into the untrammeled world, I do and will see much of it as a living bouquet paying tribute in return to one of nature’s loveliest flowers.Happy birthday, my dear sister, and I send you these little pictures and words in token of my love that spans from your first blooming in the world to the end of my seasons.
Where callas leapt into the day from darker places and made play
Of turning winter into spring full suddenly, the single thing
That was most lovely in that place, that clearing full of sweetness, grace
And peaceful calm, was that the birds alighting there, beyond all words
And dreams of nature, sat quite still and quiet, and a subtle thrill
Of magic held the place in thrall–as if amid a concert hall
The orchestra fell silent, yet their silver melodies still set
The air a-quiver, pulsing, live with such wild music as to thrive
Beyond its moment and to sing whether the birds sat or took wing–
The butterflies that came around this glade of gladness also found
It fit to sit rather than fly and flit about the gleaming sky,
And set their wings to capture sun rather than race about and run,
Their painted beauty neatly limned as though tall ships in port had trimmed
Their sails to rest and find surcease in this most gracious bay of peace–
And yet, the clearing’s finest gift was that no butterfly would lift
A wing disturbing stillness there, nor bird stir up the hovering air,
Nor even angel choose to float aloft, disturbing the remote
And pleasant sense of such remove as was existent in that grove–
All this to say, though all could rise and wing their way about the skies,
Each visitor the clearing drew found on arriving that she knew
It was a place whose joy and mirth might make her leap up from the earth,
Yet with serenity so blessed she chose instead to lie at rest,
By flight’s exertions not be led, but letting souls fly high instead.