Let It Flow

So I’ve been having a lot more contact with the 20 something generation lately (to my delight!) and I’m finding an interesting thought brought about by the way that they use language. I find it fascinating how each generation uses language differently. I had an email in which there was a comment by my friend that she could get together “when it flows”. That, in turn, got me thinking about the way that this phrase came about during my generation’s self-discovery period and remembered that it was related to not holding on to grudges and allowing emotion to flow freely (i.e. free love).

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8_prThis idea of flowing has morphed into a new meaning over the years – first it became about letting go of the past and all the burdens associated with it, then it was about being flexible in life, mind and body and now, it has moved into the language in such a way as it refers to a way of being in daily life.

Hmmm, interesting. As I pondered the idea that I offer a time to meet “when it flows” I realized that this could be (if taken literally) quite a challenge. The essence of the word flow suggests movement, not being static or still. So, in order to find a time to meet, we would need to actually create a time that would not flow, but in fact, remain constant. The good news is that the languaging didn’t become an actual obstacle (this time) to our success. The fact remains that words are very important in our communications, both internally and externally.

Then, I was watering in the garden and another concept of flow struck me. I had just replaced my old watering wand with a new one. I was observing how the flow of the water from the new wand was strong, open and clear. It took me less time to water with this wand than it did with the old one, though I hadn’t been aware that the old one was so inefficient as the water flowed out of it easily when it was turned on. One of the features of a watering wand is to keep the spout open so the water can flow continuously. There are many settings as to the way in which the water flows (spray, tilt, soak, mist, jet, shower) and is a clear indication that there are many qualities to water and the idea of flowing. These different settings give a variety of effects. So, what would happen if it got stuck on flowing continuously?

hidden-falls-emailtropical-beauty-emailSo, think about it. When the water flows well, it gives the plants the amount of water that they can use. When the water flows too strongly, it can damage the plants or flood them, making for numerous problems. When the water doesn’t flow enough, the plants don’t receive a sufficient amount for them to grow well and flourish.

To bring this into our lives as human beings, it is one thing for life to feel like it is flowing smoothly – activities and opportunities are coming our way in a fashion that we can readily respond to in a comfortable manner. Or, life is flooding us like a raging river with excessive amounts of information and requirements that we are unable to effectively respond to – overwhelm and paralysis often resulting.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhat do I do when life is flowing in a way that doesn’t fit me right now? Do I ignore the signs of stress that build up in me when my flow doesn’t match those around me and allow myself to get tumbled down the river  bumping into the rocks along the way? Or do I slow down in the flow of my life to find the stillness of the peaceful stream, look and feel closely the undercurrents that are swimming in my subconscious and make a decision for action from there.

Give it a try and see how much your swim through life will improve.


Plant Circles

We have this plant. We don’t know what kind it is. At first we thought it was in the aloe family, but people have told us it’s not. Then, we thought maybe it was an agave. But, honestly, we don’t really know. The story of this mystery plant is a story of life. The cycles and unexpected beauty and magnificence that are revealed.

P1010082This plant was given to us as a gift. I planted it in an area of the garden that was insignificant at the time. I also planted some aloe vera plants nearby. As I watched the plant grow, I was amazed by its beauty. And its size. The way that its leaves seem solid and floating at the same time.

Eventually, we dug a shallow pond next to it. At first, it seemed like a strange place, the two of them, next to each other. But as time has passed, I’ve become accustomed to it. Then, in the spring, we saw the beginnings of a stalk growing out of the center of the plant. We watched with awe as it grew and grew and grew. We had heard that these plants will grow the stalk and then die, like an agave does. But, we hadn’t ever seen it happen.  In all the years we’ve had the plant, it just grew new leaves.

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Over a period of weeks, it went from a tiny bud in the center of the plant to a stalk 17 feet high and 3 inches around.

 

 

 

 

 

P4150009P4150010Then….it began to bloom. Wow, what an incredible sight. These delicate yellow flowers slowly opening up the stalk. Beginning at the edge closest to the plant base and gradually working its way up the spine of the stalk, one section at a time, blooming yellow flowers.

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 P8250001_prMany weeks passed as the stalk would bloom in one section, then die back and bloom in another section. I thought the show was over when it flowered. So, I stopped watching the plant as closely as the year began to speed up and I became unusually busy with my life.

