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Archive for the ‘Nature’ Category

Grounds for Sculpture, created by J. Seward Johnson, is an (almost exclusively) outdoor museum featuring sculpture from around the world in every style, material, shape, and size imaginable. It is peopled throughout – quite literally – by the wonderful sculptures of Johnson himself. I have done a few posts on the Grounds for Sculpture because it is such an amazing place.

In previous posts, I focused on the sculptures throughout the grounds, but what I’ve never highlighted are the exquisite grounds themselves. Each and every sculpture is shown off to its best advantage by its “framing” by the perfect trees, shrubs, or grasses.

Truly, the Grounds for Sculpture is not just a sculpture exhibit,
but a true botanical garden.

One of Seward’s many sculptures, positioned in an outdoor amphitheater.

Sometimes just walking from one area of the grounds to another is an experience, this feeling to me like walking in an Impressionist painting.

Two views of one of the ponds on the grounds.

One of the many magnificent trees to be found as you walk
the museum’s 42 acres.

Another sculpture framed perfectly by the surrounding plantings.

 

Views in a Japanese sculpture garden.

One of a pair of ballerinas.

One of my favorite sculptures and arrangements in the park.

To enjoy more of Grounds for Sculpture, just type that in the search box above. Thanks for walking through these beautiful grounds with me.

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Let me preface this post by noting two things. 1) I am not a gardener, and feel especially lucky when the annuals I plant on my porches do well. 2) I was really not aware that there could be such a drastic difference in the actual quality of plants purchased from one location or another. Witness the Beast:

In early spring, my neighbor came home with an amazing haul of beautiful plants for their property, some of which I’d never seen or heard of before. I found she’d gotten them at Rice’s Market in not-too-far-away PA. This is a flea market which also has a huge assortment of plants from a local nursery.

Just look at that coleus above! Not only have I never seen coleus that looked like that, but it has been growing like wildfire in what is, obviously, its perfect spot. A Beast, indeed!

The burgundy leaves of the variant in back feel like velveteen and somewhat resemble a red maple. As summer wears on, they are starting to turn bright green at the edges. The tiny leaves of the other variant below are simply charming – again, nothing like any coleus I’ve ever seen.

As for the Beauty … the selection of annuals available at this nursery was astounding. I brought home these dark, velvet-y, purple petunias with a white star, and snapdragons, so petite and pretty, they are called “Angel Face Snapdragons.”

Stunning, no?

The individual flowers of this snapdragon look like tiny orchids. Ultimately, they – growing so tall – may not have been the best choice for the same pot as the petunias, but they’re making me happy! I find myself already thinking about what might be at this market for next spring.

As for the quality of plants … time being short as it is, I bought the above to get into pots right away with the thought of making a more local stop for other flowers a couple weeks later. The impatiens are struggling in one area (usually perfect for impatiens) and not even blooming in another. I’ve already made my decision – no more Home Depot, Lowe’s, or “plant lady.” Next year? out to PA for this nursery’s amazing selection of flowers, so fabulous they manage to make even me look like a gardener!

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Did you used to devour Highlights magazine at the doctor’s office when you were a kid? Still do? Me, too. One of my favorite things was always finding hidden objects and finding the differences between two pictures. Today, I offer the opportunity to enjoy the second challenge … find what’s different. Here’s the first photo taken earlier today:

And here is the second photo, taken a few years ago:

Okay, take away all the baking stuff. And the poinsettia. And the Poland Spring bottle. What’s different?

I’ll tell you. In the top photo, the toaster is wrapped in a plastic bag, whereas below, it’s au naturel. In the top photo there is a glass jar with a very snug lid holding cat food, and below there is a lovely tin canister with cats on it. Why the change? Ants. Yes, it is ant season — those little black ones which, one at a time, are pretty cute, but when having a party in Jazzy’s dry food bowl? Not so cute. For now, her dry food is upstairs, but when I see them on the toaster? All bets are off.

