i haven’t stopped. since march 2020 when my son – at the beginning of the pandemic – in an effort to help me feel connected to him and my daughter – suggested we have a shared text with photos taken in our day. a picture-of-the-day. and every day, not-failing, i have sent one since. i am in absolute delight when they now share a photograph on this thread; i know busy-ness and work and life have picked back up some time ago and picture-of-the-day is no longer on their radar. but, because i am a mom – and i know moms everywhere can relate – it’s still on mine. i look for something that somehow represents my day, every single day.
i have to say – this has been a good thing, this intention to seek and snap the picture-of-the-day. i take lots of photos, so some days this is easy. but there are others when my photo is of mashed potatoes or chicken soup or the accuweather tornado watch or glasses of wine at the end of the day. some days are just life. normal, regular, not supersized, life.
the trillium placed itself in front of the fallen log, clearly, on purpose. ready for its photo shoot, its bud profile at this stage resembling a mighty tulip, the toadshade waited for someone to come along and take its picture. and there i was.
that very day i ended up using a graceful fern in our backyard as my picture-of-the-day. the composition was just a little better, the curve of the fern beautiful. but the trillium knew it would end up featured. i had whispered thank you to it after my baker’s dozen shoot. it stood proudly as we hiked away, knowing.
paying attention – to the littlest details of a day – requires intention. i know i could get lost in the other details of our life, the more pressing, the more complex, the minutiae and nuances of moment-to-moment adulting.
but one text from my son changed that and offered me a continuing reminder to find something – any thing – big or little, positive or disconcerting, dreamy or a little bit scary – that was a real piece of my day. it also offered me a chance to physically let them know i was – at that very moment of sending – thinking of them.
i know there are days – i don’t want to think about how many – that my grown children look at their phones and – in unison from 1400 miles apart – roll their eyes as my picture-of-the-day drops in.
it lay in the snow, the last of the sun’s rays dancing across it. it was merely a single pinecone. but the sun drew me to it and the way the light played on it called attention to the texture. up close and personal, it is a painting.
reading reveals that pinecones are the safe place for the seeds of the tree, that pinecones can remain on a tree for even ten years, that pine cones open and close depending upon moisture. more complex than you might think.
though ever-important for the proliferation of pine trees, pinecones are one of those things we pass by, often not noticing. what else are we missing – passing by the ordinary, not stopping to really look.
because we know our favorite trail well, we see the tiny shifts, the changes, the transformation. we watch the light play on the cattails and marsh grasses and catch the shadows as they fall. if one note in the woods is different, one tint of color, we draw up, stop. there are days we are stopping often, capturing the transitions, watchful.
we don’t buy a lot of new things. we are sorely behind the fashion curve – i suspect our target jeans are a few years behind-the-times. instead, we accumulate these moments of noticing. our breath is not connected to the facets of diamonds, but rather to the way underbrush berries stand out against the snow. we don’t reach for the keys of a porsche; we reach for our backpack to take on the trail. we do not watch a larger-than-life screen tv; our big-screen of choice is outside.
we look for the paintings in the snow, in the sky, in the stand of trees. we listen for the song of the breeze, of wildlife sharing space with us. the wind stings our cheeks and makes the tips of our fingers burn. we are grateful for the quiet and this path through the forest, across the marsh, along the river.
we immerse in the 3D canvas nature is providing us. no virtual reality needed.
and they dreamed dreams and waited in the woods…winterberries with visions of becoming maraschino cherries in their mind’s eye…actualizing with starring roles in traditional wisconsin brandy old-fashioneds…
no, no. do not put winterberries in your old-fashioned. they are completely toxic. but they are striking and unexpected. and the color in the woods is intoxicating. gorgeous red punctuating a dim brown-grey, save for a few evergreen, they are clustered beautiful.
it had been a while, what with the freezing temperatures and snow. we finally made it out to our favorite trail and it was – truly – a breath of fresh air. there is nothing quite as restorative as hiking, surrounded by stillness and the sound of wind rustling through the tops of trees. we needed to get outside. we slogged through the trails, getting a better workout than usual. the mud splashed up onto the back of our jeans, like when you ride your bike in the rain. we reveled in it.
