Prolonging Peony Happiness

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Like many people, I adore peonies.  Their lush blossoms and intense fragrance are intoxicating.  So when two recent family trips crossed into and right back out of peony season here, I was truly sorry to be leaving my peonies.

I mentioned this at a dinner with old friends just before the first trip, and Al told me a trick for prolonging the peony season. Cut peony buds when they’re still tight balls, wrap them in wet newspaper, store in the refrigerator for up to several weeks, then take them out, put the buds in a vase with water, and the blossoms will open and delight.

It works.  A week and a half ago, headed off for the second of the family beach gatherings, I picked two bouquets to take with me.  If I had to leave and there were open blossoms, why not cut them and bring them with me, one jar full for my mother’s house, one for my sister’s cottage at Humarock Beach.  And I cut a dozen stems with buds, wrapped them in newspaper, wet the paper under the faucet, put it all in a grocery store plastic bag, and stowed it on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator. I unwrapped the buds and put them in a vase on Tuesday.  Today, they are peony perfection.

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And now the annual poppies that volunteer all over my gardens are open, coming again and again from seeds I started 20 years ago.  The colors and shapes have intermixed, and now I get lavender and red and the pink carnation poppies with their shaggy blossoms which have migrated some genetic code over to ruffle the edges of other colors.  When the blossoms have frayed and left the bare poppy heads, I let a few of them dry on the stalk, break the seed head open and scatter the poppy seeds over my beds.  Next summer, poppies everywhere.

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And here is the rudbeckia, also sowing itself into new clumps every time I weed another garden bed.  These flowers came from two clumps a friend dug me from her garden, and I in turn dig clumps and give them away.  I pull up and compost more than I can keep or gift.

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This all makes me happy.  When the big stuff in life gets a bit heavy to carry around day after day, making sure to appreciate the simple, little stuff gets more important.  Not that flowers are simple or little.  But they’re here and now and lovely.

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Wildflowers

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In my late teens and well into my twenties I loved to pick wildflower bouquets.  Noticing a field with daisies, or black-eyed Susans, or yarrow or asters, I would stop my car or my bike and wade into the tall grasses and flowers.  I sometimes thought about the people who owned the fields where I picked flowers, but I was living mostly in the country, and there were pastures everywhere, often no where near a house, and I couldn’t imagine any one would mind me taking home a free bouquet.  When Eric and I got married, our bouquets were made with wildflowers.

In June, 1981, Eric and our good friend Anne and I bought the house where I still live.  The house is surrounded by fields and hay meadows and pastures.  The day we moved in I walked into the small field on the south side of the house and looked at the flowers — daisies, vetch, clover, Indian paintbrushes, wild multiflora roses.  They were all blooming among the tall grasses with their full seed heads, nodding back and forth in the wind.  I sat down in the field, happy and overcome with the thought that I now had my own wildflowers to pick. It felt remarkable that I didn’t have to stop at the side of the road any more and pick someone else’s flowers.

Since then I’ve mostly created bouquets for my house from the flowers I grow in my garden — columbine and iris early in the season, then peonies and on to salvia and zinnias and cosmos and rudbekia.  But I still love a field in June, with its wild array of ever-changing flowers and its splashes of color — all, in many senses, for free.

Above the Trees: June

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This month we not only got above the trees, we got above tree line.  And into the clouds. As we reached the summit of Mt. Moosilauke, the clouds that had been hiding the higher summits began to break into wind-blown sheets of mist, then lifted enough to open up a view of the mountains to the east.

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At one point a ceiling of cloud settled into the notch, between Moosilauke and Franconia Ridge, sunlight streaking the distant slopes.  Another day outside, another hike that reminded us why we committed to the intention of getting above the trees at least once a month this year.

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Retreat

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I’ve been on retreat, “an act of moving back or withdrawing,” or “a place of privacy or safety.” Retreating, or creating an actual retreat in the midst of every day life, is a powerful way to get creative priorities back in line. Or back to the beginning of the line.

When I left the Coalition almost two years ago, I’d imagined a life with writing as the organizing force, the central focus of what I had to do.  Everything else would fit in around it.  That has been so totally not true.  Valuing writing, valuing spending time  expressing my creative impulses whether or not that expression ever leads to publication, or praise, or whatever it is that might make it somehow count, is still unexpectedly difficult.

But at least I’m spending more time with other writers who all struggle to some extent with the difficulty of getting to the desk and getting words on paper.  I have lots of sympathy for my constant battle to push back the dailiness which can easily fill a life — grocery shopping, cooking, gardening, hanging photos and paintings up in the kitchen and hallway we had painted a year ago, visiting friends and family, training for the next tri, answering email, cleaning the old running shoes out of the bottom of my closet, a task I’d thought would be done within a week of leaving my job — and put my writing first.  “Writing is my job,” a novelist I met last summer told me.  “It comes first, every day, then I get to the other things that need attention.”  Good for her, but how do I do that?

Last week a group of my writer friends and I went on a writing retreat.  One of the women has a sister with a second home in Manchester, Vermont, who was happy to have us use it as a writing base.  After an afternoon and morning of more concentration on writing than I thought I could possibly muster, I said to one of my friends, “This is such a good reminder that going away to write, making space for that, getting to a place where all I have to do is write, really makes a difference for me.”  “It makes a difference for all of us,” she said.  “That’s why so many writers do it.”

Of course.  I keep thinking there isn’t any reason I can’t just sit down at my desk for four hours, or three hours, or five hours, or even 15 minutes, every single day.  But really, there are literally hundreds of reasons to keep me from doing that, every single day.

Sitting in a screened gazebo on a deck overlooking pastures sweeping down to the Battenkill River and up the Equinox Mt. ridge, I spent hours and hours last week, working on poetry.  I woke early the first morning we were there, after an afternoon of writing, and had to get out of bed and get to work.  I couldn’t wait to get to my poems.

Now I’ve been home a week and I’ve still been writing at least a bit every day, some days quite a lot.  Retreating at home is harder, but not impossible.  And one thing I fit in this week was making plans for the next actual retreat.