Moon Magic

A few weeks ago, I got the incredible chance to see the full moon rise along with the sunset. One of those serendipitous things that the Covid-19 shelter-in-place has given me. I did not realize that it was the golden moon – the day the 🌝 moon comes closest to the Earth, and maybe  it was better that I hadn’t prepared for it. For, out on the walk, I stood mesmerized as  I saw the moon rise slowly in the East, as the sun set slowly in the West.

A better time or combination of light I could not imagine. A golden orb that rose from behind the green hills, and bathed the beautiful Earth with its benevolent beams, while the glittering sun bowed out graciously throwing pinks, oranges and purples with abandon against the blue skies. I watched the geese fly on over, ducks swim against the moonbeams on the lake, squirrels stopping to take in the surrounding beauty, and blackbirds swarming low over the lake waters. 

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I turned around to share  the beautiful marvel of the time with my  fellow beings when I realized I was quite physically distant from my fellow beings – human or otherwise. Do other sentient beings feel the same overwhelming sense of being at moments like these? Do dolphins take the time to gaze at the full moon like we do, do polar bears and penguins do the same from their respective poles? What a great unifying experience we all have with the celestial shows the universe throws at us?! 

Oh! To quiver with excitement with the Earth’s beauty has become my wont. 

The blue skies turned inky, and the golden moon turned silver, and  yet I could not pluck myself from the beauty of the evening. 

The giant glittering orb slowly peeked out from behind the green hills, and then rose steadily in a few minutes. We stood a few feet from a lake, socially distancing ourselves. How many times I have felt my heart flutter by catching a glimpse of the moon unexpectedly in the skies? How many lovers have gazed at the moon wistfully, dreamily, lovingly or yearningly through the ages? What a great unifying experience we all have across the pages of time?! 

I am so glad for our  nearest cosmic neighbor – I remember a few years ago when  we were moon-gazing awestruck at the beauty of the reflected sunlight, the son said, “Can you imagine how beautiful nights  on Jupiter must be? Imagine looking up and seeing 64  moons in the sky!

I was taken aback at the statement, but also thankful for the one moon we do have. 

A known Selenophile if there was one, I picked up the book Music for Mister Moon by Philip Stead with a song in my heart that evening.  The beaming moon has always attracted me, whether it is catching a fleeting glimpse of it as it appears and reappears amidst scudding clouds, or the waxing and waning of it during its reliable moon cycles or even when I catch an unexpected glimpse of it when the sun is bright and high above in the sky. 

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The story of  a shy young girl who plays her instrument for no one but herself gently tugs us along for a ride as she accidentally pulls the moon right out of the sky. The moon’s revelation to know what it must be  like to float on the waters it is always reflected upon brings a little smile to your own lips, and slowly, but surely  you cheer for the little shy girl who opens her talent up to share with the moon.

The book does its  best to capture the magic of the moon, but probably the best gift of all is the dream I had after writing this post: I woke up thinking I was on a boat mesmerized by the floating moon near me.

🌙 🌝 Moon Magic. ✨ ✨

The Other Side of the Glass

There is a girlish delight in tucking oneself in the mode of Being, away from the duties of a Doing life on a Saturday morning. As I watch the minutes blend into hours, I sense my senses relax and delve deeply, calmly and yet completely enthralled at the prospect of indulging in my favorite pastimes of reading and writing. I feel the privilege in that sentence as I write it, for I recognize it for what it is: a luxury.

I hear the bees buzzing in the beautiful Spring day outside, a pair of blue jays have chosen a tree nearby to make their nest, and I watch the pair of them flit about busily during their days. Every now and then, one of them would come and peck on the window pane as if to check on me, though I know that comes from the human longing for self importance. The blue jays may just like the sound of the glass against their beaks, or probably; the reflection of themselves as they fly past. Whatever their motive, it is one of their many acts that I relish from the other side of the glass.

The other side of the glass.

What a wonderful way to observe the world? The internet is rife with jokes on humans sheltering in place with animals peeking at us, with their clever commentaries of us, and I must say I relish it. For once, we are all unanimously united in that state of achieving inner peace against the steady dripping of the news around us.

