The very top of summer

The first week of August hangs at the very top of summer, the top of the live-long year, like the highest seat of a Ferris wheel when it pauses in its turning. The weeks that come before are only a climb from balmy spring, and those that follow a drop to the chill of autumn, but the first week of August is motionless . . . ~Natalie Babbitt

It is a cool quiet morning as Angel and I go out into the garden. Last night’s raucous frog chorus has faded with the light and the cicadas won’t begin their drowsy drone until the air warms. It feels as if time has stopped, with only the occasional bird song to remind me that I am awake in this beautiful world, the essence of late summer.

The garden has suddenly become voluptuous with the buxom blooms of Hydrangea paniculata ‘Limelight’ and tall summer phlox (Phlox paniculata).

August creates as she slumbers, replete and satisfied. ~Joseph Wood Crutch 

The composite flowers of Echinacea, Rudbeckia, and shasta daisies (Leucanthemumsuperbum) are running riot through the garden.

late summer steps

I resist the urge to pluck their petals to the chant of “he loves me, he loves me not” and instead admire their cheerful faces so beloved by bees and butterflies.

I saw a monarch butterfly the other day, the first I’ve seen in two years, although it proved to be camera shy. Winged pollinators of all sorts have been busy in the garden.

A few weeks ago, I spied this huge creature on a daylily stem, with a wing span larger than my hand, the Polyphemus moth (Antheraea polyphemus).  A denizen of deciduous forests, it only lives a few days as an adult, just long enough to lay eggs and complete its life cycle. When I shared the photo with my friend Edwin, he exclaimed “In 4-H etymology projects this was the grand prize!” Polyphemus moth

I almost wish we were butterflies and liv’d but three summer days – three such days with you I could fill with more delight than fifty common years could ever contain. ~Keats

While creatures were flying, trees were falling. A high wind twisted and ripped a tall red oak tree from the base of its trunk in our front woods, splaying it across the road. A friendly neighbor driving by helped us cut the top branches and clear the road until the tree company could remove the rest. Fortunately, only a few fence rails were damaged.

A few days later, I heard a terrible cracking sound through my window at 4 A.M., followed by a series of snaps. I’ve heard a tree fall before and I braced myself for the crash into our house but fortunately, I heard only a solid thud in the distance. At first light, I found our neighbor’s huge oak had cracked near the base and fallen into the woods, taking two smaller oaks with it. I’m hoping the mulberry tree won’t suffer permanent damage, as it now has an oak leaning into it until the tree surgeons do their work later this week.

treefall2

fallenoak

Last night, I walked through the garden at dusk to the sound of evening birdsong and the thrum of tree frogs courting.  The hilltop that looked so cheerful in daylight hilltop

became dreamy and mysterious in the evening light. eveninggarden

There is nothing I like better at the end of a hot summer’s day than taking a short walk around the garden. You can smell the heat coming up from the earth to meet the cooler night air. ~Peter Mayle 

May you enjoy every moment of the very top of summer before the Ferris wheel resumes its downward plunge into fall.

Of trees and greenness

Green is the prime color of the world, and that from which its loveliness arises.  ~Pedro Calderon de la Barca (17th century Spanish dramatist)

greenwoodlandEvery window frames a scene of green. Those first lovely hints of verdure in April have grown fulsome and lush in May and each moment in the garden brings a sense of deep peace and healing. The weather seesaws between warm sunny days and cool rainy ones, pushing and pulling the garden into breathtaking loveliness.gardentreesWP

Delicate flowers in tones of white and blush pink sing against the green resonance of their leaves while floral buds of deep jewel tones promise brighter scenarios to come. (Click on any image to see a larger photo)

The woodland trees – oak, ash, maple, hickory – are in their glory, leaves unfurled in a rich tapestry of fresh new color, that brief moment in time before they settle into the solemn shades of summer.

For in the true nature of things, if we rightly consider, every green tree is far more glorious than if it were made of gold and silver. ~Martin Luther

The trees call to me as they arch over the garden, protective, connecting earth to sky, a verdant canopy that magically sifts and filters the light. “Walk in our greenness” they seem to say, “partake of our calm and silence.”summersnowflake

Trees are the earth’s endless effort to speak to the listening heaven. ~Tagore

I wish you a green and glorious May; I invite you to walk through a woodland and breathe in harmony with the earth.

