Wet Trembling June

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Green was the silence, wet was the light
the month of June trembled like a butterfly
~Pablo Neruda from “Sonnet XL”

 

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We are now four days into summer but aside from the date on the calendar, it would be difficult to prove otherwise.  After a dry stretch of warm late spring weather, it is now unseasonably cool, the skies stony gray, the rivers running full and fast, the ground peppered with puddles. Rain fell hard last night, hiding behind the cover of darkness as if ashamed of itself.   As it should be.

What all this moisture will yield is acres and acres of towering grass growth, more grass than imaginable, more grass than we can keep mowed,  burying the horses up to their backs as they dive head long into the pasture.  The Haflingers don’t need to lower their necks to graze,  choosing instead to simply strip off the ripe tops of the grasses as they forge paths through five foot forage.   It is like children at a birthday party swiping the frosting off cupcake after cupcake, licking their fingers as they go.  Instead of icing, the horses’ muzzles are smeared with dandelion fluff,  grass seed and buttercup petals.

In the northwest, June can tend to shroud its promise of longer days under clouds.  Outdoor weddings brace for rain and wind with a supply of umbrellas, graduation potlucks are served in the garage and Fourth of July picnics stay safely under cover.  There is a wary anticipation of solstice as it signals the slow inexorable return of darkness from which we have not yet fully recovered.

So I tremble as I too splash through the squishiness of late June,  quivering like a wet butterfly emerging from its cocoon ready to unfurl its wings to dry, but unsure how to fly and uncertain of the new world that awaits.  In fact the dark empty cocoon can look mighty inviting on a rainy June night or during a loud mid-day thunderstorm.   If I could manage to squeeze myself back in, it might be worth a try.

After all, there is no place like home.

 

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A Tender Heart

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The artichoke
With a tender heart
Dressed up like a warrior,
Standing at attention, it built
A small helmet
Under its scales
It remained
Unshakeable, She enters the kitchen
And submerges it in a pot.

Thus ends
In peace
This career
Of the armed vegetable
Which is called an artichoke,
Then
Scale by scale,
We strip off
The delicacy
And eat
The peaceful mush
Of its green heart.
~Pablo Neruda from “Ode to an Artichoke”

I first encountered a globe artichoke in my first week at college in California.  I’d never seen one before, much less dismantled and actually eaten one.  The California natives around me in the dining hall were astonished my world view had never before included artichoke leaves and heart.   After all, we were only an hour away from the artichoke capital of the world, Watsonville,  where the motto for the annual artichoke festival was “Thistle Be Fun!”

My frame of reference growing up on a farm was that thistle-looking plants were noxious weeds and needed to be chopped down before going to seed and reproducing even more noxious weeds.  This spiny looking bud that was about to bloom a purple thistle flower looked highly suspicious to me and not to be trusted.

But then someone showed me how to peel off a leaf, dip the base in mayonnaise or lemon garlic butter and scrape off the soft part with my teeth.  Noxious?  Not even close.  Absolutely delicious!  It was a revelation.

The circumferential peeling of leaves one by one leads deeper to softer petals and fewer prickles, with the flavor becoming less subtle and more distinct.  Once the leaves are all off, there lies uncovered at the base a heart to be scooped out.  The round meaty heart is the point of all this effort.  It is the gold in the buried treasure chest, the pot at the end of the rainbow. It takes work to reach it, but it never disappoints.

How to mentally get past the plainness and prickles?  How to recognize what appears so undesirable as something to preserve and nurture?   There are so many times in my day I walk right past such people or opportunities as not worth the trouble.  Sometimes I myself am the one with the prickles, protective as they seem to me yet cautionary to others, not to be trusted.

How could anyone know the tender heart that dwells within unless we gently, graciously, gratefully peel the prickles away?

