Peering at a Landscape on a Branch

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I’ve lived in the Pacific Northwest for most of 59 years, and on this farm for 20 years.  The grandeur of the snow-capped mountains to the 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 seaweed, luxuriant in the fall rains, 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 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 below,  they thrive happily where they find themselves “never and always true to their essence, never and always at home.”

Now I know.  And so do you.

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Closer, with the glass, a city of cups!

Why are they doing this?

In this big sky and all around me peaks &
the melting glaciers, why am I made to
kneel and peer at Tiny?
~Lew Welch from “Springtime in the Rockies, Lichen”
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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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A truly good book is something as wildly natural and primitive, mysterious and marvelous, ambrosial and fertile, as a fungus or a lichen.
~Henry David Thoreau

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We are lichens on a grand scale.
~David Haskell

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But what is life to a lichen?
Yet its impulse to exist,
to be,
is every bit as strong as ours —
arguably even stronger.
If I were told that I had to spend decades
being a furry growth on a rock in the woods,
I believe I would lose the will to go on.

~Bill Bryson

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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.
~John McCullough from “Lichen”

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BriarCroft in Spring

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the old pink dogwood revives every spring

What is all this juice and all this joy?
   A strain of the earth’s sweet being in the beginning
~Gerard Manley Hopkins from “Spring”
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poplar row behind the apple orchard

Awake! Awake! for the earliest gleam
Of golden sunlight shines
On the rippling waves, that brightly flow
Beneath the flowering vines.
Awake! Awake! for the low, sweet chant
Of the wild-birds’ morning hymn
Comes floating by on the fragrant air,
Through the forest cool and dim;
Then spread each wing,
And work, and sing,
Through the long, bright sunny hours;
O’er the pleasant earth
We journey forth,
For a day among the flowers.
~
Louisa May Alcott Lily-Bell and Thistledown Song I

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a favorite rhododendron

It was such a spring day as breathes into a man an ineffable yearning, a painful sweetness, a longing that makes him stand motionless, looking at the leaves or grass, and fling out his arms to embrace he knows not what.
~John Galsworthy

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a happy day put out to pasture

At morn when light mine eyes unsealed
I gazed upon the open field;
The rain had fallen in the night –
The landscape in the new day’s light
A countenance of grace revealed
Upon the meadow, wood and height.
 
The sun’s light was a smile of gold,
Ere shut by sudden fold on fold
Of surging, showering clouds from view;
No sooner hid than it broke through
A tearful smile upon the wold
Where earth reflected heaven’s blue.
 
The sky was as a canvas spun
To paint the new spring’s nocturns on;
A blended melody of tints –
The sea’s hue, and the myriad hints
Of garden-closes, when the sun
Hath stamped the work of nature’s mints.
 ~William Stanley Braithwaite
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a happy day put out to blue skies in the breeze

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Flesh and fleece, fur and feather,
Grass and green world all together,
Star-eyed strawberry breasted
Throstle above Her nested

Cluster of bugle blue eggs thin
Forms and warms the life within,
And bird and blossom swell
In sod or sheath or shell.”
-  Gerard Manley Hopkins, The May Magnificat

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Kale going to seed

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“A delicate fabric of bird song 
Floats in the air, 
The smell of wet wild earth 
Is everywhere. 
Oh I must pass nothing by 
Without loving it much, 
The raindrop try with my lips, 
The grass with my touch; 
For how can I be sure 
I shall see again 
The world on the first of May 
Shining after the rain?” 
-  Sara Teasdale, May Day

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grape hyacinth and tulips

“Every spring is the only spring – a perpetual astonishment.”
-  Ellis Peters

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“Some will tell you crocuses are heralds true of spring 
Others say that tulips showing buds are just the thing 
Point to peonies, say when magnolia blossoms show 
I look forward to the sight of other flowers though 
Cultivate your roses, grow your orchids in the dark 
Plant your posies row on row and stink up the whole park 
The flower that’s my favourite kind is found throughout the land 
A wilting, yellow dandelion, clutched in a grubby hand.”
-  Larry Tilander, Springtime of My Soul 

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“Oh, give us pleasure in the flowers to-day;
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 by night;
And make us happy in the happy bees,
The swarm dilating round the perfect trees.”
-  Robert Frost, A Prayer in Spring

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“Poetry is the silence and speech between a wet struggling root of a flower and a sunlit blossom of that flower.” 
-  Carl Sandburg 

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yew pollen

“With the coming of spring, I am calm again. “
-  Gustav Mahler

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the first of dozens of peonies

The wealthy man is not he who has money, but he who has the means to live in the luxurious state of early spring.
~Anton Chekhov

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Virginia Creeper starting to do its creeper thing

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Canadian mountains to the north

