Alpine Lady

Honoring the natural world through prose, poetry, music, sounds, photographs and musings.


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Artistic Impressions: “A Gold Talisman” and “Still Water Runs Deep”

In a search for a way to incorporate my love of the natural world with photos, prose and poetry for reasons of brevity and space, I have come to appreciate the many Japanese forms of poetry. My interest in haibun is fairly recent, yet I feel the form fits me well and I enjoy writing it. The westernized version follows traditional rules to some extent but allows for a great deal of latitude.

Haibun is a combination of prose and poetry popularized by the poet monk, Matsuo Basho, in the late 1600’s, made famous in his book, “Narrow Road to the Interior,” containing four of his travelogues. Writing in “How to Haiku,” Bruce Ross states, “If a haiku is an insight into a moment of experience, a haibun is the story or narrative of how one came to have that experience.” I hope you enjoy the following haibun, its essence captured on my way to a recent spring equinox mandala meditation and drawing retreat. Following the haibun is the actual mandala I made with an explanation of how it came about.

 “A Gold Talisman”

My breath quickens as I clamber over the graveyard’s uneven grounds, eyes feasting on golden sunlight reflecting off the snowfields, glaciers and peaks of the Olympic Mountain Range to the south and silvery-white trumpeter swans still at rest in the greening fields below. 

On reflex, I retrieve the camera out of my thigh pocket and snap a few photos as a reminder of the prairie’s verdure and mountain snowpack mid-March, 2017. Slipping it back carefully, I reach for my grandmother’s necklace dangling from a thin golden chain, nervously reviewing my way up the ridge in case it fell off. The pathway is strewn with moss and lichen-encrusted headstones of the early settlers to the Sequim-Dungeness Valley. I touch the pendant’s reassuring presence.

Grandma’s gravesite lies several hundred miles east of here overlooking Lake Pend Oreille and the Green Monarch Mountains. A Welsh lady, she is buried amid pioneers in a small northern Idaho community of farming, railroad, logging, fishing and mining families. She and I were bonded to the natural elements and made many a stroll on hillside trails of the community visiting and sharing stories, pointing out wildlife and wild fairy orchids, watching storm activity, a snake shed its skin, and honeysuckle vines grow.

I silently finger the ornate pendant, turn and hurry along to spend the day participating in a spring equinox mandala meditation and drawing retreat nearby, feeling all the more richer for spending a moment in the sun.                                       

gnarled fingers clasping

pearl seeds and violet gems ––

an eagle’s shrill cry.

 

My grandmother’s necklace of gold filigree, seed pearls and amethyst.

 

“Still Water Runs Deep”

This is my first-ever mandala, the result of the Spring Equinox Mandala Meditation and Drawing Retreat led by Ruth Marcus on the lovely grounds of  Dungeness Barn House B&B, Two Crows Farm, overlooking the Straits of Juan DeFuca.  Done on black paper, the drawing of the mandala is specifically to show us how we can begin a journey as one dot of white in a pre-creation state of blackness. And with the placement of that dot of whiteness, with each breath and at any given moment, to radiate light and weave a rainbow of color throughout our lives.

“Still Water Runs Deep,” my first-ever mandala done on black paper.

At the retreat, I titled my mandala “Still Water Runs Deep” and had in mind the importance of water and my support of the Standing Rock Water Protectors and others around the globe. Michael pointed out to me when I came home that it was a “Sparkle Drawing in the Round.” I find that extremely interesting in that “Sparkle Drawings” are universal impressions I get in the moment that I express on white paper with colored pencils, never to be repeated quite the same. I’ve been doing them for about thirty years, finding them as a means to observe nature’s insight and practice compassionate grace, all in one.

At the Celebration of Spring Retreat, which took place in the afternoon, a holistic therapist mentioned that it was the last day of “Winter’s water element, a time of greatest stillness.” Unbeknownst to me as such and with the coming of Spring, we entered into the wood element represented by Hun, the wood element in Chinese Medicine. Now, through that lens, I see my mandala being very much about water and the influence of its impulses throughout the year.

The Triskele in the center signifies movement and the casting off of drops of water, the wavy lines and dots represent the different aspects of water through the seasons…dots for snowflakes, the wavy clouds for mists and gentle spring rains, the heavier dashes for summer hail/heavy raindrops, and the clouds for the heavy buildup of clouds, storms and thunderstorms of fall time. The rainbow brings in the sun and warmth aspect and is represented in the colors of the center circle, and in the developing buds of the vine as it circles the seasons. Guess what the red hearts surrounded by the golden rings signifies! The stems on the vine represents the shift from water to the material of solidity…hence pre-wood.

