Photography

Listening to Trees

Most years in my neighborhood, fall is something of an anticlimax, trees go from green to yellow to bare. This year has been a spectacular display of reds and oranges slowly overtaking tree after tree. One of the benefits of carpooling again is that I drive past the same trees on a near daily basis. I’ve watched the trees transform day to day. None of the trees in my own garden are the type to go fire red, but they are blushing this year in a way I’ve not seen for a while.

Apricot tree with leaves fading from pale green to yellow to a pale blushing orange-red

All this beauty on display because the trees are drawing energy to their core, dropping the leaves which would be too burdensome to sustain over the cold months to come. The trees are wise and know when to pull back and rest, when to hibernate until conditions change again. This is a lesson I could learn if I listened to trees. I could learn that I don’t always need to be pushing and growing, that there is beauty to be found in pulling back and letting some things fall away.

It is nice to be reveling in fall, in the leaves and their colors, instead of merely mourning the inevitable onset of winter darkness and cold. Perhaps this year I can find beauty in the cold as well.

A close up of apricot leaves that fade from pale green through yellow to an orange red. One of the leaves has holes where an insect has nibbled on it.

Befriending Blue Jays

We’ve had blue jays as visitors to our yard for years, but this year is unique. I think one of last year’s fledgling jays picked our yard for his home. Specifically, the pair of jays nested in this pine tree right next to our porch.

This has led to our cats watching out the front windows and the blue jays watching back.

So our house is filled with the sounds of jays yelling at cats while cats chitter at the jays. Even when neither is making noise they still keep an eye on each other.

It is hours of solid cat entertainment.

The jays are less concerned about humans. In fact they seem calmer if a human is in view along with the cats, as if they know that the humans will control the cats. However on the day when I was photographing flowers near the nesting tree, the jays expressed loud opinions.

They kept a close watch on me to make sure I wasn’t going to find their nest.

However it is also possible that the yelling was less about the nest and more because they wanted me to go get some peanuts for them. So I did that too.

Blue Jays are noisy, pushy, bossy birds. I like them and am happy to befriend this pair. Sometime in the next few weeks their babies will be ready to fly and then they’ll stop guarding my front porch so closely. I will be glad to have the yelling and chittering be a little less constant, but I also hope they still come and visit.

A Rainy Walk Through Thanksgiving Point Gardens

I almost didn’t go even though I had a ticket. I bought the ticket a month ago to assign myself to leave the house, but on that morning it was raining. Howard had to chivy me out the door. Thus I arrived for my meander along rainy paths, admiring growing things.

The gardens still require masks and everything is outdoors, so I felt safe from risk of pandemic infection, but I still found myself avoiding people where I could. Because of the rain there were far fewer people than usual, but it still felt like too many. I’m not sure why, but I always love displays with parasols or lanterns hanging over the trail. They lift my spirits and make me feel like I’m flying too.

With my own umbrella, I felt an even greater-than-usual kinship with the parasols bobbing in the wind. Though I was definitely a raven to their bright songbirds.

The Koi were completely unbothered by the rain.

The geese were also unfazed.

I got significantly damp.

And I discovered that wearing a face mask while being rained on presents something of a dual challenge for wearers of glasses. Foggy! With Dripping!

I didn’t even notice it until I got home and was editing photos, but while I admired the many blooming flowers, I mostly photographed the statuary, water, and set pieces.

And there were many things I couldn’t photograph, like the feeling of standing in the man-made cave behind the waterfall, hearing the roar of the water and feeling the thrum of the engines that hurl that water over the rocks into the pond below. Or the wide open vistas when my eyes have been used to looking at the contained spaces of my house. Or how hungry I was for green. Green trees on green grass with bushes just starting baby green leaves doesn’t make a great photo even if it makes my heart happy. I did get a picture of this tree trunk that looks like a frog.

I love Thanksgiving Point for how beautifully it is created, and how much care they take to make sure that every part is accessible to people who use wheels to get around. I also hunger for a wandering experience in a place that is a bit more natural, so perhaps my next outing will be a hike up a canyon. There will be fewer flowers, no tulips at all, but full of beauty. Walking in the rain was lovely.

