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Green Man Has Watched Over the Green World for Eons

The Green Man of myth

The Green Man

Many of us have seen an image of the Green Man, his face made of hawthorn leaves and acorns, symbols of fertility. Many of us have no idea of why such an image might exist. And yet this ancient symbol was found in cultures older than the Roman empire, expressions of birth and death. The carving of a Green Man in what is now Iraq may date from as early as 300 BCE (Before the Common Era).

There are many images of the Green Man, sometimes solemn, sometimes smiling, and sometimes grimacing and biting on a branch. Many of these images are to be found in early Christian churches, a reminder of the cycle of life.

The images and beliefs in the power of the Green Man indicate that the human race recognized its dependence on nature in those ancient times. Many of us in these modern days are still, or again, realizing the importance of caring for Nature.

Celt Grant grew up with legends of the Green Man from his Scottish father. Grant’s father grew up in the North Pacific forests of Canada and was devoted to his Scottish heritage. He even named his children to reflect that heritage. I met Celt, but his siblings are named Scott and Gael.

Celt Grant

Celt Grant

“My father had milking cows, but mainly he was a woodworker and kept his own woodshop.  We all became woodworkers,” Grant said, adding that he is also a woodworker, and spent many years working as a preservation contractor.

“I’ve known about the Green Man since I was a teenager.  He is the guardian of the forests and gardens. A benign force.  He is very well known in Britain and Europe,” Grant said. Today his retirement house in Bernardston has Green Man images on the walls, a reminder of his Scottish heritage.

But clearly small Green Man plaques were not enough. A spring windstorm last year took down a large maple tree in his front yard. “What was left of the tree dried out over the year. The bark peeled off. I looked around for someone who could carve a Green Man out of the part of the trunk that was left.

“I found a woman in Royalston, Sue O’Sullivan, otherwise known as Chainsaw Sue.  When she finished with her chain saw I painted the leaves and finished his face.”

I could not help admiring this congenial looking Green Man with his shining beard who watched over the hedges and flower beds at the edge of the green lawn.

Of course, many of us may be familiar with the experience of making a wonderful change in our gardens and then realizing that now it needs something more. “I began to rethink this whole front garden.  I’m thinking about building a very low stone wall around the Green Man and planting a ground cover – maybe Waldsteinia,” he said.

After admiring the Green Man from every angle Grant showed me the way to the gardens behind the house.  I was startled to realize that the house sat on top of a high hill with a steep drop to the lawns and gardens below. A graceful stone stairway led past the terraced plantings to the right and a dense planting of vinca to the left. From the stairway I could see a handsome shed, and a lush fenced vegetable garden.

View of the Folly, vegetable garden and shed from the deck

Grant said when he bought his house six years ago the back yard was full of farm junk and a dead elm tree. I could hardly take in the transformation.

Grant showed me the brick seating area that he calls his Folly. He seemed amused as I tried to figure out the use of the device set on a pedestal. “It is an Aeolian harp, a wind harp” he said with a smile. Then he confessed that it took more wind than was produced in that spot to really make much music. The harp, the pedestal, and the circular white seating were all picked up at the Brimfield Antique Flea Market – and other places. He told me the spring and fall Brimfield Markets were enjoyable, but I should never go to the summer Brimfield Market. Too Hot!

Terraces and Trellises

Looking up the hill at Terraces and Trellises

The Aeolian harp might have been a disappointment, but not the view of the back of the house. A long deck was high above the three terraces. It provided the necessary anchor for five trellises from the deck to the highest terrace. Grant explained that he was working to discover the best plants for those trellises. The clematis was doing very well but the others less so. Shade is the problem, but also an opportunity. At least that is the way I try to face a problem in the garden.

Grant and I share an appreciation for Martin’s Compost Farm soil. The soil there is stony and not very fertile. He needed good soil for his vegetable garden, and to create the terraces. My problem was flooding, but we are both grateful for Martin’s Compost Farm.

When it was time to leave I spent a few silent minutes communing with the Green Man. I thought of the cycles of a garden year, and the cycles of life. I also thought about the cycles of nature. I thought we should not take the benign powers of the Green Man for granted.

Between the Rows   August 3, 2019

Review and View from the Office on July 29, 2019 Renew in Process

view from the office

January 25, 2019 View from the office

I have not been keeping up with my monthly view from “the office.” My plan was to keep track of the weather, and the growth and changes in the garden. When we bought out house the view was very much like this, so we knew there was a lot of wet in the backyard. We are still learning how very wet and flooding it can be.

