Autumn Imperfection

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Autumn often brings a bit of imperfection to the garden. 

The foliage around us is a little tired and droopy.  Greens are fading to brown.  Bright colors may appear, highlights on our trees for a few days; but we know it will fade all too soon.

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Mexican blue sage

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“Life isn’t meant to be lived perfectly…
but merely to be LIVED.
Boldly, wildly, beautifully, uncertainly,
imperfectly, magically LIVED.”
.
Mandy Hale

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Dahlia ‘Nuit d’Ete’

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Every autumn flower feels precious.  We stop to enjoy the sweet, fleeting fragrance of ginger lily and roses.

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We stop to admire the ever deepening colors of the berries and Lantana.  We find beauty in the seed heads of the Rudbeckia, and the beauty berries so plump now they look like they might pop.

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“The eye always fills in the imperfections.”
.
Rabih Alameddine

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Hibiscus

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Birds fill the garden, gorging themselves on the ripening berries, drying seeds and abundant insects.   They appear suddenly from their hiding places, shooting through the air from shrub to tree as we move about.  We see living flashes of yellow, red, black, white, grey and brown as they celebrate the moment and fill the air with life.

We hear their exuberant song from first light until they click and chirp softly to themselves, as they settle in the bamboo at dusk.

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Even as the garden fades into its autumn disarray, we find it beautiful.

Its ‘perfect imperfection’ reminds us to find the beauty in each day, and to savor its sweetness.

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“A scar is not always a flaw.
Sometimes a scar may be redemption inscribed in the flesh,
a memorial to something endured,
to something lost.”
.
Dean Koontz
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Caladium ‘White Delight’ at sunset

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Woodland Gnome 2017
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WPC: Layered

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Our lifetime, like our environment, is built of uncountable layers. 

Ben Huberman reminds us of this in his weekly photo challenge today, and asks us to explore the various meanings of layers through our images.

While some of us may already be reaching for an extra layer of warmth when we head outside; there are also many of us still discarding as many layers as we safely can, when we muck through the humid heavy air of hurricane season to capture our images.

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I found these images on Sunday afternoon, as Hurricane Jose swirled off the coast,  all at a single stop along the marshes of Jamestown Island.  I was wearing far too many layers for comfort that afternoon, yet wished for an extra layer or two after the first few mosquitoes had their way with me.  Invisible predators sipped from hand and ear as I worked.

Just as I crept towards the last dry edge of the marsh, a Great Blue Heron startled, taking off from his hidden sanctuary beyond the reeds.  It reminded me that there are always layers upon layers of life more than we may every perceive.

Senses tuned, listening, watching, smelling the brackish air;  his presence still escaped me until he burst into the air in a massive explosion of determined wings, only a few feet ahead.

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Yet once he took flight, it wasn’t his presence which intrigued me, so much as the tiny crabs scuttling along on the muddy shore as the tide pushed back in.  These tiny crustaceans, each with one giant claw, make their lives and livings in our brackish marshes from south of Virginia Beach north throughout the rivers and estuaries of the Chesapeake Bay. Masses of them appear from the reeds as the tide recedes.

I have fond memories of watching them with my daughter when she was small enough that I held her in my arms, pointing and laughing with her at their antics.  We have changed so much; they, not at all. 

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Maybe that is one of the comforts nature offers to us.  We can watch the same tree grow over our lifetime.  We can see the same birds and butterflies and even tiny crabs again and again through the decades of our lives.

We watch each season melt into the next; sunsets fade to reveal the star filled firmament above us.

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And yet, for all of that lifetime of seeing and hearing and smelling and tasting; we never quite discover all of the intricate layers of our world.  There is always a little bit more out there to discover and to love.

What a wonderful challenge this life presents to us, to know and to feel and to grow.  Not that all of it is beautiful.  Not that all of it makes us happy.  Not that all of it is even pleasant.

But it is incredible in its complexity, its balance, its depth and its ability to still surprise us.

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Yet to know it, we must be out there in the midst of it all, peeling back layer after layer of ourselves in our search for experience.

