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Itty Bitty Pleasures

Here’s a little bitty simple pleasure that never fails to make me smile. Recently, I shared it with a couple of out-of-towners on the trail here in Columbia, just because it’s fun.

Jewel Weed, aka “Touch-Me-Not,” aka Impatiens Capensis, is a lovely plant on its own, lush and green with large flat leaves that hold raindrops nicely. It’s visually pretty even without blooms, but the blooms are quite lovely. They come in orange, with spots, and yellow. We have a lot of the yellow variety in the woods and along trails around here. I’ve had some in my yard, as well, alongside the little creek that runs through.

But wait! There’s fun!

The fun comes in when they’ve put out their seed pods. We don’t call them Touch-Me-Not because they sting or itch. It’s because if you lightly press a fully ripe seed pod (like the one above) between your thumb and forefinger, it pops right open! Never fails to bring a smile. It’s one of nature’s more lively ways of propagating plants. And the coiled valve that pops it open and sometimes lands in your hand is pretty cool, too.

So kids and adults love to search for the pods that are just about ready to burst. If you walk along popular trails you’ll often have to search pretty hard for them, because so many walkers are playing the Jewel Weed game.

Jewel Weed can be medicinal, too, as an antidote to poison ivy. Robin Wall Kimmerer writes, in her wonderful book Gathering Moss, that you’ll often find it growing near poison ivy. The cure often grows near the troublemaker. Isn’t nature wonderful? It is.

So there’s your woodland report from here. What’s fun or interesting in your neck of the woods? Please do tell.

“Our indigenous herbalists say to pay attention when plants come to you; they’re bringing you something you need to learn.” ― Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass

“Paying attention is a form of reciprocity with the living world, receiving the gifts with open eyes and open heart.”― Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass

“A Cheyenne elder of my acquaintance once told me that the best way to find something is not to go looking for it.”― Robin Wall Kimmerer, Gathering Moss

If you’re looking for my cards or art, you’ll find all of that on my website. If you enjoy these letters, feel free to forward this one to anyone you think might like it. And if someone forwarded this one to you, you can sign up here to receive the letters right in your Inbox. Finally, you’ll find past letters and poems here.

Thanks for listening,
Kay

P.S. MerryThoughts is the name of my first book, out of print at the moment. The word is a British one, referring both to a wishbone and to the ritual of breaking the wishbone with the intention of either having a wish granted or being the one who marries first, thus the “merry thoughts.”

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Embarrassment of Riches

It’s autumn and this year where I live we’ve had an explosion of color, practically overnight. One day everything was still lush green and the next, boom! a paintbox of colors popped open. I have been taking photos like a crazy person.

But I’ve also been loving so many quiet, humble bits of nature nearly everywhere I go and not always on the brilliant blue sky days, either. Just look at those clouds. Just look at the variety of greens as they fade into something else. Look at the red vines crawling up the trunk of a tree that’s still quite green. Look at the few little leaves that have turned yellow on an otherwise green shrub.

It’s not just the big trees and shrubs and the brilliant blue sky that enchant the eye, either. Nuts and shiny dry brown leaves have a sculptural quality that is quite beautiful. The weeds and vines, in their softer, muted shades are quite lovely, too. I feel like if I turn my head in any direction these days, including down to the ground, I’ll see something marvelous.

It’s a true embarrassment of riches.

It’s a time of year that reminds us to get outdoors every single day, rain or shine, so we don’t miss a single turn or variation in the colors of our amazing world; a time that teaches us, so clearly, of the ephemeral nature of nature and of our own lives; a time when we can see both the gorgeous and the sublime right next to that which is humble and quiet. We learn as we go and the more we go outside, I feel, the more we learn.

“What you see with your eyes is transient and ephemeral. What you see through your heart is everlasting and eternal.”― Debasish Mridha

“We humans may think of ourselves as solid objects, all flesh and bone. But take a close look, and it’s clear our bodies are composed largely of oxygen and hydrogen. We are essentially ephemeral – akin as much to wind, water, and fire as to earth.” Curt Stager, Your Atomic Self

“It is the ephemeral nature of things that makes them wonderful.” ― Yoshida Kenkō, A Cup of Sake Beneath the Cherry Trees

If you’re looking for my cards or art, you’ll find all of that on my website. If you enjoy these letters, feel free to forward this one to anyone you think might like it. And if someone forwarded this one to you, you can sign up here to receive the letters right in your Inbox. Finally, you’ll find past letters and poems here.

Thanks for listening,
Kay

P.S. MerryThoughts is the name of my first book, out of print at the moment. The word is a British one, referring both to a wishbone and to the ritual of breaking the wishbone with the intention of either having a wish granted or being the one who marries first, thus the “merry thoughts.”

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Magic Hour

The first time I heard the term “Magic Hour” I was with my son at Central Park in New York City. It was twilight. People were out walking with kids or dogs or partners; playing catch; throwing frisbees. The light was particularly beautiful as it slanted through the trees and my son commented, “Magic Hour.”

Now I’ve looked it up I see that it’s also called the Golden Hour, particularly by photographers and cinematographers. I like magic better. It’s the kind of light that seems possible only through magic. Of course, Wikipedia explains it scientifically and that is well and good. Science is good. But my eyes glaze over as I try to make heads or tails of the explanation. Why try? I ask myself. I mean, you should certainly feel free to try. But I’ve tried (a little) and I am okay with limited knowledge, especially when it comes to natural phenomena. Plus, my brain is getting old and I’m not sure what else will fit in there.

