Saturday, February 28, 2009

Hooked on Heron

Some days when I walk Otto to a park near my house, I see a Great Blue Heron. Solitary, aloof, but elegant--a stunning creature. He stands in the shallows of a stream skewering fish and mice.

There's a passage I love in Charles Frazier's novel Cold Mountain that describes a blue heron, and I just had to look it up:

They stepped slowly toward the river edge and the heron turned to look at them with some interest. He made tiny precise adjustments of his narrow head as if having trouble sighting around his blade of beak. His eyes seemed to Ada to be searching for her merits and coming up short.

-- What are you doing up here? she said aloud to the heron. But she knew by the look of him that his nature was anchorite and mystic. Like all of his kind, he was a solitary pilgrim, strange in his ways and governed by no policy or creed common to flocking birds. Ada wondered that herons could tolerate each other close enough to breed. She had seen a scant number in her life, and those so lonesome as to make the heart sting on their behalf. Exile birds. Everywhere they were seemed far from home.

The heron walked toward them to the river edge and stood on a welt of mud. He was not ten feet away. He tipped his head a notch off level, raised a black leg, scales as big as fingernails, the foot held just off the ground. Ada stared down at the strange footprint in the mud. When she looked up, the bird was staring at her as at someone met long ago, dimly registered in memory.

Then the heron slowly opened its wings. The process was carried out as if it were a matter of hinges and levers, cranks and pulleys. All the long bones under feathers and skin were much in evidence. When it was done the wings were so broad that Ada could not imagine how it would get out among the trees. The bird took a step toward Ada, lifted itself from the ground, and with only a slow beat or two of the immense wings soared just above her head and up and away through the forest canopy. Ada felt the sweep of wings, the stir of air, a cold blue shadow across the ground, across the skin of her face. She wheeled and watched until the heron was gone into the sky. She threw up a hand like waving 'bye to visiting kin. What would that be? she wondered. A blessing? A warning beacon? Picket of the spirit world?

Charles Frazier, Cold mountain, New York: Vintage Books, 1998, p. 192-193

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Stillness Speaks

What's the universe trying to tell you? Here's a cool way to find out: open a cherished book to a random page, let your eyes fall on a passage and read.

Here's my message today, loud and clear, from The Paris Review Interviews, vol 1, p 103, a book which I just happened to pick up from the floor of my study, intending to slide it back onto the bookshelf but...the book tumbled, splaying, beckoning. Saul Bellow apparently had something to tell me:

"I feel that art has something to do with the achievement of stillness in the midst of chaos. A stillness that characterizes prayer, too, and the eye of the storm. I think that art has something to do with an arrest of attention in the midst of distraction." -- Saul Bellow, 1965

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

It's not that we NEED's that we ARE nature.

To refocus, I only have to look out of my kitchen window where the dogwood is splendid in pink in the spring, leafy and cool in the summer, burnished as a jewel in the fall. In the winter, there are bird nests in the bare branches--they've been hidden like secrets.

Inside, among all the crazy TO DO lists on the kitchen table it helps to have flowers looking cheerfully back at you, like these sunflowers...a birthday gift from my hubby.

To wit-- an article about a growing body of research evidence that proves nature is one way that seems particularly effective at alleviating mind fatigue.
"In one study, children who live in public housing, girls who had access to green courtyards scored better on concentration tests than those who did not. In another study, children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder found that walks outdoors appeared to improve scores on tests of attention and concentration. Notably, children who took walks in natural settings did better than those who walked in urban areas, according to the report, published online in August in The Journal of Attention Disorders. The researchers found that a dose of nature worked as well as a dose of medication to improve concentration, or even better.

Monday, February 23, 2009

How to Get Lost

I'm guest blogging today over at A Good Blog is Hard to Find.
Here's the opening:

by Mindy Friddle

"I like to believe that imagination
transcends boundaries of geography.
If you think it up, you can make it better."

There’s a parking garage in downtown Greenville, South Carolina that makes me feel trapped in the surreal staircase of an Escher painting—I drive around and around, stuck on the same level. But then, I’ve never had a strong sense of direction. Using a compass? Reading topography maps? Yikes. That navigation badge in Girl Scouts always eluded me. These days, despite the modern wonder of GPS—with that nice lady telling you where to exit—I still veer off course. “Recalculating route,” the GPS lady repeats, with a certain edge to her voice.

Maybe that explains why one of my favorite parts about writing fiction is taking a familiar setting, tweaking it, and making it my own. Or—more accurately—a character’s own.


Thursday, February 19, 2009

A Secret Garden, Sicilian Style

The Leopard, written by Giuseppe Di Lampedusa (and published posthumously), is set in 1860's Italy. The novel is about the last gasp of the corrupt Sicilian aristocracy in the face of revolution.

I stumbled--no wandered--into this gorgeous description of the palace garden page 9 ff]--a metaphor for the rotting state and ruined finery of the aristocracy [in bold: the super-gorgeous]:

...its seclusion gave it the air of a cemetery...plants were growing in thick disorder on the reddish clay; flowers sprouted in all directions, and the myrtle hedges seemed put there to prevent movement rather than guide it....every sod seemed to exude a yearning for beauty soon muted by languor. But the garden, hemmed and almost squashed between these barriers, was exhaling scents that were cloying, fleshy, and slightly putrid, like the aromatic liquids distilled from the relics of certain saints; the carnations superimposed their pungency on the formal fragrance of roses and the oily emanations of magnolias drooping in corners; and somewhere beneath it all was a faint smell of mint mingling with a nursery whiff of acacia and the jammy one of myrtle; from a grove beyond the wall came an erotic waft of early orange blossom. It was a garden for the blind: a constant offense to the eyes, a pleasure strong if somewhat crude to the nose. The Paul Neyn roses, whose cutting he had himself bought in Paris, had degenerated; first stimulated and then enfeebled by the strong if languid pull of Sicilian earth, burned by apocalyptic Julys, they had changed into things like flesh-colored cabbages, obscene and distilling a dense, almost indecent, scent which no French horticulturist would have dared hope for. The Prince put one under his nose and seemed to be sniffing the thigh of a dancer from the Opera.
Hot in here, or is just me?