Slowly, the leaves began to wither and yellow. Now they look as though they are almost dead. Then, to my surprise, Ofer showed me a tiny succulent in his hand. He had picked it off of the stalk of this gorgeous plant. I went and saw that when I thought the show had ended, it was preparing a final hurrah!

P8040016Each of the flowers had turned into tiny plants. This plant, though dying, was also giving birth. As each month passed, the plant was putting all of its energy into creating the next generation in abundance.

I’m fascinated by the reflections of life this plant gives me. The full maturity of adulthood that is the apex of a life cycle culminates in the creation of new life. As women, we are at our most beautiful when we are full of the new life we are creating. Often, it is said, that the woman carrying a baby is glowing. I know from experience that the glow of life is fully manifest in both parents at the time of birthing the new baby.

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And, then, even as we stand tall within ourselves, extending the stalk of our own accomplishments, our children are growing as well. The growth of our children reflects the stability of the stalk they grow from. Eventually, I imagine, the baby plants will fall from their mother stalk and take root beneath the leaves of the dying plant. I’ll have to wait and see if that is, indeed, the route they will take to future success.

 


Changing Weather Patterns

This summer the weather patterns have been jumping back and forth between exceptionally cool for the season and then unseasonably hot. It is a strange dance that has been occurring for a few years now. I find as a gardener that it is disconcerting that my plants are behaving in unusual ways due to this weather dance.

Prune Plums

Prune Plums

For example, I just harvested the prune plums that are normally ripe in September. The peaches are not ripe yet and those are usually ready before the prune plums. There was an abundant harvest of mulberries this year, but now there are some red ones that aren’t ripening at the usual speed as the weather is too cool for them to ripen normally. The basil I planted isn’t growing as prolifically as usual. My dry bean plants aren’t growing quickly enough to give me beans for the winter.

Ripening mulberries

Ripening mulberries

Mulberry clusters

Mulberry clusters

Evening beans

Evening beans

Peaches

Peaches

 

 

 

 

 

 

Everyone I speak to is experiencing a similar feeling of being buffeted around by the energy of this Fire Monkey year. We are influenced by a wide range of energetic pulses that surge throughout the universe. As a part of natural life, we feel those changes on deep levels within ourselves.

As these strange happenings occur, I find myself feeling uncertain what to do in the garden. Usually, I am eager to track the process of growth and ripening to the edible celebration of life. This year, I feel a bit disconnected from it all. The consistency over many years, even with the usual variations that come with gardening, provide for me a foundation and security that I had been unaware of previously. So, now that it is moving and changing, even more unpredictable than before, how do I enfold that quality into myself?

Unfinished cottage

Unfinished cottage

Certainly, some of this disconnect comes from the cottage building project that has been going on since spring. What an amazing thing to watch a building be built. Creative, chaotic, steady, excessive, abundant, meticulous, joyful anticipation. The feng shui of the property is changing indelibly. I imagine that, too, is having an effect on the garden and my relationship to it.

Some years ago, I explored the possibility of having a more productive urban farm. I called in an agriculture guy from the county and we discussed how I could plant the garden for producing higher yields. I also consulted with my farmer friend, Kristy Knoll of Knoll Farms in Brentwood. Kristy said to me, “Amy, you’re not a farmer. You don’t want to live the life of a farmer.” It took some time for this statement to sink in and over the years, I pull it forward again to remind myself that I am a gardener who is in love with nature; not a farmer who is devoted to providing a commercial product. How right she was!

Mt. Diablo full moon rising

Mt. Diablo Full moon rising

 

Now, with the more obvious changes in the natural world, I am clear that I do not want to hold the responsibility of a farmer in these changeable times. I am indelibly grateful to the farmers who are taking this challenge as a sacred duty to discover how to keep up with what is happening. To keep providing us with sustenance is their commitment and it is a calling that is not honored deeply enough by the rest of us. I am aware every week when I shop at the Farmer’s Market of how grateful I am for their service. As a gardener, I have a feel for what they are doing for us. How harsh and inspiring their lives can be in equal measure!

 

 

Glorious possibilities!

Glorious possibilities!

I am a planter of seeds though. Not only do I plant in the soil, my calling is to plant seeds in the soul; to nurture the seeds inside myself and allow them to grow even during uncertain times. We can do this work together. I plant a seed in you, you water a seed in me. We water these seeds with our tears and give them sunshine through our joy. We harvest the results together.