So, here I am sitting comfortably and reading the book, Uncle Tungsten – Memories of a Chemical Boyhood by Oliver Sacks.

The world as seen by the prolific writer and physician – his boyhood escapades with Chemistry and the influences of his life, are fascinating, full of learning and wonder, and makes one acutely alive to the fact that each life is a magnificent journey on its own. To those of us who are lucky to see life as an act of not just being, but becoming, it is a subtle reminder of the love of living.

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Every now and then, a passage takes you by surprise, such as this one. Oliver Sacks was born into a family of 4 siblings to physician parents, Dr Samuel Sacks and Dr Muriel Elsie Landau (one of the first female surgeons in England).

Reading has a way of taking us into worlds other than our own. I was delving into London of a century ago in his memoirs. The act of taking our consciousness with it to a different place and the ability to anchor us to the here and now, is a unique gift of reading. I found that strange juxtaposition in this passage:

“When it was time for my father to open his own practice, he decided, despite this early training in neurology, that general practice would be more real, more “alive”. Perhaps he got more than he bargained for, for when he opened his practice in the East End in September 1918, the great influenza epidemic was just getting started. He had seen wounded soldiers when he was a houseman at the London, but this was nothing to the horror of seeing people in paroxysm of coughing and gasping, suffocating from the fluid in their lungs, turning blue and dropping dead in the streets. A strong, healthy young man or woman, it was said, could die from the flu within three hours of getting it. In those three desperate months, at the end of 1918, the flu killed more people than the Great War itself had, and my father, like every doctor at the time, found himself overwhelmed, sometimes working forty-eight hours at a stretch.”

Just like that, I had moved to the other side of the glass. 100 years on, here we are, sheltering-in-place with the Coronavirus pandemic, and watching a similar situation of our good doctors being overwhelmed, and resources being stretched to their limits, as the virus sweeps through the world.

The other side of the glass.

Just-So Indeed!

“What you doing?” I said walking into the squeaky clean kitchen. It wasn’t for nothing that I had knocked myself out for over 2 hours the previous day bringing the house to what I call a livable state again. There is a strain of philosophy in the house that a good home has a certain level of chaos and mess. I sometimes find the homeliness factor gets taken a bit too far for my liking though. That is when, you find me transforming from a mild gurgling stream into a force of nature: I become a steaming river coursing through the hallways cleansing, dousing, stuffing shoes and jackets away from sight, and puffing like St Helens in May of 1980 (about to blow my top in short).

I don’t know what adult-lings and cub-lings in other houses do; but those in my house, exchange discreet stares and with an awkward laugh or two, practice social distancing with an arduous tenacity. Squirrels don’t charge into their holes when the cats are about, with the speed that these cub-lings display. The next morning though, everyone is happy see a contented lioness prowl with a satisfied purring reveling in her clean abode.

“Just making some fresh coffee. ” said the Lion King looking at his lioness with mixed emotions. Should he compliment the cleaning effort and hinge his chances on the good night’s sleep having done its share of the restoring of nerves, or skirt the topic altogether and go in afresh with the fresh-coffee-for-loving-wife angle?

“No…no need to make coffee, I made some filter coffee last night. Should still be fresh! I can use the water for breakfast. ” I said in my briskest taking control of the kitchen voice, and liberally sprinkled some salt into the pot of water set on the stove.

Simba relaxed. Nala seemed fine even after the marathon cleaning session last night. “Well…I’ll make the coffee. Move aside.”

“No…no…it is fresh coffee.”

I suppose if I’d been in the Masai Mara, I’d know how lions handle this sort of domestic spat in the pride-hold. In our household, the Lion King, bravely took a deep breath and said as nonchalantly as possible, as though it were a minor detail, not a big deal at all, you know?
“Oh! I threw out that coffee. ”

I drew myself up. Ready to spring – rally all you will you coffee lovers, but this is ridiculous. What is wrong with coffee that is just a few hours old?!

“Oh my goodness! Must you be this picky and in these times of watchful groceries too!” I said shrewdly playing the Covid card. I was flustered, justifiably in my opinion, unnecessarily so, in the husband’s op.

