Time to Travel, Time to Reflect, Time to Plant, Time to Return….

Siletz Bay, Lincoln City Oregon

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“The sun rises each morning to shed light
on the things we may have overlooked
the day before.”
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Tyler J. Hebert

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Siletz Bay, as seen from the other side along Highway 101

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It has been more than three weeks since my last post of Forest Garden, and probably long since time that I should share with you a few of my adventures.   As friends likely knew, I’ve been away, visiting some of my favorite places and spending time with some of my favorite loved ones.

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Depoe Bay, Oregon, where everyone watches for whales.

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I spend weeks preparing for the trip, and then leave home at o’dark thirty for the airport to catch one of the first planes of the morning out to Chicago.  It is worth the effort, as I’m collecting my luggage in Portland by West Coast lunchtime.  Then the long drive to the coast through some of the most beautiful scenic routes in the country, and I instantly feel ‘at home’ again.

From the beautiful Willamette Valley, where the leaves had already turned scarlet and orange to the rocky central Oregon coast, where they mostly hadn’t, I was enchanted by the beauty of every mile.

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We stopped to shop for produce and pumpkins on the way north to Tillamook.

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I spend the week with daughter and her family, marveling at how much little one has grown since I last saw her and catching up on family news.  There is time for walks on the beach, drives through the mountains, breakfasts together, playground time, and time spent exploring the beautiful Connie Hansen Garden.

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Little one loves the beach, and we found the perfect place for her to play safely.

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I love waking and ending my days listening to the pounding of the Pacific Ocean.  This time, we were blessed with calm, sunny weather.  Aside from one foggy evening and a bit of rain, the days were bright and comfortable and the ocean perfectly peaceful.

The weather was always right for whatever we chose to do.  If you know the Pacific Northwest, you know how blessed we were with this stretch of beautiful weather in the middle of October.

There are favorite places to visit and new ones to explore.   I learned a few new ‘locals’ shortcuts’ this time, and had a wonderful time on the hilly twisty roads of this stretch of coast where the mountains touch the sea.

And finally, for the first time, we spotted whales below Cape Foulweather.  We are always watching for whales at the coast, and this time there was a pod of them in the ocean far below us.

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The whales are just below the surface, and the frothy white on the surface is from their breathing. You may see their shadows below the clear blue sea. This is the view from Cape Foulweather along Highway 101.

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We soaked in the view while also keeping up with an energetic four year old!  She was much more interested in thoroughly exploring the park than in looking at whales, but I managed to still capture a photo or two.

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The view from Cape Foulweather, one of the highest point along this stretch of Highway 101 headed south towards Newport.

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On my visits to Lincoln City, I’m always happy to visit the Connie Hansen Garden to see what is growing, what has changed, and talk with the garden volunteers.

This time I was able to visit with a volunteer who is working on a major new ‘white garden’ installation.  She was still working on the soil while I was there, but I was keenly interested in her plans for planting.  And now I’m looking forward to seeing how it is coming along next year.

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A beautiful collection of heathers and heaths grow in the lower section of the Connie Hansen Garden Conservancy.

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The garden’s first owner, Dr. Connie Hansen, established many extensive collections of her favorite genera.  There are Japanese maples, Rhododendrons, many sorts of ferns, Oregon natives and at one time Iris.  A few Iris are left and a new bed established a few years ago.  But her main collection of Japanese Iris were sacrificed when the parking area was laid, after her passing, when the garden became a public Conservancy.  All of the work in the garden is still done by volunteers.

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There are many water features in the Connie Hansen garden to help manage the water that runs through this property from the surrounding neighbors’ yards.  The soil throughout the garden is nearly always moist, and so raised beds are important to grow many of the plants successfully.

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As I explored and enjoyed this beautiful Oregon garden, I was reminded of the work waiting for me at home.  October is a very busy gardening month in Virginia as well as in Oregon.  I thought of the many bulb orders I was waiting to collect and plant on my return and the chores to be done before the weather turns.

Digging the Caladiums and preparing them for winter storage was on my mind and on my ‘to do’ list as soon as I returned home.  They don’t like temperatures much below 50F, which is why they thrive in Florida, survive in Virginia’s summers, but are not grown in Oregon.

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Even in summer, Oregon nights along the coast are often too cool for heat loving plants like Caladiums, Colocasias and Alocasias.  But there are so many wonderful things they can grow year round that we can’t.  My daughter’s pansies still looked perky and fresh after growing in her garden over the past year.  Her garden is cool enough for them to grow right through the summer.

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Gunnera is related to Rhubarb, and grows to its full potential in the Pacific Northwest. This plant would likely wilt in a Virginia summer.  I don’t see it in cultivation in our area.  Ajuga carpets the ground beneath it.

