Category Archives: In My Head

Ode to Autumn

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Autumn came in fits and starts this year–the first cold, grey, rainy days of the year arrived at the end of October and then just as I was ready to start hauling out the firewood, sunny days and temperatures in the 80s returned in November. It was as though summer and fall were going round after round in a sparring match. But after an unseasonably glorious Thanksgiving weekend, with dinner in the garden, olive harvesting, and sunny trips to the beach, the rains finally arrived in earnest.

Letting go of summer always makes me a little wistful–no more walking outside to eat that burstingly ripe tomato right off the vine or sitting down for a sunny breakfast of sun-warmed luscious stone fruit, but at the same time I appreciate the distinct transition between seasons and all the memory and ritual that’s associated with it—the tidying away of summer and the preparations for the cold days ahead.

The last few weeks have meant wrapping up the harvest, planting all the winter crops, and mulching the soil with a thick layer of straw (which always makes me feel as though I am tucking the earth into a cozy bed for the winter.) The pantry is filled with canned goods and the smell of fermenting plum brandy.

One of my farmer/philosopher heroes, Masanobu Fukuoka, wrote about the importance of the dormant months of winter as a time to sit back and be “lazy.” Apparently during the “leisure time” of winter, ancient farmers in Japan left behind Haiku. I love the idea of having a dedicated season for writing poetry!

At the moment, my “poetry” seems to be more at the stove than on the page. The change of season has meant saying goodbye to all the simple, fresh dishes served in the garden and ushering in the complex, slow-cooked, hearty meals—mushroom ragout over creamy polenta, braised greens eaten by the fire. How quickly the smell of fresh basil and tomatoes, with the hum of bees buzzing in the background has given way to caramelized roasting root vegetables with the beating of rain falling outside.

timing is everything

Last month I was driving on the freeway in intermittent rain when an intense double rainbow appeared. As I drove closer I was able to see the lower arc in its entirety. Moments later it began to fade and then was gone. It was one of those instances when you know you’ve just happened to be in the right place at the right time to catch something magical.

That moment got me thinking about the old saying “timing is everything.” No one knows this more than a gardener–getting a crop planted too early or too late or having an untimely frost–sometimes success or failure comes down to nothing more than timing. From day to day, month to month, year to year. Of course beyond the garden I’ve also bandied the phrase around many times in regards to personal relationships–when something didn’t work out it was easy to chalk it up to the timing being off.

But somehow even with knowing and using this phrase in so many
situations for so many years, I’m not sure I ever felt it’s full potency
until recently. I’ve become acutely aware of how so many things in our lives truly do boil down to a simple matter of timing. There are so many things you cannot plan for or force; you just have to leave it all up to time. Whether it’s being in the right place (or the right mindset) at the right time, or just allowing the time that healing takes, or the time to get to know someone or yourself. Everything is on its own schedule and we are just along for the ride.

As I sit here today I think about where I was on this day last year--planting rueplants and frankly, in a lot of personal pain. What a difference a year makes. Not because of anything I’ve done or anywhere I’ve been, just because of time.

Timing is everything!

thinking in images

When I first started this blog I wrote something every day, then that slowly evolved to once a week. Now it appears I'm at once month! I initially started slowing down the pace because other aspects of my life were becoming more demanding. But lately my blog silence has been simply because words haven't felt like the right means of communication and self-expression. (Even writing this post now feels forced and awkward.)

For the last few months I've found myself thinking (and living) in images. Photos are flowing and words feel stuck. I first noticed this in one of my September posts titled, "no words today." Since then, I've been spending more time on the Flickr account I set up to support this blog than on the blog itself. And by looking at the 50+ recent images in my photostream I see that I actually have been blogging–it's just been photographically.

Like all things, I don't expect this situation will be permanent. It's just part of the ebb and flow of creativity and life. But for now I think I'll be swimming in the sea of images…until I come back to the land of words again.

And who knows what the new year will bring?

