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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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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Multiple Meanings for March and Happy Birthday, Grandpa!

The word “march” brings up a variety of images and feelings depending upon the context of the passage wherein it rests. Since we’re examining rhythms of time and calendar as well as the cycles of the seasons, the reader might logically expect March, the third month of the calendar year named after Mars, the Roman god of War, as an appropriate and timely topic for this post. In Roman times, March signified the official start of the New Year and being a military reign, conflicts began or were renewed in the spring. Choosing March for the beginning of the season seemed auspicious for a society accustomed to oracles, omens, warring and domination.

Of course, there are other meanings for the word march.  Someone hearing the word shouted on the street might expect a military unit to march past, or a fed-up-mom determinedly telling a daughter or son to walk forward quickly as in “March, young lady/man!” or perhaps it means to walk or march in protest of an unhealthy situation. The word also means borderlands.

Gladys M. and William H. Colwell

Gladys M. and William H. Colwell

My mother’s mother was born on a march, the boundary lands between Wales and England. She was born under the sign of Aquarius on the first day of February, St. Brighid’s Day. I can easily trace my wise woman ways to this Welsh grandmother, Gladys May, who helped teach me the practical skills of gardening and keeping a household while sharing with me the deeper secrets of the wild woods above Lake Pend d’ Oreille in northern Idaho.

My mother’s father, William Henry Colwell, was born under the sign of Aries on the Vernal Equinox, March 20, 1885, and we acknowledged his birthday as the beginning of spring. Grandpa was a gold miner, an adventurer always in search of greener pastures and richer veins from what I’ve been told. According to family, he would work long enough to get a grubstake and then move on in that search for striking it rich. He was harsh with his tongue and elegantly tall although I never saw him stand. He had been confined to a wheelchair with arthritis for decades from the harsh demolition work he did and from the dampness in the mines. Even so, in the spring of the year, his restless soul longed to be outdoors. Continue reading


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The Virtue of Spring Nettles as Food

With the coming of spring, nettles takes its place as our dominant foraging food. Full of vitamins and minerals, it is an excellent revitalizing tonic with many beneficial uses for both men and women: boosting energy levels, replenishing minerals, reducing allergy symptoms, assisting adrenal, kidney and lung function, relieving gouty symptoms, tonifying arteries, nourishing hair and skin plus a host of other actions.

According to herbalist Ryan Drum, “Young nettles are especially rich in proteins, minerals and secondary metabolites, and, ‘free amino acids’. These are uncommitted amino acids in nettle sap, waiting for anticipated rapid growth in response to either temperature or sunshine sudden increases. When we consume fresh live (or barely steamed, 5-7 minutes) nettles we get those amino acids for our own protein repairs and replacement. Eat young nettles to enhance post-traumatic healing from wounds, auto collisions, surgery, and radiation treatments.”

Freshly emerging nettles

Freshly emerging nettles

We’re fortunate to live in an area where they grow profusely and as soon as we’ve noticed their purple-tinged leaves pushing aside the debris, exposing a few inches to the elements, I’m donning long-sleeves and leather gloves to harvest their tender stalks. A quick snap of the wrist usually suffices to break off the stalk in the tender, young plants. Sometimes the rhizome (root) comes up which I usually break off and bury back in the duff unless collecting the roots for medicine. I place the harvested stalks on their sides in a carrying bag; and if I collect into a plastic bag, I can store my bounty in the refrigerator right from the field.

Although a few caterpillars thrive on nettles this early in the spring, it’s an easy plant to clean. Ours usually only require a few shakes to remove a few of last year’s fibers, stray grasses or bits of dust and debris. If I use them right after harvesting, I will wear a pair of kitchen rubber gloves to grasp the stalk while I slice and dice because the stings can still be quite irritating; and if the harvest is left in the refrigerator for a few days, the stinging affect is lessened. With young plants, I use stalk, stem and leaf so there is no waste.

My favorite ways of preparing spring nettles and absorbing their nutrients as food are as an ingredient in frittatas, omelettes, leek & potato soup, nettle lasagna, in quiches, plus young nettles are an excellent green, simply steamed. They’re also easy to freeze and when it’s smoothie time, plopping in a chunk of frozen nettles is a tasty way to incorporate their vibrancy. It’s an ingredient you’ll undoubtedly find additional ways to include in your diet both fresh, frozen or dried. I’ve included a few recipes but since I’m such a recipe tweaker, for some I’ll mainly give you ingredients, you provide your own guidelines for quantity depending on your tastes.

Nettle omelette

Nettle omelette

Nettle Frittata/Omelette: saute red onions, mushrooms in season, grated carrot, finely sliced broccoli spears and minced chickweed together in olive oil until wilted. Add a handful of minced young nettle stalk and leaves on top, cover and let steam until nettles wilt. Meanwhile, prepare a mixture of eggs, minced parsley, dried basil and stir well. For a frittata, pour egg mixture over the steaming veggies, place a cover on the pan and wait until eggs set. You can also flip it over until it’s well done if you wish. For an omelette, saute egg mixture in a separate pan, flip and then when done, fold and fill with your nettle, veggie mixture and serve. Both meals are delicious as is or with salsa or pesto.

