O-Bon, the Spirit Festival at the Portland Japanese Garden

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One of the key reasons I annually renew my membership to the Portland Japanese Garden is so that I can attend this members only event each August. During this time of year in Japan, for 3 days each summer, there is a spirit festival which is considered a homecoming of sorts to welcome back the spirits of ancestors into your home and life. Ever since my first visit to this festival, back when I was still a teenager, the Rev. Kodachi has led the Buddhist ceremony. I am honored to know both he and his wife. (I used to work with Mr. Kodachi during the summer for a week-long Japanese exchange program he created and Mrs. Kodachi just so happens to be my ikebana sensei.)

Before the ceremony, guests gather for Bon Odori. Of the 3 dances performed last night, this is the one I’m most familiar with since I learned it years ago. It is the dance of the Tankō Bushi or “coal mining song.”
Guests enter the garden after the performance, and as the Rev. Kodachi chants, we are handed candles that are later lit and are floated on the pond en masse.
Guests continue on and gather on the Moon Bridge. They can be seen to the left.
Sadly my Grandmother Virginia’s name was not read, but when my candle was sent out, I thought a lot about her.
To my great surprise, for the first time, I heard much more weeping around me from the other guests and it made me smile.
I looked up at the night sky through the pine needles above and I thought about how she and I used to cry together so often. This would make us turn to laughing eventually and giggling about being such sensitive women. Grandma called us crybabies and she used to apologize that I’d inherited her traits but I’d comfort her by telling her that my sensitivity made me strong by making me vulnerable and honest.
We both knew we had the horrible fate of being born with the hearts and souls of poetesses. Those around us did not understand this, and in my case, they still don’t, but it’s ok. Grandma feared others really knowing her, and knowing this weakness she had, but I am so proud she gave it to me too and I thanked her last night since it’s what has made my life so unique and special. She gave me my heart and soul. This is a beautiful thing to give a woman and I am grateful above all else to her.

The alter.

After the event was over, I spent additional time speaking with the Rev. Kodachi, Mrs. Kodachi, and their son—whom I haven’t seen in years. I met two of their granddaughters and I was filled with that happiness I so often have when I see small little women. We spoke of my divorce, my health, my plans for the future, and then I promised to return to ikebana classes next month.

I have my spirit back now and I very much look forward to moving on in my floral arranging studies. Ikebana is my art form and poetry and I really hope to keep doing it for many years to come.

The lights collecting, reflecting in the water, the koi sleep beneath.

Imbued with the Spirit and Strength of Nature

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It has been at least a month since I’ve written anything substantial about gardening or plants here on my blog. Funny to have been so silent, but I’ve been rediscovering so many things about who I am, and I think it’s safe to say, I have been growing a great deal.

Some days I feel like that vine that ate the garage last summer. I’m blooming and blooming and I just cannot stop growing and reaching for the sunshine.

Lan Su Chinese Garden in downtown Portland, OR. I introduced some amazing new friends from Paris to this Stumptown gem last month.

Much of what’s been happening has also felt a lot like suturing a wide open wound. Long ago I forgot where I was going, even where I wanted to go. I only recently realized that most of my adult life has been based solely on what I was able to do within many physical and personal limitations. I hated it.

Pomegranate bloom at Lan Su Chinese Garden.
I am free of those restraints now for the first time in my adult life, and the rediscovery of myself has been a very complicated process. It wouldn’t have been possible either without all of the friends who’ve come back to help me with all of their love, support and feedback. Many of them had mourned the loss of who I’d been for very long and I cannot explain how amazing it is to see their excitement and emotion right now.
This Yucca filamentosa aka Adam’s Needle is one of the first plants I ever germinated. It was important for me to really enjoy its blooms this year.

Ever since I can remember my life has been imbued with a love and interest in nature and plants. Embracing this part of myself has been a big part of my recent activities as I’ve sought out many different kinds of activities beyond the garden gate. It is difficult to describe how these activities have been guided, but that’s because it’s been a day-to-day thing.

Streamers from an outdoor concert I attended in Portland with my cousin.

I have been enjoying every moment and feeling everyday and the sensations from both all feel like gifts now as I try to enjoy as many different kinds of activities as I am able to outdoors and with friends or family. After having spent so many summers indoors, unable to walk much, this is a huge change for me.

I am remembering what it feels like to filter and feel things other than the pain I felt for so many years from the swelling and discomfort my condition caused. I am such a sensation seeker and I have been loving all the things I’ve been feeling and sensing again.

May Pole ribbons from the Finnish American Folk Festival of Naselle, WA.