Today I feel if I were to draw one, it would begin centering on shrubs and trees. Very humbled by the process and interested in how I will finish out this mandala and what I do with the next. Perhaps I will try on dark, forest green paper.

Below is an example of a “Sparkle Drawing,” done in the moment. I found it far different to draw on black paper and get the light to radiate forth from the white dot when doing a mandala. Which do I enjoy drawing more? I’m not sure at this point but I may incorporate more of the “Sparkle Drawings” with poetry and see where they take me.

A rainbow of light lies within each seed we cast.

Blessings to one and all. Until we meet again, may our journeys be on paths of balance, beauty and beauty. ~ P

 

 


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4th Friday Writers on the Spit Readings

4th Friday-October, 2016

Once a month, about forty to sixty authors and listeners gather together in a conference room at “The Lodge” in Sequim, WA listening for an hour and a half to readings of prose and poetry. The authors have five minutes of uninterrupted time to read aloud their works. Applause is generous and since many of us are seniors, there is a level of gracious awareness for less than perfect delivery. Many of the readings are from life experiences gleaned around the world working on pipelines, sailing, military maneuvers, battling forest fires, breaking horses, treks into the wildernesses of by-gone days, heart-break romances, kidnappings, etc. shared with tearful or maybe belly-laughing descriptions and clarity of thought. Some readers are published authors, others who just do it for the pleasure. We welcome young readers, too, and I admire and am humbled by their talents.

What follows is my “Play List” for this Friday. Since my name was drawn but I didn’t get called due to lack of time at the September reading, I get to be among the first to read on the next 4th Friday. Mine tend to be theme-based and this group is about autumn. I’d like to try out my experimental Triune of Haikus, a threesome of haikus centered around a subject or season. From the following poems, I will read perhaps five with maybe a haiku if the 5 Minute Bell hasn’t sounded. These poems are all new to Writers of the Spit but regular readers of this blog or my public Facebook page may find some of them familiar; however, most have been reworked.

Play List – 10/16

“An Awakening unto Autumn”

What colors you ask?
I’d say rust and amber…
for I no longer carry red inside
to enrich generations unborn.

Rust, the stain of oxidizing iron,
the central molecule of blood
and amber, the color phase of youth
before the ivory of age.

Rust and amber
mineral and resin
releasing and encapsulating
awakening muses of poetry.

The beauty of rust an amber leaves piled together begging to be shuffled through.

Rust an amber-colored Bigleaf maple leaves just before shuffling.

“October’s Melancholy”

Shaken loose by autumn’s gales,
washed with copious rain drops,
apples and pears lie strewn upon the ground;
the tang of their sweet fermentation fills the air
reminiscent of a champagne cider
but melancholy plucks my heart strings,
for even Indian Summer must end
when winter signals its approach
on the distant mountain tops.

October bounty

October bounty

“The Weaver Archetype”

The Weaver spins the mythos of our lives,
into tapestries rich with sensual awareness;

from our nightly dreams and daily visions
she plucks wistful strands, hopeful strands,
stringing them on looms
framed by our personal stories;

she threads them with silvery rivers and creeks
from tears shed, joys shared;

she weaves colored strands into sunrises, sunsets,
fields of wildflowers under brilliant blue skies
embellished with smiles and laughter;

she weaves evocative poetry
into breezes carrying exotic aromas
of cedar and cottonwood, a sagebrush prairie;

she weaves vibrational thread sounds into the music
of birdsong and quivering aspen leaves;

the rhythms of movement and the passage of time
into dance and labor;

taste into sweet, ripened fruits
and the comfort of a full belly;

touch into safety and a loving embrace;

and she also weaves in threads
of tolerance to language and habits
amid humans diverse in culture, nature and form
all sharing a greater mythos journey;

from birth until death, the Weaver watches over us
helping to weave our destinies into living tapestries
full of potential, beauty, gratitude…

and she waits for us at death’s door catching our last out breath
spinning it into the mythos of our new incarnation
along the spiraled path.

The Weaver plucks threads from our life stories to add to our personal mythos.

The Weaver plucks threads from our life stories adding them to our personal mythos.

“Grandmother Cedar and the Lilliputians”

Behind a living screen of shrubbery and brambles
Grandmother Cedar remains at rest
becoming one with her wetland community.

A gigantic spiraling opened running her full length
exposing wooden flesh to the elements
when she collapsed onto the silty, storm-drenched river soils.

Inherently armed blackberry canes hold her steadfast with
Lilliputian diplomacy; their slender vines exploring Grandmother’s trunk
with territorial rights to festoon clusters of purpling summer fruits.

The matriarch’s displacement from the skyline not noticed
save by eagle and raven seeking her familiar snag top
and the wandering soul coming to offer prayers.

