Painted leaves

October is the month for painted leaves . . . ~Thoreau

While the garden is quietly collapsing back into the earth, the trees are a riot of color. Cold crisp nights dipping towards the freezing point have triggered the shift from soft green leaves to a paintbox of crisp autumn colors. Most of my time outside has been spent looking upwards, that’s where the drama is. (click on any photo to see a full size image)

 

October proved a riot a riot to the senses and climaxed those giddy last weeks before Halloween. ~Keith Donohue

A few tender plants linger – a coral Million Bells tucked under the spiral staircase, Gloriosa daisies in a planter on the deck, a mound of coral red ‘Sedona’ coleus in a protected corner of the house.

 

The herb circle in the front of the house remains lush, with tall grasses and creamy seedhead clouds of our native white snakeroot (Eupatorium rugosum)octoberherbcircle

along with a mound of tall blue ageratums self-sown from last year. ageratum

A few days ago, a flock of robins gathered for their flight south and indicated to me that they wanted their favorite watering bowl at the foot of the oaks cleaned and refilled. I obliged and they drank long and deep before taking to the skies. oakmaple

The leaves of the kousa dogwoods have turned a deep russet red kousaleaveswhile the wild grapevine leaves remain green even as their stems turn scarlet. wildgrapevineleaf

As I step outside each morning, a rich sweet smell arises from the earth, the scent of fallen fruit, decomposing leaves and rain soaked earth, the smell of true autumn. hardyplumbagoleaves

At no other time (than autumn) does the earth let itself be inhaled in one smell, the ripe earth . . .  ~Rainer Maria Rilke

 

 

Circles of Light

Look at how a single candle can both defy and define the darkness. ~Anne Frank

The early mornings are dark now, the light is late to arrive. It is the shortest day of the year here in the northern hemisphere, the solstice that marks the turn to longer days of light. (The word “solstice” comes from the Latin solstitium meaning “sun stands still”) Humans have long celebrated that moment as we turn from dark to light by lighting candles, burning logs, bringing evergreens into our homes, reminding ourselves that the days will grow longer. solsticesunset8

A few years ago, I took a class in creating mandalas, a circle that encloses the expression of our inner selves. The circle is an ancient symbol – the circle of life, the circle of a wedding ring, the circle of councils and celebrations. Some of the mandalas we created in that class were ephemeral, fashioned from found objects in nature. This one of ferns and moss reminds me of a Christmas wreath. intothemoss

At some point during the course, as I set the point of the drafting compass to paper, I suddenly realized that I had created my lower garden as a mandala without realizing it. I had found the center point of the garden plot and pounded a stake into it, tied a rope to it and let it guide me as I walked in concentric circles around it, creating planting beds and paths by dragging a hoe on the ground through the loose dirt.

mid-April

Circle Garden in mid-April

Walking these circular paths in the garden in any season is like tracing the steps of a labyrinth and always puts me in harmony with the natural world. cherryaftersnow

My favorite drawing on paper, however, expresses my love for the earth and my hope for peace and light for the world. Ironically, I discovered that when drawing the wings, the light was made more powerful by drawing shadows for contrast and depth. And so life goes, shadow and light, circles and seasons, sorrows and joys, through the great round of life. On this day and in this season, my wish for each of you  is that the light grows brighter both in your world and in your heart, from the inside to the outside and back again.

wings_tree_mandala copy

In winter, the stars seem to have rekindled their fires, the moon achieves a fuller triumph, and the heavens wear a look of a more exalted simplicity. ~ John Burroughs

All text and images ©2018 Lynn Emberg Purse except where noted.

Here’s a musical view of the winter solstice.

Gratitude among contradictions

Piglet noticed that even though he had a Very Small Heart, it could hold a rather large amount of Gratitude.” ~A. A. Milne, Winnie the Pooh

Spicebush swallowtail butterfly

Even as we celebrated the American holiday of Thanksgiving this week, I am mindful that gratitude is seasonless and ever appropriate regardless of temporal circumstances. I have taken a long hiatus from this blog as I dove deep underground for reflection and renewal these past few months. Surfacing into a heavy teaching schedule this fall only complicated matters, yet each day brings something for which I am grateful.

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 “I have been finding treasures in places I did not want to search. I have been hearing wisdom from tongues I did not want to listen. I have been finding beauty where I did not want to look. And I have learned so much from journeys I did not want to take.” ~Suzy Kassem

There were many moments of beauty in the garden during those months. Flowers bloomed, butterflies graced the garden, and the rain came often to soak the ground and encourage growth and flowering. (click on any photo in the mosaic to see a full size image)

Two weeks ago, the autumnal light slanted through the woods while the mild fall weather had barely turned the leaves into shades of red and gold.

