though unable to sprint away, the turtle knows when to withdraw. the beautiful wizened face peeks out from under the shell and i don’t want to scare it, though it is likely i already have. the black iris stripe, always parallel to the horizon, the water’s surface, highlights its beautiful eyes, yellow-green peering at me. the marks on its shell tell tales we won’t know. we don’t pick it up or move it; there is no road danger for this turtle as we are in the woods and, by the trail it has left in the grasses, it seems to have a deliberate destination.
these years seem turtling years. pulling in, sheltering from the outside, moving slowly, slowly. in light of all that has transpired through the last couple years, i have not minded turtling. it is renewing strength, re-prioritizing, revitalizing humor, stoking up energy. the pandemic has forced this inwardness; this place has been our shell, reassuring, comforting. even with all the zeal i have for adventure, i love being home. there will be a different time. time will pass and seasons will change and the river keeps flowing. nothing is static. my eyes focus on the horizon.
the turtle paused in its trekking as i took its picture. it looked out from under its own fortress-home and whispered smart-turtle-wisdoms, grinning at me, “just keep going. wherever you go, there you are. you carry home with you. keep your eyes on the horizon. slow, slow.”
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.
though we are not ‘good’ at many plants, it seems, we are ‘good’ at ornamental grasses. maybe it’s the soil, maybe it’s the sun, maybe it’s location, but grasses have given us a sense of garden-accomplishment that nothing else (shy of mayyyybe the cherry tomatoes and basil and lavender this year) has bestowed upon us.
we won’t cut them down. no pruning. they will stay through the winter, magnificent plumes golden against the drear, against the snow, reminding us of good fluff of the day.
i imagine tiny animals sheltering in their masses, dense bush allowing warmth and security and invisibleness. maybe tiny chipmunks, with pantries of birdseed they have stolen from the finches and sparrows, waylaid from intrepid robins and scarlet cardinals. we’ll just keep filling the birdfeeder. judging by the birds partying in our backyard yesterday, i think we may try and find another birdfeeder to hang as well. i have turned into my parents.
dogdog comes inside each day now, laden with seed pods. if wishes were granted on seedheads, we would have so many magical dreams coming true. he seems to not mind these tiny hitchhikers tucked into his very-furry fur. we pick them off, one by one.
and now i think, who’s gonna stop us from wishing on each one? these grasses grace us in more than one way. let the magic commence.
there is a place on a washington island road where the rest of the world disappears. you are walking alongside forest and can see the sky as you look up, tall trees framing blue, the sound of sandhill cranes and red-eyed vireos accompanying your steps. and then you enter this place. the trees gently arc over the road and you are covered by a canopy; we have sheltered in this spot during more than one sudden rainfall. even in the bright day, the green above you – which turns to brilliant umber, rich red, flaming orange during summer’s release on the forest – allows for little light. and at dusk, while the sun sinks into the water hundreds of feet away, walking in the middle of the road, it is dark-dark, the canopy a lure for night creatures, safe in the shadows.
there is a place in a tree in the yard of my growing-up house outside the window of my old room where the branches invited sitting. for hours i would sit there, write, ponder. in the summer the maple seemed to grant me privacy from the world, its branches full of leaves and canopying my little spot. a shelter.
there was a place in the wooden structure in our backyard that had a yellow awning that made a fort. when My Girl and My Boy were little they would play up there for hours, The Boy lining up matchbox cars, The Girl often reading a book. a special space, this little fort, it was hard when it was time to dismantle it and pass it on to friends with little ones.
these places of shelter – places of canopy – provide such a sense of protection, a sense of being held from harm – from the elements, away from others, in our own private place. much like our homes, they can give us pause, a deep breath, safety.
in this time of distancing and stay-safe-stay-at-home, i look around our house and give thanks for its canopy of shelter, for the way it holds us from harm, for the minutes, hours, days, weeks, months and years it keeps us safe.