Grandmother Cedar held by the blackberry canes' Lilliputian diplomacy.

Grandmother Cedar held by Blackberry Cane Lilliputian diplomacy.

“Dusk”

Imagine dusk ascending the mountains
becoming the backdrop for the valley filling in
with mists and haze, the smell of burning leaves.

Dusk ascending the mountains and filling in the valley.

Dusk ascending the mountains and filling in the valley.

“Autumn Triune of Haikus”

A wet, sodden leaf
assisted by gravity
onto ground below.

Litter piling up,
detritivore community
breaking, ingesting.

Autumn’s legacy:
decaying vegetation,
enrichment of soil.

A wet, Bigleaf maple leaf

A wet, Bigleaf maple leaf

“Frost Fairies” Haiku

With frigid fingers
frost fairies nip autumn’s fare,
the chill has begun.

Fairy-Frosted Fare

Fairy-Frosted Fare

“Evidence of Change” Haiku

Wind changed directions,
red rose petals south of fence
yellow on north side.

Frosted Fall Roses

Frosted Fall Roses

Thank you and for more of my work join me at https://www.facebook.com/patriciamay.demarco
May your journeys be filled with beauty and your walk peaceful.

 


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July’s Capricious Skies

Atop capricious skies of gray,

July waits with flickering tongue

to melt plants water-fat with June rains

and desiccate hardy lichens.

Water-fat lichens and mosses on old stump.

Water-fat lichens and mosses on old stump.

The earth reacts naturally

beckoning hues of rich color

to adorn larkspur and lavender

in renaissance blue and purple.

Honey bee savoring nectar on lavender blossom

Honey bee savoring nectar on lavender blossom.

The deep green of summer leaves

hide raspberries and cherries,

but not their ripening odors

from children, wasps and hungry black crows.

Ripening cherries on the old McComb Cabin cherry tree.

Ripening cherries on the old McComb Cabin cherry tree.

I prefer the cooler days

away from the blistering heat,

but you might want the summer flames

to ripen deeper fantasies.

Neighborhood fig fruit filled with hawthorn -infused honey!

Neighborhood fig fruit filled with hawthorn -infused honey!

Until we meet again on our journey around the spiraling year, may your summer be filled with peace and plenty. ~ Patricia


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Imbolc, Spiraling Along a Path of Peace and Beauty into Spring

 

Celebrating Imbolc on the Olympic Peninsula of Washington State in the Pacific Northwest.

Rain-refreshed lichen covered knothole in old cedar fencepost.

Rain-refreshed lichen-covered knothole in old cedar fencepost in our neighborhood.

“Signs of Imbolc Found in our Neighborhood”

The upwelling tides of Imbolc
wash over the landscape as
black-capped chickadees sing of rain
in blossoming quince shrubs,
daffodils spring open
blaring their golden trumpets,
Lenton roses host sleeping bumblebees
in the warmth of their green blossoms;
calves drop and rise wobbly, instinctively
seeking their mother’s nourishment,
soft and downy blossom clusters shoot up
from stiff and thorny blackberry canes,
profuse flowering masses of pink and white
spring heathers perfume the roadside,
and the great mystery of regeneration
expresses living wonderment to curious eyes.

“Poking Around the Yard for Imbolc Signs”

Out in the yard today poking around for more evidence of Imbolc energy and discovered several varieties of peppermints planted in containers including one from Bob Marley’s compound in Kingston, Jamaica, and another from an old homestead in the Dungeness River Crossing area were poking up into the sunshine. Also Italian flat-leafed parsley, chives, French tarragon, parsley, thyme, purple bee balm (Monarda fistulosa) and raspberry red bee balm (Monarda didyma) were pushing up through the soft ground plus the Common Field-speedwell (Veronica persica), chickweed, purple pansies, calendula, and a small red rose growing close to the house foundation were in blossom. The spiky rosemary bushes are flourishing and the lawn is bespeckled with English daisies.

“Imbolc Signs Found within the House”

Even in the house and cool storage areas of the store room, Imbolc energy and its subtle signs are hiding in the darker recesses waiting for the time of change. I notice them first, in of all places, my refrigerator crisper where beets and carrots from the garden’s harvest lie. Pale yellow leaves have sprouted on the veggies stored beside the recently-purchased vegetables and mushrooms destined for hearty soups and stews. The stored carrots and beets are responding, not to an impulse of light, but to the more ancient rhythms, one that can penetrate into a chilled metal box, surrounded by electrical currents.

