Growing and Climbing Like Vines

Blossoming Beneath the Surface

Happy Spring to you!  We’ve seen Pi Day, St. Patrick’s Day and the Vernal Equinox/Ostara come and go, yet the snow continues to cover the ground in New England.  We hope and trust that under the white shroud of crunchy crystals, the earth is preparing to bless us with a panorama of brightly colored buds.  The tender beginnings of flowers and leaves are ready to announce their presence to a world that yearns for their cheer.  The snow is ready to melt, and so are our hearts.

Winter Crop hoop houses
Winter hoop houses hold growing greens for our community to make salads

 

Growing Like a Vine

Global warming has dumped upon us a series of very unusual storms this season and many areas of the world are reeling from them.  Despite such phenomena, I believe that the earth will manage to deliver her cyclical rebirth through the flowers and plants that will sprout and become green.  The cold winter will recede to let her have her way with the world.

Vines are one type of plant whose growth pattern seems to run parallel to human development.   All types of vines begin small and tender like infants, in the form of fragile seedlings.  With enough sunshine and water they take off, running up trellises at light speed like happy growing children.  A vine is one type of plant that needs just an ounce of life-giving energy in the form of basic nutrients to blossom and run rampant.  With a moderate amount of encouragement, they blossom beautifully and reach for the sky.

Peas are one of my favorite types of vine, which love to climb toward the sun as they grow.  March is the time I usually sow snap pea seeds in my gardens.  I provide trellises to support the nature of their growth patterns and they reward me with beautiful flowers and a harvest of sweet pods full of peas to snack on.  Pea plants tolerate a wide range of summer temperatures, so if I plan well I can grow up to three cycles of snap peas in one summer season.

Ivy as a Symbol of the Vine Family

Peas are not the only prolific type of vine plant.  Pole beans and grapes are others. Gourds are also very fruitful, delivering their delicious creations at varying times throughout the summer growing season.  Watermelon is the sweetest of them.  Then there’s the yellow squash, zucchini, and butternut squash.

Painted Ivy
A section of ivy painted with acrylics by my daughter around our back door frame

Finally, there is the ivy plant.  Ivy’s fresh green leaves begin sprouting past their dried up ancestors in April, and by July the plant needs to be cut back so that it doesn’t crowd out everything else I’m trying to grow.  In the fall, ivy is a symbol of abundance that lasts the longest of all climbing vine plants before it succumbs to the hibernation demanded by winter.  Some have foliage that turn bright colors before they die, but most remain green.

To keep the essence of green in our homes throughout the cold winter months, my daughter and I have painted ivy around our back door frame.  The back door opens onto a deck with stairs that lead to our back yard, where our gardens are.  Below the stairs is a rock garden where ivy used to climb up the frame. Since I learned that climbing vines can damage any standing structures they latch onto and contribute to their premature decay, my daughter and I have taken to painting the ivy instead, using a stencil.

When the days become seasonably warmer, we will take our stencil outside to paint ivy on the wooden columns that hold up the deck stairs, to replace the climbing ivy that was removed last year.

Climbing Toward the Sun

Sometimes I find myself feeling akin to a vine.  With a little care, I’ll grow tall and leafy and climb around any support structure provided for me.  With the support of an ornate trellis to cling to, I will climb toward the sun.  The extent of my growing more branches and leaves depends on the energy that I take in and the height of my trellis.  From my growth as a vine, my leaves are the gifts I share with the world: music, writing, leading labyrinth walks, and giving love through cooking and baking.

What forms my support trellis?  I believe that eating well, giving myself enough rest, and doing what makes me happy are all parts of my trellis.  So are my friends, family and co-housing neighbors.  What materials work together to provide a support trellis for you to climb around as you grow?  Please feel free to share as a comment below.  I look forward to reading them.

We all can use the support of trellises.  Sometimes we are called upon to play the trellis for friends or family members who need our support.  Small nurturing gestures show love that encourages our fellow humans to grow fresh branches with many leaves that reach far and wide.  Let us be trellises for one another in these challenging times.

My rock garden - featuring chimes
My rock garden while the ivy still grew there.  The two plans were good at reaching toward each other in favor of growing farther.
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Saying “Yes” to Unschooling

Plunging into the Unexpected

This past week I did something I did not expect to do until June.  I sent a letter to our local school superintendent with my intent to home-school my child – in the middle of the school year!  We had been home-schooling together from grades 1 through 6, but I enrolled her in middle-school in September of 2017.  The guidance counselor decided that it was best for her to start from the ground up, so she entered school as a sixth grader.

