Cultivation

‘I found quite quickly that nothing bored people so immediately and completely as botany.’ — Nan Fairbrother, An English Year

 

 

 

At the risk of being boring… botany and macro-photography of the plant world is something I enjoy. I am just a keen amateur, of course, but when the photography suggestion for the week was ‘Order‘… I immediately thought of seed pods. These are some recent pictures I took of my faded peony. The flowers were stunning–and I did get many pictures of those–but, to me, the seed pods are even more fascinating. (They suggest to me fuzzy slippers, strewn with the limp confetti of spent petals and popped balloon detritus, and a warm and cozy morning after a really good party the night before, which can now be endlessly discussed at leisure and over several cups of coffee while we ponder Who Came and What Was Said.)

But what, I wondered, was inside? So I sliced one in half to peek into the busy command central of future flower production.

Within these tiny packets is an irony. There are few things more DIS-orderly than an untended garden. Yet seed production in the world of plants is an example of order in the most breathtaking sense of the word.

Where the seeds go, and how they are tended is where the hand of man comes in.

‘Each family of flowers—rose, daisy, buttercup—is like a theme of music, and the different species are variations on it.’ — Nan Fairbrother

FairbrotherEnglishYearI am currently re-reading excerpts from Nan Fairbrother’s An English Year.  I return to this book often, actually, as it’s the sort of book not easily absorbed in just one sitting.

When it comes to plants, we connect quite sympathetically:

‘It was on these days that I came to know and love the country. I travelled for miles around, for an active child can go a long way on a bicycle in eight hours. I became so familiar with the trees and flowers that they were nearer and far dearer than any people. I saved up and bought Johns’s Flowers of the Field… I learnt to run down in a flora the flowers I did not know. I struggled with botany books on osmotic pressure and the history of flowering plants and the difference in structure between monocotyledons and dicotyledons.’

And perhaps, if she were alive today, she might also be slicing seed pods, arranging them in the best light, (perhaps while balancing them on her knees) and holding a little phone camera as steadily as possible to best capture an interior world and glimpses of a colorful future.

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Nan Fairbrother

Fleeting

Nostalgia…as this blog is nothing if not nostalgic, this should have been easy. Old books, right? My first memory of walking into a true blue antiquarian bookshop when I was nineteen? A snatch of Robert Burns’ poetry that my grandfather loved to quote, all forever connected in my mind with his tobacco stained plaid shirts and the scrape scrape of his blackened toast…? Crunchy leaf-strewn walks in the country, with my mom’s copy of Walden in hand…? Done.

Yet, I kept thinking about this plucky clematis on my patio that bloomed vivid and carefree all summer long…a curtained backdrop to our outdoor laughter and sunlit afternoons with friends. Then it began the un-wished for departure…much too soon…with a casual strewing of petals. Like a good-bye that has to be rushed, for fear of tears. A presence much too fleeting. I miss it already.

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Fleeting

what is nostalgia
but my own private
Greek chorus
chanting softly
collective in shadow
on an ancient stage
suggesting
murmuring
insistent
“You will feel this way”
my one act
falters
my soliloquy
fades
distant disquiet, unseemly
persists
as though one
falling petal
(mere cellulose tissue)
should convey
so much more
when, simply it is
surely it is

one more petal

that has fallen

softly

 

Thoughts Like Wild Apples

‘I fear that he who walks over these hills a century hence will not know the pleasure of knocking off wild apples. Ah, poor man! there are many pleasures which he will be debarred from!’ — Thoreau

Apparently I was grippling here and didn’t know it

Perhaps Thoreau’s idea of having fun, as expressed here, is out of the ordinary. But stretching the bounds of the WordPress Photography challenge is rather fun, in itself. (theme this week: ‘Fun‘)

Reading Thoreau is not generally considered a roaring good time.  But I enjoy doing, learning, connecting with the natural world, and feeling my pulse resonate with history. (That last is particularly thrilling.) Although I am not always a Thoreau enthusiast—and even wrote about it—I respect many of his aims, and enjoy his insights into the natural world.

Sometimes I find him downright endearing, as in his earnest essay Wild Apples. This was his thoughtful effort, written in 1862, to bring attention what he considered to be one of the disappearing treasures of the landscape.

‘The wild apple, which I praise as so spirited and racy when eaten in the fields or woods, being brought into the house, has frequently a harsh and crabbed taste…sour enough to set a squirrel’s teeth on edge and make a jay scream.’

This just might be Thoreau at his liveliest!

I was particularly intrigued by the idea that the tangy nature of these wild fruits would be dimmed if eaten in the tamed air of indoor rooms. As Thoreau puts it, ‘you miss the November air, which is the sauce it is to be eaten with.’

Here, in August, our apples are dropping early. The ground, warmed by the late summer sun, wafts up repeated gusts of spicy cider fragrance. Dreams of caramel apple pie bedazzle the gaze of my husband/photographer, and an earthy bit of cider from a stranger’s apple trees shall accompany the harvest.

On top of everything else, finding new words is fun. Thoreau just handed me another Curious Word. ‘Grippling’…. It’s a lost, juicy, ‘spirited and racy’ wild apple of a word. According to Thoreau, it was a custom of apple gleaning that was practiced in days of yore in Herefordshire.

‘The custom of grippling, which may be called apple gleaning, is, or was formerly, practised in Herefordshire. It consists in leaving a few apples which are called gripples, on every tree, after the general gathering, for the boys who go with climbing poles and bags to collect them.’

