Sunday, September 29, 2013

Brightness amidst the gray

This is a two-part story.

Part I: Grayness.
Part II: Color.

But I am going to reveal the end result here (right). This is how I got there.

I walk my dogs a lot. Lunchtime walks are usually an hour to an hour and a half. That means I cover a lot of territory. It also means I see a lot of houses. Particularly in the winter, but even into spring when the gray days linger and linger and linger, everything seems dull, drab and bedraggled to me. I walk along in the rain, in the chill. The clouds are too close, everything feels sad and ugly, and as I walk, I see a gray house, a light blue house, a tan house. Then: vaguely green, white-ish blue, then brown-ish, yellow-ish, blue-ish--and for god's sake--there's a house painted Seattle gray (a real paint color). Next, I look to the streets and a gray car passes. Then a white one, silvery, cream, black....It's as if an entire fleet of cars has driven straight off a rental lot. Nothing bold. Nothing stands out.

I nearly jump up and down when I see a red house or a red car. There's a cobalt house about 20 minutes away. And every now and then there are deep autumnal oranges and mustards. I pass a ridiculous bright pink house on one street. One house I pass has golden columns in the front. These houses make me enormously happy. I feel lucky to look out my own house window and see a chili pepper red house in one direction, a deep French blue in another, and a barn red in another direction.

So I started thinking about making a statement with our detached garage, which has been needing to be painted for several years. It was painted only 8 years ago, and the color was originally matched to the house, but it faded very quickly.

Our house is yellow. And granted, it is not boldly sunflower yellow, but a slightly deep butter yellow. I want to believe it does not fit in the same category in which I lump 99% of the rest of the houses in this gray world of ours. But it doesn't really have a big spark. So, the garage offered an opportunity. I wanted to not just go bold, but create a work of art that passersby might gasp at upon first seeing it. And, like me, when I walk by again and again, feel bedazzled and inexplicably happy, even on the blah-est days of the year.

I had big plans. And many plans. First: calligraphy. I wanted to write something pithy--a wonderful poem or quote--on the garage door. Then I was going to do that on the entire east wall of the garage. Then I wanted only to engulf the walls in color. And that's when the ombre idea was hatched.

Ombre is the effect of one color gradating to another. Or it can be several colors that meld from one to the next. I wanted orange. Deep, glowing orange.

Here's the catch. I painted only two walls in this ombre effect. The back wall, that only we can see because it faces our backyard, and the east wall. The back of our garage, the north wall, is to the left.

The first photo, at the beginning, and the photos, to the right and below, are of the east wall. And here's the trick: that wall faces a huge garden that is filled with foliage from various shrubs and trees so it can't be seen from the street. At least, not yet. The second photo of the east wall, right, is taken from the other direction. You can see a bit of the red cottage at the back of my neighbor's house. Hooray for that chili pepper brightness at the end of our backyard. 

And the final photo of that wall is taken from an upstairs window and shows the other red house across the street. This view of our bright wall and their red house enthralls me.

But, back to this trickery of our east wall and its hidden brightness. I am looking forward to the leaves falling this year just so that those driving and walking by will have a gorgeous surprise waiting for them. I want to un-gray this world. I want to live in a glow. After a most stupendous summer, there's no denying what's in store. So I'm coming prepared for winter.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Everything has its season

[Originally posted November 30, 2009] I recently had a Facebook discussion about pumpkin pie. I love it so much I started eating it nearly a week before Thanksgiving, which led to the confession that I really want to eat it when pumpkins are first harvested, which led to others saying, forget that, pumpkin pie is soooo scrumpch that we should eat it year round.

I was reminded of this discussion when I was out in the garden during the Thanksgiving weekend and bid adieu to the tied-up thick hairy masses of Siberian iris fronds, the dry stalks of echinacea, the browning feathers of coreopsis foliage. And there amidst the dark quiet garden were the late-blooming kaffir lily, their watermelon-candy-colored blooms almost a shock. Three white Shasta daisies held their blossoms high, the scabiosa, or pincushion flower, were sending out mighty stalks, and a few lavender stems were bright against the long-ago spent ones.

