newleafsite

"Only connect."


8 Comments

Emerson’s Weeds

It’s upon us, this part of summer, when much of the show is over, many of the brightly colored flowers have bloomed and faded, and the heat, sinking through our flesh right down to bone, makes us feel faded, too. If we counted on foliage instead of flowers, we can still gaze with confidence at the leaves that persevere, patterned or simply straightforward in their chosen shades of green, even in this part of summer growing, heightening, spreading.

If the year has been dry, many lawns have browned by now, though the one outside my window, filled with native plants (that some call weeds) remains calmly verdant. “A weed is a plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered,” Emerson wrote; and I enjoy the virtue of these plants that have taken over from grass, keeping the lawn soft underfoot.

But today it’s another plant whose virtue I am especially admiring: the blue mistflower. Mistflowers flourish in the Appalachias, as well as throughout the Appalachia-adjacent South and Mid-Atlantic. They enter one’s garden world like a weed and spread like a weed, but the only state that seems to consider blue mistflower a weed is Kentucky. The rest of us are at the ready, particularly now, with full appreciation. Their foliage appeared, tiny but numerous and sudden, much earlier in the season. And so, too, their music began for me – faintly at first, but persistent, and continuing throughout the summer; inside my head it sounds like Sonnerie de Ste-Geneviève du Mont-de-Paris by Marin Marais.

When mistflowers first announced themselves in my world, I tried them under various conditions, from sunny to deep shade, and with several partners or groups. They were unknown to me then; in fact no one around here knew them or even their name. I soon learned that their nature is to spread, even take over, so it might be said they don’t play well with others – they go their own way and make a brave show. That’s where their character shines: they don’t care where they are, they do just fine, thank you. Unpleasant soil that fussier plants reject, even the truly evil spot which I suspect has construction dust mixed into it, suits the mistflowers just fine. They grow lush, and tall, multi-layered, rich plants full of pointed leaves and clouds of lavender-blue. So glorious in their garden beds that a neighbor’s drive home includes a ritual detour through my neck of the woods to stop at just the perfect vantage point and spend a few moments gazing at the bed that’s visible from the street.

Not an artist, I am grateful that they design, paint and arrange themselves. Their self-arrangement is musical to me in its repetition and swelling, and I am doubly bathed in loveliness. Vigil is kept throughout the summer until their bloom time, and this is a part of the pleasure. Bringing it back around to Emerson, “Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience.” The blue mistflowers, repeating and swelling, filling the garden and the eye, are cause enough for quiet celebration every year about this time. In my little corner of the world, it could be argued that it doesn’t get better than this.


6 Comments

Open Season On Jabberwocks!

On July 4, 1862, a delightful part of our childhood took life. Charles Dodgson, better-known by his pen name Lewis Carroll, embarked on a boat trip with a party that included the real-life Alice Liddell, who inspired a story he told on the boat – the story that was published in 1865 as “Alice in Wonderland.” It was followed in 1869 by “Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There.” Carroll’s stories and characters have been part of childhood ever since, inspiring flights of fancy, and adding whimsy to our vocabulary.

On this anniversary of the inception, a celebratory entertainment: the imaginative rendering of “Jabberwocky” from “Through the Looking-Glass,” by actor-mime David Zucker! Enjoy, then don a mad hat, and invite a dormouse to tea!


7 Comments

Poems (Layer) Garden (Layer) Woman

“Heaven’s Virginia when the year’s at its Spring,” Anne Spencer wrote in her poem on Browning. Reading the recent post, “Spring and All” (http://prufrocksdilemma.wordpress.com/2013/04/22/spring-and-all/) in Prufrock’s Dilemma, I thought about Spencer. Spring and gardens and flowers always bring her poems to mind, like the evocative phrase in “Lines to a Nasturtium”:

“Day-torch, Flame-flower, cool-hot Beauty . . .”

I thought about Spencer, reading Susan Scheid’s post, because Susan provides thoughts and images about spring. She also features photography of Valerie Belin: “piled-up negatives made people’s faces into gardens.” And that took me right into Anne Spencer, through, and out the other side.

We know that she was many things – woman, wife, mother, poet, gardener, teacher and librarian, more. She wrote in a cottage built for her by her husband, where she could work in quiet, surrounded by her garden. I always thought of her like that, surrounded by the garden she planted. But contemplating the images created by Belin, and Susan’s description of them, has added dimension to my understanding of Spencer. My imagining had kept her, with her poetry, next to the many facets of her life. Now I have learned a deeper way of seeing her – she was a stack of transparencies: poems(layer)garden(layer)woman. She was no more separate from her garden than Belin’s women are separate from the flowers overlaid on them. So I can drink in a much better reading of this famous poem:

[Earth, I thank you]
Earth, I thank you
for the pleasure of your language
You’ve had a hard time
bringing it to me
from the ground
to grunt thru the noun
To all the way
Feeling seeing smelling touching
—awareness
I am here!


2 Comments

Meditating With Agnes Martin

Over on Prufrock’s Dilemma’s Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/?sk=welcome#!/pages/Prufrocks-Dilemma/292303424216900), Susan Scheid shares this link:

“Junior Fellow Grace Ambrose invited 50 current and ex-Philadelphians to write about an object of their choice from the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Taking shape as an edition of 50 postcards, the writings will comprise an alternate history and guide to the museum’s holdings, seen through the eyes of the artists, writers, musicians, and friends who live alongside them.”

As an enthusiastic follower of her blog, I have hopes that Susan will write her own response to the invitation. And, after mulling over the subject for a while, it has occurred to me that I might even try my own. Having considered the museum’s vast collection, and a small selection of personal favorites, I decided to begin from the other end and work my way back. This is a practice begun with a fellow student while in high school. We disagreed about a certain artist whose paintings she admired but I thought worthless. I appreciated her intellect and wit and decided to challenge her to write a short essay criticizing his work; I would oppose her and write his praises. She seemed doubtful at first but accepted the duel, and it turned out to be a lot of fun.

