(a poem from Mary Oliver’s collection, Why I Wake Early)
I see or hear
that more or less
that leaves me
like a needle
in the haystack
It was what I was born for —
to look, to listen,
to lose myself
inside this soft world —
to instruct myself
over and over
Nor am I talking
about the exceptional,
the fearful, the dreadful,
the very extravagant —
but of the ordinary,
the common, the very drab,
the daily presentations.
Oh, good scholar,
I say to myself,
how can you help
but grow wise
with such teachings
as these —
the untrimmable light
of the world,
the ocean’s shine,
the prayers that are made
out of grass?
This is my contribution to the Art Challenge of the Month, Rituals and Routines. Want to join us? The rules are simple: “Draw, paint, photo shoot, embroider, install, write, muse …. any discipline is welcome. Over the weekend of March 18-19, come and announce here that you have posted.”
We promised we’d announce our contest winner on St. Patrick’s Day. Sure and begorrah, we’re going to do just that!
But first, how about a couple more pictures, taken aboard the high-tech, high-speed Manute’a?
So much fun (and so many firsts!) on Capt. Dave’s Dolphin and Whale-watching Safari. Special thanks to photographer/naturalist Craig DeWitt, who shared with me/us these spectacular images from our trip.
Magnificent, aren’t they? The marine mammals and these photos!
And now, without further ado…the lucky lass is Marjorie Light!! American Girl will be sending her a set of books featuring Logan and his bandmate, Tenney Grant. (Preview here: TENNEY and TENNEY IN THE KEY OF FRIENDSHIP)
Congratulations, Marjorie! And thanks, everyone, for your encouraging words on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and (of course) my blog entry about Logan Elliot! I know you won’t be surprised when I tell you that Logan’s already got quite the fan base on social media, and has captured the hearts of many.
The flower that blooms in adversity is the rarest and most beautiful of all. —Mulan
Wildflower Season. Those were the magic words that inspired our mid-week getaway. But wait, there’s more! A rare “super bloom” is happening right now in the Southern California desert, unlike anything we’ve seen in our area since at least 1999! This, coming on the heels of a five-year drought, followed by a rain-soaked winter….how could we resist?
A Super Bloom is so magical, it’s hard to describe. Even with photo illustrations, I can’t do it justice. But let’s do a little show-and-tell, shall we? Maybe you’ll be inspired to see it for yourself someday, if you haven’t already…
If you drive through Joshua Tree National Park, you’ll see giant boulder stacks, rising like cairns from the desert floor. Look up, and you’ll see heavy clusters of white-green flowers, balanced on the very tips of the Joshua trees’ twisty, spiky stalks.
We wandered among the boulder stacks, stopping now and again to admire the fragrant creosote bushes, just now coming into yellow bloom. But you might choose instead to head for the bajada. Trade-offs…so much to see, no matter where you turn!
And if you’re willing to drive a bit further (highly recommended!), Anza-Borrego State Park is teeming with colorful flowers, warmed by a bright, hot sun in an impossibly blue sky.
630,000-acres’ worth of rare and wonderful sights — like the ones you’ll see below –and clean air, filled with the delicate aroma of wildflowers and the intoxicating fragrance of citrus groves.
The typically barren landscape is awash in color, splashed willy-nilly over hardscrabble soil…
..and tucked into the spiny remains of a cactus.
Mother Nature is the best gardener of all, don’t you think?
A word to the wise: The best time for sightseeing is during the cool, morning hours.
Mid-day temperatures reach into the mid-90s–wilting, for most of us–and some flowers close their petals against the afternoon sun.
Plan your itinerary ahead of time. If you can arrange it, a weekday visit is best. Roads (hotels, restaurants) will be jammed on weekends, until the last blooms fade–likely at the end of March. Oh, and don’t forget to pack your hiking shoes, sunscreen, and lots of water. Need I mention your camera?
Imagine yourself in this soothing space, alone with your thoughts amidst a profusion of flowers.
Maybe your sensibilities lean toward the rambling, wild and raucous? Southern California deserts have it all, and then some. Desert Sunflowers, Purplemat, Desert Stars, Sand Verbena, Desert Chicory, Dune Evening Primrose, Canterbury Bells, Lupine, Desert Lavender, Poppies, Notch-leaf Phacelia, and Chuparosa…pick your favorite textures and palette.
Fortunately, we typically have a “rolling bloom” — meaning that different regions and elevations will come into bloom in overlapping intervals, showcasing several species of flowers at a time.