“Coffee, my dear, needs to be fresh and just-so in order for it to have an effect on the system. Besides, it is my only indulgence.” said he playing the Buddha-card.

“Be Brave Appa! Don’t give up – you like fresh coffee – stand up for yourself. Go Appa Go Appa!” said the cubs watching the unfolding drama with interest.

“Dei! You guys are landing me in trouble now. ” said the husband nimbly moving away from the danger zone with the suavity of gazelles when the lionesses aren’t in a good mood. The man has always had his wits about him.

 

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“I’ll make a fresh batch of coffee. Just so indeed.” I said and donned my best sacrificial-women-who-does-everything-in-this-house expression.

The coffee filter gargled and scrabbled its way through the hot water, and the coffee dripped satisfyingly into the container below. I watched it and smiled the smile of expectation. Regardless of the recency of the spat, I must agree that fresh coffee smells good! Could just the aroma have the desired effect to transform the disgruntled into the gruntled?

Moments later, I handed a frothing cup of filter coffee freshly made just-so to him, and went off to make another cup for myself. He was cackling at some joke on his myriad WhatsApp groups when I came back – not surprisingly, it was a wife-joke.

I laughed too, but said, “Really! The number of wife jokes on social media! Why can’t women spend time coming up with husband jokes the same way, huh?! Because we are far too busy making fresh filter coffee for our husbands, that’s why!”

He looked at me, and pulled a Prince Charming smile from his armor, held his coffee cup up for a toast with a grin “That is good coffee! Thank you! ”

I phhooo-shooeyed graciously and made a big show of my sip of c. The first sip felt awkward, but not bad, but the second sip nailed it. This coffee was salty!

“Hey! Anything wrong with this coffee?”

“Nope! It was lovely.” said the husband.

“But it is salty! Did I put salt in the water, and then use that water to make the coffee? Gosh!” I said feeling like a prized ass. After all that show-and-tell about sacrificial goddesses, and stuff, I mean.

“I like my coffee fresh and just-so indeed! How did you drink this muck?!” I said.

“Well, I thought it had a sea-salt flavor!”

“Yes Appa. You tell her! Be brave!” said the cubs again, and I burst out laughing.

“Can I help you with any husband jokes now?” the husband said, looking at my face, and the pair of us laughed so hard that the salt distilled itself out.

That is the Earth!

“Do you know what this is?”

“That is the Earth! From the moon.” said the son matter of factly. “I saw it before!” he said in response to my awed expression.

We were looking at the back jacket of a book, that I flipped to the last page first.

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This is the Earth, by Diane Z Shore & Jessica Alexander with paintings by Wendell Minor.

It was a picture of the Earth rising on the Moon’s horizon.

A picture that generations of humans for millennia could only have imagined, and never really gotten close to the sheer beauty of it. Our myths are at once rich and limiting in its reach. They have imagined Earth as being elephants on elephants, turtles on turtles all the way down, flat discs, imagining heavens above and hells below.  

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The picture was taken by an astronaut, Bill Anders, aboard the Apollo 8 spacecraft in 1968. I looked on mesmerized at the picture.

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Bill Anders / Public domain

But this picture is truly astounding. The pale blue dot when seen from the Moon is a brilliant, blue orb, suspended in space, intriguingly spattered with clouds, oceans, landmasses, not really depicting the billions of lives it fosters, or the number of ecosystems it has in its fragile balance. 

Bill Anders said: “We came all this way to explore the moon, and the most important thing is that we discovered the Earth.”

What a lovely statement that is, and together with his Earth Rising image, contributed to the concerns around Planet Earth that led to founding of Earth Day in 1970.

50 years later, we have made rocky starts and gains towards conservation. But this April 2020, 50 years later, purely coincidentally, Covid-19 has the world on lockdown, not just imagining a life of bare necessities but embracing it for the social good. We, the people, now have the time to observe our fellow inhabitants.

