Leavings

I love beginnings, like starting new quilts and arriving at the Naples Botanical Garden in the morning when the sun is low in the sky, the temperature is cool, and my energy is high. The entrance to the Garden is a boardwalk through an area planted with tropical plants from around the world, something like an introduction to a novel or a trailer for a movie.

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There is a stream running down one side and a small pond with a sculpture from the current collection on the other and I sometimes stop to take a few photos.

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I am eager to walk on, to chat a minute with the woman at the window, the one who swipes my membership card. I am thinking about the type of light I think I will have and how high the sun is. I am plotting my course to either a favorite spot or a special corner of the garden my soul needs to visit. Or maybe I’m thinking about visiting the orchid garden first, before it fills with visitors.

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I always stay too long at the Garden. After I decide it is time to head home, I seem to be drawn into another wonderful photograph and then another. I take my leave of the garden well after my energy is used up, and so tired that even my weekly scone and ginger limeade at the cafe doesn’t do much to perk me up.

I feel satiated as I head for the exit, eager to return home. And then something special happens. The exit is a boardwalk parallel to the entrance, with the lush tropical plants and stream in between. Here I slow down, and pause. Here I find a few more surprises and have to get my camera and tripod out of my cart.

I think I hear a lesson being taught, maybe an echo from long-ago regions of my memory. This lesson has to do with leavings – making sure to do it gracefully and memorably. I wonder if impressions are made more in the leavings than the entrances.

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Thoughts of Snow

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My aging mental life fascinates me a whole lot. I thought that by studying life transitions and aging I would be prepared – but I’m surprised at what is taking place between my two ears in my 80th decade. I am intrigued by the work of transitioning to a meaningful life in my aging body.

I have been watching a lot of episodes of “The Last Alaskans” on the cable channel Animal Planet. Maybe its more accurate, and more telling, that I’ve been watching a few episodes repeatedly. This show is about a few families living in cabins in the north-eastern corner of Alaska whose lives are centered around winter – preparing for and surviving the 9 months of deep, cold (-40 degrees) winter. All of their activities seem to revolve around making sure they have enough meat, wood, clothing and water to survive. They are isolated and living on the edge.

As I watch these episodes, the beauty of the snow covered landscape excites me. My soul is touched by the Alaskans’ excitement and thrill of living in this wilderness. It triggers memories of when I was drawn to dreaming about making curtains for a mud hut on the American Plains. Of making a home in the wilderness for my husband and future children. And as I watch each episode, I smile at the thought of living in their small log cabins in that winter landscape.

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You have probably observed the disconnect of my spirit longing for the challenge of surviving winter landscapes at -40 degrees while my body enjoys the subtropic southern Florida winter. It wasn’t lost on me for even a second. Instead of it being a problem, I bridged this integrity gap with mind travel. The advantage of having a healthy brain that has processed 75 years of living is that we have memories – lots of them.

Jim and I talked (or I talked to him) about our memories of snow and cold. How exciting it was as a young adult to bundle up and brave the elements. I thought about the fun of taking my small children sledding and being a teen skating with friends on small neighborhood ponds that the boys shoveled clean. Most of all I remember the excitement and anticipation of knowing a big winter storm was close, looking out the window as we headed for bed to see if it had started to snow, waking a little earlier than normal to see how much snow had fallen and turning on the radio to listen for school closings. Along with the excitement came the calm of knowing we had food to eat and were freed of all commitments. My world slowed down when twelve inches of snow fell.

When the people living in northern Alaska talk about the quiet of walking trapping trails through the snow, I knew what they mean. I remember the quiet of snow-covered neighborhoods. I know the cold that freezes nose hairs and eye balls. I know the blue-purple drifts of snow from the sun being low on the horizon at dusk, but also know the brilliant sparkle of snow crystals at noontime when the sun is higher in the southern sky. Does anyone else believe that snow has a special smell, can we smell cold?

No, I don’t want to experience the cold and snow of winter at this stage in my life. Winter in the north makes life too painful and precarious. I no longer have the energy to dress for the cold, and my body isn’t made for shoveling snow. Once it was and once upon a long-ago time I enjoyed it. I have the memory of catching big flakes of snow on my tongue and feeling the comforting warmth of being inside a snow fort. I remember lying in the snow and listening to the silence. And I am thankful for these memories. Yes, I am thankful.