What lies beneath all of these layers?  What will we find if we can only watch long enough?

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2017

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For the Daily Post’s

Weekly Photo Challenge:  Layered

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Native Beauty

Virginia thistle growing with goldenrod and beautyberry on Jamestown Island, Virginia.

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We headed out onto the Colonial Parkway yesterday afternoon, to see what we could see.   We were watching for signs of the changing season, and of course watching the sky for signs of the approaching storm.  Hurricane Jose was swirling out in the Atlantic, well away to our southeast.   Even so, the outer bands of this enormous storm were already creeping across our sky.

Once we reached  the ‘roads less traveled’ on Jamestown Island, we were delighted to see bright purple beautyberry, Callicarpa dichotoma , bright golden Solidago, yellowing marsh grasses and occasional reddening leaves.

The outer tips of branches on our native dogwoods, and some maples, have begun to change into their autumn finery.

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Yellowed Poplar leaves have been falling for weeks now.  A few inky purple berries still cling to magenta stems on the many native Aralia spinosa trees lining the road.  Their leaves will soon turn golden, too.

We stopped in a few of the pull-offs on the island to read the signs yet again, and for me to hop out to take a few photos.   As we approached one pull-off in particular, along the longer Island Drive, I was intrigued by the bright wildflowers and purple berries right beside the road.

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A pull off on the longer Island Drive on Jamestown Island.

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In addition to the vivid beautyberries  which lined the whole of the road in abundance, and the stands of goldenrod, there was something uniquely different.  This had flowers like a thistle, but on a radically different tall and lanky plant that I’d never noticed before.  What was it?

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The wild thistles we’d seen on Ocracoke Island, many miles to the south, were much stockier and shorter plants with larger blossoms.  I quickly ruled out perennial Cardoon, and every other ‘thistle-like’ plant I’ve known.

We have a passing acquaintance with most all of the native trees, ferns and perennials in the area.  And this one was new to us.

Perhaps we’d never visited the island at precisely this point in the seasonal progression before…  And so I took lots of photos, and determined to investigate the plant later, at home.

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As it turns out, the plant we found is a native of the Southeastern United States, called Cirsium virginianum, or Virginia thistle.   A biennial, it prefers moister, sandier soils along the coast.  It has a dangerously thorny stem, long thin leaves, and had grown a bit taller than I stand.  In some areas along the Gulf coast, it is considered a ‘noxious weed.’  But in Virginia, it is still relatively rare, at least in my experience.

I enjoyed the natural combination of its lavender blossoms growing against a back drop of purple beautyberry, with a skirt of bright goldenrod.    For this forested, marshy island especially, this was a rare colorful sight along the road.

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The beautyberry is rampant now in our garden, too.  In fact, so many volunteers have appeared that we often must cut them back throughout the season.  This is one of the plants I cut back hard in early spring to somewhat control its size.

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One of the larger beautyberry shrubs in our garden, which we cut hard every spring, reaches up for the lower limbs of the dogwood tree which shelters it.

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Solidago has self-seeded in sunny parts of our garden, too.   And we have a single berry-topped Aralia proudly presiding over it all.  A neighbor tipped me off to how badly the Aralia can sucker, and so I ruthlessly cut out the many small clones trying to grow up around the main stem this spring.  I suppose that will be an ongoing part of our garden routine from now on.

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Our Aralia, in its first season of bloom, surrounded by native Phytolacca americana, or pokeweed, another rampant native plant.  The birds love these berry laden natives.

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There are definite advantages and disadvantages to inviting native plants into one’s garden.  It is something to consider, especially for aging gardeners who want neat, easy maintenance landscapes around their home.

Native plants self-seed easily, and often grow and spread with enthusiasm.  It can take great effort to control them, especially if they establish on good garden soil, in areas tended and irrigated to keep them productive.  We are nearly overrun with the stunningly beautiful Rudbeckia hirta and Rudbeckia laciniata.  They both quickly claim far more real-estate than a gardener plans to give them.