I invite you to join me in this mutual planting and nourishing cycle each year. I am deeply grateful to those of you (you know who you are!) who are already sharing the seasonal cycles of life with me.

 

 


Bees – A Sacred Service

Many of you have been reading lately about aggressive or Africanized bees. Just like any other living being, bees will protect their home and will get aggressive when they feel threatened. This is not something that happens often. Remember that there is a lot of hype in media and sensationalism sells. So much of what happens in the world is not directly related to your life. These bad news outlets are fueling fear to sell their materials.

Can you see the bee and the fly?

Can you see the bee and the fly?

Recently, I was in the garden with some students. We were having a meditation when a bee started to buzz around one of the students. She tried to maintain her internal calm and continue following the meditation. It was persistent, however, and since she is afraid of bees we ended up moving to a different place.

At the end of the day, when we had returned indoors for our closing circle, there was a bee flying around the head of the same woman. Again, she responded with fear. With my encouragement, she was able to calm down and see that she wasn’t actually in danger (if you are truly allergic to bees that’s another story). Her fear was disproportionate to the actual threat that the bee was to her. Even if she had been stung, it would not have done much damage; a minor discomfort – and death for the bee. When she could breathe deeply and see how tiny the bee was in relation to herself, she could also see that the bee’s life was actually in danger because it was stuck inside. We managed to catch the bee and release it back into the garden to do its job.

So, what happened? Well, we had received a new swarm of bees on the property only a few days before. They were adjusting quite nicely, but this one bee felt like we had gotten too close to the new hive. Some of them have been wandering and looking a bit lost. The bees will follow and protect their queen, so it takes time for them to feel safe in a new hive.

Bee Service

Bee Service

Remember what it feels like to be uprooted, trying to settle into a new home, unsure of yourself, frequently getting lost as you learn a new place, and wanting to protect yourself from the unknown in your new surroundings? That’s what the bees go through when they are captured and placed in a new hive.

When we step back away from fears that have been unnecessarily planted in our minds, we are able to look in wonder at the terrific design of the natural world. Bees are an important feature of that design and give us the food we eat. Without bees, and other insects, pollinating the plants, we would not have fruits and vegetables ripening on the vine. Bees perform a sacred service for humanity.

lots of bees

Ofer working with the bees

bees on frame

Honey bees

Years ago, we experienced that problem in our garden. At first, we couldn’t figure out why we weren’t getting any zuchinni. They would flower and then not produce the fruit. The same thing was happening with our tomatoes. Over a period of a few years, we realized that there were consistently fewer bees than before. So, we ended up getting bees for our property. For five years, Ofer managed the bees for us. After a difficult winter, the hive collapsed and he gave up on it.

 

Since that time, we have been looking for someone to have hives on our property. Our lovely neighbors, Vanda and Kellie, asked us if they could house some bees here so they can have enough honey for their new restaurant in San Francisco – Chicks and Love Pizza Patio. We get the benefit of having the bees pollinating for us and some delicious honey samples, too. Remember, the bees are not out to get you! They are a fascinating example of the proficient and awe-inspiring design of nature.

Bees sipping water from the pond

Bees sipping water from the pond

New bee hives

New bee hives


Feels Like Open Space

Each year when the spring arrives I am struck by the changes in the Sugi Garden. Since we have been doing a naturalized garden for 15 years, we’ve seen a larger variety of plants show up. New plants arrive every year. In addition, we are seeing more and more mushrooms all around the property. Though we haven’t yet seen many wildflowers (other than vetch and California poppy) arrive on their own, we are starting to find different types of fungus and variations of the flowers we have. For the last few years, there have been a sprinkling of white poppies in the front. I’m sure that eventually they will spread, just as the yellow poppy did in those early years.

White Poppy

White Poppy

White Poppy

White Poppy

Turkey Tail stump

Turkey Tail stump

Golden Turkey Tail

Golden Turkey Tail

Turkey Tail cluster

Turkey Tail cluster

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Striped Turkey Tail

Striped Turkey Tail

Here’s the newest arrival on the property. It’s common name is Turkey Tail and it was hidden under some plant growth near the wood pile. It is used in a wide variety of herbal supplements and has benefits for the immune system, is filled with antioxidants and can be used an adjunct to cancer treatments.

We don’t harvest plants like this. Our preference is to have the energy of the healing plants present in the garden. Many of the plants we have are used in flower essence therapy. During the Seasons program, I like to see what flowers the students are drawn to and use that as a jumping off point for their work with flower essences.