Never say there is nothing beautiful in the world anymore. There is always something to make you wonder in the shape of a tree, the trembling of a leaf. ~Albert Schweitzer

Chestnut Oak leaf with acornsLast week, a freezing rain followed by snow turned the woods into a fairy land but bent to the ground many trees that had not yet dropped their leaves.

brokenpineboughsGrateful that our electric power stayed on,  several friends were not so lucky and dealt with many cold days and dark nights. Alas, our white pines suffered damage from the heavy load and lost several branches, crushing a chair beneath them. Fortunately the Chinese dogwoods (Cornus kousa) and Cornelian cherry (Cornus mas) trees sprung back up after being bowed to the ground. Resilience in nature is not to be underestimated!

Today’s frigid temperatures revealed roses frozen in mid-bloom and a bounty of rose hips from previous blooms that will feed birds throughout the winter. frozenrose

Even as people in many parts of our country and our world are in distress, I am aware of my blessings as I write this from the warmth of my home, my sweet Angel curled next to me, my husband serenading us on his guitar. How fortunate I am to have a home, a loving family, a beautiful garden, and meaningful work.  Marcel Proust reminds us “let us be grateful to the people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.” swallowtailechinacea

May your soul blossom now and through the coming days and please, send a word of thanks to those who have given so much, regardless of circumstances. Heroes walk among us, every day people who give their time, their hearts and sometimes their lives.

Sometimes our light goes out but is blown into flame by another human being. Each of us owes deepest thanks to those who have rekindled this light. ~Albert Schweitzer

All text and images ©2018 Lynn Emberg Purse, All Rights Reserved, except where noted.

Watershed

Water is the driving force in nature. ~Leonardo da Vinci

I have been elsewhere these past few months. If you spoke to me, I only heard part of what you were saying. If music played other than what I was composing, I did not hear it. I vaguely remember the holidays but they intruded upon my inner world and I merely went through the motions, eager to return to the world of water.  Deep within the mystery of watersheds, I often forgot appointments or rescheduled them in order to pursue the trail of liquid sound. One morning, I awoke with musical figures and phrases running through my head and felt as if I had somehow been transformed into water itself. waterdrop

Last month I submitted the score and parts for Watershed, a concerto for cello and orchestra, and attended rehearsals last week. The premiere, featuring cellist Adam Liu and the Duquesne University Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Daniel Meyer, takes place in little more than a week, to be followed by recording sessions. Although I am now more present to the daily life of the world, the music of Watershed continues to play through my head day and night.

Walking through the misty woods this morning with Angel, each step was in rhythm with the flow of water. (Click on any photo to see a full-size photo. All photos ©2018 Lynn Emberg Purse, All Rights Reserved)

The song of the river ends not at her banks but in the hearts of those who have loved her. ~Buffalo Joe

The inspiration for Watershed is the abundance of water where I live, in the midst of the Pine Creek watershed. The headwaters of the creek begin in the northernmost corner of our county and flow south towards the Allegheny River and then on to the Ohio River. In its travels, the creek becomes a lovely quiet lake in our county park before flowing over the dam and continuing on its way. Many of our local roads in the Pittsburgh area follow the creeks and streams that feed our watershed; driving south on Rt. 8 traces the path of Pine Creek and the many smaller waterways that join it. Local waterfalls feed it and eventually Pine Creek takes a wide meander, a large curving loop, at the Shaler Plaza, and then continues on to join the Allegheny River. Each of the four movements tries to speak in the voice of the creek in its journeys from headwaters to the confluence of rivers.

. . . I feel like the Queen of Water. I feel like water that transforms from a flowing river to a tranquil lake to a powerful waterfall to a freshwater spring to a meandering creek to a salty sea to raindrops gentle on your face to hard, stinging hail to frost on a mountaintop, and back to a river again. ~Maria Virginia Farinango

watershedsignMonths of research have left me with a much deeper understanding of and appreciation for the flow of water through the land.  The idea of the watershed, water flowing to its lowest point to eventually flow to the sea and return as rain, began to heighten my awareness of all things water. I was introduced to the concept of the river continuum by friend and colleague Brady Porter. I discovered that the signs that mark our local creeks and watersheds were put there partly through the efforts of an environmental scientist whose daughter is a cellist and a former student of Adam Liu, the artist for whom Watershed was composed. I discovered that the lake that I love (featured in this video), when drained and dredged in a restoration project a few years ago, revealed the deep trough of Pine Creek running at its bottom, unseen yet present, a hidden current. Everywhere I drive or park my car, I see the ever present Pine Creek, now a beloved companion on my travels. In fact, it is so ubiquitous, it is rarely noticed by those who see it every day.

