On the phone recently my niece, a college coed back in the north of the East, reported sighting a crocus blooming – and snow falling. Being past the vernal equinox, a crocus is more welcome than snow.

An animated bloom map of the Northern Hemisphere would be fun to see. Purple lighting up for crocus, yellow for daffodil, orangey-red for tulip, multiplying and fading, each in their own time according to growing zone, pointillist dots adding up to a flush of spring color.

Some of the earliest blossoms anywhere will be flowering native shrubs – food plants. In the northwest, on the imaginary map, the earliest dots would be white for Indian plum, then shades of pink for huckleberry, salmonberry, and ribes.

The ribes here, the flowering currant, planted in the wind path four years ago, tilts. Deer found it in the first year, and pruned in their careless way. After that I netted it off with mesh big enough to discourage deer but small enough to let the birds and bees come and go. The ribes recovered, and the new branches grow straight up, each now a wand covered in shocking-pink blossoms – mostly out of deer reach.

It’s a rosy colored feast of nectar for hummingbirds, and I’ve watched a troop of little orange-crowned warblers turning nearly upside down to stick their beaks in the blossoms. A chipmunk, with unmistakable stripes, sits under the ribes and reaches up to pluck a blossom, holding it to eat with two-pawed enthusiasm. Juncos alternate shelter in the ribes branches with dips in a nearby bath.

This year we saw the first bee of the spring on the ribes. March bees aren’t the background hum they become – they’re individuals finding their way, searching for food. Bees work the hellebore and the pulmonaria, rolling in pollen, reaching for nectar. A bee caught out overnight and dozing in the early morning cold tucked into the yellow light of a daffodil is a sweet sight.

Winter kale now becomes a flowering tree, with yellow blossoms the bees love (the stem on the kale is thicker than the trunks of the little fruit trees). And happily, blossoms cover those fruit trees now – first the cherry, and then plum blossoms, opening one-by-one, more stamen and anther than petal. (Settling in to barrel and bed, but catching up, buds swell on the new apple trees.)

April begins tomorrow, last day for the ribes to decorate the foldbook header, and soon the blossom map lights up everywhere. Even if you have lingering snow piles, mud season, or breakup – spring is here!

Inspiring a Garden

Gardening shares similarities with other creative projects (including the old clothes). Knowledge helps, and experience, but inspiration, in the sense of energy and enthusiasm, carries the day.

Gardening inspiration comes easily from books. (So many books that I’ve added a Gardening Bibliography page to the right.) I have a garden, care about gardens, because of books. Gardening is local, but inspiration is global – and it often comes from England.

While how-to teachers held my hand every step of the way in building the garden here (more about that soon), I wouldn’t have even begun without the books that excite me like those of Mary Keen and Mirabel Osler, the kind that encourage me to try.

In spite of their expertise, Keen a garden designer and Osler a garden writer, welcomed me as a beginner. Echoing the 18th Century poet and gardener Alexander Pope, Keen counsels to “Consult the genius of the place.” Osler, in her book “A Gentle Plea for Chaos” says, “Relax.”

Keen’s book “Creating a Garden” enchanted me, but she won my heart when I heard her speak at the Seattle flower show six years ago. Early in her lecture (full of wisdom and useful information) smiling, but speaking firmly in her proper accent, she invited anyone who wanted to use poison and not be “green” to leave the lecture room. She also said her favorite garden was hers, and yours should be yours.

Another British garden designer said if you can declare “it’s a good garden for me” – then it is. People find garden happiness in many ways: food, beauty, nostalgia, pure plant passion, a desire to be part of the natural world, or, some of all of the above. Sometimes I think I know what people want from their gardens – like the bookbinders who are excellent farmers or my clever friend who lives in town and delights all passersby with an exuberant cottage garden.

I found where I described my garden to myself as a “crude approximation of a Washington garden,” and I would be more comfortable if you thought of it that way, too. The phrase occurs because I compare what’s here with what’s possible – which is nearly every plant under temperate world’s sun. Like England – the state’s a garden – with excellent gardeners.

