Swirls of spontaneous art form on the bark of this crape myrtle tree that I planted when my son was small. I remember when I used to tuck him into bed at night, and we would look out his window at the delicate lavender carpet of flowers. He is all grown up and moved away now, and the tree and flowers reach way over the roof of the house, having somehow miraculously snatched nutrients from the soil and air and converted them into more tree. The boy, of course was busily converting food into more boy, and that is just the way of things, but if you think about it, it is quite remarkable.
For some reason this makes me feel melancholy, how living things grow and age and pass. It highlights my own temporary nature and regrettably yours too. Even if we will live to a hundred years old, we are more than half done, and we are not so bright-eyed and bushy-tailed as we once were.
The results of living are etched into our once fresh faces and woven into the silver strands in our hair. When I look at you, though, these marks of age look like spontaneous art swirls, as lovely as the ones on the tree.
Treat yourself with tenderness and grace, dear one. Make sure you get enough good food to eat, instead of skipping meals as if you were unimportant. Bring a sweater with you if it is cold out.
When you are gone, there will never be another you. You are precious, the only one of your kind. That is true of everyone, but everyone is not beautiful in the way that you are. Take care of yourself, ok?
Great harbinger of spring, the saucer magnolia tree is covered in blooms. They will last for several glorious weeks unless we get heavy rain. The weather gurus are predicting a storm tonight, so I will get all the pictures I can today.
Saucer magnolia isn’t the great big southern magnolia with huge white flowers and stiff leaves, dark green on top and fuzzy brown on the back. It is a delicate small tree that blooms on bare wood at the end of winter. When we put it in fifteen years ago, the landscaper brought me the other kind of magnolia. No everyone understands how much the varietal matters. I held my ground, and now I have this beauty. I suppose some people feel that particular about what brand of clothing they are wearing, which strikes me as silly, but as you know subspecies of plants matter.
I was traveling this week, and when I returned the dogs rushed out all wagging and smiles. After the dogs this tree was the first thing to greet me. It is a bit showy and attention-seeking, but I will forgive it since it is just so beautiful. It gives off a delicate scent too, which is wafting over me as I sit beside it and write to you.
Today I wish I could sit beside you, talk about what is on our hearts, make you a cup of tea, and give you a real hug, instead of this digital one. For now, though, that is not to be.
Instead I send you this beautiful photo from the yard so you will have a thing of beauty to remind you how much you are loved.
They aren’t much to look at, these gary-green flat stalks, barely noticeable above the dry leaves, but beginnings are often unimpressive. You probably know these are daffodils, not yet putting out buds. One warm fall day last year I saw the bulbs for sale at the hardware store. I am easily carried away with big plans and, unable to resist the pretty flower pictures on the bag, bought 3 bags of 30 bulbs each.
When I got home and started digging to put them in, it seemed like 90 bulbs might have been too many. It was hot and dusty, but eventually I planted them all around the bird bath across the yard from the back porch. It takes bulbs a little while to get acclimated, so the blooms were sparse the first spring.
This year you can see the bulbs have subdivided, so where I planted one there are now two plants coming up. I like my chances of having a glorious yellow fiesta in the yard this year. When they bloom, I will put up a picture, and you will remember that this is how they started.
When we see a glorious fancy display it is easy to forget that it started in this small unassuming way. The little shoots are so inconspicuous, giving no indication of the beauty to come.
When we hit a low point in life, once the crisis is behind us the next day is a chance for a small new start, nurturing the possibility of a blossom in the future. Yesterday is behind you, with whatever struggles and fears and trials it held. Today is a new day, a chance for you to make a small start toward something new.
Each start is full of possibility. Some will just bloom once, but some will divide into two, then four, and eventually innumerable blossoms that you can enjoy and share with others.
Not all of our beginnings come to fruition, so it is important to have many small starts. Maybe you will send a card to an old friend you would love to hear from. Maybe you will invite someone over for a piece of pie. Maybe you will order a book on a subject that interests you or start learning that song you like on the piano. Maybe you will pursue a new business idea.
It is Valentine’s Day. Plant something in your life today that has the possibility of growing into something sweet. Yes, of course you are loved.
The view from this bluff above the creek bed looks down on a most unusual sight. The sheer creek bank contains a large patch of red clay. Normally our soil is a sandy consistency and chocolate brown color. The dirt in the fields and flower beds is brown, and the dirt all along the edge of the creek bank is brown, except right here.
The old well log from our water well not a quarter mile from this spot details the composition of each layer of the subsurface down to 538 feet. Not one layer shows red clay. It is peculiar how this deposit shows up right at the bend in the creek and nowhere else on the property that we know of.
I don’t have a good enough grasp of the geologic processes to explain how depositional layers can contain patches of substances not found nearby, but I looked at a soil map for our state.