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We savored every day and made the most of them all, but eventually it was time to pack for the trip home.

Those last few days were fraught with a bit of worry, because Hurricane Michael had swept through our area as a tropical storm with high winds, tornadoes and torrential rain while I was away.  I stayed in touch with friends and loved ones in the storm’s path through Virginia, and knew that our area was hard hit with downed trees and power outages.  I was nervous over what I would find waiting at home in Williamsburg.

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Hydrangeas along the coast were still gorgeous. This one grew beside the doorway where I stayed. 

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And of course, I was concerned about our own Forest Garden.  My partner spent hours and hours cleaning up and chatting with neighbors about the damage and their clean-up efforts in the days after the storm, and he was a bit vague about how much damage we had.

I knew the trees had survived, although some branches were lost.  Some shrubs had blown over, and the wind had had its way with the perennials.

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Sunset on my last night in Oregon along the beach behind where I stayed.

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The journey home was long, and it was well past midnight when we pulled back into our own drive.  I couldn’t see much, but I saw that the Dogwoods and shrubs by the drive were still standing.  My partner had done a beautiful job with his clean up and there was little left to see, except piles of broken trees along every neighborhood street.

It took several days for me to really ‘see’ what was missing- what had been edited from our familiar landscape by the winds.

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After TS Michael blew through, this was left behind in our community.

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But life is as much a process of editing as it is of adding.  The adding usually brings joy, and the editing may bring relief, or may bring sorrow.

I am finding that as I travel further along the path of my own life’s journey that editing is a fact of life.  We all find comfort in ‘simplicity’ at different stages in our lives.  Editing is required to find the promise that simplicity can hold for us.

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Broken and weathered trees are simply part of the landscape along the coast. There is a beauty to them, and a clarity to these windswept landscapes that I love.

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The days since my return have been filled to the brim with planting, planning, reflecting, writing, and the normal business of life.  I have a few projects underway that take time to bring to completion.

It is a very busy time as we use these fine October days to the utmost, before the weather shifts.  November awaits, and then winter will settle over the garden soon enough.

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I’ve spent too little time just enjoying the beauty and capturing it in photos.  I try to remember to snap a photo here and there in an odd moment, but have been at a loss to string them all together in a way that makes sense for a decent post.  I’ve not abandoned Forest Garden, just taken a bit of an extended break.

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With a little help from my friends, we’ll get those hundreds of bulbs planted soon enough!

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And now it is time to settle back into something like a routine.  Perhaps a revised routine to reflect the changing of the seasons.

I have more stories to tell, and perhaps we’ll get to them one day soon.  But for now I’ll leave you with an image I took this morning.  Something beautiful, something that shows me that life goes on, no matter how odd the journeys we make, no matter what storms may come our way.

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Our Camellias have come into bloom, just as they always do. They survived the storm with buds intact.

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Woodland Gnome 2018

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Sunday Dinner: Transposition

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“The divine laws are quite simple –
they state that every ending is the new beginning.
This world isn’t ruled only by two forces –
the Creation and the Destruction.
The third force – Transformation –
the force of Nature, exists too,
and is, in fact, the blend of the other two.”
.
Tamuna Tsertsvadze

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“What transforms this world is — knowledge.
Do you see what I mean? Nothing else
can change anything in this world.
Knowledge alone is capable of transforming the world,
while at the same time leaving it exactly as it is.
When you look at the world with knowledge,
you realize that things are unchangeable
and at the same time are constantly being transformed.”
.
Yukio Mishima

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“Scared and sacred are spelled with the same letters.
Awful proceeds from the same root word as awesome.
Terrify and terrific.
Every negative experience holds the seed of transformation.”
.
Alan Cohen

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“He was trying to find his footing
in a world both familiar and foreign”
.
H.W. Brands

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“Nobody really metamorphoses.
Cinderella is always Cinderella, just in a nicer dress.
The Ugly Duckling was always a swan, just a smaller version.
And I bet the tadpole and the caterpillar
still feel the same, even when they’re jumping and flying,
swimming and floating.

Just like I am now.”

.
Holly Smale

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“Light precedes every transition.
Whether at the end of a tunnel,
through a crack in the door or the flash of an idea,
it is always there,
heralding a new beginning.”
.
Teresa Tsalaky

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2018

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“We must live in the radiance of tomorrow,
as our ancestors have suggested in their tales.
For what is yet to come tomorrow has possibilities,
and we must think of it, the simplest glimpse
of that possibility of goodness.
That will be our strength.
That has always been our strength.”
.
Ishmael Beah

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Fabulous Friday: Changes in the Air

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Do you remember stories from your childhood about ‘Jack Frost’ turning the leaves bright colors ?  I remember stories and poems about Jack Frost, and making Crayola drawings with a wild assortment of brightly colored leaves on my brown stick trees.  It seems a ‘given’ that leaves change their colors when the nights begin to turn cool.

