There is an emanation from the heart

which cannot be described,

but is immediately felt and puts

the stranger at his ease.

~Washington Irving

Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life.
It turns what we have into enough...

.........and more.

It turns denial into acceptance,
chaos to order, confusion to clarity.

It can turn a meal into a feast,

a house into a home,

a stranger into a friend.

~Melody Beattie

Don't be satisfied with stories,

how things have gone with others.

Unfold your own myth.

May my life be like a great

hospitable tree, and may

weary wanderers find in

me a rest.

~John Henry Jowett

Sunday, 23 April 2017

The Repeated Refrains of Nature--Seasons

Rachel Carson writes......Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature--the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.   

The start of spring in Oxford,
one lone but hopeful daffodil.

I've never lived in a place without seasons--places where there aren't definite lines drawn between winter and spring, summer and autumn. Some places I've lived had seasons more brutal than others--like Wyoming for instance. The years I spent at the University of Wyoming in Laramie are memories with a soundtrack of wind in the background. Cold wind, warm wind, light wind, or wind that would dry my daughter's diapers/nappies in a matter of moments, as they flew out on the line, nearly always horizontally.  And then there was the cold. Bitter, bitter Wyoming cold. The kind of cold where you have to plug your car engine in at night with a block heater. Minus thirty-five degrees Fahrenheit cold.....-35F, which is -37C. By the time it gets to be that cold, celcius and Fahrenheit meet up somewhere and it's just COLD.

Every gardener knows that under
the cloak of winter lies a miracle ... 
a seed waiting to sprout,
a bulb opening to the light,
a bud straining to unfurl.
And the anticipation nurtures
our dream.
~ Barbara Winkler

I've also lived in a very snowy and rugged countryside in north-central Washington State called the Methow Valley. The snow in the valley came early and stayed late. By March, when "the cloak of winter" was still on the ground and I was beyond ready to see something green, I was always tempted to take my hair dryer outside and blow-dry the snow off my herb garden at least. Instead, I would watch the field outside our kitchen window like a hawk, and mark each inch of snow that melted. Day by day, inch by inch.

My horse Sundance & I  in the
Methow Valley snow. I still have the jingle
 bells that sometimes hung around his neck,
as we trotted through the snow. Now they
hang on our breakfast room door and do
the important job of announcing that our
guests have come down for breakfast.

Circa 1986 which explains the
mauve some extent. 😖
1986 what did you make us do?!

This was our farmhouse in the Methow Valley.
Surrounded by old maple trees, I named it
Maplewood Farm and it was, and still is,
 the love of my life.

She glances at the photo,

and the pilot light of
memory flickers in her eyes.
~Frank Deford

I took the photo of our farmhouse a few years ago when I was back visiting the valley. Maplewood Farm looked the same--mostly. When we were living there a perennial border ran the length of the left side of the driveway. Hollyhocks (the old-fashioned single variety) grew in magnificent splendour, as well as ox-eye daisies that swayed in the breeze, and coneflowers, coreopsis & rudbeckia survived the harsh winters and flourished. I also tended a massive herb garden off to the right of the house and lilacs bloomed all around my chicken coop. My heart is still mending from having to leave it all behind, but landing in England has been very good medicine for that.

So often in life a new chapter awaits.
You ride off into the sunset and
discover it's the sunrise. 
~Robert Brault

I credit the Methow Valley winters in helping me learn how to accept the seasons as they come, enjoy them as they are, and to not try to hurry anything along. When you're still waiting for the snow to melt on the first day of spring, ready to get your blow-dryer out to help it along, it helps instead to become more Zen. To accept the present moment fully and to allow what is to be.

Winter in harsh climates brings the gift of emptying out, the freedom of laying aside expectations, the lesson of patience. Then the fullness spring comes, and as the world explodes with new life, you're filled to the brim again too. There comes a newness to your life that matches the brightness of the daffodils. As the days lengthen, spring quickens and your heart with it.

The photo above is one of the most favourite
scenes I've ever captured. It's so very English,
but more than that, it's so Oxford. The kids
punting on the river, the spring daffodils, and
a vicar leaning against the tree, reading. And
in the middle of it Jack, exploring it all. This
is why not living on my little farm in
Washington state doesn't hurt so
much anymore.

