swarm in november?

the birds flew a week ago

before the record cold.

the ladybugs have disappeared

(except for the few who are still hanging around on my kitchen ceiling…)

the bees are safe

making honey in their hives,

even the stinkbugs have gone into hiding.

here at the cottage

there are no swarms of bicycles, umbrellas, cars, or children.

there are swarms of leaves,

but I took that photo last week…

there’s a swarm of paint cans in the basement

(but that does not inspire.)

i was just about to pass on this challenge.

after all, i’m plenty busy cooking and cleaning

this week before thanksgiving.

and then, standing by the kitchen sink,

i look out the window.

sycamore branches

this is my view all winter long.

i’ve taken pictures of it before.

it’s spare;

it’s subtle;

a swarm of sycamore achenes

hanging in the november sky.


and i’m grateful for the sameness of the seasons — the cycles of nature that come round each year. 


112. The Joy of Small Surprises

We pulled into the Apple Hill driveway Saturday evening at dusk after a long, grueling, expensive week at the city house. We were all tending towards grouchiness — even Henry the cat, whose nap had been rudely interrupted to be jostled along in the truck. There in the driveway, between two old pine trees — one dead and one not looking so good — was this joyous flower: belladonna amaryllis Yes, it certainly is odd. One lone stalk bursting into five gorgeous icy pink lily-type flowers that circle the top. We had no idea how or why that one odd flower was growing in that one odd spot. But it made us laugh and take a picture of it.

A Sunday afternoon porch sit with neighbor Betty gave me a clue. Clara always called it a Naked Lady and got angry at anyone who mowed it down while utilizing instruments of lawn destruction.

Yes, I’ve been there. Every gardener has. Belladonna amaryllis Later I googled Naked Lady Lily — ahh, the small joys of the internet — and discovered that it is not, in fact, a lily. It is Amaryllis Belladonna, and the only true amaryllis. You know those giant flowers sold at Christmas time, under the Amaryllis name? Not. (For your gardening pleasure, they are technically named Hippeastrum.)

These lovely Naked Lady Amaryllis grow leaves in the spring that die down, and then, right about now, send up one lone stalk bearing amazingly gorgeous flowers. Once I had seen them in my yard, I saw them three times yesterday in other places as well. Belladonna amaryllis Apparently Clara’s Naked Lady doesn’t know that it is hardy only up to Zone 8, and up here in the frigid hinterlands of Zone 5, the bulbs have to be dug up in the fall and replanted in the spring. They look best planted with hostas, and they don’t mind a shady spot, though they prefer sun.

These lovely flowers are originally from South Africa and were brought by sailors to Europe in the 1700s. They love the Mediterranean climate the best. (Who doesn’t?) Belladonna amaryllis So now I have a quandary — should I just let it be and risk losing it? Should I dig it up and replant it in the spring with a few others? One website noted that they really don’t like being disturbed… The bulbs are 3 for $39.95! Gulp. No wonder Clara only had one! Maybe I’ll just plant some pretty hostas around it…

C.S. Lewis wrote about interruptions in a letter that is quoted in Yours Jack: Spiritual Direction from C.S. Lewis. He said that interruptions of one’s own, or real life, are not interruptions at all, but your real life — the life God is sending you day by day. Life is filled with little interruptions — sometimes they aren’t pleasant, sometimes they are just irritating, but sometimes they are little gems of beauty, laughter, joy.

These moments are your real life; note them and be thankful for them. No matter how small.

I had other small surprises this weekend that made me smile. How about you?

106. These days…

“The purpose of art is washing the daily dust of life off our souls.” — Pablo Picasso

The last few weeks there has been a lot of daily dust on my soul. On my body too, as we sweep the city house clean of grime, stuff, and collected junk. Touching every single item that takes up space in this house, getting rid of the stuff that needs gotten rid of, and storing and keeping the sweet memories. It has taken its toll. Alternately at peace yet anxious, content yet wistful, it’s lovely to see the gardens beautiful again, the rooms freshly painted, the porches clean and inviting, and junk cleared out. For two years I’ve wanted to be at the cottage; these days I find myself wanting to be here at the city house, enjoying these last days before we sell it.

At work, too, it is the same. This is my last week. We must give up the old to embrace the new, and I’m ready to do that. But then I get sixty cards from students telling me how much they will miss me, thanking me for being in their lives, drawing me pictures of their favorite books, hugs goodbye, and I’m wistful again.

Beauty helps. I’m so glad that we are not moving in the winter. I can sit outside in the green and watch birds, take pictures of flowers, and feel the beauty of it all washing the dust away from my tired body and needy soul.

Buzzards aren’t usually photographed for their beauty. But the turkey buzzard on the barn roof was a beauteous sight. There he sat, with his wings stretched out  — long enough for me to admire him, run inside to grab my iPhone, take his picture, and then admire him for a few more minutes. Soon he was joined by his mate, but as I was adjusting the camera, he flew away. I didn’t get the photo of two turkey buzzards on the barn roof.

It looks to me as if he is praising God for this sunny, glorious spring afternoon. Yes, I know that is anthropomorphism, (perhaps it sounds more acceptable if we make it a literary allusion and call it personification?) and he was probably just airing out his wings…

Yet it reminded me to stretch out my arms and praise God for the sweet beauty of these days.