Spring’s Ephemeral Cathedral

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You won’t remember it—the apple orchard
We wandered through one April afternoon,
Climbing the hill behind the empty farm.

A city boy, I’d never seen a grove
Burst in full flower or breathed the bittersweet
Perfume of blossoms mingled with the dust.

A quarter mile of trees in fragrant rows
Arching above us. We walked the aisle,
Alone in spring’s ephemeral cathedral.

We had the luck, if you can call it that,
Of having been in love but never lovers—
The bright flame burning, fed by pure desire.

Nothing consumed, such secrets brought to light!
There was a moment when I stood behind you,
Reached out to spin you toward me…but I stopped.

What more could I have wanted from that day?
Everything, of course. Perhaps that was the point—
To learn that what we will not grasp is lost.
~Dana Giola “The Apple Orchard”

 

“Do you remember the Shire, Mr. Frodo? It’ll be spring soon. And the orchards will be in blossom. And the birds will be nesting in the hazel thicket. And they’ll be sowing the summer barley in the lower fields… and eating the first of the strawberries with cream. Do you remember the taste of strawberries?”
―  J.R.R. Tolkien

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In despairing moments, we recollect and hold on to memories most precious to us, recalling what makes each moment, indeed life itself,  special and worthwhile.

It can be something so seemingly simple that becomes the most cherished and retrievable–the aroma of cinnamon in a warm kitchen, the splash of colors in a carefully tended garden spot, the cooing of mourning doves as light begins to dawn, the velvety soft of a newborn foal’s fur, the embrace of welcoming arms, the wish that we had reached out and grasped something forever lost to us due to our hesitation in the moment.

As we approach the memories brought fresh by upcoming Mother’s, Father’s and Memorial Days,  it is those simple things we recall and treasure, pass on in stories, and never leave buried in the ground.  The legacy of these memories lives and thrives in the next and then the next generation, to be told and retold, not to rest, eventually to be forgotten, under a marker.

Do you remember the Shire, Mr. Frodo?  Do you remember?

 

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Making Scents

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I admit it.  Right this minute, I should be doing our taxes.  We’re down to the last minute and I have all the paperwork stacked on the desk beside me, but I’m not doing it.  It is too miserable a task to even contemplate.  Instead I go outside to capture spring.

The last few mornings, when I have risen just before dawn, I have gone outside to breathe deeply of the scents that hang heavy in the cool moist air.  The perfume from thousands of orchard blossoms on our farm is heady and intoxicating.  There is nothing quite like these two weeks each year when our farm becomes a mass of snow white and pink scented flowers, busy with honey bees and eventually showering petals to the ground as the fruit starts to form.

Unfortunately, I’m allergic to tree pollen.  I breathe deeply and… sneeze and wheeze.  Even the best medicine can’t stop my reaction. So much loveliness causes so much misery.  So I retreat back to the house and look out the window and enjoy the view from afar, dabbing my dripping nose.

Ironically, this is the same time of year our dairy farm neighbors start to empty their manure lagoons and begin to spread their thousands of gallons of liquid manure on the surrounding fields, readying the ground for the hay or corn crop to come later on this summer. That scent hangs heavy in the cool moist air as well, pungent and unforgettable, penetrating even into our clothing so we carry the smell back into the house with us.  Of course I’m not allergic to manure.  After all, it’s only grass and water transformed.  In fact, as nasty a smell as it is, it’s invigorating in a perverse sort of way.  I know where it comes from, I know what its potential is, and I know the crop it yields.  It is, in itself, as treasured as the blossoms that yield fruit on our farm.

Taxes are the manure in our lives.  They are pretty stinky too, just like manure, an inevitable part of our daily existence, yet even more onerous.  However, spread out where needed, those collective taxes fertilize and grow our communities, our schools, our roads, our health care (and a few other things we may wish would not be funded).

So I must get to work spreading numbers across my desktop in the hope they may make sense and yield fruit of their own, sometime, somewhere.

