Rain and Trees and a Good Summer Gone By

     Last week a rainstorm blew in – a drenching that called for sturdy shoes and coats and startled after this summer of day-after-day sun.

     During the first week of August, in the midst of that sunshine, Lady B came to visit. We did all our best things: drawing trees at Bloedel, beach time and hikes, painting pottery, and visiting the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle. She overlapped a day with Sweet B, and the two of them decorated our driveway with chalk flowers and a “welcome to the neighborhood sign,” and then camped out in the living room for a sleepover night.

The next morning, we rode the ferry to meet Lady B’s mom and eat crumpets and ice cream before they returned to Alaska. Sweet B stayed on with her family for three terrific weeks.

     In September, the Garden Project at the Bainbridge Arts and Crafts Gallery succeeded with a near sell-out – earning more than $800 for the food bank. In an exciting development for me, I met another artist in the exhibition, a kindred spirit named Lou Cabeen. Over coffee one morning, she told me about the Elisabeth C. Miller Library at the Center for Urban Horticulture, part of the University of Washington Botanic Gardens.

In addition to emphasizing books about horticulture, botany, plant ecology, and garden design, this library presents monthly exhibits by artists who share the library’s love of plants, gardens, and nature. I applied to exhibit, and a lucky vacancy allowed me to be accepted for a show in July 2022.

     The Miller is heaven for me – books and gardens! Last month I rode the light rail to the University of Washington, walked along a wetland path on the shore of Lake Washington, behind the huge stadiums and athletic buildings, to meet librarian Rebecca Alexander and see the available space. It’s plentiful, varied, and inspiring with possibility – and a little intimidating.

But really I wanted to make this update because of this piece by Adrian Higgins about trees. It reminded me that, in my efforts to transform the pumpkin patch into a long-lasting space, more trees are in order. (I’m beginning this process, but for now, more than 25 pumpkins nearly engulf the shrubs I planted last spring.) Our neighborhood has seen the destruction of all sorts of small habitats these last few years. It’s fall planting time, and a joy, to put some back.    

A Update on “A Garden Project”

     How can it be the middle of July already? Summer days for sure. We endured the heat dome, and now experience our summer drought – day after day of sunshine – but so far, thankfully, without a return of the extreme heat.

     A recent comment referred to these posts as “accounts of life, illustrated,” a lovely definition of what I’ve always tried to do here – and an update is due.

My work is now part of the Bainbridge Arts and Crafts exhibition in September – not August. The pieces made of gardeners’ words and my images are safely at the gallery – all 50 of them! They will be priced at just $35.00, unframed, with my portion of proceeds to be donated to the local food bank at Helpline House. (That seemed a good solution to using other people’s words.) It was great fun to do this project, and I look forward to meeting many of the gardeners at the opening!

     This September show is large, with many artists involved, so I’m not sure my other work will all be hung, but I surely enjoyed the making – illustrating garden bloom. In August I’ll post more blue and whites here, and maybe some pieces from “A Garden Project” on Instagram. Here’s one!

A Spring Break

     A week ago, while listening to a book on FaceTime, Lord B told me that, in Alaska, “it’s not spring, but it’s spring break.” Snow still covers the ski mountain – making for great ski days without school.

     Here it is spring – just days past the vernal equinox, blossoms cover cherry and plum trees, flowering daphne perfumes the air, anemone and a few cautious tulips join daffodils, whose insistent yellow declares the season begun. On my morning walk, a pair of small dinosaur hatchlings suddenly appeared at the end of a driveway – made of plastic and wearing masks, of course.

     Resident birds noisily busy themselves, and V-shaped flocks of geese touch down on Eagle Harbor, then depart for northern climes. Unseen for months, rabbits appear from thickets to nibble fresh green grass. And in the human world, the garden center seems relaxed compared to this time last year, when a desperate air permeated the place – gone are many of the restrictions and plants are plentiful.

     It’s a good time for a short spring break in “Her spirits rose….”

Our Dark Winter

     In the Sunday morning darkness, I drove to the grocery for the weekly shop, before an 8-a.m. dawn. Bright lights and stars stretched across main street and the colored lights on the Green’s Christmas tree still shone.

     Lights reflected in the wet parking lot around the store, and fresh green garlands and wreaths stretched out alongside pieces of tape that mark the pandemic-required six-foot intervals. Inside, nestled amongst the pots of poinsettia, I spotted bunches of red tulips. Instantly I was transported back many years, when in the snowy dark of an Alaska Christmas Eve, the florist delivered a totally unexpected bouquet of red tulips, sent by my father-in-law in Kansas. Red tulips are Christmas for me ever since, one of the small things calling forth thoughts of missing people and times.

So, we have memories and increasing light this week, as we pass the winter solstice, and prepare our distanced festivities in this bleak winter of a hard year.

     But no matter the year – maybe because of the year and the daily reminder of the fragility of life – I wish you good cheer, warmth, and light!

Postcards – Flowers and Vote Blue

I’ve been writing postcards this week – the last summer flowers to Sweet B – and postcards (with a whale image and “One vote can make a whale of a difference!” on the front) to likely voters identified by groups who have worked since the last election to flip the U.S. Senate and influence state politics.

A while back I expressed skepticism about the value of such cards – but I was wrong, and it seems a great idea to be doing something. My old friend, who lives here, has been penning postcards for the local Indivisible group for some time, and she told me how to participate.

The writing reminds me of being disciplined in school in the old school days, made to write 25 times on the blackboard: “I will not talk to my neighbor during class.” (That particular means of discipline is probably long gone, along with the blackboard – not a Zoom problem.)