Wishing everyone courage, compassion, tolerance, determination and serenity. May you do your greatest good in 2010!

the first sunrise

I recently realized my children had never seen the sun rise. Of course they are always up early enough (!) but from our house we can't see the horizon. So earlier this week we planned a sunrise expedition–a speedy early departure from home and hot cocoas in the car as we drove in the dark to a good vantage point. It was wonderful to see their surprise and amazement as the sky went through the spectrum of colors. Afterward we went to a local "greasy spoon" for breakfast and then off to school. It was a special and adventurous way to start the day, and a good reminder about the importance of taking time to celebrate the simple joys in life.

Later when I got back to my desk I read the quote of the day that I get by email from It said:

"May the sun bring you new energy by day, may the moon softly restore you by night, may the rain wash away your worries, may the breeze blow new strength into your being." –Apache Blessing

I've been carrying those words and the feeling from the sunrise morning with me and now I'm passing them along. Celebrate a sunrise the next chance you have!

silently growing

“The trees, the flowers, the plants grow in silence. The stars, the sun, the moon move in silence. Silence gives us a new perspective.” —Blessed Mother Teresa

no words today

reflecting on the autumnal equinox

Anyone who gardens or farms tends to have a pretty close relationship with the seasons. Besides planning when things are going in and out of the earth, there is also cyclical reflection–thinking back (and studying) the same time in prior years. At the end of the season you can always find growers saying things like "Last year was a bad year for tomatoes. Much better crop this year." 

Sometimes this historical reference provides useful information for the future, like when you see how doing something differently (a change of fertilizer or method of irrigating) produces better or worse results. But even when the changes from year to year are beyond human control and can't be planned for or addressed in any way–like crazy weather or other "acts of God"–gardeners take note anyway. Somehow it still feels worthwhile and important to think about what happened and try to reach some kind of understanding. You might not be able to learn from the experience in an overtly practical or tactical way (for instance, knowing that an unexpected storm wiped out all the blossoms on your fruit trees won't give you any advantage should it happen again) but at least you will acquire more wisdom and knowledge.

As always, I find the lessons I learn in the garden apply to life in general. Sometimes we experience things we can learn from in a practical way ("now that I see what happened I can do things differently next time…") but other times the lessons are more abstract and philosophical. Even when things happen that we could never have prepared for or when there's really "nothing to be done about it" there's still an opportunity for reflection and gaining insight.

Today's autumnal equinox is a turning point I feel both in the garden and in my life. As the season changes I think back to everything I grew this summer and how it compares to last summer's crops. I also compare what I'm planting in my winter garden to what I planted last year. I think about what worked and what didn't work.

At the same time I also reflect on what was happening in my life at this time last year. The autumnal equinox stands out as an iconic moment because I remember how happy and immensely hopeful I felt about my future at that time. The memory is particularly poignant because shortly afterward I had some bitter disappointments in my personal life that made me realize so many of my plans and dreams–the seeds I had been sowing for a long time–would never be reaped.

So now one year later, after going through a lot of sadness and loss, when I think back to the autumnal equinox there's a dark silhouette somewhat obscuring that brighter time. Even though some might say there's no practical benefit from reflecting on these old wounds, I still feel compelled to think about them. I guess it's my unswerving attachment to the Socratic principle that "“The unexamined life is not worth living.” Like the farmer who can't change the storm but still wants to understand what it did to her crops, I feel the need to have some sense of where I am in the universe and how all the elements of my life fit together, even when it's difficult and painful.

So today as we turn into autumn I take the opportunity to look backwards to where I've been (in the garden and in life) but also forward to the path that lies ahead.

(Note: Photo above taken on the trail from Chimney Rock in Point Reyes National Seashore.)

limoncello and the lunar eclipse

I’ve written before about my relationship with full moons, whether in the garden or just in my own head. But tonight is a special full moon because it’s also a lunar eclipse (the final of this season’s three eclipses).

According to Stephanie Gailing at Planetary Apothecary this is a period when things come to fruition. It’s the time to let go of something that is outworn–a possession, a habit, or a relationship that doesn’t serve your highest good. She says that during this event we have the ability to perceive our own unique gifts and qualities in a way that helps us close one chapter of our lives so that another one (which will more gracefully align with our heart’s desires) can emerge. Oddly enough, I had a very clear awareness of exactly that just yesterday before even reading her write-up. Apparently very fitting words for me right now.