 

Butterflies

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Last November was a perfect time to change my routine at the Naples Botanical Garden and pay a visit the butterfly house. The morning temperatures had remained hot and there weren’t many people because the “season” hadn’t started. No one was there when I arrived so I was able to use my tripod. The rule is no tripods because of the narrow walking path through the butterfly-friendly plants – but gee wiz, no one was there to be tripped and as soon as someone walked in I folded up the tripod.

Please enjoy the fruits of my law-breaking – but please don’t fall.

Spring Wildflowers

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Toadshade (trillium sessile) 

We weren’t able to go out on our weekly photo shoot this week, but I still have a few post’s worth of images left from last week. A couple of weeks ago I included this photo and wondered what flower it is – still in bud form. Last week it was opening up and I still can’t identify it – maybe one of you knows. Edit: Arwyn Yarwood helped me identify this.

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A very handsome specimen for a woodland garden, and I suppose it will be gone by the time we get out when the weather clears late next week.

When Julie called to say she had a bad night and couldn’t make it out, I thought of it as some free time to work on the quilt I’m making and rest a bit after having my grandson and family for the better part of 7 days. Now I am missing it, feeling the loss of the quiet engrossment I experience as I and my camera communicate with nature. I also missed the time spent with Julie as we have a very comfortable routine of being in our own space then joining back together to share the wonder we are experiencing. We have both mentioned how it is a time of rejuvenation.

What a wondrous tool our memory is, even though we all have memories of rough times. With mental health therapy I found I could disarm the traumatic memories, I have learned to not dwell on memories of people who have been toxic in my life, and to fill my brain with memories of family, friends, and experiences that are healing. I smile as I think about the joy I experienced on our last trip to Hidden Lake Garden. I am experiencing being there as I choose the images that best express the wonder I was experiencing while composing my photographs.

The daffodils were blooming their little hearts out. This is one of my favorite ones that grow wild in the woods. It is so small and delicate, but packs a punch when viewed up close. It seems to have so much energy in such a small package.

But it is hard to have favorites when there are so many other beauties that bring joy to our hearts, especially for those who endured the long hard winter.

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What fun it was to find the small wildflower blossoms that are overlooked as we scanned the beauty of the emerging life in the hosta garden and the woodland floor.

As the beauty of our last outing continues to sooth and heal my soul, bringing a sense of joy and well-being, I am looking forward to new wonders of future outings.

A Hurricane Named Irma visited Naples Botanical Garden

I felt a deep sadness, something akin to compassion, when we returned to Naples a month after Hurricane Irma ripped through. The damage to buildings wasn’t very evident except for blue tarps on roofs and furniture beside the road waiting for pickup. But there was so much evidence of foliage destruction with huge tree roots exposed and piles of dying branches lining many of the road. As we drove around the city I saw evidence of the beating the trees and plants withstood and I felt a deep sadness for them. This is such a lush and green environment and I know it won’t take long for everything to grow back but the heaviness of sorrow lingered for weeks.

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Going to the Naples Botanical Garden this season has also been painful – not in body but in spirit. The garden was hit very hard by Hurricane Irma and my first visit was when they reopened right after a massive three-week clean-up. I felt dazed as I walked around, frequently feeling disoriented in a garden I am very familiar with. I wasn’t able to identify what was missing but I knew things were very different.

As soon as the hurricane was predicted employees and volunteers started taking in the orchids and sculptures, the rare and special plants that could be moved. The damage to every part of the garden was extensive. More than 230 large trees were lost along with many shrubs and many shade loving plants that survived Irma but died in the harsh sun due to the loss of the large shade trees. Cleanup is still taking place 5 months after the storm. The debris pile covers more than 2 acres and is 6 ft. deep.

In the days following the storm, professional botanists from several large gardens came to help determine what could be saved and how to best respond, including the Chicago Botanic Garden, Missouri Botanical and the Atlanta Botanical. The regular volunteers and bus loads of volunteers from neighboring communities and states came to work on clean up and replanting. Over 100 fallen trees were saved by using props and pruning, bushes and plants were righted, plants that needed shade were transplanted.

In three weeks the garden was tidied up enough to open to visitors. But the work goes on.

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This is a young garden having opened in 2009 and I started my weekly Tuesday trek in November 2013. I remember thinking that the garden looked like a new garden and have enjoyed watching it mature, growing into a tropical lushness so different from the northern gardens I am familiar with. Last year I marveled at the maturity of the garden, the lushness of plants that were designed to compliment each other and create unique areas that were intimate and a feast for the eyes. Every trip included the excitement of going around curved paths to find new and unique blooming plants. Every trip to the garden, every image I attempted to capture was a learning experience.

