Welcoming Spring

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Happy Vernal Equinox! I’m so happy to be spinning into the warmer months of the year. I know, I know, I’m always the first to say I’d like more snow and rain – but this year I’ve been feeling ready for long sunny evenings. Bring on the warmer weather! I can’t wait to be outside in the garden more.

Last Sunday, Kevin and my mom and I planted some spinach and radishes. Any day now we are expecting to see the first few shoots peeking up through the soil. We also spent some time cleaning up the beds from winter detritus. The apple garden (we call our herb / wildflower garden “the apple garden” since there used to be a big old apple tree there) was surprisingly green for how early in the season it is. Herbs were already regenerating, and even little shoots from the tarragon were coming up. I’m so excited to continue to plant! We are staggering our spinach crops this year so hopefully they won’t all be ready to harvest at the same time and we can have yummy greens for longer.

We had a fun birthday celebration for Kevin last week, serving mussels cooked in beer for dinner. Has anyone tried this cooking technique before? It’s DELICIOUS and even better if you drink the same kind of beer with your mussels. YUM. We also celebrated St. Patrick’s Day on Saturday! It was a fairly simple celebration, with a new little shamrock to brighten up the table and Irish soda bread smeared with the best Irish butter. Kevin and I also listened to some Irish tunes on the way to see some of my students in their high school play. All said and done, a lovely festival day. No one is surprised that I’ve already been cooking up plans for St. George’s Day (on April 23rd). St. George is the patron saint of England, so this festival is like English St. Patrick’s. We are already musing over dinner at a local English style pub or some cream tea in the afternoon. Either way, I’m glad to have other festivals coming up soon, especially since Easter is so early this year.

Speaking of festivals – let’s talk about the Vernal Equinox! We celebrate mostly by acknowledging the burgeoning spring with flowers and lovely spring-themed foods. At the moment, I’m teaching creative writing in a high school and for our writing prompt today I had the students write about what they are excited for during their spring break. This was a lovely way to meditate on the wonderful changes a shift in season can bring. I think of this time of year (and any time of year that involves transitions) as an opportunity for new beginnings. In particular I find the equinoxes to be moments of deep change in our seasonal rhythms. The transition from winter to spring or summer to fall always feel like the biggest shifts of the year, demarcating the warm months from the cold months. Now, at the turning point between winter and spring, the air is still cool in the mornings and evenings, but the light lingers a bit longer, and sometimes the wind feels a bit warmer. We just had a snowfall on Sunday, reminding us that winter isn’t quite gone. But as I write, it’s still light outside and birds are chirping their lullabies as they go to rest for the night. Kevin and I have also noticed our inclinations changing from winter hibernation to more external pursuits. We crave the outdoors, lighter foods, cool drinks, and spend more time socializing rather than cozied up with a book or movie. It’s an odd thing, these deeply rooted rhythms, but every year I feel moved by them.

I’m off to go help with dinner. Sending spring sun and daffodils.

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Merry and Bright

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I told myself after last year that I would do a better job of blogging around the holidays… turns out it’s a busy time of year and that’s a hard promise to keep!

Filled to the brim with friends and family, the last month has been such a wonderful reminder of the bounty and joy in my life. I always forget just how much making and preparing, baking and cooking and gathering happens this time of year! We celebrated several smaller festivals before Christmas. On December 6th, Kevin and I celebrated St. Nicholas Day, exchanging small presents (placed in our shoes!) and enjoying the Christmas tree. My mom and I also observed Santa Lucia day, by making “Lussekatter” or “Santa Lucia Buns.” In keeping with the theme of celebrating light during the darkest time of year, the Lussekatter include saffron to give the buns a golden luster.

My only qualm with this holiday season is there doesn’t seem to be enough snow! Day after day I check my weather, peer at grey skies, and sniff the air for that metallic fresh smell. Alas, we’ve been in the midst of an intense dry spell in Colorado and snow has been scarce. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for more in the new year!

Now that Christmas is over I find myself slowing down and turning inward. After all the socializing and celebrating, I find I need time to recharge and regenerate before the new year kicks in. I’ve been thinking a lot about themes of hibernation and rest, particularly pertaining to Terri Windling’s post about bears and yearly rhythms. Terri explores Terry Tempest Williams’s ideas about bears and the natural hibernation rhythms that come with creative work throughout the year. An inhale and an exhale if you will. During these months of winter, the focus of the writer is on creating. I’ve been struggling to get back in touch with my writing rhythm and create space for myself to move forward with my creative work. My rhythms surrounding reading and writing seem to be off kilter now that I’m not longer consumed with lesson planning! Nevertheless, I find it soothing to know that this is a time to look inward, and to wrestle with the flighty muse.