the deer tracks went across the path. they hadn’t been there the first time we passed through. it was early in the day, early for the deer to be moving around, but we started looking through the brush.
her sweet face was staring right at us, her body blending into the scrub and trees around her. we stood, gazing at each other, none of us moving. i slowly took my phone out to capture what i knew would be hard to discern in a photograph – this deer in the woods, this shared moment of time. she didn’t move, but her tail wagged and her ears pitched forward and back, listening. i was hoping she could hear the words i whispered to her – telepathically, a little dr. doolittle-ish. her continued gaze at us, grace for our presence, her head held high, no obvious fear. unexpected.
she never left the spot while we were standing there. she took a few steps but didn’t flee, as so often happens when you start to move in the forest. we blew her a kiss and continued on, feeling lucky to have seen her and to have spent a few minutes with her.
we passed more winterberry holly as we hiked, laughing about old-fashioneds and marveling at our new deer friend in the woods.
we exited the trail, none too anxious to leave, wanting to just linger.
“sometimes,’ said pooh, ‘the smallest things take up the most room in your heart.” (a.a. milne)
it’s like a romper room book – from the back but not turned over. upside down.
or like i had stood on my head to click. which, of course, i didn’t.
a tree – full of leaves reaching, reaching. no shedding here. no drooping. no waning into the pull of autumn. instead, golden leaves – almost brilliant orange – standing on their stems, stretching, dancing.
perspective rearrange. it took me by surprise skimming through the photographs i had taken. a close-up of the leaves – just one other photo – was also flipped.
perhaps there were just a few minutes there – out in the forest – when the world turned upside down.
maybe we just don’t know. maybe that happens all the time…little smidges of time when all is flipped. maybe that’s good. especially when right side up is pokin’ at us a little. reminders to stand tall. reminders to stretch. reminders to dance.
it is most astounding to me. each and every time. it doesn’t matter the shining of the sun or the drizzle or the misty humid air or dusk falling around us. and though it is familiar – oh, so familiar – it is new when we visit, our footfalls on the path erased and lasting as we walk. i’m comforted by this trail. and it teases me – into truly wondering about thru-hikes and exquisitely ordinary days that explode into extraordinary just by entering them.
this is an easy trail. we have hiked many others. easy trails, moderate trails, difficult trails. elevation gains, a little scrambling here and there. but when – and it is often – we need an old quilt of a trail and time to be quiet, to think, to talk, to sort, to sink into astounding beauty, stillness and ever-percolating life, we hike here, close by.
my camera is ready. i try to capture it all to remember. the trail is full of linear lines now as the underbrush succumbs to the season. a bounty of astounding. even in transition.
i believe – as we enter the woods – that it greets us back.
and as we leave – filled up – it waves and whispers, “see ya.”
“have you ever tried to enter the long black branches of other lives — tried to imagine what the crisp fringes, full of honey, hanging from the branches of the young locust trees, in early morning, feel like?” (mary oliver)
the height of mosquitoes. the height. and the height. both definitions.
ankles, necks…it matters not. right now our favorite river trail hike is swarming with them. if i thought that mosquitoes had any good will toward others, if i thought that mosquitoes served a truly individualized and specialized useful purpose, if i thought that this being – a tiny species that causes infection to millions of humans – was not evil itself, well, i would be deluding myself.
they are dreadful.
this trail now – dressed in all shades of lush green – is only accessible to the deet-doused, unless you are one of those people who are immune to their snide little biting proboscis. and, in other news, there is no limit to how many times one mosquito can bite you – it bites until it is full. just yuck.
we missed our trail so we went earlier in the day. it was to no avail. there they were, laying in wait. long trails of mosquitoes following us and our carbon dioxide trails as we sprinted through the woods, thinking, foolishly, that we were evading them.
they do not amuse me. they ruin everything. i do not like mosquitoes. at all. not that you haven’t noticed.
i read, “mosquitoes hate the smell of lavender, citronella, clove, peppermint, basil, cedarwood, eucalyptus, peppermint, lemongrass and rosemary.” (homesandgardens.com)
i am looking for a new perfume or, perhaps, moving to iceland, which is reportedly mosquito-free.
