January is empty for reservoirs. They hold the void. There is no water, wake, or waves. Hardly anyone is there. You’d see them if they were; there’s nowhere to hide.
I tromped around wondering about the emptiness. Which reminded me of the importance of being empty.
My friend recommends going into a room empty. Especially when offering support. Hold the space, but don’t fill it.
Here in this expanse void of water, I fill up on empty. I also feel it. It’s sort of nice to jump into. It radiates something, even if it looks barren and not promising at first glance.
January is not the same as July. No fishing, paddling, skiing, or swimming is happening. It’s a forced stop of action, or yang. The reservoir is taking a break, restoring its yin. And by being here now, I follow. I move in step with January. This is what’s happening.
What is there to do? Visit it. See it in its current state. Without. This leads to about one thing- walking around and observing what is contained in the emptiness.
Things seen were old shoes, wood, grasses, rocks, tires, beer bottles, plastic bags. Mud.
What to do when something doesn’t float our boat? Out of water? It does not fill any expectations.
When the water is low, or mostly gone, we can see the bottom. It’s a good reference point. What I like about this connection is it feels closer to the Dao. The ancient advice went something like, “be low, like water. Be close to the lowest points.” Walking a more humble and quiet route was encouraged, nothing much about running up mountains, pumping your fists. Instead flow like water, adapt to whatever shape you encounter. Just my loose interpretation.
The bits of wood gathered around the edges are connected to the earth this time of year. They lie there exposed. They are not covered by the muffle of water. There is no light and liquid creating beautiful illusions to mesh with. Most will float up again in a few months and ride the water and watch the sky.
What I like about the seasons is it’s not about me. It’s about everything. The status and state of everything, of which I am just passing through. I can appreciate it or I can complain about it. It’s a choice.
I practiced 20 different introductions as I walked toward the Flower Garden of Mystery. This is a large plot of sunflowers and nasturtiums on the corner of Hilyard and E. 25th.
“Hi, my name is Mary Ann and I love your garden and I wondered if I could interview you for my blog, which has very few readers….”
“Hi, I’m Mary Ann, your neighbor, and I write about stuff, and I like your stuff, wanna chat?”
I walked up to the door and knocked twice to no answer. I felt hopeful as I looked at gnomes, a small plastic draft horse, and other fun odds and ends in the flower bed off the porch. As I walked away on the sidewalk, a woman opened the door and called to me. She said she is often hesitant to answer her door, but she saw me and decided to open it. It wasn’t her garden. She said it was her landlady’s plot. “Bonnie just turned 80. She is sort of a legend around here, I think she’d love to talk to you.” I was directed to walk two houses over, to Bonnie’s house.
Turns out, this booming flower garden is entirely volunteer. Nothing was planted. By now, it blooms by habit. It’s 50 years old. “I love the feel of dirt and the fairly amazing concept that a little piece of nothing turns into something magnificent,” said Bonnie Brunken, the one behind the garden. She moved into the neighborhood in 1949. At that time, the land was swampy and cheap; flooding was a regular thing.
Zinnias are her favorite flower. Next, she likes nasturtiums and sunflowers because “they want to live!” My faves too.
Several years ago, I was inspired to have the audacity to plant a huge zinna patch by yet another 80+ year-old neighbor!
Bonnie said she learned to grow things through mentors. “I was mentored by Wilma Crowe, who is in her 90s now.” Wilma and her mother, Mrs. Zahn, taught her about “moon planting and all kinds of things.”
The big patch of flowers cycles like this: tons of mulched leaves from her Carolina Poplar trees are piled high on the bed in the winter. They are tilled into the soil in the spring. Next, she adds straw as the top layer. With some warmth and water, the soil pops to hundreds of flowers. After they are done, it all begins again.
What I like the most about the flower patch is its sole purpose is to be enjoyed. The flowers aren’t sold or eaten. They’re just there. The profit is in the eyes of those who notice.
Back to moon planting. Mrs. Zahn came by one day and checked in with Bonnie who had planted carrots about two weeks before. Mrs. Zahn gave her more carrot seeds and said, “plant these about 6″ out from yours, in the next row.” Bonnie said, sure, but why? “Because today is the right moon day to plant carrots.” In no time, the moon planted carrots grew stronger, faster, larger and didn’t have as much problems with bugs. Bonnie said, “I was a convert after that.”
Her mentors were organic farmers. She also read Silent Spring, by Rachel Carson in the early 1960s. Carson stands out as one who brought forth awareness about the harm caused by pesticides. She is credited with starting the environmental movement. At 56 and dying of breast cancer, she testified in front of the senate, “our heedless and destructive acts enter the vast cycles of the earth and in time return to bring hazard to ourselves.”
Upon this read, Bonnie said, “o.k, I’m not going to add to the problem.”
Besides seeing the results of moon planting, she saw a study done about 25 years ago by the University of Iowa. The final analysis ended up being about 500 pages with the conclusion: we understand a little bit about it; we don’t understand most of it; we just know that it works.
Sometime before this study, Pliny, the Elder, the first-century Roman naturalist stated that the moon “replenishes the earth when she approaches it, she fills all the bodies; while when she recedes, she empties them.”
Moon planting is also referred to as agricultural astrology as it relates to moon phases and astrological signs.
Bonnie has two great dogs: Dandelion, the Parson Russel terrier, and Sage, the very soft beagle. Before I left, she wanted to show me the third pet, who lives in the back yard.
Perched in a patch of dragon lilies, snap dragons, daises, and other grasses and flowers, was a huge metal dragon! Bonnie named it, “Joyful.”
