Thursday, December 31, 2009

Blue Moon

A month has a second full moon every two or three years. This second full moon in a single month (or "moon-th") can be called a blue moon. The fact that the blue moon occurs on New Year's Eve is rare--it happens once in a blue moon; it won't happen again until 2028.

The Buddha lived in a culture that had a lunar calendar. (We use a solar calendar.) He and the monks and nuns meditated all night long under the full moon, the new moon, and the quarter moons. Today monks and nuns still sit all night on full moon and new moon nights.

During the holidays--the holy days--we are more likely to relax and kick back into mindlessness rather than to pay extra attention to the present moment.

Still, tonight is a good time notice the full moon arcing high in the winter sky--even if we do turn blue with cold while we're gazing.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Jade Stars

My 25-year-old jade plant is flowering for the very first time. Sprays of small white stars hovering over the succulent leaves surprised me when i returned home in early December from a month-long retreat.

A Master Gardener friend tells me her jade plant flowers every year. After summer vacation, Alice, a teacher and a mother, puts her plants in the garage and then brings them indoors in October.

The comparing mind could start chewing on this. "If Alice can do it, and i can't, therefore something is wrong with me." Is that really logical?

Alice's jade plant blooms. Mine usually doesn't.

A jade plant blooms under the right conditions: withhold water around the time of the first frost (in October), keep it cool, then resume very light watering. If like me, you water your jade plant regularly, then it won't bloom. This year, however, the jade plant went unwatered as i was rushing around preparing for my month-long retreat. When i returned home in early December, the jade plant was blooming.

And after four weeks of withholding myself from contact with the world, so was i.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Christmas Cactus

The Christmas cactus have been blooming for a month now. Their shocking pink three-tiered blossoms that end in a fountain of stamens cheer up the dining room table.

My friend Linda has her grandmother's red Christmas cactus--a stately plant that requires its own plant stand to gracefully drape its capacious green skirt over. My sister, who has 12 pairs of peach shoes, likes orange Christmas cactus.

My own straggly Christmas cactus have to endure the indignities of having a mother (me) with too many plant children. In the summer i shoo them all outdoors for rain showers and sunbaths. Then in September, i troop them all back in to their one-room solarium where they obediently sit until the time comes for them to bloom as star pupils.

Very soon now, the Christmas cactus will cease blooming and return to the back row of plants. Some other bloomer will draw my attention, as i skim over the main lesson, the salient point not really sinking in.

All around me, everything is changing.

Monday, December 28, 2009

A Wild Christmas Tree

In late November, the tree service came and cut the tops off 3 hemlocks that were beginning to block our view. I dragged one of the crowns up to the house, and Bill cut off the bottom four feet. The green-needled branches still stretch for the sunlight, but now the treetop is based in a red-and-green Christmas tree stand.

I actually prefer the spaciousness among the branches of a wild tree because i can see the decorations hanging in thin air, much as mindfulness can help us notice the--sometimes very small--space between the thoughts that consume our attention. What we assumed was a solid background of constant thinking turns out to be flashes separated by space.

I love having a tree from our own woods living indoors with us. Covered with lights, it reminds us of a sun-blessed greener season.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Rooted in Darkness

In this season of extreme darkness, it takes efforts to notice the imperceptible but steady move toward light. We've already gained 7 minutes of sun at the end of the day, since the earliest sunset on December 7.

This year i began to force hyacinths later than other years. I always wait to buy the bulbs on sale after Thanksgiving, but this year i was on retreat in England for the month of November. By December, my usual sources had sold out of bulbs, so i had to hunt hyacinths on the internet.

When they arrive, i set the bulbs in forcing vases filled to neck with water. Then i leave the 2 dozen vases in the cool dark basement. Week by week i can see white roots growing. Roots require darkness--of earth, or, in this case, water.

The roots of our thoughts and actions grow in the darkness of unconsciousness. Applying mindfulness moment by moment eventually adds up to more light--and lightness--in our lives.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Meditative Gardener goes to press

The Meditative Gardener is about to sprout! The book designer sent the .pdf to the printer. The actual books will be available on Groundhog Day, the day when the earth spirits that have been sleeping all winter poke their heads above ground to check out the climate.

The first harbinger of spring--a new gardening/meditation book!

Friday, October 9, 2009

Love in the Garden

I love my garden.

Oh, certainly i have my judgments and opinions about it at times. "That flower bed shows so little color after the daffodils stop blooming." Yet, despite my opinions, the flowers continue to grow and bloom, as if they haven't heard a word i've said. Indeed, an opinion most strongly affects the one who holds that opinion. Regardless of how i feel about my garden or what i think about it, it continues on its merry way, sprouting and greening, blooming and dying. The garden itself is impartial. It grows weeds just as well as sweet Williams.