he sat easy in the saddle, cowboy hat planted on his head, his horse striding down the trail. “have you seen the mayapples?” he turned his head toward us. “yes, you were the one who told us about them,” i replied. satisfied, he rode on.
it’s hard to miss the canopy. they stand tall and the leaves intersect like a three-dimensional jigsaw puzzle, gone a little wild. it is as if the mayapple all joined hands, agreeing that their mutual umbrella is the point, their canopy of protection a priority. the green is beautiful, lighting the floor of the forest. i bend down to photograph them, again.
and there it was. a stunning white flower. hidden under the umbrella of a wide expanse of leaves above. only stems with more than one leaf will flower; the delicate white bloom grows out of the axil of two leaves.
we had never noticed the flowers before. i don’t know why. but the canopy stretches on and on and you must bend and peek to see the flowers. they exist in this other-world, beautiful, showy, fragrant. it came as a shock to us – how many times we had passed by the mayapple – to not know the existence of these pinwheel flowers, each one ever-important to the thriving of the colony. the canopy provided shelter, guarding the precious flowers that will need be cross-pollinated and will then produce a berry ripe with seeds, ensuring mayapple’s continued spread. so much going on in this tiny underworld of the forest. nature continues on her merry way.
the cowboy seems to really love the mayapple. though he doesn’t remember, each year he quietly tells us about them as he and his horse walk by. it never appears that he is in a rush. instead, he is slow and deliberate. and those mayapples.
what beauty we all might find…were we to bend down and peek into the world. what shelter we might provide were we to join hands, spreading out like the canopy of mayapples. how we might protect what is precious to us, the delicate, the fragile, the children among us. how we might lift each bloom and help it thrive.
we walk under a canopy of blue sky and inky stars. we can do this.
in my recollection, my sweet momma didn’t buy flats of flowers with the arrival of spring. my mom and dad didn’t run nursery to nursery purchasing new shrubbery or plants to add to the gardens around our home. they didn’t pore over landscaping catalogs nor research shade and sun preferred plantings. though it didn’t occur to me then, i realize now – and empathize – that they couldn’t afford it.
the half-acre piece of long island on which i grew up was beautiful and natural and serene. along one side of the house – a little bit shady – were four-o-clocks and bleeding hearts. along the other side were hosta. in the front corner and along the side where the neighbors-who-had-the-nice-weimaraner lived there were forsythia. on the other side where the neighbors-who-had-the-weimaraner-who-bit-me lived there were rose of sharon. we had rhododendron and i can’t remember what else in the front garden. but they all came back; they were perennials. because anything annual, well, i don’t think that was in the budget.
and so i guess i have come by it honestly. it wasn’t a “thing” when i grew up to run out and purchase – before anyone else picked them all over – flats of this year’s preferred annual flowers. it wasn’t a “thing” to plant hanging baskets and wooden barrels or giant clay pots with flowers for the season. it was expensive then and it’s expensive now. i learned early to appreciate the simplest garden, the natural setting of a woods, the reassuring return of perennials you have nurtured and which, likely, came from cuttings someone else gifted to you.
when i first moved to wisconsin, it was a full-impact moment when may arrived and everyone was talking about the flowers they would plant. friends and neighbors would dance gracefully into planting season and the ballet seemed a bit foreign, a bit out-of-reach. the quietly-popular greenhouses were divulged to me; i purchased a small trowel and got to it. impatiens and waxed begonia and petunia flats later, to no avail i had tried to avoid the pressure. each year posed the angsty question of color – for there are trends, i found, obvious by the missing palettes at the nurseries.
my momma and my dad loved their garden. they loved their indoor plants as well. and, when they planted vegetables out back next to – but far enough away from – the dog run, they loved those too. mostly, they loved the trees canopying our house and yard, the woods out back, the tiny lily-of-the-valley next to the old shed. i never heard them utter a peep wishing for more. i never felt – growing up – that i had missed out, not having new flowers or plants each year.
yet, here i was – i am – living in a place and time where that seems to be of vital importance. and i have wondered why this urge, this spring-flower-purchasing-extravaganza doesn’t come naturally to me. i know it’s not because i don’t love flowers.