For more about organic and biodynamic farming, check out my article featuring draft horses:
I don’t know if I’ve mentioned it, but I pick up sticks. I collect them. I see them everywhere. Usually they are on the ground. I don’t go around poaching live branches off trees. Some of the best places to find them are on the borders and edges of reservoirs. Roots, limbs, branches, and even lumber pile up and roll around on each other from the waves and wind. They end up soft and smooth and weathered like driftwood. They are no longer alive. At this point, they have become art.
In the beginning, I just placed the sticks around my yard or deck. They enhanced any space. Then I found more purpose, like making trellis for plants to climb. This gave way to more ideas, like making twig sculpture towers. Things really took off when the towers started to host humming bird feeders and suet.
One thing led to another.
I made suet the other day, for the first time. This was in response to a friend saying to me, well, can’t you make that? I’d never thought of doing such a thing. The Farmer’s Almanac had a recipe that looked simple and honest and wholesome, so I made it. That exciting story might be another blog!
I put the fresh suet on my older wobbly curly willow twig bird and squirrel tower. Birds didn’t seem interested. I joked that at least the raccoons would like it. That night, the raccoons held a rave, and knocked the structure down leaving it badly beaten. Most of the suet was eaten.
I needed to build a new twig structure habitat! All the birds, mainly hummingbirds, counted on this thing. They have their hummer poetry slams here every Saturday at noon!
I looked at my backlog of sticks. Not enough good ones.
We had just had an ice storm that left a lot of tree limb casualties. About a mile away, along a running trail, I spotted a yellowish colored, smooth barked, very long, snapped-off elegant branch hanging by a tiny thread of fiber.
I hopped on my bike with my ratchet loppers in the saddle bags. This branch was destined for purpose. I hoped it was still there and that I could discreetly harvest it. That turned out to be the easy part. Snip, it was down. It was around 11 ft. I couldn’t ride my bike with it and risk impaling a jogger, or skewering a bicyclist.
I had to walk, looking balanced and normal with this very long branch. I only fell over once; managed to just dropped the bike and stick. Most people didn’t seem to notice. I passed a dog park, and there behind the fence staring at my great find was a very excited dog. His face lit up! His eyes said, “I love it!” In those few moments, we connected over this perfect and elegant wild-crafted branch.
The walk toward home was tiring but I didn’t show weakness. About a third of the way there, a man asked, “so, what are you going to do with that stick?” A fair question, and I told him the truth. Just then, another man called out my name and offered to deliver it to my house. It was my neighbor. He had a truck!
I told him that would be really great, and that I was feeling like I was looking weird. He picked up the stick, hoisting it across his shoulders and strode off, exclaiming, “now I look weird!”
The point is, it’s fun to be a little weird or ridiculous toward a creative goal. It makes for a more interesting day for you and others.
Suddenly it hits you, you’ve aged. Today’s blog is about aging beautifully.
I spoke with Ilene Cummings, 85, who leads workshops about aging with grace: aging beautifully. This is part of her work as a human development counselor and retreat leader.
“You have to learn to love yourself in spite of what is happening to your face,” Ilene said. There needs to be a place to talk about it. “We don’t say, omigod, what’s happening to my face?! But, we think about it.” She wants to facilitate the conversation.
Ilene thinks it’s best to get a jump on aging well, before you actually get old. She said that “aging beautifully is a function of how you have lived. It is very dependent on doing personal work. You have to decide if you want to age beautifully. It’s not going to happen automatically. Not in our youth culture.”
You have to put in the daily effort, like most things that are worthwhile.
Here are Ilene’s three guidelines to help people age beautifully:
1. Give up your attachment to being young. It’s a lot of work to keep a lie going. Be authentic. Be real. It takes a lot of balls to be yourself as an older person. You have to be honest to grow. Practice forgiveness. If you are beating yourself up all the time, how can you accept yourself?
2. Be willing to change. Be active in self examination. You have to constantly adapt to a current or new situation.
3. Find meaning. Go deep. Find those that you truly connect with. For example, Ilene has a friend who she has great conversations with.
“All this extraordinary stuff comes out and I can meet her. It’s worth a million dollars to both of us,” Ilene enthused. “We talk about God, animals, art, death. Nothing has really changed; however, I feel amazing after our visits.”
One thing that starts to happen when you get older- you began paring down. For example, you stop driving at night. This greatly limits integration. A lot of networking and social events happen in the evening. Make efforts to socialize in ways that you can. Ilene believes socializing is essential.
“Somebody might love knitting- they need to find a knitting group. Socializing is a must do. You absolutely have to get out. People need such events so that they have to present themselves; they have to wash their face. It is easier to stay home but it’s not in your best interest. There is a tendency for older people to crumble up within and sort of wait to die.”
Ilene emphasizes, “Take care of yourself. Respect yourself. Start young and keep respecting yourself.” When Ilene was very young she felt well cared for by her mother. She thinks this taught her the value of good self care. She never forgets that her well-being and health matter.
Ilene said, “I ask people about how their parents aged. Regardless of what you’ve been exposed to, aging beautifully is up to you. This is your job. You have to make friends with your aging self. Or else you are doomed; you are fighting it. I am getting older and everyone else knows I am getting older. When we don’t accept that we are looking older, we become a caricature.”
I asked Ilene, what is the reward?
“I think it’s why I am living longer, feeling good about myself, being willing to honestly state my age. If you hate your age, it will show on your your face. Most people hate growing old. I don’t buy into the idea that you are losing it, or that you aren’t sexy anymore. At the same time, I am very aware of the losses that come with aging. It is hard to start this work when you are already aging. The earlier you start with your own process, the better it will go.”