Saturday, January 27 – Watching the Bald Eagles at The Dalles Dam:
Saturday, January 27 – Watching the Bald Eagles at The Dalles Dam:
I dislike clutter. I’ve never collected anything: not salt shakers, beer steins, baseball caps, or stamps.
A thing should have a purpose or resemble art if it’s to sit around the house doing nothing.
But now I find myself in the grip of an obsession.
It started small. At Fred Meyer’s, on a small shelf near the fresh flowers, is a jar filled with a dozen two inch plants jammed together and their tentacle arms intertwined.
If I hadn’t asked the clerk what they were, I would be a free woman today.
“They are air plants,” she replied.
“They don’t look too healthy,” I said, “I think they’re past their expiration date!”
“If you take them home and wet them down they’re supposed to be ok. I’ve never done it, but they’re not supposed to need anything but air and water to come back to life.”
My curiosity was piqued. I gave her two dollars and took two tiny, brown plants home. That whim five years ago turned out to be the first step on a downhill (but exhilarating) slide toward toward my addiction.
I watched those first two little plants turn green and come to life with regular water spritzes and bright light. They grew slowly. After a year, one displayed a lovely purple, red and blue orchid-like blossom.
Occasionally, I would pick up another little plant, one that looked entirely different than those already decorating our home. My head swims to think there are more than 450 different air plant species.
Air plants (Tillandsia) are usually found rudely jammed into a jar as they were at Fred Meyer, or in a forgotten, easily overlooked corner of a gift or flower shop. They grow naturally in south and central America and require no soil, just light and water. The roots, grown only for anchoring, can be cut off.
People display air plants in decorative containers, hanging on walls and from ceilings. I enjoy my plants simply sitting on my coffee tables. Today, they sit on nearly every available flat surface.
Air plants take in nutrients and water through their leaves, so they respond well to just being spritzed a couple of times weekly. But they really love a good soak, their favorite treat. At first I soaked my plants in the kitchen sink. Soon my collection graduated to a large bucket. Then I used two buckets. Now, much to my daughter Laura’s amusement, I soak them in the bathtub with a little Miracle Gro thrown in for good measure.
I’ve made a little ritual of caring for my air plants which makes me feel less like an eccentric collector and more like I’m tending to something important. I do like to fuss over things, just ask my kids.
After I’ve soaked my plants in the tub for a couple of hours on Wednesday mornings, I take them out and dry them upside down. Drying upside down means water drains from the base of the plant to prevent rot on the plant and water stains on my furniture. After a few hours of drying, I rearrange them throughout the house. That’s the fun part.
This spring, I’ll share pictures of some blossoms.
Recently, I found a piece of Spanish Moss in a newly purchased plant. Spanish Moss may be the only air plant that grows naturally in the Southeast U.S. I’m babying that tiny piece of Spanish Moss, hoping it grows. Good thing I have high ceilings in the living room!
My daughter, Laura, is endlessly amused at my air plant fixation. She would want me to mention how often I pick them up, examine them, rearrange them, and whisper encouragement to them. It’s all true, even I’m surprised at how attached I’ve become.
That jar of “dead” Tillandsia still sits on the counter at Fred Meyer. Take a look, if you dare.
I love some trees way more than I should, but I’m not the only one.
Oregon Public Broadcasting recently aired a special, “My passion for Trees,” featuring Judy Dench. Yes, she was hugging trees, and I understand.
I wouldn’t be caught dead hugging a tree. I always make sure no one is around.
I may be a little crazy, but Lyanda Haupt, a brilliant writer and scholar, is not; she gave trees their own chapter in “The Urban Bestiary,” a book about birds and beasts every lover of urban wildlife should read.
Your Maple tree may not think, but some scientists are convinced a presence, an energy – even an awareness – can be detected in trees. Some of us are drawn to that energy. Some of us feel we have a relationship with certain trees.
My favorite tree, a huge old oak in my back yard, may not be beautiful by some standards, but oh does that tree speak to me. She has homely, puny leaves and she’s a messy thing; but her branches are covered in moss and ferns, she has character, and she has beautiful bones.
I admit, I once wrote a private love letter to her.
