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Winter Night on Muse Day

Cold moon, cold moonlight

Tucking another blanket

around the newborn.

by CarolPurington  from Family Farm: Haiku for a Place of Moons

We have no newborn, but this haiku captures the way I feel as the winter night falls. When bedtime arrives I gaze out at our snowy landscape,  chill and luminous in the moonlight; I am happy to slip between my flannel sheets, and tuck a warm quilt around me.  Then I dream of spring when the snow is gone, when veils of green appear and when peepers in the Frog Pond sing me to sleep.

Thanks to Carolyngail who hosts the muses the first of every month.  Click here to see how others are inspired.

Most Viewed Posts 2010

As I review and renew in my garden, I thought I ought to look back at the year on the commonweeder.  The 5 most popular posts were not what I expected.

In February Mycotecture got many visitors – and continues to be visited.

In March the New York Times had an article about Femivores, women who love their chickens too much. Or something like that. I have chickens so I had to comment. Chickens – and their houses – are a popular topic on my blog – and elsewhere in the world.

In July I went to Buffalo to meet with 70 other bloggers and tour the many wonderful gardens in readiness for the Buffalo Garden Walk. My post Mirrors in the Garden – A Trend? continues to get visitors.

Carol Dukes at Flower Hill Farm

In September I visited Carol Dukes at Flower Hill Farm. We are almost neighbors. It is no surprise to me that this post was so popular. Carol and her magnificent photos have many devoted fans.

Walden Pond

My Muse Day post in December was about our trip to Walden Pond the day after Thanksgiving. As a devoted fan of Henry David Thoreau I was happy that so many others wanted to share our visit. I never cease to thank Carolyngail for hosting Muse Day.

One popular post did not surprise me. In January my dear friend and mentor Elsa Bakalar passed away. In July we celebrated her life in her garden – and that month her garden, now tended by artist Scott Prior and his wife, was featured in Horticulture Magazine – with a nod back to the article that Elsa and I had published in Horticulture in 1986. Elsa’s life touched many gardeners, locally and across the country through her book and lecture tours.

2010 was a happy year for me on the commonweeder, with increasing readership, and I look forward to 2011 and the pleasures of the garden and garden friends with great anticipation.

Muse Day August 2010

Flowers to honor Elsa

Yesterday I spent the afternoon and evening preparing for, and enjoying a memorial for Elsa Bakalar,  my friend, neighbor, colleague, and garden mentor who passed away in January at the age of 91.  The flowers at the buffet supper in Jan and Cal’s party barn were provided by The Passionate Gardeners, Mary, Susan and Eileen, gardeners who had come to learn from Elsa, and continued to help her in her garden- until that garden had to be given up.

Mary, Eileen and Susan

Many people did their part for Elsa yesterday. Scott Prior and his wife, Nanny Vonnegut, who own and maintain ‘Elsa’s Garden’ in Heath, invited neighbors and family for a tour and champagne toast to a beloved relative and friend. Cousin Stan read a section of Kipling’s poem Glory of the Garden with that famous line, “such gardens are not made
By singing:–“Oh, how beautiful!” and sitting in the shade . . .”
Then we all trooped over to Jan and Cal’s barn, surrounded by a beautiful garden,  for a feast organized by Elsa’s nephew Jake and his wife Susan. Chief among this group were Elsa’s former grade school students, honorary daughters, Marie and Nicole who took major responsibilities for Elsa’s care in the years after her husband’s death in 2000.

A special treat of the evening was listening to a recording Nicole had made of Elsa reading the opening chapter of Dicken’s Bleak House. Elsa read Great Expectations to her fifth and sixth grade class every year – a wonderful choice for students at that age – and Elsa was wonderful reader.  It must be admitted that the sound of a loved one’s voice is evocative and heart breaking.

Today is Muse Day. I had forgotten, but a friend emailed me a poem by Mary de la Valette this morning that seemed serendipitous.  Kipling noted in his poem that  “Oh, Adam was a gardener, and God who made him sees
That half a proper gardener’s work is done upon his knees.”  A very young Nicole  who spent her summers with Elsa in her ‘summer camp’ found that she could have Elsa all to herself if she joined her in the garden  while everyone else still slept. One morning she asked Elsa if she liked teaching or gardening better. Without hesitation Elsa answered “gardening.”  It
may have surprised and angered young Nicole who wanted to be much more important to her beloved teacher than an old garden, but it is clear to me that the garden was a sacred place for Elsa.

I do not have to go
To Sacred Places
In far-off lands.
The ground I stand on
Is holy.

Here, in this little garden
I tend
My pilgrimage ends.
The wild honeybees
The hummingbird moths
The flickering fireflies at dusk
Are a microcosm
Of the Universe.
Each seed that grows
Each spade of soil
Is full of miracles.

And I toil and sweat
And watch and wonder
And am full of love.
Living in place
In this place.
For truth and beauty
Dwell here.

I thank Carolyngail for making me stop and consider other muses the first day of every month.