Despite the fact that I seem to be in some crazy kind of love with every blossom, stalk, shrub, berry, and leaf I cultivate, I still love the turning of the wheel and wouldn't want the daylilies blooming in October or the dahlias blasting in March. Just as I know, deep down, pumpkin pie seems right only in late November and fresh strawberries in June and July. I think it's partly the anticipation, and then, the amazing re-awakening: the sweetest burst of a flavor nearly forgotten because it's been a whole year. What could possibly be so special about nectarines at the end of the summer if you can eat them in January? How ordinary pumpkin pie would be if you ate it any time of year. Can you possibly eat a peppermint stick in the summer? For me, peppermint means December and not even a mint from a restaurant tastes right unless it's winter.

If someone did offer me pumpkin pie in April, I probably wouldn't refuse a bite, but I would be transported to dark late autumn days and a time set aside for giving thanks...thanks, too, for those last bursts of garden surprises, seemingly slightly out of season. They'll be gone soon enough and already I am wondering which crocuses will be the first to bloom.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Being alone

A few mornings ago I finished reading The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery. It is the story of the concierge in an apartment/condo building in Paris, where very wealthy people live, and a 12-year-old girl who lives in the building with her family. The chapters basically switch off, told from the two points of view. The woman, Renee, and the girl, Paloma, both hide their true selves...until a Japanese man moves in and realizes the wisdom they each hide.

I will not tell any more of this story except to say it is a slow, philosophical read. Beautifully written, thoughtful, amusing even. Once change happens, it happens quickly and that is why I woke up early, knowing I was closing in on the end. There was enough early morning light to read, so I did. I galloped to the end and promptly wept.

This is not the complete message of the book, but at least one of them: that we are, each of us, alone. Ultimately we have to live with our true selves and we have to do it alone. While everywhere there is support of one kind or another--family, friends, spouses, partners, confidantes--in the end, each of us lives alone. And everything we learn, do, share is ours alone.

I was struck by this thought partly because I had just read this exceedingly moving book and was overwhelmed by and entirely filled with the story. Yet I had had this experience entirely alone. My husband slept beside me, oblivious to the emotional swell I was going through.

The other reason I thought of aloneness was that it brought to mind my mother. She will be 89 in early November. In the last year she has grown increasingly uneasy when being alone to the point that she needs someone with her 24/7. There is no overarching medical need for full-time care, it is more of a fear of aloneness. I couldn't possibly understand it or explain it and I don't believe I have the right to question it. There is the need. It is attended to.

Yet, when thinking about my mother, the sadness that envelops me is not so much that she needs to always have another human with her but that she never in her 89 years was comfortable with her own true self. That aloneness was never a place of comfort and now has become a place to fear.

I don't intend for this to be a melancholy statement. Mostly it is a lesson to myself. To recognize the beauty and tranquility in quiet moments of being alone. As I write, the train whistle blows in the distance, and I close my eyes. My moment, alone, on this unseasonably warm first day of fall.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Raspberry heaven!

Today, July 5, and already we've gathered raspberries 6 times. The bowls are getting bigger and bigger each time. And just 2 days after the last harvest the ripest berries seem to have practically cooked on the vine, essentially past their prime. That's how warm the weather's been.

Today I went out with the fresh blue ceramic bowl, ready to bring in a few berries, figuring there just couldn't be too many--we just got some a few days ago. But there were several bazillion ripe ones. Standing there gathering berries in the hot sun, it felt like an intense hot autumn day. It's just early July and the only reason I can think that it felt like autumn to me is that we have already had so much "summer" already. We are experiencing both topsy and turvy this spring and early summer.

I am not complaining. Far from it. I think it might be the most fabulous spring I can remember in years and years. I love the warmth. But today it was enough to catapult my senses a full season forward. I'm practically expecting to chomp on a crisp apple next.