In the cool spaces of the garage/storage area where I store potatoes, onions, garlic and a variety of winter squashes, I also note changes in form and texture. As I cut and dice, I notice pale green sprouts appearing inside at the base of the garlic and onions. Because we have a healthy harvest of alliums, indeed, many continue this natural sprouting process of the developing flower bud and eventually work their way up through the many leafy, outer layers. These bud sprouts historically find their way into a morning omelet as the first harvest greens of the season. This actually can occur earlier, surprisingly at the Yuletide season, depending on the warmth, and strength of the yearly impulse. Another sign of their growth is a gassing off, which if not noticed, have you looking all around for a source of the sour stink.

I remember one wintery day a number of years ago, I became aware of errant white tendrils of anemic alien creatures having escaped notice and making their way out of a brown paper sack stashed to the back of the storage area. Inside the small bag were untreated organic potatoes, their withered bodies now vestiges of their once plump selves. Fortunately, I tossed them in my worm bin and the activity and warmth kept them viable until such time as I could plant them outdoors. By then they had plumped up and upon planting, produced a healthy crop of spuds.

Even inside store-bought spaghetti squashes and winter squashes, the seeds may begin to sprout, helping to deteriorate the flesh upon which they are feasting. Like a spawning fish, these signs of passing along their body’s nutrients to future generations show up in the change of the outer skin, forming mold and rot which happen quickly if not inspected almost daily.

Clearly, once again, the Imbolic forces that stimulate growth in the northern hemisphere have taken charge.

“Imbolc Energies in the Natural World”

For me, Imbolc is a time of weaving the seasons together, an in-between time, poised to move forward into the warming, light-filled spring season or if necessary, languish in the dormancy of late winter. Our senses are also poised for a renewal of familiar and new smells, tastes, textures, sounds, and sights after the melancholic weariness of winter.

Bodies ready to break out of “cabin fever days” and catch “spring fever” cue on the sound of migratory fowl as perhaps one of the primary clues that a major transition is in the workings. Bird songs, whistles, cackling or the whispering of wings awaken inner prompts. Also the sensual clues of soft, furry pussy willows, of trickling springs and creeks lined with bright green mosses and ferns, warm sunshine break-throughs, fresh green fragrant shoots poking through where snow has melted away, the emergence and early harvesting of foraged plants like nettles and chickweed, these all carry the same potential message that winter is on the wane.

Plants that choose this time for ascendancy usually have adapted forms and coverings or mechanisms to survive frosts, snows, blizzards, ground heaving and yes, even sun. We think usually of tulips, jonquils, and nettles but my favorite plant of the season is a bog plant, with a weird odor. It initiates the season early, often in time for winter solstice. That plant is the skunk cabbage, aka the swamp lantern, swamp candle.

By some chemical wizardry, probably related to the calcium oxalate crystals it contains, the skunk cabbage (Lyschiton americanum) can melt its way through ice to become the earliest of sprouts on which bear and beaver feed. A thick, fleshy flower spike surrounded by a pale yellow spathe rises through last year’s dead growth and pond muck, adding a candle-like spot of brightness to the landscape of gray alders, wispy salmon berry canes, and dark green cedars. Inside this partly rolled flower covering are hundreds of minute flowers. Their exotic, skunky odor draws pollinating flies.

The large leaves (over three  feet long and a foot wide) emerge later and along with ferns, miner’s lettuce, and nettles, will fill a swamp with their lush foliage. Although the smell and name of the plant may strike some as offensive, it describes a truly unique plant of our wet-woods habitat. Its flesh provides food for the hungry, its leaves provide shade and nutrients for the ecosystem, and its exotic nature attracts poets, photographers, and painters.

At some inner level of knowing, I feel our living earth actuates her seasonal dance dressed as the skunk cabbage. Stimulated by the energies of winter solstice or Imbolc, she spirals upward through the snow and ice-covered pond muck to begin her dance of creation and color, setting the scene for spring. As the days lengthen and the temperatures warm, her verdant robes unfurl to shade the bog and keep her root zone moist from the summer’s heat. She’ll dance until the autumn urges rest and the fall rains rot her gown, then; safely asleep in the muck of the pond, the swamp candle will slumber until the renewal energies of late winter stir her once again to awaken and rise, beckoning the Earth Mother to dance once again.

“Imbolc, The Inner Rhythm’s Journey”

The awareness of the seasonal shift into Imbolc represents an awareness of spiraling into the warming season of spring and that winter is on the wane, approximately midway between the winter solstice and spring equinox. In lands still locked in the slumber of winter, it is a time for farmers to check the number of healthy animals against their stored grains and grasses to see if there is enough to feed them until the animals can freely graze. Below ground animals in hibernation are becoming restless, baby bears are being born while mothers are in a lighter sleep mode. Seeds and bulbs are feeling the impulses to send down shoots, connect to mycelia and begin the feeding processes which will help them to soon shoot upward.