Purington Roses

Purington Pink rose

Last year, about this time, I asked our wonderful Heath librarian Don Purington if the offer of a pink rose from his family farm still stood. Lucky for me it did. He not only introduced me to his mother Barbara, but my visit to Woodslawn Farm, also led to my meeting his sister Carol and a new friendship. Carol is a poet, a reader, and a great conversationalist.  She was struck by polio on her first day of school when she was six years old, and has spent the past 54 years in an iron lung.  Her survival is a testament to her medical care,  her own strength and stamina, the love of her large family, and the wisdom she has developed over the years. Carol and I have had jolly visits together, thoughtful and gay by turns – including a joyful celebration of her 60th birthday.

Though Carol’s friendship was the unexpected gift, Barbara gave me more than one rose.  Purington’s pink, pictured above is the rose that grows outside her kitchen window. It is about five feet tall and a substantial bush. Mine is till small, but it came through the winter and is fragrantly blooming on the new Rose Bank.

Purington Rambler

Also on the Rose Bank is the Purington Rambler which grows in a tangle on the stone wall outside Carol’s room. There it can tumble over the edge of the wall. On the Rose Bank it will sprawl and become a moundy tangle. It has taken hold magnificently.

I planted two other Purington roses on the Rose Walk.  Barbara said the yellow rose usually didn’t survive  transplanting, but I got really lucky and it has come through the winter.  It is too small to bloom and I am still trying to coddle it, but I have great hopes for next year.  The other rose is also pink, but not yet flowering.  Keep watching.

While I have used Carol’s poetry on Muse Day before, I cannot again mention Carol’s poetry, collected in several books including A Pattern in this Place: Words of a Pioneer Woman with illustrations by her sister-in-law Stephanie B. Purington, without giving at least a tiny sample. Carol specializes in haiku.

“I set my bucket

Beside  the spring,

Kneel to watch its surface flicker

With leaf-cut sunlight –

The peace of God enfolds me.


Harrison's Yellow

And I beg your pardon by Wendell Berry

The first mosquito:

come here,and I will kill thee,

holy though thou art.

If the Harrison’s yellow is blooming the mosquitoes will not be far behind. In the meantime I am making do with deer flies that have bitten and bitten. They are not as easy to swat and kill as mosquitoes that land and take their time to suck blood.

Wendell Berry is a wonderful writer – and poet. He bought a farm in Kentucky in 1965 and the main subject of his writings are about the beauty of nature, the agrarian values he holds dear, and the kind of good life that he believes is lived in small rural communities. I am with him all the way – and that is probably one reason I ended up in a little town like Heath.

My strategy

Wendell Berry knows and appreciates the problems of farming and rural life – which I contended with myself today. The day was spent in happy labors, planting tomatoes, three heirlooms my neighbor gave me and three Black Krim samples from Hort Couture, and Renees Garden beans, Emerite and French Gold. There were the deer flies to battle, but I was happy getting these plants and seeds in the ground. Henry dug the final garden bed, so there is still a little work to do.

I went back to the Shed Bed, finishing the weeding (almost, anyway) and planting my pathetic little cosmos seedlings. I found a piece of wire fencing that was just the right size to lay over the cosmos, just a few inches off the ground. It looks like a big plant support. The chickens can’t get under the fencing and they won’t hop on top so those seedlings are safe. However, as per my custom I then planted salvia seedlings around the edge of the bed. They are not protected by wire fencing and the chickens love freshly tilled soil.  They knocked over two of the seedlings. I hope I can rescue them. The hens will not be allowed out to play tomorrow -or for a few more days.

Thank you Carolyn gail for hosting Muse Day at Sweet Home and Garden Chicago. I love to see the first of the month arrive.

Muse Day May 2010

Thom Chiofalo's Garden

“What, if anything, do the infinity of different traditional and individual ideas of a garden have in common? They vary so much in purpose, in size, in style and content that not even flowers, or even plants at all, can be said to be essential. In the last analysis there is only one common factor between all gardens, and that is the control of nature by man. Control, that is, for aesthetic reasons.” Hugh Johnson

Hugh Johnson created a notable garden at his home in Essex, England, then wrote a notable book, The Principles of Gardening:  a guide to the art, history, science and practice of gardening. this is an encyclopedic book that is great fun to dip into.

I liked this quote which I found in a newer book on my shelf, Why We Garden by Jim Nollman. I was particularly taken by it because I remember so well my confusion when we went to China and found the concept of garden so different. Shan shui translated literally  means mountain water but it is the way the Chinese refer to gardens.  We went to one famous  garden in Suzhou, the garden city of China, and it contained nothing but stone. But by that time I had adjusted somewhat to the many differences between the Chinese garden and the “English” garden that I was familiar with.

Despite the differences in cultures I think Hugh Johnson got it right when he said, on the very first page of his book, “The first purpose of a book is to give happiness and repose of mind.”

Visit Carolyn gail at Sweet Home and Garden Chicago to see how the muses inspire in other gardens.

Pam Oakes' perennial border

Muse Day April 2010

April 5, 1974

The air was soft, the ground still cold.

In the dull pasture where I strolled

Was something I could not believe.