An Early Spring Garden Walk

Today it is 70 degrees out (21 celsius) which makes it a lovely day to walk in my gardens and see what is growing. The front flowerbeds have begun to put forth new growth. Soon these red peony shoots will turn green and leafy.

Dandelions are cheerfully growing in places where I don’t want to have dandelions.

I have my first tulip blooms.

The spring star flowers and grape hyacinths are out in force.

In fact, the grape hyacinths have started invading the lawn. I love it and put off the first mowing until after they’re done blooming.

Above the invasion of grape hyacinths, you can see the grape row. I need to trim it back and build a better structure for them to grow on. I should do that soon before the vines start to leaf out.

Another trimming project is this pear tree that I’m trying to rescue from blight. Those last tall branches will come off as soon as I figure out how to put the chain back on the pole saw. When it grows out again, we’ll be able to watch for blight and trim it out.

The apricot tree is in full bloom, though some of the blooms got caught by a freeze, so I had to pick a bloom cluster that didn’t have freeze damage.

The first daffodils have made their appearance

I’ve got a birdbath, wind chime, and bee hotel to put up now that the weather is nice. I’ve already got this stacker feeder to draw birds into my patio space. Some day I need to sit outside long enough to catch pictures of the goldfinches which have started coming around. They look so dapper in their spring colors.

The new garden bed next to the patio is getting ready to bloom.

Parts of it are blooming already. This is going to be lovely spot to sit in the warm weeks to come.

Spring always gives me joy. Thanks for coming on this walk with me.

Frosty Morning


The air was crisp against my face, the ground crunched with ice underfoot. I looked up at the dawn brightening sky, attempting to determine why this morning was lovely when others had merely been cold. It was certainly not the task which occupied my hands. Pulling a garbage can to the curb is arguably the least-lovely of possible tasks. The sky had no explanations for me, just a broad expanse, pink tinged at the edges. The difference then, must be in me if the sky, cold, and ice were unchanged from days prior. This morning I carried with me a soul ready to appreciate and see the beauty when other mornings I focused on my steps and task. Work focus is so often necessary in a world where productivity is survival. Yet the tiny pause in appreciation of the frosty sky did not impede the completion of a mundane task. It elevated it. And I returned to warmth and light a little better for knowing the frost.

Fall Break

My kids were out of school for five days. Instead of packing up everyone and heading out for adventures, we stayed home to do comforting things and a few projects. Some of the projects took place in the video game world, but mine were house and harvest.

Years ago we planted grape vines. The starts were gifted to us by a Schlock fan who worked at a vineyard, so we have varieties that aren’t typically seen in home gardens. The vines have matured and we now get a huge harvest each fall.

This year there was a boom in snail population, because for each batch of grapes we brought in, I had to rescue dozens to a hundred tiny snails. The finger pictured is a pinky finger.

The snails had to be rescued because once the grapes were de-stemmed, we cooked them into juice.

Then the juice was cooked into jelly. It was a lot of stove work and glass bottles.

The kitties had their own ideas about how to spend the weekend.

On the Monday of the break there was a different project entirely. We had a big solid redwood playset that we purchased when our kids were little. For the past five years or more, it has sat in our yard unused gathering detritus. We decided that it was time for the playset to move to a home with two six year old boys and a baby. So bright and early we began work.

The job and playset were bigger than the new playset owners expected. But I put my crew of adult-sized kids to work and things came down pretty quickly.

The disassembly process showed me all the ways in which this playset is amazingly solid after sitting outside in the weather for more than 15 years. It also let me see that being disassembled is the best possible thing to happen to it. The new owners will be able to clean everything up, replace aging bolts, re-stain, and replace the few boards that are showing structural wear. I’m glad it is going to people who are excited to do that work. I would never have gotten around to it.

It is always interesting to see what you find in a project like this one. I figured out where all the kid scissors went. We used to have so many rules about scissors not going outside. Rules that were apparently not heeded as evidenced by the graveyard of lost scissors.

Now there is a big empty space in my yard where the playset used to stand. Everything feels open and new possibilities are beginning to be mulled over.

All in all, it was a lovely use for a long weekend. Though I was physically tired at the end of it.