But neither our nights nor our days have cooled substantially, and yet the community is definitely taking on autumn’s hues.

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We noticed it as we drove across College Creek today, admiring the first hints of yellow and gold in the trees along the opposite bank.  But we also see it in our own garden, as scarlet creeps across some dogwood leaves and the crape myrtle leaves begin to turn, even as the trees still bloom.

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The Williamsburg Botanical Garden shows its autumn colors.

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We are running 12 to 13 degrees above our ‘normal’ temperatures most days lately, and it is a rare night that has dropped even into the 60s.  And yet the plants are responding to the change of season.   Perhaps they sense the days growing shorter; perhaps they are just getting tired.

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I. ‘Rosalie Figge’ has just come back into bloom in our garden.

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Our ‘re-blooming’ Iris have sent up their first autumn stalks.  We’ve been blessed with plenty of rain, recently, and so the Iris will have a good second season.  Some of our neighbors have Encore Azaleas covered in flowers

I was dumbfounded to see how gigantic some of the Colocasias, Alocasias and Caladiums grew in the catalog garden at the Bulb Shop in Gloucester.  I can’t remember ever seeing these plants grow so huge in Virginia.

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The catalog garden at Brent and Becky’s Bulb Shop is filled with some of the largest Colocasias I’ve ever seen. Do you recognize C. ‘Tea Cups’?

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But with good soil and near constant moisture, these amazing tropicals have shown us their potential for growth when they get all the warmth and moisture and nutrition they could possibly want.  I spoke with some of the staff there about how popular tropical ‘elephant ears’ have become in recent years, as coastal Virginia becomes ever more hospitable to them.

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We ventured up to Gloucester this week to pick up our order of fall bulbs.  It is admittedly too warm, still, to plant most spring bulbs.  But I retrieved our order, shared with friends, and now will simply hold most of the bulbs for another few weeks until the nights finally cool.

There are a few bulbs that need to get in the ground right away, like dog tooth violets and our Italian Arum.  Both are actually tubers, and shouldn’t be allowed to dry out.  Our Muscari, left in pots over the summer, are already in leaf.

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I’ve planted the first of my autumn four season pots filled with bulbs and mulched with moss.  This one will begin with autumn Crocus and Cyclamen in a few weeks, and then begin the early spring with snowdrops, Crocus, Muscari and dog tooth violet.  Finally, it will finish the season with late daffodils. The pot is anchored with an oak leaf Hydrangea and a deciduous lady fern. 

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If the daffodils and tulips get planted too early, they might grow too much before the really cold weather finds us.  We can continue planting spring bulbs here into late December, maybe even early January.  I’d much rather do it in October though, wouldn’t you?

As the weather cools down a bit, I’m wanting to get back out in the garden to do a bit of tidying up before the fall planting begins.

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Pineapple Sage is already blooming in our garden. I have several still in 4″ pots I need to plant one day soon.

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I’ve got a backlog of plants sheltering in pots, just waiting for their chance to grow.  I visited a friend today who was weeding and digging her Caladiums to store for next summer.   Some of our Caladiums are beginning to die back a little, so she was probably wise to dig them while she can see a few leaves and find their roots.

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This is one of our favorite Alocasias, often called African Mask. It spends winter in the living room, and summer in a shady part of the garden.

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Bright orange wreathes are showing up on neighbor’s doors, and by Monday, the calendar will say ‘October.’  I suppose it is time to get on with it and embrace the changing seasons.

While I believe we will have another month, or two, of ‘Indian Summer’ before our first frost; I suppose we all just assume it is time for pumpkin lattes and chrysanthemums.  Some of my friends are already setting out huge mums and pulling their annuals.

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Hardy Begonias are at their peak, blooming and so beautiful this week.

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I’m not there, yet.  I’m still admiring our many ‘elephant ears’ and Begonias and watching for butterflies.  In fact, I came home from Gloucester with a sweet little Alocasia ‘Zebrina,‘ that  I’ve had my eye on all season.  They had just two left, and then they had one….

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Alocasia grown huge at the catalog garden

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The display plant, growing out in the catalog garden, was a bit taller than me.  Its leaves were absolutely huge!

I don’t know that my pot grown aroids will ever get quite that impressive, especially when they are forced to nap all winter in the basement.  But we enjoy them in their season, and their season will soon close.