March 1, 2019 view from the office

We did not welcome snow in March.

April 13, 2019 Snow is gone,

We were glad to watch the flooding drying out, but it is still wet. By the end of the month we were able to get more compo-soil, 4 yards, and begin  building up the raised beds. It was clear they needed to be higher.

June 6, 2019 Spring looks wonderful

The new elevations of the planting beds  are not  to clear, but we did raise them There are not too many flowers, but we are very happy to welcome spring.

July 14, 2019 stop gap plantings

The center bed and northern bed needed to be redone because the fall, winter and spring downed many plants including my beautiful weeping cherry and pagoda dogwood. I am thinking of making a least the center bed into a cutting garden with some annuals. I’ll get started early next year.

July 29, 2019 July is ending

It amazes me how much things can change in just a couple of weeks. We have had to do some watering, and  hope for more rain and a less blistering August.

 

Beverly Duncan and Her Books

Beverly Duncan Botanical artist

Beverly Duncan, Botanical artist in her studio

“Ever since I officially retired from Mohawk Regional High School, I’ve just exploded with new ideas,” Beverly Duncan said as she gave me a tour of her studio in Ashfield. One wall  is covered with framed botanical paintings that she had done in the past. Other paintings-in-progress were pinned to a bulletin board; other smaller paintings of flower blossoms were pinned to a different bulletin board. Surrounded by these works, finished and unfinished, she told me about recent events, and unfinished plans.

Since her arrival in western Massachusetts many years ago, she has focused on drawing plants. First intrigued by wild edibles she soon enlarged her focus to drawing and painting the flowers around her. She hardly had to go beyond her own gardens and the nearby woodlands. The attention she pays to what is sprouting, blooming, ripening, and going into dormancy, as well as the insects that arrive over the seasons, is transformed into delicate paintings. “As I observe, sketch and paint, I am always learning more about the interconnectedness of the natural world,” she said.

Her love of flowers and greenery are put to a different use during the summers. For some years she has worked with Gloria Pacosa, a dear friend and neighbor, who operates Gloriosa & Co, an event venue. Pacosa has large gardens to supply the flowers and plants for the weddings, bat and bar mitzvahs and all the other celebratory events that mark our lives. That means working in the gardens and gathering an abundance of flowers and greens to make unique bouquets for each occasion. She has the pleasure of adding to the joy of the celebratory occasions of our lives.

Early last spring Duncan and Pacosa decided to treat themselves to a trip to Belgium. They attended a workshop run by a commune-owned chateau. “Every day for a week we made bouquets with flowers that showed off the new trends in design, and in flower color, which were in the dark range. Some of arrangements were very stylized, not looking like bridal bouquets or lush arrangements at all. We also got to work with silk ribbons that were dyed, and sometimes shredded. Everything was photographed at the end of the day.

“We also had time to travel around and explore, including a wonderful walk through the forest among the bluebells. It was inspiring. Luxurious learning.”

Refreshed and inspired Duncan returned home to continue her projects with new energy.

Flower a day project

Beverly Duncan – A tiny sample of the Flower-a-Day project

“I love working in small places,” Duncan told me. She brought out two tiny boxes of her paint-a-flower-every-day project. Each box was filled with 2×2 inch flower or foliage paintings, labeled on the reverse side.  Another box held tiny accordion books, each devoted to a single flower.

Grape Hyacinth book

Accordion book devoted to the Grape Hyacinth

Then Duncan showed me the SEEDS project. These 5×5 inch books are each devoted to a single tree or shrub. She created a standard progression of the development of a plant and seed on the vertical pages. “I tell the story of my relationship with the tree. Then I paint the details of the tree from early spring budding. Everything is dated so the time of the progression is clear. Another page will show the summer leaf. That is the way most of us identify a tree, by its leaf. On other pages I show the fruit development, and change in color of the leaf. The winter page painting shows identifying characteristics of the branch and bud.”

SEEDS project

SEEDS project

We looked through the SEEDS book about Staghorn Sumac. Duncan paints the parts of the plant in clear detail. She also names the part of the sumac. I might call the slightly fuzzy red things on the end of an autumnal sumac branch a ‘flower,’ Duncan properly calls them the mature seeds, or fruits, of the sumac, which are called “bobs.”  She goes further to explain that ‘bobs’ are actually clusters of drupes. Then she explains, with another little image on the page, that a drupe is a closed fruit with exocarp and mesocarp and endocarp layers that enclose the ovary.