Returning to PMA, I thought I would try the old approach and begin with art that decidedly did not appeal to me. And that took me to minimalist Agnes Martin’s painting “The Rose.” This is supposed to fit on a postcard, so I’ll try to write small.

First, there is an outside. Then there is an inside. From the outside, especially from sitting at a distance, the painting is apparently just a soft pink canvas. Anyone could paint it; it is pointless. You have to walk up to it, view it intimately, let your mind climb inside of it, and then go sit down again. Now you have learned that this is one of Martin’s grid paintings, a graphite grid echoed by a rose-colored grid. Viewing close up, you see the delicate lines; but start pulling back a little, and the grids begin to float. By the time you have seated yourself again to gaze from a distance, you see the pink glow of the whole six-foot square painting, and now you realize that you, yourself, have been drawn into it. When we see a rose, we automatically lean to inhale its fragrance. The scent distracts us from even the most beautiful vision of rose. Martin’s painting is the essential journey into the rose, on the molecular level where the rose, and you, begin losing your edges and become one. You’ll want a chair or a cushion, because this is meditation.

Perfectly enhancing this experience, for me, is Yo Yo Ma’s performance of Bach’s Cello Suite No. 1. One is fully absorbed, immediately, into the music, as mesmerizing as a chant, and sustained in the space of it long after the musician has put down his bow:

I invite anyone who reads this to add your own response to Grace Ambrose’s invitation, and post it on my Facebook page(https://www.facebook.com/?sk=welcome#!/elizabeth.newleaf?fref=ts). Can’t visit the Museum on the physical plane? They have a big website!


2 Comments

Rumi’s Wolf

Last summer, when an unexpected event devastated my life, I woke suddenly into a world, much of which had little or nothing to do with me. Things to handle, sort through, get rid of. I knew I had to reduce chaos and clutter to a quiet level and make the world I would continue in simple, peaceful.

A friend from the other end of the country began a series of calls wanting to come spend time with me, asking how she could help me, offering to help in whatever ways I needed. We have known each other all our lives, and her voice and words bolstered me. I knew just the kind of help I needed from her, a kind she was just the right sort of person, maybe the best person, to give me. I also knew that timing is everything, and that I had to be prepared emotionally and otherwise for that type of help. Finally, she forced the issue, stating that her calendar would be too full if she didn’t come during the time least busy for her – which meant soon. I accepted gratefully, but nervously. But she reassured me that she would come and take over and handle all the overwhelming details. And I felt taken care of.

And so she arrived, with a round-trip ticket that could not be altered: the timing was fixed. And what began as the flight’s effect of jetlag and scratchy throat soon turned into full blown illness. My friend was sick, sleep all night and most of the day sick, medicine sick. I accepted early on that she was not there to take care of me, after all: I was supposed to take care of her. So I did. Nothing on my to-do list could be done. We visited when we could, remembered old days and nearly forgotten people. She could eat, so I cooked. She asked for a hair trimming, and I trimmed. And all the while, I reminded myself continuously of Rumi’s words:

“Quit acting like a wolf, and feel the shepherd’s love filling you.”

I don’t know what fate brought my friend here to get so sick that, despite the best intentions, she could not stay awake long enough to help me the way she wanted to. I just know that this was the gift I was given: I got the chance to stop wishing, expecting, taking; I got the chance to act for a little while like a shepherd. I know that I was blessed.

Thinking about this experience, the image of sunflowers kept coming to me. They survive even untended, faces turned to the sun, absorbing the light and available rain. The art corner of my brain searched for a painting to join my words, and I thought of Van Gogh. But his sunflowers are such a fanfare. And then I remembered Mrs. Delany and her paper mosaic art. She has a single sunflower that stands alone and dutiful as a flag, looking just-plucked, asking nothing, sharing itself, readying seeds that feed the birds and prepare for next year’s crop.


Leave a comment

Beauty Found Me

Beauty found me this week. I do not look for it, as it is everywhere. But it is not all for me, especially. So I don’t look for beauty: I wait until it finds me.

There is loveliness in grey days, certainly; the sun doesn’t have to be shining, in order to see the trees in winter silhouette. So it was not in a high mood, but in at least an even one that I strolled through the yard on the way to the compost pile in the far bottom corner. I was not on a garden ramble, for there is no garden interest now, particularly. And yet .. I felt the plants looking at me, those that are evergreen or just beginning to hint at their return. If I spoke “plant,” I imagined they would be wondering whether I would notice them now, without bushy foliage or flowers.

And then they caught me: there they were in the middle of the lawn, three wild ferns, an inch tall at most, having outlived the mowings of last year and grown enough to attract notice (knowing by experience that I would mark them with sticks and transplant them to safety when it’s warm enough). And so, my even mood elevated itself, and in a corner of my mind I joined the tiny ferns in forward-looking. When they’re in a garden bed, it is amazing how big they can grow!

Spring birds returning
Even in March winds,
Seedlings emerge


Leave a comment

Dance of carrots

You awaken early, and you’re the only one up
Into the kitchen
Coffee
And you lean against the sink and watch darkness turning into light-
On the window sill, in a shallow dish of water, carrot ends,
Trimmed by the seller of their ragged greens,
Patiently growing new leaves –
“Carrot lettuce” they’re called
They will grow a few inches long and add spicy crispness to salads…

It doesn’t end, the darkness, only waiting beyond the light until the quiet of evening eases back in. And as for the carrots, they too refuse to end, beginning again and again, until you have harvested as many leaves as they care to present, and the little disks of orange sun soften and return to separate liquid cells.