Diversity in the garden is something that is part of the natural world. When we allow the plants to choose where they want to live, they move from place to place, or choose to reseed right where they are. They will spread gradually or “jump” from one area to another unexpectedly. For example, we’ve grown chard in the back garden for many years. Two years ago, we found some volunteering in the front bed right by the street. This is a bed that we have struggled with getting anything to grow effectively there. First we had chard, then the following year, the borage showed up. Sweet peas, California poppies and Calendula have followed. Now, an area that was stubbornly refusing to grow what we planted, is now full of abundant life.

Sweet Peas with Marigold

Sweet Peas with Marigold

Feverfew Patch

Feverfew Patch

Miner's Lettuce

Miner’s Lettuce

 

Throughout the years, we’ve seen this happen all over. When we moved here, there was Feverfew in one corner, California poppy in another and Miner’s lettuce in yet another. Now, those plants have expanded into the entire area in beautiful arrangements.

This volunteer diversity is creating a feeling of being in open space. Remember what it is like to wander along a trail in the open space? As you look around, you see all kinds of plants, insects, even the occasional animal appears. The appealing quality of a meandering walk like this is in the wonder of nature’s vast complexity and the beauty it holds. This is how wandering in the garden has become. I never know what I might find peeking from underneath, or the changes that have happened over the winter months of seeming quiet.

Blowwives

Blowwives

Flower Field

Flower Field

Owl's Clover stalk

Owl’s Clover stalk

Pink Field Owl's Clover

Pink Field Owl’s Clover

Wild Oats

Wild Oats

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oak with mustard

Oak with mustard

 

On Mother’s Day, the family went for a marvelous hike in the open space nearby. It was quite phenomenal to experience how similar it felt to the Sugi Garden, now that it is fully naturalized. The gorgeous wildflower displays due to the winter rains this year were inspiring. Enjoy!

Three of Us

Three of Us


Nutritious Spring Greens

In the spring, my garden is popping! The naturalized greens and herbs are all over the place. Nutritious delicacies are overflowing with vibrant life! We love to harvest these happy volunteers and delight our winter weary bodies with the cleansing taste of spring. We especially love the Mallow and Mustard that volunteer each spring. Both of these plants are naturalized after being brought over from overseas.

Mallow, also known as Cheeseweed for its leaf shape, is a mild laxative, diuretic, anti-inflammatory with soothing demulcent and expectorant properties than help to clear mucus from the body. No wonder it grows in spring! Originally sweetened with honey by the Egyptians, the mallow root derived mucilage was then later transformed into the French confection we know today as “the marshmallow.”

Mustard greens are rich in anti-oxidants and phytonutrients. Mustard boasts a wide variety of vitamin and minerals (B complex, A , C, calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, zinc, selenium, and manganese), as well as, delicious flavor!

Crispy Green Chips

Spring Greens Chips

Spring Greens Chips

30 leaves of mustard greens and mallow leaves

2 Tbsp. olive oil

2 Tbsp. Basil vinegar

2 Tbsp. nutritional yeast

1 Tbsp. oregano

Prepared Greens

Prepared Greens

1 tsp. marjoram

½ tsp. cayenne

Unbaked greens

Unbaked greens

1 tsp. seasalt or to taste

  1. Preheat the oven to 300ᵒ.
  2. If necessary, gently rinse the leaves and spin dry. You can use other greens for this recipe (kale, chard, broccoli). If the center ribs are thick, be sure to remove them first.
  3. Pour oil and vinegar in a large bowl. Whisk thoroughly to mix.
  4. Add the leaves and mix gently with your hands or a spatula until leaves are coated.
  5. Add the spices and repeat mixing.
  6. On a large baking sheet, lay a layer of parchment paper.
  7. Lay leaves individually onto the paper as flat as possible. A little overlap is okay, but keep it to a minimum.
  8. Bake for 15 minutes. Remove from oven.
  9. When cool enough to touch, store chips in a paper towel lined large plastic container so they can lay flat.
  10. Repeat steps 7, 8 and 9 until leaves are finished baking.
Mallow

Mallow

Parsley

Parsley

Mustard

Mustard

fennel

fennel

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another delicious spring garden staple in our home is the Spring Veggie Broth. This is a cleansing broth that includes any edible we currently have sprouting up in the spring. This recipe allows you to buy ingredients from the local farmer’s market, so you can have a similar version at home. The hijiki is a type of seaweed and adds minerals. Some people don’t like the flavor, so it is optional, and of course, doesn’t grow in the garden!