I had a little trouble understanding the anatomy of a sumac drupe. However, her drawing made me look up some additional information. I learned that apricots, cherries, and other stone fruits are drupes because they have a fleshy covering around the pit that can be opened to reveal the actual seed. Some nuts like almonds, walnuts and pistachios are drupes, while other nuts like acorns and chestnuts are in the family of ‘true’ nuts.

Staghorn Sumac SEEDS book

Staghorn Sumac SEEDS book

The goal is to reproduce these books, and have boxed sets holding five or six little books that can be sold. I am looking forward to that day.

The SEEDS project is very different from her earlier works, in the size of the paintings. These little books also allow her to express her reactions and feelings about plants. Her intent is very different from her approach to larger botanical works like the New England Winter Branches paintings which won an award 2014 Royal Horticultural Exhibit in London, or the Impressions of Woody Plants Exhibit at the Arnold Arboretum last summer.

Duncan has an agent in New York City who sells her paintings there, but she does occasionally hold Open Studio Days when her paintings are available for public view and sale. She also teaches botanical painting as the Hill Institute in Florence, Massachusetts.

Between the Rows   March 2, 2019

Fragrant Flowers for the Garden

Lilac tree blossoms

Lilac TREE blossoms in Spring, exceedingly fragrant

My new low maintenance, pollinator garden is full of fragrant flowers that bloom over the course of the season. I confess I did not choose these flowers on purpose. However I am really happy that so many fragrant plants have additional benefits. My fragrant flowers require little care and welcome pollinators.

Some fragrances, like lilac, take me back to my early childhood on a Vermont farm. When we moved to Heath in 1979 there were already old fragrant lilacs in place, but I added the gorgeous fragrant Beauty of Moscow lilac with it double white flowers touched with pink. I also added the deep purple lilac, Yankee Doodle, so I could have some range of color. Lilacs are not only beautiful and fragrant, they are dependable. Think of all those lilacs still growing on abandoned farmsteads.

Beauty of Moscow double lilac

Beauty of Moscow, double pink to white lilacs

All my shrub lilacs are Syringa vulgaris. There are a number of other species including the small Miss Kim, S. pubescens subsp. patula, as well as the Chinese lilac, S. chinensis, with pinky-purple blossoms and the small Boomerang lilac, S. x ‘Penda’ which blooms twice a year.

When we bought our Greenfield house, we found a very different and unexpected lilac. We have a lilac tree. It is a syringa tree, not an overgrown lilac bush. The tree is covered with large lacy white flowers and a fragrance that surprises and mystifies the people who walk by in June. People tend not to look up at the trees when the air is perfumed. The fragrant air remains a mystery to many. Still, I have noticed that there are other lilac trees in the area, and an apartment building near us has planted several lilac trees on the grounds.  The fragrance is not exactly like the lilac bush, but it is wonderful.

In the shade of our lilac tree we also got a Pieris japonica, sometimes called Lily of the Valley shrub. It is evergreen and produces cascades of small white flowers in May. It is not very fussy. I prune away the spent blossoms and any straggly branches in the late spring. That is the limit of my care. In our yard I do not need to worry about having sufficiently acid soil.

Pieris japonica

Fragrant Pieris japonica

In a slightly sunnier part of our front yard I planted Deutzia, a small shrub that I’m hoping will not grow more than two feet tall, but will give me the promised four foot spread. In the spring there are sprays of tiny white fragrant flowers which last two or three weeks.

Last fall I planted a daffodil border in front of the low growing evergreens. I was late in my planning so I didn’t have many choices of daffodil. For those who think ahead there are some especially fragrant daffodils. Narcissus “Actaea” is a white daff with a golden cup trimmed with red. This is a simple old variety that I love and always have in my garden. Narcissus “Carlton” is a big golden daff with a large fringed cup and great fragrance. It is also a good spreader, if you want to have more and more gold. Narcissus “Replete” is a glamorous and fragrant double daff with pinky-coral ruffles in the center and double white petals behind.