I also still see plants everywhere.

The finished piece—and yes, this is what a summer sky can look like in the Pacific Northwest.

Even when I’m enjoying other things I still see their meaning and importance all around me in different communities and groups. I take note of how others care about the plants where they live. It still fascinates me to see the nostalgia we attach to things we cannot control.

I have also committed myself to seeing and doing other things too. That’s why I haven’t been here too much recently. I am expanding growth in every direction right now.

I am growing to retrain myself.

I will prune what I need to again later.

I felt trapped in a corner too for a long time. I think we have all had this feeling.

Plants are still at my center.

I still adore clipped shrubs very much—especially when so much depends upon the white cat beside them.

I say this as I still see myself overlapping my love of art history and design with plant life more and more. I am imbuing meaning and emotions into so many things when I touch them—even when it’s just a snapshot.

Driftwood at the Washington Coast.

Then there is the ineffable experience of my region and its natural beauty and I have been re-experiencing my place here recently probably more than anything else. It creates a sacred feeling for me and it is silent. Everything about who I am springs from this place deep inside of me and the silence brings me much peace and calm.

A typical coastal salmon river in the Pacific Northwest.

I am not well-rested yet, but I am working on it. Since I have at least 10 years to catch up on it might take me awhile to feel more calm, collected and self-possesed.

My father and I as I channel my own inner Jacques Cousteau.

Spending time near water has been a high priority for me. I miss spending time in boats and this is something I plan to do more of in the future.

Two Great Blue Herons we spotted in a tree near the mouth of the river in the tidal zone.

The sounds, sights, and sensations on the water felt like home to me.

Cow Parsnip (Heracleum maxium) seeds.

I saw plenty of seeds while on my adventures too. (Of course I had to add those.)

Native Vine Maple (Acer macrophyllum) reaching over the water.

I also very much enjoyed observing the many communities of plants along the riverbank—but that’s a whole other post.

Begonia boliviensis in my garden.

Then there is my garden back at home. I have not been in it much as I still connect a lot of unhappy memories with toiling in its soil. I buried a lot of distress and unhappiness here. There were many lonely hours spent wondering about my marriage. I also worked hard on my plants as a means to build the denial deep inside of myself of the reality that I no longer liked or even respected my husband very much. I was in denial of this fact for a very long time.

To say we’d grown apart is now an understatement since I now know we never grew or built anything together in the first place. I think in many ways this lack of a relationship is what drove me to plants more than anything.

I am currently separating these feelings from my garden.

And the cats are doing as they please…

Right now I am editing the plants. I still have no idea where I will be living a year from now, but no matter what, this needs to be done. Maybe I will be here, maybe I won’t.

Oddly, I was driven to remove plants I’d planted that I’d purchased long ago because my ex had expressed some kind of interest in them.

He never really liked the garden much though, and never sat and enjoyed it much at all, and like my illness and the mortgage, it was just another burden. I am happy to be free of this black cloud now and I hope to see my garden look amazing one more time.

The wine grapes were also some of the first plants to go.

And now as my garden is in a stage where it looks like the bedroom of a rebellious and messy teenager I stand firmly again on terra firma. Sure there are dead plants in pots like the plates of rotting food that often get misplaced beside the dirty socks in the rooms of our youth across the nation—but I am looking at this now and I am laughing. It is seriously funny to me.

Someone keeps telling me, “It’s ok.” As I look around at everything I just keep laughing. Here in this moment it might seem like I have a lot to do, but I’ll get it done. I am pretty sure my friend it correct. No matter what, I’ve been through a lot, and it will be ok.

Weekend Parties and Their Gardens

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This last weekend I attended two parties. One was a 60th birthday for my former employer, and as you can see, he has a thing for pink flamingos.

Both of the homeowners are colorful people so it’s been fun helping them out in their garden during the past few years.

Then on Sunday I attended a “meat” party hosted by an old friend at his house in inner industrial SE Portland. Not too long ago I’d lived near this area and it was great to hear the trains going by all day. I also was able to see a few people I haven’t seen in about 15 years.

There were other dishes too but this is Portland after all and I’d be acting deceptively if I didn’t admit to there being bacon cupcakes and PBR.

Like my old rental house in the area, these two houses are also boxed in by warehouse walls. During the weekend the place is empty so band practice next door was not an issue. The two houses are occupied by friends so the garden is a bit of a shared area though I think Jerrod is the one who takes care of it.

I’d hoped these were edible old roses but they were scentless and that was rather disappointing.

Jerrod has planted vegetables here and there for his culinary needs.