Heart warming tales of peacocks making its foray into the deserted cityscapes of Mumbai; turtles coming ashore to hatch in the beaches along the Bay of Bengal; seeing the Himalayas from a 100 miles away once the smog fog lifted; deeming the waters of the Ganges near Rishikesh fit for human consumption again without all the factories along the way dumping its wastes into the flowing water;or bears enjoying their natural habitats unhindered by human presence in Yosemite National Park, are surfacing, and it has my heart lifting again. I have often enough lamented on this blog about the poor attention we pay to the Planet that nurtures our fragile selves and egos. 

Watching the even more fragile ego of the stock market indices, it seems to me that we can very well have the world function this way, by having a month off every year in which everything stops but essential services. An Earth Month every year to reflect, slow down, plan and recoup our staggering impact to the environment. After all, the stock market seems to have a life of its own and seems only to want some stolidity in its expectations. So, we anticipate a month with no major events, no excessive or unnecessary travel, and only essential services operating. The notion isn’t that far-out either. 100 years ago, no one thought we could have 5 day work-weeks. Yet, here we are, in state where it is the norm now. 

Maybe this could be the measure we take for Earth Day to slow the rise of Carbon Dioxide levels in the atmosphere.

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Please go this site to see the curve over 2 years and over 200  years Keeling Curve – Scripps UCSD

If you look at the extrapolated curve from the 1700’s, it has risen exponentially. It is probably too soon to see the effect of Covid-19 on CO2 levels in the atmosphere.

Could, Earth Month become the new normal for us. So children matter of factly accept that Earth Month as essentials month in the coming generations?

Let’s care a whole lot!

T’was family movie night. An evening fraught with decisions, and everyone’s voice and opinion clanged over the dishes and sizzled over the noise from the stove.
Suggestions rose, opinions swelled and movies quelled.

“Uggghhh! No way!”
“That again?”
“What are you? A kid? Oh wait! Yes you are a kid! Okay never mind!”
“Nope! Too much for Amma! “
“What do you mean? It isn’t too much for me?!”
“You bawled last time for a movie that wasn’t even a tear-jerker, nope! How about this?”
“Star Wars!”

A collective moan went up. Finally, it was revealed that the youngest member of the family had no recollection of the Dr Seuss movie Lorax. He has read the book multiple times, and so we all settled in to watch Lorax.

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Dr Seuss is an inspiration, of course; but just how insightful his take on humanity is uncanny. From fresh air as a commodity, to a land without trees, to surveillance at every pore, his far sighted vision has so much to nod your heads at.

The Thneeds, created by the Once-ler, in his story are made from Truffle trees. Thneeds were fashion statements – doubling up from head scarves to sweater vests and shawls. (“But even he, it seems, could not envision a future where ripped jeans were fashion trends!”,  I said and drew a grudging chuckle from the teen with the ripped jeans. ) Eventually, of course, the Once-ler’s greed led to decimation of trees, habitat loss and a devastated landscape is all that is left.

“Wow – that was such a good movie Amma – though the movie had scenes that the book didn’t have.” was the verdict of the youngest.

“Really! Humans are impossible!” said the teenager, and discussion turned to conservation, Greta Thunberg and some you-tuber who talks about going green.

“Did you know the Lorax was banned in some schools in California because loggers felt it was not friendly to the ‘foresting industry’. ” I said.

I looked at their agonized faces with awe – how is it children get these things, and adults don’t; and I felt a surge of hope.

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We were walking a familiar route through our neighborhood a few days later, stopping to see some of the felled trees as we do every so often. The rings in the pine trees show they must have been at least 80 years old, and to see the forlorn stumps reminded of the beautiful book, The Giving Tree.

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The book starts with friendships between a young boy and an apple tree. The boy plays and swings on the tree’s branches, but as he grows older demands more and more from the tree. He needs her apples to make money, cuts her down to build himself a house and a boat, and finally comes back tired and spent with life, when all the poor tree can offer is the stump to rest.

The Giving Tree, can be interpreted and discussed in many different ways. Givers & Takers, Need & Greed, Selfish & Selfless, but the most beautiful one is the simple one, the one where your children make a sad face at the end, and say, “Why doesn’t this boy/man/grandpa ever feel sorry for what he’s done?”