During a first winter storm the last few days, I walked to pick up more postcards with rain dripping off my hood, stepping on fallen chestnuts, giant maple leaves, and around puddles. October always transitions us toward winter, but this year worries about a predicted COVID-19 surge and Election Day chaos amplify the seasonal dread of darkness and cold.

Fall is here. Winter is coming. The first debate is tonight. It’s all upon us. But it could turn out OK – let’s keep that thought!

Summer Revisiting

The beginning of September brought a return to summer heat, and everything is dry, dry. A handful of flowers remain to draw for Sweet B’s postcard project, crocosmia, tall purple salvia, tiny cyclamen. The lower leaves of sweet peas grow crinkly and pale, but a few stragglers still bloom up top. The old, indomitable rose bushes put forth a second flush of blossom after a mid-summer pruning. So many orange orbs of pumpkins show through huge and tattered leaves – nearing their allotted 110 days. Maple leaves begin to fall.

The solar twinkle lights shine and only a glimmer of light shows in the sky, when I take my seat by the window in the morning. And with the light, neighborhood birds appear – the tiny house wren who’s been near the patio all summer, often startled when we walk through the rosemary into her space, juncos, and lately a blue jay. Hummingbirds check out the last flowers and dip and dart into the little fountain. All summer I’ve heard mourning doves, watched them visit the birdbath, then fly high to the top of a huge fir tree. Their cry sounds like somewhere else or something sad.

The other day I walked through town to drop a package at the Post Office. Every other conversation I passed contained the word COVID, “if it weren’t for COVID,” we could do this or that. Masked tourists and locals queue by the ice cream shop, and masks cradle chins of people eating at outdoor tables, separated under umbrellas in the middle of town.

Winter is coming to this COVID year. Light bulbs reveal they are burned out, like light bulbs always do in the fall, but no gaggles of backpacked kids walk by our street. We’ll be more indoors, with flu and darkness. In my head I try to turn it around, what if we kept our masks on and didn’t get the flu, didn’t make each other sick with colds?

What if we settled in to enjoy all that’s newly on the screen? The brochure for the Seattle Arts and Lectures series came, and all lectures (including Maira Kalman and Tana French) will be available online. We missed Lord B’s birthday, but could watch our older son’s Zoom trial – with participants in different towns, even different states. My husband’s university classes are online – no long trek by ferry, train, and foot to the campus.

But I don’t think I can make it work – not with all the misery the government seems too broken or heartless to address, not with people dying, little businesses folding, civil unrest, and the threat of retaining the unspeakably bad president, with his political vaccine and cruel words and actions.

Oh, no way to end a post. What about bulbs – those hopeful packages – can we plant them now and picture a better time in the spring?

 

Gardens, Books, Unease

Does life right now seem a sort of “Choose Your Own Anxiety” game? Spin the arrow inside one’s brain, and settle on worries about the spread of coronavirus or the (now diminished) smorgasbord of candidates confusing efforts to defeat the incumbent. And then, another set of frets (rightly louder) provide real-life concerns like children or work or health – things one might do something about.

I try and interrupt the head spin with books. So I was glad to get Penelope Lively’s new book, “Life in the Garden.” I have been looking forward to it – a memoir by a favorite writer structured around gardens – her own and literary. Describing her tiny London garden now, and the limitations imposed by a chronic back problem, she says, “This is old-age gardening, and like all other aspects of old age, it creeps up on you, and has to be faced down and dealt with.”

In my favorite parts of this book (aside from the beautiful cover and black and white illustrations inside) Lively considers “gardening as an element of fiction.” She writes, “This is a book in which fictional gardens act as prompts for consideration of what gardens and gardening have been for us, over time.”

And I loved it that she reminded me of books I hadn’t read including her own novel, “Consequences,” a perfect book for escaping the present. Beginning just before the hardships and tragedies of World War II, it opens with a romance that echoes through generations. It ends in this century with changes wrought by modernity and a satisfying linking of the generations.

I really care about Lively’s characters – and relish their observations (which seem like Lively’s voice). On books in a library: “they offer a point of view, they offer many conflicting points of view, they provoke thought, they provoke irritation and admiration and speculation.” A library would be noisy, “with a deep collective growl coming from the core collection…, and the bleats and cries of new opinion, new fashion, new style.”

Such a pleasure to read this book, and to surface and realize that a daffodil, ignoring our national discontent, blooms in my tiny garden.

 

 

“Twenty-five Teacups”

Opening this Friday evening, November 1st, Bainbridge Arts and Crafts, the gallery where I show my work, will host “Tea Party” – a multi-media exhibition. I was invited to participate early last summer, and my “Twenty-Five Teacups” will be at the party.

Because I love everything about tea – the warmth, the lift, the comfort – and the cups – whether reaching for a favorite at home or choosing from a good grouping at a friend’s house, I was excited right away to be included.

All spring I’d been thinking about pattern and the Souleaido squares were still on my worktable, so I began there, settling on a grid of twenty-five squares, composed of two patterns (wallpaper and tablecloth) and a teacup (mug or cup and saucer, each has its time). I adapted some of the fabric squares and had fun searching for other inspiration to make up backgrounds (learning a lot about the little motifs used in patterns for centuries).

I rearranged repeatedly (my painter friend encouraged my keeping on through many photo texts). I enjoyed manipulating the color, shape, and stylized flowers in the patterns. Then, with all the backgrounds and cup silhouettes complete, I decorated the cups with more recognizable flower species – from this summer’s garden, from my morning walk, and from my old work.

The squares are small (5½” x 5½”), on heavy Fabriano paper. The gallery plans to hang them unframed in a grid (attached by tiny, powerful magnets), and price them at $65.00.

I will post all 25 teacups for a while here on “Her spirits rose…,” beginning with “Teacup Seventeen” (Helenium) – orange flowers for this Hallowe’en week!