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With Quiet Eyes: Seeing Gifts Large and Small

“This is what I hear all day –

the trees are singing my music –

or have I sung theirs?”

Edward Elgar 

My crape myrtle surprised me in a big way – literally. I bought it years ago when it was just a small bush in a container and planted it beside the stairs to my deck in my backyard. I expected it to grow into a larger bush that would maybe reach the top rail of the stairs. I assume that there are varieties of crape myrtle that bush out. This wasn’t one of those. It grew taller and taller. And then bushed out. Today its pink clusters of flowers hang like a chandelier. It’s beautiful and full, creating a canopy over the deck stairs. Even after the flowers fade in the fall, the seed clusters cling to the branches, artistic silhouettes against the sky. And if we have ice or heavy snow in the winter, they become a frozen, white chandelier. All these pictures are from that tree.

Taking pictures is one way I appreciate the wonder that nature so generously offers every day. I’ve come to love the small beauties that, in the past, I didn’t see because I didn’t pause long enough or look closely enough – veins in leaves, raindrops, the inner sanctum of a bloom, buds before they open. Recently I purchased an inexpensive close-up lens for my phone camera, so I’ve been wandering around my garden, discovering all sorts of tiny designs in nature that I can appreciate, with or without taking a picture.

Appreciate. That’s a good word. A good practice. Its deep meaning hides at its center: prec, rooted in the Latin word for price. Price, prize, praise, precious – they’re all related and hint at the fact that appreciate means so much more than simply being thankful or grateful. Appreciating feels deeper, more thoughtful. It requires something of us. An understanding. Awareness. Noticing. Being mindful or thoughtful. Paying attention. Which is the only way we can truly appreciate the tiny beauties in nature. Or a well-made cup of rich coffee. Or wine. Or music. Or art.

Appreciation is not something demanded but something freely given. When we appreciate, it’s like holding something precious cupped in our hands. We hold it out, observe it with wonder and awe, and give it space to be exactly what it is, to “shine,” to grow. Because appreciate also means increase, as when the value of a collector’s item appreciates over time. When we appreciate the variety in people, when we notice and honor and even celebrate our differences, and when we realize someone else’s humanity, their inner divine spark, their dignity, their gifts, then we encourage them to expand and grow and deepen.

The show “All Things Considered” on National Public Radio often honors someone who has died by telling a bit about their life. The reporter usually introduces it by saying, “We have this appreciation.” And in a way, this is exactly right, noticing whatever or whoever is honored, pointing them out, remarking on them, holding them up. Appreciation opens their lives to us, broadens their influence.

But the most valuable kind of appreciation, to me, is not necessarily public. It’s not an honoring event, an award, or a prize. Instead, it’s a lifestyle that sees gifts, large and small, and receives them with a heart that’s aware, noticing, mindful, thoughtful and, yes, grateful. With quiet satisfaction, we pause to recognize what we’re seeing or tasting or touching or smelling or hearing. Appreciation then is our yes, our nod.

And here’s the beautiful twist. As we appreciate nature, people, and experiences – in the sense of noticing and honoring them – we ourselves appreciate, in the sense of increasing. We grow. Our hearts expand, our souls broaden, the well of our spirits deepens. In appreciating others, we ourselves appreciate.

“I will look at cliffs and clouds

With quiet eyes,

Watch the wind blow down the grass,

And the grass rise.”

– Edna St. Vincent Millay –

 

Appreciate something or someone this week, and let it expand your soul.

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Text and photos © 2018 Karyn Henley. All rights reserved.

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The Art of Memory

“My eyes, which had seen all, came back,

Back to the white chrysanthemums.”

– Issho, trans. Asataro Miyamori –

Ethel’s small front yard, enclosed by a white picket fence, was completely planted in roses. Their fragrance drifted out into the street, enveloped me all the way up her front sidewalk, and followed me into her house in Hollywood. Yes, the California Hollywood, where neighborhoods of quaint, old houses lie tucked between the busy streets. This was many years ago when I lived in LA and visited “shut-ins” who were not able to attend church. Ethel was about 90 years old and did not get out often. So I went to her.