Spring Veggie Broth

Broth Veggies

Broth Veggies

veggie broth

Uncooked veggie broth

½ bunch of celery

1 large carrot

1 bunch of parsley

Top of large fennel bulb

1 small burdock leaf

1 medium-sized bunch of chard

1 onion, with peel

Mix of greens – amaranth, mallow, wild mustard, cleavers – about 3 cups

½ c. hijiki (optional)

  1. Prepare ingredients by washing and cutting into large pieces.
  2. Put all ingredients in a large soup pot. Cover with water.
  3. Cover and bring to a boil, then simmer for 15 minutes.
  4. Remove from heat and let sit, covered for half an hour.
  5. Use a slotted spoon to remove the vegetables. Keep anything you want to munch on (carrots and hijiki are especially good this way.)
  6. Enjoy!

Living in Sync with Nature

What does it mean to be living in sync with nature?  Is it something only the wise-woman knows? Is there a way to begin to ascertain the feeling of nature? The busy rush, rush of modern life has had a profound impact on our  ability as individuals to feel connected with the earth, our food, our selves. Here are some descriptions of what each season may feel like:

Spring can be soft and gentle. Filled with hope, the person who is in sync with spring is open and flowing will manifest spring energy through tapping into creativity. This person is bursting forth with enthusiasm for what is coming next. On the other hand, a person stuck in spring is blowing irritation around and repeatedly starting over, without getting traction to move forward.

Baby purple cabbage

Baby purple cabbage

Narcissus

Narcissus

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Oxalis in spring

Shooting Stars

Shooting Stars

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bee Love

Bee Love

 

Being in sync with summer means moving in and out of the varied aspects of summer’s moods. Sinking willingly into the quiet, drowsy parts of the day and then, jumping up into activity as the heat wanes and energy bubbles up again.  An out of control summer person is constantly going and going, sending out hot rays of forced sunshine.

 

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Sweet, silent fall.

 

The person in sync with fall is able to feel deeply the wounds of humanity and still have an open heart, filled with compassion for all of life. When the quality of fall is in balance, there is a sense of awe about life. A person stuck in fall is filled with eternal grief, needing to let go and unable to gain fruition or completion.

 

 

 

Blue moonscape

Blue moonscape

Being in sync with winter is expressed by intentionally going inside to feel and observe the deepest elements of oneself. A profound peacefulness is found in the darkest recesses of the soul. It is a peace that can be pulled forward during times of lack, bringing warmth to the inner fire to keep it burning strong until spring. The person stuck in winter is cold, removed, feeling blue, internal and lethargic.

Come to the Sugi Garden to experience the qualities of spring that are bursting forth. Through this experience of spring, you will learn how to get in touch with the natural rhythms of life.

We will explore some simple processes of self-inquiry that will bring your inherent joy to the surface and transform the way you live. As a result, you will become more in sync with nature, deepening your awareness of body, mind and soul.

Join me for a two hour workshop offered by Sustainable Contra Costa. Register at sustainablecontracosta.org. Look for the Sustainable Living Workshop Series.

Sunday, March 13

2:00 – 4:00 p.m.

$25


Me…My Land

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Pines, oaks and redwoods

Each time we move our attention to a different part of the land we find a new relationship is forming. Every section carries within a personality, an energetic quality, gifts and challenges. Working with the land is a healing journey for both of us. When we removed the lawns, we noticed new plant life volunteering on the land. Each year a different variety of plant moved in. Natural groundcovers showed up to nourish the soil – I don’t know all their names, though vetch is among them.

vetch

vetch

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Empty chicken yard

Winter Greenery

Winter Greenery

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Learning to listen to the land has resulted in ongoing renewal over a period of years. Life is like that, you know. It is a gradual change, sometimes simply opening up space that nature will fill on her own, spreading seeds we’ve gathered through the flip of a hand, other times digging persistently into the dry clay. No matter how the space is emptied or filled it is a natural process that simply repeats.

 

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Stream

Pond and Stream

Ponds with stream

A shallow pool flowing into a stream that gracefully empties itself into a deep pond, then circulating round again for continual replenishment. The mature silver maple stands guard in the center of my land, deeply rooted, holding its arms wide to embrace all who enter.

