The Garden Here in the Time of COVID-19

Today, spring rain falls on the tiny patio outside the window where I sat so much during recovery – my spot for early morning tea. Last month I watched the rosemary bloom sky blue and eager hummingbirds visit. Beneath it, pink blossoms of thyme crowded the pavers. Planted three years ago, the clematis finally produced white flowers against the trellis. The old rose is huge and full of budded promise.

A pot of Apricot Beauty tulips, one bulb planted years ago on the bluff, produced three welcome flowers. I can see lily spears emerging from another pot, and the hollyhock from last year looks strong. A bundle of forget-me-nots – tagalongs from Alaska – fills a pot. Bags of potting soil and compost clutter the space now – spring cleanup and planting underway.

Theoretically. But this year, like everything else gardening is different. An old and dear friend, wrote that “it’s hard to match the exuberance of my outside spaces with the interior obsession with pandemic news.” That’s true.

At the garden center, with limited opening and strict rules, I bought compost and soil and pumpkin seeds – and sweet pea seeds (quickly, as we are one person at a time inside the building). You can wander the plants outdoors, staying apart from other masked people, but I came home feeling a little sad, the springtime enthusiasm seems muted, wary, gardeners stopping to chat a thing of the past. Employees looked windblown and exhausted. Plants limited. Something grim tinges everything with so much sad and awful news circling the planet.

So far, my sweet peas seeds and cannellini beans haven’t germinated. I’ve attempted to prepare the pumpkin patch from last year (it’s still lumpy with unbuilt planting mounds). Eager for their color, I bought a couple of tiny calibrachoa, destined for containers, at the grocery store on my weekly shop.

But exuberance? Thanks only to perennials (my friend has a perennial garden I bet). The sturdy, old and beautiful trees and shrubs left by the gardener of 30 years ago – the crab apple, rhododendron, and lilac – all burst forth undiminished. I greet the newer perennials with gratitude – the scraggly rose bushes, gift from a gardener on my morning walk, now fill their space, a California poppy rescued from the garden center (the one blossom such an unusual pink) has become a sizeable clump. Lavender, nepeta, and geranium, return and push aside the yellowing leaves of daffodils and tulips.

And on a self-seeded foxglove, gift from a bird, six sturdy stems head skyward. Out back, a grocery-store-purchased compact delphinium I never managed to repot, neglected all winter, reappeared with new healthy foliage – a rebirth I don’t deserve.

And in a cheerful quarantine garden activity, Sweet B and I are beginning a project. Each week we plan to send each other a little painting on a watercolor postcard of a flower from our gardens – adding words about the flower on the back of the card. We’re in early stages, but it’s a thrill to get mail from her. (On FaceTime recently, she advised me that I might want to add some figures to my paintings and they wouldn’t be so plain.)

It inspires to make a record of garden bloom – maybe specially in this pandemic year.

 

 

Sheltering with the Alaskans 

Lady B made the drawing below of her situation (that’s Baby Brother playing with trucks nearby). But I’m a little doubtful that her speech bubble contains a meaningful comment, because we hear tales and see photos and videos of a giant pile of snow in the back yard for snow caves, and of great cross-country skiing.

Lady B is learning to skate ski, but on the downhills, she gets her skis in the tracks, tucks, and hurtles around bends. Baby Brother rides in a trailer behind his dad (a handle on the back allows Lady B to also catch a ride). Luckily, good weather and plentiful snow fill these quarantine days!

She sees her class on Zoom – she tells us they each log in with something to share and the big screen fills with the classmate talking, the others appear in little boxes at the bottom. We are all pixels now.

But there must be moments like below.

December Days

Bustle – and I hope it is cheery bustle for you all – not just the stress of “to do” lists!

Music and lights and evergreen garlands, flashes of red and green and gold interrupt the dark, wet gloom outdoors. I always love this season, and this year more than ever in my gratitude for life and mobility. But am I behind in all I’d like to do? Oh, yes!

In Hawaii, Lady B, her brother and Sweet Baby added their creative touches to our Christmas cards – between swimming in pool and ocean, they sat at a table outside the sliding door and used watercolors (including swell metallic ones), colored pencils, and rubber stamps to make every card unique and colorful.

So, before I begin to mail them off, I’ll post a handful – though it’s hard to select just a few – I love them all!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One day on the trip, I found Sweet Baby and her parents at work – brushes in hand – so I can’t resist adding two of their cards.

December Days

Bustle – and I hope it is cheery bustle for you all – not just the stress of to-do lists!

Music and lights and evergreen garlands, flashes of red and green and gold interrupt the dark, wet gloom outdoors. I always love this season, and this year more than ever in my gratitude for life and mobility. But am I behind in all I’d like to do? Oh, yes!

In Hawaii, Lady B, her brother and Sweet Baby added their creative touches to our Christmas cards – between swimming in pool and ocean, they sat at a table outside the sliding door and used watercolors (including swell metallic ones), colored pencils, and rubber stamps to make every card unique and colorful.