It’s been very rainy again so these probably don’t look much like summertime in the city but here in Portland this is what it can be like sometimes.

After dinner several of us gorged ourselves on u-pick raspberries.

Oh, and if you’re counting this post for cool Portland references, I should add that Jerrod’s roommate John works at Renovo Bikes. Yes, that’s wood you see there on that bike frame.

Welcome to my little slice of Portlandia.

Ok, Jerrod also made a fresh salad too with homemade Cesar dressing, so it wasn’t all about meat… (He also made a horseradish sauce too with fresh horseradish. Yes, this guy is a foodie.)

Winter Awakening and an Assortment of Seeds

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Winter snow visited our home and garden this week and I’m happy that it didn’t stay for very long because it was really an unexpected event and we weren’t prepared for guests.

It snowed a lot on Tuesday night (January 17th, 2012), and my excitement was remarkable—though I know not why—except to say that up until just last month I would not have been able to stay outside in such cold temperatures for that long. So maybe I do know the reason why, but it is such a personal reason, having more to do with my illness, that I feel I must explain.

As I write this, the movie Awakenings (1990) is playing on the television. Based on the British neurologist Oliver Sacks’s memoir Awakenings (1973) it’s a movie about a group of patients who awaken from their catatonic states after being given an experimental treatment in 1969, and over time, the drug that they’re given stops being effective, and they return to their catatonia.

The mother of one of the patients describes never having asked, when her son was born, “Why? Why was my son born healthy?” But after his illness sets in later, she remarks to the doctors that she hasn’t stopped asking, “Why? Why is my son unhealthy? Why?” Then she must watch as her son slowly returns to being catatonic again, unable to communicate at all, after having had him back so briefly.

Chronic illness follows this cycle, and it is for this reason that I garden and grow seeds, finding in their annual return and growth the false confidence that I need, and an additional natural comfort when I need it. Gardening keeps me far away from the Why? questions, and instead, the activity leaves me suspended in a healthy state of awe and speechlessness.

For the last few weeks I’ve felt alive again, and I’ve been afraid to note that here on my blog.

One of the reasons why is that I am afraid it won’t last for very long. I have lived with many chemical windows both opening and closing much like the patients in the film, though not nearly so dramatically, and I live with the ongoing dread that I will run out of options. For the last few weeks I have been doing much better than I have in about 5 years and it scares me. I must admit too that I have been living, and that means I’ve not been here so much, and that I’ve been having fun and I’ve been enjoying the winter and time spent with my husband.

Taking pictures of the snow at 11pm was just the kind of activity I needed. It filled me with a funny kind of joy and I looked around at the dark homes of our neighbors and wondered why they weren’t out there too—just as excited as I was at that hour—and I realized then that my mood had more to do with my most recent “awakening”than anything else. These are often the joyful moments we spend by ourselves and that’s alright I suppose, I just hope that all of you remember to have them too.

So yesterday the snow melted, and while keeping warm, I finally began my last seed sorting session for the 2011 harvest. Maurice the cat felt like helping too so I let him spend some time with me on the floor while I sorted all of the paper bags and poured the seeds out onto paper plates.

All of the seeds are now out in the open and I am so happy that I am able to capture them all in one shot. This is only 1/8th or less of what I collected last year so this really is a big deal for me to be so near the end.

Some of these are from the wild and some are from gardens. How I figured them all out, when some had no plant ID at all, is still a mystery to me. If they’re without a name I have no one to blame but myself.

I just cannot believe that the process is beginning again, since I feel as though I’ve just woken up a bit myself, and although I am a bit terrified that this new medication may fail me, the garden must grow on and so must I.

Ikebana International Chrysanthemum Exhibition: celebrating Kiku Matsuri

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Yesterday I attend Ikebana International Portland Chapter 47‘s annual Chrysanthemum Exhibition at the Portland Japanese Garden. As expected, it was amazing, and I truly enjoyed viewing all of the different arrangements.
Following are a few of my favorites from the show. (My Sensai’s is the last arrangement in the Sogetsu School section at the end of the post.)
Saga Goryu School
by David Komeiji
by Mieko Heriford
by Wako Henjyoji
by Luci Bachelor
 
 
Ohara School 
by Selina Lechner
by Betty Robinson
by Ruby Warren
 
 
Ryusei-Ha School
by Reiko Grenade 
by Kathleen Birchfield
by Judy Harpel
Ikenobo School 
by Dr James Skog
by Elly Heitmeyer
by Jack Smeckar
 
 Sogetsu School
by Diantha Knott
 by Keiko Kodachi