The Cents of Spring.

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A Gate We Enter

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The juncture of twig and branch,
Scarred with lichen, is a gate
We might enter, singing.”
~Jane Kenyon, “Things”

 

I’ve lived in the Pacific Northwest for over 60 years, and on this farm for 25 years.  The grandeur of the snow-capped mountains to the north and east and the peaceful shore to the west overwhelms everything in between.  I’ve walked past these bare antique apple trees autumn after autumn, but had never stopped to really look at the landscape growing on their shoulders and arms.  There is a whole other ecosystem on each tree, a fairy land of earth bound dryland seaweed, luxuriant in the fall rains, colorful in the winter, dried and hidden behind leaves and fruit in the hot summer.

This is the world of lichen, a mixed up cross between mold and fungus, opportunistic enough to thrive on rock faces, but ecstatic on absorbent bark.

I had never really noticed how proudly diverse they are.  I had, for year, blindly walked right by their rich color and texture.

Yet it hasn’t bothered them not to be noticed as they are busy minding their own business.  As John McCullough writes:

“It is merely a question of continuous adjustment, of improvising a life. When I’m far from friends or the easing of a wind against my back, I think of lichen—
never and always true to its essence, never and always at home.”

Instead of lifting my eyes to the hills for a visual feast, I need only open the back gate to gaze on this landscape found on the ancient branches in my own back yard.

It’s a rich life indeed.

 

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The lichen raised its fragile cup,
and rain filled it, and in the drop
the sky glittered, holding back the wind.

The lichen raised its fragile cup:
Now let’s toast the richness of our lives.
~Helvi Juvonen  “Lichen Cup”

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Blooming into Flame

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All the love you will ever feel
you have always carried within you

The pellet you think love is
blooms into stone,
into flame, into glass
~Hannah Stephenson from “Sap Season”

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The last remaining cherry tree on this farm, a Royal Anne, has stood between house and barn for over ninety years, bearing well some years, and other years yielding only a hand full of fruit.  This spring was a bumper crop but followed by a hot dry summer, the old tree looks stressed, its branch joints oozing resin in response.  These amber-like secretions are hard and glass-like but change subtly day by day.

It is this tree’s troubles made manifest.  Its sap blood bursts with crystalline flame, blooming with a hidden love from its buried roots. Such love has always been there, deep inside, but in its thirsty anguish, the tree weeps to reflect the sun.

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Just So You Know, You Are Forgiven

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I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox
and which
you were probably
saving
for breakfast
Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold
~William Carlos Williams “This is Just to Say”

Who needs an icebox
when the plums
hang heavy
in the night-cooled orchard

dotted with dew
glistening
in the spare pink light
of dawn

so ripe
and so ready
their golden flesh
warming in the sun.
~EPG

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For This Is Love

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photo by Josh Scholten
photo by Josh Scholten

 

Oh, give us pleasure in the flowers today;
And give us not to think so far away
As the uncertain harvest; keep us here
All simply in the springing of the year.

Oh, give us pleasure in the orchard white,
Like nothing else by day, like ghosts at night;
And make us happy in the happy bees,
The swarm dilating round the perfect trees.

And make us happy in the darting bird
That suddenly above the bees is heard,
The meteor that thrusts in with needle bill,
And off a blossom in mid-air stands still.

For this is love and nothing else is love,
The which it is reserved for God above
To sanctify to what far ends He will,
But which it only needs that we fulfill.
~Robert Frost

 

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Burning Bush Bounty

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Plump unpeck’d cherries,
Apricots, strawberries;—
All ripe together
In summer weather,—
Morns that pass by,
Fair eves that fly;
Currants and gooseberries,
Bright-fire-like barberries,
Sweet to tongue and sound to eye.
~Christina Rossetti
This spring the fruit ripens early,
reddening flames that leap up
from branches and leaves,
in some way ignited
like the burning bush
speaking to us
of holy ground.
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