Every table and shelf at Ethel’s house was full of small knickknacks, some of which were probably quite valuable. She often pointed me to the mantle and asked if her collection of cloisonné was still there. She recounted stories of her travels, mentioned her “beau” of long ago, and told me about the time in her childhood when a mattress set out to air on her front porch began to bulge and ripple all by itself. Some said the mattress was “hainted” – until they discovered a snake inside it. Which made me shiver as much as if it had been hainted.

But when I think of Ethel, my eyes go back to the roses. In fact, when I smell roses, my mind goes back to her yard. This week, I thought of Ethel again, and I wondered what kind of bouquet I would have if I gathered flowers from my memory. I would have a fully blooming, richly scented rose for Ethel and my time in LA. I’d have a few pink rosebuds, the kind that my grandmother sent me in my first bouquet for my tenth birthday – the kind that covered her white casket a few years later.

I’d have a purple iris for the iris garden in a corner of the backyard in one of my childhood homes. Yellow and red four o’clocks for another house where I grew up. And gardenias. The front garden there was full of gardenias.

I’d add favorite flowers from my travels – frangipani from a trip to Hawaii, bluebonnets from the Texas hill country, wildflowers from out West, cherry blossoms from Japan, a blue poppy from Norway, lady’s slipper from the Minnesota woods. And, of course, magnolias and azaleas from here at home in Tennessee.

In the last few years of my mother’s life, she would exercise by walking around her house, “touring” through the knickknacks that filled her shelves. She told me that she would think about who had given her this or where she had gotten that. All the things that might look like clutter held meaning for her. Like Ethel’s cloisonné held for her, connecting her to what Abraham Lincoln called, “the mystic chords of memory.”

So I now have a bouquet in my memory. I guess I could just as easily create a memory in the form of a Thanksgiving-sized platter of foods I’ve eaten or a mental playlist of music from different stages of my life. Come to think of it, I already have. And since this is about what I choose to collect, I get to pick the blooms that make up my bouquet and leave out the ones that hold a bad memory.

What about you? Do you collect knickknacks like my mom and Ethel did? Do you have a playlist – for real or in your mind?

The older I get, the bigger my bouquet. The larger the platter. The longer the playlist. But even if I held only one bright blossom, it would be enough. It would be, for me, a symbol of goodness and grace.

“The true art of memory is the art of attention.”

Samuel Johnson

 

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Text and photos © 2018 Karyn Henley. All rights reserved.

 

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Strange but Beautiful

A little over a week ago, a strange, oval-shaped cloud formation appeared over Ontario, Canada. Sometimes it contained a partial rainbow. People began snapping pictures of it, posting them, and asking what it was. What caused it? What did it mean?

According to meteorologists, the cloud was a “fallstreak hole,” or what some people call a “skypunch.” Fallstreak holes occur when conditions are right, which has something to do with rain falling from only that section of cloud or ice crystals forming, causing streaks and a hole through the cloud cover that opens to the sky above.

Growing up in West Texas, I saw plenty of gorgeous cloudscapes. But I’ve never seen a fallstreak hole. As I explored the fallstreak phenomenon further, I found photos of more strange cloud formations than I’d ever seen, whole galleries of them. And an explanation for why and when they form. Weather conditions have to be just right.

Condition means together (con-) and say (dition, as in diction). So up in the sky, the water, wind, cold, and heat together do their seasonal dances and say, Rain! Snow! Storm! Heat wave! And once in a while, they take an unusual turn and – Skypunch!

Of course, much of what we experience depends on conditions being right. Like rainbows. Or barren deserts that bloom after a rare rainstorm when conditions are finally right to activate long-dormant seeds.

I hear that home gardens have “microclimates.” One expert gardener suggested that if a plant is not thriving in one area of your garden, moving it – even a foot or so in one direction or other – may create the right conditions for it to thrive.

Yeast is activated only when the right temperature of liquid is added to it. If the liquid is too cool, the yeast won’t activate. If the liquid is too hot, it kills the yeast. Bread won’t rise unless the yeast becomes active, and the yeast doesn’t activate unless the conditions are right.