We hit the jackpot, as you can see. In fact, Anza-Borrego Desert Natural History Association described this portion of the bloom cycle as “excellent.” We couldn’t agree more.
Cacti are just now starting to bloom, and wildflowers are peaking. And while the Ocotillo aren’t yet ready to bloom, they’re surrounded by tiny yellow flowers, nestled into a downy-soft carpet of green.
The best views are granted to hikers and off-road explorers. You know that, am I right? But you don’t have to wander too far afield–just keep your eyes open, and expect the unexpected.
If you can’t make this year’s wildflower blooms, why not treat yourself to a scroll through social media? Pull up Instagram, for instance, and see where these hashtags lead you: #superbloom, #superbloom2017, #cacti, #desertwildflowers, #anzaborrego, #desert, #JoshuaTree, #AnzaBorrego,and #borregoblooms.
Tag me when you do. I’d love to see what you discover!
My Nana’s house was tiny—a “cracker box,” my father called it—with a tar roof and peeling paint, two bedrooms and a single bathroom. She stored her wringer washing machine beside the creaky screen door, and stretched a clothesline between the apricot and fig trees in her grassy backyard.
Cozy enough for two, it was a tight squeeze for ten. But when our car rolled up to the curb, she burst through the front door, apron strings flying, and welcomed all eight of us with open arms.
I loved everything about my Nana’s house, but I have special memories of her front porch swing. It wasn’t fancy at all: just a slatted-wood bench, attached to the rafters with metal chains. But when daylight gave way to moonlit evenings, Grandpa Fred would settle his lanky frame into the swing and pull me into his lap. It was a cherished nightly ritual: I’d snuggle into his flannel shirt, and he’d stuff a wad of cherry tobacco into his pipe, light a match and suck on the pipe stem until the tobacco glowed red. We swayed back and forth in wordless silence, twisting pipe cleaners into clothespin dolls as the tobacco curled itself into smoky ribbons that drifted overhead.
To this day, I don’t think there’s anything more soothing than the back-and-forth rhythm of a porch swing, especially when it’s shared with someone you love. If you’ve ever experienced that, I know you’ll understand why I’ve always wanted a porch swing of my own.
It’s one of those dreams that’s proven more fanciful than practical. My front porch is welcoming, but it’s not big enough to swing your legs wide and far. Our backyard is filled with butterflies and birdsong, and the adjacent hillside is teeming with wildlife—all of which invites us to linger, to make new memories and share our stories. Even so, there’s no place to hang an old-fashioned swing.
But that’s how it goes sometimes, isn’t it? Times change. We adapt. Like this tangerine tree in our backyard, we cling to life’s sweetness — even as we make the inevitable changes, one generation to the next.
When I was a little girl, I vowed that when I eventually had a home of my own, I’d get myself a porch swing like Nana’s. But when that didn’t work out, for one reason and another, I looked high and low for a suitable alternative. A stand-alone swing might just work, I told myself, but store-bought options were either too big, too small, too rickety or stiff.
Patience isn’t my strongest virtue, but in this case, it paid off. Because, voilà! Like magic, a classified ad appeared on my NextDoor app: Two slightly-used rocking chairs AND a glider, $50.00 to the first responder.
SOLD, in a blink of an eye! Granted: my lifelong wish!
Yes, they need a good scrubbing. Seat cushions would be nice. The paint is so glossy, so glaringly white, and I much prefer a weathered look. But…$50.00, for the whole set! I couldn’t resist.
No, they’re not what I originally envisioned, but with a little elbow grease, I can transform these cast-offs into something beautiful. If I use my imagination, I can turn their rigid backs into something more rounded, soft and soothing.
Truth be told, I don’t even know where I’ll put them all. (Shhh! Don’t tell my husband!) But I’ll make room for them somewhere…it’s what we do, for the things (the people and memories) we love and cherish.
There’s a first time for everything, they say. First steps, first words, first day of school, the first time you wish upon a star, or see a whale spouting water from its blowhole. It wasn’t my topmost priority, but I added that last item to my bucket list when Dana Point’s annual Festival of Whales rolled around again last week and (drumroll, please) American Girl debuted their first-ever boy doll!
Meet Logan Everett, a drummer from Nashville, Tennessee. He shares the stage with Tenney Grant, an aspiring country singer who rocks a banjo and guitar. Logan’s “play loud” T-shirt helps telegraph his strong personality. Good for Logan, taking his place in the spotlight! A star turn by American Girl, don’t you think? More on that later, plus a book giveaway contest!