Groves of trees: junipers, redwoods, oaks and pines feed the quiet wildness of my soul, providing strength and wisdom when I need to distance myself from the busyness of life. I find the quiet under the trees. A feeling of safety and groundedness.

 

 

Along the edges of this land take a moment to look closely; underneath the grass, on the compost pile, or tucked into the wood chips you’ll find the magical world of fungi. Mushrooms peeking their heads out of the earth. The scent of the soil is intoxicating, felt deeply in the most ancient part of my soul. I can feel the fairy world when I’m with the mushrooms. Ethereal and otherworldly. Yet, somehow, also a part of who I am.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAspring-shroom

wooly mane, inky cap

mushroom forest

Garden Mushrooms

 

 

 

 

The orchard of fruit trees provides a feeling of stability. Their vulnerability has also been apparent during the past few years of drought. Without care, the stability they hold can crumble, a little at a time. Without our inner stability, our ability to give in abundance is limited by the slow crumbling away of our inner spirit. We must be nurtured on a regular basis to stay stable and prosperous. The trees give of their fruits so we have sustenance that provides throughout the year in the form of dried deliciousness, flavored vinegars, sauces, and syrups, baked sweetness during a winter’s evening.

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Winter Figs

Blooming Pear

Blooming Pear

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Abundant peaches

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Peach Blossoms

Stepping from the orchard into the garden, filled with herbs, flowers, vegetables – potential; pockets of wildflowers scattered around. I feel: Bursting forth! Inspiration! Joie de vivre!

Whoa, the back garden is full of vibrant life, sprouting something new each season. The joy that bubbles up in me as I walk through the garden is palpable. Hope, possibility, movement is apparent in the early garden of spring. Though it’s only January, here in California there is an obvious transition happening. The seasons are shifting. Life is resilient.

 

Miner’s lettuce, mustard, fennel, mallow, cleavers, lemon balm, apple mint, spearmint, peppermint, asparagus, chives and more providing a spring feast, clearing away the cobwebs of winter.

Field of Miner's Lettuce

Field of Miner’s Lettuce

Cleavers

Cleavers

Blooming Mustard

Blooming Mustard

fennel

Fennel

garlic chives

garlic chives

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

California Poppy, sweet peas, feverfew,  love-lies-bleeding, nasturtium, tulips, irises, alyssum, flowering sages galore, zauschneria (I love that word!), mugwort, borage, goldenrod, lovage, milkweed popping up to say hello each spring, some early, some late….

Poppies, Calendula, Penstemon

Poppies, Calendula, Penstemon

Calendula

Calendula

Evening Primrose with Feverfew

Evening Primrose with Feverfew

goldenrod leaves

Goldenrod leaves

 

 

 

 

 

All year long, the birds are singing, cooing and cawing, flitting here and there amongst the flowers and trees; butterflies, dragonflies and an occasional frog make an appearance on a regular basis. Lizards and snakes, mice and voles, though usually hidden and out of sight, are adding their presence to the land.  Raccoons, skunks, squirrels, opossums are all present on the land.

Bird in water fountain

Bird in water fountain

Dragonfly on Poppy seed head

Dragonfly on Poppy seed head

Frittilary butterfly

Frittilary butterfly

bees on frame

Bees on hive frame

 

Bees, flies, wasps, gnats all buzzing, buzzing, buzzing! The year is just beginning. Where will it lead as we follow the sights and sounds of the garden!


Winter Silence

Running, running, and running some more to fulfill the obligations of the holiday season.  Each year a choice is made as to how you will spend your time during each season.  We all know how it feels being wholly wrapped up in the mindless action of buying presents, pasting on a happy smile and baking or decorating til we drop.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOne of my students told me recently that she loves the holiday season because her natural exuberance for life is never questioned and she is received fully by those around her. What a lovely experience to have! On the other hand, how sad that she feels restricted during the rest of the year when others don’t want to receive her effusive joyfulness. Our culture continually demands that we follow the rules and often those rules are so well woven into our culture that we are unaware of following them.

Winter….a time for reflection, hibernation, rejuvenation. We all know that this is what winter is for. We are enamored with these images. Throughout the holiday season and into the New Year, the media plays on these emotionally filled images in advertising. Pulling us in to consume more, overdo excessively and continue to ignore our deeper nature that is calling us to retreat and go inside of ourselves.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERARainbow Point_prBeaver Dam_pr

 

 

 

 

 

STOP! Breathe for a moment and examine your motivations. Step outside and FEEL what winter is calling for you to do, and BE.