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Hut within bamboo stands in Asian Garden

I watched the initial gardens grow and mature while seeing new gardens being added, like the Florida Garden and the Orchid Garden. Although none the hard structures were damaged, so much of what I saw in my initial visits after the storm were clearly attempts to return some beauty into the devastation while the hard work of rebuilding the soft-scapes takes place.

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Before Erma this small corner had been a lush tropical retreat for me. Now the replanting and regrowing begins.

The focus is now “replant and regrow,” recognizing that nature is resilient. The garden has a leadership team that is creative, knowledgeable, and has built collaborative relationships with other gardens. The strength and talent of the people associated with the garden is evident that the garden received the 2017 Award for Garden Excellence from the American Public Gardens Association, being the youngest garden to ever receive this award. They are keeping a focus on six core commitments that allowed them to go from ‘open for visitors’ to ‘winning a prestigious award’ in just eight years as they engage in their regrowing efforts.

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According to the Board President, they don’t know how long it will take to regrow or how much it will cost, but they know what they need to do. The plants they need can’t be purchased at the local garden center or big box store. An employee told me that they had cuttings and seeds from some of the plants that can be used. They will also be exchanging plant material and seeds from other gardens in the U.S. and the Caribbean, and traveling to obtain seeds from the wild. Then they need to regrow the material for future placement in the gardens.

Their goal is to increase the number of rare, unique, and endangered plants. We know that past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior so I am confident that visitors to the garden in the months and years ahead will be rewarded with new beauty. The garden leadership is also dedicated to helping local residents replant their landscapes, adding to the phenomenal beauty of this dot on the map.

I have been doing a lot of thinking since we returned to Naples after Irma. I was impacted by the devastation to my winter community but then I think of the devastation from hurricanes in Houston and Puerto Rico, the fires in California. I am humbled because my reaction to what Irma did to SW Florida must pale in comparison to what people experience when their homes are destroyed, basic infrastructure not repaired,  and loved ones are lost. I’ve been thinking of the takeaways, what values I think we need to hold on to as we face the natural and human disasters that seem to be happening more frequently.

Here are two basic takeaways for me:

  1. Nature, including both plant and human, is resilient. We can get beat up pretty badly and still come back to live a life of beauty.
  2. People play a huge role in how long it takes for healing to take place, and how successful the healing is. We need to do our part to help our planet to be healthy and to heal, and that includes the humans who inhabit the planet.

I have long believed what others before me have said in many different ways: We are only as healthy and happy and prosperous as those who are the least among us. We all have to reach out a helping hand to those in need, and sometimes we need to reach out our own hands to receive help from others. We are all in this together.

That means that we need to be concerned about what happens to the poorest and the smallest among us. Naples is a very wealthy community and had the resources necessary for a quick recovery – power was restored within two weeks. The community knew how to access resources from near and far. People appeared in Houston and California to give support and help. Workers came from far and near because they wanted to help, but also because they knew there was money to pay them, to cover expenses. That hasn’t happened in Puerto Rico. What happened there is a disgrace – especially as we hear of companies that went in to help but really ripped them off by taking money for services that weren’t provided. I feel the stain, the shame of what happens to those without a voice, without the power of money and prestige. I acknowledge and enjoy privileges that are mine, because I worked hard for them, because I happened to be at the right place at the right time, and through just plain dumb luck. But if I enjoy privilege without feeling a sense of responsibility to help others that are following behind me in life, I am nothing. I am a farce and lack moral integrity. I am a disgrace to those who paved the paths that I have been fortunate enough to travel.

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Another takeaway from Irma is a new-found sense of responsibility to the Naples Botanical Gardens. I have enjoyed capturing and sharing the beauty of the gardens during my winter stay but I think I will also be more sensitive to the growth of garden plants, watching to see how new designs are created with new plants. I feel a need to document the regrowth – maybe to let Irma know there is a human spirit here in Naples composed of an army of professionals and volunteers who are willing to work their hearts out. Fibromyalgia doesn’t allow me to volunteer for garden work but I can use my talent for seeing beauty and writing to document the “replant and regrow” facilitated by those who can do the physical labor. Stay tuned for many future posts and stories about my Tuesday morning observations.