Historically it was and still is a time for householders to check the condition of stored vegetables and other food stuffs and make plans accordingly. It’s a time of cleaning up the clutter and messiness of winter debris.

In lands that have already thawed, it is physically marked by calves and sheep being born because there is apt to be enough fresh green grasses to feed the mothers so they have a plentiful milk supply. Wild foods become available to supplement our daily diets.

Historically Imbolc is represented by Brigid, the Celtic goddess of healing, poetry, mysticism, and smithcraft. Now, however, climate and social changes have made the development of healing and crafting arts very important once again. Developing the skills of carpentry, leather work, gardening, house-holding, energy work, and herbal medicine making are becoming popular as is using nature as a primary teacher for children. Homeschooling is commonplace. Writing, art, and poetry are defining us as populations and souls bound to Gaia from whom all blessings flow.

But even more than that, it’s a time when we can re-acquaint ourselves with inner rhythms and invest in new opportunities to develop them. The universal rhythms will support the change once acknowledged. So clean out the closet both outer and inner, then take inventory and organize what’s left. If dissatisfied with what you find, develop new ways to bring that interest, that passion into your life, even if only in small ways in order to keep the candle spark alive.

There is so much available to us during Imbolc: as above, so below, and dwelling within, all three gestures happening at once and ready for attunement once we take time to acknowledge a desire to develop a path of peace and beauty within our lives co-creatively with Gaia.

Curiosity,
sparks the imagination,
feeds the soul’s journey.

May Imbolc spark your creativity, curiosity and imagination. Blessings to one and all.


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Reflecting on the Universe at Sol Duc Rainforest

Reflecting on the Universe at Sol Duc Rainforest

On its journey through the universe accompanied by ancient trees growing in this old-growth rainforest, sunlight streams through their canopy of green. Pacific wrens ascend to search out spiders and insects, establish territories and with robins, to sing the morning awake. 

Sunlight greets the forest floor.

Sunlight greets the forest floor.

I stand in silence on a duff-lined trail entranced by the forest’s beauty––witnessing a scene complete unto itself as the sweet odors of spring embrace and envelope me. Below ground billions of fungal strands connect and branch off, securing moisture, minerals, medicinals and starches to enliven that said gift of air.

These ancients stand in witness to the journeys made up and down the Sol Duc River Valley. Like whales in the oceans that carry the history in their bones and songlines in their blood, the trees along the river hold it in their wood and sap, in their roots and mycorrhizal connections.

Ancients of the Sol Duc River Valley.

Ancients of the Sol Duc River Valley.

Some evergreen, needle-forming Douglas-fir, and Western hemlock stand tall and majestic, many lean; others on the ground offer their rotting trunks to nurse a plethora of emerging seedlings, living bacterial communities and countless bugs.The older deciduous, Bigleaf maples hold tons of epiphytic plants eking out their rainforest existence atop lichen-strewn, mossy branches in which voles and spiders dine.

Ringed so by ancient ones, skunk cabbages and ferns, a spring pond mirrors back days of blue sky, nights of slivered moonlight and of canopies filled with stars and mysteries cradled in waters cold from chilling autumn rains and snow melt. 

Sol Duc Reflection Pool in the Ancient Groves

Sol Duc Reflection Pool in the Ancient Groves

Perhaps human ancients trod similar duff-lined trails among forest beings, taking in the history, storing it in their bones. They gave witness as they traveled through the universe. I like to think their reflections helped form the beauty way… and through us, it continues to happen.

Until our next journey, peace be unto you…

And a special thank you to Michael for his awesome photos of the reflections!


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Sample Chapter: Tales of Blackberry Bramble Cottage ~ Ch. 2 ~ Ageless Beauty

I’d like to tell you about an exciting writing adventure I have been on relating to the natural world. It is an outgrowth of my personal journey through elderhood and of taking the challenge to make my elder years productive and in line with my passions which include studying the natural world and passing my enthusiasm along to children, their friends and families.

It has been my experience that immersing oneself in the “real world of nature,” although a worthy goal, is just not possible for the majority of children and their families today. There are many ways to connect with the natural world and in an attempt to bridge the gap between isolation and immersion, I am engaged in writing and recording a series of short, realistic fiction tales which take the reader into the realm of the hedgerow, field and forest to show our interconnectedness to all manner of life. “Tales of Blackberry Bramble Cottage” support the study of biology and are suggestive in ways to use creative exploration and artistic expression. Readers and listeners begin immediately to awaken their sensual instincts of smell, sight, sound, touch, and taste through imagery and creative thought, thus nurturing their natural curiosity.