I am a clean person, especially in the kitchen, but now? I am obsessively clean. I do not like having to keep my toaster in a plastic bag. But I also do not like killing creatures of any size. And even though I sadly say `Sorry’ each time I snuff out one of their little lives, and even though I spray vinegar in certain areas and in certain patterns to make them stay away, have edged the kitchen with white light, they still find a way in. I am now resorting to additional – and more lethal – methods.

Still, it bothers me to kill them. I save every little being I can and take it outside – under a plastic deli container and on a piece of cardboard – out they go. I live in an 1890’s house, and although it was newly plumbed, wired, sheet rocked, etc. it was not given a new floor downstairs. The worn floor boards are an open invitation – literally – for insects to come in. Whenever I might move, I’m sure the new people will be mystified by so many oddly placed pieces of duct tape. There’s a reason for that, people, trust me. Leave them there.

My biggest save was a wolf spider that appeared in my downstairs bathroom – she was huge. I asked her to please not move (yes, I do talk to them), while I got a bigger deli container. She stayed right there while I put it over her and carefully slid the cardboard underneath. I went outside and headed for the river. She was not happy and jumping inside. I don’t know if my telling her it would be OK in a minute helped or not, but I was doing my best. Over the grass, over the old tracks, down an incline and there was a huge pile of leaves and twigs. I figured that would give her a head start. I tilted the cardboard towards the leaves and gently lifted the container. As I’d hoped, she ran forward, and in a millisecond, had camouflaged herself perfectly. I took a deep breath, came home, and went searching for that opening with my roll of duct tape. (Please note, for those of you who are squeamish, that I have spared you a photo of a wolf spider. (For those interested, check here.)

Would I could do that for the ants. I tell them, `if you want to live, stay outside.’ Maybe some listen. But for the rest? Sorry. Really, I am.

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Lately it’s been a bit of a challenge to settle down to write a post. Whether due to lack of time or lack of brain, I have been remiss. But yesterday, I couldn’t help but be inspired.

When I went out to get my mail, my friend across the street was coming out as well. We stopped and chatted for a while in the road, both amazed at the sunny, balmy 56˚ weather. But alas, there was work on my desk and I needed to go back in, balmy or not. At my computer, I looked out the window at the sun streaming onto my back porch. Certainly going a mere 15′ from my Mac wouldn’t really be absconding from work, would it?

I looked down, over the porch railing, and saw an array of amazing textures and light. Just last week, it had been -1˚ in the morning, and these warm temps were resulting in a momentary thaw and so many abstract visions. I grabbed my camera and took some photos because … well, I needed to.

Melting ice was beginning to stream into the yard, and there were a few bright berries left on the bushes.

The twisted base of one of the hydrangeas defied a sense of scale; I could be looking down into a canyon …

or watching a snowy river rush by.

The intricate patterns of nature are stunning even in their most dormant stages. Sometimes even more so.

And then I really needed to get back to work.

 

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These impatiens did exceedingly well in this spot at the far end of my back porch.

Let me first say that I am not a gardener. Happily, I have a good eye for color and how things could look, but I don’t have that deep and intuitive understanding of when and how things grow and bloom, what they need, where in a garden they need to be and next to whom like serious gardeners do. Nor do I have the time to learn, though I would otherwise truly enjoy it. I am in awe of serious gardeners, but I’m one of those people who just “does her best”, and lets it go at that. I’m happy that they bloom and make my porches lovely places to sit and enjoy.

This is a truly hot spot for a coleus – just the right amount and angle of sunshine. They thrive here each year.

In the present location where I live, I don’t have gardens to garden in. The land around the house is somewhat minimal and taken care of by someone else. I have porches.

This is a very flattering angle for these marigolds. They did very poorly this year, whether it was the plants, or me over/under watering them, I don’t know. But they did look pretty in the royal blue pots I got for them.