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We found both Monarchs and a few chrysalis at the Williamsburg Botanical Garden this week.

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I have been admiring our garden today, and celebrating the successes we’ve enjoyed this year.  I am intentionally procrastinating on any chores that hasten our passage into autumn.

That said, the pumpkin bagels that showed up at Trader Joes this week are truly delicious.

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Woodland Gnome 2018
Fabulous Friday:
Happiness is Contagious; Let’s Infect One Another!

Fabulous Friday: Under the Storm

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The cloud shield of Hurricane Florence crept across our area in the night, blotting out the sun and bringing sporadic showers so that by the time we first looked out on Thursday morning, the world was damp and grey.

But quiet.  Very quiet, with barely a breath of wind.

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We watched the storm’s progress throughout the day as it slowly ground towards the coastal islands of North Carolina.  I’ve loved those broad, sandy beaches and beach towns since childhood and know them well.  I’ve seen many storms come and go there, and watched the tough, resilient folks of these communities re-build their beach cottages and their communities time after time.   They love the ocean in all of its moods and seasons.

Life along the coast is a gamble.  Only this monster storm has skewed the odds towards devastation.

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All was calm along the coast of Yorktown on Wednesday afternoon, before the storm moved in.

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I remember one childhood Sunday afternoon lunch at our favorite Topsail Island sound side restaurant.  Our family calmly ate hush puppies at a big, round table by the windows, as waterspouts whipped up on the Inland Waterway, spinning bright and beautiful against the black and purple storm clouds behind the trees.  The restaurant was packed; the staff calm and friendly as ever, the food delicious.  By dinner time we were back out walking along the beach, picking up shells, and admiring the sunset’s golden rays stretching towards us through the line of cottages.

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The ferry approaches the dock of Ocracoke Island, autumn 2007.  Ocracoke has been especially hard hit this time with overwash and torrential rains.

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We saw Topsail cottages dismantled by the storm surge’s waves on CNN last night.  Another reporter stood in the middle of the deserted road through nearby Hampstead, buffeted by the wind and rain as the hurricane’s eye paced slowly towards the coast a few miles further south.  When the eye of the Hurricane finally came ashore near Wrightsville Beach early this morning, it was so huge that the geography of landfall almost didn’t matter.

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Except it wasn’t here.  And for that we are enormously grateful today.  Tropical force winds haven’t quite made it far enough up the rivers to reach us, here in Williamsburg, and the rainfall has been relatively light.  The power’s on, the roads are clear, and our forest stands intact.

We keep in mind and heart everyone along the coast, and all those living on farms and in small towns whose lives are upended by the wind and rain.  We remember the thousands of workers even now rescuing families from flooded homes, patrolling the roads, running shelters and putting themselves in harm’s way to tell the story to the rest of us comfortably watching it unfold from home.

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Our appreciation to Lesley, Don and the gang at Classic Caladiums for their good luck wishes ahead of the storm.  This is our favorite Caladium this season, ‘Peppermint’, well grown now from a single tuber.

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The rain squalls come and go and the wind whips up from time to time.  The day is cool and fresh.  When I walked up the drive this morning a cloud of goldfinches startled from their morning meal in the Rudbeckia, flying in all directions to safer perches in the trees.  They chirped and chatted at the interruption, and I was so happy to see them still here.

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Can you spot the goldfinch in the center of the Rudbeckia? I caught his photo the instant before he flew away.  He was the bravest of his small flock, to linger this long as I approached.

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The flowers have taken on that intense hue that comes when they are well watered and the nights turn cool.  Gold and purples, scarlet, pink and purest white pop against fading leaves.  But also brown, as petals drop and seeds ripen in the undergrowth.

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Rudbeckia with basil. The goldfinches love ripened seeds from both of these.

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We’re happy to see that the routine continues in our Forest Garden.  Huge bumblies make their way slowly from flower to flower.  Birds peck at the muddy ground.  Clouds of mosquitoes wait for a chance to land and drink on unprotected flesh.  Hummingbirds dart from flower to flower.  But where are the butterflies?  Have they taken shelter, or taken wing?

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Native mist flower, Conoclinium coelestinum

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Even as beautyberries ripen from green to purple, and the mistflower bursts into bloom, we anticipate our garden’s closing extravaganza of beauty.  Summer is passed, and Indian Summer is upon us.  Cooler, wetter, milder; this season is a celebration of the fullness of our garden’s annual growth.  It stretches from mid-September until first frost.  Some might say it is the best part of the year, when acorns drop and leaves turn gold and scarlet against the clear, blue sky.

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Mist flower grows among obedient plant, black-eyed Susans and goldenrod.  All are native to our region.