“This spring as it comes bursts up in bonfires green,
Wild puffing of emerald trees, and flame-filled bushes,
Thorn-blossom lifting in wreaths of smoke between
Where the wood fumes up and the watery, flickering rushes.
I am amazed at this spring, this conflagration
Of green fires lit on the soil of the earth, this blaze
Of growing, and sparks that puff in wild gyration,
Faces of people streaming across my gaze.”
-  D. H. Lawrence, The Enkindled Spring 

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“The sun was warm but the wind was chill.
You know how it is with an April day.
When the sun is out and the wind is still,
You’re one month on in the middle of May.
But if you so much as dare to speak,
a cloud come over the sunlit arch,
And wind comes off a frozen peak,
And you’re two months back in the middle of March.”
-  Robert Frost 

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spring sunrise over Mt Baker

“Hark, I hear a robin calling!
List, the wind is from the south!
And the orchard-bloom is falling
Sweet as kisses on the mouth.

Come and let us seek together
Springtime lore of daffodils,
Giving to the golden weather
Greeting on the sun-warm hills.”
-  Lucy Maud Montgomery, Spring Song

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“If you’ve never been thrilled to the very edges of your soul by a flower in spring bloom, maybe your soul has never been in bloom.” 
-  Audra Foveo 

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Sam stops to smell the tulips

“It’s spring fever.  That is what the name of it is.  And when you’ve got it, you want – oh, you don’t quite know what it is you do want, but it just fairly makes your heart ache, you want it so!”
-  Mark Twain

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someone is looking his age….it was a rough winter

“Every year, back comes Spring, with nasty little birds yapping their fool heads off and the ground all mucked up with plants.”
-  Dorothy Parker   ;-)

See BriarCroft in Summer, in Autumn, in Winter,
at Year’s End

Sequestered Nook

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Beneath these fruit-tree boughs that shed
Their snow-white blossoms on my head,
With brightest sunshine round me spread
Of spring’s unclouded weather,
In this sequestered nook how sweet
To sit upon my orchard-seat!
~William Wordsworth

Sequester has a different meaning these days — a “take no prisoners” government withholding of funds it hadn’t collected to begin with.

I prefer the “hidden away for safe-keeping” definition — exactly how I feel when I walk into the orchard.  I am cloistered in blossoms exuberant with potential.

Sequestered nook.  Words and times change but the essence of spring’s promise never does.

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It Sings

photo by Josh Scholten

photo by Josh Scholten

The roofs are shining from the rain,
The sparrows twitter as they fly,
And with a windy April grace
The little clouds go by.

Yet the back yards are bare and brown
With only one unchanging tree–
I could not be so sure of Spring
Save that it sings in me.
-  Sara Teasdale, April

Here we are, closing in on mid-April and it has been a week of heavily drifting snowstorms in the plains, tornado weather in the south, and blustering wind and rain in the northwest.  I am not so sure of Spring nor is anyone else.

Yet it sings in me.  Yes it sings.

The calendar does not lie, nor does my nose.  The pollen counts are rising despite the rains and as I step outside in early dawn, I can catch the slightest fragrance of just-opening cherry and apple blossoms in the orchard.  Within a week there will be sweet perfume in the air everywhere and the fruit trees become clothed in white puffy clouds of blossom before bursting full into green.

In defiance of the calendar, our oak trees cling stubbornly to their brown bedraggled fall leaves as if ashamed to ever appear naked, even for a week.  In May they will go straight from brown to green without a moment of bare knobby branches.

Even so, it sings in me.  Yes it sings.

A morning bird symphony tunes up ever earlier including the “scree” and chatter from bald eagles high up in the fir trees surrounding our house.  Nesting has begun despite the wet and cold and wind because their nest is the secure home that calls them back, again and again, year after year.

Like them, it sings in me.  Yes it sings.

I rise opening like a bud, I dress my nakedness to cover up my knobbiness, I wander about outside exulting in the free concert, I manage to do chores despite the distractions — this routine of mine which is so unchanging through the calendar days becomes glorious gift and privilege.

Hopefulness sings in me in Spring.  Yes it sings.

photo by Josh Scholten

photo by Josh Scholten

photo by Josh Scholten

photo by Josh Scholten

Breathing Fog

photo by Nate Gibson

photo by Nate Gibson

“An absolute
patience.
Trees stand
up to their knees in
fog. The fog
slowly flows
uphill.
White
cobwebs, the grass
leaning where deer
have looked for apples.
The woods
from brook to where
the top of the hill looks
over the fog, send up
not one bird.
So absolute, it is
no other than
happiness itself, a breathing
too quiet to hear.”
-  Denise Levertov, The Breathing

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Mowing the Orchard

The rain eases long enough
to allow blades of grass to stand back up
expectant, refreshed yet unsuspecting,
primed for the mower’s cutting swath.

Swollen clusters of pink tinged apple blossoms
sway in response to the mower’s pass,
buds bulge on ancient branches weighted in promise of fruit
stroked by the hum of honeybees’ tickling legs and tongues.