What I noticed is that different soil types occur in swaths, like a patchwork quilt over the earth’s surface. Our geologic formation, the Edwards Plateau, is close to some areas with red clay soils.
Somehow the soil migrated, possibly carried by the water in the creek bed, since it is deposited at a bend in the bank. I now have this startling red clay area, a spot of yang in the yin of the cool brown of the remainder of the creek bed.
The surprise of this little bit of one thing in the middle of the other thing reminds me how organic things are not uniform. They do not consist all of one thing and nothing else.
We may be mostly nice, but sometimes spiteful. We may usually like to relax, but sometimes work really hard. Our life may be mostly joyful, with some deep sorrow right there where the path turns. The lack of uniformity in our character, in our environment, and in our experiences adds interest and variety. It makes hard times more bearable.
Today may be a hard day. You might have a scary confrontation with your mortality or may mourn the diminishment of your youth and beauty. Amid those hard things, may you find a surprising splotch of joy, like the hand of someone who loves you holding yours through the hard parts.
The land around the Bossy Spa consists mostly of limestone bluffs, sandy fields, and creek and river basins. This part of central Texas was ocean bottom some 265 million years ago. The gulf of Mexico used to reach this far inland, and you can see evidence of our geologic past in the limestone, which is chock full of long extinct marine mollusks. If you look closely you can see a fossilized barnacle in the picture.
Limestone itself is formed in warm shallow ocean water, primarily from shells and coral. Finding little sea snail fossils in our local rock is so commonplace that residents pay no attention, yet every day nature serves us this reminder that big changes are capable of happening.
When I drive over the ridge into our valley, I am often struck by how the hills covered with scrub oak and mesquite and white-tailed deer once were coral reefs teeming with marine life. It doesn’t seem all that far fetched. The ridges are spaced like standing waves and it doesn’t take too much imagination to add water and a scuba suit.
Zooming out your perspective to think about the geologic timescale can free you from feeling stuck to having a sense of possibility. If you are focused on the particulars of daily living, and most of us are, take a moment to look up at the horizon. Stretch your body. Stretch your mind. What was happening here millions of years ago? Thousands of years ago? A hundred years ago? What will be happening here at intervals long into the future?
Thinking this way encourages us see our smallness, and when we are suffering, as so often is the case when we are dedicated to caring for another, smallness can be comforting. We are so small that there is only so much we can do. In another 265 million years central Texas may once again be under water, which helps me look at my list of tasks for today in a new way.
Are there clues in your environment that point you to think on a bigger time scale? Maybe you have old growth redwood forest with trees a thousand years old. Maybe you have a granite outcropping formed by an ancient volcanic eruption. Find something from in environment that causes you to think on a grander scale. Notice how that changes your perspective, and share if your insights might be helpful to others.
As the caregiver of my flower beds, I have a dubious track record, but things are looking up. This image may look like a chaotic green bit of nothing, but I assure you it is an exciting development. This is a tuft of larkspur that will invade the yard with blue and pink and purple flowers in April. I seeded for larkspur several years ago, and we get more every year, but last year I did something that proved to be a bad idea, so I worried it wouldn’t come back.
The thing I did was work too hard. I decided to mulch the beds. When Mark came in on the tractor I scooped up the cut grass from the top of the blade cover and mulched the beds with the grass cuttings. I hoped to add nutrients to the soil and suppress the bermuda grass that was creeping into the beds. The seeds from the mulch got into the beds and made more grass, and the thick pads of grass threatened to smother my larkspur and other seeds.
I have moved the mulch somewhere else, and all the work has gotten me about where I started, except I still wondered whether I had smothered the seeds. Imagine my delight in finding this green tuft declaring unequivocally that my larkspur are not about to be defeated by my failed experiment.
Sometimes despite our best intentions we do things that work against what we are ultimately trying to achieve. We labor and sweat and strive, and end up where we started or worse. We can’t predict which work will turn out this way because none of us can accurately predict the future. We make a judgment call the best we can and deal with the imperfections in our choices as they unfold.
You want to be the best caregiver, so maybe you make some changes to your mother’s bills to simplify things, having the payments drafted automatically, since she is finding it confusing to deal with payments. You were looking to make her life better, but she gets mad. She accuses you of trying to take her money and to make things confusing so she won’t be able to tell you have stolen from her.
You know she is not to blame. It’s just that terrible disease talking, but still her words pierce your heart. After all your effort, things are worse. If only you had not … but you did with the best of intentions.
Efforts that backfire are an unavoidable part of giving care, so go easier on yourself. Remember that even when things go awry, sometimes tiny tufts of goodness survive whatever indignities are heaped upon them. We may make things worse, but not decisively enough to keep sprouts from coming up and promising flowers in the spring.