An Autumn Field Report

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My life feels like it’s on fire right now—but my house looks like it thanks to the annual display put on by the Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia).
While my life takes off, I’m too busy to even sit and consider what’ll happen to me now if I swell up. It took me a long time, and it took a lot of searching and self-acceptance, but finally, I seem to have a professional life and a work schedule I not only can manage, but I’ve set myself up to succeed and it feels so much better.

The garden is no longer neglected. In my mind, it’s on hold. It’s slowly starting up again (really coming to life for the first time) and I’m introducing John to it little by little.

His first unique seed experience was this ‘Cruel’ vine seed head (Araujia sericifera). It’s the only one produced by this non-hardy vine that has survived a few too many winters here in Oregon. I grew if from seed. To see it set seed after several years is very exciting to me.

The vine is in front of the house and isn’t really that special. It chokes out all that gets in its way and I was getting tired of its unneighborly behavior. Then it bloomed rows of small, pretty white fragrant flowers and my dislike (aka hatred) for the plant relented.

I am a proud mama now. I can’t kill my baby. I’ve got to collect its seeds!

The small autumn-blooming Camellia ‘Silver Dollar’ is currently bursting with blooms. I appreciate and admire its restraint and grace. So many of the other garden plants are dressed up like painted ladies this time of year. I love the little touch of class this plant offers my eyes.

The Amsonia I grew from seed a few years ago is looking beautiful next to this Plumbago (Ceratostigma plumbaginoides)—speaking of painted ladies!

Life in the house and garden is changing though. Our family has changed and I’m working more and more outside of the house now.

Maurice the Cat is ever the trooper and despite his age, arthritic pain, and weight problem, he’s soldiering on and has enjoyed every last bit of sunshine he can grasp in his polydactyl paws.

Cats do not like change and only now are they trusting that their lives are not being tossed hither and thither.

The leaves are changing and falling. The air is crisp and tonight we may have some frosty temps in the Portland metro area.

It’s a beautiful time of the year and I’m preparing again to participate in NaNoWriMo.

I’m writing a novel again in November—but unlike last year—this story is fully cooked and ready to go. I am also preparing to write many other things. Actually, I’m already doing so. It’s time. I am well enough now.

There is still some physical recovery to do. A decade of illness is not easy to repair. I need to lose more weight. My blood pressure and heart need a break. I’ve lost a lot of weight and have continued to regain and build muscle but my body needs to be leaner and meaner. I am caring for me now and it feels good too.

I will do all of these things that I’ve set out to do now. That’s what I do. That’s what I’ve always done. It’s good to be me again.

I’m working as a caregiver now, and I work all kinds of odd shifts with the elderly and those in hospice.

Illness has prepared me for this and I’m comfortable and confident with what I’m doing.

It’s not a forever job, but for now, I’m enjoying the pleasure of working hard and the opportunity of getting to know new and interesting people.

They’ve lived different lives than mine and we honor and respect one another as we work through basic daily tasks that have become increasingly more difficult for the clients. The adjustment has not been easy for me, but it’s improving. I know what I’m doing and I know that I can help them.

It feels good.

This autumn we’ve talked a lot about eventually buying a place in the country near the ocean. I’ve thought about the garden it would have and what palate of plants I would pick. This is another project I’m working on right now.

I’ve never really designed a  project like this, but oddly, I’m ready and willing to accept the challenge.

This has led to me thinking a lot about my own design aesthetic. I never knew I had one but it runs through almost everything I do. It ties into the novel writing, so I’m a happily contained little mind now. Inside I am germinating.

There have been many meals and many recipes recently. John has been cooking new things, learning new techniques in the kitchen, and he’s been shopping at farmer’s markets. As for me, I’m in love with my Cauliflower (Brassica) ‘Minaret’. Yes, I’ve been cooking too, but I’ve been enjoying all of John’s food more. I’m proud of him. He’s a great cook.

For me, food has become another job. This is a good thing—literally, a job! I’m still kind of in shock this even happened, but it did.

So, it’s exciting to announce this publicly. Here goes: I’ve been hired to work as a ghost blogger for a food blogger. That is all I can say, since I am obviously a ghost blogger, but to say that the experience is thrilling is an understatement. I want to be a paid writer. I crave it. I need it. I would like to continue working as an editor too. With this opportunity, I will be able to do both of these things.

And from here it will only get better…

Lastly, I’ve returned to arranging flowers and that’s been good for me during the times when I still feel chronic pain from either swelling or injuries I sustained years ago. I’m arranging plant material weekly in an effort to relieve stress and to be creative. It gets my juices flowing and it gives me a problem to solve. I relish that kind of thing.