Each year I buy a simple selection of annuals and put them where I’m pretty sure they will do well. I change it up each year and occasionally buy some new pots or try a new plant to see how it works out.

This is the first year I planted a big bunch of impatiens by my side door. They really liked being there a lot.
And crowded out another shade-loving plant I gave a try.

I did try another type of shade plant this year, but they weren’t very pretty on their own and didn’t ‘t play nicely with other plants I tried them with. I’ll have to consider next spring if I should try something different with them or just something different.

Another flattering angle! It’s the first time I tried coleus in this spot at the back corner of my front porch and they did very well. I tucked in some marigolds for a pop of color, which worked out nicely when they bloomed.

I took these photos because it’s the end of summer, the beginning of fall, and soon they’ll be gone. I’ve been thinking of getting some mums for around the porches which means dumping all that has flowered all summer long. This is always a hard and sad task for me – tossing out a living thing pains me. And as if they heard me, the coleus began to vigorously flower, shooting lavender spikes of flowers to the sky. How can I dismiss what is bursting into bloom?

Sure, they can stay a while longer. Sigh. Maybe I’ll have a little overlap.

A photo does not do justice to the incredibly delicate strands and bowl shape of these spider webs.

The last few mornings, I observed these ephemeral spider webs which appear overnight. They are like bowls of the finest gauze. I looked very closely and spied a tiny little spider – not more than 1/4 inch long. I can’t imagine the amount of energy it must take to spin out that much silk. The sun burns the webs away or they fade on their own over the course of the day, but each morning, a new bowl or two appears. As my plants give their last hurrah of summer, it seems some spiders have the same idea, weaving in earnest before the impending chills of fall.

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A blogging friend across the pond at Harvesting Hecate took up a writing challenge, and in turn, Andrea chose three fellow bloggers to carry on the torch. I am honored to be one of the people she chose, and though I am woefully behind time-wise, I do have a few thoughts on this subject. The challenge entails writing about the chosen word and including two quotes, then passing on the challenge to three others. Her word was “joy” and the link above will take you to her thoughts about it. The word Andrea suggested is `Vision.’

As an artist, vision is pretty much everything to me. Over a lifetime I came to understand that people do not all see the same. For much of my life, I always thought that what I saw, you saw.  I simply wasn’t aware of my “vision” as unique and my own miraculous gift. Now I know differently. Below are examples of how I perceive the world – my vision – through my photographs. So yes, some writing, and two quotes I’m loving right now, and my interpretation of the word vision.

Our vision takes us far and into realms of exquisite color …

It gives us a sense of scale …

finds us dreaming in the mist …

or thinking ahead.

Our vision brings us close and aware of texture …

and down roads familiar and well-remembered.

It reminds us that we eat with our eyes first!

Vision brings us back to childhood memories.

Vision takes us places in and around where we live …

and allows us to see through the eyes of others.

It reminds us of the never-ending wonders and beauty of nature.

“Stop acting so small. You are the universe in ecstatic motion.”
Rumi

Vision riles up our tastebuds …

and makes us curious about our world.

Vision reminds us of life’s most wonderful small joys …

“If I can stop one heart from breaking, I shall not live in vain.” ~ Emily Dickinson

and to be thankful for all we have.

And then there’s the vision of what we hold within … what forms our dreams, our feelings, our aspirations and inspirations. And what better way to guide us on our inner path than light?


And now I pass on the challenge to 3 more bloggers – Cynthia at cynthiasreyes.com, Pam at roughwighting, and Lavinia at Salmon Brook Farms. If you choose to accept this challenge, your word is `wonder’.

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At a certain point in life we figure we’ve heard just about all the clever phrases there are, right? Well, I recently learned differently.

The photos here will illustrate a point. All these gorgeous photographs were taken by John Bergmann, the General Manager of Popcorn Park Animal Refuge, aka Popcorn Park.

