Small delights: flowering oregano and coneflower. Two ripe blueberries. Chickadees chatty in the bushes. The air still cool. Kimiko Hahn, Billy Collins, and Ross Gay in my head. Huck working out percentages in an absorbed murmur as he comes down the stairs. Bees in the lavender. Pens in the jar.
Archive for the ‘Nature Study’ Category
First: very important: in that last post, I forgot to caption the photo! This matters only because I meant to say it was my neighbor’s garden, not mine. That daisy-and-lupine combination is magical and I’d like to copy it as soon as I can…which may not be for a long while. The vicious pandemic grocery budget has absorbed several other categories of funds at present. Plus I’m still paying off my little skin cancer adventure.
Fortunately, living in my Northeast Portland neighborhood has expanded my take on gardening. My first spring here, I walked around in wonder, dazed, drunk on beauty. The yards all around me astonished me daily with wave after wave of bloom. If you followed me on Instagram in Spring 2018, you saw my enchantment in action—every day, photo after photo of some delightful combination of petal and leaf in a neighbor’s front yard. And, knowing Portland has many dazzling corners, I kept thinking: gotta get to the rhododendron garden, gotta get to the rose garden—but I was still recovering from radiation then (it takes a long while before you feel fully yourself after treatment), and “gotta gets” weren’t in the cards yet. Then one day it struck me: I live in a giant garden. This whole neighborhood. It’s all right here rolling out from my doorstep, free for the drinking-in, and not a morsel of work required on my part.
That realization hushed the gotta-gets right up, and ever since, I walk around this neighborhood (it’s called Roseway, for Pete’s sake) feeling like Mary Lennox. Everything’s wick and wonderful and surprising.
I met the neighbor who owns the lupine garden (oh I wish you could see her entire yard; there’s no lawn (my ideal); it’s all daisies and lupines and poppies, and one big peony in the middle) once last summer, during the hot months, when I was out for a nature walk with Huck and Rilla, and the neighbor (we didn’t exchange names, pity) was out front, weeding. I gushed over her lemon balm, which smelled heavenly, and she immediately grabbed a shovel and dug up a clump for me. Gardeners and sourdough bakers are the most generous folks around, always eager to shove some treasure into your hands. It helps, I suppose, when your treasures are things that multiply abundantly.
Sourdough: of course you know I had to restart my starter this spring, what with 80% of the internet obsessed with baking at the moment. I had a good one going two years ago but never seemed up to baking with it (see above re: low energy for a good long while post radiation) and eventually I let it go. Before that, I had years of sourdough starters on and off in San Diego and Virginia. Again: much more tending of the starter, not so much baking of bread. (Sourdough bread, that is. I baked honey wheat loaves almost daily at some points. Remember when I had a whole bread blog?)
This time around, I’m baking. Yesterday’s loaf wasn’t my best: the cooler weather? A wetter dough? I got a decent oven spring but the crumb was dense, not airy like I aim for. And I thought the loaf was just a tad undercooked. Which made for a hilarious moment when Rose told me this was my best sourdough bread yet: it’s the perfect texture, she said. Rilla emphatically agreed. They like a dense, moist loaf. Which means I can never go wrong! No matter how the bread turns out, someone in the house will think it’s perfect.
Which is how I feel about my neighbors’ gardens, all of them. What you’ve nurtured here: perfection. Any gaps or flaws you may perceive are invisible to me. All I see is your magic. Those purple irises against the lime-green euphorbia: inspired! Your lawn full of tiny blue forget-me-nots: a poem I’m learning by heart.
As I mentioned yesterday, I’m scooping things up from Facebook memories.
Feb 3, 2009 (A couple of weeks after Huck was born)
Just said goodbye to my parents (sniffle) and now I’m alone, possibly for the first time, with my OH MY GOODNESS six children.
Feb 4, 2009
Off to a busy start. Speech therapy, piano, Journey North. Nothing like diving right in!
Feb 3, 2010
This moment caught: 9yo sketching amaryllis, the 2 boys playing w/ trains. 11yo reading about B. Franklin. Teen reading Gulliver. 3yo sings.
Jan 27, 2013
Kids tearing through the room, shrieking, swords aloft, while Scott softly strums the ukelele, singing sweetly: I Wanna Be Sedated
Feb 4, 2013
Aw, how cool is this? The Journey North Mystery Class coordinator wrote me to say thanks for sending so many new families their way. Thanks to YOU guys for joining the fun! You know who you are.