March in Oxford and all of Britain means
daffodils. Legions of them. Instant sunshine
on a grey March day.

Every park, every college garden, and every
road leading in and out of Oxford is filled 
with swaying daffodils. It never gets old,
welcoming them every spring. I always
wonder as we drive down small lanes......
who planted them all? Whomever you
all are, thank you from the bottom
of our hearts.

Winter in England, and most of Britain, can
seem like a long, hard slog and by March
you can feel both webbed footed and mossy.
So bright, yellow daffodils are like yellow
lasers, blasting away the mossy haze of winter.

The yellow pierces the grey and everything
springs to life--especially Jack & Co.

Some days the University Park paths are full
of walkers, joggers, families, thinkers, dogs
and prams; everyone clearing away the
physical and mental debris of winter.

The soverign invigorator of the
body is exercise, and of all the
exercises walking is the best.
~Thomas Jefferson

One of the ways Stuart and I mark seasons
is by the closing time at the Parks. When it
changed to 6:30pm in March we both nearly
jumped up and down--well I did, Stuart
doesn't jump up and down much, but
in his heart he did. In the deepest, darkest
days of winter, Oxford parks close by 4pm,
so 6:30pm marks the return of the light and
our longer evenings. In the summertime the
University Parks stay open until 10pm,
and it isn't unusual for us to be out walking
that late, storing up light and long evenings
for next winter.

Once British Summer Time began on the
26th of March, the Parks were open
until 8pm, then 8:30.....soon 9:30pm
& then 10pm by the summer solstice.
Winter becomes just a distant memory then.

For eternity and always there is only
one now, one and the same now; the
present is the only thing that has no end.
~Erwin Schrodinger
(known for the physics loving cat)

We watch the leaves unfold each day.....
some days the growth is nearly imperceptible,
and then some days they seem to grow right
before our eyes.

These old and wizened trees, that look like
they're just about to walk about like the Ents
in the 'Lord of the Rings' (and Lord willing,
save the planet and all of mankind),
know the meaning of patience; in fact trees
are patience. Patience in physical form.

Birch or Ent? You decide.
Standing tall in the University Parks.
JRR Tolkien based the Ent character
on his close friend and fellow Inkling,
C.S. Lewis.
Treebeard was wise, gentle, fiercely
intelligent, not to be messed about
with, but also a most loyal and faithful
friend. Sounds just like Jack.

Just about when we're ready to give up all
hope of the world ever being green again,
suddenly this happens (below). Our world
is my favourite colour scheme--shades
of green and blue. Two of the most calming & blue; a green tree
against a blue sky.

verdure /ˈvəːdjə,ˈvəːdjʊə/
⬪ noun 
lush green vegetation. 
                      the fresh green colour of lush vegetation.
a condition of freshness.

Before long the trees provide a shady canopy,
shelter for rain & protection from the hot
sun. When you stand and look up through
the branches, and feel the quiet strength of
tree-life, it's easy to see why the Druids
worshipped trees.

The groves were God's first temples.
~William Cullen Bryant, 
'A Forest Hymn'

Beech trees, like the one above & below, were
planted near places of power like the Avebury
stone circle and Cerne Abbas--both neolithic
structures which predate the Druid period of
Britian. Beech trees gave both protection and
nourishment, and the very first books were 
written on thin slices of beech wood. Beech
trees were called 'boc' by the Anglo-Saxons,
which later became the word book. Even still,
the Swedish word 'bok' means both book
and beech, and in German 'buch' means
book and 'buche' means beech.

(Neolithic Period: 4000-2500BC
Druid/Celtic Britain: 2nd Cent. BC-2nd Cent. AD
Anglo-Saxon Britain: 449-1066AD)

Why are there trees I never
walk under but large and
melodious thoughts
descend upon me?
~Walt Whitman, 
Song of the Open Road

A mighty and oh, so wise beech stands
watch over the University Parks.

When I started writing this, it was still March, spring was coming in fits and starts and daffodils were thick across all of Britain. But now it's nearly the end of April and the very last of the last of the daffodils & narcissus have bloomed. We've celebrated the Passover and the Resurrection, we have a new grandson blooming in our daughter and I've lost my mother, who passed into God's care in early April. Sometimes seasons flow back and forth, winter into spring, spring melding back into winter. New life, followed by loss, refilled again by life.