During storms, I worry about my oak. How hard will the wind be on those old bones? What if she’s struck by lightening? I would mourn her loss. When I think about moving from this house some day, I secretly worry someone will see that she is old and messy and cut her down.
A mature Redwood with a dignified military posture, and beautiful red bark, stands in the yard behind ours. Planted long ago by a family still living in the area, though no longer in that house, the Redwood casts a large shadow over the very back of our yard. Last summer I saw a screech owl sitting on one of the lower branches. I have a great deal of respect for that Redwood and I’m so happy Scott, the present owner of the house, also treasures the tree.
A breath-taking old oak watches over Riverside Elementary School on River Road. Not the same kind of oak as my special tree, this one is perfection in shape with much prettier foliage. She is a huge spreading creature and I never drive by without admiring her. She is so big and all alone between the parking lot and street, I worry someone will decide she needs to go.
About a year ago, I walked into the school office to inquire about that tree. What kind of oak is it? Does someone take care of it? Maybe I was just fishing to know if they noticed and treasured her. I hoped someone knew a little about her history, but I instantly understood the puzzled look on the faces of the office staff. They were busy with a few hundred little people to take care of. I do like to imagine my making a fuss about the tree might have caused them to take more notice.
There are many distinguished trees in the area. I haven’t spent time learning to properly identify them, yet I’ve daydreamed about locating and photographing them. They should be memorialized before they are gone.
For now, I cherish a warm relationship with several of them.
I had barely noticed the fields across the street from our house. Up until then, my world had been school, home, bus stops, streets, and my part time cafeteria job. If you had asked me what was in those fields, and not seeing any structures, I would have told you “nothing.”
But I had one last biology project in the spring of my high school sophomore year; collect and identify wildflowers.
Dusty looking yellow flowers in the ditch across the street from our house proved to be yarrow, my first wildflower. I realized I needed to go beyond the ditch and into the acreage and fields. Carrying the Guide to Washington Wildflowers, I walked a little farther every day. Every day I found more wildflowers. I found blue lupine, wild strawberry, and chickweed. I began to feel tenderly toward tiny blossoms I would once have crushed beneath my feet.
In a few weeks I finished the project. School ended but I kept walking. I had been bewitched by fresh air and sunshine, by birdsong, the peaceful drone of insects, and a meadow full of wildflowers. I caught myself welcoming the occasional early morning scent of skunk.
Those fields were mine that summer. I never saw another human being.
Every day I discovered something wonderful. One morning a sudden and terrifying explosion burst out of the grass only a few feet in front of me. A large bird, bigger than any I had ever seen, was furiously objecting to my presence. She fluttered and protested loudly when I moved closer and leaned over to see a dozen warm brown eggs nestled tightly together in a small earthen depression. I learned to watch for pheasant nests.
Each time I walked I pushed a little bit farther. Every step aroused my curiosity. What would I see over that next small hillock? What would I find if I climb down the steep bank and explored the brush? Where is that bird, the one serenading me from a hiding place in the bushes?
By mid-summer I had reached the forest. It was probably only five wooded acres, but it was forest to me. I’d been working my way closer for a while, hungry to know what secrets hid in those piney Spokane woods. Stepping out of the sun, through the dry underbrush, into the gentle shade, was pleasant relief on a hot day. Not twenty feet in, I stopped abruptly.
Standing silently, I watched and listened to the soft twittering of tiny birds as they flitted from branch to branch, from tree to tree. I wasn’t an offense to their world as long as I stood still and watched. Their very indifference was enchanting.
A busy hum hung over the entire kingdom. I heard a loud jay, and the steady loud buzz of an unknown insect. I wanted to be quiet, to know this place through all of my senses.
Bright flashes of insight are not every day events for me; but that day I suddenly understood why I had walked all summer.
The fields, the woods, these creatures, had always been there. They weren’t waiting for me to discover them. They didn’t care. When I wasn’t there to observe, they were still going on about their lives.
That simple, obvious, observation comforted me. Through the spring and summer I had found peace, mystery, and a kind of order as I walked the fields and forest.
I’ve never stopped watching and walking. Eventually I saw that nature’s peace was visited by occasional tragedy. Accidents happen and predators take what they need; but there is no ill intent, and no time to dwell on misfortune.
There is only the beauty of abundant life, the will to survive, and grace.
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