Feb 3, 2014
In my statcounter this morning: search hits for “done with downton abbey” and “downton abbey season 4 not believable.”
Feb 3, 2014
Dear new lady in yoga today who said to me, “You’ll understand once you hit 30”: I LOVE YOU.
Feb 4, 2014
Sticky short film preview: “Exiled from the tropical paradise where they evolved, a tiny population of remarkable stick insects dodged extinction by hiding under a single windswept bush on the world’s tallest sea stack for 80 years. Thanks to a dedicated team of scientists they’re now living safely in captivity, but when can they go home?” (2020 note: I never did see the whole film. Must remember to look it up.)
Feb 3, 2017
In the car on the way to piano lessons, there’s a heavy sigh from the backseat.
Rilla: Sometimes…sometimes I just wish I were a mantis shrimp.
Feb 4, 2017
Just read the 2009 NYT obit for Eleanor Perenyi. Have decided that being remembered as a “writer and deliciously opinionated amateur gardener” is a worthy life goal. I’m sure I have a book of horticulture essays in me somewhere.
Feb 4, 2017
This one’s too long to paste: a detailed note about books I was reading/half-reading after two frenzied months of reading Cybils YA Fiction nominees. “Books I have read 1-3 chapters of since January 1st, most of which I do mean to finish eventually.” (Note to self: would be fun to do an update of this post. Which ones did I actually finish?)
I’m in a weird place right now where reading is concerned. I do this sometimes–read the beginnings of too many things and find it hard to settle down to finish something. I could have read three books in the time I’ve been pinballing between a dozen.
I try to be patient with myself when this mood hits, once or twice a year. It’s very common for me to rebound from Cybils reading this way—that fierce two-month drive to read a staggering volume of books. It’s compounded this year by—oh, let’s just say by many factors unique to 2017.
Feb 4, 2018
This one reminds me it’s time to visit Wilshire Park to see if these beauties are back in bloom. I’m guessing yes: we’ve got crocuses popping up all over the neighborhood.
The view out my studio window this morning. If you’re wondering whether I got any writing done, there’s your answer. I called Huck, my early bird, to see the spectacle and we stood at the kitchen door and just stared and stared. This undoctored iPhone photo doesn’t do it justice. All of Portland was agog—the Portland subred is one breathtaking pic after another today. Ditto the #portlandsunrise hashtag on Instagram.
Rilla’s a cloud spotter (The Cloud Collector’s Handbook is a favorite tome) but a late sleeper—oh the dilemma for a doting mom! I let her sleep. She said (considerably later in the morning) it was the right call. I’m counting on her to educate me about this type of cloud formation, though! We’d have jumped on it already, but I got wrapped up in an Instant Pot burn-error situation and morning ran away from me. (Aloo gobi, one of my favorite dishes. Three burn errors. But eventually an entirely scrumptious lunch, and plenty for later.)
We’re nearing the end of Moominland Midwinter and I’m going to miss it! We all laugh and laugh and laugh. At Little My, especially. Spring is coming back to Moominvalley, and it feels like that here, too, only we bypassed the months of snow and ice. So far. Ice could still happen. Hear that, all you trees bursting into premature bloom? You worry me! (As much as I love you.)
It’s crocus time here, right on schedule. Other bursts of bloom are unnervingly early—branches with pink blossoms, camellias going full throttle. I’ll have to look back at my photos from last year, but I’m pretty sure we didn’t get camellias until March or April. Late January is moss time. Gray skies and green walls. I love it.
That chartreuse just kills me! It’s getting to be the time of year when you don’t want to take a walk with me because I have to stop every six paces for a photo. Scott is very patient.
Funny tidbit yesterday: on Saturday the kids and I had walked down Klickitat Street (still a thrill), and yesterday Scott and I happened to take the same path. A few blocks from home, we noticed a black glove on a low stone wall belonging to a corner house. I stopped to look at the glove, and Scott thought I was taking an arty photo—a lone glove on the mossy wall. But no, what caught my eye was that it looked like my glove. I reached into my pockets—and sure enough, I was missing one. Thanks, kind neighbor, for finding it and leaving it where it caught my eye!
Would you like to hear this post read aloud? Allears has invited me to try their new voice recording studio for bloggers. I’d love to know what you think! (If the embedded audio player isn’t visible below this note, try this link.)