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Even as we sit and wait out this monstrous storm, we notice the subtle signs of change.  Dogwood berries turn scarlet as next year’s buds emerge behind them.  The first Muscari leaves emerge in pots, and the Italian Arum begin to appear in the shadows.  I’m looking forward to a trip to Gloucester next week to pick up some Cyclamen for our winter garden

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Oakleaf Hydrangea heads persist all summer, mellowing into shades of cream and brown towards fall.

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All things change to their own pace and rhythms.  Flowers bloom, berries ripen, families grow, and leaves turn and fall.  Storms grow and subside.   Sandbar islands move along the coast.  Communities suffer loss and rebuild.  And life grows richer and more beautiful with each passing year.   It is the way of things. 

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Woodland Gnome 2018
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Fabulous Friday: 

Happiness is contagious;  let’s infect one another.

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Hedychium coronarium, butterfly ginger lily

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“There are times when the world is rearranging itself,
and at times like that,
the right words can change the world.”
.
Orson Scott Card
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The first ever flower blooms on a volunteer seedling Hibiscus.

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“It is change, continuing change, inevitable change,
that is the dominant factor in society today.
No sensible decision can be made any longer
without taking into account not only the world as it is,
but the world as it will be…
This, in turn, means that our statesmen, our businessmen, our everyman
must take on a science fictional way of thinking.”
.
Isaac Asimov
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Wild Life Wednesday: All Calm Before the Storm

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It was gently raining when we awakened this morning, but the sun was breaking through along the horizon by the time we made it outside into the new day.

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An early morning bumbly enjoys the sweetness of Rudbeckia laciniata.

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We are all very conscious of the weather here in coastal Virginia this week as we watch the updates on the progress of Hurricane Florence.  We are on high ground and so flooding isn’t a concern.  But we live in a forest, and any amount of wind can change the landscape here; especially when the ground is saturated.

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The Solidago, goldenrod, has just begun to bloom.

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It looks as though the storm will make landfall far to our south, and the track no longer suggests it might travel northwards into Central Virginia.  Yet Florence remains a dangerous storm, and is absolutely huge.  We may start feeling its outer bands of rain and wind sometime tomorrow or Friday.

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Rose of Sharon

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Which made today all the sweeter.  Do you know the Japanese term, Wabi-Sabi?  The Japanese find beauty in the transience and ultimate imperfection of all phenomena.  The impermanence and changeability of the world around us heightens our appreciation of its beauty.  We can appreciate things while feeling a deep tenderness for their inherent imperfection.

I was pondering these things this morning as I wandered through our upper garden, wondering how it might appear in a day or so after wind and heavy rain have their way with it.  Already, our tall goldenrod and black-eyed Susans lean over into the paths, making them almost disappear in the abundance of growth.

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It is my first time wandering through the garden like this since I got a nasty insect bite last Friday afternoon.  It is still a mystery what bit me, as I was fully armored to work outdoors.  It was a small bite at first, but quickly blistered and swelled up to a massive angry red blotch that stretched several inches away from the original bite on my knee.  It has been a slow process of tending it, and I stayed indoors until yesterday, hoping to avoid another until this one was resolved.

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Ginger lily with orbs

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But today I was out in the early morning wetness, capturing the beauty of it, and trying to ignore the mosquitoes greeting me along the way.  I wanted to see everything and admire everything on the chance that the coming storm will shatter its early September magnificence.  It was the beautiful calm before the storm, and we have taken today to celebrate it.

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The rain was past and the day gilded with golden September sunshine when we set out along the Colonial Parkway to see the sky and watch the rising waters along the James and York Rivers.  If you’ve never seen the sky filled with enormous, rain shadowed clouds in the day or two before a hurricane approaches, you’ve missed one of the most beautiful spectacles of atmospheric art.

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Yorktown Beach, looking northwards towards Gloucester Point and the Virginia Institute of Marine Science

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The clouds are arrayed in regular, rhythmic patterns, punctuated here and there with towering, monstrous storm clouds.  The sky is blue and clear beyond them.  They float rapidly across the sky, these outer bands of the approaching storm.  These days of waiting are moody, morphing quickly from dull to golden and clear blue to stormy grey.

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One keeps an eye on the sky while pacing through the rituals of preparing.   There is an edge to the mood as highways fill with strangers moving northwards, inland, away from home and into an uncertain future.  We encountered one today at the next gas pump who needed to tell us he was traveling, just passing through, on his journey to somewhere safer than here.

