“A single crocus blossom ought to be enough to convince our heart that springtime, no matter how predictable, is somehow a gift, gratuitous, gratis, a grace.”
— David Steindl-Rast

Crocus Chrysanthus by George Maw, from The Art of Botanical Illustration by Wilfrid Blunt and William T. Stearn

“Beside the porch step
the crocus prepares an exaltation
of purple, but for the moment
holds its tongue. . . .”
— Jane Kenyon, from “Mud Season”

An exaltation of purple

Crocuses

Crow with crocuses

 

Crocuses with raindrops

Crocuses with raindrops

Rain
by Raymond Carver

Woke up this morning with
a terrific urge to lie in bed all day
and read.  Fought against it for a minute.

Then looked out the window at the rain.
And gave over.  Put myself entirely
in the keep of this rainy morning.

Would I live my life over again?
Make the same unforgiveable mistakes?
Yes, given half a chance.  Yes.

I can see myself in this poem.  I can easily give myself over to books.  I can’t keep up with all the tantalizing titles that pass through my hands at work.  A couple of days ago, I shelved a book called The Lost Art of Reading Nature’s Signs by Tristan Gooley.  By the time I got home and went online to place the book on hold, I couldn’t remember the exact title.  So I searched the library’s online catalogue for “signs of the seasons.”  I did find the book I was looking for, but some other intriguing titles, too — Pilgrimage to Vallombrosa: from Vermont to Italy in the Footsteps of George Perkins Marsh; Iambics of Newfoundland; The Road is How: A Prairie Pilgrimage through Nature, Desire, and Soul; and Nature-Speak.  So I added those titles to my request list as well. Is it no wonder I can’t stay ahead of my reading?

 

 

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Small Things, Small Doings

February 25, 2014

“Small things, small doings, train our powers of observation . . . Not all of nature’s book is writ large; the fine print is quite as interesting, and it is this that trains the eye.”
— John Burroughs, from The Writings of John Burroughs, “In Field and Wood”

Patches of purple and white crocuses

Patches of purple and white crocuses

The first of our year’s flowers are those short ones that hug the ground — the snowdrops, dwarf irises, crocuses.  The small things.  The small doings of nature.  How we welcome them after the long winter.
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Watecolor sketch of crocuses

Watercolor sketch of crocuses

Another watercolor sketch of crocuses

Another watercolor sketch of crocuses

Crocus collage

Crocus collage

 

 

 

 

 

“What miracles are going on here under the leaves, or an inch or two under the ground!  What awakenings, what shooting of first sprouts!  What an important service dead leaves render — every plant tucked up so tenderly!”
— John Burroughs, from The Heart of Burrough’s Journals, edited by Clara Barrus, March 4, 1865

Emerging tulips

Emerging tulips

I am looking for some miracles as we go through these final weeks of winter.  Any new, emerging growth is cause for celebration — the first spikes of green, the curly brain-like leaves of rhubarb, the shock of crocus colors.

New rhubarb.  (Time to finish up the frozen rhubarb from last year.)

New rhubarb. (Time to finish up the frozen rhubarb from last year.)

Colorful crocuses

Colorful crocuses

Shelf fungus on a stump

Shelf fungus on a stump

Spikes of tulips

Spikes of tulips

Watercolor sketch of emerging tulips

Watercolor sketch of emerging tulips

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Single crocus blossom

Single crocus blossom

“I never see the spring flowers rising from the mould, or the pond lilies born of the black ooze, that matter does not become transparent and reveal to me the working of the same celestial powers that fashioned the first man from the common dust.”
— John Burroughs, “The Grist of the Gods,” from The Art of Seeing Things:  Essays by John Burroughs, edited by Charlotte Zoe Walker

Purple crocuses growing up from the mold

Purple crocuses growing up from the mold

A commonplace miracle — witnessing rebirth, regeneration in spring flowers.

The tiny model for a flower painting

The tiny model for a flower painting

Watercolor sketch of crocuses

Watercolor sketch of crocuses

Single yellow crocus bud in a spice jar

Single yellow crocus bud in a spice jar

Small bloom

Small bloom

Today I just have to marvel at how Spring begins to raise its head and breaks Winter’s hold with the arrival of the small blooms of snowdrops and crocuses.  So much promise in such little packages!  They grow so close to the ground, you really have to seek them out.  Isn’t it much better to awaken slowly in this way instead of with a more exuberant and jarring display?

Crocuses in my neighbor's parking strip

Crocuses in my neighbor’s parking strip

Tiny snowdrops -- the vase is a spice jar

Tiny snowdrops — the vase is a spice jar

“In this book, I am looking for what I miss, every day, right in front of me, while walking around the block.”
— Alexandra Horowitz, On Looking:  Eleven Walks with Expert Eyes

The book On Looking

The book On Looking

“What an epiphany to reconceive a city . . .”

I really like the idea of this book.  In it, Alexandra Horowitz takes short urban walks with eleven “experts” in various fields, and as they share what it is like to notice things through their eyes, Horowitz herself begins to see with new-found vision and understanding.  The eleven walking companions are:  a 19-month-old toddler, a geologist, a typographer, the illustrator and writer Maira Kalman, a field naturalist and insect expert, a wildlife biologist, an analyst of pedestrian movement, a medical doctor, a blind woman, a sound engineer, and a dog.

I was hoping one of her experts would have been a horticulturist or botanist, because it is most likely plants that I attend to on the walks in my neighborhood.  It would have been instructive to compare notes.

I know one thing.  This book will prompt you to go out for a walk around the block in your neighborhood.  Here are a few photos of a late winter walk through my eyes and camera lens:

Crocuses

Crocuses

Rhododendron bud

Rhododendron bud

Witch hazel

Witch hazel

Sunlight through kale leaf

Sunlight through kale leaf

New leaves

New leaves

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“One attraction in coming to the woods to live was that I should have leisure and opportunity to see the Spring come in.”
— Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Watercolor sketch of spring crocuses

“Walden is melting apace.”
— Henry David Thoreau, Walden

“They were pleasant spring days, in which the winter of man’s discontent was thawing as well as the earth, and the life that had lain torpid began to stretch itself.”
— Henry David Thoreau, Walden

The spring equinox arrives this year in Seattle on March 19th at 10:14 p.m. Pacific Standard Time.  Like Thoreau, I especially enjoy welcoming this new season and watch with interest the changes that mark the transition from our cold winters.

Seattle springs are long, drawn-out affairs.  The changeover from winter is very gradual and the blooming and blossoming moves forward in progression over many days and months.  We do not have the extremes of weather like the Midwest and our four seasons are not so pronounced:

“Seattle spring was a delicate flowering of the pale gray winter — a pastel prelude to the pale yellow summer which flowed gently into the lavender autumn and on into the pale gray winter.  It was all very subtle and, as we wore the same clothes the year around . . . we were never season conscious.”
— Betty MacDonald, The Egg and I

I will try to stay attentive to these subtle seasonal changes and celebrate each new arrival —  crocuses, daffodils, longer days, rhubarb, asparagus . . .  Welcome Spring!