In my sunny South Border, I did specifically plant Korean spice viburnam. Anyone who has spent any time at Greenfield Community College in late spring will be familiar with the fragrance that perfumes the air at that season. The point is made that if you can plant several of a fragrant plant, you will not have to stick your nose in the blossoms to revel in its perfume.

Calycanths, Carolina summersweet

Calycanthus, Carolina summersweet

In the backyard garden I have planted Clethra, also known as summersweet and Calycanthus, called Carolina allspice.  Clethra is probably more familiar with its upright, white or pink panicles of fragrant white flowers. In my garden it is very happy to get some shade and a moist, heavy soil. Calycanthus has very unusual deep wine red, or even brown blossoms, that last from April to June. When the flowers finish they are replaced with brownish seed capsules that will last all winter.

There are fragrant annuals like heliotrope and flowering tobacco. I am planning to try planting stocks, Matthiola Incana, in my garden this summer. Stocks are about two and a half feet tall and bloom in a large range of color from white to yellow and shades of pink and red. Their scented flowers bloom in the evening. They are very tender and sensitive to frost. They can be seeded when frost is no longer a danger, or started indoors to be transplanted outdoors when it is reliably warm.

I am not very good with houseplants, especially in the summer when I prefer my flowers outside. However, I’d love to have a blooming gardenia in the house, or in a carefully chosen spot outdoors when the weather is fine. Scent is so evocative. I remember the days when I was about 15 and could take the train into New York City by myself to see a Broadway show. Back then you could buy a gardenia corsage on the street corner for fifty cents. Those fragrant gardenias on my shoulder were a great way to make me feel adult and sophisticated. Now, when I smell gardenias, I am carried back to my walk from Grand Central up to 42nd Street, finding my theater for Teahouse of the August Moon or Auntie Mame. I can still feel sophisticated and ready for a show.

 

Between the Rows  February 23, 2019

 

How to Create Winter Interest in the Garden

Red winterberries

Red native winterberries, Ilex verticillata, are the colorful stars in my winter garden

If we do not think winter gardens are very interesting, we need to change our view. We can choose trees and shrubs that will create winter interest. We can add color and texture and create an engaging view from our window.

When we planned our new Greenfield garden, I was thinking about low maintenance, plants for pollinators, and tolerance for spring floods. It was by pure luck that I now see some of those plants double their appeal by providing winter interest through color and texture. To begin, I have three dogwood shrub cultivars. These shrubs are very tolerant of the cold and of periods of flooding. They are sometimes suggested for rain gardens.

I think my osier dogwood may be Cornus sanguinea ‘Winter Flame’ because it matches a catalog description. It is quite tall, about 8 feet, with twigs in surprising shades of orange, yellow and red. I also have the more familiar red twig dogwood. a deep wine red, but I have lost the name of this particular cultivar. Other cultivars like Arctic Fire and Siberica are brighter, clearer reds. I do know that my yellow twig dogwood is named Flaviramea and sings out its bright color in the winter sun.

Flaviramea has particularly pleased me, sited as it is in the middle of the garden where I can see it from my kitchen windows. The golden green glow in the sun is cheering. I do have to prune it to keep low branches from rooting in the soil and sending out new plants. In my wet garden this is a vigorous and happy plant. All the dogwoods have small flowers in the spring and white berries in late summer.

Equally happy in my wet garden are the winterberries. The winterberry, Ilex verticillata, is a native holly. I have two red winterberry shrubs, and one with golden berries. These are not only bright and pretty, birds like the berries. It is important to remember that winterberries are dioecious. This means the male and female flowers are on separate plants. To get berries I need to have female and male plants. The male plant is virile, pollinating up to ten nearby female plants, but it is smaller and less showy.

English holly

A female English holly, Ilex aquifolium, thrives in front of our house

I also have two healthy English hollies, Ilex aquifolium, in front of the house, a male and a larger female loaded with berries. They came with the house so I don’t know their cultivar names, but some of these English holly hybrids come with names like Blue Princess and Blue Prince. I enjoy pruning the berry laden branches for Christmas decorations in the house.

Hawthorn Berries

“Berry” loaded hawthorn brance on one of the six hawthorns in the Energy Park

If I had room I would love to have a hawthorn tree, Crateagus, which will grow to about 25 to 35 feet with an equal spread.  Crateagus viridis is a native hawthorn with showy white flowers in the spring and red fruits called pomes in the fall and winter. Unlike many other hawthorns, C. viridis Winter King does not have large sharp spines, making them easier to prune and care for. This tree will attract butterflies in the spring and summer, and birds in the fall and winter. I think birds are an important element of winter interest. You can see six berried hawthorns at the Energy Park.