We humans are also influenced by conditions. I’ve been working on a new book that will be out in August: The Gift of an Inner Moral Compass: Helping Our Children Grow Morally Wise. And I’ll be speaking mid-August to a group of teachers and parents on the topic. So I’ve been immersed in the subject of child development, specifically as it relates to morality. I’m reminded that when conditions are right, children grow to trust. When conditions are right, they feel competent and self-confident. When conditions are right, they gain a sense of purpose. When conditions are right, they find a healthy sense of identity. So much depends on seeds that are planted early – and on the conditions. They sprout and grow and bloom when conditions are right.

I can’t control the conditions that create a cloud formation, but sometimes I can make a rainbow with water from the garden hose. When I bake bread, I use a thermometer to heat the liquid just right to activate the yeast, but I’ve missed that mark more than once. I try to plant my garden with microclimates in mind, but I can’t control all the factors that make a plant bloom. And although I know quite a bit about creating the right conditions to help children mature physically, mentally, emotionally, and morally, I fail there, too.

I have to remind myself that I’m not in charge of all the conditions. Even when I can influence the conditions and try to do everything right, there’s no guarantee. Not with rainbows, not with yeast, not with seeds, not with invisible microclimates, not with children. But nature is a good teacher as she continues the dance into and out of all kinds of conditions, season by season. And when conditions are right, she takes a surprising turn and delights us with something strange but beautiful.

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Text © 2018 Karyn Henley. All rights reserved.

Photo of fallstreak hole cc, H. Raab. All other photos courtesy pexels.com.

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Listening for the Whisper

“Mr. Brown can

whisper whisper

. . . very soft

very high . . .

like the soft,

soft whisper

of a butterfly.

Maybe YOU can, too.

I think you ought to try.”

            – Dr. Seuss –

Maybe you recognized that quote from Mr. Brown Can Moo! Can You? That was the book my toddler grandson chose for me to read to him last Friday before nap. As I read it, I was reminded of how hard it is to teach young children to whisper. If they figure it out, it’s a major accomplishment. Not only is the act of whispering hard for them, but it’s also hard for them to understand when to whisper – in church, when someone else is resting . . . anyway, we’re working on it.

After my grandson woke up from his nap, we took a walk – actually, I walked, he rode in his stroller. But it was a beautiful, hot summer day with billowy clouds in a bright blue sky. A nice breeze cooled us off. My grandson likes to point out sounds that he hears. Dogs barking. Jets overhead. Hammering from construction work. A lawnmower. And wind through the trees – another kind of whisper. It sounded like ocean waves coming to shore at the beach. I wondered, what word describes that sound?

It wasn’t the first time I had puzzled over that question. When I was writing a novel a few years ago, I wanted a word for the whispery sound of wind blowing through the leaves of trees. I discovered that there’s actually a very good word that describes it: susurrous, which means “full of whispering sounds.” As a noun, it’s susurration, derived from the Latin for “hum.” It’s probably the origin of our word “swarm.” A swarm does make a humming, whispery sound. The other options I came up with were sigh, sough, breath, murmur, hush, rustle, swish, shuffle, brush. I think I used them all in my story at one point or another. I think I even went with shush and shhh once or twice. I did not use susurrous. It just seemed a bit pretentious.

I’ve been susurrous myself on occasion. When I taught preschoolers, I found that if I wanted to get the children’s attention, instead of raising my voice, lowering it often made them get quiet and lean in to hear what I was saying. Whispering gave my words the aura of a secret, a special “guess what?” “Sometimes you have to be silent to be heard,” said Polish poet Stanislaw Lec. Or if not silent, at least whispery.