But for me a good garden isn’t perfect (thankfully) and that’s probably where my fondness for Osler’s injunction lies, and now gardens don’t seem beautiful unless they are good to the earth. So that’s a focus here, along with creating a garden in keeping with the woods and enjoying the cycle of the year. I’d like beauty and solace and a place for critters – the wild ones and us.

Osler writes:

“This brings me to another observation which I think goes with my original longing for a little shambles here and there. For it seems that proper gardeners never sit in their gardens. Dedicated and single-minded, the garden draws them into its embrace where their passions are never assuaged unless they are on their knees. But for us, the unserious, the improper people, who plant and drift, who prune and amble, we fritter away little dollops of time in sitting about our gardens.”

“So me too” – as one of our kids used to say.


“Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could, some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day; you shall begin it well and serenely.”                         Ralph Waldo Emerson

That quote, scribbled in pencil on a scrap of paper, sits on the windowsill of my room, I see it when I shut the shades at night. Usually I pay attention to the end – it’s a variation on “things will be better in the morning” – but the blunder-forgiveness part also comforts. Like life, gardening can sometimes be full of blunders; forgiveness is always a good idea.

We inherited more lawn than I would have chosen – but lawn speaks to some people, maybe all people in a harkening-back-to-the-savannah voice. Lawns please kids and dogs – and brides and grooms. And nothing is sweeter, if you have the right spot, than a small, highly manicured square for clustering chairs for summer sitting – a space where bellis stays and dandelions go – a flowery mead.

Over our time here we’ve tried all sorts of ways to be with our grass (except lawn care involving chemicals). At first, being new to a sizeable lawn, we had it religiously, frequently, routinely mowed. Then, during the summer of construction, the lawn became an overgrown field needing a hay mower to reclaim.

Now we’ve settled into a manageable arrangement: a wonderful guy with an energy-efficient mower cuts the grass minimally, and through that longish grass, the good natured-husband mows paths with a push mower along desire-lines (to the bluff and the birdbaths). That combination mostly allows the greensward to stay green and weed-seed-free through spring growing. The lawn’s length makes it more hospitable to small and often unseen co-inhabitors here. I’m glad when the lawn goes quietly summer dormant.

My garden beds have a motley selection of edgings – old fence posts, broken concrete, boulders, a wattle fence – attempts to “contain the abundance.” It’s all a little shaggy, but defined. Helping to define is a small battery-fed weed whacker so underpowered our younger son, who lives on a manicured lot in Los Angeles, thinks it’s laughable. The British call weed whackers “strimmers” – a good name for this tool.

The strimmer helps with edges, makes more orderly the beginnings of paths and around beds and fencepost, but I am clumsy. Out by the bench, when attempting to give it the appearance of kempt – a green frame – I beheaded three budded daffodils by getting too close.

Graciously – in the same way gardens often forgive our mistakes – the daffodils opened in water the next morning and blossomed, blossomed well and serenely.

A Nearby Island

Accustomed to Alaska’s separation and vast distances, it’s still a treat for me to drive somewhere and change my scene. Bainbridge to the south, with its little town  and ferry connection to Seattle, is an easy outing.

This day I had made an appointment to submit my work to the jury process for a gallery in Winslow. Since 1948 the Gallery at Bainbridge Arts and Crafts has supported artists as a non-profit. Once each month members of the staff look at original work and consider new artists. I took all the supporting materials to explain one’s art (including the address for Her spirits rose…) and dropped it off, making an appointment to return and pick it up.

When my mother lived on Bainbridge  during the last years of her life, I visited increasingly frequently from Alaska. My mother is always on my mind there, as I remember trips to the doctor and the grocery store – and on a good day to the New Rose Café at Bainbridge Gardens.

The New Rose is a mish-mash of outdoor tables, almost out of the wind. Gardener lunch mates drink tea from little teapots and china cups. Birds chitter in the background. I order a cup of black bean soup.