The whole process brings a kind of value to my life that’s irreplaceable.

It’s still cleanup time in the garden—my garden: I’m still blogging, there are seeds to sow, I see a future garden to begin designing, and there are many words in the air. My mind has been swept and it is still a bit shady in there, but I see leaks of light and the words are in lines now that float and I can grasp their syntax.

Someday I will describe the mind of chronic pain to show how dull and slow it can become and how one can lose so many words. The feelings and thoughts were all inside of me but I couldn’t get them out. I struggled. I was inarticulate for so many years.

It is difficult when the words come to me quickly now. I still feel as though I’m sitting behind the wheel of a fast car as the words pour out. I know that I am not yet as suave as I once was though, I’m rough, I repeat a lot. I could use better words—and I will.

But I will use them for my novel and it will have a garden and it will have plants and there will be so many other wonderful things. My many layers are peeling away now and as winter comes low over the horizon from the cold north I will let the chilling winds lay bare that which I want so badly to articulate but have yet been unable to do so.

To Chelsea on Her 21st Birthday

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Chelsea is my eldest niece and she loves nature.
Me, well, I love this kid—and the other two girls too.
Before I had a garden to help me bury the pains caused by a rare illness, I found a lot of happiness and joy in these three beautiful creatures.
These 3 are a creative triple threat, but most of the time, they just “are”.
We’ve seen many of the wonders of the Pacific Northwest together, and as a child, she and her younger sister Lindsey and their best friend Emily went all over the place with me—looking at plants, and other stuff.
You know, just normal nature stuff like this.
If I never have a child, it’s ok since I’ve always had Chelsea.
And she likes to think she’s my only child.
 And when I see pictures like this I know we are related to one another.
 We’ve always got Emily too.
 Chelsea has taken our relationship quite seriously for many years.
 Sometimes, she reminds me a lot of my dad.
I guess that’s where our quirks originated.
My brother (her dad) is pretty goofy too.
 She likes animation. I used to watch a lot of it with her. I guess I taught her to value certain things in life too.
 I think she’s a bit more colorful than I am at times, but that’s not an issue. She is her own garden.
At heart she loves animals and nature.
When I graduated from college I was so proud she was there to see me succeed.
My friend Brendan, the guy with his eyes shut, well he later acted as college art instructor to the young woman who became Chelsea’s high school art instructor.
I am happy she grew up around art. I sure wish I had! Although I wish Chelsea was making more art right now. She is a very talented artist.
She grew up around plants too and this image is from a Seattle trip to attend the Northwest Flower & Garden Show. (Sorry about the quality of this photo. It was rescued.)
Here first tattoo was of the much more common orange California poppy.
Taking the girls on road trips to CA was a great deal of fun for me.
And here we have Emily and Chelsea again. They were helping me to load pavers into the wagon after a friend our family had passed away. We wanted to use the pavers in my garden.
So often when I see the beauty in the small details of flowers I think of Chelsea. She sees even more beauty in the world than I. Too often my brain and words get in my way.

As girls, both Chelsea and her sister Lindsey liked to be a bit different.

Of course I encouraged this kind of thing.

When I worked at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Gordon House it was wonderful to see them all during visits. They were just kids and they enjoyed the house and absorbed its design.
I am not so sure they liked his Marin County building as much, but they saw it.
Chelsea loves her little sister Lindsey and I think this is one of my favorite pictures I’ve ever taken of her.
Emily is a bird of a different feather. That’s why we love her so much.
Like any aunt I prefer to think of them like this—tiptoeing through the tulips.
Of course Chelsea had to shock us all a bit—especially her little sister.

Not having had sisters it was a blessing to watch these little women grow.

They opened up a whole new world to me and I needed it.

Chelsea will always be “so metal” when she rakes.
She will always be a garden design sceptic.
Happy Birthday Chelsea.
Happy Birthday.

Happy. Happy.
Birthday.

Someday all three of you will be gardeners and I know it. It is in your blood on both sides. So get out there and keep doing what you do until you land and dig deeper to set down your own roots. Whatever you do, it will be beautiful like you.