I hope to make more frequent use of this lovely space in 2018. Wishing everyone a peaceful and joyous new year!

Elk Songs

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This post has been a long time coming — please excuse its tardiness. Life is so full and messy and wonderful and busy that sometimes I forget to take a step back to reflect and work in this space. So here’s a post about our trip at the end of September.

In the autumn, the elk sing at night. We went up north to hear them this year, and I’m always filled with wonder to hear them calling to each other, their song echoing off the mountains. For me, elk song is a symbol of the turning of the year, a reminder that the nights are growing colder and longer, but are still filled with so much magic. The moon and stars seem brighter too as the nights grow longer. My cousin and I found Cassiopeia, Hercules, the Pleiades, Taurus, and the dippers one night while stargazing. At the end of the road to the west we could hear elk by the river, and coyotes howling and barking to the south.

While we were in Jackson, my grandpa passed away. It felt peaceful to know we were in the valley he loved so much, surrounded by the mountains and sagebrush. That afternoon, two buffalo wandered down the road and stood behind the cabin watching us. The herd was up in Yellowstone still, so these two travelers were the only bison we saw in the valley – magically appearing that chilly afternoon.

After seeing them, I read about how buffalo represent abundance and prayer. Buffalo’s lesson is also that of arriving at a goal or destination at the time that is best for you. Buffalo never hurries or cuts corners, but takes the time to complete the entire journey from start to finish.

I thought about how my grandpa’s life journey led him to this beautiful place, and how the roots he created here allowed my family to share a part of this land. I will always be grateful for his love of this beautiful valley. Standing on the deck of the cabin and looking out at the two buffalo in the grass, I felt they had stopped here to rest, just for a little while, on their journey north.

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Early Summer

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Hazy, scummy, and sparkling with little gnats and flies, it lulls me to sit beside it. The pond in summer. Its stillness intensifies in midday, the geese are dormant on the bank, ducks float and bob sluggishly, but there is a strange paradox at work. Through the muggy slowness of the afternoon, dragonflies zip in and out of view, landing once on this cattail, then on that weedy tuft. Pelicans too gyrate in the water, dipping under briefly for a swallow of fish. They swim in synchronization, an odd echo of Swan Lake perhaps, as they dip and glide and turn. Here, I am in this moment.

There is a word for pelicans: primeval. They seem like harbingers of luck, guardians of a different kind of age. In flight too, they seem impossible, black wingtips suddenly and thrillingly visible. It seems like I need them. Or perhaps it’s just hard to imagine the hardened blue-white lake in winter without them. Now they settle on the water, gathered as they drift, ducking under, then emerging again.

*       *       *

I will be back soon with some photos from July 4th and some gardening updates. 

Be well xx

 

Up in the North Country: Pt. 2

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When we return to nature, we come closer to a part of ourselves often forgotten in the hubbub of daily life. The stillness of a mountain lake at midday, the whir and warble of birds, the slow deliberate grazing of moose or elk, remind us of the need to slow down and exhale. There’s no posting or updating or checking “just to make sure” on the trail – there’s only sky and pine and dust. I think I needed this reminder. How magical to see a moose so close up by Jenny Lake, and how amazing to see an elk in velvet antlers.

At night, we looked at constellations in the sky: Orion, Cassiopeia, Taurus, the dippers, the milky way. The air was clear and cold, and I snuggled down under layers to look up at the frozen stars. Later, we had peppermint tea to warm us up. How special it feels for us city folk to see the stars, and how bittersweet too.

 

Up in the North Country: Pt. 1

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But first… we stopped by my favorite Harrison’s Yellow rosebush last Sunday. It grows right on the edge of my old Waldorf Kindergarten and boy oh boy it smells like heaven! I made sure to visit before we left Monday morning because with all the hot sunny days ahead in Denver, I was afraid it would be done by the time we return. I’ll report back soon if there are still blossoms.

And on Monday morning… away we went to Jackson, Wyoming!

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I wish I had taken more pictures of the drive up… Kevin wisely snapped this shot of prairie and sky while I was driving.

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Up on Togwotee Pass we saw a grizz cross the road in front of us!!! I was EXTREMELY glad we were driving and safely in the car and not hiking. Nevertheless it was so breathtaking!

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Later we saw Bison down on the valley floor. Alas, I didn’t get a picture but the whole herd started crossing the road in front of us!