Bowed low beneath the clustered blooms,  yet scratched by snagging branches
that shower from a hidden raindrop reservoir
held in the clasp of blushing petal cups–
my wounds anointed in trickles of perfumed crimson.

orchard photos by Lea Gibson (“after the rain”)

Becoming Sauce

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Today will be applesauce-making day on our farm. The number of windfall apples lying on the ground is exponentially increasing, so I could put off the task no longer. The apple trees in our orchard are primarily antique varieties rarely grown any longer. I selected Spitzenburgs, a favorite apple of Thomas Jefferson, a Baldwin or two, some Pippins, a few Kings, but mostly I picked Dutch Mignons, a russet apple undistinguished in appearance, not at all pretty, and easy to pass by for something more showy.

It took no time at all to fill several large buckets. Sadly, some apples were beyond hope; they lay rotting, half consumed by slugs and other critters. Those I left behind.

The task of washing, peeling and coring organic apples is time consuming. They require a fair amount of preparation: the bruised spots must be cut out, as well as the worm holes and tracks. The apples are cut to the core and sliced into the simmering pot to be stirred and slowly cooked down to sauce. Before long, before my eyes, together they become a pale yellow mash, blending their varied flavors together. However the smooth sweetness of this wonderful sauce is owed to the Dutch Mignon. It is a sublime sauce apple despite its humble unassuming appearance. Used alone, it would lack the “stand out” flavors of the other apple varieties, but as it cooks down, it becomes a foundation allowing the other apples to blend their unique qualities.

So it should be with the fellowship of diverse people. We are bruised, wormy, but salvageable. We are far better together than we are separate. And we are transformed into something far better than how we began.

When “Eating Local” Means the Backyard

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Taking stock of what is  on the dinner table, I realize it almost all originated on our farm, from start to finish.  This surely doesn’t happen every night but when it does, it is cause to celebrate.  As good as farm raised food is, it is the antithesis of “fast” food; this is very very “slow” food when one considers the long process of getting it to the table.

Thanks to our family’s hard work over the years,  we have eaten home raised chicken and beef, potatoes from the potato patch, corn,  tomatoes, zucchini, green beans, brussels sprouts, salad greens and carrots from the garden, applesauce made from the windfalls of a Gravenstein tree, and sweet juicy plums for dessert.  Even the filbert nuts are drying and getting ready to eat for a night time snack along with the sweet dessert grapes from the arbor. The wild blackberries are hanging thick now and begging to be picked for cobbler tomorrow.   It can start sounding all Martha Stewart-y except the reality is far less glamorous and romantic than she portrays in her glossy magazines.  I’m not sure how many chickens she’s butchered and plucked at home.   She doesn’t look like someone who digs into manure piles for the most composted stuff to dress her artichoke plants.  I’ll bet she doesn’t milk her own goats either.   But I know she carves her own pumpkins and they are much more artistic than anything I could ever create from the monstrosities I have growing up the hill.

The “Eat Local” campaign happening all over the country is meant to decrease the distance food must travel to our tables, to prevent spending resources sometimes far greater than what the food took to grow to begin with.  Eating fresh grapes from Chile or apples from New Zealand in the middle of winter is amazing when you really think about it, but they don’t give us nearly the same satisfaction as the raisins and dried fruit we have made from our own arbor and orchard.  Hot house tomatoes from Holland just don’t measure up to the sun dried tomato slices we’ve preserved in the freezer. Our farm critters have not had to leave the farm; they were less stressed and so are we.

Not everyone has the space or climate to raise fruit, vegetables, meat, eggs and milk for their own consumption, so I realize we are truly blessed to steward this patch of earth. Support for the local growers and farmers’ markets brings healthy affordable foods to the table.  Maybe there are a few more blemishes and a little less polish, but the flavor is exquisite and the source is known rather than mysterious.

Celebrate the “slow” food that good farmers are growing right around the corner, and perhaps, in your own backyard.  It is well worth the wait.

Declaration of Independence

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Perhaps day early fireworks
Combusting in spontaneous eruption at dawn.
A pop, then silence
A crack, then several more—

Stirred from spooning pallid oatmeal,
I look up from the morning comics
To see the ancient Spitzenburg tree of life
Falling irrevocably split and splintered.

I wonder: hit by lightening? Absurd.
The sky is azure liquid lit.
Perhaps I hear anticipated echoes of dream-like resonance
Of midnight explosion of sulfured flowers and raining sparks.

Yet there it lies in dew-damp still,
Hollowed trunk emptied out like brittle bone broken,
Giving away in gasping expectancy
Of winter windstorms to come.

Perchance I can be patched together
With baling twine and superglue,
To hatch more of Thomas Jefferson’s apple favorites,
Sweet declaration to fuel his raison d’etre.

Instead chose rotting in fragile finale without encore,
Shattered sans wind, lightening or tire swing
Simply coming for to carry me home
Before winter rips me in half, pulling me up by the roots.