Friday, February 13, 2009

Cheatin' Heart Flower

Digitalis, the heart medicine, comes from Foxglove, or as the Latin-spouting gardeners say, Digitalis purpurea. But I didn't know the Foxglove flower has, for centuries, symbolized deceit. Makes sense, though.

Deceit + Digitalis purpurea = cheatin' heart.

Here's a hilarious guide by illustrator Jason Logan on the modern meanings of our posies.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The House Wine of the South

Here's a recipe for success: sweet tea and vodka. In one bottle.

South Carolina's own vodka distillery has made a splash-- as evidenced by today's article appearing in the NYT's Dining section: "A Southern Twist: Tea Infused Vodka." ["The house wine of the South is how Dolly Parton's character in Steel Magnolias describes" sweet tea.]

Can't wait to mix a "Mo-tea-to"-- that's Firefly Sweet Tea Vodka over ice, lime juice, mint leaves and soda water.

One word of caution, though. If you're going to grow your own mint-- and fresh mint leaves MAKE a mojito-- grow it in a container. Even then, watch it-- mint has been known to scale walls and leap over pots. Mint is one of those plants with LEGS-- invasive doesn't even begin to describe it. Plant mint in the garden and you're gonna MOW it. And no one wants a MOWito, right?

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Grow Some Abundance

Your Zen Moment for the Day:

The hoarder mindset is everywhere these days-- the fear of not having enough. Yet most of those economic wonks on the news admit that human psychology drives the economy. Maybe we need a little less human and a little more animal, according to this book:
“The term ‘animal spirits,’ popularized by John Maynard Keynes in his
1936 book ‘The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money,’ is related to consumer or business confidence...It refers also to the sense of trust we have in each other, our sense of fairness in economic dealings, and our sense of the extent of corruption and bad faith. When animal spirits are on ebb, consumers do not want to spend and businesses do not want to make capital expenditures or hire people.”
In Zen-speak, that's all about creating abundance. Not enough money? Or Time? Get the well-being flowing: here are 6 ways to create the abundance mindset.

Friday, February 6, 2009

My Victory Garden: The Ultimate Grassroots Movement

Last year, I replaced my front lawn with flowers and and a vegetable garden-- pictured here.

No wonder I'm a fan of the Victory Garden Initiative "a grassroots movement encouraging you, yes you, to move grass, grow food. Victory Gardeners believe there is no better place to grow food, than in your own yard."

The neighbors' varying reactions are a subject for another blog. But by the end of the summer, the mailman, Fed Ex carrier, and many neighbors had tasted the organic tomatoes-- it was a great summer for tomatoes, if I do say so myself--and you can't complain when your mouth is full.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Chill Out

Otto--to the right, with the gorgeous coat-- is a little confused here by the frozen fountain. We don't get ice that often.

My lily pads are toast. Frozen toast. Don't think they'll winter over, but who knows. The spout still burbles through a wee hole in the ice, enough chortling to entice a flock of cedar waxwings to swoop in for a drink.

Stock markety weather: 19 degrees last night, but supposed to be in the mid-60's this wkend.

In other news-- besides poring over seed catalogs, I've been reading--and rereading-- three craft books on writing to brush up for the Writing Your Novel seminar I'm teaching later this month. Among them: The Lie that Tells A Truth by John Dufresne-- his chapters on first drafts and flash fiction are especially insightful. I do recommend his book for sharpening the to speak.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The Peanut Man Done It

News about that Georgia peanut factory scandal is just getting worse. Salmonella is serious. Who wants roach parts and rat stuff in their peanut butter? (Certainly gives a new meaning to "extra crunchy.")

I don't wanna be an I-told-you-so, but I buy organic peanut butter. Sometimes I even go to that little machine thingy they have set up in produce where you grind your own peanuts. Anything to avoid seeing that...Peanut Man on a label.

I mean, since I was a kid, I knew he had the creep factor going on. Look at that lascivious grin, and he's wearing a monocle for God's sake. Sabotaging the competitor's vat of peanuts? Clearly he'd be up to such a task. They don't call him a goober for nothing.

And speaking of lascivious. That Nasonex bee is pure smarmy. Not like REAL bees: industrious creatures who enjoy rolling around petals like sultans in silk and scooping up stickly pollen with their tiny bucket knee caps. This is a CORPORATE drone, a lecherous bee with, for some reason, a Latin accent--but instead of Corinthian leather, he purrs on about allergies, and he has this weird segmented, pulsating body. Don't look too closely at the shape of that Nasonex container either.

Wouldn't be surprised to see these two on the next Catch a Predator.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

I Love the Smell of Compost in the Morning

February 1st-- that's really the start of spring round here. Right now the biggest thing I'm growing is my compost pile. Pictured at left.

The best thing about composting is that you can add all kind of gross stuff and, ta da, you get gorgeous black gold. Along with kitchen scraps, tea bags, coffee grounds, fall leaves, you can empty your vacuum cleaner bags and dryer lint-- and best of all-- stir in some shredded bills and rejection letters.

Will be spreading compost soon, so I can go from this:
To this:
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