Welcomed Back

I had a moment of quiet delight when I opened my laptop to enter the Wifi password and I discovered that my computer (Calcifer) had already connected. Calcifer remembers this place. So do I. This is my third visit to Woodthrush Woods. Even on my first visit the house felt welcoming and familiar, as if I’d been here before and only forgotten. The exact quote from a blog post I wrote at the time was:

I used to dream about my grandma’s tiny house. In the dreams I went upstairs and through a door to discover that her house had extra rooms and floors. Stepping into Woodthrush Woods was like stepping into one of those dreams, my grandma’s house–only different and bigger.

This visit there is actual familiarity along with that welcoming feeling. My first visit to this house is chronicled in a series of posts starting here. And my second visit starting here. That first visit was five years ago, time slipped past while I was not measuring. The switch over to cruises for the Writing Excuses retreats was the right choice for everyone concerned, but it did mean there were fewer events to draw me to visit this house.

Reading back over the posts I wrote five years ago, during that first retreat, I can see how far I have come. Back then I barely even had the word Anxiety to describe what I was wrestling with. It is so obvious now that anxiety was the issue, but in 2012 I didn’t know that. That trip was six months before the kids began hitting mental health crises. It was before all the diagnoses, tears, grief, and depression. It was back when my whole life was shaped by my anxieties and I couldn’t even see it. That trip dragged it out into the light and demonstrated why it was a problem. Since that trip I’ve traveled a long and winding emotional road. Coming back into this place shows me how far I have come. I am stronger and more fully myself that I was five years ago. My family has a nuanced lexicon of ways to self-assess and manage the now-acknowledged mental health issues that each of us deals with daily.

Pausing to acknowledge the road I’ve traveled these past five years is apparently the first work of this writer’s retreat morning. Time for the next thing.

Vacation as the World Changes

As I listened to Hardcore History’s series on World War 1, the narrator spoke in detail about how that war was a watershed in human history. Afterward everything was different than before. And it all began abruptly, with a single event that led to a cascade of other things until all of Europe was at war. I remember in particular one segment after the war had begun when the narrator spoke about average citizens in their home countries, that they didn’t understand yet that the world had changed. They went about their lives, had picnics, went to work, complained about the small inconveniences of life. The narrator was so surprised, how could the people not be struck by the trend of events?

In the past week my country ordered a strike on Syria. North Korea has been in the news. This same week my daughter spent hours by a pond catching frogs while we’re on vacation. I sent emails to continue a work project because I have a responsibility to see it through. I took pictures of the pond and of flowers. And I begin to understand why those people over a hundred years ago went on picnics. Some of them knew that the world had changed. They knew that death, grief, and disaster were coming for them. So they treasured the picnic while they had it.

The terrible pictures on the news exist in the same world as my pictures of bumble bees and blue skies. For a while I was participating in political discussions on social media. Lately I’ve been so overwhelmed with it all, and with my own urgent tasks, that I have not. I feel guilty about this. I should do more, spend more effort, time, money to improve the world for those who struggle more than I do. At the same time I know that if I deplete myself I will not have stamina for the long haul. Taking care of others is always a long haul. And if the current folks in power get to stay in power, that haul will last at least four years. I’m keenly aware that my efforts or lack thereof have an effect on whether they get those four years. My personal effect is minuscule, but not nothing.

One of the things I feel I can do is provide some places of respite. I can share my pretty pictures. Because when souls are beaten up and grieving over terrible images, sometimes beautiful things can help. I have to remind myself that the picnics which the hardcore history narrator marveled at were important. People on the front lines desperately need to know that there is something normal, beautiful, peaceful that is worth saving. When people rotate off the front lines something comforting needs to be there for them so that they can rest up before doing battle again.

So here are some of the pretty pictures of a vacation that occurred simultaneously with a series of events which may cascade and permanently change the world I live in.

Amaryllis

amaryllis
My amaryllis is blooming. It sits on the edge of my tub right by the bathroom door. I can’t see it until I enter the bathroom, then it is right there, a giant beautiful flower. I keep being surprised by it, “Oh that’s right. I have a flower.” Life needs more big beautiful surprises in it, particularly in mid winter.