Loss and renewal, loss and renewal.
Death as the price for resurrection.
Remember that even the sun is dying.....
....It's dying to itself to the tune of six hundred
million tons of hydrogen per second.
The sun is constantly dying, while also
giving life to.......every single thing that lives
on our planet.

That's the pattern. Nothing lives long-term
without dying in its present form. Death is 
not the opposite of life, but the full process
of life. Life has no opposite!
~Richard Rohr
'The Divine Dance~
The Trinity & Your Transformation'

These are the last of the little narcissus for
No. 14 Holywell Street--hanging on until the
 bitter end, brave soldiers that they are. The
promise of life though is that they'll return
next year, reborn with the same yellow joy.

In Oxford at least, we're smack-dab in the middle of spring and even with life's losses, we're still able to enjoy every moment of it because of the renewal it brings. The first rush of spring is past, the colours grow deeper, the air richer with scents. The back door stays open more often than not and woolly scarves are put away along with the thick winter coats. Springtime has settled in to stay awhile and we welcome and relish every day of it.

The very second it's warm enough,
the back door to our kitchen is open
wide for the breeze & birdsong.

It's pure joy to throw open our
bedroom window in the morning,
to the bright, spring day.

Experiencing the present purely is being
empty and hollow; you catch grace as
a man fills his cup under a waterfall.
~Annie Dillard

Through the years, immersing in the seasons has helped me stay centred in the moment, grounded to the now. It took many, many winters followed by springs, and summers melting into autumns, but very slowly I've learned to love whatever arises. Whatever shows up? That's what I try to embrace.

Everything just as it is, 
 as it is,
as is.
Flowers in bloom.
Nothing to add.
~Robert Aitken, 
Roshi, As it Is

If it's the impending birth of another grandchild, it's easy to embrace. But even the loss of a parent, painful as it is, like embracing stinging nettles at first, even that can be allowed in. Our universe, our planet, its creatures and us humans--it is all meant for life with a capital L

New life blooming on what was last
month a bare forest floor. The
Bluebell Wood, Harcourt Arboretum, Oxford

That isn't to say there is no grief in my life right now, but even that can be embraced. Sometimes the grief wave hits the shore like a tsunami, knocks me flat, and the bitterest of tears come. As the wave of grief for my mom is embraced with each quiet breath, the tsunami subsides, calm is restored, the moment becomes quiet and life seems all the sweeter and fresher for it. The force for Life that formed the stars and the seas can wrap the grief in comfort and turns it into a full heart once more. Spring turning into winter and then turning to spring in just a few breaths......repeated over and over in the 'repeated refrains of nature'. This is a promise I know to be true.

There is a continuity about the garden and an
order of succession in the garden year which
is deeply pleasing, and in one sense there are
no breaks or divisions -seed time flows on
to flowering time and harvest time; no sooner
is one thing dying than another is coming
to life.
~Susan Hill and Rory Stuart,
'Reflections from a Garden, 1995'

Friday, 17 March 2017

This is the day the Lord has made; 
We will rejoice and be glad in it.
~Psalm 118:24

Give us this day our daily walk......

And give thanks for cameras....

.....and muddy wellies.

For wax jackets that protect
against the spring winds....

....and the colour green.

For punters & reading vicars.....

.....and for hearty flowers.

For a little dog to share it with......

...and for a place to call home.

How true it is that, if we are cheerful and
contented, all nature smiles, the air seems
more balmy, the sky clearer, the earth has
a brighter green....the flowers are more
fragrant... and the sun, moon, and stars all
appear more beautiful, and seem to rejoice
with us.
~Orison Swett Marden

Saturday, 4 March 2017

A Few Bits & Bobs

March is the month of expectation....
~Emily Dickinsin

Wednesday was the first day of March, and in
Oxford it started out very promising. Barely a
breath of wind, almost-but-not-quite blue skies
(which is a great improvement on the grey),
and just a touch of sun. On our morning
walk we were full of the  joys of spring, or
something to that effect, thinking that
winter is maybe, probably, sort of over?