I know John for a very long time now. I work with the organization doing their fundraising, graphics design, writing, and in a variety of other capacities over the years. I am now working on their 2019 calendar.

Each year, I receive many photos from staff and others, but, by far, the largest amount of photos of Popcorn Park comes from John. (You can click on any photo to learn more about the animal.)

Let me mention two things here. One, Popcorn Park is a sanctuary to exotics, wildlife, farm animals, and birds. All of its residents were rescued from cruelty, neglect, abandonment, exploitation, inappropriate ownership, injury, or handicap. None were safe in his or her existing situation.

Two, as a photographer, John loves to take photos of all the animals, from the smallest birds, to turtles in the pond, to wildlife, to the exotics. His favorite, though, is photographing the big cats.

Each year when I do the calendar, and during the year as well, I look forward to seeing John’s stunning shots. In a conversation about his submissions for this year, I complimented him on all the shots of the parakeets in the aviary. Each was lovelier than the next, and all were positively luminous.

Now John is a very modest guy. His response to my compliments?
(Here comes the catchy phrase.)

“Even a blind dog finds a bone once in a while.”

Ahhhh, John. Not only have I never heard that before, but it’s just downright funny. As I said, way too modest.

Should you want to read more on Popcorn Park, you can visit them on the Associated Humane Societies/Popcorn Park website, and/or on the Popcorn Park Facebook page, where you can see more of John’s photographs and learn more about the refuge residents and their progress, as well as some stories about our adjoining animal shelter. You can also visit – they’re located in Forked River, Ocean County, NJ

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Quite a few years ago, I worked in the city for a major magazine publisher. There I met Marilyn, who became a very dear friend. Our work was very hectic with endless deadlines and demands of all kinds. When she took her vacation, she and her husband went to some remote-ish island in the middle of nowhere to just relax.

“How boring,” I remember thinking.

During that time period I wanted to travel. I remember a great trip staying with cousins in Arizona, heading south to see New Mexico and north to visit the Grand Canyon. I also had the  pleasure of staying with friends I’d made through the publisher and visiting beautiful western Kentucky. No laying about for me!

My, how times change.

Now my idea of a vacation is exactly that of Marilyn’s – a quiet beach, with as few people as possible to distract me, and simple relaxation. I’d like to bring some books, a notebook, a sketchbook, and basic art supplies and just sit. I’d like to close my eyes and listen to the ocean, and open my eyes and see this …

Now the funny thing is that the beautiful ocean above is actually the New Jersey shore, and about one and a half hour’s drive from my house. But I only want to go off-season when I can just sit. Better yet, that remote-ish island.

This could also work. It’s the quiet and the freedom from distractions I would like. And, of course, being near the water.

But overlooking or near the ocean would be my first choice. There is something so wonderfully soothing about the sound of the tide, ebbing and flowing, whispering and calling. I wouldn’t mind spending some of that time alone, just to rediscover parts of my artistic self that don’t find enough space and time in everyday life to express themselves. But see? There are two chairs, and you’re welcome to join me in companionable quiet, just enjoying the peace.

And at night? Being near enough to feel enveloped by the gathering dark, listening to the rushing of the ocean tide coming in. And just being. (This, too, by the way, is the Jersey shore.)

To think … Marilyn had it right all along.

 

Thank you to the photographers above who have generously shared their work online so that I may have such beautiful illustration to my post.

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I know I’ve mentioned this before, but the county where I live now is the most beautiful place I’ve ever lived. I had a quick trip to the dentist this morning, and thought to bring my camera along to capture a lovely view or two. This is what’s across the street from my dentist.

Further to the right, a church nestled in a grove of trees. It was – still is – a clear, bright day. The sky an almost startling blue with not a cloud in sight. The only sound, the slight hum of the tractor carrying across the fields, and the occasional car passing me by.