But sometimes we’re the ones who need to get quiet and lean in to listen. An old Bible story tells about the prophet Elijah hiding in a mountain cave from the tyrant king Ahab. God tells Elijah to meet him outside the cave. So Elijah steps out, only to face a windstorm so fierce it sends rocks tumbling down the mountainside. But God isn’t in the wind. Then the earth begins to shake. But God isn’t in the earthquake. Then a fire sweeps across the mountain. But God isn’t in the fire. By this time, Elijah has retreated back into the cave. After the fire dies away, Elijah hears a soft whisper. He wraps his cloak around his face (afraid of what he might find?) and steps out of the cave. It’s then that he hears God. God is in the whisper. (1 Kings 19:11-13)

David Brooks, in his book The Road to Character, points out that because we’re bombarded with messages coming at us all day every day, “It’s harder to attend to the soft, still voices that come from the depths.” There’s a lot of windstorm and shaking and fire in the world around us. But the soft, still voices are often the ones that lead us to moral wisdom.

In Elijah’s case, the whisper outside the cave asked, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” Good question – what are you doing here? So . . . what are you doing here? If you don’t know the answer – or if you have so many answers you don’t know which to pick first – may I suggest going for something simple? Like “I’m trying to plant seeds of kindness everywhere I go” or “I’m learning and practicing love.” Either one will get us out of the cave. We’ll face windstorms earthquakes, and raging fire. But if we keep listening, past it all is the soft, still voice in our heart.

So maybe we need to learn not only when and where to shout but also when and where to whisper. Then maybe when all the shouting and blowing and raging and shaking is done, the whispers will still be speaking, loud and clear.

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Text © 2018 Karyn Henley. All rights reserved.

Photos courtesy pexels.com.

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A Tree or a Green Thing?

One of my favorite things in all the world is trees. Specifically, the tops of trees where they brush the sky. That’s why I silently rage when our city electric service sends crews around to cut back tree limbs that have stretched out too close to the electric lines. I have a gorgeous tulip poplar that has grown too close to the lines and has to be trimmed back every few years. Actually, “trimmed” is not really the word for what they do. “Hacked” is more accurate. Over half of the street-side of the tree gets cut bare of limbs, and this year the workers cut branches off the sides as well. I understand that this is done to prevent branches from falling onto the lines and cutting off electricity for our neighborhood during storms, so I say nothing and try not to look at the damage our tree is taking. Still . . . it seems like too much.

Anyway, the electric-service crew came by and hacked away at the poplar this past week. Then today we met with an arborist about trimming – gently – the rest of our trees. It was obvious that the arborist loved trees just by the way he talked about them, the way he described going into the branches and cutting away just enough to keep the tree healthy.

“The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way,” said William Blake.

Maybe one reason I love trees is that I grew up in West Texas, where trees are few and far between. In our new subdivision, there were none at all until my family planted mulberries and ash trees, which did not gain their full height until after I had moved away.

I do remember climbing a tree in my grandmother’s front yard. It was a locust with jagged limbs and dry, crackly bean pods. As trees go, it was short. Which was why I could climb it. I would perch in a crook where a branch joined the trunk and survey the flat field of grass across the street as if I were a lookout on a ship and the grass, waving in the wind, was the ocean. It felt like a private and privileged place to be.

I had another encounter with a tree this week – or part of a tree. I introduced my grandson to a footstool that my Granny – his great-great-grandmother – made out of a tree stump. I have no idea where the stump came from, but I wish I knew. I wish I had thought to ask her.

Trees hold stories. The tulip poplar in my yard was just a twig when my oldest son brought it home from school on Arbor Day. We stuck it in the ground not expecting it to grow. The dogwood in our front yard was planted by former owners of our house in memory of a grandmother. The hackberry in our backyard held a treehouse so long that the floor of the treehouse buckled as the tree trunk expanded. Even my Granny’s stump footstool could tell a few stories, I’m sure, if it could talk. I hope it will be around long after I’m gone and my grandson has given it to his grandchildren.

In 1658, Sir Thomas Browne, an English author, wrote, “Generations pass while some trees stand, and old families last not three oaks.” Imagine tracing your family back across the lifespan of three oak trees. According to Garden Guides, the average life of an oak ranges from 100 to 300 years. That’s a long time, time enough for someone to decide it’s just a green thing that’s standing in the way.

But I’ll take my cue from the poplar planted one Arbor Day long ago. It was so small when it was first planted that it got mowed over. Since then it’s been windblown hacked, but still it stands, making the most beautiful tulip-shaped blooms in the spring. There’s a lesson there for those who are open to it.