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The boy reminds us of human’s relationship with nature. The human species can be broadly classified as takers: from the planet, & from our co-habitants on this planet. You might have seen this video clip of Man’s greed By Steve Cutts:

The Giving Tree too was banned interestingly for sending sexist messages – the tree was female and the little boy continued to take from her without ever giving back.

I just finished a book called Losing Earth – by Nathaniel Rich. The book, deals with the science, politics and action of climate change.

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Despite humanity having the science locked down more than 50 years ago, little action has resulted. The closest we came to getting everyone to agree on unified action was the Paris Agreement where all countries agreed to work towards keeping emissions such that we not go above the 2 degree increase of temperatures world-wide. The largest emission offender for decades, United States, pulled out of the agreement when Donald Trump became President.

I was shocked to find that Climate Change as a topic has been banned in certain schools, skirted around in others and given a miss altogether elsewhere. The science behind Climate Change and the effect of our industries were long proved – as far back as 1970.

This April 22nd is the 50th anniversary of Earth Day with a special onus on Climate Action. Maybe this Earth Day, we can renew our commitment to the only pale blue dot that will harbor us. Let’s care a whole lot about our planet before all we are left with is the word ‘Unless‘ like in the Lorax story, or the tree stump in The Giving Tree.

 

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Read also: Are we to become Lab Rats?

 

The Rings of Life

We were walking a familiar route through our neighborhood, stopping to see some of the felled trees as we do every so often. The rings in the pine trees show they must have been at least 80 years old.

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For an impatient flitter such as myself, trees are truly sentient beings. Beings that teach me about holding still, of being sentient beings for the small time we spend on this beautiful planet. Like a butterfly flitting through the Earth for a day. You can replace tree for a star in the quote below and it would still hold when one sees redwood trees, sequoia trees and old banyan trees.

“From the point of view of a mayfly, human beings are stolid, boring, almost entirely immovable, offering hardly a hint that they ever do anything. From the point of view of a star, a human being is a tiny flash, one of billions of brief lives flickering tenuously on the surface of a strangely cold, anomalously solid, exotically remote sphere of silicate and iron.”

― Carl Sagan

As I was reading Life in the Garden by Penelope Lively, I stopped to relish the section on trees. Though the book is largely about gardens, she does make a foray into trees briefly:
“Tree rings are wonderfully eloquent; here is time stated, time recorded, time made manifest. Dendrochronology- the scientific method of dating based on the analysis of tree rings-can determine past climates, or the age of a building, it can be used to calibrate radiocarbon dating, or by art historians to determine the date of a panel painting. And all because a tree grows slowly, systematically, but laying down each year a memory of what that year was likes – usually wet, dry cold, hot-whether the tree flourished and grew, or held back, and how many years have passed. And the more I think about it, the more I have come to the conclusion that this is why trees invite anthropomorphism. They are sentient in a way that a building cannot be.”

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When I read this piece in Life in the Garden by Penelope Lively, I thought to myself, that Covid-19 would not register in the life of trees, would it? Droughts, wildfires, these may, but Covid-19 would not. The human suffering is acute – there is no doubt about it. The true heroes are the front-line workers, such as doctors, nurses, water and essential service providers, cleaners, mailmen, supply chain workers for groceries and medication who are braving the outbreak to keep society functioning as best as it can, while the virus takes it toll. The human toll is one thing, Covid-19’s economic ramifications is quite another, reminding us of the tottering pile we have built our societies upon: Stock markets indices, economies, international boundaries, – everything that a virus can thwart on a whim.

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What would Covid-19 imprint in our psyches? It can be a time of transformation. A time of reflection. A time to prune the unnecessary, a time to nurture the necessary, a time to get to know ourselves and our loved ones better. A time to think of needs vs wants.  A time of quiet.

We may never have taken pandemic preparedness seriously. Covid-19 is teaching us about the importance of these things. What would we need to do for far more severe outbreaks, with water-borne or air-borne diseases in the future? I am sure these will never be treated with the same levity ever again.

“Nature is always more subtle, more intricate, more elegant than what we are able to imagine.”
― Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark

The more I think about it, the more I want to believe that we shall embrace Science as a Candle in the Dark. Many children will take up research in microbes. I hope we shall, from now on, invest in our infrastructure, in our research, in our general preparedness, and appreciate the fragility of life and our social ecosystems itself. Our rings in time will bear out the wisdom in the coming years if only we learn from it. One dark circle reverberating it’s learnings outward, and spreading light in the subsequent rings afterward.