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We found a nearby parking lot filled this morning with state police, huge generators, Klieg lights, and emergency response trailers.  The lot was filled at eight, but emptying out just a few hours later.  We’re still wondering where the equipment will ultimately end up.  We hope not here…

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Jones Mill Pond, near Yorktown on the Colonial Parkway

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I wondered whether the butterflies would move out ahead of the storm.  But we counted more than a dozen as we drove along the Parkway from Jamestown to Yorktown.   We saw mostly small ones, Sulphurs, but we were glad for their happy fluttering along the roadside.  We noticed the tide is already high along the way.  Jamestown Island is closed as preparations there continue.

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The rivers lap high up into the reeds, mostly covering the narrow, sandy river beaches.  The York River is already climbing the rip rap hardened banks constructed a few summers ago to protect the shoreline.  Small Coast Guard craft patrolled the river near Yorktown, but that didn’t deter a few families here and there, determined to enjoy this bright and sultry day at the beach.

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The York River, looking eastwards towards the Bay.

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The lizards were scampering around the drive and back steps when we returned home.  They’d been basking in the mid-day sun; our return disturbed their peace.

The squirrels had been at the grapes again, and we saw a pair of hummingbirds light in a Rose of Sharon tree nearby, watching us arrive.

It was too silent, though.  We didn’t hear the usual chatter of songbirds in the trees.  It was still, too.  Though the wind was blowing off the rivers, here the air hung heavy and still.

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Our Muscadine grapes are ripening over a long season.

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I believe in luck and omens, and perhaps that is why I planted a few little pots of Baptisia seeds this morning.  I’d knicked the seed pods from a plant I’ve watched growing all summer at the Botanical garden, and carried them in my pocket for weeks.

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With the seeds tucked into little pots out on the deck, I’m already thinking of the sprouts that will soon emerge.  Life goes on.  I believe that is the wisdom of wabi-sabi.

No matter the current circumstance, change is constant.  We can’t outrun it, or stop it.  Wisdom invites us to embrace it, observe its power, and find the ever-present beauty, come what may.

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This beautiful cluster of lichens was waiting for me beneath a shrub this morning.

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Woodland Gnome 2018
*  *  *
“To Taoism that which is absolutely still or absolutely perfect
is absolutely dead,
for without the possibility of growth and change there can be no Tao.
In reality there is nothing in the universe
which is completely perfect or completely still;
it is only in the minds of men that such concepts exist.”
.
Alan Watts

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“But when does something’s destiny finally come to fruition?
Is the plant complete when it flowers?
When it goes to seed? When the seeds sprout?
When everything turns into compost?”
.
Leonard Koren

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Begonia

 

Butterfly’s Choice: Aralia spinosa

Aralia blooms mingle with wild Clematis along the Colonial Parkway near Jamestown.

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We stopped to admire the Clematis.  It was only once we pulled in to the parking area that we noticed the butterfly.

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Eastern Tiger Swallowtail on Aralia spinosa.

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And what a beautiful Eastern Tiger Swallowtail he was, contentedly feeding on the Aralia flowers.

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Aralia spinosa is one of those wild trees we notice growing along the roadsides that appear, to our eye, rather weedy.  They grow tall and thin, eventually forming dense thickets, and sport wicked sharp thorns along their trunks and branches.  A native in our area, most sane folk would never allow them to take root in their garden.

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But their thorns can be overlooked in late summer, when the Aralia produce huge, thick clusters of tiny flowers.  The flowers bloom, and after the blossoms drop dense purple berries take their place.  Butterflies love their flowers and all sorts of song birds love the berries.  These small trees produce abundant food for wild life each summer, before their leaves drop in late autumn.

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“The Devil’s Walking Stick”, Aralia spinosa, with berries forming.  This stand grows along the Colonial Parkway near Jamestown Island.

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We got to know Aralia when our neighbor’s fell over under its own weight one year, and leaned its huge flowery head into our back garden.  Perhaps it was merely reaching for the sun; I was intrigued.  Within another few years, we had one sprouting in the upper garden.  I decided to give it a chance and let it grow.

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Aralia spinosa, a native volunteer in our garden, looks rather tropical as its first leaves emerge each spring.

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It lost its top in a storm in early spring this year, and just as I hoped, more branches and flower heads sprouted lower along its trunk.  Where last year we had one large flower cluster at the very top, this year we have several.  We often find our Tiger Swallowtails winging their way up to enjoy its nectar.

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But here along the Colonial Parkway on Sunday afternoon, I was still surprised to see the swallowtail feasting only on the Aralia, and completely ignoring the Clematis.  To my eye, the Clematis flowers are far more appealing.  They fairly shimmer in the sunlight, and they are a bit larger and perhaps easier to access.