From that time until the present, I heard earfuls of grief about how miserable she was at school.  Some children have made the transition from home-schooling to public school learning with relative ease, but my child was not one of those.  She had supportive teachers, but that was not enough to keep her going.  On top of that, last month she fell and has since been recovering from a concussion.  That caused her to miss an extra week of school and to fall behind in her schoolwork.  I wasn’t sure if she would ever recover.  I was also done with the constant worry about her emotional well-being.  I missed home-schooling as much as she did and was ready to return.

Socialization

It wasn’t the schoolwork that she found hard, except for math.  Math has been her most challenging subject, but that can change with time.  She was doing well in all of her other subjects.  It was the social scene she didn’t like or trust.  She couldn’t figure out who was a potential friend because everybody was mean to everybody else and put each other down constantly, with few exceptions. They were also fickle.  They changed their allegiances at the drop of a pencil.  She was so bothered by the culture on the school bus that she asked me to drive her home every day instead of making her take the bus.

The one argument most people make in favor of formal schooling has been around socialization.  But, are our children learning things we may not want them to?  Are they emotionally and physically safe there?  Is the predominant culture all that healthy?  Unless there is an extreme case of bullying, I don’t think teachers or administrators notice if a child is feeling unsafe.  This type of thing builds up quietly until it is too late.  There is tremendous peer pressure to go along with the norm of what classmates think is funny, cool, etc., or be harmed by rumors, teasing, practical jokes, or worse.  If my daughter did not want to learn in the environment that she encountered at school every day, she wasn’t going to.  If a child is under tremendous stress, her receptivity to learning new things is diminished significantly by that stress.  A sense of safety is important to learning new things.  My daughter will learn more with her fellow home-schooling friends, travel, and random gatherings with other youth than if she kept attending public school.

The environment of most public schools is not one conducive to inspiring all children to become lifelong learners.  Sitting at desks does not engage their imaginations.  Their curiosity and wonder are crushed by long days with limited movement.  Perhaps not all children experience this because they somehow thrive in the academic environment and succeed, but that experience does not serve all students.  We have read many stories about what happens to the students who cannot fit in.

 

Cosette's Ivy.jpg
The bottom 3 sets of ivy around the right side our doorway was painted by my daughter.

Curiosity, Wonder and Unschooling

My philosophy about life is that we only have the chance to live ours once.  We need to do it right.  Why not make it the happiest life there is, and generate the fondest of memories to warm us on cold, dark, wintry nights?  I wanted to give my daughter back her happiness and to lighten her spirit.  I wanted her to love both life and learning again.

During our former years of home-schooling, I sat beside my daughter and worked with her to develop skills in observation, experimentation, and recording what she saw.  She learned how to draw what she observed, think about how two substances interacted together and wrote down questions she wanted to find answers to.  This time around, I know that she is old enough to take responsibility for her own education.  She will start by reading some books in each of the subjects that we already have at home, and then supplement those resources with library books, field trips and other fun activities.  She will use our local library’s web site as a free portal into the world of learning new languages, such as Spanish.  I will need to work while she reads, writes and explores, but will make time to listen to her share what she has learned.  She will also be responsible for keeping up-to-date records of her learning experiences – just enough information for me to write the progress report in June.

My daughter’s spirit and energy are returning to her, more quickly than she expected.  She has expressed curiosity about the content she is reading  and wonder about what she notices happening in the world around her.  That is because she is given the room to demonstrate agency when choosing her own curriculum at the highest level she is capable of learning.  She knows herself best.  She takes lots of initiative in beginning and completing projects, such as painting ivy around our back doorway (above).  She is also given time to exercise her body, because physical activity also feeds the brain.  I am excited to see how she works through the learning activities she sets up for herself, and  look forward to working with her on projects such as painting wall murals now and then.

The Transformative Power of Letting Go

 

Samantha the Christmas Star
Samantha Merry, our Christmas Star

Happy New Year!

Welcome back to the Gardener Dragon’s blog.  I hope that 2018 has been good to you.  It’s off to a roaring start here in New England with the biggest snowstorm of the season upon us.  I am grateful that I have the warmth of company from my husband, my hamster, my daughter and her friends in my home as I write.  At 6:45 we’ll gather with our neighbors at my co-housing community’s common house for a delicious meal of black-eyed pea stew, collard greens and corn bread.  I will be heading off for some gaming before that.