See how nature – trees, flowers, grass – grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence . . . We need silence to be able to touch souls. ~Mother Teresa

All photos ©2017 Lynn Emberg Purse, All Rights Reserved.

January Thaw

Winter, an artist’s sketch in charcoal,
so clearly etched against a cloud filled sky . . .
~ from the song “Winter” 

After weeks of “real” winter, complete with snow, ice, and sleet, the rains came yesterday. Thick layers of snow and ice began to crumble and melt in the suddenly warm temperatures, assaulted by alternating pounding rainstorms and soft drizzles.  By evening, a fog had arisen between the melting snow and the warm air and swirled upwards throughout the night.  This morning, mist and fog lay heavily in the woods and along the streams, turning the winter landscape into a mysteriously beautiful January thaw.

I felt as if I were moving through a dream as I walked through the woods. The dark trunks of immense oaks stood like sentinels guarding a secret kingdom in the mist, fading to gray in the distance. Drops of water clung to delicate twigs and buds like sprays of crystals. Snow lingered in pockets, slowly seeping into the garden beds and revealing fresh green growth.

January thaw is an observed but unexplained temperature rise in mid-winter found in mid-latitude North America.” (Wikipedia) The thaw is generally centered around the date of January 25, when a rise of temperatures by 10 degrees Fahrenheit occurs for about a week. The Farmer’s Almanac notes its common designation as “false spring” and compares it to the phenomenon of Indian Summer, the predictable surge of warm weather in autumn. This year, certainly, the thaw is more than 10 degrees warmer than usual; yesterday’s temperature reached 50 F and today will be a balmy 64 F.

The sun is shining now, the mist a memory. I intend to celebrate the January thaw by working in the garden while dreaming of the arrival of “real spring.” Enjoy the morning walk in the woods with me. (Click on any photo to trigger the gallery view)

There are two seasonal diversions that can ease the bite of any winter.  One is the January thaw.  The other is the seed catalogues.
–  Hal Borland

Trees That Sing

Never did pine trees seem so dear. How sweet was their breath and their song, and how grandly they winnowed the sky!  naturalist John Muir, from “Steep Trail”

It seems fitting at this time of year, when we bring pine and holly into our homes to celebrate the holidays, to give some thought to trees. I have been in love with trees my entire life, spending hours in the woods as a child, walking among them, climbing them, reading beneath them. Not surprisingly, I was married in a grove of plum trees on my parents’ farm; the night before the wedding, the trees on the farm came to me in a dream and promised me that they would be there as witnesses. Then they sang the most beautiful song, with voices deeper than the deepest Russian men’s choir. That song, untranslatable into earthly song, has always stayed with me.

Trees figure large in the human imagination, in myth and archetype, in holy writ. The notion of the sacred tree is present in most cultures. The idea of towering giants whose roots are as deep as their heads are high is profound and symbolic, even as they feed us, shelter us, transport us and hold us in their arms. After reading Julie Moir Messervy’s “The Inward Garden” which uses an archetypal approach to garden design, I created my lower garden around the idea of a cosmic tree at its center. It is a small weeping cherry surrounded by a tall hardwood forest, a still point in the center of the swirl of trees and flowers and birds.

Surrounded by these same trees as I was sitting on my deck (and perhaps remembering my wedding eve dream,) I was inspired to write Trees of Righteousness, a three movement choral work commissioned to celebrate the 125th anniversary of our university.

Here’s a brief clip from the first movement: (Text: They shall be called trees of righteousness, planted by the Lord)

Many musical instruments, including guitars, cellos, pianos, and wooden flutes, are constructed from the wood of trees, perhaps extending the voice of the tree in another way. It is conjectured that Antonio Stradivari used the wood of very slow growing trees (see the Maunder Minimum hypothesis) that ultimately became his celebrated violins.

And finally, here is a link to an unusual video of a man, Diego Stucco, who chose to make music with a living tree. Enjoy.

All images (except wedding photo), audio and text of “Trees That Sing” ©2011 Lynn Emberg Purse, All Rights Reserved