Dead grass appeared to slide and heave,

Though still too frozen flat to stir,

And rocks to twitch, and all to blur.

What was this rippling of the land?

Was matter getting out of hand

And making free with natural law?

I stopped and blinked, and then I saw

A fact as eerie as a dream.

There was a subtle flood of steam

Moving upon the face of things.

It came from standing pools and springs

And what of snow was still around;

It came of winter’s giving ground

So that the freeze was coming out,

As when a set mind, blessed by doubt,

Relaxes into mother-wit.

Flowers, I said, will come of it.

Richard Wilbur

When I first read this poem (Collected Poems 1943-2004, Harcourt Publishers) I was immediately transported to a day last spring when I walked across our fields and had a similar experience.  I procrastinated but finally wrote to Mr. Wilbur who lives in a nearby hilltown, and asked his permission to use the poem.  He graciously gave that permission – and mentioned that he plans to get a few leeks planted in the garden this spring —  when the snow disappears and the rain is no longer puddling.  I hope that at 89 I will also still be planting and writing.

The collection includes show lyrics like Oh, Happy We and Glitter and Be Gay from Candide, a collaboration with Lillian Hellman, and Leonard Berstein.  There is also a section of wonderful Poems for Children and Others named Opposites. The collection is a complete joy. We are fortunate to live in an area with so many creative artists.

Carolyn gail at Sweet Home and Garden Chicago gives us the opportunity to let the muses inspire us in a multitude of ways. Visit her blog and see how others are inspired.

Muse Day March 2010

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;

He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near

Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

by Robert Frost

We took our walk in late afternoon, on shank’s mare, as one of Frost’s farmers might have said. Most of these woods down the road from our hosue belong to a family who no longer live near, and rarely visit, but we have permission to admire and enjoy.

The snow is deep, so we stayed on the dirt road that has been beautifully plowed by our devoted town road crew.

The woods are lovely and deep, but the days are  getting longer, the cold is less bitter and the wind is quiet. For the moment. Time to turn home.

The cats, Frank and Holly, left us to our adventure, waiting for us to join them again next to the woodstove.

Thank you Carolyn gail for inviting us to share visits from the muses.

Muse Day February 2010

The pair of quilts

we pieced together, laughing

at the future’s far design

my handiwork now covers a husband, babies –

hers, a corpse.

Carol Purington

Thank you Carolyn gail for giving me the chance to be twice inspired on this Muse Day. My friend Carol Purington wrote the poem, published in her book A Pattern For This Place, and my friend Lois Holm made this quilt for me when I retired from the Buckland Library.

I knew of Carol, before I met her, as the “poet who has been in an iron lung since childhood” but over the past few months I have come to know her as a working poet with a quick intelligence, a critical eye, and a loving heart. She has been generous to me with her attention and advice as we have worked together on my new writing project. And I have been able to watch the progress on her new project, a poetry anthology for parents.

Lois was my devoted library volunteer, trustee and dependable prop when I worked at the Library. She came to the library as a volunteer after a full professional life as nurse, working in the schools, and deep involvement in her community. I was incredibly lucky about the timing of that retirement which brought her to the library not only as a reader and patron, but as my major support and exemplar.

In this quilt she drew not only nf my love of gardens, but of my time in China. It is a work of art with the careful combining of color and pattern, flowers and ripples. Chinese art often includes an element of time, as do haiku, Carol’s chosen poetic form. The band of fabric with golden ‘ripples’ suggest to me the time that is always flowing past us. The quilt itself, and the poem reach back into memory, and into the present with continuing affection.

New Year’s Day 2010

New Snow, New Year

Red Brocade by Naomi Shihab Nye
The Arabs used to say,
When a stranger appears at your door,
feed him for three days
before asking who he is,
where he’s come from,
where he’s headed.
That way, he’ll have strength
enough to answer.
Or, by then you’ll be
such good friends you don’t care.

Lets to back to that.
Rice? Pine nuts?
Here, take the red brocade pillow.
My child will serve water
to your horse.

No, I was not busy when you came!
I was not preparing to be busy.
That’s the armor everyone put on
to pretend they had a purpose
in the world.

I refuse to be claimed.
Your plate is waiting.
We will snip fresh mint
into your tea.

I first read Naomi Shihab Nye when I was a librarian and bought her young adult novel Habibi for the collection. This story of a modern teen who moves from St. Louis to Jerusalem with her Palastinian family and her struggle with the clash of cultures could very well reflect her own multi-cultural background. She has also written many books of poetry. I don’t know which book Red Brocade is from; it came in the Crhistmas card sent by a young friend. It reflects their life, and the life I would like to lead.

It is also a perfect companion to the poem I had originally planned for this Muse Day. When I heard the 88 year old poet Marie Ponsot read from her new book, Easy, on the PBS Newshour I had to order it immediately. Simples is the poem that first inspired me.

Simples by Marie Ponsot

what do I want

well I want to
get better”

Thank you Carolyn gail for hosting Muse Day. For more muses logon to Sweet Home and Garden Chicago.