Afterwards, wandering around this big nursery, I’m entering that imagining state gardeners inhabit on an undirected visit to a nursery. What would I do with that plant, where does that belong, that looks good, how big would it get? Does it need sun?

I spend a long time in the fruit trees. I have a Sweetheart cherry some seven years old, and a plum that might leap now in its third year – buds on both offer fruit hope. Even though it is not practical in a space as small as the courtyard to want another, I stop to read the labels on columnar apples. They’ve always seemed peculiar – just straight fat sticks – but in the picture on the label, covered with apples. A straight fat stick doesn’t take much space. Tempting.

Happy news waiting for me at BAC – they’d be glad to add me to their large list of artists – smiles all around. Especially from me – I’m glad to have an art connection closer to home again. And this gallery has interesting outreach programs I’ll enjoy being part of.

On the way home I’d planned a stop at the other big nursery – Bay Hay it’s called – to console myself if need be. Bay Hay has a different feel – in addition to plants, it offers baby chicks, animal feed, work clothes, wool socks – and also columnar apples.

To celebrate I buy two (for pollination). A burly young man carefully loads Malus pumila ‘Northpole’ and M. pumila ‘Golden Sentinel’ into the car.

More buds of hope.

Bird Baths

This morning I stood for a long time listening to, but unable to see, a bird bathing in the hidden bath. From the moment we set it up on an old stump, surrounded by salal, with a wild rose budding and prickling in front, the dish has been a popular and sought-after spot.

I love that watery sound – involving much whirring, vaguely like a dog’s shake, but a smaller, faster sound. It’s hard to hear it as anything but pleasure or happiness.

When Richard Mabey speaks of the human skills of image-making and language in his book “Nature Cure,” he asks if we can use those skills, not to separate us from nature but as a “gateway to understanding our kindredness to the rest of creation, to fitting our oddness into the scheme of things, to become awakeners, celebrators, to add our particular ‘singing’ to that of the rest of the natural world.”

Mabey’s book is a poignant, beautiful tale of a broken spirit, brought low by depression after a series of life events, including the completion of a monumental work cataloguing the flora of Britain, but then revived by re-engagement with nature – not just being in nature, but the struggle to use his skills, regain “his imaginative relationship with the world beyond.”

Sometimes it seems easiest to make that imaginative connection when another species behaves in a way I think I can understand. Often those observations are painful, sighting a lost dog or learning of lost habitat, so I cling to joyous moments – like the love of a bath.

We don’t feed the birds here, but we do offer water, in simple bird dishes fashioned from the large pottery saucers meant to go underneath large glazed pots. We keep them clean with fresh water. Two dishes, the hidden one and one we can see easily from the kitchen, are close to the house, three others, smaller, balance on upright logs near bushes for cover. On the South Forty, three much-used baths are near a hose bib.

The birds don’t seem to mind if the dishes tip a little, making an uneven water level, with shallows. Most of the birds are small and stand on the flattish rocks we put in the dishes as perches; they walk down the rock’s gentle sides as if wading into a lake. Just like people going into the water, birds vary their approaches, some wade on in up to belly, others flit and hesitate.

In these warming days when the action started up again, juncos were first, and song sparrows with their beautiful speckled breasts. Towhees love the baths, make their distinct call, wait for each other to finish.

In the house, I lean down to get something from beneath the sink and look up to see a very stately robin, I imagine her large with child, such a rounded huge pale orange breast. She submerged in the water up to her breast, cocking her head in that way robins do, cautious. She stood for several of my breaths, and then quickly dipped her head, and then again and again. In between fluffing and, hard not to write joyfully, doing that fandango of shaking – drops spraying, making the musical sound of a body getting wet on purpose, a spin of the whole feathered being in desire. She stayed five or so minutes and flew off to a stub of a branch, high on a Doug Fir, to dry herself in the sun.

That seems a movement that we have completely lost – except maybe as an involuntary shudder – I wonder if it comes from the spine or from that energy channel the yogis talk about.

