This morning, I found this hymn by

St. John of Damascus

(d. c. 754).

I was reading through my copy of Hymns Ancient & Modern which was given suddenly to me at Bath Abbey; looking for Paschal hymns, & for inspiration for my upcoming post on Neal B's lent blog. (April 4)

'Tis the spring of souls today;
Christ hath burst his prison,
and from three day's sleep in death
as a sun hath risen,
long and dark, is flying
from his light, to whom we give
laud and praise undying.

Now the queen of seasons, bright
with the day of splendour,
with the royal feast of feasts,
comes its joy to render;
comes to glad Jerusalem
who with true affection
welcomes in unwearied strains
Jesu's resurrection.

Alleluia now we cry
to our King immortal,
who triumphant burst the bars
of the tomb's dark portal;
Alleluia with the Son
God the Father praising;
Alleuia yet again
to the Spirit raising.'


File Under Spring Ephemera

Fritillaria meleagris: darling of the spring wildflower set. Native to wet fields in England; said to be sold by gypsies in Oxford before WW2. (Or so says Geoffrey Grigson's Wildflowers of Britain) Eagerly awaited in my garden. Glorious!

Seaweed & the Death of a Nap

Blogging the Slog
I've felt like I've been slogging through a portion of my life lately. Partially because I'm still sick, partially because G is getting over pneumonia. Her being ill has meant quarantine, and therefore she has become my little shadow-always right behind me so I just catch myself before tripping on her or walloping her upside the head with a heedless elbow. And instead of her getting tired of my company, she is my biggest fan. She can't get enough of me. Which is usually flattering, but on week two of quarantine, her manner is like long strands of seaweed, tangling themselves in my legs as I try to swim to shore. "Where are you, mommy?" is her little sing-song mantra, and yesterday I had to lock the bedroom door just to get a little space whilst I changed clothes. "Mommy!" she called, her little fingernails scratching on the door like a puppy that needed to go outside,"What you doing, mommy!" I don't really know why she is doing this now, probably because I am so familiar, and present. Of course she is still recovering from illness, so there is a certain amount of parental guilt sprinkled over these lines. Bad Guilt-Self says to me, "She's got pneumonia and you're whining about needing a little bit of space." I'm trying more to ignore B.G-S and just hang out with all my imperfections. Not easy!
Play a dirge, beat the drum........
(**MFX: 'Taps' plays in background)
(**Followed by 'Death of A Nap", original composition, played on pipes, recorder & toy piano.)
Eulogy: Alas, she has decided, in some deep place inside, that she no longer needs a nap.
A cherished member of our family. This means the passing of a way of life, and the loss of the quiet space during the day. In lieu of a gift, donations may be made to the Parental Caffeine Fund. So this is for you, Nap! Thank you! You have served us well.
**SFX: 21 gun salute, muffled sobs.
Clearly, I am ready for the trip to grandma's house tomorrow....G will spread out the undiluted affection & I will lose myself in the waking earth, and the careful positioning of the dahlia's tubers.


Tolkien's Eucatastrophe

Tree and Leaf

I was trying to describe to a friend recently why I best love Return of the King out of the Lord Of The Rings books (not technically a trilogy, but I refuse to quibble). It led me to reread an old favourite: an essay of Tolkien's called Tree and Leaf. It's divided into 2 sections: 'On Fairy Stories & a fairy tale, Leaf by Niggle. This is such an excellent essay, and I recommend it if you can find it. My copy was sold together with a few of his epic poems under the title 'The Tolkien Reader', and it originally went for 95 cents..... so that was a while ago.
On Recovery, Escape & Consolation
'On Fairy Stories' recounts what Tolkien considers to be key elements of 'genuine' fairy stories: Recovery, Escape & Consolation. Tolkien refers to the last as the 'Consolation of the Happy Ending'. This is most definitely not 'and they all lived happily ever after'. It is, rather: "the sudden joyous 'turn' (for there is no true end to any fairy-tale)..... a sudden and miraculous grace: never to be counted on to recur;....it denies universal final defeat and in so far is evangelium, giving a fleeting glimpse of Joy, Joy beyond the walls of the world, poignant as grief....In such stories when the 'turn' comes, we get a piercing glimpse of joy, and heart's desire, that for a moment passes outside the frame, rends indeed the very web of story, and lets a gleam come through." He calls this 'turn' a eucatastrophe, the ultimate happy resolution.
The Fields of Cormallen
And that's why I love 'Return of the King' the best of the three, because of it's eucatastrophic ending: all the more ecstatic because of the depths of its sorrow and pain. When I first read it; it was so despairing in Mordor that I couldn't honestly guess if Frodo & Sam would ever succeed on their Quest. I remember lying in our bed, the summer after we got married, listening to B read to me, engrossed in the story, and then-in the midst of all the terrors on Mount Doom, 'The Eagles are coming!" and Sam wakes up in Lothlorien, healed and well. He sees Gandalf beside him and gasps, "Gandalf! I thought you were dead! But then I thought I was dead myself! Is everything sad going to come untrue? What's happened to the world?" I remember the tears slipping out of the corners of my eyes then, the sudden and miraculous grace, the glimpse of Joy, my heart was lifted up, and the wild goodness of this "turn" of events caught in my throat.
The Gospel As Fairy-Story
Actually, my favourite part of 'On Tree and Leaf' is the epilogue; Tolkien ties in all this Consolation business with Christianity.
"The Gospels contain a fairy-story, or a story of a larger kind which embraces all the essence of fairy-stories. They contain many marvels-peculiarly artistic, beautiful, and moving; "mythical" in their perfect, self-contained significance; and among the marvels is the greatest and most complete conceivable eucatastrophe. But this story has entered History and the primary world; the desire and aspiration of sub-creation has been raised to the fulfilment of Creation. The Birth of Christ is the eucatastrophe of Man's history. The Resurrection is the eucatastrophe of the story of the Incarnation. This story begins and ends in joy....But this story is supreme; and it is true. Art has been verified. God is the Lord, of angels, and of men-and of elves."