It is only we, with our blockade of judgments and a deep, dark well of negative feelings, who may fail to notice that act of love waiting for us in the flowerpot at the front door or the flower bed that runs alongside the foundation of our homes. Love is waiting there for us in the garden.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

4-Season Gardening

I've been part of a community garden this summer, but before we even started, a local farmer came to talk to the six of us. "There's the spring garden, the summer garden, and the fall garden," he said.

We were particularly glad to hear about the summer garden since we had already missed the spring garden by a wide swath. It was July 1st when the first person planted the first seed. Well, she'd been nurturing squash plants, cucumber vines, and tomatoes in pots on her patio. She was really happy to put those babies in the ground.

And, by the way, i was really happy that she planted her extra butternut squash seedlings in my 9x12 plot.

By August, she had bought herself a small freezer in which to put her abundant harvest.

In my vegetable garden at home, i'm just now clearing away the summer vegetables in anticipation of the first frost. Suddenly, i see the fall garden that's been hiding underneath and behind all that green and browning camouflage. Rainbow chard, carrots, beets, broccoli, and kale. One pumpkin vine has run amok, twisting around the garden like intestines and i have the best pumpkin crop i've ever had. Gourd vines have wound themselves over the back fence, so i have a good supply of seasonal decorations.

Spring, summer, fall. There is even a winter garden. Two years ago, my 7-year-old granddaughter wanted to go dig something out of the garden for dinner the day after Christmas. So there we were at 5:00, flashlights in mittened-hands, digging up leeks and parsnips. A voice called to us through the dim evening, and my gardening neighbor, Connie, snowshoed up to see what we were doing. Gardening in the snow, of course.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Dead Chipmunk

Pine cones have been falling at a brisk rate these past two weeks. Perhaps the squirrels have been carpet-bombing the pine needle covered floor of the forest, then rushing down to stockpile their winter food supply.

On a path through the woods, i find a dead chipmunk, who possibly made an aerial misstep a hundred feet above. He's been dead a few days from the looks of it, yet his carcass is moving. I squat down and lift it slightly with a twig. An orange- and black-striped insect hurries under cover. He's trying to move the chipmunk body but doesn't want to be seen. A big, green fly lands on the corpse and walks around, stopping at the open black eyeball.

The chipmunk is decaying, visibly so. I too am of the nature to decay.

The beetle and the fly just stopped by for lunch. They're just minding their own business with no malice intended. In fact, we could say they're just helping the recycling process. We could say that we too are recycling every time we put a forkful of food in our mouths and chew it up.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Chili Vermont

Tomatillos. I suppose they really should be grown south of the border, at least south of the border of Vermont where i live. But these green tomatoes in a husk reseed themselves prolifically in my vegetable garden. So i let them have their way because i love chili verde. The green sauce and green salsa that you find in Mexican restaurants are made with tomatillos.

In August and September i dice them into homemade salsa. Now i'm cleaning up the vegetable garden in preparation for the first frost and harvesting hundreds of these tomatillos still in their green husks. I store them in my unheated basement, and they will last until this time next year. No canning. No freezing. All i have to do is remember that i have a fresh vegetables downstairs, waiting to jump into the chili pot, roll into goulash or spike into Spanish rice. Any time i would normally cook with tomatoes in the winter, i use tomatilloes instead.

So when i go back to the garden to that profusion of tomatillo vines, and i frown, "Ai-yi-yi! What was i thinking when i didn't weed these out in June?" i just have to change the accent. "Ai-yi-yi-yi. Canta, no llores." I'll sing for my supper--Chili Verde-mont tonight.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Shrouded in Mist

I live on the high shoulder of a river valley, so at this time of year morning dawns gray to reveal rising mist. The body of earth and, specifically, the nearby body of water are slowly losing their heat into the air.

Summer is shifting toward winter through this intermediary season called fall. Yes, red and yellowed leaves are falling on my flowerbeds as if to season them with a dash of colored pepper. At the same time, heat is rising from earth and from water in the form of vapor.

Earth, water, air, heat (also called fire). I watch the interplay of these 4 "elements"--which are actually the three forms of matter--solid, liquid, gas--plus the heat required to transubstantiate one element into another.

River water transmutes into water vapor, losing its heat in the process--the death of summer. A slower process than the death of the physical body. One of the signs of impending death is that our body loses its heat. "People die from the feet up," my father told me. The body first withdraws heat from its extremities.