“You will find something more in woods than in books.

Trees and stones will teach you that which you can never learn from masters.”

St. Bernard of Clairvaux

Wishing you shade, shelter, and the beauty of trees this week!

 

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Text and photos © 2018 Karyn Henley. All rights reserved.

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Truth or Flapdoodle?

 

“It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble.

It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”

– Mark Twain –

Mark Twain had the rare talent of being able to say something funny and quite serious at the same time. Maybe we laugh because he hits the target, showing us a part of ourselves that we’ve never seen before. He holds up a fun-house mirror, and our reflection is both hilarious and grotesque. Funny and frightening. The light-hearted warning. I’ve seen both this week.

I’ve been reading the book Weaponized Lies by Daniel J. Levitin, a neuroscientist and cognitive psychologist. I picked it up, because our nation is awash in lies claimed as truth and truth claimed as lies. Fake news. Alternative facts. And outright lies used as manipulation. I’ve been wondering how to tell the difference between truth and lie – and how our children are going to be able to tell the difference. So that’s the grotesque, frightening, warning part of what I saw.

The funny, light-hearted part is from another book I was thumbed through: Horsefeathers and Other Curious Words. I’ve had the book in my library for several years, and it caught my eye this week, so I pulled it out – and found several words to use when I hear a lie. Or at least when I want to call B.S. Thanks to the book, I’ve not only been reminded of these words, but I’ve been educated about exactly how they came into our language in the first place.

Hogwash! In the 1400’s, hogwash was the swill fed to hogs. By the early 1700’s, it had become a term used to express contempt if you thought a statement was not worthy of human consumption.

Flapdoodle! Word historians think flapdoodle was an 1800’s twist on the 1700’s word fadoodle. But where fadoodle came from, no one knows.

Balderdash!  In the 1500’s, balderdash was a light, bubbly liquid. In the 1600’s, it was beer mixed with wine. At that time, Ben Jonson said beer mixed with buttermilk was balderdash. Whether anyone really mixed beer and buttermilk or just the idea of it was nonsensical, the word balderdash came to be used for anything that was absurdly mixed.

Poppycock! This word came from the Dutch and would not be said in polite speech. It’s a form of the S in B.S.

There’s no shortage of other words I could use. Nonsense! Absurd! Twaddle! Hooey! Baloney! Bunk! Malarkey! Ridiculous! Preposterous! I can even invent some. You may have a few rich terms of your own.

But if you want to call B.S. and get a bit more Mark Twainian about it, try “Hogwash!” Or “Flapdoodle!” Or “Balderdash!” Or “Poppycock!” Or if the lie is really preposterous (like a person accused of a crime pardoning himself) use all four: “Hogwash-flapdoodle-balderdash-poppycock!” Or maybe just roll your eyes and snort.

 

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Text © 2018 Karyn Henley. All rights reserved.

Photos courtesy pexels.com.

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Touching the Year 2107

This morning, I spoke on the phone with my dad. He’s strong, wise, and soon to be 91 years old. Recently he met the newest member of the family, my grand-niece who is only a few months old. My sister sent me the picture of Daddy holding her, and I told my dad how much I enjoyed seeing him with his baby great-granddaughter. He said, “If she lives to be my age, she’ll still be around in 2107.”

Okay, I can’t imagine 2107. I can’t even imagine 2020. I can hardly keep track of recent and current advances, much less envision 2107!

But one thing, I know, doesn’t change: human nature. From ancient times until now and on into the future, we humans deal over and over again with the same character issues. We advance toward moral wisdom by taking two steps forward and one back. Or two forward and ten back. It seems that we’re in the stepping-back mode right now. It’s the one area in which we seem to have regressed: the practice of moral goodness and integrity of character.