But butterflies perceive the garden differently than do we.  Something about the Aralia intrigued this butterfly and kept it satisfied.  The Aralia is a Virginia native, and this particular Clematis is a naturalized variety from Asia.

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Clematis terniflora was introduced from Asia, and has naturalized in many parts of the country, including here along the Colonial Parkway.  Its fragrance is strong and sweet.  This variety is on the invasive list in several states.

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As we garden, we have to come to terms with our purposes.   What do we intend to accomplish by planting and tending our garden?  Who is the consumer?  Who is to be pleased by it?  Are we growing food for ourselves, enjoying the latest brightest flowers, creating a peaceful green sanctuary of shrubs and trees, or are we gardening to nurture wildlife?

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We can find compromises, but we can’t do it all.

What appeals to wildlife may not be our idea of horticultural beauty.  Maintaining a garden that is immaculately beautiful won’t serve the needs of the butterflies, birds, toads and other creatures we may hope to attract.

Wildlife will impact any food crop we cultivate, for good or ill, and we need to come to terms early on with whether we will use the many chemicals that promise garden perfection.

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Native Asclepias incarnata grows wild in a marsh on Jamestown Island.

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It helps to know what wildlife need and prefer if we want to contribute to conservation efforts to protect them.  But that doesn’t mean we want all of those plants surrounding our home.  Many have a short season of beauty, or are rampant, or simply prefer to grow in wide open spaces.

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Native Pickerel weed, Pontederia cordata, may be used in water features in our garden.  Here is grows in one of the marshes on Jamestown Island, along with Phragmites.

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Maybe our homeowners association has strict standards for how our yards must be maintained.  Growing vigorous native plants may be discouraged, in favor of more traditional landscaping.

There is a tension, sometimes, in how we resolve these apparent conflicts of purpose, intent and personal needs.  But there can be creative, and beautiful compromises possible, when we stop and observe closely enough, and plan with clarity and wisdom.

Our love of the wild and beautiful world around us helps us discover those compromises, and find joy in the result.

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Woodland Gnome 2018
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A wildlife friendly border, with mixed natives and exotics, in our upper garden.

Wildlife Wednesday: A Feast For a Swallowtail

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You may count gluttony among those seven deadly sins, but our little Swallowtail didn’t get the memo.

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She was covered in so much wonderful sticky pollen by the time we spotted her, that we aren’t quite sure whether she is an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail or an Eastern Black Swallowtail.  Since no white spots are visible on her body, we suspect that she is the black form of the female Tiger Swallowtail.

From my perspective a bit under her, while she enjoyed this rose of Sharon flower, it looked as though she was lying on the flower’s pistol, straddling it with legs akimbo.  You can see the pollen on her body, legs and even wings.

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These rose of Sharon flowers, Hibiscus syriacus, must be enticingly delicious.  We watch the hummingbirds stop by these shrub several times a day.  Other, smaller butterflies and bees flew in and out and around while our Swallowtail feasted.

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These beautiful trees are easy to grow in full to partial sun and reasonably moist, but well-drained soil.  They self-seed readily and grow with little attention from a gardener.  We let them grow in several places around the garden because they are so beloved by our pollinators.

You will find many different rose of Sharon cultivars on the market.  We’ve found many different ones growing around our garden, with new seedlings showing up every summer.  Rose of Sharon trees begin to bloom when they are just a few years old.

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We may lose a tree or two a year, as they aren’t very long lived and grow on fairly shallow roots.  The largest one in our garden tops out at less than 20′ tall.  This is a good landscaping tree that won’t endanger foundation or roof if planted close to the house.  Growing it near a window provides hours of summer entertainment as the pollinators come and go.

Although it’s not native to Virginia, Hibiscus syriacus has naturalized here, and fills an important niche in our summer garden.

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It is both beautiful and generous, and we enjoy watching the many winged and wonderful creatures that it attracts throughout the year.

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Woodland Gnome 2018

. . .

“Similar to a butterfly,

I’ve gone through a metamorphosis,

been released from my dark cocoon,

embraced my wings,

and soared!”

 .

Dana Arcuri

Fabulous Friday: Hibiscus in Bloom

Hibiscus moscheutos opens its first blooms of the season today.

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We always celebrate when the Hibiscus moscheutos bloom.  These easy native perennials largely care for themselves.  Although they die back to the ground each autumn, they grow quickly once their stems finally appear again in late spring.

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Native Hibiscus prove very accommodating and will grow in a variety of conditions.   Seen most commonly in the wild near water, they appreciate a little irrigation when the weather turns hot and dry.  They grow in a variety of soils from partial shade to full sun.  Happy, well irrigated plants grow to between four and five feet tall.

