Grounded (aka My Left Foot)

wooly

This woolly bear foretold a promising winter. I envy his capable feet.

One of my favorite 60s songs, recorded just a couple of years before I was born, is Turn, Turn, Turn by The Byrds. You  know it—”to everything there is a season…turn, turn, turn…” Did you know that the words come from the Biblical book of Ecclesiastes?

I’m not here to write about this song, however beloved. But it started playing in my mind when I thought about my unexpected season of not walking much lately, and this has coincided with November, my favorite month.

sasafras.JPG

I ventured up the block with Gavin to gather roots for his first sassafras tea

The culprit is a foot ailment that has me nearly howling in pain when I hit the floor in the morning. I think it is getting better slowly. SO slowly. I have upped the frequency of the exercises that are supposed to help. But in the meantime I have missed the freedom to roam outside.

Usually the colder weather means a bit more tunneling under the covers for me, an increased dose of introspection and contemplation. I didn’t expect to start that season earlier in 2017, but I’ve decided that maybe I am meant to have a season for slowing down and going easy on myself. I can be a great outdoor adventurer later, when I’m healed up. Maybe, for now, I’ll go on adventures in my mind.

There ARE a few perks to all of this. Tom is the “designated walker” who has to take our dog Buddy out at ungodly hours, plunging into the cold WAY before dawn! I’m reading more: most recently No Word for Time: The Way of the Algonquin People. It’s reminded me that there are other ways of measuring what’s important than how things fit into the calendar or the watch face.

asters.jpg

Asters have a subtle beauty. They can always be counted on to show up in abundance even as the warm season wanes.

And, when I DO venture out on mild forays into the air (ignoring doctor’s orders but absolutely needing to connect with nature), I am instantly appreciative–in an amped-up way–  of even the smallest findings—like velvety new mushrooms in the yard or the ferns that live alongside our border stone wall.  The colors seem to pop more, now that I am exposed to them more rarely.

lichen.JPG

No adjective does this color justice.

I wish I had snapped a picture of those intriguing, velvety fungi on my last walk, but I did snag shots of the beauties scattered throughout today’s blog, from the last time I climbed the hills to the Cockaponset and to Mount Saint John’s, and from a brief, mostly flat jaunt at Millers Pond State Park. These moments were worth the foot aches that came later, as I strapped my foot into its contraption for healing and settled into a good read.

Addendum: Shortly after I posted this, I continued thinking about being “grounded.” It’s a funny word–it can mean being forced to stay in place and it can also mean being well-rooted, well connected with the earth and what matters–stable. When I dove back into No Word for Time, I read this and it filled my heart:

In Western culture we equate “being well grounded” with getting there on time, mastering the way of the clock. But watching Wabanaki elders has taught me that there is another way. They are grounded in the earth and in their bodies, and in the Creator, and get there at the right time spiritually. They tune into the flow of events which emerge from the source of Creation. When you are one with Creation
you can do that.

shrooms on tree

A “mushroom tree” at MillerPond State Park, Durham

 

A Trove of Seeds

Chestnut Oak acorn, courtesy of U of Kentucky's Department of Agriculture page

Chestnut Oak acorn, courtesy of U of Kentucky’s Department of Agriculture page

Last week, a coworker gifted me with a jumbo-sized acorn. She’d wanted to work outside for a little while, but had to come in because the oak tree above the picnic table was dropping these plump seeds in an urgent and generous rain. Even walking across the grass had become a challenge, as if navigating a small sea of ball bearings. I hadn’t thought much about it before, but a quick Internet search told me there are quite a few kinds of acorns—I think this one was a chestnut acorn. (Here’s a link to an iconic chestnut oak specimen in Clinton, CT–I hope it’s still there!). Our local oaks seem to be having “mast years,” dropping huge volumes of their offspring after a season of favorable weather and ramped up production.

Seeds buok imageMy acorn research coincided beautifully with my latest read—Seeds by Richard Horan. The author traveled around the country, visiting trees that inspired famous American writers as well as other notables. He scooped up samples of many trees’ progeny, sometimes on a solo journey, sometimes with family or friends. I’d like to ask him what became of the resulting plantings. Is there, somewhere closer to home than Monroeville ( Alabama’s literary capital), a Harper Lee chestnut that I can visit?