Most mornings I’m still sipping my first cup of caffeine when Huck rolls in for a snuggle in my writing chair. He’s markedly up-tempo at that time of day, and I’m still dragging. One way I manage the discrepancy in our states of alertness is to reach for a book of poems, which he’ll dive into eagerly and read aloud while my brain catches up to his speed. The Everyman’s Library Pocket Poets Haiku volume is a favorite and usually sparks some sweet discussion about the trees, the sky, the rain.
Today is a happy day,
Although Mt. Fuji is unseen.
That’s a pretty good one for a January day in Portland. For us it’s Mt. Hood and Mt. St. Helens, the latter of which we can glimpse in parts of our neighborhood on very clear days. When we catch sight of Mt. Hood, we’re usually in the car. “The mountain is out today!” someone will exclaim. Or: a delighted gasp and a cry of “Super Death Mountain!” which is what Scott and the kids call our local volcanoes. Third winter here and volcanoes are still a novelty for my gang.
Once a week Huck and Rilla attend classes at a co-op near the science center. Rilla has a free hour that we’ve been spending at the museum, a pretty giddy experience for both of us. We want every single thing in the gift shop. We spend long, absorbed minutes trying to solve brainteasers in one of the exhibits. We look out at the gray river in the rain and make plans for walks along its bank in the spring.
After Rilla heads to her classes, I have a chunk of time on my own—still as much of a novelty for me as those glimpses of volcanoes! Often I’ll have a work date at a café with my friend Shannon. On days she can’t make it, I walk to a nearby ramen shop for lunch and then take my laptop to the riverside cafe at the science center. I could eat there, but I really love ramen. I love the unavoidable single-tasking of eating it. You have your chopsticks in one hand for the noodles and the big spoon in the other hand for the broth, and that’s it, that’s all you can do—just eat this meal. No screens, no books even—you’d splash drops of broth all over the page if you tried. I sit where I can look out at the winter streets and watch people hurry or mosey past, and I imagine what David Sedaris would write about them in his diary. What Ross Gay would notice. What Joan Didion would see. Later, if I remember, I write down what I saw.
Not often, though—by the time co-op is over and I’ve driven back home, my mind has rushed on to the next thing, the next thing. This week we stopped at the bird shop for suet cakes. A flock of bush tits, tiny gray-brown things, swoops to our feeder every day for a feast. A female Northern flicker visits daily, and sometimes the male. Or maybe he comes every day too and I just haven’t caught the moment. We get downy woodpeckers and three chickadees and an occasional nuthatch, and of course lots of goldfinches and house finches. A pair of pine siskins. One sweet little Bewick’s wren. And sometimes a hermit thrush or two strides under the bare bushes, flinging leaf litter left and right in search of insects.
where a crow has settled
Another haiku from Basho, who wrote of being “astonished at the voices of mountain streams and wild birds.” Astonishment, yes. Every day, the world astonishes me.
I’ve found it suits me better not to announce or necessarily even plan my occasional breaks from social media, but rather to let them happen organically and reflect on them afterward. This one wasn’t a total break, since I did post snippets to IG Stories almost daily, and I spent a little more time on Twitter than usual. (Which still isn’t much. I have to take Twitter in carefully timed microdoses these days.) But for two weeks, no Instagram grid posts, no captions, no FB, no Bonny Glen, and I put my Patreon on pause for the month of August.
None of this (except the Patreon pause) was planned; I was just busy elsewhere. WB had surgery at the end of July (went well, good recovery); Jane moved home from California around the same time. This weekend we celebrated Rose’s 21st birthday. (!) In between: work, long walks, a book or two, lots of embroidery. A small party where I found ‘my’ karaoke song (i.e. one I can nail). Or maybe that was before the surgery; late July and early August melted into each other.
I took Holly Wren Spaulding’s free mini poetry challenge this past week and welcomed her infusion of gentle insight into my morning creative practice, a practice which continues to be the most satisfying and nourishing gift I can give myself: this quiet, screen-free dawn hour, alone with a few good poems, a notebook, a fresh pen. I spent a lot of time with Kimiko Hahn this summer—Mosquito and Ant; Toxic Flora; Narrow Road to the Interior. Also a lot of Japanese haiku in translation. Huck wakes during the end of my writing time and staggers sleepily into my studio to snuggle into the gray armchair with me, tucked under our poppy blanket. We read poems and watch the sky change. Even when I’m tired, it’s delicious.