Venus Di Milano ( Homeless in Milan, Part II)

Part II
January 6, 1996
Milan, Italy
The rest of the group looked at me as I fished Venus' postcard out of my pocket. On the back was her address & phone number. Feeling very uncomfortable, but even more desperate, I called her up and explained our predicament. "No! No!"she said most emphatically, in her brusque Filipina accent,"We have a small flat! It is very full! No! NO!" I began to stammer something apologetic & conciliatory with my terrible Italian and flustered English. She abruptly said "Can you phone me in 10 minutes?" and hung up. I blinked. I looked at the 4 faces around me. "We need to call back in 10 minutes." We shuffled glumly around the cheerless and frigid hostel common room, not feeling welcome enough to sit down and unable to leave. Those European hostels always smell the same: cigarette smoke, dust and that undefinable smell that might be wet canvas mixed with Euro-sweat & Top Ramen.
Tedious Confusion
After 10 minutes, Venus invited us to her flat, on the condition that, since it was so crowded, we would need to stay up all night and talk-there was literally no room to lay down anywhere.
"Yes! We'd love to! Thank you! Thank you!" I tried not to let all the relief I felt flood into my voice, I was afraid of sounding really crazy. She said she would send her cousin down to meet us since it was sort of hard to explain how to get there. We plonked ourselves down on the prescribed street corner and waited. And waited. No cousin. It was probably close to 2 hours before we found this cousin who was supposed to make everything easier by leading us to Venus' apartment. It would be unspeakably tedious to recount all the ways we tried to find this cousin, the trips to various pay phones, the scouts sent and received back, cousin-less, and why he didn't appear when needed. Just remember: there were no cell phones. No Map Quest. We were doing life free-style back then. All this time, it was lightly raining, early January, and well past midnight. And we were lugging around our backpacks. And it was just so ugly. (But I digress. And whine.)
Flying High........
At Venus' we again met Michael, the fiance from an arid U.S. State (Nevada?) and Venus' grandfather (or great uncle?) and a small boy. We were led into a sitting room, absolutely stuffed with furniture. Very ornate bookcases and knicknack shelves, overstuffed & obtuse couches & chairs and a table that took up any left-over space in the center of the room. Food and coffee came in and we fell to. Bitter black coffee and hard sugary rolls, & maybe chocolate.
Everyone was very smiley and bright-eyed, and we talked for a few hours, until 3 or4 AM. I have no idea what we talked about, only that by the end of it all I was flying so high on no sleep and too much sugar & caffeine and the surreal quality of the experience. I felt so in love with everyone in the room too, in this strange way. Like we were all passengers on the same voyage, this crazy night in Milan, and no one else could ever share what we had shared together in that room. Man, I needed sleep. By unspoken consensus we all started finding places to lie down-Lori was under the table, Ben & Jody curled around a poofy ottoman & bookcase, Venus & Michael on a couch, grandpa & boy across the room on a love seat, Pat on the floor squished up against a couch, and me, somehow, with a couch all to myself. And we crashed. Hard. The next morning ( a few hours later, actually), we got up and had more coffee and rolls. The rest of Venus' relatives started pouring in from other rooms and another flat in order to meet us. It turns out that several other relatives gave up their places on couches or under furniture for us that night, sleeping instead in the flat next door. Also a lot of them were staying there "unofficially", and to have us there was raising their profile, & possibly jeopardizing some of their housing. (The Italians, we noticed, were great sticklers on housing issues & didn't seem to recognize the phrase "Dude, this is my buddy......he's just crashing here for a few days 'til he gets his van fixed and then he's driving to Burning Man.") I was so struck by this sacrifice on their part. Before we left, we all held hands in a big circle in the entry way with Venus and her huge family and they prayed over us.
A cup of cold water.........
And that's the last I ever saw of Venus Castillo. And Milan. Shaking the dust off our sandals, we went to a nearby subway station and stood in a circle as was our habit on this trip. We were about to do a crazy thing: We were about to pray and ask God where to go next. We had learned our lesson early in this Italian adventure: this was God's trip, not ours, and HE was the One giving direction, not us. "But," the observant reader will point out, "You prayed in Florence and thought God told you to go to Milan. Look what happened when you went there!" True, there were no throngs of people shouting, "What must we do to be saved?" when we got to Milan. Just a woman who put herself on the line to give us tired "missionaries" a roof for the night. The ministry of hospitality is very real, and our need for it was very great that night. I forget that my need can be a blessing to someone who can meet that need, that it really is more blessed to give than to receive.
Venus told us when we first met how her family used to travel around the Philippines preaching the gospel, and how blessed she was to meet people who were doing the same thing. She was so joyful and generous with what she had to give, in part because of what we were doing there, and no doubt also because of Who she knew.
"And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward." Matthew 10:42