we walk and hike through the woods. no matter whether the forest trail takes us into the mountains or along the low elevation of a river in the midwest, we notice the floor of greenery, the flowers growing wild, color and shape, exquisite all.
once again this year – like last – we won’t purchase annual flowers. the plants we will add for our summer will be cherry tomato plants, basil, lemongrass, perhaps lavender. we will appreciate the tenacity of our hosta and our ferns, the spreading wild geranium, the stubborn return of our daylilies, the tender peonies, our aspen sapling, the ever-present grasses. we cheer on the groundcover sally gave us and the groundcover sneaking under the fence in its every-year attempt to take over the garden. we celebrate the simplicity and wish that our front yard – in its water-main-replacement-utter-mess – wouldn’t require neat and tidy grass replacement, a huge and costly job to remove old sod and stray cement poured from the temporary sidewalks and various strewn deposits of rubber and metal and rocks.
my sweet momma and dad adored the yard of my growing-up home. they didn’t pass on to me the necessity of more. instead, they passed on to me an embracing of simplicity, gratitude for what-we-have and the appreciation of other gardens – friends’, neighbors’, public botanic celebrations of gorgeousness. they passed on the love of feral forests of jack-in-the-pulpit and the crowning glory of trillium.
peeled back from the tree trunk, the bark first reminded me of the colosseum in rome…that one tall section rising above the rest. it is also sadly reminiscent of one of the devastating iconic images of 9/11, a piece of building at ground zero, standing through absolute destruction.
at a different time, in different circumstances, in a small forest in northern illinois, this gorgeous bark in the woods has remained steadfastly in place for several weeks, holding on to the tree at its base and, yet, yielding to nature bending back, back.
i wondered about the peeling. if this is a sycamore tree, this exfoliating is natural, even a charming characteristic. if this is an oak, it can be a sign of an unhealthy tree, unless there is new bark underneath, waiting.
i don’t suppose that is much unlike all of us. peeling back the layers…as we lose each layer, we are vulnerable to the elements, unprepared peeling exposing us to harm. we can more easily share – layer by layer – if we know we are out of harm’s way to do so. we can more readily divulge – layer by layer – if we know that we will not be pummeled. we can more assertively process – layer by layer – if we know we are not at risk of stress, infection, infestation. we can, if we trust we are safe.
decades of life have a way of peeling the outer bark. time may soften the edges; time may bring cycles of raw learning…those moments we speak truth, we take chances, we jump…moments of transition.
the colosseum is over 1900 years old. sycamores live somewhere between 200 and 300 years. oak trees can live from 80 to 500 years, though there are varieties with a much longer life span.
we humans have less time on this good earth, less time to grow to maturity, less time for our structure to weather the storms, less time to lose our bark, less time to peel back to our essence. it would seem prudent to offer each other the room, the space, the shelter to exfoliate.
oak trees develop from the inside out, as do pine and maple. the older bark chips away on the outside making room for new bark. it take some trees till the time of their full maturity to exfoliate their outer skin.
and the dried grassy flower stands tall, not yet shrinking back, not yet bowing to the wind. it opens its arms to the sun and, equally, to the rain; it intimately knows how each feels. it waits – for there is nothing else to do. it stokes energy – for it cannot survive unless it conserves. we pass by, admiring the firework of its winter bloom.
soon, soon, it will regenerate. soon, soon, a stem will grow, sturdy, tall. soon, soon, a rosette will green. soon, soon, it will bloom, tiny flowers, clusters on its thick stem.
and one might think how lovely it would look in a simple bud vase, on a side table, in its winter simplicity or soon-soon-spring-blossoming.
quick research reveals it could be golden alexander or perhaps queen anne’s lace, not-toxic and somewhat toxic, respectively. a google-photo-search suggests it is possibly wild parsnip, absolutely toxic, invasive, causing severe burns and years-long discoloration of the skin, like queen anne’s lace with a big bite.
“things are [- sometimes -] not what they appear to be; nor are they otherwise.” (buddha)
identification – now – in the fallow – is not easy.
when there are tiny flowers, when there is foliage…maybe then it will be easier. it will, clearly, be an important discernment.
often we gaze upon things that seem to be attractive, seem to be beautiful, that tease us to reach for them.