I also spent a lot of time in the garden, enjoying the late-summer lushness! Hummingbirds in the hyssop; bees industrious in the fennel and coneflower. A few tiny strawberries, a handful of cherry tomatoes. Asters spangling the porch wall with blue stars. A strange crow with a coppery head raiding the suet feeder each morning. My neighbor’s asparagus bed now a forest: airy green treetops festooned with apple-red berries. An abundance of small noticings. A necessary quiet.
It’s Saturday morning and I’m lazing in bed, drinking cocoa and dipping lightly into social media, which I mostly ignored this week. Saturdays are the only mornings my alarm isn’t set for 5:45. I could sleep later on weekdays but my two boys get up around 6:45 and I really love having that quiet hour to read and write. I’m committed to the practice of poetry before screens, even if some days it’s a bit of a wrench to drag myself out of bed that early. This week was extra challenging because I take allergy medicine at bedtime, and its soporific effects last into the morning. Portland’s spring is spectacularly lovely but it also wants to kill me a little.
I could take the meds earlier but I’m equally time-greedy about my evenings. I try to use 7-9pm as another block for creative work, with a break in the middle to go tuck in my Huckleberry, for whom this is still an important ritual. (My last little kid, y’all…Rilla became a teenager this month. Can you believe it?) Then Scott and I watch an hour of TV, and then I read in bed for a while, where “read” means “hold my Kindle in front of unseeing eyes until Scott gently removes it from my hand.” Often I turn on the Kindle next morning to discover I highlighted random phrases as I dozed off, like:
tics. The simple action of sweeping
Norman was unaffected by her because
Uh, super helpful there, sleepy Lissa.
I learned last summer that as our Pacific Northwest evenings lengthen, I won’t be able to resist that magical golden-hour light, so the 7-9pm time block for creative work will give way to long walks, and I’ll have to find other ways to create room for playing with color and words. Of course in a way my whole day revolves around those activities: reading to and chatting with the kids, doing art projects together, working on various writing projects in the afternoons. But I’ve learned I need to give myself chunks of time for creative play that has no end-purpose—no deadlines, no expectations to meet. Lately I’ve been enjoying drawing houseplants—on index cards, mostly, because that’s the ultimate low-pressure canvas—or doing Procreate tutorials on the iPad. (I’m trying to catch up to Rilla and Beanie. Their Procreate skills far surpass mine.)
Not that I have any wish to hurry spring along! I could linger here for another three or four months. My bitterroot is just beginning to bloom, and the dogwoods are in full glory. I remember last May as a month full of swoons—the light, mostly, that miraculous glow illuminating the clouds every evening, turning the air blue and gold.
I may be getting carried away with photos—I have hundreds like this from last spring.
Some quick notes on things we read this past week:
—Began a readaloud of Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, a lovely novel by Grace Lin. I wrote a BraveWriter Arrow guide for this book last year; it was one of my favorites from the year’s lineup. I’ve been looking forward all year to enjoying it with Huck and Rilla.
—Continued our nostalgia-read of Brambly Hedge. It’s slow going because Rilla and I have to spend long minutes cooing over every tiny detail in the art.
—Rilla (my resident green thumb) and I have also spend loads of time poring over my treasured-since-college copy of Crockett’s Indoor Garden. Rilla has taken charge of the houseplant-watering schedule, which is marvelous since I’ve been…unreliable on that front these past two years. My goldfish plant is getting ready to bloom, we repotted the aeschynanthus, Rilla’s jade cutting, and a few other overcrowded treasures. Rilla has a small succulent collection that began with cuttings given to her by a neighbor whose cat she looked after for a week last summer, augmented by plants harvested from a beautiful succulent wreath my sister gave me for Christmas. And this week we inherited a large fennel volunteer that was taking over my friend Ron’s vegetable bed. Trying to decide whether to plant it in a pot or in the small raised garden bed out back. The latter was probably sundrenched when it was built, but now the neighbor’s magnolia is leaning over it, casting heavy shade over the bed for much of the day. Our fennel will probably prefer a spot on the sunny front steps.