I wonder how the rest of the summer will play out. We're headed to San Francisco in 2 weeks. Mid-July could be 50 degrees in SF, but it might be 110. I'm hoping for continued West Coast warmth. Two years ago when we went to SF right around after the 4th of July I had to go buy a sweater. I'm hoping there's no repeat of that.

In the meantime, we'll gather berries and I'll enrobe some in chocolate and freeze them. Next January when it really is true winter, we'll suddenly remember them and bring some out for an after-dinner treat, and we'll remember the glorious summer when the raspberries never seemed to stop.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The ephemeral nature of life

When I was 9 and my older sister was 12, we were hit by a car. I was reminded of this recently when standing at a downtown corner, waiting for a light to change to cross the street. I was, apparently, just a wee step too close to the street. A giant pickup whizzed by so fast and so close that I felt its after-effect ruffle my coat. Lost in thought until that moment, I realized how fast and furious life is and how quickly all things can change with just one misstep. I shivered from the thought.

Another season has begun in the garden and already the stunning orange fritillaria bells are fading and withering. Peonies are beginning to bud and will burst forth their silky pink petals soon, so very soon. The Siberian Iris, so delicate, are here and gone in a sliver of time--I am already anticipating their blue. Sometimes I almost can't bear the ephemeral nature of the garden. So much beauty, so lovely, so short lived. I want to hold onto it always: at night, waking. At work in the midst of chaos. Here in the quiet of the house in the late evening when the garden is cloaked in darkness. 

Every now and then I think about that day so long ago when my sister lay in the street, hit straight on while I, just two steps behind her, was skimmed by the car. It sent me tumbling backwards and gave me nothing more than a set of scraped knees. Elizabeth lay in traction in the hospital and then months in bed in a full body cast for a leg broken in two places. How lucky we were and how differently it could have turned out.

Today I spotted the miniature tulips I've been waiting for. They are bright carmine, hot flames of red, markers of time, spring's sweet ephemeral glory. 

Sunday, April 12, 2009

After the storm

It rained most of the day. When I woke up early, in the rainy dawn, my first groggiest thought was what a great day it would be to cozy in on the couch and read all day. While that isn't exactly what transpired, it was close. And it was a wet soggy one, nearly all day. 

Last night we watched Vicky Christina Barcelona, and I have been thinking about it ever since. The movie began and ended in an airport, the symbol of their journeys, from the tale of their days in Barcelona, to the unknowable but suggested journey beyond Barcelona. Vicky thought she had what she wanted and knew where she was going, but her journey in Barcelona changed everything. Christina knew she was always restless, always looking, pushing boundaries, searching and learning, and then ready to go again. 

The movie put me in mind of the ephemeral nature of our lives. Transience, chance encounters, choices--all take us places we might not expect. I yearn for the beauty of those unexpected moments. Even the garden takes us there. A rush of unexpected plum flower petals falling like rain, the swelling bud of giant orange fritillaria rushing to bloom, the power of plants to return again and again despite the fierce cry of winter in their bones.

Monday, April 6, 2009

The first real day of spring

Hello? Is this thing on? Hello! Test. Test. One, two, three. Test. 

Okay, I am not fooling myself to think that just because I write, they will come. But I'm starting anyway. This blog is devoted to photography, gardening, running, and language. I suspect other topics will pique my interest. In the meantime, spring is on my mind...

After what has felt like the never-ending winter, we finally got out in the garden in shirt sleeves on Sunday, able to dig in the dirt and savor the warmth. Of course Northwest gardening is really all about year-round work, but this winter AND spring so far, with snow and endless cold temps (38 degrees on April 1...), it has been more than challenging to want to go outside and accomplish anything. 

At this time of year, it's almost shocking how quickly some things have shot out of the ground. The fritillaria are already 3 feet high. The peony shoots, red and strong. The daylilies are a foot tall. We pulled them all out of the bed in front of the house, where they've been growing and spreading for 20 years (I've divided them twice before), but it's become obvious that they are relentless in their bid to take over the front yard. We took every last one out and piled them in front of the house to give away. 

Today promises to be an equally seductive day and I will put on the grubbies and the gardening clogs and dig in the dirt some more.