Flowering crabapples are a delightful sight in the spring and there are dozens of cultivars. Sugar Tyme is a good size for a small garden, reaching a height of about 18 feet with a 15 foot spread. It is highly disease resistant and has pale pink buds that open to white flowers. Its benefit to the winter garden is that it holds its little red crabapples well through the winter. Other small crabapples include Donald Wyman and Callaway which both have white spring blossoms. Adams has double pink blossoms. All have been praised for their hardiness and disease resistance, by horticulturists like Michael Dirr. They  are decorative, and provide food for wintering birds. I must point out that crabapples are not as amenable to flooding as the winterberries and river birches.

Tree bark, as well as berries can provide winter interest. We have planted two clumps of river birch, Betula nigra, which will grow to about 40 feet tall. They are known to thrive in wet, heavy clay soils, and don’t mind flooding which makes them perfect rain garden plants. There are flowers and catkins in the spring, but we planted them because of their beautiful exfoliating bark.  It is the texture and pale color of the bark that appeals to me.

Another tree noted for its exfoliating bark is the paperbark maple, Acer griseum. The foliage gives good red fall color in the northeast but it is the color and shagginess of its reddish-brown exfoliating bark that is stunning in the snowy landscape. The bark ranges in color from a rich coppery shade to darker cinnamon that peels away in large curls that remain on the tree. I saw a number of these trees planted in the beautiful Monk’s Garden at the Isabella Stewart Museum in Boston. They are small upright trees that will reach a height of 20 to 30 feet.

The sun is shining today, and the air is mild but snow will come and I will find loveliness in my garden.

Between the Rows  January 5, 2019

Review of 2018 – Here and There

Golden winterberries

Golden winterberries in January of 2018

Today, January 1, 2019 is mild and cloudy, but our year of 2018 began with a snowstorm. Fortunately I  have winter interest in the garden with my winterberries and beautiful exfoliating bark on the river  birches.

George Washington Carver

February was a month for reading and learning. George Washington Carver helped farmers turn to peanuts, and the world benefits today with Plumpy’nut.

It was also a month of learning about trees, caterpillars and butterflies and their importance to our environment.

It has always struck me that February  is a great month for reading. I wrote about Houseplants.

Stonehurst, Waltham, MA

The Greenfield Garden Club planned a great trip  to the Lyman Plant House and Stonehurst is snowy, icy mid-March. Spring is in our minds.

 

Epimediums

Epimediums

In April spring is making herself known. Primroses, crocuses and my favorite epimediums.

 

Garden Blogger Fling-ers cooling off in Austin

 

In May the Garden Bloggers went on their Annual Fling, this year in Austin. We saw lots of gardens and at Tanglewild we got to rest in the shade and cool our feet.

In June we visited the Seed Savers Exchange in Decorah, Iowa, and then it was on to the Olbrich Botanical Garden in Madison, Wisconsin where Beth Stetenfeld and I caught our breath.

Olbrich Botanical Garden

Pat and Beth in the Olbrich Botanical Garden

Daylilies

Daylilies

In July I spent a lot of time in floriferous local gardens.  I bought more daylilies from the Stone Meadow Gardens in Ashfield. You can never have too many daylilies.

Thyme at Pickety Place

Thyme at Pickety Place

July – Time to get together with a family expedition to Pickity Place in New Hampshire. Not that far away.

Ankle deep in rainwater

August started off the rainy season. The backyard flooded many times. By the time  the waters had receded there was another rainstorm and more flooding. The weeping cherry died, and so did the pagoda dogwood.  These rains persisted for the rest of the year.

Tulip tree newly planted and mulched at the Energy Park

In September, Nancy Hazard, passionate about the importance of trees, planted three trees including this tulip trees at the Energy Park. I do my part by tending a small garden at the East entrance to the Energy Park.

Entry to newly designed back garden in Amherst

In October I was invited by Steve Schreiber, Jane Thurber and Mike Davidsohn of Umass  to learn about landscape design that was beautiful for  the owners and beneficial to the environment.

Clarkdale apples for eating, pies AND Cider

November is for Cider Days! A weekend of delicious apples and education.