I snapped a few photos, but then just stood there, loving watching the farmer go about his mowing, likely the first cutting of the year. I probably should have waved. Out here, you can be pretty sure he’d wave back at you.

Looking down the road, heading west. On a day like this – cool, dry, sunny, and inviting – it would have been nice to go down this road and explore more, see where it would take me. But life being what it is, I had other stops to make, other things to do. In fact, in all the years I’ve been going to my dentist, I’ve never once taken the time to follow this beautiful road.

It’s the downside of our lives sometimes … not accepting an invitation because we’re too busy. The backroads are always a great invitation; I need to open my schedule up a bit.

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Yes, I find crows magical, and I am a fan. Whoa, whoa! OK, all you farmers out there – I see you throwing your hands up in the air with a loud and unified “OY!” But hear me out. Let’s look at these magnificent creatures from three standpoints – science, myth and magic, and personal experience.

First a little science. Did you know that crows and ravens (same family) and macaws have the highest brain to skull ratio of any bird on the planet? In fact, their brain to skull ratio is higher than in humans! This in part accounts for their high intelligence, not to mention they have been on the planet for 60-65 million years.  Crows also have a skill accorded to one of the most intelligent mammals on earth, the great apes, i.e. they create and use tools. Crows also will gather around one of their own when it has died to try and determine the cause of its death. They will  learn the facial configuration of a mean human and teach all other crows to know it as such and avoid that human. When a crow leaves its flock and joins another, it immediately acquires their “dialect” by taking on the characteristics of the most popular crows in that flock. No intellectual slouches, these crows. Learn more about them.

The magic. When I designed my own website a number of years ago, I drew the header for it myself. The header featured none other than the crow, and I have utilized that symbol for my blogs. Why?

Because in certain cultures and mythology, the crow is believed to be the symbol of magic and creativity, something near and dear to every artist’s soul. In some cultures the crow has been the symbol of evil and/or death, juxtaposed against the white of the dove and purity. I don’t see life in black and white terms, and for all their brilliance, I like the crow’s mythology in Native American terms and Crow Medicine. As such, Crow is a guide on the path to spirituality and enlightenment and is the keeper of sacred law. It is said that Crow has known the darkness and when they appear in our lives, may be guides through our own darkness on the path to enlightenment. Granted, these may be mythological ideas, but it can be said that all religious/spiritual beliefs are mythology, just different. I am not arguing that point, just drawn to the many inspiring aspects of the beautiful and intelligent crow.

Personal experience. I have a very deep back porch, and during the day, next to my back door, is a bowl of water and dry food for my neighbor’s cat. I’m working at my computer when I hear a rather loud caw. “That sounds mighty close,” I think. I look out the back door, and there is a good-sized crow pilfering the dry food. She sees me and flies away. Not 10 minutes later, I hear the caw again. I appear and she flies away. Shortly thereafter, out of the corner of my eye, I see a flash of black through the side door window. She has learned in only two incidents that her caw brings me to the door, and now flies in silently. Seeing me again, her next attempt was from a different angle that I could not easily see.

Another time, I hear muted crow noises and slip quietly and unseen to watch four of them on the porch. They are talking amongst themselves and jostling for position, pushing one another away from the cat food bowl. I take their verbiage to mean “Wait your turn” and “Get out of my way.”  It is likely a dominance issue. I knock on the window and they disappear, but I could have watched their antics for hours; they were quite amusing. Now, as a result of this, I have to bring in the dry food for a while.

Occasionally, I will see a crow on my walks or on the fence near the window where I work. I always say hello and am sometimes acknowledged with a look and a “caw”. When a crow -– or any animal – appears unexpectedly and/or repeatedly in my life, I may look into its possible meaning. In the case of a crow, I might be at a crossroads, looking for or ready for a change, and need to pull more on my own intuition. Even if that has nothing to do with the crow, when is it ever a bad idea?