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Three natives growing together in our front garden: black-eyed Susan, Rudbeckia hirta; mistflower, Conoclinium coelestinum; and obedient plant, Physostegia virginiana.  A Master Gardener friend gave us a large clump of obedient plant this spring. I divided it into several smaller clumps, and planted them in different areas to see where they perform best.  I am thrilled that this beautiful plant survived our summer drought and is blooming this first year.

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The R. laciniata wasn’t even invited; a gardening friend gave me a clump of white Monarda passed on from her friend, and some R. laciniata roots just happened to be in the clump.  But these gargantuan, flower covered plants are now filling my former ‘butterfly garden.’  I must tend to their removal this fall, when the weather cools, and weed them out ruthlessly next spring.

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Rudbeckia laciniata now fills what once was our butterfly garden, filled with various flowering shrubs and perennials.  I intend to weed most of this out over the next month, sharing it with a friend who wants it!

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The Rudbeckia hirta I shared lavishly with all gardening friends who would accept a few this spring.  I dug up clump after clump, and still have the largest, lushest stand of it, ever.  There are worse things than a sea of golden flowers come August and September, I suppose.

The rich drifts of perennials one admires in public gardens are attainable with natives, without stretching the budget, I’ve learned.

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This is the season for native plant sales, sponsored by local native plant societies.  This is a good service for communities and enables more of us to grow natives, if we choose.  While I support the effort in theory, I must admit that in general I prefer more curated, controllable cultivars.

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Self-sown Solidago in our garden, a week and a half ago, nearly ready to bloom. It has just begun to show color, and will be fully in bloom by next weekend.  This huge perennial attracts many pollinators and provides late season nectar for our bees.  But, large natives often shade and crowd out the more desirable cultivars of perennials one has purchased for the garden….

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Yes, I acknowledge the many and varied benefits native plants offer wildlife, and we absolutely grow our share of natives here.

That said, a word to the wise:  carefully research and observe any native plant you want to grow, before you invite it home to your garden.  Let  the natives you grow remain natural beauties, and may they never cross that line to become noxious weeds, overtaking your garden.

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Obedient plant with black-eyed Susans

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Woodland Gnome 2017

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A waterway through the marsh on Jamestown Island

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“In the rain forest, no niche lies unused. No emptiness goes unfilled.  No gasp of sunlight goes untrapped.  In a million vest pockets, a million life-forms quietly tick.  No other place on earth feels so lush.  Sometimes we picture it as an echo of the original Garden of Eden—a realm ancient, serene, and fertile, where pythons slither and jaguars lope.  But it is mainly a world of cunning and savage trees.  Truant plants will not survive.  The meek inherit nothing. Light is a thick yellow vitamin they would kill for, and they do.  One of the first truths one learns in the rain forest is that there is nothing fainthearted or wimpy about plants.”
.
Diane Ackerman

 

 

Waiting

Milkweed pods crack open to release their seeds onto the wind.

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Our lives unfold to the cadence of waiting.  We wait for the milestones of maturity; birthday candles, privileges, grades passed.  We wait for friendship and love.  Sometimes we wait for a soured relationship’s messy end.

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Garlic chives go to seed all too quickly.

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We tick off the long awaited steps of our lives at first with eagerness; later with longing.  We wait for spring.  We wait for summer’s heat to break.

We wait for the trees to bud and for the roses to finally bloom in May.

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We wait for storms to come and to pass; for children to grow independent; for dream vacations; for retirement.

Which is sweeter, the wait, or the fulfillment?

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Beautyberry ripens over a long season, to the delight of our many birds.

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“We never live;
we are always in the expectation of living.”
.
Voltaire

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I await the much loved succession of our garden each year:  emergence, growth, bud, bloom, fruits and seeds.

By September, many of the season’s flowers have already gone to seeds; others are still just coming into bloom.

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Obedient plant blooms with Rudbeckia hirta, black-eyed Susans.

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Hibiscus, Echinacea and Basil seeds bring a small cadre of bright goldfinches darting about the garden.  They have waited long months for their delicious ripening.