“Tales of Blackberry Bramble Cottage” centers on the rural environs of a rustic, abandoned cottage, its neglected floral gardens and surrounding hay fields, forests and hedgerows rich in flora and fauna. I’m hoping to have the first Tale available in both pdf and as an audio recording later this year. I’d love to hear what you think of this sample chapter. Thank you!!

Sample chapter: Chapter 2 ~ Ageless Beauty
 I do not understand how anyone can live
without one small place of enchantment to turn to.”
~  Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, 1896-1953, author
The inspiration for Tales of Blackberry Bramble Cottage

The inspiration for Tales of Blackberry Bramble Cottage

At one time, colorful border plantings surrounded the cottage and an area by the back porch was conveniently laid out for herb and vegetable gardens. Scattered around the lawn were ornamental shrubs, a few cherry, apple and pear trees, several clumps of English walnut and hazelnut trees, and assorted evergreens. Surviving to date, despite the long-term neglect of a gardener’s hand, the starry, lavender-blue Glory-of-the-Snow flowers; dainty white and green snowdrops; brilliant yellow daffodils; shy, purple violets; and white, spice-scented narcissuses appear in the thick thatch of grass out front each spring, creating an oasis of color after the drabness of winter loosens its grip.

There is also a ragged clump of fragrant Lily of the Valley secreted away in a corner by the front porch. Its white, scalloped, faery-bells-on-a-stalk flowers hide among the folds of the plant’s dark green leaves; but one cannot mistake its sweet scent as the sign that somewhere close by, it’s in blossom. In late spring and early summer, the honesty or dollar plants can be found struggling to grow under the eaves amidst last year’s debris. The deep purple, cross-shaped blossoms of these fragrant plants attract butterflies and later their silvery, oval, translucent seed pods attract seed-eating birds

Alongside the western side of the cottage, rambling roses trail off their rotten trellises and toss about in the wind, rubbing up against the windows and leaving grimy arcs on the rain-splatted, dingy panes. In the summer, the rose vines brighten with fragrant, old-fashioned blossoms in shades of blushing pink, rich scarlet and lemony-yellow. Attracted by their floral promise of sweet nectars and pollen, a diverse assortment of insects crawl and hover amid the colorful bouquets and engage in rhythmical dances of pollination and gathering. Through the warm days of summer, the hard, marble-sized green rose hips mature and swell with seed before turning orange-red in the cool autumn air. Birds and smaller mammals await the fall frosts to soften and sweeten the hips at a time when other food sources turn scarce.

On one side of the back porch door grows a bee balm plant, a tall and stately herb attractive to butterflies, hummingbirds and bees. Next to it grows the medicinal and sweet-rooted Solomon seal, spreading its gnarly roots and looking very much like spinal vertebrae for which it has a curative affinity. Perhaps birds dropped the seeds there for one would expect both the bee balm and Solomon seal to be in the area of the herb garden where a few more plants are struggling to grow amidst the choking, weedy debris of past seasons. Spicy peppermints and cool spearmints along with relaxing lavenders, coarse elecampanes, bellicose hot-on-the-palate horseradish, and onion-flavored chives all survive despite the congested growing conditions.

In the surrounding lawn, single and double-flowered lilac bushes in white, lavender and deep purple are favorites of the swallow-tailed butterflies who flit among their fragrant blossoms. A clump of thick-leafed, hardy magenta rugosa roses attracts a myriad of bees each summer as does the profusely flowering, sweet-smelling, white-blossomed mock orange shrubs.

Other plant varieties considered weeds, including some native ones displaced to plant the cottage beds, have reintroduced themselves into the overgrown gardens and lawn. The wary eye is likely to spot the exotic trailing, heart-shape-leafed wild gingers with their secretive purple, long-tailed blossoms; the fern-leafed, pantaloon-shaped wild Dutchman’s breeches; the trumpeted orange tiger lilies, another favorite of the swallowtails; and the ubiquitous white field daisies sporting yellow bullseyes.

Wherever the soil has allowed the roots to penetrate, when the plants have received adequate moisture, and the weeds haven’t choked them out, the deer haven’t eaten them or the bears clawed them down, the valiant plants of Blackberry Bramble Cottage provide color, texture, foods, and fragrance to the grounds. Transient guests of the cottage or uninvited neighborhood fauna regularly visit the untidy landscape gathering the pollen, sipping the nectars or dining on the blossoms, leaves, seeds, fruits, berries and nuts in their season. There are others too, who are attracted to eating those drawn to the plants–– thus bringing a natural wholeness to the evolving cottage scene.