I feel the same about the moon, dew, frost, shooting stars, rainbows, murmurations and migrations of birds, and many other amazing things. I could read the science about all of these–and I have, fruitlessly, about some–but the thing is, I feel that my particular brain is not wired for that kind of understanding; and anyway, I find it far more fun to think of the more beautiful aspects of our world as mysteries I will never fathom. Correction–mysteries I do not need to fathom.

Let me just love them. Let me just feel things. Awe, wonder, luck, gratitude.

I do understand that Magic Hour is just about a half hour of actual time, the half hour after sunrise and the half hour before sunset. It is definitely a gorgeous time to be outdoors, looking, seeing, and/or as I did recently, taking a bazillion photographs. It will make you feel very lucky to be alive and on Earth.

“It was the Magic Hour, the moment in time when every leaf and blade of grass seemed to separate, when sunlight, burnished by the rain and softened by the coming night, gave the world an impossibly beautiful glow.” ― Kristin Hannah, Magic Hour

“They always stayed at the beach to enjoy the golden hour, that hour when the sun sank low enough to spangle the water.” — Elin Hilderbrand

“The possession of knowledge does not kill the sense of wonder and mystery. There is always more mystery.” ― Anais Nin

If you’re looking for my cards or art, you’ll find all of that on my website. If you enjoy these letters, feel free to forward this one to anyone you think might like it. And if someone forwarded this one to you, you can sign up here to receive the letters right in your Inbox. Finally, you’ll find past letters and poems here.

Thanks for listening,
Kay

P.S. MerryThoughts is the name of my first book, out of print at the moment. The word is a British one, referring both to a wishbone and to the ritual of breaking the wishbone with the intention of either having a wish granted or being the one who marries first, thus the “merry thoughts.”

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Pajama Day

We had freezing rain and ice covering everything one recent morning and I knew I would not want to drive to the woods with Miles and thought, really, I did not even want to risk walking on the icy streets. So I decided to have a Pajama Day. I was pretty excited about this idea, as I know people have them and I had always thought I would like to, too, if it weren’t for two dogs staring at me all day long. But now I had an excellent excuse. Not even Miles wanted to step out the door.

I turned up the furnace, had a second cup of tea, and sat on the couch under a thick wool blanket with the dogs, reading my new Mary Oliver poetry book. All very nice and cozy. Rufus liked it, as he likes to be on a soft surface (preferably a lap) in very close proximity to any available human.

“No animal, according to the rules of animal etiquette, is ever expected to do anything strenuous, or heroic, or even moderately active during the off-season of winter.” – Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows

But by noon or so, I really did not want to be in pajamas any longer. And then, by late afternoon, I was quite tired of being in the house and I told my brother, who has remained pretty much homebound since March, that I was going a little stir crazy. I am used to going outdoors multiple times a day. I’d even played pickleball in 30 degrees on New Year’s Eve. My friend and I always agree that even if it’s cold, we’re outside, we’re moving, having fun, and it’s wonderful to be doing all of those things.

The next day I went out with the dogs, though the day looked pretty much the same as the previous day, everything covered with ice, the sky solid white with cloud, temperature at 27 degrees. And yet, I felt a huge Ahhh as soon as we stepped out. Went to the woods and feasted my eyes on the icy everythings, pressed my cheek and my whole self to my big beautiful tree, and had a lovely ramble along the creek. Once again, I am reminded that, however the day looks from inside the house, it’s almost always nicer to be out in it.

“When you’re sad, Little Star, go out of doors. It’s always better underneath the open sky.”- Eva Ibbotson, A Countess Below Stairs

If you’re looking for my cards or art, you’ll find all of that on my website. And if you like this letter, you’ll find past letters and poems here.

It’s nice for me to think of you out there, reading this. I hope you get outdoors as often as you possibly can this winter. As my friend Sally once said, “There’s no bad weather, only bad clothes.”

Thanks for listening,
Kay

P.S. MerryThoughts is the name of my first book, out of print at the moment. The word is a British one, referring both to a wishbone and to the ritual of breaking the wishbone with the intention of either having a wish granted or being the one who marries first, thus the “merry thoughts.”

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Natural Events

Fog covers the town

or so I’m told

by those who tell.

Another natural event

that enlivens my heart

like the gathering of starlings

and the whoosh of them going,

the V of geese flying over

announcing themselves noisily.

Sunrise, sunset, the turn of the leaves.

The call of the elusive Kingfisher

and the cry of the hawk.

All of these simple miracles

tell me a secret I already knew

but love to be told again and again:

this life is a Russian doll

nested with gifts inside gifts

down to the tiniest prize

of the wren calling 

Good Morning! 

to anyone who will listen.

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Mysteries

Every day there are twelve if not twice that many

turkey vultures hovering, wheeling, kettling above

that very same spot of creek and bluff

so many of them and all together you’d think

that if they did spot some piece of carrion

the chance of any one having a meal would

be pretty slim.  And yet there they are

and have been every day in every season

at that same exact spot, faithful as the sun,

causing me to pause and wonder each day.

So much of the natural world is a mystery

to me, beyond my understanding, beloved,

marvelous, a box of riches available to

little old me at my whim and behest.

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Look and Learn

Two squirrels give chase

up and down the black walnut tree

where they were born.

How many generations of squirrels

have nested in that old tree?

I am told that the leaves of certain trees

will turn themselves over in

anticipation of a storm.  Why?

And dragonflies live underwater

for five years before surfacing

and being dragonflies, only to fly

and mate for a single summer!

I could spend a lifetime looking

and learning and yet what I’ve

gathered by the time I go could

easily be likened to a single

strand of a dandelion puff

in the grand scheme of things.

And so. How could one ever

be finished with this world?

Or grow tired of it?

I hope I never do.