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Hibiscus pods split open in autumn to offer their feast of seeds to hungry birds.

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And sometimes, after the longest of winter waits, those dropped and forgotten seeds fulfill their destiny, sprouting and growing into the fullness of maturity.  Self-sown plants, appearing as if by magic, are a special gift of nature in our garden.

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Self-sown Basil going to seed again.

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No, I’m not speaking of the crabgrass or wild Oxalis sprouting in the paths and in the pots.  I’m speaking of the small army of Basil plants which appeared, right where I wanted them, this spring.   I’m speaking of the bright yellow Lantana growing now in the path, and the profusion of bright golden Rudbeckia in our front garden.

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A Black Swallowtail butterfly feeds on perennial Lantana.

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And, I’m speaking of the magnificent Aralia spinosa blooming for the first time this summer.  It’s gigantic head of ripening purple berries reminds me of why we tolerate its thorny trunk.

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Aralia spinosa’s creamy flowers have faded, leaving bright berries in their wake.

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Gardeners soon learn the art of waiting.  We wait for tiny rooted slips of life to grow into flowering plants, for bulbs to sprout, for seeds to germinate, for little spindly sticks to grow and finally bear fruit. We wait for the tomatoes to ripen and the pecans to fall.

We wait for hummingbirds to fly north each spring; for butterflies to find our nectar filled floral banquet.

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We wait year upon year for our soil to finally get ‘right.’  We wait for rains to come, and for the soggy earth to dry out enough to work in the spring.

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We are waiting for the Solidago, Goldenrod, to bloom any day now, drawing even more pollinators to the garden.

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And we wait for ourselves, sometimes, too.  We wait for our fingers to grow green enough that we can tend our garden properly, coaxing beauty from the Earth.

So much to learn, so much to do, so much to love…..

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Woodland Gnome 2017

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“Patience is power.
Patience is not an absence of action;
rather it is “timing”
it waits on the right time to act,
for the right principles
and in the right way.”
.
Fulton J. Sheen

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For the Daily Post’s
Weekly Photo Challenge:  Waiting

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Fabulous Friday: Color!

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I look forward to September when colors take on that specialty intensity of early autumn.  They sky turns brilliantly blue and the roadsides turn golden with wild Solidago and Rudbeckia.

I planted a little extra splash of color to enjoy this month in our front perennial garden.  While the Rudbeckia were still small, last spring, I interplanted several different Salvias, some perennial mistflower and some gifted Physotegia virginiana divisions.  I wanted bright splashes of blue and violet to emerge through their golden flowers.

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We are just beginning to enjoy the show as these late summer flowers come into their own.  The Rudbeckia grew taller this summer than I remember them in years passed.

We’re still waiting to see whether all of those Salvias will muster the strength to shoulder past the Black Eyed Susans and raise their flowers to the autumn sun.  Life and gardening are always an experiment though, aren’t they?

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It is fabulous to see the sea of gold highlighted with other richly colored flowers.  Soon, the bright red pineapple sage and bright blue Mexican bush sage will burst into bloom, filling the entire garden with intense color.  September is a fabulous time of year, full of promise and energy.

May your last weekend of summer be a good one.

Our hearts are heavy from the many troubling events this summer has precipitated.  We remember those struggling with flood water and wind damage; those seeking peace and justice in the wake of this summer’s violence; those who have lost dearly loved ones; and all those who still hold the hope and promise our country offers to the world, as a living flame in their heart.

In these dark and troubling days, may your world be filled with the colors of hope.

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2017
*
“Love was a feeling completely bound up with color,
like thousands of rainbows
superimposed one on top of the other.”
.
Paulo Coelho
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Fabulous Friday! 
Happiness is Contagious; let’s infect one another!
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Caladium ‘Desert Sunset’

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“Why do two colors, put one next to the other, sing?
Can one really explain this? no.
Just as one can never learn how to paint.”
.
Pablo Picasso

 

Sunday Dinner: Choosing Happiness

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“The most courageous act
is still to think for yourself.
Aloud.”
.
Coco Chanel
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“Freedom is not worth having
if it does not include the freedom
to make mistakes.”
.
Mahatma Gandhi
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Rudbeckia laciniata, a beautiful native plant, grows to 10′ tall and spreads each year. Here, cozy with pineapple mint.