Wake Robin

Found growing in my shady natives garden: Trillium ovatum, the fabulous western wake robin. I've loved watching it's coyly unfurling leaves amongst the wild ginger (Asarum caudatum) and delicate western bleeding heart (dicentra formosa).I admit to some confusion when the trillium first bloomed. "But I didn't plant that there," I told B. He gently pointed out that perhaps the birds did. "Oh, right." I said, "Nature."


Venus Di Milano ( Homeless in Milan, Part I)

January 6, 1996
Milan, Italy
We got on the train to Milan rather late; it was around 8pm. We traversed the train, peeping into all the crowded train compartments looking for seats. We ended up in a car that already had 2 occupants, a young Philipina woman named Venus Castillo and a tall, brown haired young man called, maybe, Michael. She seemed very struck with us being "missionaries", saying that her father used to travel around the Philippines preaching. She was living in Milan with extended family and working as a nurse. Michael was American, from Nevada. They were engaged. As we approached Milan, she gave me her address on a postcard she happened to have with her. I remember her turning it over to the picture and saying, "See? This is right down the street from where I live." In a district called Sesto San Giovanni. We cheerfully parted ways at the station.
"Mi scusi, Signor....."
For some reason, I was the Designated Italian Speaker of the group. I studied Spanish in high school, I owned a little pocket Italian phrase book and I was interested in word origins. This made me the expert of our group, which is a little scary. I was elected to call around to pensiones to negotiate a room for the night. (Mama mia!) I talked to a yelling man who told me that he could put all 5 of us up for _lire, to which we agreed. We trekked out of the station and into the industrial underbelly of Milan: the subway. I was very strongly reminded of the subway scene in The Wiz when all the trash cans and tiled columns broke loose and chased Diana Ross and Michael Jackson and the Tin Man. (Which actually is a very scarring childhood memory. I'll move on.) So we got off the subway at the pensione and said, "Hey! This is Sesto San Giovani! Where Venus lives! Huh!" It was grubby and industrial, reminding me of cities I'vd never seen: Detroit, Milwaukee. Just a tad bit depressing.
Dove il pensione, signor?
Well, it was a bad idea electing me the honourary Italian of the group, because the yelling pensione guy actually wanted _lire for 5 rooms, not 5 people, and we couldn't talk him down. There was no way we could afford to stay there, even for the night. Either by design or language breakdown we had been set down in the middle of urban decay, Italian-style, with nothing open anywhere. It was by then around 10:30 pm and a light rain began to fall.


Neal B: An Honourary Weegie

Today I rediscovered an old Seamill comrade, one Northern Irishman Neal B; currently at medical school in Glasgow. Check out his website and also the blog he started for the season of Lent. I think we should try something like that here-maybe next Advent?
One of the many things B & I love about Neal is that he introduced us to the Swallows and Amazons series by Arthur Ransome, a fabulous children's adventure series from the 1930s. The other things are his sincere passion for the things of God, his easy-going nature and his truly amazing ability to morph into an Indian after a prayer trek in the Himalayas.
And I think he's still into climbing things. Glasgow boasts, among other things, the Glasgow Climbing Centre, which was formerly Ibrox church. I have always wanted to climb the inside of a church, particularly an old stone Perpendicular number like the Ibrox. I'll save it for our next visit.
Oi, Neal!: Come climb some California mountains!