I applaud American Girl for reaching beyond the tried-and-true, expanding their 31-year-old brand to include boy dolls and all that implies. And I got to thinking: If they could muster up that kind of courage, so could I! I’d turn doubt on its ear, twist one of my own fears toward the positive. Hey, I’d even announce my plans on social media. You know, for accountability’s sake.
I picked my knees-knocking, stomach-churning fear of drowning in the deep, blue sea. It comes of a near-death experience in my childhood, but hey, I’ve reached a point in my life where I’m willing to face my fears head-on and say, “You aren’t the boss of me!” That’s what I was thinking, anyway, when I booked myself on Capt. Dave’s Dolphin and Whale-watching Safari. Logan would join me, of course. Go big, or go home, am I right?
No surprise, I was the last one to board. After scoping out all the potential danger zones, I eventually settled myself onto a cushy bench inside the catamaran, where I was less likely to be tossed overboard. Thisclose to the life preserver, I might add. Which, by the way, has never been used. But there’s always a first time, am I right?
Now, I’m not a back-row person by nature, so it wasn’t long before I was craning my neck to see what was happening on deck. I wanted to among the first to see a whale’s fluke, and to hear the sea lions bark! So I took some long, deep breaths, grabbed my camera, and inched myself toward the bow of the Manute’a.
As Brene Brown says in The Gifts of Imperfection, “It’s like you learn to swim by swimming. You learn courage by couraging.”
Relax, I told myself. And oh hey, isn’t that sea spray refreshing!
I came prepared with ginger drops and Dramamine. I white-knuckled the handrail, more times than I’d like to admit. And when I leaned forward to take these snapshots, I imagined myself tumbling headlong into Davy Jones’ Locker. But! I took the plunge anyway, and wheeee, was it ever worth it!
It’s a courageous thing, too, that American Girl introduced a boy doll in a traditionally girl-oriented market. Tangible proof of their commitment to diversity and inclusiveness. They’ve been stepping in that direction for a while now, creating dolls from different ethnic backgrounds as well as dolls with special challenges. In fact, their 2017 Girl of the Year Doll, Gabriela McBride, is a black girl from Philly who stutters, loves poetry and dance. But Logan Elliot is the face of something entirely new. Another first. He’ll be cherished by children who see themselves reflected in his personality and physical make-up, and he’ll also find a home with kids who are brave enough to stretch their boundaries a bit.
Smart marketing? No question. But let’s not overthink this. American Girl is leading with their hearts—the very definition of courage. And by extension, they’re inviting us to share the rewards. That’s how it works, isn’t it? When we move beyond any self-imposed limitations, we connect with everything beautiful, pure, and true in the world. We come away with bigger dreams. We tell better stories. Oh, and if you’re especially lucky on a given day, you’ll carry home one of Mrs. Capt. Dave’s triple-fudge brownies. So yummy, you’ll wanna give another go.
*BOOK GIVEAWAY CONTEST: Share with us your thoughts about Logan by midnight on March 16th, and you’ll be automatically entered to win one set of books (TENNEY and TENNEY IN THE KEY OF FRIENDSHIP). American Girl is donating the prize to the winner, who will be announced on St. Patrick’s Day. Luck o’ the Irish to you!
Here’s a sneak-peek of Logan’s first storyline, from TENNEY IN THE KEY OF FRIENDSHIP:
Thanks to her bandmate, a drummer named Logan Everett, Tenney learns the importance of collaboration and compromise. When she’s paired with Logan for a major performance, she faces the challenge of letting others add to her creative voice without sacrificing her sound.
Life isn’t a pailful of herring, you know. Not for Freckles the harbor seal, any more than it is for the rest of us.
Not for nothing does Freckles have this spindle-shaped sleekness. He forages the Pacific Ocean for hours at a time every day, grabbing snacks on the go because he’s also got to keep an eye out for predators. Manmade dangers, too–like gill nets and ship propellers.
Freckles navigates rough waters every day, so no surprise! When he finally hauls ashore, he’s exhausted. But as leader of this pinniped posse, it also falls to Freckles to defend their onshore habitat.
You might be wondering: How does he manage?
Look deep into those liquid brown eyes, and you’ll find your answer. There’s wisdom in that sleepy-eyed gaze of his, not fear. He’s been around the tide pools a few times, our Freckles. He’s earned every one of those grey spots.
He’s not afraid to go nose-to-nose with his problems, but he also knows when and how to chill.
You’d never guess, for instance, that he’d just squared off with Clancy, the interloper up front. Once Freckles laid down the ground rules, he nestled himself into the algae-softened rocks again, angled strategically between his long time friends and this brazen newcomer. Peaceable kingdom, restored.