Ode to the Japanese Maple in the Back Garden during Autumn

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When the house was first purchased, not long after my Wasband and I married in April of 2004, my mother purchased this weeping Japanese Maple for us from a nursery out in Clackamas County.
If you know anything about the nursery trade in Oregon, there are certain plants or trees which are raised like puppies in puppy mills and the Japanese Maple is one of them.
When Mom found the poor thing after it had been mistreated rather badly and the trunk was very deformed. [If you look very closely at the very bottom of this photo (above) you will see a sort of ledge where the innocent little thing was choked.] She was able to buy it, and another, at a great deep discount.
During the worst of times, pruning this thing became a form of meditation for me. I love nothing more than pruning weeping Japanese Maples. It’s a thing I have for making them weep I guess because the key is to let them drape and flow like waterfalls.
Do not think that I am an expert on this subject though because this one hasn’t been shaped up for awhile.
There was a beastly vine too who chocked out a section in the back and it still hasn’t grown back in just yet.

Of the few Japanese maples I have left in the garden now it is by far my favorite at this time of the year because of its bright color.

Behold! An Artist’s Studio has Grown in the Garden

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For the last month I’ve been working very hard to make this studio possible for a good friend of mine. Years ago when I first moved into this house I’d wanted this space very badly to be a writing studio. After I went through that phase, I’d hoped to clean it out and use it for my Etsy businesses, but like many things in life, it just didn’t quite work out as I’d hoped.

I can say now (with complete certainty) that cleaning out that space taught me a great deal about myself and my divorce. In each and every object I could see and feel a memory or two and I’d find myself taking mental steps backwards, revisiting these memories, going deeper into my former life, and this allowed me to review repeatedly both my own unhappiness and the many arguments which had occurred.
This was an incredible experience to say the least, and in a strange way, I’m very happy it took place.
Mona—the youngest of the 3 black cats—trying her hardest to remain as feral as possible until she can no longer take the wet cold. At that point she’ll move into the basement to remain toasty warm all winter.
The garage/studio is now free of all of those objects and I’m free of their bad memories. The process truly had me working through some intense emotions and for weeks I was physically exhausted by that process. I’m finished with that for now—except for some ongoing trash removal—but otherwise, I’ve found a great deal of closure.

Begonia hemsleyana from Cistus Nursery.

For the first time in months, I finally feel like I’m getting closer to my new life and this is an exciting time for me. I’ve turned the corner and have finally moved past the chaos and am back outside again in the garden.

Rhododendron sinogrande amongst little friends.
I enter there and find that my garden sanctuary is now covered in mysterious autumn mists with a sprinkling of yellow and red leaves that are lifted and spun around by the crisp, sharp winds that punctuate the rays of tilted October sunbeams.

.Aspidistra elatior.

Often these brisk breezes take me completely by surprise—especially when I am somewhere in the shade.

Great creeping Coleus that I hope to overwinter indoors as a houseplant. Why not!

It has always amazed me how differently I feel about the shade at this time of the year. Whereas it was my friend just a few weeks ago, now it’s become the dark alley I don’t want to be caught in for fear of some unknown impending danger. (OK, for me that might just be some foot cramps and purple fingers but those can be at least a tiny bit irritating.)

Hardy Cylamen.

During the last few weeks of summer I allowed myself to fully enjoy my back garden with many friends—both new and old. I’d never done this before and will always remember the late night conversations drinking wine beneath the stars. Like many other gardeners I’d made the space to be lived in, to be enjoyed, to laugh in, and to grow in—that finally happened for me, so now, as I move on (and possibly away from here), I can do so knowing I grew in this place.

That is what is important to me. I grew. They grew. My friends and I all grew together. It may take a village to raise a child, but I think that growing together as a group of individuals makes something much more vibrant and alive—much like a natural ecosystem. We all have our part to play and are necessary to one another.
I grew as a woman and as a person in my garden this year and it’s thanks to the plants I planted which supported us all as people searching out in the dark for meaning and substance.

Lithops. 

Soon I will be posting more about the houseplants as they move indoors again.

As always, I’m returning more and more to my peacock sense of fashion.

Virginia Creeper, (Parthenocissus quinquefolia).

And this peacock gardener is enjoying the riot of autumn colors before they’re gone. Sure, not everyone is a huge fan of Virginia Creeper but it does provide the most amazing fireworks-like finale in the garden.

I often sit out in the cold now with the little cat and she takes it all in with me.

The hummingbirds talk to us, and I am happy to have them since they also look at me through the back window in my music/plant/writing room on the mornings when I sit down to write.

More on my own creative indoor studio next time…

(And yes, more to come on indoor plant labor-i-tories soon!)

Silver Falls State Park: Returning to the Wilderness

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Yesterday, for the first time in over a decade, I returned to the Oregon woods by going for an 8-mile hike in Silver Falls State Park. It was my first significant long-distance hike in a long time and it went so well that I’m excited to think I’ll be able to delve deeper into more remote areas of my region as time goes on and my health and strength continue to improve. I very much want to re-enter the wilderness areas that so captivated and inspired me as a young girl to become the free spirit I am today.

