Posted in Joy in Nature, The Joy of Color

Merry Autumn

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Fall is most definitely my favorite season of the year.  Even with its touch of “summer’s over” melancholy, autumn slowly paints the world with warmly joyful colors, smells and scenes.  The season makes me feel energized and ready to start anew (maybe partly because I’m an educator and connect fall to the new school year).

Autumn wants to make us pause and smile.

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Here’s a terrific poem, by late 19th century poet Paul Laurence Dunbar, which shows fall’s happy face.  Read it out loud to feel, as well as see and hear, the words.

Merry Autumn

It’s all a farce,—these tales they tell
About the breezes sighing,
And moans astir o’er field and dell,
Because the year is dying.

Such principles are most absurd,—
I care not who first taught ‘em;
There’s nothing known to beast or bird
To make a solemn autumn.

In solemn times, when grief holds sway
With countenance distressing,
You’ll note the more of black and gray
Will then be used in dressing.

Now purple tints are all around;
The sky is blue and mellow;
And e’en the grasses turn the ground
From modest green to yellow.

The seed burs all with laughter crack
On featherweed and jimson;
And leaves that should be dressed in black
Are all decked out in crimson.

A butterfly goes winging by;
A singing bird comes after;
And Nature, all from earth to sky,
Is bubbling o’er with laughter.

The ripples wimple on the rills,
Like sparkling little lasses;
The sunlight runs along the hills,
And laughs among the grasses.

The earth is just so full of fun
It really can’t contain it;
And streams of mirth so freely run
The heavens seem to rain it.

Don’t talk to me of solemn days
In autumn’s time of splendor,
Because the sun shows fewer rays,
And these grow slant and slender.

Why, it’s the climax of the year,—
The highest time of living!—
Till naturally its bursting cheer
Just melts into thanksgiving.

— by Paul Laurence Dunbar

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Posted in Joy in Nature

Elephant Ears & Spiritual Readings

Is there a botanical specimen you’re just WILD about?  There certainly is for me!  It’s the Elephant Ear (Colocasia esculenta in plant taxonomy).  And not just because they make my big ears look smaller (though, of course, that’s part of it).  Elephant Ears also exude a mysterious mystical and magical quality.

Okay that sounded rather silly and new age-y.  So I’d better explain.  But when you hear the WHOLE story, DO NOT JUDGE ME!  Or at least do not judge me too harshly.  Deal?  (If no deal, you’re not allowed to read the rest of this post.)

Well, I have always simply adored the Elephant Ear family of luciously leafy plants.  But my REAL love affair with EE’s heated up last October when I trekked to New Orleans to make an academic presentation at the Popular Culture Association in the South annual conference.  Really, I’m telling the truth.  Okay, fine, here’s proof:  a blurb from the conference program:

Saturday 11.8 Pedagogy (Babylon) [DVD/Monitor]

Chair: Michael Moeder, Salisbury University

“A Presentation Software By Any Other Name: The Light and the Dark of Shakespearean Powerpoint Presentations in College English Classrooms” Mark King and David Janssen, Gordon College

“The Visual Essay: Thinking and Playing Outside the Paragraphs” Neal Saye, Georgia Southern University

“Teaching Students to Write for TV and Film: A Comprehensive Plan for the Undergraduate Dramatic Scripting Course” Michael Moeder

So maybe mine doesn’t sound quite as smart as the other two.  But I had lots of visuals, with continual streaming over two screens!  And handouts!  And samples of student work!  And I gave out colored construction paper and had everyone do little projects!  (My hypothesis is that a few bells and whistles, along with hands-on tinkering, can make up for intellectual depth.  And besides, it was Saturday morning, for heaven’s sake.)

The Elephant Ear connection is coming, I promise–just give me a minute or two.

When I got to the Hotel InterContinental on St. Charles to check in, I used the Winning Strategy a friend taught me years ago: ALWAYS ask if an upgrade is “possibly available.”  But BEFORE you ask, set the stage: say something either Pitiful with a Touch of Humor (“I’m SO glad to FINALLY get here to your BEAUTIFUL hotel. My flight was SO turbulent!  I prayed more in those two hours than I have in the past two decades!  But what a peaceful aura both in this gorgeous lobby AND coming from you!  Thank you so much!” or something excitedly exuberant, again with an attempt at a tad of humor (“New-Party-Orleans!  I’m HERE!  And you’re my INCREDIBLE host/hostess!  Can you show me around when you get off work?  THANK YOU for having me!  You RULE this city!).  Then smile like you’re high on beignets and plead for the upgrade.  IT WORKS.  SO VERY OFTEN.  Try it.

I did.  And Bam!  I was given a Club Level upgrade with full food and drink privileges and a nifty elevator key card that whisked me up to the exclusive Executive Floor.  (Another thing, always buy a thank you card and give it to your benefactor during your stay.  It’s good karma.)

Swinging from chandelier in “the club”:

So the second night in Nawlins, after Wandering around Bourbon Street and Wondering, both quietly to myself and out loud to my fellow conference attendee friends, “Do those people on that balcony KNOW they are sorta naked?” and “Why am I catching all these beads?  I have forty strands now”  and “That’s a real alligator that monkey is holding, isn’t it?!” I left the decibels and the adult circus, and meandered over, first to sweet Cafe Du Monde, and then to Jackson Square.

With powdered lips I walked the square’s perimeter, taking in the colorful display of late night street performers, vendors and musicians.