So while musing on Stephanie’s insights and waiting to see the moon this evening, I decided to sit in my garden and have my first sampling of the limoncello I made this spring. It was the perfect fresh (and strong!) taste to accompany thoughts of a new chapter in my life.

Then I watched a beautiful moon rise up through the clouds. Since the eclipse happened earlier in the evening I wasn’t able to witness it but I definitely felt it. A magical sky for a meaningful transition.


living in the moment

“Live in the present. Do the things that need to be done. Do all the good you can each day. The future will unfold.”  —Peace Pilgrim

Those were the first words I read today and I wanted to pass them along. I’ve mentioned before that I subscribe to a daily inspirational Word for the Day from A Network for Grateful Living. The above was today’s quote. Even if the message is something we all know, it’s amazing how much we (well, at least I) need to be regularly reminded of it. I couldn’t have started the day with better marching orders.

And as for the photo above…after months of effort I’ve finally completed my newest addition to the garden–a small pond. I’ll be writing more about this in days to come, but in the meantime I just wanted to share a moment of the serenity.

happy accidents

Recently a blogger who I enjoy reading (Hank Shaw of Hunter Gardener Angler Cook) wrote a post about success and failure in the garden. It's something all gardeners, no matter how experienced, can relate to. Every season there's some crop that does amazingly well right next to something else that's a complete disaster. Whether it's because of the weather, pests, or simply "operator error" it seems that no one is immune from the fate of nature.

This year I've already had my share of disappointments and things not going as planned. A big part of this was due to my wheat-growing experiment which dramatically delayed the planting of most of my summer crops. That caused a domino effect–in order to not fall too far behind I started some seeds (like my beans) inside. Unfortunately they got so mature and root bound before the wheat was done I ended up giving them away to my friend Amy for her garden.

Then I started another batch which didn't germinate well. When I finally was able to harvest the wheat, I planted the new scrawnier bean seedlings but in a few days they were completely decimated by pests (not sure what yet, but my current guess is earwigs.)

Beans have got to be one of the most foolproof crops to grow in the garden (usually my kids are the ones to plant them!) so it's hard to believe that I'm now nursing half-dead plants and hoping for the best. (Also set out beer traps tonight to see if it's earwigs or not.)

But for every mind-boggling disaster there are also many gifts. Sometimes they even come together. Another mishap this season was my zinnias. Again, one of the easiest flowers you can possibly grow but it just goes to show–no matter how experienced you are you can't get cocky with Mother Nature. I started a whole flat of these inside but for some reason none of the seeds germinated (I have no idea why.) By the time I accepted the failure it was really too late to start over, so I resigned myself to not having my annual zinnia patch this year.

Then this past weekend I was out in the garden weeding my gravel pathways (which are getting filled with thistles and other unwanted plants) when I noticed some small familiar leaf shapes among them–was it? Could it be? Yes, zinnias! They had obviously self-sowed from last year. The more I looked, the more I found. I was able to uproot and successfully transplant 32 zinnias from the gravel to the flower beds. Hurrah!

Another happy accident is the photo at the top. All winter I had what I thought was an enormous weed growing right by my front door. I kept letting it grow, partially because I was too lazy to deal with it and also because I was curious to see exactly how big it would get and what it would turn into. Being much more of a vegetable gardener than a floral expert, I had no idea this "weed" was a volunteer Hollyhock! Imagine my surprise and delight when it burst forth with these tall stalks of beautiful yellow flowers. It looks stunning against my brown house and seems like it was intentionally planted. Many thanks to the bird or the breeze that carried the seed.

Of course (as always) I can't help but take the lessons learned in the garden as life lessons as well. I've recently had to deal with some seriously unpleasant "weeds" in my personal life. But who knows, with time maybe these too will turn into beautiful flowers. Or like the zinnias that failed only to have a second chance by seeds from the past. During dark times it's good to remember that we never know what gifts life has yet to give us.