Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Loss ...

November Sky At Dusk, © Joan Z. Rough, 2007

The downside of loss ... we can't let go ... loss of a close relative, loss of time, loss of a job, loss of control. We hang onto yesterday and long for tomorrow. We set rules and regulations within our heads that tell us the way things should be. We only like things a certain way whether it's an arrangement of furniture or someone else's outfit for the day. The world ends if the dinner burns, our flight is canceled or we break a favorite piece of china. We're all losers. We lose something every day. We hang on to everything so tightly that we forget that things change moment by moment and that we will never pass this way again. We're lost.

The Upside of loss ... we can let go. There isn't so much to worry about. We don't have to carry all that "stuff." We feel more spontaneous, can wear the skimpy dress rather than the heavy sweater and long skirt. We laugh more. We cry more. We aren't as tired and sleep better. We have compassion for our neighbors, watch the sunrise, mend the broken china, catch a later plane, breathe more deeply, smell the roses ... experience each day as a new adventure with losses to be mourned, and gains to be proud of. We may still be losers, lost in the woods, but it's much more fun.

Monday, November 26, 2007

November Garden

Japanese Maple in November, © Joan Z. Rough, 2007

I'm sure I've mentioned before that the fall is my favorite season here in Virginia. I suppose that if I lived in some other region of the country, I might choose a different season to love the most ... but right here, right now it's the fall. It has been an exceptional season for color this year, despite the drought, which many said would cause the colors to be drab and muddy. To the contrary, they have been vibrantly alive. The leaves are falling quickly now and as if part of a colorful fiesta, they dance across the meadow as the wind picks them from the trees, blowing them to and fro. I listen for the clash of symbols as they settle to the ground, an oboe mourning the loss of yet another year. A cello, violas and violins
the undercurrent of things to come.

Fallen Leaves, © Joan Z. Rough, 2007

In stillness the leaves make magical layered patterns on the ground where they lay and I'm happy tromping through piles of them making crunching sounds and inhaling the sweet autumnal perfume held in chilled afternoon air.

American Beauty Berry, © Joan Z. Rough, 2007

This is the time for beauty berries. Their purple so out of place in the rusty toned atmosphere of the season. I've picked branches to bring into the house, but alas, the berries fall off quickly in the warmth of the house.

November, Late Afternoon, © Joan Z. Rough, 2007

The weeping cherry is the first tree to lose its leaves in the fall. Lined up against the sunlit pussy willow, still holding onto its leaves tightly, the cherry's bones of trunk and branches stand out.

November Afternoon, © Joan Z. Rough, 2007

As the sun begins to dip below the curviture of earth for another day, the splendor of the season is caught in the river for a brief moment ... a water color painting of the landscape.

Maple on Maple, © Joan Z. Rough, 2007

These are the things I see and watch everyday in my yard. We're over 15 inches of rain short for the year, but somehow, most everything is holding on. I am very grateful to be living here in this beautiful landscape.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

The Little Red Ship Goes Down ...

MV Explorer, August, 2007, in the Canadian Arctic

After a lovely, quiet Thanksgiving with old friends and new, I awoke on Friday morning to discover that the "Little Red Ship," I had traveled on this past summer in the Canadian Arctic was in distress in Antarctic waters, twelve miles south of King George Island and 700 miles south of Cape Horn, after reportedly hitting ice hidden beneath the sea. All 150 passengers and crew had been evacuated to life boats and were eventually taken on board the Nord Norge, a Norwegian cruise ship, sailing in the area. Though very cold, fortunately the weather was calm. There were no injuries reported. The Explorer, since then, has sadly gone to rest beneath the waters she was built to sail upon.

Built during the '60s, the Explorer, at 2,400-tonnes, 75-metres-long, with an "ice-hardened double hull," was the "first commercial vessel to navigate the Northwest Passage." Not one of today's glamorous, luxury cruise liners, I found the Explorer to be a small, intimate, very comfortable vessel. The staff and crew were wonderful people who went out of their way to help in any situation.

My husband and I have often considered traveling to the Antarctic aboard one of the small "adventure" cruise ships, but we've always been more drawn to the Arctic, where we have enjoyed meeting the Inuit people as well as seeing amazing wildlife. Would we do it again aboard the Explorer, if she hadn't met this tragic ending? You Betcha!! We love traveling with people who are interested in learning about our planet and our fellow creatures, while making as small a mark on the landscape as we can. Yes, there are risks involved in traveling to remote destinations, but I figure on today's crowded highways, I'm at a greater risk staying home and going to the grocery store!!

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Thanksgiving ...

Anya Grace Allison Zabski, November 14, 2007

What a bittersweet week it's been! We had a house full of family from New England to celebrate an early holiday season and to be here for an informal get together of my mother's closest friends and care givers. We toasted her with tea and traded stories of her life which came to an end on May 21st after a 2 year battle with lung cancer and emphysema.