(Apparently his resource for this information was Plantæ Utiliores: Or Illustrations of Useful Plants, Employed in the Arts and Medicine, Volume 1, published 1842, and part of the Harvard Library where Thoreau researched)

But you know what would be really fun? To discover the rare treat Thoreau described as

‘better than any bottled cider that I know of, and with which I am better acquainted than with wine.’

It is the ‘frozen-thawed’ apple. Thoreau describes it with great excitement. First you walk the old woods that rim the farmland, where wild apples are left to grow unheeded. It is December, the first snows have fallen. But so comes the first thaw, under a mild winter sun. Wild apples, fallen on the ground, never gathered in, begin to soften in the warmth of those rays. It is then that they find their true potential; the harsh, crabbed taste Thoreau describes is gone, and in its place ‘a sweet and luscious food, in my opinion of more worth than the pineapples…of the West Indies.’

‘Your jaws are the cider press.’

It is only the first freezing and thaw, Thoreau cautions, that creates this prized delicacy of the woodland rim. In fact, here is his recipe for the sweet tang of heaven:

‘Let the frost come to freeze them first, solid as stones, and then the rain or a warm winter day to thaw them, and they will seem to have borrowed a flavor from heaven through the medium of the air in which they hang.’

I think there is analogy here to some of the people I’ve known. Or perhaps myself. Apparently there are no bad apples; just wild ones, who haven’t realized their sweet potential.


Another post that shows I have a particular fondness for apples…and I’m still Looking For Ethel.

Mimosa Morning

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This morning I was unexpectedly transported to the French Riviera where I found myself eating candied mimosa blossoms of exquisite fragility.

This is what can happen when you start your day with a particularly absorbing book.

The funny thing is, if you google ‘mimosa’, the first array of images that come up are of the cocktail that features champagne and orange juice. Lovely for mornings but not a tree with blossoms. And I’m quite certain that if you google ‘morning mimosa’ Google would skip the tree reference entirely. (it is a lovely tree…) And if you google ‘candied mimosa’ you just get hungry for that promised delicate, ethereal crunch.

Reading by the light of early morning sun is a delight. First, you need an old book with fascinating, esoteric subject matter.  imageFlower Cookery by Mary MacNichol, (1967) is one of my treasures. If you need a recipe for pralined mimosa blossoms that hails from deep antiquity and the French Riviera, there it is, sandwiched in between Mignonette and Motherwort.

It even comes with a poem.

“Les Mimosas” the flower-girls cry as they offer us branches
along the curve of their sea a-bloom in the sunlight;
Like dust, like foam are the blooms, but many and golden
On branch that I hold in my hand…”  [Flower Pieces by Padraic Colum, 1938]

Since I am still immersed in Beverley Nichols—now that I have a garden again, and see my last post—I was reminded of how he loved mimosa blossoms.

‘The finest mimosa I ever saw…was so covered with blossom that it looked like an immense gold powder puff. One could stand under it, and gently shake the branches, so that the delicate dust drifted on to one’s head, and one enjoyed all the sensations of a blonde–whatever they may be.’   —Down The Garden Path

Reading by morning sunlight is enhanced if the book is old, with thick paper. The texture shows up beautifully in morning light, unlike some of us who, as we age, tend to avoid being seen before noon. The binding might creak a little as it turns and gives, expanding under the warmth of eastern sunlight,  but so does your easy chair. And perhaps your joints.

This, incidentally, is where an electronic device will let you down. Morning is not the time for harsh glare or flickering letters that seem to be forming themselves (ahem, page ‘refreshing’)  anew each moment. No, for this exercise one must have textured pages of real paper, all showing their age very well in bright sunlight.OldBookStack

I would like to try this recipe for mimosa blossoms. I would like to stand under a tree and let the golden powdery bloom turn me into a blonde for a moment while I munch on my sweet candied puffs. But first, I need to plant my mimosa tree. And wait for it to bloom.

“If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch,
you must first invent the universe.”
—Carl Sagan

I start my day with reading, for I never know where it will take me.

 

Narrow Escape

There is too much headboard for this entryway….

NarrowBed

And it’s not the first time. This king-sized headboard, of solid rosewood, has a story that began long before it came to me. It belonged to a former American ambassador, and, in her spirited company, it had traveled to many beautiful residences around the world.

But, since her death, it has been in my possession, now to endure several less exalted moves, cramped entry-ways, and pleading demands by sweaty exasperated movers to ‘just cut it in half’.

“Oh, no,” I say, knowing full well I am about to break the spirit of several sturdy young men. And I think of that lovely woman, in her windswept house by the sea, and her sad, sad death. “We can’t cut it.”

So it survived intact, once again. A narrow escape for this old beauty.

Stories. My house is full of them.


In case you are a fan of the movie Laura…and Waldo Lydecker…we love to reference the dialogue… as here, (tongue in cheek, of course):

“It’s lavish, but we call it home.”

The inimitable Waldo Lydecker


‘I shall never forget the weekend Laura died.

A silver sun burned through the sky like a huge magnifying glass.

It was the hottest Sunday in my recollection.

I felt as if I were the only human being left in New York.

For with Laura’s horrible death, I was alone.

I, Waldo Lydecker…

was the only one who really knew her…

and I had just begun to write Laura’s story when…

another of those detectives came to see me.

I had him wait.

I could watch him through the half-open door.

I noted that his attention was fixed upon my clock.

There was only one other in existence…

and that was in Laura’s apartment…

in the very room where she was murdered.

Careful there. That stuff is priceless.

Come in here, please.

Mr. Lydecker?

Ah, you recognize me. How splendid.

Sit down, please.

Nice little place you have here, Mr. Lydecker.

It’s lavish, but I call it home.’


WP photochallenge ‘narrow‘.