So, before I begin to write them and mail, I’ll post a handful – though it’s hard to select just a few – I love them all!

One day on the trip, I found Sweet Baby and her parents at work – brushes in hand – so I can’t resist adding two of theirs.

 

Ann Patchett’s “The Dutch House”

A list of books for Christmas gifts occupies the front of my mind this time of year – they please in many forms (beautifully illustrated books, a graphic novel of the Mueller report!), but finding the right book is still challenging.

So, I enjoyed reading Ann Patchett’s piece in The Guardian books newsletter about her habit of giving books for all occasions (she owns a bookstore).

And her new book, The Dutch House, belongs on the list. It’s the stuff of fairy tales: a mother disappears leaving two children with a distracted father in a haunting, enormous house. The father remarries, then dies, and the wicked stepmother casts out the children. (It’s also a modern tale of real estate and sibling devotion.) I’d saved it for a concentrated time of reading, the book rewarded the wait, and made a long flight pass quickly!

One day on our trip after a library visit, Sweet Baby asked me how books are made, and I gave an overlong explanation of signatures, endpapers, binding, printing.

And then we just made a book – sketchbook paper cut and folded into pages sewn with dental floss – with a story dictated to her mom and illustrated admirably!

 

A Little About Thanksgiving

Before it’s lost in the December rush!

We spent the holiday with the whole family under palm trees – kids in the pool and ocean all morning, and, with the sound of waves in the background, gathered around the table in the evening. In my long (and I mean long!) life, I’ve never been warm on Thanksgiving and that seemed strange – and very good. Kauai provided crazy stormy days with torrential rain but lovely sunny days.

In many ways, it was just like any Thanksgiving – planning, repeated trips to the grocery store, and cooking ahead. And a homecoming for us all – back to a familiar place, where we have been so often at so many stages of life.

The day before Thanksgiving I turned 75. Holy Moly is what I say. It seemed a miracle to walk up the beach at sunrise, and to climb down a steep incline to our favorite beach few days earlier. In the bleakness of last February, I wondered if I’d ever see that again. So now I feel a renewed lease on active life along with a sense of time running out, and a stronger determination to enjoy and appreciate every single bit.

Watching this family have fun together in a tropical setting made that easy. Sweet Baby attaches herself to Lady B – they duck and bob and torment their parents with splashes in the pool, ride inner tubes and boogie boards in the tidal “river” that forms in front of where we stay, and read books from frequent trips to the library. Lady B can really read, and Sweet Baby hangs on each word her idol utters. Baby Brother also loves books and the beach with limitless opportunities to be absorbed in the work of digging and rearranging sand.

Earlier this fall, I resurrected the moose T-shirts I used to screen print in our basement. (So much easier now with modern technology, draw the image, scan to my computer, and send off for printing.) I brought along one for each, all different colors and sizes and styles – party favors on my birthday night. And, at Thanksgiving dinner, we sat around the table with many moose in the candlelight.

Lucky and thankful!

Recap About A Kneecap

My best laid plans for the January break got upsot – as did I. Foolishly rushing down our driveway, my foot slipped back, and my knee crashed straight down on asphalt, causing my femur to split my patella in two. Repair surgery was a week later on the 17th, and I’m no weight bearing on that leg for at least six weeks. I asked the physical therapist this morning about my knee bending, he said yes, but it will be a six-month project.

So with a walker I clump around on my good leg with my injured leg in a full length leg immobilizing brace, gratefully accepting a lot of help from my good-natured husband (who in the last three weeks has learned much about household matters and care giving), the Trail Boss who came for surgery and aftermath, and Mrs. Hughes and Mr. Carson, who came separately more recently, and friends – all of them bringing good humor, kindness, and competence.

And now it’s February, the little paintings I’d been working on still sit on my table, and the Photoshop for Illustration class I began online in early January paused at Week Two. The assignment that week provided dummy magazine articles, which we were to illustrate after making little drawings and chunks of handwritten text to manipulate and move by the instructions. We had a list of subjects to choose from – kitchen madness, studio madness etc. Now the title of my attempt seems appropriate.

“Warlight” by Michael Ondaatje

Everybody is busy with preparations for the Thanksgiving meal or important parts of it, hosting or traveling – and time is short. So I’ll quickly write of one book (and add a couple of the little watercolors).

“Warlight” joins Michael Ondaatje’s, “The English Patient” (way up on my list of favorite books ever), in making me reach for words like magical, murky, puzzling, beautiful, enthralling. The one word title “Warlight,” refers to the ambient light during a wartime blackout:

     We continued through the dark, quiet waters of the river, feeling we owned it, as far as  the estuary. We passed industrial buildings, their lights muted, faint as stars, as if we were  in a time capsule of the war years when blackouts and curfews were in effect, when there was just warlight and only blind barges were allowed to move along this stretch of river.

but it also describes Ondaatje’s prose and complex story – you don’t see with clear light, but see enough.