We let them seed themselves around and grow where they will, always delighted when their colorful blooms quite suddenly appear in mid-summer.  Each stem may produce a half dozen or more buds.  Once the flowers fade, interesting seed capsules ripen and persist into winter.  Many of our songbirds enjoy pecking ripe seeds from the open capsules until we finally cut their dried stems down.

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Hybrid Hibiscus ‘Kopper King’ is much showier than our native Hibiscus with somewhat larger flowers. Its foliage is also more attractive… until the Japanese beetles have their way with the leaves.  This cultivar was introduced by the Fleming Brothers of Lincoln, Nebraska, who have produced several Hibiscus hybrids based on crosses of H. moscheutos and H. coccineus.

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While many cultivars of H. moscheutos are available on the market, I believe that most of ours are the species.  We planted H. ‘Kopper King’ about four years ago and it has grown into a large and vigorous plant. Various Hibiscus volunteers in our garden bloom deep pink, light pink or white.  We see them, too, in the marshes along the James River and creeks that feed it.

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Hardy Hibiscus coccineus will start blooming by early August.

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Native Hibiscus prove a reliable, hardy and very beautiful perennial in our garden.  We have more native Hibiscus species yet to bloom; and the Asian Hibiscus syriacus, or woody Rose of Sharon, is in the midst of its much longer season of bloom.

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Hibiscus syriacus, Rose of Sharon

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The woody shrub form of Asian Hibiscus also seeds itself around the garden, growing quickly from seedling to blooming tree in just a few years.  Although new cultivars are introduced each year, we have four or five different flower colors and forms which keep us quite happy.  A non-native, it also feeds many creatures with its nectar, pollen, leaves and seeds.

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Rose of Sharon, or tree Hibiscus

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It is fabulous to enjoy a plethora of gorgeous showy flowers with very little effort on our part during this muggiest part of summer.  It is also fabulous to watch the beautiful and varied bees, butterflies and hummingbirds that visit to enjoy their abundant pollen and sweet nectar each day.

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Rose of Sharon in our shrub border bloom prolifically from mid-June until early September.

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Woodland Gnome 2018

Fabulous Friday:  Happiness is contagious;

let’s infect one another!

*

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“Seize the moments of happiness,

love and be loved!

That is the only reality in the world, all else is folly.

It is the one thing we are interested in here.”

.

Leo Tolstoy

 

Sunday Dinner: Building A Community

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“The world is so empty
if one thinks only of mountains, rivers & cities;
but to know someone who thinks & feels with us,
& who, though distant, is close to us in spirit,
this makes the earth for us
an inhabited garden.”
.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
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“The single greatest lesson the garden teaches
is that our relationship to the planet need not be zero-sum,
and that as long as the sun still shines
and people still can plan and plant, think and do,
we can, if we bother to try,
find ways to provide for ourselves
without diminishing the world. ”
.
Michael Pollan
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“I know there is strength
in the differences between us.
I know there is comfort,
where we overlap.”
.
Ani DiFranco
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“Community is a sign that love is possible
in a materialistic world
where people so often either ignore or fight each other.
It is a sign that we don’t need
a lot of money to be happy-
-in fact, the opposite.”
.
Jean Vanie
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~
“If man is to survive,
he will have learned to take a delight in the essential differences
between men and between cultures.
He will learn that differences in ideas and attitudes
are a delight, part of life’s exciting variety,
not something to fear.”
.
Gene Roddenberry
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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2018
*
“Every human activity
can be put at the service of the divine and of love.
We should all exercise our gift
to build community.”
.
Jean Vanie
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Sunday Dinner: Awareness

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“Look at everything always

as though you were seeing it

either for the first or last time:

Thus is your time on earth filled with glory.”

.

Betty Smith 

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“It’s all a matter of paying attention,

being awake in the present moment,

and not expecting a huge payoff.

The magic in this world

seems to work in whispers

and small kindnesses.”

.

Charles de Lint

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“The really important kind of freedom

involves attention, and awareness,

and discipline, and effort,

and being able truly to care about other people

and to sacrifice for them,

over and over,

in myriad petty little unsexy ways,

every day.”

.

David Foster Wallace

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“Earth’s crammed with heaven…
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes.”

.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

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“These things will destroy the human race:

politics without principle,

progress without compassion,

wealth without work,

learning without silence,

religion without fearlessness,

and worship without awareness.”

.

Anthony de Mello

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2018

*

“Awareness has infinite gradations, like light.”
.

Ignazio Silone

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“A healer’s power stems not from any special ability,

but from maintaining the courage and awareness

to embody and express the universal healing power

that every human being naturally possesses.”

.

Eric Micha’el Leventhal

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