Daffy-down-dilly came up in the cold,
Through the brown mould
Although the March breeze
         blew keen on her face,
Although the white snow
      lay in many a place.
~Anna Warner, Daffy-Down-Dilly

We've been having to settle for spring in the
form of kitchen daffodils, sometimes the only
bright spot in the day.

If the skies are grey outside, bringing in as
many daffodils as possible will brighten a
kitchen immediately. And so will a few lamps.  

I'm a lamp-hound. Overhead lighting can be
harsh, so I've always had little lamps tucked
into every possible corner of my kitchens.
They bring instant cosiness to any room,
especially a kitchen and we have no less
than eight in ours. The joke is that we have
to start an hour ahead of bedtime to get all
of the lamps switched off.
(ha-ha Stuart-very funny)

More springtime in the kitchen, with tulips in
a cornish blue jug and one of my many bowls
 (I'm also a bowl-hound) filled with fresh
herbs for cooking. They make me feel like
there's life and vitality around, even in the
middle of winter or on a dreary March day.

back to the first day of March. We were feeling
optimistic after our morning walk, since we
barely needed wooley scarves and I actually left
my jacket unbuttoned.😯I decided it was a perfect
time to start some spring planting, and so tucked
some tête-à-tête narcissus, a pale yellow primrose
and a hyacinth in the basket that hangs on our
front door. With supreme confidence, I was going
to move on to my next big task of replanting all
of the window-boxes for the front of our house.
They're still full of winter heather and pansies,
and look like they've been through Storm Doris,
barely living to tell the tale.

I had hoped that in our part of England at 
least, March would come in like a lamb, and
so broke out a new pair of garden gloves in
honour of the day. But my hopes were dashed,
since it looked more and more lionish as the day
wore on. And then sheets of rain began pelting
down. All thoughts of planting daffodils,
pansies and primroses came to a soggy end.

My new garden gloves were
set aside for another day.

Last week I did manage to replant the basket
of flowers in the old butcher's bike out in
front of the house. There was a brief respite
from the rain and wind right after Storm Doris
hit town, so I took the golden opportunity.
Daffodils are extremely hardy in this sometimes
rough English climate; even on the wettest and
windiest of days, they persist and persist. It's
 good to be more like a daffodil. To just keep
going and going, no matter what occurs. To
be buffeted by winds, yet standing tall, knowing
that eventually the sun will warm your face again.

Flowers greet our guests all through the
year and they're photographed a
hundred times a day by tourists. 

Frodo was now safe in the Last Homely
House east of the Sea. That house was,
as Bilbo had long ago reported, ‘a perfect
house', whether you like food or sleep, or
story-telling or singing, or just sitting and
thinking best, or a pleasant mixture of
them all. Merely to be there was a cure
for weariness, fear and sadness.
~J.R.R. Tolkien, 
The Fellowship of the Ring

We're doing our part to keep Holywell Street
bright and cheery on the rainiest of days.

So in the end, there was no more planting this first
week of March, as rain fell and lionish winds blew.
It was a week more suited to warm tea and a good
book, read by no less than eight kitchen lamps. 

Speaking of tea, this winter
Emma Bridgewater
debuted a new series of mugs--
'Lovely' London, Paris, Venice,
and best of all, Oxford mugs.
Not only is this mug beautiful and
captures Oxford's golden hues, it's
one of the most perfectly sized and
balanced mugs we've ever used. I
noticed the Oxford mug is sold out,
but I'm sure there will be more.

Bring me a cup of tea
and the 'Times.' 
~Queen Victoria
 (on her accession to the British throne)

Good for a hot cup of Earl Grey
..... and they're just right for my
after-walk, mid-day mocha.

Coffee is a hug in a mug,
especially good if it's a mocha hug.

The book I've been reading, trapped indoors
with rain pelting against the windows, is called
A Secret WomanIt's written by an American
writer who lives and works in Oxford,
Rose Solari.

I had popped into Blackwell's bookstore last
week, always a very dangerous thing to do.
dare anyone to walk through the miles and
miles of books in Blackwell's and not come
out with at least one book.

I stumbled upon 
A Secret Woman almost immediately.
Once I saw that the inner sleeve was a photo
of the dreaming spires, it was mine. It was an
added bonus that it was a signed copy;
the beauty of an Oxford bookstore is that
often Blackwell's and Waterstones
have signed copies of many of the books.