Leek and Nettle Soup: saute chopped leeks, celery and crushed garlic cloves in olive oil until soft; add diced potatoes (I use Russets or Yukon Golds). Add minced chickweed, nettles, parsley, dried basil, turmeric, salt and perhaps a bit more oil or butter.  Saute a few minutes longer, mixing all the ingredients well to blend the flavors.  Cover with stock or water and simmer until everything is tender. Other veggies can be added such as tomatoes, grated carrots…perhaps a tin of salmon added at the end for even more variety. Unlike most Leek and Potato Soup recipes, I do not use milk or cream as an ingredient nor do I find a need to puree if the ingredients are diced small enough as everything seems to meld together just fine.

Nettle Lasagna: Any spinach lasagna recipe will do for nettle lasagna with the obvious substitution of sauteed or steamed young nettles. If you make your own noodles, toss a spoonful of dried, nettle powder into your flour mixture for added nutrition or into your homemade tomato sauce.

Nettle Quiche: Again, there are countless recipes for making quiches. My favorite is from The Enchanted Broccoli Forest by Mollie Katzen. Since I make my own crusts, sometimes I’ll throw in a tablespoon of dried nettle powder with my flours. For the filling, I use a large handful of chopped and steamed nettles, along with sauteed onions, mushrooms in season, chopped broccoli, and an assortment of fresh and dried herbs laid on a bed of feta and shredded raw cheddar cheeses. Over that goes an egg and milk mixture to which I may mix in an additional tablespoon of flour depending on how moist the mix of ingredients. Place dollops of tomato sauce and pesto and a sprinkling of pecorino romano cheese on top if you’d like. Place in a 350-375 degree oven for about 40-50 minutes or until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean.

So I hope I’ve wetted your appetite for the versatile, youthful nettle. Here’s to our good health!


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Spring in Hawaii ~ A Colorful Contrast

After retirement in 2005, we spent the next four years on the Big Island of Hawaii. In contrast to our years in Alaska, Hawaii is quite close to the equator, and daylight increases only by seconds each day as we moved from winter solstice towards spring and summer.

Ohia Lehua Blossoms

Ohia Lehua Blossoms

In Hawaii, after a relatively chilly and damp winter season when there’s a lull in energetics except for the storms and wave action, by March every living thing seemed to awaken and show animated spirit. In the lowlands next of the ocean (makai side),  the lovely red Lehua blossoms adorn the Ohia trees which burst with bees gathering nectar and creating the incredible honey which bears the Lehua name. A full, rich-bodied honey with a buttery texture, it was my favorite to sweeten the morning coffee.

My morning routine was either to take my coffee onto the lanai or down the lane to the ocean or some mornings I enjoyed indulging in both. From a comfortable seat on the lanai I watched the myriad of bird life scramble about the crushed lava seeking out insects and seeds to take to their fledglings. At the ocean’s shore, I’d sit on a lava rock and watch the sun rise above the water. If early enough, I could actually feel the exchange of breath between the mountains and ocean and hear the fronds of the stately coconut palms begin trembling as the breezes flowed down from the mountains and then back towards the land. Depending on the height of the waves, I might even catch a glimpse of  graceful tropical fish swimming through the transparent waves, highlighted by the rising sun. Sometimes I’d even see the bulkier body of a green sea turtle crest and ride on top a wave. And if extra lucky, the breaching or spouting of a humpback whale and calf!

In the Puna region where we lived, the more wet, windward-side of the Big Island, as the sun set on a March night, the night creatures scurried, hopped, snorted and ran about. It was never quiet at night in the jungle. There were no monkeys but the coqui frogs were a real nasty, noisy nuisance eventually drowning out our conversations and making sleep difficult, emotions irritable. Rats scurried about especially after the rainy, cooler months, and the wild pigs paraded in the fruit orchards or along the walls looking for grubs and roots. Inside the house, cockroaches were kings of the night, cleaning up crumbs and stray popcorn and although they were not poisonous nor did they bite or carry a sting, I just was never able to get used to them. I had a rule, stay outside at night or get sprayed with soapy water and die. We kept a spray bottle and whenever a stray roach made itself visible, it usually found itself showered with soapy water that softened up the underbelly and stopped it dead in its tracks. Yes, I am a killer.

Gold Dust Day gecko eating bitter melon

Gold Dust Day gecko eating bitter melon

The night gecko crawled up the walls, across windows and set up in the rafters right outside our windows or porch light eating bugs drawn in by the house lights. They were very communicative and we enjoyed listening to them click and scurry about. Unfortunately they are decreasing in number due to a new, foreign invader: the gold dust day geckos who attacked and ate the night gecko. The gold dust day gecko not only was active during the day but also came out at night  and scurried about the ceilings in the house eating mosquitoes and other flies drawn to the interior lights. That, to me, was its saving grace; however, it could be quite startling to wake up at night when one of them has fallen from the ceiling and onto the bed.

Now, Hawaii is but another source for memories and we are particularly reminiscent in the cold, wet winter months here on the Olympic Peninsula. The cooler, wet winter months on Hawaii sound mighty inviting in retrospect. Fortunately, I still have a stash of Lehua honey which I draw out every once in awhile and sweeten my morning coffee while gazing through the windows at the Olympic Mountain Range and reminding myself of living in the grace of Gaia and her bountiful gifts.