“In its encounter with Nature, science invariably elicits a sense of reverence and awe. The very act of understanding is a celebration of joining, merging, even if on a very modest scale, with the magnificence of the Cosmos. And the cumulative worldwide build-up of knowledge over time converts science into something only a little short of a trans-national, trans-generational meta-mind.”
― Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark

References:

  • Life in the Garden – By Penelope Lively
  • The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark – Carl Sagan

Time in the Garden

Regular readers know how much I enjoy nature and gardens. It is one of life’s ironies that my plants only thrive despite my loving care, and  many is the time I have made bloomers in the little patch I tend to. However, never one to shy away from blooming from the bloomers, I picked up this book, Life in the Garden, By Penelope Lively. 

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Lively begins by examining the gardens in Literature starting with the Garden of Eden, and working  her way through other fantastical gardens in the books, The Secret Garden, Alice in Wonderland and the beloved gardens of dear, absent-minded Lord Emsworth’s at Blandings castle. 

She examines the writing and finds out which of the writers are gardeners themselves and which of them have merely picked up the scenery from a gardening catalog. She teases the co-ordination of colors, the seasonality of the plants themselves in the landscapes and has given me an entirely different appreciation of gardens. 

Some passages are especially endearing and made me want to read them again. Especially her meditations on time, the gardener and the garden itself. 

I quote from her book: 

“To garden is to elide past, present and future; it is a defiance of time. You garden today for tomorrow; the garden mutates from season to season, always the same, but always different. … In autumn, I plant up a pot of “Tete-a-Tete” daffodils, seeing in the minds eye what they will look like in February. We are always gardening for a future we are supposing, assuming, a future. I am doing that at eighty-three; the hydrangea paniculata “Limelight” I have just put in will outlast me, in all probability, but I am requiring it to perform while I can still enjoy it.”

“The great defiance of time is our capacity to remember – the power of memory. Time streams away behind us, and beyond, but individual memory shapes for each of us, a known place. We own a particular piece of time; I was there then, I did this, saw tear, felt thus.”

She goes on to say, 

“A garden is never just now; it suggests yesterday, and tomorrow; it does not allow time its steady progress. “

Certainly, for me, part of the appeal of gardening is this ambivalent relationship with time; the garden performs in cycles, it reflects the seasons, but it also remembers and anticipates, and in so doing takes the gardener with it.”

As I look out the window at my clover-filled backyard with some foxgloves looking happy amidst the narcissi blossoms and the newly sprouted cherry leaves after their spectacular show of cherry blossoms, and the rose buds ready to burst forth in a few weeks,I cannot help feel the lessons nature is teaching us. Be forward looking – always, nurture what is important, and enjoy the passage of time. One moment at a time. Every flower has its chance to bloom and fade.

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Gardens are enduring lessons in hope. I cannot tell you the number of times, I have planted something in October and been surprised when they bloom in April, or the number of times, I have been pleasantly surprised that something  thrived  at all. 

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –

That perches in the soul –

And sings the tune without the words –

And never stops – at all – 

Emily Dickinson – Hope

I am lackadaisical at best with my gardening and it shows. I have a minuscule patch that seriously  has more air-time on the blog than the square feet it occupies. Yet, it gives me immense pleasure, peace and calm. Spurred on by the book, I went outside to take a more active role in the tending of my plants. I have been admiring the sweet peas plants that have sprouted in the garden. Some time ago, I got a packet of sweet  pea seeds from our local library. Thrilled at finding them, I scattered them by the apricot tree and forgot about them. The plants are thriving now, quite tall, and seem to be sagging. So, I went – “Coming dears! Here I am to take care  of you!”, I said, in my best nurturing voice and tried to prop up the plants as best as I could, in the process, breaking off one of the plants’ main stems.

If the plants in my patch could talk, they would’ve chorused – “Go inside – we know you  love us, just let us thrive! Breaking off our stems indeed!”