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.
This, dear reader, is a Canada goose. We don’t get them in our part of Texas, but I was traveling away from the Bossy Spa this week, and this guy swam right up to me in a marina. He hopped on the boat transom, not three feet from where I was standing, and cocked his head inquisitively. I cannot imagine how he got this brave, but I guess people in the marina are supplying him with breakfast.
Wild geese are usually more timid, but this guy had figured out it was worth cruising the marina in hopes of breakfast. Failing that, he could always catch his own breakfast, since the land and sea nearby are plentiful with goose-friendly morsels.
This goose had never seen me before, so he can’t have recognized me as a individual. Instead he was engaging in pattern recognition, a skill common to all intelligent creatures. He identified me as being sufficiently like others who had fed him and not harmed him, that he was willing to risk hopping politely up on the deck beside me.
Pattern recognition is a fantastic shortcut. We don’t have time to figure out every particular circumstance, so we rely on experiences with people or in situations that seem similar. Like this goose we get through lots of life this way. I assume the checkout cashier at the grocery story is safe to approach, rather than making sure she is unarmed, because the grocery cashier fits a familiar pattern that I have previously experienced as safe. We all save a lot of time using pattern recognition, a key factor in intelligence.
This shortcut has its limitations, though. We tune our pattern recognition to our life experiences, and any one person’s experiences are a small and biased sample. If we have been lied to or cheated a lot, we will tend to spot this pattern more often than it actually occurs. We can become cynical and miss opportunities to engage in truthful and nurturing relationships. We develop our expectations based on our past, and our past is necessarily limited.
I point this out because the experience of being a caregiver is an unrelenting pattern. If you are living in the same house with your patient, caregiving thoughts and activities fill your waking moments. The entire world, it seems, is a grind of annoying tasks, repetitive conversations, and stressful interactions.
You might identify a pattern that generalizes to “Life is a terrible, exhausting mess,” and it may often be so right now. Today allow yourself to gently remember that there are other ways of experiencing life other than what is happening right now. One day there will be other joys and sorrows.
I did actually plant these vinca. I believe they were deep fuchsia at the time. Over the years they escaped captivity and started trailing through the yard on their own. Their bright color, which must have been bred in, faded over time to this pale pink with white star in the center.
Growers go to a lot of trouble to breed special colors and designs of flowers, but many revert to their original nature over time. One species of red verbena I put in years ago carried a label warning that propagating the plant was against the law. Really? Plants propagate on their own. Did the grower mean to suggest that they would prosecute a flower that dropped seeds?
I never got to see how that story ended because the seeds from the red verbena didn’t sprout, while the native purples keep coming up in surprise locations on their own. And now my fuchsia vinca has gone rogue.
The pale pink and white looks to me like stubborn courage. The plant was bred to flower in mardi gras pink, but its true nature was much more subtle and delicate. There was no suppressing that nature, no sustainable way to give it pompoms and a megaphone, when it has a quieter disposition.
If there is some different way you think you should be: more social, more helpful, more independent, you can work at that for a bit. Over time, though, you too are likely to revert to your true nature. Maybe you are not that social, and you need a fair bit of alone time. If you can accept who you are rather than spending effort becoming someone you are not, you will have a lot less on your to-do list.
There is already a lot on your task list because you are taking care of others, not just yourself. Think about someone who does not have it totally all together, how you accept that person as he is without trying to fix him. You can do that for yourself, you know. Aim your compassion today at yourself. Accept your nature without fixing.
Yet another tiny volunteer is taking over the yard in the winter absence of grass. Surely we can agree this purple orchid-like flower is better than grass. So much more interesting and beautiful!
You can probably tell I am just itching for spring, buzzing around looking for flowers with bee-like determination. There aren’t many out yet, but all the signs are there that the universe will not disappoint, but will soon put on another outrageous spring display.
We can reasonably count on the arrival of spring, even though each spring is different. Other things are not promised, like the health of those we love, the kindness of strangers, and it not raining on our new shoes. If you were to start writing a list of things on which you cannot rely, you could write all day and into the night and still not be close to finished.
All this uncertainty can be hard to bear. We feel safer when we know what is going to happen and exposed when we do not.
Imagine, though if you could know everything in advance. Would you want to? When I imagine this things seem flat and uninteresting. Vibrancy and joy in life come out of the uncertainty, not just anxiety.
In any event it’s not like we have a choice in the matter. There is a lot going on where we don’t have a clue how the situation will work out. Even when we think we know, we are often wrong.
One year we were preparing for a hurricane to make landfall near us. I moved all the loose items in every room into a closet, so they would not become projectiles if the windows broke and strong winds came through the house. While I was at it, I organized my closet, each pair of shoes neatly pointing west. When I was done I offered to help my neighbor, who still had outdoor furniture on her patio. “I’m not moving it,” she told me. “You either overprepare or underprepare for a hurricane. I am going to underprepare.”
I was horrified at her lack of preparedness. Wind could throw her lawn furniture through a window. “What are you going to do to get ready?” I asked.
“I’m going to bake a cake,” she said. “If the power goes out we’ll have to eat the ice cream in the freezer, so I want to be sure we have cake to go with it.”
After the storm made landfall and passed overhead, she climbed the fence between our yards, bringing her cake. We ate cake and ice cream in our oddly bare house.
I can draw only one of two conclusions from this. Perhaps pointing my shoes to the west steered the hurricane winds to another area, but I highly doubt it. The other possibility is that it is ok not to know how things will work out. Today refrain from frantic behavior trying to control the uncontrollable. Like my wise neighbor allow yourself to come to peace with not knowing.
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 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.