With a grateful heart I welcome this new year with wide open arms, and I resolve to write 12 fresh blogs this year ~ one per month!  I give myself that goal because in addition to this blog, I write for SheWrites and Hub Pages.  I am also working on two novels.

Letting Go

When seeking inspiration for my writing, I often look to nature.  When the weather is mild, i.e. a range from warm summer sunshine to light snow flurries, I walk the wooded labyrinth at the south end of my community daily.  I witness the wonders of life in the activities of the flora and fauna that live there.  Birdsong, chirping crickets and the calls of peeper frogs are some of my favorite forms of music.  I also enjoy the shower of rain sprinkling over me through the tree canopy above the labyrinth.  In autumn, the vibrant colors in the leaves embrace me in a warm and cozy aura of love.  After a light dusting of snow, sunlight is reflected in rainbows on the soft carpet blanketing the path.

One day in October, I walked around the woods by the labyrinth until I captured an image of a leaf falling from a tree.  The leaf floated gracefully to the ground in the breezes ruffling the canopy of branches.  The grace of the leaf’s descent came from the grace with which the leaf let go of the life it knew as part of the tree branch it sprouted and grew from.  I imagine that the elder leaf bid her leaf siblings and nearby oak and maple friends a fond farewell as she let go of her hold on the branch and let herself descend to the ground.

Falling Leaf
A golden autumn leaf falling from a tree branch

Transformation

The elder leaf was ready to let go of the life she knew in order to become part of the earthy humus that feeds the tree she fell from.  She gave herself back to the earth as a gift.  She was ready to become food for the tree that gave her life, or a gift found by a wanderer and pressed in a favorite book.   She was ready to let go and give herself over to becoming part of a new reality without forethought of what that new reality would be. She was open to whatever she was called to be next.

Lying on the ground, she was the same leaf she had always been, but also more than what she once was.  Her earthy fragrance became like a balm that lifts the heart of the pilgrim who picks her up and breathes her in.  Her life became connected more closely than ever to the other leaves that had already fallen to the ground. Together, their lives ended.  They were ready to rest under the frost and snow that covered them throughout the winter.  They were at peace because they knew that that they would eventually become warm and glisten in the vernal sunlight as the wheel of the earth turned to the next place in her cycle of life.

I strive to be like the gracefully falling leaves of autumn.  I want to let die within the parts of me that don’t fit anymore in order to rise to a new me in the spring.  Winter gives us a transformational gestation time to reflect, renew our homes and ourselves, and emerge in the spring more fully the people we are meant to become.  But that is not the end.  Our lives are the journey, ever transformed by the moments we live among our fellow travelers of every species.  Let us be transformed by the darkest, coldest months, to rise to the warmth of spring.  Let each of us be a new life ready to blossom.

Frosted Fallen Leaves
Frosted fallen leaves waiting for the peaceful sleep of winter

Finding Enchantment in our Modern World

Enchant

There are two definitions of the work Enchant, v. in the Webster’s New Riverside University Dictionary: 1. to cast a spell over;  2. to Charm and delight completely.

Have you every encountered a scene in nature that has enchanted you?  How about a person?  Or a pet?  Perhaps the place or person delights you and you have gathered some lovely memories around that place or person.  If you are enchanted by a pet, you probably love spending lots of time playing with your critter friend. No matter the source of your enchantment, memories of spending time with that source undoubtedly bring you joy and peace.

beautiful elsa eating a blackberry
Our late beloved pet hamster, Elsa, eating a blackberry

Gratitude and Well-Being

What are your sources of enchantment?  Take out a piece of paper and make a list.  How many are they?  Does writing about them and reading over your list lead to feelings of gratitude and well-being?  When you think about them, does time slow down or stop for you?  This happens to me when I write about aspects of my world that bring me a sense of enchantment.  Here are some of the things on my list:

  1. Working in my garden
  2. Reading an enthralling book
  3. Playing with my daughter
  4. Playing with our hamsters
  5. Walking around my neighborhood during an evening snowfall
  6. Spending time by the seashore
  7. Playing my musical instruments
  8. Walking a labyrinth

Please feel free to share some of your items as comments below.  I’d love to know about them.