Our Christmas tree

December is for the anniversary of  this blog on The Feast of St. Nicholas in 2008, and the joyous season of Christmas with family and friends.

I wish you all a Happy New Year in your gardens and everywhere.

 

UMass Extension Garden Calendar for 2019

UMass Extension Garden Calendar

Umass Extension Garden Calendar

Every year the UMass Extension creates a beautiful and useful calendar to teach, advise and remind us of our duties and opportunities all year long.

COST: $14bulk pricing is available on orders of 10 copies or more.
Shipping is FREE on orders of 9 or fewer calendars – FREE SHIPPING ENDS NOV 1!

FOR IMAGES IN THE CALENDAR, details, and ordering info, go to umassgardencalendar.org.

The 2019 UMass Garden Calendar features the use of tomography to identify internal decay in trees.
Many people also love the daily tips and find the daily sunrise/sunset times highly useful!

These calendars always make a great gift for the gardeners in our circle. They will be available until Christmas – but after Nov 1, there will be a shipping charge.  You might one for yourself, too.

Strings for Kids and Music on the Common

strings for kids ensemble

Strings for Kids ensemble

This ensemble of Strings for Kids played  for shoppers at the Farmer’s Market a couple of weeks ago. They are serious and talented musicians.

Strings For Kids is a free music program run by Artspace in collaboration with Greenfield Public Schools. Students who enroll in Strings For Kids are offered a choice of learning to play violin or cello, and receive the following benefits at no charge:

  • Instrument loan for the duration of enrollment
  • Weekly in-school group instruction led by Artspace faculty
  • Guidance on self-directed daily practice
  • Weeklong summer intensives for both incoming and returning students
  • Opportunities to perform at school meetings, Artspace recitals, and occasionally at other venues

Many of  these young people also play in the Youth Orchestra. There are also students longing to play but there are not enough cellos. Hence the informal concert – and the open violin case.

Strings for Kids Violins and Cellos

Strings for Kids – Violins and Cellos

After they have learned to play their instruments and proved a measure of skill and dedication they can audition for the Youth Orchestra which is operated by the Pioneer Valley Symphony and Chorus.

Artspace is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization and relies on donors to provide free musical education in the Greenfield Public Schools and to keep our community vibrant through promotion of and instruction in the arts.  Artspace’s address is located at 15 Mill Street, Greenfield, MA 01301. Mark your check to Strings for Kids. They really need those extra cellos.

April National Poetry Month – The Bridge of Flowers

Bridge of Flowers poems

Bridge of Flowers poems by Carol Purington

April is National Poetry Month and Carol Purington, Colrain’s noted haiku poet has donated a matted set of poems describing the Bridge of Flowers through its seasons. It is available by writing to bridgeofflowersmass@gmail.com.

Carol has written several books  of haiku describing life on a family farm, the essence of the seasons, the love of family, joy and  sorrow. Carol, and her friend Susan Todd also put together an anthology of poems, Morning Song: Poems for New Parents.

The matted sheet is $15 including postage, and the plain cream heavy paper sheet is $10 including postage. All sales go to benefit the Bridge of Flowers. This is a lovely souvenir of a visit to the Bridge, or gift to someone who loves the Bridge.

Bridge of Flowers

Arching
the Indian-old river
bridge of blossoms

From  the concrete
of a decades-dead trolley way
fragrance of violets

Azure above
the flowers above
the river-reflected bridge

Arc of geese</em
under frosted flowers
the river runs south

Star-still flakes
fall from the flower-less bridge
to the ice-still river

Double lane of daffodils
crossing  the flower way
into spring

Summer-green
floats out from under the arches
flower-bridge blooms

I am adding information about Carol written by Susan Todd, co-editor of Morning Song.

Carol Purington and Susan Todd

Carol Purington and Susan Todd

Before taking her 6th grade students to visit Carol for some Christmas Carol sing  “I told my students Carol’s story, trying for simplicity and clarity. She contracted polio when she was six years old, as she was starting first grade. The illness began at school with a severe headache and high fever. Within days she was left needing help to breathe, and paralyzed except for limited movement in her left arm and hand. She spent a couple of years in Boston area hospitals where her most memorable accomplishment was learning to read. Eventually she moved back to the big farmhouse where she had been born, the third of eleven children. She lives there still, surrounded by a large and caring family.