The novel begins in 1945 London at the war’s ending. Fourteen-year old Nathaniel and his older sister have been left in the care of an elusive character they call “The Moth,” while their parents leave for the Far East. Or do they? Set in 1959, the second part of the book tells of the attempts by Nathaniel (now grown and working in the Foreign Office) to unravel the mysteries of his mother’s wartime years.

I love to read Ondaatje for his way with words and sometimes puzzling words: “printless foot” and “nightingale floor,” his plots full of unrelated events (perhaps intertwined), and his intriguing characters. The children’s guardian, The Moth, is probably a thief, The Darter smuggles greyhounds on the River Thames, and Marsh Felon, a roof thatcher who broke his hip in a fall, now climbs the roofs of Oxford’s Trinity College by night (and may be connected to Nathaniel’s mother).

But see, I meant to be short and Marsh Felon is only just a part of this fine, totally engaging novel of spies, secrets, and memory.

 

I wish you such a good holiday of giving thanks – celebrating with family, friends, and food in abundance!

Plant I.D. and a Late Summer Break

Do you know PlantSnap? It’s a three-dollar app that uses artificial intelligence to identify plants from a photo taken with a smart phone. On my first try, it provided two out of three correct identifications (the third plant was pretty obscure).

It’s wonderfully August – time for a break and for spirits to rise outdoors. I’ll be back when the days grow short, and I’ve managed some drawings. Enjoy this last month of summer, and thank you always for reading, comments, and messages!

 

Armchair – Playroom

In April Alaska a certain color palette dominates the landscape – leafless tree branches, dust, and leftover snow tend brown and gray – but a clear blue sky, mountains still white, and sunshine brightened my recent week at Downtown Abbey.

Baby Brother, eight months old, is now such a presence, full of life and love. He’s struggling bravely through teething, and his frequent grin revealed two teeth on bottom and one and a half on top – the last one emerging overnight (from a gum swollen for weeks).

He laughs readily – just waving a diaper over his bare belly brings a string of chuckles! And lying on his back, he smiles broadly and pulses his body up from shoulders to heels in response to a friendly face – Lady Baby calls it his “seal hop.”

He flings his arms wide and shudders at exciting things – food coming or a new large cube full of colorful, movable parts to manipulate. He looks intensely at a resident cat or dog passing by, and grabs a handful of fur when he can. He leaps high and long in his hanging jumper.

Using a “food feeder” to feed himself, he holds a lollipop-like handle and squishes avocado or banana or sweet potato through a cluster of tiny holes in the soft silicone top. He hums with enthusiasm when he eats (like his sister did, and his dad long ago.)

It’s easy to see how the differences between first and second born develop. Lady Baby is loving and helpful and the source of inventive fun for her brother. Baby Brother considers before reacting, waiting just a bit, observing. The benefits of surveying the situation might outweigh being in front.

The Tooth Fairy has twice visited Lady Baby – new bottom teeth! Her clothing style these days eschews girly and dictates sporty outfits, soccer shorts or sweat pants, a ball cap with sunflap (not worn at meals), or most favorite – a thin Ninja hoodie revealing just her lovely eyes.

Mrs. Hughes and I tackled some projects, and I’d like to say we cleared the slow drain in the bathroom sink. But, after figuring out how to undo the sink stopper and the P-trap, and detonating three baking soda and vinegar bombs, we called the plumber. A little more successfully, by working “around the edges” as Maggie O’Farrell says, we sewed hot weather clothes from gauzy muslin for Baby Brother. With Lady Baby’s help, Baby Brother watching from a nearby seat, we began to print the little pilgrim from the Via Francigena on T-shirts for an upcoming family adventure.

The Downtown Abbey playroom now doubles as guestroom – with space for sleeping, playing adventure guys, and, with a wooden rocking horse for footstool and tiny chair to hold a teacup, enjoying a favorite old leather armchair.

 

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Flowers From The Garden – Hellebore

Hellebore – the Lenten rose, Christmas rose – even braver than snowdrops, hellebore bloom here in January, bowing their blossoms for protection from inclement weather. My plants are 10 years old now, big leathery leaves get cut back each fall, so the blossoms appear as a surprise in the depth of winter. I read a long time ago, that helleboe lift their heads and endure indoors if you carefully slit the stem vertically in several spots.

blue-white-hellebore

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Flowers From The Garden – Snowdrops

Planting snowdrops requires catching the bulbs “in the green,” and dividing the parent clump. Now patches of them appear in many garden beds here, and maybe someday they will form drifts like you see in old English and Northwest gardens. Undaunted by winter’s freezing rain and temperatures, when I brought them inside to paint I realized they have a small, sweet fragrance.

blue-white-snowdrops

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