tabletop-seaside-labyrinth
My tabletop seashore labyrinth, which I made for myself

Re-Enchanting Our World

I am reading a book by former priest and psychologist Thomas Moore, titled The Re-Enchantment of Everyday Life.  He is very Jungian in his perspective about how people form relationships with the world and how the modern world distracts us from developing deeper connections with nature, places we visit, animals, other humans, and the food we eat.  The materials of the homes we live in affect our sense of peace when we are there.  There could be too much of one element in a home, such as wood, and not enough of another, such as stone.  There could be too little color or other types of creative stimulation in our work spaces. Such imbalances increase our levels of anxiety and affect our well-being.  They detract from our health.  If we give ourselves a chance to tune into what we need, we can create a more balanced home with a few adjustments, and begin our journey back to a greater sense of wholeness.

Once we can find enchantment daily in our homes, we have the freedom and openness to find enchantment in who we encounter there, such as family and pets.  After that, we will be able to find enchantment in the places we pass through regularly, or visit occasionally, such as parks, schools, farm stands or local shops.  Are there places in your town that you find enchanting?  Are there favorite places that your family loves to visit?  Our family loves to visit North Conway, New Hampshire and Acadia National Park in Mane.  We also love to walk the trails of our local conservation land to our town library.

cosette-holding-new-sheep-puppet
My daughter holding a sheep puppet that I knitted for her and she decorated

We Are Enough

When we look around us, do we find an enchanting place that warms our heart?  If not, we can change that and make it more comfortable, more us.  Our homes are meant to reflect what we love most, what makes us feel truly “at home” in the world.  From that place we can have greater energy to meet the challenges that the world hands us, and respond with resilience and hope, perhaps sprinkled with playfulness.  We can be a healing presence to others.  Who we are is enough to light up the world.  May we bless each other with our unique light!

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Heartlights of Hope in the Darkness

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Marshmallows toasted over a roaring bonfire

Where does your glow come from?

We are now engulfed in the heart of winter.  The holiday season is winding down and the coldest days of the season are still before us. No matter where we live, the dark hours of the night still seem much longer than those of daylight.  What makes this season of cold and dark bearable for you?  How do you satisfy your longing for warmth and light?

We need the shadow play of dark and light that winter brings.  Only on the darkest nights do the lights on trees, bushes, yards and porches shine brighter.  The darkness commands us to slow down, bundle up, and face the blustery side of nature.  The time we spend inside gives us the opportunity to think about what we want to make happen in the new calendar year. The longer shadows help us focus our thoughts toward our center.  The light of candles is softer than electric illumination, and fits the reflective mood of the winter months.  One of the first things I do each day in December is to plug in the lights of our Christmas tree. As evening approaches, I light candles on safe surfaces.  The play of shadow and light that they create invites us into a spirit of mystery and anticipation.

Bonfires and Holiday Lights

I am fortunate to live in Central Massachusetts.  I live in an intentional community full of neighbors who love to gather around the hearth.  When the night sky is crisp and clear with starlight, we sometimes stoke bonfires in the bowl pit and roast marshmallows.  Neighbors also string lights on their porches and doors in anticipation of the holiday season.  Those lights bring cheer and inspire me to spend more time walking around outside before I curl up under a pile of blankets inside.

decorated-doorway-for-the-holidays
Neighbor’s door decorated for the holidays

Walking around our co-housing village this time of year is a magical time. My daily goal of 10,000 steps is more easily realized while walking the footpaths close to home.  I often greet neighbors who are also walking about and wave to children playing.  At dusk, the lights strung on porches and in doorways begin to sparkle brightly against the approaching nightfall.  They are beacons of hope and warmth when the wind picks up and the chill begins to freeze my limbs.  Yet, there are also fields nearby to step away into the darkness and appreciate the starlight of the winter constellations.

When I walk, my first destination is usually our community labyrinth on the other end of our village.  It is a wonder-filled place to walk and reflect.  It’s Baltic Wheel design and natural setting inspires moments of stillness and appreciation for nature’s wisdom.  The deep, dark colors of our conifers stand out as snow laces their branches and shrouds the earth around their roots.

snowy-labyrinth

Winter Garden Wonder

Another place quite close to us that we love to visit is Tower Hill Botanical Garden.  It was established in 1986 by the Worcester Horticultural Society and hosts a wide variety of programs for members and guests to forge a deeper kinship with nature.  The garden is a magical place all year round, in all seasons, but especially when it is lit up with many lights during the site’s Winter Re-Imagined festival.  Their outside and inside exhibits delight visitors of all ages.  I spent 2 evenings this month volunteering there and plan to return soon.