What The Bird Said Early in the Year

Addison's Walk photo by wikipedia
June. 2001 B, Mum & I were sauntering, dream-like through Magdalen College, Oxford. We found Addison's Walk, (named for Joseph Addison, 17 century statesmen and author of, among other things, one of my favorite hymns.) As we were ambling (hard to do little else on such a day, and in such a place), we came upon a little bridge going over the River Cherwell, which ran alongside the Walk. Across it, a view through a gate into Magdalen's Deer Park. And there, mounted beside the gate, a huge plaque. As I bent near to read it, I realized I was reading a poem by C.S. Lewis that was so stupendously wonderful, I was stunned into silence. Here is a poem that is fraught with Lewisian Joy, the joy that is so acute it is tinged with sadness, even as it speaks of hope; because it reminds us that we call another place home.

What The Bird Said Early In The Year

I heard in Addison's Walk a bird sing clear:
This year the summer will come true, this year, this year.

Winds will not strip the blossom from the apple trees
This year, nor want of rain destroy the peas.

This year time's nature will no more defeat you
Nor all their moments in their passing cheat you.

This time they will not lead you round and back
To Autumn, one year older by the well-worn track.

This year, this year, as these flowers foretell,
We shall escape the circle and undo the spell.

Often deceived, yet open once again your heart,
Quick, quick, quick, quick! The gates are drawn apart.
C.S. Lewis


Buds Faintly Roaring

Marching Right Along

B & I celebrated the first of March by downloading the new (monthly) desktop calendar from BBC Gardening. The photo is the fabulous daphne mezereum, one of my favourite 'blooms on bare wood' shrub/tree. Other faves in this group include flowering quince (chaenomeles japonica) and witch hazel (Corylus hamamelis). There is something so marvelous, ephemeral and strong about the bare wood & flower scenario. I am not sure what it is, but the obvious parallels about hope springing eternal, and beauty out of barrenness never fail to stir me, especially after a long winter's rest.

lovely, lovely witch hazel & flowering quince

Garden Literature, Beloved Genre

Speaking of long winters and ways to cope, this past year I discovered an enduring classic of the garden literature genre, The Gardener's Year by Karel Capek, a Czech gardener. The book, first published in 1929, is written with a curious mixture of irony, self-deprecation & poetry; his passion for gardening shines through each page.

Capek On Buds
'I tell you, buds are as strange & varied as leaves & flowers. There will be no end to your discoveries. But you must choose a small piece of earth. If I ran as far as Benesov, I should see less of the spring than if I sat in my little garden. You must stand still: and then you will see open lips and furtive glances, tender fingers, and raised arms, the fragility of a baby, and the rebellious outburst of the will to live; and then you will hear the infinite march of buds faintly roaring.' -Karel Capek.

Read Your Way Through the Garden: Choice Tomes From Garden Literature

  • A Book of Salvias by Betsy Clebsch
  • Botany for Gardeners by Brian Capon
  • Making Bentwood Trellises by Jim Long
  • RHS Encyclopedia of Plants & Flowers
  • Rose Primer: An Organic Approach to Rose Selection & Care by Orin Martin
  • Start With the Soil by Grace Gershuny
  • Sunset Western Garden Book
  • Sunset Western Landscaping Book
  • The Book of Garden Secrets by Patent & Bilderback
  • The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Botany
  • the Gardener's Table: A Guide to Natural Vegetable Growing and Cooking by Richard Merrill & Joe Ortiz
  • The Gardener's Year by Karel Capek
  • The Hutchinson Dictionary of Plant Names: Common & Botanical
  • We Made A Garden by Margaret Fish

lotsa latin: rosa's botanical & etymological ruminations

  • vespertinus: flowers in the evening
  • vernalis:spring
  • veni vidi nates calcalvi: we came, we saw, we kicked butt. This was printed on a T shirt I bought at Abbot's Thrift many years ago. It encircled the NEA symbol. I wish I knew why.
  • superciliaris: shaped like an eyebrow ex: sturnella superciliaris, the White-browed Blackbird
  • rosa-sinensis: species of Hibiscus: Hibiscus rosa-sinensis. Lit. Rosa of China, so named by British plant hunters.
  • placentiformis: shaped like a cake ex: discocactus placentiformis
  • nudiflorus: flowers before leaves show ex: flowering quince, magnolia
  • nivalis: growing in or near snow ex: galanthus nivalis (common snowdrop)
  • muralis: growing on walls
  • mirabilis: marvellous, wonderful
  • formosa: beautiful ex: dicentra formosa, a.k.a.western bleeding heart/dutchman's breeches/lady in a bath
  • carpe vitam: get a life
  • Carolus Linnaeus: Latinized name of Carl von Linne (1707-1778), Swedish naturalist considered the father of plant taxonomy. Whatta guy.