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The Simple Majesty of Foliage

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Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Chestnut Tree Blooming
Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Chestnut Tree Blooming
From bristly foliage
you fell
complete, polished wood, gleaming mahogany,
as perfect
as a violin newly
born of the treetops,
that falling
offers its sealed-in gifts,
the hidden sweetness
that grew in secret
amid birds and leaves,
a model of form,
kin to wood and flour,
an oval instrument
that holds within it
intact delight, an edible rose.
In the heights you abandoned
the sea-urchin burr
that parted its spines
in the light of the chestnut tree;
through that slit
you glimpsed the world,
birds
bursting with syllables,
starry
dew
below,
the heads of boys
and girls,
grasses stirring restlessly,
smoke rising, rising.
You made your decision,
chestnut, and leaped to earth,
burnished and ready,
firm and smooth
as the small breasts
of the islands of America.
You fell,
you struck
the ground,
but
nothing happened,
the grass
still stirred, the old
chestnut sighed with the mouths
of a forest of trees,
a red leaf of autumn fell,
resolutely, the hours marched on
across the earth.
Because you are
only
a seed,
chestnut tree, autumn, earth,
water, heights, silence
prepared the germ,
the floury density,
the maternal eyelids
that buried will again
open toward the heights
the simple majesty of foliage,
the dark damp plan
of new roots,
the ancient but new dimensions
of another chestnut tree in the earth.
~Pablo Neruda, “Ode to a Chestnut on the Ground”

Each spring the horse chestnut tree in our front yard transforms for a week into a Renoir painting.   It explodes into hundreds of bright clusters of delicate orchid-like blossoms, forming cone shaped floral candles illuminating the spreading branches.  However, its setting is more peasant than romantic, as the tree stands in common company between a pine tree and a poplar lining the rural driveway into our barnyard.  This is an exceedingly humble spot for a tree bedecked with foliage of such majestic lighting, its tender broad leafed branches brushed and broken by passing hay wagons and shavings trucks.

Although its graceful beauty seems more appropriate along the Seine River,  during the summer it fits perfectly in its spot near our haybarn.  Its verdant foliage provides deep cooling shade during hot sweaty days.    The branches that were once lit up with scores of pink and white blossoms become leafy respite for a dusty hay crew gulping lemonade in between loads.   Horses snooze in the paddocks under its shadow.   Birds nest well hidden and squirrels leap from swaying branch to branch.   The tree becomes sanctuary within and below.

By fall, the tree forms its fruit within unpretentious capsules covered with spines and prickles, visually spiked yet the bristles actually soft and pliable.  There are few natural things  so plain and homely as the buckeye horse chestnut husk.   These are shed by the hundreds  in autumn wind and rainstorms, and they shower down, cobbling the driveway, eventually to break apart underfoot.

Only by leaving the tree can the deep brown nut be revealed from its hiding place, its richness exposed.    From exquisite bloom to shady haven to prickly husk to mahogany harvest,  this chestnut tree’s changing palette needs no canvas, no frame, no museum gallery showcase.  Instead its majestic exhibition is for free,  right in our front yard.

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Green Wet Trembling June

“Green was the silence, wet was the light, the month of June trembled like a butterfly”.
Pablo Neruda

We may be three days into summer but aside from the date on the calendar, it would be difficult to prove otherwise.  It is unseasonably cool, the skies stony gray, the rivers running full and fast, the ground peppered with puddles. Rain fell in torrents last night, hiding behind the cover of darkness as if ashamed of itself.   As it should be.  Then a mid-afternoon thunder and lightening gully-washing storm passed through and completely drenched my drying laundry on the clothesline.

Enough is enough.

What all this moisture yields is acres and acres of towering grass growth, more grass than imaginable, more grass than we can keep mowed,  burying the horses up to their backs as they dive head long into the pasture.  The Haflingers don’t need to lower their necks to graze,  choosing instead to simply strip off the ripe tops of the grasses as they forge paths through five foot forage.   It is like children at a birthday party swiping the frosting off cupcake after cupcake, licking their fingers as they go.  Instead of icing, the horses’ muzzles are smeared with dandelion fluff,  grass seed and buttercup petals.

June tends to shroud its promise of longer days under clouds in the northwest.  Outdoor weddings brace for rain and wind with a supply of umbrellas, graduation picnics are served in the garage and Fathers’ Day barbeques under tent canopies.  There is a wary anticipation of solstice as it signals the slow inexorable return of darkness from which we have not yet recovered.

So I tremble as I splash through the squishiness of June,  quivering like a wet butterfly emerging from its cocoon ready to unfurl its wings to dry, but unsure how to fly and uncertain of the new world that awaits.  In fact the dark empty cocoon can look mighty inviting on a rainy June night or during a loud mid-day thunderstorm.   If I could manage to squeeze myself back in, it might be worth a try.

After all, there is no place like home.