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Courtyard lit up during Winter Re-Imagined at Tower Hill Botanical Garden, Boylston, MA

Happy New Year

May all of your days in 2017 be filled with love, hope, and cheer.  May the warmth of holiday lights remind you that you are not alone, that no matter where you are you are thought of fondly.  May the spring bring warmer days to accomplish outside tasks and the summer shine on an abundant garden harvest.  May all of your dearest dreams come true!

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Winged Healers in our World

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Raw Honey bought at Harvard Sq. shop

National Honey Bee Day

Saturday, August 20, 2016 was National Honey Bee Day, instituted as a celebration of the beauty, industry, and generosity of honey bees.  They deserve our respect and appreciation.  There are so many things that our winged friends do for us:

  1. Pollinate our plants so that flowers and food blossom and grow for us.
  2. Make honey that contains an abundance of healing properties.
  3. Their honey adds sweetness to our lives without spiking glucose levels.
  4. They build beautiful hives that are geometrically intricate – according to the Fibonacci pattern of mathematics.

 

Bees in Community

If those aren’t enough reasons to appreciate bees, they also live in and inspire community.  All bees work together to accomplish their home building and honey production, and to keep their family thriving.

On August 19th, the eve of their special day this year, the owner of Follow the Honey, a shop in Harvard Square, hosted an evening of poetry by Devi Lockwood  in their warmly lit courtyard.  She is a cyclist and a writer who traveled around the world collecting stories about water and climate change.  Her poetry is beautiful and thought-provoking and speaking with her was a pleasure.  We bought a copy of her chapbook to support her next bicycle trip, which will be to attend the climate talks in Morocco.

Follow the Honey also partnered with Proud Pour, a wine company that helps the environment thrive with each bottle it creates.  It’s “Oyster” white wine is crispy and refreshing on a summer’s night, reasonably priced and restores 100 oysters with each bottle.  They will name their next wine project “The Bee,” which will have sweet honey notes in it and will dedicate its sales to supporting the health and survival of bee colonies.

Sustainable Business Models

I was impressed by how a business model can be built around contributing to economic and environmental justice.  The time it took to travel and park in Harvard Square was rewarded with a wealth of fresh knowledge and our chance to taste a variety of honey flavors. We also brought home 2 jars of raw honey, which we have enjoyed in our iced tea and morning cereal.

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A Garden of Poetry

On May 2, 2016, my family and I attended the 45th anniversary of Stone Soup Poetry at the Out of the Blue art gallery in Cambridge, MA.  This poetry open mic was founded in 1971 by the late Jack Powers. who encouraged writers to share their work in a supportive atmosphere.

We are grateful for all or our poet friends and were happy we could enjoy the transformational power of poetry as expressed in the spirit of community.  The last time we were there was in July of 2009.  Our daughter was small.  She is now a little older and was given the chance to stand up and read 2 of her papa’s poems.

Below is the reflection I have written about my time in the company of fellow poets at last Monday’s poetry open mic.

Butterfly on a flower

Lyrical words washed over me this evening, as gentle waves lap a sun-toasted shoreline.

Sirens screamed above hums of acknowledgement and the clapping hands of appreciation.

The chalice of my heart filled up, my soul was nourished.

Moments of beauty tumbled after each other as poets read the works of their hearts, written with pens and other tools. They gifted me with fresh ideas to feast upon.  Their words lighted the lamp of my imagination.

My brain floated through the night sky filled with stars and moons that were painted on the podium they stood behind.

From the Alaskan tundra to an urban laundromat, from navy yards to salty shorelines,  I traveled.

Kissing, welding, flying, falling, I have done, thinking about tossing together a bowl full of words to throw into the soup of my life.

Porcupines, cats, fluffy puppies and sing-along songs saluted the memory of Jack Powers, the founder of Stone Soup Poetry.

We were all dreamers of a world we love that night, healers of broken-hearts with words that let them know we are there to walk their journey with them.

The balm of understanding we applied to fellow wayfarers near and far, giving our own voices to the concerns of creatures whose voices are seldom heeded.  Our sharing brought us closer to the possibilities in all of us.

JackPowersphoto
Photo of a young Jack Powers

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