Some place we share.

A Pig in a Post

My bookbinder friends brought the pig back from a trip to Mexico in a winter colder than this, a year when spring refused to begin. Watching for spring indicators, needing to make the foldbooks, I was in a work stall. The pig, all folk art decorated blue, got me going.

The inhospitable weather these March days reminds me of then. Outdoors the wind chills, but indoors the sun cheers. In March I think about the sun verbs: pouring, flooding, streaming. How we are enveloped, soaked, awash with light. And we get filled up – with warmth and with energy.

Light and energy are inseparable in my mind. I’m grateful for the sun pouring in these mornings – in spite of a ten-minute hail pass-by. Blue sky to the south but it’s hailing here, collecting on car, bouncing on birdbath, rat-a-tatting on metal roof, pellets sliding down skylights. And just as quickly as begun – stopped. Sun hot on the back of my head.

Frances is an indicator of weather outside – on really bright days she sleeps in a puddle of sun on the end of the bed with her paws over her eyes, on windy days which chill the house, she tucks those paws under her breast.

Like a northern house needs to do, this one reaches for all the available light. The brightness from windows is doubled as sun streams through panes, forming grid pattern shadows on the floor. My workroom faces south and is saturated with abundant March light. Feeling rich, I shut out all but the glow through shades, to dampen the white paper glare. As the length and strength of light expands, so does capacity for work.

And – a sunbathing pig is a sign of spring.

Winter Squash Galette

We store squash on the front porch all winter in a diminishing display, colorful reminder of what’s available to cook. Just one squash left must be a sign of spring and calls for doing something special.

One definition of art is “making special.” In cooking, that can mean presentation or a fancy cake, but also baking for dinner – adding to the ordinary. Deborah’s “Winter Squash Galette” is the best of both worlds – dinner and handwork.

To bake the squash for the galette filling, Deborah just stuffs the squash with garlic cloves, separated but not chopped or even peeled. While the oven warms the kitchen I make her “Yeasted Tart Dough with Olive Oil.” The rhythms of preparing to bake please: mix wet and dry in two different sized glass bowls, combine and stir. Knead – changing sticky ingredients (including a little whole wheat) into something elastic and alive with potential.

While the dough rises, I cook onions, adding 12 sage leaves from the garden. Squeeze the cooked garlic into the squash, add a little Gruyere, and combine with the squash.

This is forgiving dough, I roll it out with the old wooden rolling pin and form a “rustic circle” on the bottom of a cookie sheet. Plop the squash mix in the middle of the dough, pleat the sides up, and paint with egg yolk.

Then enjoy the house filled with fragrance – as ingredients transform in the oven.

Forming into objects – maybe that’s what I like about baking. A friend here, clever and good with her hands, offered me a piece of quiche the other night, made with flour from local wheat, a nutty, tasty treat and shaped into her perfectly fluted piecrust. That’s art for sure – both in the look of it and the gift of it.

A galette is more relaxed but it’s remarkably beautiful. Fresh out of the oven with dough puffed up, shiny and golden around warm orange filling, it looks much more complicated and time-consuming than it is. I took it to Christmas dinner this year, as a cheerful add-on for non-turkey types.

A galette makes leftovers special, too.

Winter Wren and a Thank-You

A little Internet bird research (with an interested Frances in my lap enjoying the visuals), paid off with the most gracious replies and permissions from two photographers, one from Britain, the other from the Pacific Northwest. They will let me use their amazing photos as reference for bird drawings.

I know a few birds by sight, and a few by song – and none well enough to ask them to pose for me. It’s a great privilege to look at these beautiful photos, and I’m excited to attempt to capture a resemblance with pen and watercolor (another challenge born of the blog).

Thank you to the fine photographers:

Steven Round

Christine Vadai, Birds of the Pacific Northwest

I’ll also list these addresses in the Acknowledgements – they’re a great reference.