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Six full days up in Wyoming and they were so full to the brim with adventures and fun. I’m always an uneasy traveler (something my mom and I share) so there are many lists, last minute checks, worries about sleeping or being exhausted, and then finally once I actually hit the road I exhale. We drove up last Monday, through Ft. Collins and on through Laramie, Rawlins, Lander, Dubois and finally over the pass and into the valley. The drive is always something I really look forward to, I love the way the land cracks open and how HUGE the sky is. I remember when I was living in England trying to explain to some of my British friends how big the sky is in the Western US, and they didn’t understand what I meant. It seems like you can see the curve of the globe. It definitely gives me chills imagining navigating this vast landscape in nothing but a covered wagon. But there is still so much beauty in the open prairie, high skating clouds, and distant peaks.

Of course the most exciting part of the drive was seeing a Grizzly Bear up on Togwotee pass. I’ve never seen a grizz in the wild before -perhaps once in Yellowstone really really far away… – and it was incredible to watch this amazing creature from such a close distance. Kevin and I pulled our car over and watched her cross the street in front of us and then root around on the side of the road, enjoying nibbling on the green mountain floor. As I mentioned above, I’m extremely glad we weren’t hiking, as I was able to catch some wonderful pictures from the car and I didn’t have to worry about being exposed. How amazing that this powerful animal chose to saunter across our path on Kevin’s first visit to the valley. He must have been my lucky charm.

The first few days in Jackson, we ate Thai food, hung around the cabin, and Kevin and I took so many pictures of the little chiselers who live out back. They were cracking us up with their antics and their upright silhouettes dotting the yard. We took a drive down Antelope Flats road, drove up into the park at dusk, and watched the moon rise over Teewinot. There is definitely magic in the mountain air in the West. When the wind is up after a rain storm you can smell sage perfuming the breeze.

I have so many pictures of this trip I decided to break this post up into several parts, otherwise it would be an overwhelming number of pictures crammed into one post (and even then I’ve had to edit out so many shots).

Looking forward to sharing more!

xx

The Muse

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My Greenman tile from artist Dwight Davidson.

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That flighty player, the temptress, the mercurial muse! The harder we try to grasp her, the more out of reach she becomes. We curse her, sigh, throw our pens across the room and make yet another cup of tea (in hopes she will lie in wait at the bottom). We do a crossword, write a letter, do ten jumping jacks and still she won’t appear. But the inability to reach the muse lies in our own misunderstanding. We imagine that suddenly she will swoop down to our shoulder and give us an idea, when in reality the muse springs up from days upon days of hard work. I believe in inspiration, dreaming and epiphanies, but with a caveat. I don’t believe great works of writing appear, or great bouts of inspiration descend, without sitting down and writing, that is, doing the hard labor. Writing is a practice, something we must embark upon day by day even when its hard, and even when what we write will never see the light of day. There are no shortcuts, no real “muse” to do the work for us. The magic of writing is in the dedication, even if you are tired or your feet hurt or you are preoccupied with your new job, you write anyway.

In the last few weeks I’ve truly turned a corner in my writing practice, writing for at least 20 minutes every day (of course I try to write for a few hours if I have enough time). Some of these writings are timed, more like an athlete’s stretch than the winning goal of the game. But this allows some self consciousness to be stripped away. Criticism dissolves when your writing is the result of ten minutes non-stop scribbling across the page. Then it’s time for business, and I work on my longer poetry project and developing my portfolio (some of which I’ll use for graduate school applications – fingers crossed).

In helping me overcome writing challenges I’ve been inspired by a few different writers and artists. I highly recommend Wild Mind by Natalie Goldberg, as a guide to writing and an interesting perspective on a writer’s life. If you want to watch an inspiring short video, I recommend author Elizabeth Gilbert’s TED talk where she talks about the frustration and hard work that comes with creativity and inspiration. I also have been reading Terri Windling’s blog Myth & Moor, where she has several excellent posts about creative processes and self criticism. This is probably my favorite blog out there, I highly recommend it!

I hope everyone finds time this week to follow their own passion, whatever that may be!

The Greenman image is by the artist Dwight Davidson, visit his website here: http://www.davidsonsculpture.com/.
Natalie Goldberg’s book: Goldberg, Natalie. Wild Mind: Living the Writer’s Life. New York: Bantam, 1990. Print.
Elizabeth Gilbert’s TED talk is here: https://www.ted.com/talks/elizabeth_gilbert_on_genius
Terri Windling can be found at http://www.terriwindling.com/blog/. Her posts on creative processes are here: http://www.terriwindling.com/creative-process/.