My parents gave Rilla a big box of flower bulbs for her birthday (thirteen! did I mention?!)—dahlias, daylilies, glads, and I forget what else. So those will be going into pots this weekend. Luckily we inherited a dozen large clay pots from yet another neighbor who was clearing out her garage before a move. And a big bag of potting soil! Such riches!
My rosemary, thyme, sage, mint, and chives survived the winter. The basil, not so much. (Its demise was expected.) The potted blueberry has buds and there’s a nice fat poppy coming up where I planned to repot the dahlia tuber Ron gave me when we moved in. My yarrow is looking lush and the foxglove has gone bananas! No flower stalks yet but the leaves are huge and abundant. And my tulips, oh! I can’t get enough of them.
But I’m supposed to be writing booknotes here! Apart from things I enjoyed with the kids, I didn’t get much reading done this week—I had an unusual number of out-of-the-house events in the evenings. I’m enjoying Austin Kleon’s latest, though—Keep Going. Come to think of it, I read that one with the kids as well—they love his artwork.
I’m about halfway through Mike Monteiro’s Ruined By Design, which is thought-provoking and somewhat chilling.
The world is working exactly as designed.
The combustion engine which is destroying our planet’s atmosphere and rapidly making it inhospitable is working exactly as we designed it. Guns, which lead to so much death, work exactly as they’re designed to work. And every time we “improve” their design, they get better at killing….
Design is also a craft with a lot of blood on its hands. Every cigarette ad is on us. Every gun is on us. Every ballot that a voter cannot understand is on us. Every time social network’s interface allows a stalker to find their victim, that’s on us. The monsters we unleash into the world will carry your name.
This book will make you see that design is a political act. What we choose to design is a political act. Who we choose to work for is a political act. Who we choose to work with is a political act. And, most importantly, the people we’ve excluded from these decisions is the biggest (and stupidest) political act we’ve made as a society.
Fascinating and unsettling, and it feels like an important conversation for this moment in time.
Today I’m in the mood for some entertaining fiction—maybe another Terry Pratchett since I so enjoyed The Wee Free Men. My only highlight in the Kindle edition: “an egg’s worth of education.” I read it aloud to the kids so that fragment can’t have been the thunk of a sleeping hand on the screen. I guess I just liked the notion! (Tiffany barters eggs for knowledge when the scholars come to town.)
This week on Medium I shared a peek at how I used a Trello board to help with my novel revision. And squee—the most exciting moment of my week—my editor sent me the cover sketch for my new book and it’s fabulous! I can’t wait to share it. The artist is brilliant and the sketch just crackles with energy. I’m so happy. I think we’ll have final art for it quite soon. Of course the book doesn’t pub until summer 2020, but seeing the title in print makes it feel very real!
Happy last-weekend-in-April, my dears. I’d love to hear what you’re reading and planting!
My parents were here for Wonderboy’s spring break, and Portland greeted them with an explosion of bloom. Their visit overlapped with the Association of Writing Programs Conference (AWP), which meant I had friends in town and poets I love, and though I didn’t attend the conference proper I found time to slip away to a few offsite events and spent most of Saturday at the book fair, aka heaven. Cherry blossoms, daffodils, good company, blue skies, and poetry at every turn.
Now I’m collecting my thoughts for the final push on my novel revision (two more weeks!) and plugging away at other work. It’s challenging at this time of year. When I’m inside, I want to be outside. The grape hyacinths and euphorbia are in bloom, and camellia and hellebore, and tulips are beginning to open! And tulip magnolias in their glory. Focus, Lissa. Focus.
On Patreon this weekend, I wrote about my weekly meandering through various books of poems and artists’ journals in my morning poetry hour. It’s a while since I’ve explained my Patreon here, so a quick refresher: you can subscribe for as little as $1/month, which grants access to a weekly post about my reading and writing life (including sneak peeks at the book in progress, as it begins to move through the various stages of publishing). At the $3+ tier, you’re invited to join my weekly coffee hour, a casual, chatty, unrecorded Google Hangout where you can pop in and pick my brain about anything you like.
Tomorrow I’m off to Salem for a monthly meeting of folks in the intellectual and developmental disabilities supports community. And then on Wednesday: it’s back to high tide for Huck, Rilla, and me. Another milestone today: it was Beanie’s first day of school—and college! Bean and Rose are taking an oceanography class together. We have a few more months before Beanie officially graduates from our homeschool, and then—gulp—I’ll be down to just two students here in Bonny Glen Academy. Talk about the tides!