Steve Round points out that his birds are mainly British species, but at my taxonomic level, a British Troglodytes looks like ours. And what we call the winter wren looks just like what the British call simply the wren – tomato, tomahto – I’m so happy to have this resource – thank you!

A Woods Walk and the Winter Wren

Beginnings sometimes challenge – and getting going seems easier with routine. A daily walk isn’t such a sure and efficient raiser of spirits as a run, but it’s close. Our daily walk, regardless of weather, is a routine guided by my exercise-dependable husband.

But wee scholar days disrupt the schedule, and I must discipline myself. Being in town leads to temptation, the lure of a giant morning gory muffin or maybe a few errands. Morning time is precious. It’s best if I just go home and go for a walk.

The woods walk begins on public land nearby, along an old logging road that turns to a path of duff – layers of fir needles and broken cones, leaf and branch litter, all soft underfoot. The route is not long, an up-hill, down-dale sort of forest amble, the circuit takes less than an hour.

Sometimes we see horseshoe prints or bike tire tracks, get passed by a runner coming or going, greet dog walkers. Neighborhood users of the trail care for it – after storms, downed trees get cut apart to clear the way. A green-all-winter-understory of ferns, salal, and rhododendron grows beneath fir, cedar, and hemlock. A couple of fallen logs are fashioned into rough-hewn benches. This time of year bright new moss cloaks stumps and nurse logs.

March is too early for the full-on dawn chorus, but the overture begins now – individual birds test solo songs. When the music rings out from a winter wren, which I rarely can see, I have to resist the notion that a giant tree sings. I stop in the woods to try and find the source of such beauty. Brown, tiny, and rounded – the wren has a voice out of proportion to size. To hear this hearty melody coming from such a tiny body is joyful.

Once walking the path with a friend – little and winter wren-like herself, an artist who paints in the woods, a wearer of green and brown – we got close to a winter wren perched on a branch. One of us saw it and signaled the other. But it was October and no song to be heard.

Soon more than one will sing, winter wren songlines will stretch through the woods, interrupting and echoing duets of competition.

The path loops back to the logging trail through a wet spot, catkins signal alders above. Here forest edge plants thrive. Salmonberry and ribes blossoms are ready to welcome hummingbirds and bees. Elderberries begin with leaves.

Back at the house, in those moments at the end of a run or a walk when ideas often occur, I stop at the front steps. In a fitting finale, two utterly silent eagles circle overhead, and from offstage, in the nearby woods, I hear a winter wren –  four cycles of his aria – hidden but glorious.

Daffodils by the Bench by the Road

A fragment of fence runs along our driveway where it turns off the road. Last spring a good carpenter built a bench there for us. It’s simple and attached to the fence.

In Anchorage I used to walk with the dog in the downtown neighborhood and appreciate the house with a bench as part of its fence. It seemed a welcoming spot, “a gift to the street,” a fence with a use besides keeping out.

Daffodils bloom by the bench this month. And daffodils star this month, fully emerged now they trumpet their yellows with notes mild and brassy, large and small, plain and multi-petalled. Because deer ignore them, I plant them anywhere, and in the years we’ve been coming here, they spread. From those collections of hundreds, the exotic eventually fail, but the stalwarts return, and they shout greetings from positions along the driveway and standing in clusters up by the house.

I drew a daffodil on our sign inviting people to sit on the bench, and tacked it under the Wildlife Habitat and No Pesticides signs. The sign says: “Sit if you can and enjoy the sunshine, the birds, and the trees – and pretty good cell phone reception.”

It took a while to catch somebody using it, but one day last summer walking to the mailbox, I saw a loose black dog at the end of the driveway, and then realized he belonged to folks sitting in the sun on the bench. One dark night as we drove in, the headlights picked up two brothers, grown-up inventor brothers, one visiting and one a neighbor, sitting companionably side-by-side. When I bought a handmade wreath from another neighbor to hang for the winter by the bench, she said: “Oh I love the bench.” And at a neighborhood picnic, a woman down the road told me she took a fine photo of her dog seated there.