North Falls, part of the Trail of Ten Falls.
When I became seriously ill, the first thing I reached for was plant-life. Gardening was for me my way out of an excruciatingly painful situation that destroyed me. Once I finally had accepted that I’d lost my fight and had to live with what was chronically (daily) occurring inside of my own body I had to let go of many things I held near and dear to my heart. In just a single plant I saw the freedom of the wilderness I was raised to believe in as both an Oregonian and descendant of many pioneers. Gardening then continued to help me as I rebuilt and grew back to who I am today.
So, yesterday I drove far away from my garden (the place that has been my safety zone for so long), and I went back to feel the source that bound me together during the most difficult period of my life. As my senses took it all in, that sensation of being calm and at home took over. I walked right in the front door and didn’t look back until I was finished and it was time to return to Portland.
(Following are some of the 10 waterfalls from the Trail of Ten Falls and some native plants too.)

South Falls.
Lower South Falls.
Vine Maple (Acer circinatum).
Western Maidenhair Fern, (Adiantum aleuticum).
Vine maples in the woods in autumn.
Piggy-back Plant, (Tolmiea menziesii).
Lower North Falls.
Double Falls.
Middle North Falls.
(Not one of the named falls. Just a bonus.)
North Falls.
North Falls with native Licorice Ferns (Polypodium glycyrrhiza).
Rattlesnake Plantain—a native orchid of the PNW, (Goodyera oblongifolia).

È arrivato l’autunno! And darkness is falling…

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Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) from the bedroom window.

Due to my seed collecting and my husband’s grape harvesting, bottling, and pressing, for us autumn is when we return to our roots. It’s when I begin to feel like cooking again and it’s when I return to my Catholic past. From now until Easter we’ll cover all of the holidays with food and friends. Once Easter hits though it’s back to the “fields” for both of us. (I still have 4 weeks though before Mr B returns home for winter from California. That’s when the kitchen really gets going!)

Burst of gold from the bedroom window. That’s our old garage behind the house and beside it is our overgrown willow  arbor. (This is what happens when you break your pruning fingers.)

This year I will be making one last road trip to the San Francisco Bay area and I will be taking everyone along with me again. Believe it or not blogging along the way makes the traveling a bit less lonely. And trust me, the Redwoods in the rain and fog can be very scary even for this girl from the heavily forested Pacific Northwest.

Looking into the heart of the Cyclamen.

Before I leave I still have so much work to do and that’s why my blogging has been a bit slow. At least the Ikebana work has been picking up thanks to my enrollment in a course. My teacher is a wonderful woman I met over 20 years ago when I worked with her husband as an ESL helper for Japanese exchange students. He is also a much loved Buddhist minister and it was such an honor to me that he came to our class solely to say “Hello” to me on my first day. I am still smiling about that! Glowing really.

Perennial Impatiens arguta.

Autumn has had a few surprised for me in the garden too. With the onslaught of a lot of rain, my perennial Impatiens has gone crazy with bloom after bloom. It is so beautiful to see such delicate jewels just before it’s the end of the season. The lilac is so unlike so many of the other fall colors but I don’t mind a bit.

I couldn’t help but chuckle a bit when this box arrived on my doorstep. It’s full of dried plant material for crafts, as well as heat sealable teabags and dried kelp for making compost teabags.

There are all of the last minute craft projects too that I have been planning for my shop. Some are things I have always wanted to sew, like sachet bags, and some are new ideas, like bath time teabags with fresh local dried hops and honeycomb extract from France. Sounds tasty too, right?

Dried Praying mantis.

Autumn is also the time we have to say goodbye to things we find beautiful until the next season, and when I found this amazing specimen dried between my exterior and interior window today, it saddened me and I felt a little tear well up in my eye, but there will be more Praying mantis bugs in my garden next year. Until then, it’s a little bit of feasting around these parts…

Ogghiu di ‘n summa, vinu di ‘mmenzu e meli di ‘n funnu.
“The choice oil is from the surface, the best wine is from the middle,
and the best honey is from the bottom.”—Sicilian saying

(I tend to practice my Italian this time of year too by singing a lot out of boredom so here’s a little Italian pop music courtesy of my favorite Italian singer Jovanotti. The first one is a corny love song, the second is a classic funny song about love, and then the last one is s new “magic happy” song I am kind of really into right now and the foster kids seem to love it because it’s bouncy: Baciami Ancora, Bella & La notte dei desideri).