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Pine Creek below a busy road

Water is the most perfect traveler because when it travels it becomes the path itself! ~Mehmet Murat Ildan

I am not alone in being inspired and transformed by moving waters, by streams, by rivers. Countless poets, authors, philosophers, scientists and naturalists have something to say about it.

A river seems a magic thing. A magic, moving, living part of the very earth itself. ~Laura Gilpin

The river has taught me to listen; you will learn from it, too. The river knows everything; one can learn everything from it. ~Herman Hesse

I am beginning to understand that the stream the scientists are studying is not just a little creek. It’s a river of energy that moves across regions in great geographic cycles. Here, life and death are only different points on a continuum. ~ Kathleen Dean Moore and Jonathan W. Moore

Look around you – do you see water? Treasure it, listen to it, protect it. If you are so inclined, I hope that you can attend the premiere of Watershed, which I now realize is a love song to moving waterNevertheless, you can discover the voice of the stream or river near you and learn to hear its song. (Update: You can hear music from Watershed here)

I thought how lovely and how strange a river is. A river is a river, always there, and yet the water flowing through it is never the same water and is never still. It’s always changing and is always on the move. . . Am I like that? Always me, like the river itself, always flowing but always different, like the water flowing in the river, sometimes walking steadily along andante, sometimes surging over rapids furioso, sometimes meandering with hardly any visible movement tranquilo, lento, ppp pianissimo, sometimes gurgling giacoso with pleasure, sometimes sparkling brillante in the sun, sometimes lacrimoso, sometimes appassionato, sometimes misterioso, sometimes pesante, sometimes legato, sometimes staccato, sometimes sospirando, sometimes vivace, and always, I hope, amoroso. ~Aiden Chambers

Composer in the studio

Winter is here, snow making the garden lovely in a new way. This is the season of lines and shapes, the bones of the garden.

snowygate

The seeds and plants have been ordered while watching garden videos, the antidote to the bitter cold keeping me indoors. Zelda is sound asleep for the winter, adorned by a milky snow mustache. zeldasnow

Angel has been enjoying the snow in spite of the cold, running through the woods . . . angelsnowrun

alert to the sounds of birds and squirrels in the quiet days . . . angelsnowgarden

and trying to puzzle out why the snow is only on the south side of the trees. angelsnowtree

There have been days where my feet have not crossed the threshold into winter, as I have been in my music studio instead of the garden. The cello concerto is almost ready for rehearsals but so many details to complete! Someone asked me recently where I composed and on what instrument (thank you, Linda!), so perhaps many of you will find this of interest.

Composing begins for me with an idea that will work within the structure of the piece. I think about it for a long time, do extensive research and write many pages of notes. Often, I begin this process in what is perhaps my favorite room in the house, piano_rooma room lined with a wall of windows facing south where I can see the woods in all seasons. It is the closest I can be to nature and my garden while still being inside the house and is especially appreciated in winter when the light streams in and I can light a fire in the fireplace. Once the piece takes shape in my mind, I move from the cozy chairs to the piano. One of the great treasures of my life,  the piano is a Lindeman from the 1930’s and belonged to my Aunt June, who was a marvelous pianist. I spend evenings searching for the “soul” of the piece while improvising at the keys, finally sketching out musical themes and ideas with paper and pencil.

Armed with those notes, I move into my studio. A partially finished “bonus room” over the garage when we moved here, we eventually tricked out the room with a heating/cooling unit, added skylights and carpet and furnished it as my creative retreat to compose, to work on multimedia projects, and to just think. The music work station takes center stage and this is where I go to bring pieces to completion. Reference books on technology and orchestration line the bookshelves. Angel, ever my muse, sleeps next to me on the blanket on the floor or under the table.lynnstudio

Once I complete a section or movement, I retreat to my little sofa to listen to playback, marking rough drafts, taking notes. What works? What sounds unbalanced or incomplete? Putting some distance between me and the computer allows me to regain perspective from the minutia of putting notes to page and also encourages me to relax my back and neck from the inevitable computer strain. My first oil painting hangs on the wall and artwork of all kinds fill the space. lynnstudio2

In a few days, the score and parts will be complete and uploaded to the music librarian; rehearsals begin soon. I will share more about Watershed in my next post. In the meantime, stay warm and enjoy the stark beauty of the season.