I’m absurdly cheered by those moments – happy for that opportunity we made from a barren strip. I have fantasies about holiday lights in their season and drought-tolerant plantings by the bench. For now it’s a cheery daffodil moment at the end of a country road.

Four-Inch Beet, Five-Inch Pumpkin, and Beans

Nearly the same size, the beet and the pumpkin (last of their kind from the winter CSA) sit on the kitchen island, along with different sizes of white beans, soaking.

They seemed an unlikely group of foodstuffs for Sunday dinner, until I happened upon “The Complete Italian Vegetarian Cookbook” by Jack Bishop. Another Bishop book (“Vegetables Every Day”) is a frequent resource when uncertainly facing a vegetable, without method in mind.

But this book’s been neglected simply because it tips the wrong way on the bookshelf over the fridge. A tall book, I don’t notice its name or inviting cover photo. It’s been a while, because stuck in the pages is the newsletter from the Alaska CSA. Looking for something to do with the white beans, I pulled on its edge.

Ah, good move. The book, with pages of bean possibilities, came from my old friend. Though I live closer to her now, it’s still too far for that daily back and forth that nourishes friendships.

Over the years my friend and I made a lot of food together. In our own kitchens, each cooking our family’s dinner, phone tucked between shoulder and ear – and over campfires and tiny cooking stoves on shared family adventures. And we’ve exchanged cookbooks. Recipe books, gifts from her, include inscriptions in the front or on the pages of favorite recipes. This one notes that the best vegetables she ever ate were in Italy.

Cooks often make notes in books, enriching a gift book or recording an impression. Another friend and her husband note when a recipe was cooked and for whom. For a while, I commented on a series of earnest vegetarian soups like bean and barley, with equally earnest notes like “Cooked 1/15, very good!” (Later the cookbook, left open in one of those plastic holders, got a yellow sticky note from the amused house sitter: “Hot dogs and tater tots cooked by Doug 2/28.”)

Maybe cookbooks, like novels, you approach depending on where you are in life. You can outgrow them (those soups relied on some readymade spice mix) or reconnect happily with them (Bishop’s Italian vegetables). I enjoyed the memories, and appreciate the potential for more meals. Inspired, I aimed for “Cannellini Beans with Tomatoes, Sage and Garlic” for Sunday dinner.

But wanting to watch a movie, we just ate the beans simmered with onions, roasted the beets (in spite of the lackluster outside, red swirls enlivened the inside), and managed a batch of muffins from the tiny pumpkin’s yield. All very good!

Garden Map

The wordsmith mused the other day: “Why we don’t name our houses like the English do?” (She’s heavy into “Wolf Hall.”) I admitted I had wanted to call this place Goodwood – both as a reminder of a family pronunciation of the valley south of Anchorage, where we spent a lot of time, and also because it is true. But there’s no reason for such a name.

In this country, naming a house or garden would be purely for fun. Practical people use proper street addresses. But practical gardeners do name garden beds. We identify for to-do lists and garden journal notes by calling areas after particular things or people. Sometimes in honor of and for heartfelt reasons like Rita’s Garden, and sometimes just for convenience like herb garden or garage bed.

This map for “Her spirits rose…,” is like a garden map in a garden book, simply indicating buildings and beds and orientation. Five years ago on a sunny day, I sat on a pile of lumber and drew a diagram imagining how soil from the foundation hole might be enriched and shaped into a front garden and a quad garden.

And now those garden beds are labeled on the map. The symbols are rudimentary and leave out all the sounds and smells that bring a garden to life, but it’s a start for telling the spring story.

And a reason for a name is to title a map!

Step by Step

March in Washington – the growing begins. Richard Mabey writes in “Flora Britannica” that “The opening of flowers is a major part of the definition of spring.” That seems obvious, but before the welcome blossoms – weeds and grass are the opening acts of spring.

I saw the young writer the other day, and when I asked her how she was, she said, “Oh OK, but overwhelmed.” I said “Work?” and she said “No this…” indicating the yard of her tiny, and new to her, house.