That’s how Freckles rolls. He just takes care of business, tra la la, and then settles in for another nap.
We could all take some cues from Freckles, now couldn’t we? Tuned in, blissed out…finding our happy place, in whatever circumstances we find ourselves.
Rainy days and Mondays, included.
I know very little about this candid snapshot. Someone scrawled my name on the back, so I’m assuming it’s me. But it’s one of those pictures that raises more questions than it answers.
There’s a date stamp on the white border, which suggests the film roll was commercially developed. I hadn’t yet celebrated my first birthday, so what was the occasion? And whose shadow is that, hovering protectively over mine? Lost in the moment…so me. Probably concentrating on some newfound treasure, but I don’t know that for sure.
It’s not a keeper, in the traditional sense. But to me, it’s priceless, because it’s one of a handful of pictures that survived my itinerant childhood. And even in its blurry state, it manages to tell a story. My story. Here, the muted daughter of a fire-and-brimstone, fundamentalist preacher, who eventually found her own voice. Born into a cult-ish family, she eventually came into her own.
In this grainy, black-and-white photograph, I see also the broader picture. People don’t live forever. Snapshots fade, and memories gets swept into the dustbin of history. So don’t let your stories languish in a junk drawer (on a cell phone, a hard drive…). They belong to the collective, where they can be savored and shared.
This is the one, true book, my father said. Close your eyes and bow your head. “Children should be seen and not heard,” he told me. “Do as I say, and stop asking questions!”
That wasn’t the case for the budding scientists in FINDING WONDERS, whose names you may not recognize, but whose accomplishments are renowned. From Jeannine Atkins, the critically acclaimed author of BORROWED NAMES and other favorites, comes this gem of a book. I’m overdue in sharing its brilliance.
In this historical novel-in-verse, Jeannine introduces three young girls, all of whom were born into religious families, same as I was. We share a wide-eyed curiosity about the world, but –lucky girls! — they were raised by indulgent fathers who encouraged them to challenge traditional thinking, because “Discoveries are made / by those willing to say, Once we were wrong, / and ask question after question.”
Here’s a quick blurb from the publisher, whose opinions I wholeheartedly share:
FINDING WONDERS is gorgeously written novel in verse about three girls in three different time periods who grew up to become groundbreaking scientists.
Maria Merian was sure that caterpillars were not wicked things born from mud, as most people of her time believed. Through careful observation she discovered the truth about metamorphosis and documented her findings in gorgeous paintings of the life cycles of insects.
More than a century later, Mary Anning helped her father collect stone sea creatures from the cliffs in southwest England. To him they were merely a source of income, but to Mary they held a stronger fascination. Intrepid and patient, she eventually discovered fossils that would change people’s vision of the past.
Across the ocean, Maria Mitchell helped her mapmaker father in the whaling village of Nantucket. At night they explored the starry sky through his telescope. Maria longed to discover a new comet—and after years of studying the night sky, she finally did.
Told in vibrant, evocative poems, this stunning novel celebrates the joy of discovery and finding wonder in the world around us.
And how gorgeous is this cover?
So many passages to savor, I was hard-pressed to choose a favorite! Take, for example, this excerpt about Mary Anning, whose imagination carries her further than fancy shoes ever could.
She looks towards the sea’s horizon,
which reminds her of the limits of sight.
Another country lies beyond, or so she’s been told.
Some things must be believed without seeing.
And other truths, barely imagined, found.
I also bookmarked this piece about Maria Merian, because it suggests a positive future for girls like me: girls who didn’t always believe what we were told, and who didn’t always do what we were asked.
What She Is Told
Women don’t cross the ocean,
at least not unless marries to merchants or missionaries.
No one has sailed to another continent
just to look at and draw small animals and plants.
Some travel to claim land for kinds, find treasure like gold,
or collect bark, berries, and pods to spice cakes.
But no one has sailed from sheer curiosity about the world.
Voyagers are in danger of shipwrecks, hurricanes,
sea monsters, or fires from lanterns tipped by high waves.
Those who survive under sails may die of peculiar fevers
in the New World. They might be eaten by jaguars.
Maria is told, You’re too old. You can’t go alone.
But nothing will stop her now.
–Jeannine Atkins, all rights reserved
Written primarily for younger audiences, FINDING WONDERS is a wonderful addition to any classroom library, for teachers and students alike. But it’ll be equally at home in the hands of women like me–you, too? –who eventually laid claim to their own voices, and wear those stories like a badge of honor.