A Secret Woman is about a young woman who
goes in search of her mother's past after
her mum passes away. She's bequethed an
enigmatic painted chest, full of papers and
books. In reading through them, she discovers
her mother had an entire secret life. She
begins a search to unlock her mother's
secrets, which leads her to England and to
Oxford-- which is why the book had to come
home with me.

In search of my
               mother's garden,
I found my own.
~Alice Walker

That every mother has a life of her own running
like an underground river through her life, is
something every adult child comes to face to face
with at some point, especially daughters.
A Secret Woman is just that, and as the daughter
in the story gleans more from her mother's life,
 she then discovers herself. 

Reading a mother & daughter story this
month is fitting, since in Britain,
Mother's Day
is in March. It's traditionally known as 
Mothering Sunday and falls on the
 4th Sunday of Lent. It was originally a 
day to honour and remember the
Virgin Mary, or Mother Mary. 

It was also the one day a year when children,
especially daughters working as domestic
servants, could go home and visit their
mothers. So in Britain at least, Mothering
Sunday began as a holy day and is still
celebrated during the season of Lent.

Mothering Sunday cakes in Oxford's 
Covered Market at the Cake Shop.
Little & delicate fancies for special mums.

Mothers are the gardeners
of the human race.
 ~Anna A. Rogers

It's always so hard to choose--which one?

Oxford's Covered Market always seems to be
harbinger of things to come. It's where
Christmas first appears and where Spring
makes it's first stand during a gloomy winter.
Even if I don't need anything in the market,
I always walk through it on my way to the
shops or the post office. The colours and the
smells combine to make a beautiful tapestry
 for the senses.

The object of our lives is to look at,
listen to, touch, taste things.
Without them, these
sticks, stones, feathers, shells,
there is no Deity.
~ R. H. Blyth

When I started writing this, it was Wednesday,
March 1st, and now it's Saturday, March 4th.
And there's something else; it's sunny today!
Truly sunny. None of this watered down business--
just sun, high in the sky, with a few puffy clouds.
In other words, a very good day for planting,
so out come the garden gloves again and the
pansies will finally have a home.

Even I never dreamed
of Magic like this!
~ C. S. Lewis
The Chronicles of Narnia

It's the small things like garden gloves and
changing seasons that make a happy life
these days. In a world that's seemingly moving
at the speed of light, it's the little things that
tickle our senses, or our fancy, that give happiness.
It's a complicated, messy world out there,
so it's important to stretch our hearts as wide as
the world, but it's equally important to keep our
eyes on the little things, the hidden things,
 the glimmers of beauty, the moments of
serendipity. To look for the magic that's there.

The invariable mark of
wisdom is to see the
miraculous in the common.
 ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

You just never know where you'll find it,
sudden magic. Sometimes it's in the most
mundane of places. Even in a post office.

This W.H. Auden (Christ Church, Oxford)
poem was clipped next to the self-checkout
at the central post office yesterday. In
Oxford, you get poetry with your stamps,
which delighted me the entire day.
Simple, sweet serendipity just needs eyes
for the seeing.

And now it's time to put on my garden gloves, join
the singing birds outside, and finish what I started
on Wednesday. I have a date with some pansies.
And as Vita Sackville-West wrote,
Flowers really do intoxicate me......
and birdsong, budding trees, wispy clouds,
chapel bells, a good book, a cup of tea,
the back door open to the breeze,
warm, little lamps, bright tulips on the kitchen
counter, and daffodils waving against a blue sky.

♬Who could ask for anything more?!♫

The beauty of the trees,
the softness of the air, 
the fragrance of the grass,
speaks to me.........
~ Chief Dan George
A chief of a coastal Salish
band in the Pacific Northwest

Daffodils wave in the breeze on our
back terrace, with New College as a backdrop.

Update & meanwhile, a day later.....

.....the windowboxes are planted and in place
up over the front window. Bright pink
primroses, lavender & buttery yellow pansies,
and tiny narcissus; another step toward
spring on Holywell Street.

The 'Amen!' of Nature
is always a flower.
~ Oliver Wendell Holmes

Springtime is the land awakening.
The March winds are the
                      morning yawn.
~ Lewis Grizzard

All photos ©CarrieGordonHolloway