The sweetness of the week was having my brothers here along with my nephew, his wife and my-oh-so-special grand neice, Anya, who was born 9 days after my mother died. Anya is now five and a half months old and just as beautiful and well behaved as a wee one can be. This was the first time that I have seen her in person. She is full of smiles and I like to think that she learned the word "Hi!" and to wave at the same time while she was here, under my tutelage! There is nothing like a small child to take your mind off of the serious problems and issues of any day. In the spring, if we get a good wet winter, we'll plant 2 trees in our garden ... one to honor my mother and her life and the other for Anya and her just beginning life. Maybe I'll be able to get them to come back for that event!!

The bitter part, of course, was not having my mother here and the realization that she will also not be here for the real holidays ... another step on the rocky road called mourning. Also, my daughter couldn't be here ... she herself going through challenging times. There were other family members missing as well. Now the house is once again empty and the dust is settling back into the corners and crevices and we march on to the next chapter in this glorious mystery we are living.

As Thanksgiving week begins to unfold, there is much to be thankful for ... the first and not least, is the wonderfully supportive family I have and the many dear friends and strangers who came to our aid while my mother was dying. She was cared and prayed for with great tenderness by all. I would like to express a heartfelt thanks to you all. May the blessings of the coming season be upon all of you, including all of my blogger friends who have sent their prayers and support throughout the difficult times.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

More On Redcedar ...

The Cedar Grove From The Front Door

Comments left on yesterday's post about Eastern Redcedar have sent me scurrying to find out more about this species and its connection to the making of gin. The latin name for this species is, juniperus virginiana. Juniperus scopulorum, or Rocky Mountain Juniper is the western counterpart to Eastern Redcedar, according to Michael A. Dirr, in his book, Dirr's Hardy Trees and Shrubs, An Illustrated Encyclopedia.

As a child, I remember my mother cooking with juniper berries that she picked from a cedar tree growing outside our kitchen window. She added them to saurkraut as it simmered on a back burner of the stove and to some meat dishes, mostly game meats like venison. My parents both hunted when they were young and taught us about foraging for wild plants for food. My mother was an expert on wild mushrooms. One of my brothers has taken up the post she had to abandon as she aged and became ill. When they are in season, he collects mushrooms in Vermont and New Hampshire supplying many a fine restaurant with the treasure he collects in the woods.

But back to junipers and gin! According to Joe and Teresa Graedon, hosts of The People's Pharmacy, aired on many an NPR station, juniper communis, or Common Juniper is the one used for making gin. It is also listed in Dirr's book, but with no reference made to the gin part. I haven't found other references to this particular species being used for gin in my other reading. According to Dirr, this cedar grows mainly in New England.

Juniper berries have been used for centuries in herbal medicines by ancient Greek, Arab and Native American healers. It can be used as a diuretic and to treat maladies of the bladder and kidneys. It can also be used to "pique the appetite," as an aid for digestion and for relieving flatulence or good ole common gas. Other uses include being used topically to treat wounds and inflammed joints as in arthritis.

According to Karma Ashley in her on online leaflet entitled, Juniper Berries, a Dr. Sylvuis, discovered gin in the Netherlands in 1650, while he was looking for a medicine to treat kidney disorders. Commercial production began around 1655.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

The Way Things Work ...

Small Cedar Grove In Front Of My House

I'm reading a wonderful little book, Teaching the Trees, Lessons from the Forest, by Joan Maloof. She teaches biology and environmental studies at Salisbury University in Salisbury, Maryland. The book is a series of essays about the individual kinds of trees and the links between the trees and the creatures that live on and around them, each dependent on the other for their lives.

Take the redcedar for example. Known as a "pioneer" species, it is one of the first trees to begin growing on "disturbed" or abandoned pastures and fields. We have a very small grove of them in front of our home. Among the birds I've seen feeding on the lovely blue berries, produced only by the female trees, are robins, titmice, cedar waxwings, downy woodpeckers and starlings. Our overly abundant gray squirrels and cottontail rabbits also feed on them along with racoons, opposums and other small mammals. Within the first few inches of soil under the trees, lives a whole other universe, microscopic in nature, that feeds on the decaying plant material the cedars shed as they grow ... their needlie leaves, berries, the stringy bark.

The Female Of The Species With Her Lovely Blue Berries

Cedars also provide nesting sights and places to hide from the villains of the animal world. When a hungry hawk swoops through the yard looking for a quick bite, the birds at the feeders scatter quickly to the darkest corners of the cedar grove until the threat is past. The dense foliage, green all year, also gives protection from winter's cold winds and harsh weather. In return for all of these favors, the birds who feast on the berries, spread the undigested seeds across the land, planting small forests of cedars, provided that the owner of the land where these groves pop up let them remain standing.

In the heat of the summer, I often sit in the cool shade of these trees enjoying the birds going about their lives around me while I sip a gin and tonic. The flavor of the gin, of course, comes from the berries of cedar trees.

We humans use the wood of the redcedar for a multitude of items, including furniture, as in your cedar chest where you store your wool sweaters and socks. The wonderful aroma of the cedar keeps wool hungry moths away. Here in the south, the trees are often cut and used as Christmas trees.

Last but not least, cedars, along with all other green trees and plants, provide oxygen for us to breathe, while they take in carbon dioxide, which we are pumping into the air at an alarming rate due to our use of carbon saturated fuels, contributing to our problems with global warming. That alone seems reason enough to leave them standing.