My watch yawned midnight, but my heart gave me the injunction: walk around the square again, and if I make “comfortable, knowing” eye contact with a spiritual reader, I will stop and, uh, be read or whatever.

I walked slowly, my footfalls methodical and audible.

Two-thirds around, I saw her.

A tiny, wisp of a woman from the islands wearing a bandana and clenching a shawl in the sticky October heat.  She sat at a card table.  Breaking eye contact first, I walked on, feeling silly.  So we made eye contact–but “comfortable and knowing”?  I don’t think so.  Looking back confirmed my foolishness.  Her gaze had dropped.  Nothing but a bird-like woman beginning to close up shop.

Until she turned her body toward me and smiled.  A caramel Mona Lisa.  An inviting mystery.

Thirty minutes later I walked away from Ms. Michelle with 1) a small elephant ear plant wrapped in wet paper towels and 2) ears resounding with what I had heard.

“You live near moving water, a river, an ocean, which is good.  Go embrace it often.  You need the movement of water.  You’re too rigid.”

Many other words and images left me, not shocked or awed by their relevancy and accuracy, but at peace with the connectedness of us all, the encouragement of strangers who are not strange after all.  Oneness.

“What do you want to ask?

I had two queries.  The first concerned the number four (my favorite number).  I loved her mathematics.  They confirmed what I knew–that all is well.

The second, as I took in the sight and smell of her small display of Mason-jarred summer leftover blossoms and greenery: “May I have that elephant ear?”  The green beauty had caught my eye from the start, small but holding its own, even without vibrant yellow or red.

“Of course.  It’s for you.  Take it.  Plant elephant ears, pick them.  Put them under your pillow.  They are health and good to you.”

Maybe I gave Michelle all the answers by coming to her, by asking questions.  Maybe I heard what I knew already.  Maybe I embraced the sugary night too tightly.  But I walked away buoyed by knowing.  Knowing that encouragement takes a myriad of forms.

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Unexpectedly I saw Michelle the next day in the sunlight.  We hugged and smiled, amped up in the brightness, having taken care of deep talk the night before.

Later in that final day of my New Orleans stay, I stumbled across the Jean Lefitte National Historic Site and Preserve.

But what was REALLY cool is what I found there:

Water.  And Elephant Ears.  Across the street from the mighty Mississippi River.

Back home in Savannah, one day I strolled the campus of Armstrong Atlantic State University, and here’s what I found:

Huge Elephant ears.

Oh, I planted my own Elephant Ears.  This summer they grew beautifully:

(Excuse me for looking a bit like Captain Kangaroo in the above pic.  Google him, kids.)

Moral of story (at least for me):  Listen.

Posted in Joy in Nature, Savannah Joy

Welcome to My Backyard, the Alley of the Angels

Welcome to the alley of the angels

Hey, they say your eyes can gleam

When you can a just tell the truth all night

(And you can chase them dreams all night)

Welcome to the alley of the angels.

 — John Cougar Mellencamp

Places–I love the poetic resonance of that word. Some places are special; you had them growing up, of course you did. And do now. Magical places. Special because of their cocoonishness, or their broad openness. Their smell, or their connection to friends or family. Their lightness, or darkness. Their safety, or risk.

So I was aghast a few years back when I attended a writing conference at the Sea Turtle Inn in Atlantic Beach, FL, and one afternoon decided to skip the meetings and drive down memory lane. I headed south to Jacksonville Beach to find the motel where my family and I vacationed from about the time I was six or seven till I went away to college. It had those wonderful beds where you inserted a quarter into the headboard, and the mattress vibrated! For fifteen minutes! My mother, father and brothers would all hop on. Who needed the Ritz?

I knew exactly where the Horseshoe Motel stood. I had been there SO many times as a kid. But I started to doubt myself when I passed the lifeguard station and came to the ridiculously sharp turn in the road far beyond my memory motel location. I can be dense, so it took me at least three to-and-fro trips before I realized (admitted?) that the place had been demolished for a condo. Sad. A childhood place gone for good.

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I live in beautiful downtown Savannah, smack-dab in the middle of the nation’s largest historic district, to be exact. I can hear the huge freighters blowing their bass notes at night …

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… as well as the clatter of horseshoes as carriages tour past Colonial Park Cemetery across the street.

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I love walking the Savannah streets, breathing history.

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I don’t really have a backyard, in the traditional sense of the word. But, boy, do I have a backyard! It’s really a small alley, which runs behind the building where I live.

Even though it is communal, and somewhat small, there are hidden crannies where one can sit and read, or laptop, or daydream. It exudes a trace of otherwordliness, a fragrance of excursion. I step into my “backyard,” and suddenly I’m in Europe–Florence, Italy perhaps, trying to decide on which trattoria to frequent. I sit to read in its botanical wealth and am lost, not just in the book’s maze, but in the place, the green, the leafyness, the nowness of nature.

This place calls me to look up, to pause and see.

To view from unfamiliar perspectives and angles.

A tremendous perk of having place appreciation is that windows appear, and open (or shut), and allow you to see just what you desire to see. Or simply, and deliciously, to dream.

There’s power in place.

Both growth and potential growth. Both static and kinetic.

Sometimes sitting is all that’s needed in life. To embrace “is-ness,” accept “am-ness.” Breathing in, breathing out.

A sense and celebration of place, our place, they gift us with calm assurance that we are where we are, for good reason. That rhythm and movement take us (or keep us) where we need to be.

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My backyard invites me to …

And such encouragement affirms the heart of this attempt at blogging.