If the growing begins while you are away or with your head in a manuscript, the first thing you see is overgrown grass and associated lowlife like shotweed, cat’s ears, and dandelions. To regard it all at once is the very definition of overwhelm.

My garden seems a modest garden here in the big woods and then, when I actually tangle with it, completely overwhelming in the work to be done. When faced with a large project, Anne Lamott famously counseled “Bird by Bird.”

This morning watching a newt cross the paved road with a deliberate pace that defied the danger of his route, I thought step-by-step. He crossed, one half-inch at a time, his mind on his goal (I’ve never seen, but have heard of the newt ball he’s headed for). It’s that half inch that impressed me – one little clawed foot, front left, then right, then back left, then right.

So I will just begin to write about the garden bit by bit, (work in it as well), focusing on flowers as they bloom, noticing where and when, and explaining why this plant in this garden.

Except for the weedy lawn – no bloom followed by seeds there. It’s time to get out the mower and off with the heads!

To Town

The return to our house is a straight line from the highway on a country road edged by tall firs and fields, past a fire station and the city dump, a lavender farm with a red barn, horses, sheep, and a turn into our dark driveway.

But this time, because of a car shuffle, we went on into town. My husband said as we drove by sleeping houses: “It feels like returning to a little hometown.” In the morning I asked him what he meant. He said, “You know, like I feel when I go back to my hometown – comfortable, familiar.”

My husband is the opposite from me, born and raised in the same little town, he still goes back. His family home (a graceful old house on a tree-lined street named Pennsylvania Avenue) got demolished to make way for an awkward modern building, but the feeling is still there.

When I drove into town to school the next day, I thought about how I felt to be back. For sure this place satisfies the town part of hometown – not a village or a city but a town, tourist town, mill town, old Victorian town. Small town with an uptown and a downtown, with a main drag named Water Street with one stoplight.

This town is a picture book layout of buildings tumbled along streets and hills. The peaks of the Cascades form the horizon in the far distance. In front of them are peaks of house roofs, round tree shapes and conifer uprights, a large rectangle of the high school, and a turn of the last century, still-functioning courthouse. A clock face on its tower chimes the time all day and looks like a full moon at night.

I’m heading toward the post office, high-ceilinged old-fashioned building with filigreed mailboxes – and a view. From there you catch sight of downtown – the water in the bay and old brick buildings of interest and charm, still lively with use. There’s an historical sense and a happening sense here.

Interest and charm and beauty mean comfort for me. And this town is surely familiar now – the welcoming smiles of wee scholars and staff and post office clerk make me happy – make me feel at home.

Better in the Morning

When coming home from a trip, I’m wary of hovering negative thoughts looking for a place to lodge. The evil vapors arise in part from being back to regular life after a break, but more from fatigue, airplane air, and weird travel meals.

The stacks of “things needing doing” can overwhelm. Glance at the pile of mail, unstuff suitcases, and survey the fridge. Decide what I might do something about and what I must do something about.

My yoga teacher speaks of following one’s breath to the end, a tiny and beneficial act. This re-entry night, I tried to follow my exhalations, instead of following my frets. Slipping into my mind came the thought: “things will be better in the morning.”

My mother, in the face of derision about her predictability, said that of nearly any situation. I’ve come to appreciate the thought as an operating principle, and as a reminder of her ‑ and her generally optimistic nature.

Maybe comings and goings are part of making a home – the pleasure of going and joy of returning to home comforts. Best known by the efforts of our thoughtful house sitter who leaves fresh flowers and sheets and coffee beans, and everything just where it should be. Frances welcomes us, too, with her roll-over-like-an-Oreo-cookie greeting and her cat-self presence. She sits in an upright, self-contained way in a corner she favors (over a heat duct). Coming up the stairs you smile hello straight at her.

She favors sleeping with us, also for warmth. And I’m glad to bury my nose in the back of her head as I fall asleep, sure that everything, already good, will be even better in the morning.