“Silent Night, Holy Night. All is calm. All is bright…” This well known song (without getting into the religious references) elicits feelings of winter. The quiet that descends during the rain or after the snow falls. The brightness of the sun reflecting off the snow. The candles (lights) that shine in the dark.

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Here are some images to help you get started in feeling winter, deeply… inside your soul.

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Take time each day throughout the rest of the year to absorb the peace and quiet that they offer. Feel the embrace of the winter as the arms of each tree reaches out to sustain you.

 

And, remember, when the New Year comes you can keep yourself in this lovely place of internal calm. Allow the incessant chatter of resolutions to die back. Fuel your New Year with the silence of a holy night.

 


A Lifestyle of Gratitude

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAll through November each year, we are bombarded with the message that we are supposed to be grateful. The commercialization of a spiritual principle, like gratitude, can be confusing and in fact, downright annoying. I myself have found over time, the development of an aversion to the originally meaningful additions around the Thanksgiving table of sharing our gratitude. My problem with this practice is that it is only done at this time of year. That, somehow, I’m suddenly supposed to be expressing my deepest feelings of gratitude right before I eat a huge meal. Not the best time to be bringing up deep emotions. I prefer to eat my meals without swallowing my emotions, even when they are lovely ones like gratitude.

This request is never asked of me at other times of year nor offered by others (except surprisingly on FB). Doesn’t that seem strange to you? I find that in my own life, on any given day, I may find myself expressing to my wonderful husband, Ofer, gratitude for my life. And for our lives together. How does this happen? It is a direct result of my awareness of what is happening around me, and the ability (developed over time) to judge less and be grateful more.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

So many times we are focused on the “bad” things that are happening in our lives or around us in the lives of others. With a little reframing, we can see each situation as an opportunity for gratitude of some kind. Every experience is neither good nor bad, simply an experience. We can choose how we perceive life and our response to it every moment.

For example, I may read of a tragedy in the paper and say, “I am so grateful that we do not have that happening in our lives.” Or, I’ll see someone when I’m on a walk and say, “I’m very grateful that I am moving more easily than they are.” Or “It’s such a privilege to have the knowledge and support I have to keep myself moving well at this age.”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI remember when I was pregnant with my son and feeling the pinch of our finances. I went to look into getting food stamps to help us get through. I drove the van, parked it in the lot and went inside the building. As I looked around the room at all of the people there, I realized that I had so much more than they did.  I had a vehicle to get there in; I had credit cards I could use to buy food while waiting for money to come in; I had a home to live in. It would be unfair of me to apply for government support because it could take away from those who needed it more than I. So, I turned around and got back in the van and drove home feeling endlessly grateful for my abundance.

Sometimes, the gratitude is for the passage of time and the stage of life we are in. When shopping, watching young parents struggling with a screaming child, we often say, “I’m glad we aren’t doing that now. It’s wonderful to have a grown son.” Stories of children failing or being taken advantage of in schools and we are deeply grateful for the way we raised our son.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGratitude can be expressed in other ways as well. When I’m reading a novel, I may think, “I’m grateful that I have a family that listens to me and I live in modern times.” Even when I’m sick in bed, I find myself thinking about my gratitude for a warm place to snuggle up, hot broth and an understanding family to support me while I regain my health. Or, perhaps, I will be grateful that it is only a passing flu that will be gone after a few days of rest. I used to be resentful when illness (or jury duty!) interrupted my life. Now, I see it as simply another way I am spending the time I have in my life and a way to learn and deepen my relationship to myself.

Life in the garden provides resplendent possibilities for gratitude! On a regular basis, our family will see something blooming or peeking up in the garden, maybe a change in ripeness or plant size, and the excitement is shared with each other. “Come out to the garden, I want to show you this!” may be uttered by any of us. Sharing gratitude for the abundance and beauty of the garden is a daily gift.

Take a look at your life, and consider, what are you grateful for today? This daily practice can be done anywhere that nature is found. On a street corner, in a neighborhood, a park, or just gazing up at the sky.

 

Hope LS024

 

 

This photo was taken looking up at the sky in the middle of the day while standing in a parking lot in the suburbs. I call it “Hope”.