It’s name ~ Blackberry Bramble Cottage ~ came about because a lengthy hedgerow, largely made up of blackberry vines, separates it from the rest of the world; but the hedgerow has grown so much over the intervening years, invading the country lane, that it forms an almost impenetrable barrier. All manner of creatures live in the hedge: birds, spiders, snakes, insects, rodents, rabbits, feral cats, toads and organisms so small you’ll never see them even with a magnifying glass. Numerous guests who stay in the cottage come by way of the hedge. Not that there aren’t other ways to get in, including a gate; which at one time opened upon the lane running alongside the pasture; but it, too, has been taken over by blackberry vines spanning its wooden supports, making entry difficult if not impossible. For those few visitors who do manage to wrangle their way through the rambling hedge or who appear via the trails converging from the fields and forest beyond or who come by wing –– for all those needing a place to rest, there is always room on the grounds of the old farm’s cottage. And for a select few, sparse inside accommodations can be arranged.

Join us now for the tales of Alexander, a young deer mouse (Peromyscus maniculatus) who found his way through the hedge and into the cottage’s broom closet quite by accident; and Sophia, a lovely garden spider (Araneus diadematus) who inadvertently hitched a ride on the wind and ended up weaving her spiraled orbs close by the back door. Both are interesting tales of survival in a complex world of beauty and danger.

Stay tuned for more information on publication and recording as it becomes available. Namaste!


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Musings in the Autumn Season: Tempting Recipes

Cooking is an alchemical, transformational process hinting of magic. To me, one of life’s healthiest joys is watching friends and family gather around a meal, tastefully prepared and lovingly served. In this post, I’ll offer you some of my experiences and recipes to pique your exploration of the autumn cooking and dining scene.

Farm store autumn produce.

Farm store autumn produce.

Whereas summer’s bounty is often enjoyed raw or with minimal processing, fall meals tend to be heartier, requiring more cooking and enlivening through the use of warming herbs and spices. Produce from the vegetable gardens and orchards, farm stands and wild woods encourage cooks to translate their unique aromas, textures and flavors into a language that suits the diners’ seasonally-shifting health needs and palates.

Not only does proper prepping and cooking enhance the color, texture and form of autumn’s bountiful produce but how food is presented to our bodies assists in the regeneration of its living tissues which goes on 24/7/365, rain or shine. Seasoned with the sensual enjoyment of tempting ingredients and healthy, intriguing recipes, it asssists in making eating a pleasure.

Celebrating Harvests

A typical garden in the Pacific Northwest and across much of the northern tier of states is usually finished producing in time for the pumpkin harvest at Halloween. Depending on the terrain and elevation, frost may already have touched or possibly even decimated the produce but often during the final clean up, there will be bits and pieces of salvage that challenge me to make an end-of-year harvest soup. A pale orange tomato, a handful of green beans, a few pathetic-looking parsley stalks, a forgotten onion, an all too-small garlic bulb, a few corn kernels off a runt cob, some cilantro seeds or the last bit of basil gets slipped into the soup pot along with other ingredients, herbs and spices. It’s a way of my saying thanks to the garden which has produced so much for us during the course of its life. Some years we’ve been blessed to find a handful of immature beans tucked away in the pods we’ve pulled and these hold special honor, a jack-in-the-bean-stalk magical moment.

Another tradition is a celebratory harvest “roast of vegetables,” including but not limited to, potatoes, carrots, beets, onions, squash and garlic baked in butter and olive oil until nicely caramelized and seasoned with additional herbs and spices. This is my way of saying thank you for the bountiful harvest and gives us a taste of what we’ll be enjoying until foraged foods and spring veggies are locally available.

An Abundance of Avocados

Hawaiian produce at the fruit stand.

Hawaiian produce at the fruit stand.

During our recent four-year stay on the Big Island of Hawaii, we lived on the wet side, the jungle side in an area known as Puna. We enjoyed a variety of fresh fruits during the autumn months including an extra sweet banana known as the candy apple banana, guavas, mangoes, rambutans, papayas, starfruits, lilikoi or passion fruits and the plentiful avocado which could be bought for a reasonable price at the farm stands and markets. They could also be gleaned while out on our neighborhood walks but we had to be quick and pick them up before the wild pigs or the rats got to them first. Gleaning for avo’s after a wind storm was ideal except that sometimes there were just too many to eat!

As to be expected, when the avo’s were ripe, guacamole found its way into every potluck gathering and all the cooks had their own recipes. One variation I used often consisted of two or three smallish, mashed avo’s, to which I added a dollop of hot sauce, some grated ginger, finely diced red onion, a finely minced garlic clove, the juice of a lime or lemon, a pinch of salt, pepper and a sprinkling of Thai or Italian basil, either fresh or dried. I might also add a measure of mayonnaise if I were serving it immediately.