When I asked Carol how I should relate her disability for this account, she said I should think about how I had prepared my students for our visit. And this exchange is perhaps the perfect window into the mind and influence of this woman – her ability to soar beyond limitations with wisdom and perspective. When I have taken older visitors to meet her, I also add that her body is small, but you will quickly get used to that. And what you’ll really notice is how sophisticated and brilliant and scholarly and witty she is.

That day in January, coming into Carol’s room from the storm outside, I had such a sense of peace. This front parlor, with views looking to the hills and garden and an oversized bird feeder up against the window, has been her world for over fifty years. A mirror which can be tilted to different angles lets Carol see the changing landscape and the family in the next room. Standing in the room’s center was a massive iron lung (now replaced with a smaller fiberglass lung), for sleeping at night, with “J. H. Emerson “printed on the side. “H. Emerson!” I said when I first saw it. “I knew him.” My best friend from childhood moved to Andover, Massachusetts in 1953 so her father could work with Haven Emerson on the distribution of iron lungs. We all had a crush on Haven Emerson Jr. I told Carol the story and she said, “All these years I have wondered what the H. stands for. Now I know.”

Richard Wilbur – National Poetry Month

Morning Song: Poems edited by Susan Todd and Carol Purington

Morning Song: Poems for New Parents

Richard Wilbur (1921-2017) winner of Pulitzer Prizes for Things of This World (1956) and New and Collected Poems (1988),was named the second Poet Laureate of our country and won many awards and prizes. I knew Richard Wilbur had long lived in our corner of western Massachusetts, but I never expected to get a letter from him.  And for that I thank Carol Purington and Susan Todd who were longtime friends of his.

Carol and Susan were putting together Morning Song, an anthology of poems for new parents with section headings like Waiting, Newest Child, Green and Carefree, Lessons and more. Several of Wilbur’s poems were included in different sections. The poems chosen ranged from Sappho to contemporary poets like Wilbur. As I read the poems I can see the memories and hopes that we parents feel as we look in our children’s eyes as they grow.

One of Wilbur’s poems in Morning Song is The Writer.

In her room at the prow of the house
Where light breaks and the windows are tossed with linden,
My daughter is writing a story.

I pause in the stairwell, hearing
from her shut door a commotion of typewriter keys
Like chain hauled over a gunwale.

Young as she is, the stuff
Of her life is a great cargo, and some of it heavy
I wish her a lucky passage.

But now it is she who pauses,
As if to reject my thoughts and its easy figure
A stillness greatens, in which

The whole house seems to be thinking.
And then she is at it again, with a bunched clamor
Of stokes, and again is silent.

——————-  and ends with

It is always a matter, my darling,
Of life or death, as I had forgotten. I wish
What I wished you before, but harder.

As the mother of three daughters (and two sons) I cannot think help thinking of the stronger wishes that arrive as they grow older. And older.

As for my letter from Wilbur, since I was now friends with his friends, I wrote and asked permission to use one poem that spoke of an experience we shared in my Commonweeder blog. He responded generously. You can read April 5, 1974 here.

Richard Wilbur is also known for his wit. I particularly enjoy the lyrics he wrote for Leonard Berstein’s operetta Candide, based on Voltaire’s 1758 novella that satirized the philosophies of the day. As the story comes to a close Candide and his love Cunegonde imagine a happy married life. Oh, Happy We

CANDIDE  –  Soon, when we feel we can afford it
We’ll build a modest little farm
CUNEGONDE  –  We’ll buy a yacht and live aboard it
Rolling in luxury and stylish charm
CANDIDE – Cows and chickens
CUNEGONDE – Social whirls
CANDIDE – Peas and cabbage
CUNEGONDE – Ropes of pearls
CANDIDE – Soon there’ll be little ones beside us;
We’ll have a sweet Westphalian home
CUNEGONDE – Somehow we’ll grow as rich as Midas;
We’ll live in Paris when we’re not in Rome

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CUNEGONDE – We’ll round the world enjoying high life
All bubbly pink champagne and gold
CANDIDE – We’ll lead a rustic and a shy life
Feeding the pigs and sweetly growing old

CUNEGONDE – Breast of peacock
CANDIDE – Apple pie
CUNEGONDE – I love marriage
CANDIDE – So do I

CUNEGONDE & CANDIDE
Oh, happy pair!
Oh, happy we!
It’s very rare
How we agree

Married life and children. Wilbur expressed the challenges and blessings of all.