Sunday, March 27, 2011


I'm getting antsy here for some serious spring weather. This morning's run with my golden retriever was lovely but frosty, with a view of fresh snow dusting the foothills. I think it would be okay if winter signs faded, allowing buds to really pop.

I am intrigued by buds. They embody potential, what might be, enthralling possibility. As I wander my yard, I peer at the buds of dogwood, magnolia, aspen, pear, and willow. Each wrapped bundle is a gift: a present that will soon make its grand entry.

I go inside and read about buds. Botanists talk about buds in intriguing ways. For example, calling buds terminal, axillary or adventitious is just referring to where they choose to land on the plant, whether at the top of a stem, in the axil of a leaf, or elsewhere, like on a trunk or a root. If I were a bud, I'd prefer to be described as adventitious rather than terminal. Wouldn't you?

The appearance of buds is set forth with a vivid set of descriptors. Buds can be scaly, covered, naked or hairy. Buds that are hairy can be either scaly or naked. Now, I don't think being described as scaly is a good thing; it sounds too reptilian which, in our culture, is not positive (apologies to my herpetologist friend Frank). But to be both scaly and hairy just doesn't sound attractive. If those adjectives described me, I'd be looking for some laser removal pro, followed by good moisturizer.

Buds' status also determines how botanists describe them. Buds occupy roles described as accessory, resting, dormant, latent, or pseudoterminal. I'm thinking that none of these titles enhances self-esteem. If you were to choose your status from this selection, would you really be satisfied with dormant or latent? I cannot ever see myself happy with the status of "pseudoterminal," even if I knew it meant that I might be like a persimmon bud, having sympodial growth in which a terminal bud dies and is replaced by a closer axillary bud.

And then there are bud functions. I thought I understood what buds do: they get things ready for the show of flower, fruit, leaf, et al. Guess it's more complicated than that. Some buds' function can be described as "vegetative," which means they only contain vegetative pieces, like an embryonic shoot with leaves. Okay, but I thought all buds, in fact, all plants, are made up of vegetative pieces. I'm puzzled and so read further.

I find that, if a bud isn't functioning in a vegetative manner, it could be doing so in a reproductive manner (having the embryo of a flower) or it could be functioning in both a reproductive and vegetative manner at the same time (having both embryonic leaves and flower). This is making some sense to me, as I conclude that some buds are really good at multi-tasking.

My bud-study is clouding my head, confusing me, messing with years of intense bud observation. I think I'll quit reading. I think I'll just go back outside and peer at the buds in my yard. I really don't care if they are they are pseudoterminal or adventitious or hairy or scaly. I am just excited about the gifts that they are set to unfold.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Sea Thoughts

Just spent four days on a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The surf below our cabin was a frothing cauldron the entire time we were there, with car-sized rock being pummeled non-stop by rolls of sea. We could see sea from the deck, the yard, the hot tub, the dinner table, the living room, the bedrooms, the "office" and the guest house. We could hear the rumble of surf all the time, a soothing white noise, occasionally punched with the crashing roar of a surfer's dream.

Since we were 150 feet above the water, we didn't fret about tsunamis. But in transit, in town, we were very aware of the threat that coastal folks face 24/7. Signs broadcasting hazard zones and escape routes and instructional brochures reminded visitors like us that complacency about the ocean could be a fatal error. Baristas compared their preferred routes if an alarm blared. Volunteer emergency workers reviewed a recent drill.

Sobered me out my dreamy idealization of the sea. The astounding videos and satellite images of Japan seared my mind, reminded me that this incredibly soothing waterbody can be a giant of unimaginable destruction. Each wave that I tracked to its foamy dissolution took on a duality, a polarity of beauty and ferocity. Annie Dillard's writing came to mind, as she zeroes in so often on that dichotomy of the natural world. Her introduction to "Pilgrim at Tinker Creek," in which she describes the bloody pawprints of her cat tracking across her nightgown, exemplifies that contrast. The pawprints, evidence of a recent kill, look like roses. Nature is incredibly beautiful and incredibly cruel.

The ocean is incredibly beautiful and incredibly cruel.

That thought stays with me. Yes, I was blessed this week to savor images of this amazing union of water and continent's edge. Yes, I'll turn to those images in memory and tiny videos when the land-locked location of my high desert home seems too confining. And, yes, I'll be reminded again of both the demonic and soothing character of the sea.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Practicality of Prayer

Just spent almost four days with a sweet deaf dog in a spot where silence reigns. Those blissfully quiet days got me thinking, thinking about the importance of prayer. While I was there, I did my morning routine of barefoot prayer to get my day going. The grass wasn't frozen and the prayers were longer in this temperate clime. While I was there, I gave thanks for the wonder of my food. Organic, vegetarian, local food was my fare, purchased from a fine market near my nest. While I was there, I offered pleas for the well being of those loved ones whose lives are marred by cancer and Alzheimer's and addiction. While I was there, I asked for help for myself, help to stay on track, to keep on making a difference in folks' lives every day.