Steam rises from the teacup in my hand as i gaze out the window at the backyard, shrouded in mist.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Final Garden Tour of the Season

Perennial Swappers toured my fall garden this evening. "You're the bookends of the season,"someone said gaily.

Swappers visit my spring garden the first Thursday in May when every gardener's green fingers are itching. And they visit again on the Thursday after fall equinox. In our little community, the garden touring season begins and ends in my garden.

"Aren't you bored with my gardens?" i ask the organizer. "Wouldn't you like to visit someone else's garden?"

But while most green thumbs are bemoaning a lack of color, i still have plenty. Blue monkshood sits atop pink turtlehead which jumbles with magenta phlox and is framed by tall blue-purple asters. Violet ironweed blooms nearby.

White chenille stalks of sanguisorba point skyward like a birthday cake with way too many candles. Pale pink anemone Robustissima floats above it all.

In the yellow garden, cup plant (Silphium) has nearly ended its reign as the tallest flower in the garden, while a colony of nearby helenium are winning the beauty contest with their crimson coronas. Redbud's heart-shaped leaves are already yellowing.

While most gardeners are throwing in the trowel, i'm readying mine for two more months of serious dividing and transplanting.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Heart-colored Zinnias

This year i'm losing my heart to zinnias. A few years ago, my sister-in-law had a bouquet of them sitting on the island in her kitchen. They looked so bright and cheery, i planted some the next year and the next.

Living in the north woods, it's only mid-August and September that the zinnias burst into the fullness they attain earlier farther south. Now, at fall equinox, with threat of frosts in the high ground, i cut a zinnia bouquet every day. Crimson, pink, orange, magenta, peach and one yellow. This psychedelic combination of colors from the '70s cheers me into thinking summer will surely last a few more days.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Farewell to Hummingbirds

The hummingbirds have left. Like summer people, they live here in the north country from May 10 to September 10--only four months of the year. Yet i am so happy to see them come and so sad to see them go.

I was walking through my herb garden on September 8, when a hummingbird flew toward me, hovered in front of my face for five seconds, then zoomed off.

Wow! i thought, and Odd.

A few days later, i realize i haven't seen a hummingbird since. She must have been saying, "Thanks for all the flowers. See you next year. We're leaving now. Bye."

Monday, September 14, 2009

Money Plant Magic

Money plant (Lunaria) has gone to seed, its flat oblong brown pods clinging to stiff stems. I go out now to my flower bed and uproot this dead biennial until I have a handful of stalks. Then I shake them over the flower bed like a magic wand. Abracadabra. Next year I want flowers here!

The seed membranes fly off and float to earth. A few shakes later, all that remains in my hand is bouquet of silver “coins” on a stem, luminescent in the sunny cool late summer day. Without spending any money on flower seeds or on seedlings, my garden will have blooms aplenty next spring.

Monday, July 27, 2009

A Taste of Heaven

I take all my houseplants outdoors for their summer vacation; all, except one--the hoya or wax plant. It continues to hang under a skylight in the solarium, its vines nearly touching their toes to the floor.

The upside-down umbrella of pale pink waxy star-shaped flowers neatly interlock with one another. Each pale pink star is centered with a white star which has a perfect tiny red flower at its center and in the center of the red, a tiny white tongue secretes one clear drop of sweet syrup. Touch your tongue to it for a taste of ambrosia, mildly flavored by the hoya's perfume.

That's the real reason i keep it indoors in the summer. When i walk into the house at night, it smells like i've walked into heaven.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Day-long Lilies

Our friends who have a spectacular day-lily garden come for dinner and bring an Easter basket filled with a collection of today's blooms. I try to name the colors--lemon peel yellow, brick red, tangerine, plum, peach, cream.

After dinner, while we're talking in the living room, i rearrange the single flowers to see the effect of their colors. A petal comes loose.

"Eat it," says Frank.

Mmmm. Nice crisp texture with a slightly perfumy taste.

"Are they in water?" my sweetie asks with concern.

"No," says Claire. "They just last a day. Tomorrow morning they'll be compost."

I am of the nature to die. Death is unavoidable--for day-lilies whose life span is a single day or for me. Death is certain, but unlike the day-lilies, the time of my death is uncertain.

As we talk about children and grandchildren, i continue to finger the day-lilies. The triple peach has the sweetest fragrance. The grape-colored six-pointed star measures eight inches across, while its tiny plum-colored cousin with recurved petals is demurely petite by comparison.

When Frank and Claire leave, i send their basket home with them and scatter the loose blossoms on the kitchen table. The floral funeral will come at dawn.