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“Those who deny freedom to others,
deserve it not for themselves”
.
Abraham Lincoln
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“Letting go gives us freedom,
and freedom is the only condition for happiness.
If, in our heart, we still cling to anything –
anger, anxiety, or possessions –
we cannot be free.”
.
Thich Nhat Hanh
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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2017
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“Disobedience is the true foundation of liberty.
The obedient must be slaves.”
.
Henry David Thoreau
 

Sunday Dinner: Secrets of the River

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“Have you also learned that secret from the river;
that there is no such thing as time?”
That the river is everywhere at the same time,
at the source and at the mouth, at the waterfall,
at the ferry, at the current,
in the ocean and in the mountains, everywhere
and that the present only exists for it,
not the shadow of the past
nor the shadow of the future.”
.
Hermann Hesse
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“We must begin thinking like a river
if we are to leave a legacy of beauty and life
for future generations.”
.
David Brower
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“Ask the river, where it comes from?
You will get no answer.
Ask the river, where is it going?
You will get no answer,
because the river lives
inside this very moment;
neither in the past nor in the future,
in this very moment only!”
.
Mehmet Murat ildan
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Black’s Point, Jamestown Island in the James River

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2017
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Sunday Dinner: Summer Sunlight

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“There is a cosmic river
flowing from the Sun to the Earth and to everywhere:
The Sunlight, the holiest of the holy rivers!
Enemy of Darkness is the best friend of existence!
Touch the sunlight with a strong love
because light itself made that love possible!”
.
Mehmet Murat ildan
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“Any patch of sunlight in a wood
will show you something about the sun
which you could never get
from reading books on astronomy.
These pure and spontaneous pleasures
are ‘patches of Godlight’
in the woods of our experience.”
.
C.S. Lewis
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“The breath of life is in the sunlight
and the hand of life is in the wind.”
.
Kahlil Gibran
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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2017
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“Shine your light
and make a positive impact on the world;
there is nothing so honorable
as helping improve the lives of others.”
.
Roy  Bennett
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“Being the light of the world
is about being a broken, exploding,
scarred star and shining a light
of hope and inspiration
to everyone around you.”
.
Ricky Maye
~

 

Blossom XXVII: Life

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“You think that it’s not magic that keeps you alive?
Just ‘cause you understand
the mechanics of how something works,
doesn’t make it any less of a miracle.
Which is just another word for magic.
We’re all kept alive by magic, Sookie.
My magic’s just a little different from yours, that’s all.”
.
Charlaine Harris
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“To love. To be loved.
To never forget your own insignificance.
To never get used
to the unspeakable violence
and the vulgar disparity of life around you.
To seek joy in the saddest places.
To pursue beauty to its lair.
To never simplify what is complicated
or complicate what is simple.
To respect strength, never power.
Above all, to watch.
To try and understand.
To never look away.
And never, never to forget.”
.
Arundhati Roy
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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2017
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“It means much to have loved,
to have been happy,
to have laid my hand on the living Garden,
even for a day.”
.
Jorge Luis Borges
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Asclepias incarnata

Invincible

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”  The flower, though loved, fades;

   While weeds, though not loved, thrive.”

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Unknown

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“But what attracted me to weeds

was not their beauty, but their resilience.

I mean, despite being so widely despised,

so unloved, killed with every chance we get,

they are so pervasive,

so seemingly invincible.”

.

Carol Vorvain

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“Use the water of encouragement

on someone else’s flowers –

especially the flowers that are wilted,

trampled on, and taken for granted.

But don’t nourish the weeds.”

.

Hannah Garrison

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2017

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“The strongest and most mysterious weeds

often have things to teach us.”

.

F.T. McKinstry

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“When life is not coming up roses
Look to the weeds
and find the beauty

hidden within them.”

.

L.F.Young

 

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