While I was there I knitted. The yarn was a lovely green/blue blend, looking hand-dyed, with an appropriate color name: Reef. I knitted Reef into a soft, comfy sweater that I'll use through the spring and summer. As I knitted, I prayed. I tried to infuse each stitch with a blessing. I tried to pulse each stitch with the peace, the serenity of this place. My hope was that, when I finish this sweater and wear it, I will be ensconced in the calm of this green spot. My prayer is that the frenetic worry and fuss of my common day will be replaced by the soft quiet of rolling hills and birdsong. That was my prayer as I knitted.

Praying while knitting is pragmatic. It's looking forward to a garment that protects, that shields, that somehow imparts good things to the wearer. Praying while knitting is also like using a rosary or prayer beads. It's giving the routine motion of thread over, pulled through a cosmic meaning. Each touch, a new prayer.

"What practicalities other than knitting have my prayers addressed?" I wondered as yarn whirled around me. I thought of the guidance from my treasured grief counselor.

I had told her about fearing for my daughter's well-being at 3:00 on a certain Wednesday and finding out later that, at 3:00 on that certain Wednesday, an idiotic driver had changed lanes without looking, forcing my daughter onto the shoulder of the road. My grief counselor talked to me about my strong spiritual connection with my daughter and the importance of using that union soundly. She asked me if I believe in the power of prayer and I assured her I do. She said, "Then you believe that thoughts can impact events?" I assured her I do. She then said, "Be careful what you think about your daughter, lest you inadvertently impact events. Instead of fretting about your daughter's safety while she's driving, send her an angel of alertness."

I really like that idea and I do it often, particuarly when I know that my daughter's town has nasty winter driving conditions. "Here, let me send you an angel of alertness," I pray. "I know you are an excellent, defensive driver and that you watch oh so carefully for inattentive, aggressive, dangerous drivers who may cause you harm. I add my prayer of alertness to your solid set of tools."

I like the practicality of that prayer, like an emergency flasher in the trunk or a five gallon jug of water in the garage or a couple hundred dollars tucked away in case a power outage cripples ATMs. That prayer, and many others I send, are not glamourous, dramatic pleas, but simple messages of good intent, simple charges of psychic energy directed at bringing good things to this world.

Recently my dog Sadie was ill, not able to keep her food or even water down. I took her to her fine vet and followed his advice. I felt confident that, with the medical care, the vigilance at home, AND the prayers sent for her recovery, she'd be back to her goofy self soon. I did not want to catastrophize this infirmity into something terrible, as some of my friends did. I did not want to pray her into a dark corner. So my Sadie prayers zeroed in on boosting my running buddy back to her "normal" hyper energetic state, sending powerful thoughts that she'd be on track in days. And she was. Don't know how much of the credit my prayers should get. Don't care. She's back at it, running as fast as she can, loving every blessed minute of each sprint.

The practicality of prayer: knitting peace into a garment, girding my daughter as she drives, helping my dog get back on track. Prayer is one of the hardworking staples of my life, something I need and use each day. I give thanks for the gift of prayer.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Sounds of Silence

Sitting in Oregon, listening to rain pummel the roof, I'm reminded how much I like silence. I cherish the chance to listen to sounds not made by humans. This trip finds me in a lovely home in the country. The sounds I hear are made by wind, rain, or animals. Occasionally a car goes by, but the unpaved road is distant and drivers are few.

Last night I heard an owl tap its soft telegraph into the blackened air. Then I listened to chickens, turkeys and a pig settle down for the night. It was an intriguing sonata. I couldn't see them, but could just hear their rustling, grunting, and pipping. During the night I heard not a thing: a delight. This morning I listened to a rooster crowing. It was a cheery greeting, not a wake-up call since I'd been up for two hours, but a jubilant declaration of the newness of the day.

Later in the morning I heard birds eat. Debonair juncos flashed their white and grey garb along the ground, chipping as they discovered seed. Blue flash of jay from one tree to another tracked sharply in the quiet air. Robins bobbled their joy at discovered bugs. Far off, geese vees brayed their flight plans.

I'll be at this quiet retreat tomorrow and the next day and will cherish each hour of quiet. The place has sophisticated TV / dish / sound equipment. Don't care. Don't need to figure out how to use it. Can do without human sound just fine, thank you very much.

Years ago my late husband and I paddled into Canadian wilderness and, for three joy-filled days, heard no human sounds other than ours. No planes, no trucks, no cars, no radio, no TV, no chatter. Just us and the loons and the fish and the chipmunks. We couldn't believe how therapeutic the silence was. We could hear our hearts. We could hear our breath. We could hear our thoughts.

Few places on earth offer such silence. We are bombarded by the rattle of humanity, wherever we turn. And so I cherish these days spent in silence, spent oddly enough with a small white dog who is deaf. Each hour of this quiet time will be stashed in my memory bank so that, when inundated by the din of my tribe, I can make a small withdrawal and savor these sounds of silence.