Another simple meal featuring the avocado was made by toasting a slice of whole grain sprouted bread or rice bread onto which I placed an egg done to my liking, sunny side up, adding mashed or sliced avo, drizzling it all with olive oil and for extra nutrition, some Bragg’s liquid amino acids and a sprinkling of nutritional yeast. This could be eaten with knife and fork but often became a finger food and a finger/plate licking feast!

Roots and I Take Center Stage

But I digress into the past and a certain desire for warmer temperatures and colors now that we’re living in the Olympic Peninsula’s temperate, maritime climate at the feet of the majestic Olympic Mountains. Here the cool soils grow scrumptious fall root crops, brassicas, celery, leeks, spinach, foraged greens, pears and apples. The cooler climate creates a desire for more oils and longer cooking times and the use of more warming herbs and spices. And as food is our daily medicine, in the autumn we are careful with the amount of sweetening used, especially around the holidays, in order to keep immune systems healthy.

I’ve always been a slow cook, largely localvore, although I’m fond of exotic flavors and fragrances. I choose organic whenever possible and eat meat when my body tells me to “eat meat protein.” For my cooking oils, I use olive oil for basic salad dressings, meat dishes, tomato sauces and some toasted breads; butter for potatoes and added to meat and tomato dishes to impart a creamy taste and texture; and coconut oil for egg dishes and as a spread on scones and toast. For vinegars, I prefer wine vinegars or medicinal ones I’ve concocted myself for salad dressings; apple cider vinegars for meat dishes or heavier herbal vinegars such as nettle leaf; and balsamic vinegar for that unique flavored dish or dressing.

Our well-stocked pantry is supported by foraging, buying both locally and from Azure Standard so I have the items to be more creative on hand rather than having to secure them each time from the market. It’s a carry over from living in Alaska and Hawaii plus we feel some responsibility to our community when the need arises for support.

I enjoy the sensual textures, smells, sounds, tastes and sights of preparing, cooking and eating…in other words, my style involves active participation in being alert through the different cooking stages, watching how a dish melds together, listening for the sizzling and boiling sounds, sampling and noisily savoring the flavors.

I have yet to share how valuable music is to my cooking routine. I don’t particularly have a favorite style to cook by; most any kind will do if not too discordant a rhythm. Michael is the gatekeeper of the music and can usually pick a good vibe for me. I feel both relaxed and enlivened when music is playing while I prep and cook, sort of like having my kitchen full of friends sharing in my cooking passion. My kitchens are usually small where I can tap bottom drawers and doors shut with my foot or use my hips and knees to do the same. I like to get caught up in the twist and sway of the music and punctuate it with an occasional tap on the kettle with my wooden spoons. My metal mixing bowls become Tibetan singing bowls with beautiful tones. I never mind when they “ping” together and resonate till quiet. I like to think the musical routines translate into the food that comes out of the kitchen, too! My cooking is also my active meditation practice and I work diligently to allow thoughts of peace and harmony to permeate my time in the kitchen. Some days are easier than others!

So let’s look at a few warming recipes featuring autumn ingredients from near and far, blending cool clime and some tropical produce, shall we? After living in Hawaii where cooler temperatures, strong winds and heavy rains punctuate the fall months resulting in snow falling on Mauna Kea, I like to celebrate for the islands too.

I’m thinking scones with local blueberries and Hawaiian ginger for morning tea/coffee; later in the morning a wild foods frittata; followed by either potato leek soup or a corn chowder, Puna style. Then after a day of working outside, come in to warm up with a chaga fungus brew. Snacks are a rainbow selection of baked root chips. And if you fill up on chips, for a lighter fare, I offer a  recipe for baked acorn squash with quinoa-cranberry stuffing which goes well with a simple salad.

Gleaning Napa cabbage with Sally for the local food bank.

Gleaning Napa cabbage with Sally for the local food bank.

In the fall and winter months, I like to cook one pot meals so for a heartier appetite, how about a beef or veggie stew, a meatless black bean chili with orange chunks or a hearty bean soup featuring smoked pork chops and pinto beans which also can be served with boneless chicken breast or made vegetarian just by leaving out the meat.  I’ve also included something for the lighter appetite: a recipe for an all-in-one, spicy veggie slaw which would goes well with a simple carrot, ginger and coconut milk soup.

Now in the dessert realm, I’ve included recipes for a pumpkin coconut milk baked custard, and another tempting dessert: a layered, yogurt, cream cheese, blueberry, banana and custard pudding pie. The former is a crowd pleaser, the latter brings down the house!

Oh, and then to top it off, at the end of the meal while you sit around relaxing, a hot mulled rum apple cider.

Please join me on the next page and enjoy the culinary delights of autumn.

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