One last thought .. there is so much amazing art regarding crows, among them gorgeous paintings by Susan Seddon-Boulet ( above left), but also in a favorite children’s book, Crow Call by Lois Lowry and revered illustrator, Bagram Ibatoulline.

The natural world is filled with wonder and beauty. Depending on the day, I could happily write about pangolins, pandas, or hammerhead sharks. Today, it’s crows.

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The Delaware River in her many moods extends a never-ending invitation to be photographed. Just three houses away, I’m able to easily see whatever weather-inspired beauty is happening on the river on any given day.

One of my favorite views is after rain or snow, when the fog in the area has cleared, and a cloud all her own has settled on the river.

I’d already started my work, but when I looked outside, I couldn’t resist, so slipped out with my camera down to the edge of the road.

There’s just such a moodiness at this time of year to how that cloud sits low, and the wintery colors are as rich in their own way as the green vibrancy of spring. If I were able, I could happily just pull up a chair and sit for hours.

This very old concrete structure had something to do with the railroad tracks and the trains that once ran here, I imagine. Oddly enough, I’ve never inspected it more closely, and today that ground was a field of mud beneath the leaf litter.

An ancient twisting tree of the sort that inhabits mysteries and horror stories. One of the joys of the winter months is in appreciating the skeletal silhouettes of so many different types of trees.

Rising from the misty shrouds is a ghostly white hotel on the far river bank in Pennsylvania, appearing to be much closer than it actually is.

On drier days, I can go over the tracks and much closer to the river’s edge, but the muddy ground was soaked, and on the bluff overlooking the river at this point, undoubtedly quite slippery. So I just counted myself lucky to live near such beauty, and returned, inspired, to my work

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It’s been a very long time since I wept so at the end of a book. And I mean wept. Even I didn’t see that coming. The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein is an outstanding novel, told in the first person by Enzo, a dog. But don’t think that this is just some dog story – it’s not; it is skillfully told through the keen observation, devotion, and insightful outlook of a narrator who just happens to walk on four legs.

The main character, Denny, to whom Enzo has been deeply bonded since a small pup, is a race car driver, so periodically, there is background and information about racing. But don’t think this is a story about racing either – it’s not. Racing is a metaphor for life and how to live it, particularly racing in the rain, of which Denny is a master.

The first chapter begins at the end of Enzo’s life, where he wishes to be released with dignity. From watching “too much television” (according to Denny), Enzo has learned of a Mongolian belief whereby a dog who’s lived a good life will become human in his next incarnation. This is what Enzo aspires to, and despite his periodic dismay at not having speech and being unable to communicate what he knows, or to have been denied opposable thumbs, Enzo does his best to live a model life.

The second chapter begins the story of Denny, his love, Eve, their child Zoë, and the journey of their lives together. From Denny and Enzo watching race tapes on the TV, with Denny explaining all the details to Enzo, to Eve’s illness, to the in-laws overbearing attitude and ultimately cruel shattering of Denny’s life, we are drawn into a story – sometimes funny, sometimes tragic – of a life that could be anybody’s. It’s always set against the backdrop of Denny’s aspirations to be an accomplished driver, and his teaching Enzo the subtleties of mastering the track. Enzo gets it. “Your car goes where your eyes go. Simply another way of saying that which you manifest is before you.”

You do not need to have ever had a dog to appreciate Enzo or his telling of Denny’s story. But if you have ever loved a dog at any time in your life, you will be greatly enriched – and moved – by Enzo, and all that he is. Likewise, those familiar with racing will have the extra bonus of understanding the racing world references. But you don’t have to know anything about racing – as I do not – to understand the story, for again, in the end it’s not about racing, but life.

While we knew from Chapter One where this book would end, the impact is unexpectedly profound; the epilogue, deeply touching. If nothing else, Enzo is a remarkably skilled writer. I had not realized how invested I was in this story … and in Enzo … until the end. The Art of Racing in the Rain is a keeper.

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