Chilly Walk photo from Chris Ford on Flickr

Chilly Walk photo from Chris Ford on Flickr

I liked what one of Horan’s friends said: “You know, when you initially arrive at a site, you think there’s nothing there, but after spending a little time looking around, trees begin to appear.” Of course, our silent observers are always there, often assuming a strictly background role. Many precede us, and many will survive long after we are gone, so I regard them as wise and infinitely patient, owing to their long lives and inability to walk away. I like what Willa Cather (one of the many authors featured in Seeds) had to say about them, too: “I like trees because they seem more resigned to the way they have to live than other things do.” I am not so sure (forgive me, Willa!) that I would have chosen the word “resigned.” Maybe, after all these years the resigning has evolved into accepting. John Muir was more optimistic: “I never saw a discontented tree.”

This season is often thought of as a time of winding down, but time outside reminds me that so many creatures are hurriedly proliferating before the cold and stillness of winter wreaks a time of suspended animation for many. I’ve noticed gypsy moth pupae in the trees around my office park, a bit concerned because I don’t think it’s the right season and I know they can fall prey to all manner of infections. I’m fully aware that these insects are considered pests, but observing them in recent years has made me more sympathetic. I like the moth-like shape of their felted egg masses and wonder how many will survive the winter.

Gypsies and their kids at Trail Wood

This, too, is the time for planting bulbs—something I too often forget to do. I am especially taken with one advertised: The Poet’s Daffodil. I like the haiku-like description on the American Meadows site (line breaks inserted by me!):

Flowers are pure white with
a yellow cup edged in red.
Sweet fragrance

Poet's Daffodil, from Klasse im Garten on Flickr

Poet’s Daffodil, from Klasse im Garten on Flickr

Of what poet was this bulb’s namer thinking? I’ve no idea, but it just so happens I have a Robert Frost anthology beside me. My mom, whose memory and hearing are so very poor now, came alive when we took turns reading from it last Tuesday, this treasured corner of her mind not unlike a bulb that’s overwintered finally flowering. I’ve flipped to this Frost poem today. It reminds me of the inevitability, and often hibernating gifts, of bleaker seasons:

 

In Hardwood Groves

The same leaves over and over again!
They fall from giving shade above,
To make one texture of faded brown
And fit the earth like a leather glove.

Before the leaves can mount again
To fill the trees with another shade,
They must go down past things coming up.
They must go down into the dark decayed.

They must be pierced by flowers and put
Beneath the feet of dancing flowers.
However it is in some other world
I know that this is the way in ours.

Aster Place Comes to CT

Astor Place in New York (Cooper Union building) by David Shankbone

Astor Place in New York (Cooper Union building)
by David Shankbone

I went to school in Manhattan for a while, and Astor Place meant a street in Greenwich Village, named after the incredibly wealthy John Jacob Astor.

 

Aster Place in Deep River

Aster Place in Deep River

When I pulled up my driveway earlier this week, I nearly rubbed my eyes to check my vision. Beyond the comforter and sheets bobbing on the clothesline, and further back, beyond the French drain to the mossy, moist part of the yard, was a sea of white stars. Uncountable asters had grown up, seemingly overnight. We’d never planted them; they just are; a visitor that comes every year as autumn approaches.

Toward the end of last autumn I picked a brownish, aged aster and placed it in a cobalt blue vase. My husband tossed it, thinking it was a bud that had stagnated from neglect. But I saved it because, even well past its prime, it had a modest, stalky beauty, well preserved. It was stalwart after summer ebbed, and I had to give it credit for its staying power.

The common name for the aster flower, which can bloom in white, blue, or purple, is the Michaelmas daisy, so named because it coincides with the feast of St Michael the archangel, according to Herbs Treat and Taste. The site also tells me that Virgil, some years before the start of AD (or Common Era), wrote about the flower, alluding to its use on holy shrines. I treasure the timelessness of these words nearly as much as I do gazing down out our bumper crop of stars:

There is a useful flower
Growing in the meadows, which the country folk
Call star-wort, not a blossom hard to find,
For its large cluster lifts itself in air.
Out of one root; its central orb is gold
But it wears petals in a numerous ring
Of glossy purplish blue; ’tis often laid
In twisted garlands at some holy shrine.
Bitter its taste; the shepherds gather it
In valley-pastures where the winding streams
Of Mella flow. The roots of this, steeped well,
In hot, high-flavored wine, thou may’st set down
At the hive door in baskets heaping full.