Farewell to My Spading Fork

Prying some brick-red daylilies out of the ground with my spading fork, the D-shaped handle breaks clean off the wooden shaft. My best gardening friend for the past 29 years--the one that has given me many an aching back as well as so much joy--that friend's spine is broken.

I take its mud-encrusted tines to Brown & Roberts--our locally-owned hardware store--and ask them to put on a new D-handle. The clerk shakes his head and compares prices: a new fork $22.98, a new wooden handle $15.98. I see him glancing at the bent tines, their metal polished to a dull gleam by grinding against numberless rocks. He pronounces the death of my good friend who has spent every spring standing near the vegetable garden, calling me to come out and play.

Everything i cherish will change and vanish is the fourth of the Five Daily Recollections. I place my cherished friend next to the trash bag that's going to vanish into the dumpster tomorrow.

Farewell, my dear.

Thursday, July 9, 2009


I'm crawling around the vegetable garden on my hands and knees so i can get a better look at a little brown bird that is sitting on top of a fence post and singing his heart out to the four directions. Miraculously he sits and sings till i'm crouching among the bush beans and close enough to gaze at him.

He stops singing and preens himself unself-consciously, spreading his wing feathers like i clean between my toes. Then he just sits and watches. I hear the hum of bees and see one rolling around in a nearby poppy. Gnat-size blackflies hover near my face. I hear the zoom of a hummingbird nearby.

I say the new Appreciative Joy phrases i learned at a recent meditation retreat.
"How wonderful you are in your being.
I delight that you are here."

This nondescript little brown bird IS wonderful. My heart swells, drinking in the summer late afternoon. Then the plain brown bird puffs out his breast and sings to the west. He hops around and sings to the east.

Each in our own way, we are both suffusing our world with joy.

Friday, July 3, 2009


After yoga class, i dawdle in front of the bulletin board, reading announcements as i put on my raincoat. Next to the bulletin board hangs a rack of cards and brochures advertising vision quests, massage, reiki, and music therapy.

And then my gardener's eye catches sight of a plain black-on-white card:
  • Gardening
  • Pruning
  • Reflexology
  • Hand Massage
  • Clear Spaces
Mel Long, 254-0339

I reach out and take all 12 cards and put them in my pocket.

I really do need to find someone to prune my crabapple trees.

Two years ago, i took photos of Mel Long ensconced in the bare branches of my pink crabapple tree, looking like an elf. Despite the chilly November weather, Mel spent two hours in--and i do mean "in"--each of my four trees. She really wanted those photos and called a couple of times to make sure i'd sent them to her friend's e-mail account since she herself didn't have one.

Just a year ago, i opened the Monday paper to read that Melinda Long, age 61, had died in a head-on collision Saturday afternoon.

"Right after Farmer's Market," i thought to myself, where Mel shared a booth and gave hand massages.

I finger the little stack of cards in my pocket and gaze at the now-empty, cleared space in the card rack.

So this is how death prunes away friends and acquaintances from the tree of my life.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Lightning Bugs

I always assumed fireflies were called lightning bugs because they flash on and off like sparks of lightning. But last night the name "lightning bugs" took on a new meaning as several cells of thunderstorms passed over in quick succession. I say thunderstorms because drenching rain was accompanied by heat lightning, but actually very little thunder.

In between downpours, during an interval of misty sprinkling, lightning lit up the entire sky for half a second. After every switch-on/switch-off of lightning, the lady lightning bugs lounging in the grass blinked on in a chorus of orgasm.

Then darkness fell all around, suddenly lit by a bowl of lightning overhead. Three seconds later, the lady lightning bugs switched on as if the grass was covered with strings of fairy lights.

Lightning bugs responding to lightning.
Earth echoing heaven's song of light

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Watermelon Poppies

The opium poppy is blooming now. I walk out in the early morning to cut its watermelon-colored flowers. Each of the four petals has a purple cheek, so the cut flowers combine stunningly with the campanula growing nearby, as well as the airy coral bells.

Indoors i arrange my bouquet and set it on the kitchen table so i can look at it frequently.

Tomorrow afternoon, sometime between 2:00 and 4:00, all the petals will suddenly drop, leaving nude seed pods standing in the vase and a ruffled skirt of coral petals cast carelessly on the table.


Friday, June 26, 2009

More Rain

and more rain.
Water pouring from the sky
day after day
leaking all over my plans
to garden
and drenching bean plants
in the garden.

Drowning blackflies and mosquitoes by day;
grounding fireflies at night.

Summer beckons from the calendar,
but refrigerator weather
suspends us in this so-long spring.

We're all wet
if we think for a moment
the weather should be different
than it is.