I just finished writing a new book, The Gift of an Inner Moral Compass, and I’m preparing to speak at a conference in August on the subject of children and morality. It’s a timely topic, seeing as how so many adults are displaying so much ugly resentment these days. When I was asked to address teaching moral values to children, I rolled my eyes and whisper-shouted, “Duh! Easy answer: We have to stop being such bad examples!” But, then, I know it’s a bit more complex than that, and good-hearted parents and teachers are looking for the answer to a different question: “So what do we do when our leaders model the opposite of moral wisdom?” And . . . well, I guess you’ll just have to read the book.

Truly, there is hope. In Frederick Buechner’s novel Godric, he wrote, “[A]ll the death that ever was, set next to life, would scarce fill a cup.” So, too, I suspect, all the evil that ever was, set next to goodness, would scarce fill a cup. There is goodness all around us if we will just look for it. There is goodness all around us if we will just be it. I hope we’ll figure out the moral way forward long before 2107.

Neil Postman, an educator and media theorist, wrote, “Children are the living messages we send to a time we will not see.” How amazing that we, here today, will touch 2107 and beyond, even if we don’t live to see it! Maybe we can’t turn the wheel to goodness and wisdom all at once, but we can turn it little by little in “a thousand small ways,” as David Brooks says in his book The Road to Character. Just bend each hour toward goodness. Bend each day toward goodness. Each month. Each year. Bend life toward goodness. Touch the future.

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Text © 2018 Karyn Henley. All rights reserved.

Photos courtesy pexels.com.

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A Hundred Secret Things

 

“Who bends a knee where violets grow

A hundred secret things shall know.”

Rachel Field

Where violets grow is . . . where I live. Tiny violets are everywhere this time of year. They’ve scattered themselves across my yard. They’ve somehow managed to plant themselves in every pot on my back deck. They’ve taken up residence in the weed-prone strip between the sidewalk and the wooden ties that border the raised-bed garden. And I love them. It’s a joy to see them return every spring.

This week I had to pull wild violets out of a few pots on my deck so I could plant other flowers. My sixteen-month-old grandson was helping me with the task when I scooted aside a planter and discovered a gathering of what we used to call “roly-polies” or “doodle bugs” or “pill bugs.” I scooped up a few and showed my grandson. “Look! Roly-polies!” Who bends a knee where violets grow may discover roly-polies.

Lately I’ve spent a lot of time pointing and saying, “Look!” And not only to my grandson. I’m a House and History docent at the Cheekwood Mansion on the grounds of Cheekwood Botanical Gardens. As I lead tours, I’m always pointing out features that I find interesting, like the stone wall in front of the mansion drive. The topmost stones are precisely cut and fitted, but as the wall descends toward the sloping ground, the stones become rough cut and rugged. The gardens closer to the mansion tend to be more formal, while most of the gardens farther away are less formal and even wild. The formal-to-informal, tame-to-wild aspect symbolizes the move of man back to nature, which was a feature of American Countryplace Estate mansions built in the first half of the 20th century. But most visitors don’t notice these details unless they’re pointed out. I know I didn’t. So I say, “Look! Isn’t this fascinating!” I nudge people to notice.

Noticing is a prerequisite to a sense of wonder, and so is its cousin, curiosity, that inquisitive interest that makes us pay attention. Elizabeth Gilbert said, “Curiosity is an impulse that just taps you on the shoulder very lightly and invites you to turn your head a quarter of an inch and look a little closer at something that has intrigued you. Your life itself then becomes the work of art.”

How does your life become a work of art? Well, what you looked at or listened to or smelled or touched or tasted became part of you. You stored it in your memory, adding it to all your experiences, those “hundred secret things” that come in every color, shape, and size. Who bends the knee where violets grow enriches the heart, the spirit, the soul. Who bends the knee where violets grow becomes a work of art.

 

“If a flower blooms once, it goes on blooming somewhere forever.

It blooms on for whoever has seen it blooming.”

– William H. Armstrong, Sounder

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Text and flower, landscape photos © 2018 Karyn Henley. All rights reserved.

Other photos courtesy pexels.com.

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Planting a Secret Message

As I planted my new impatiens this week, I wondered about their name. Impatiens. It sounds a lot like impatience, which I figured couldn’t be right, because these are bountiful, beautiful blooms that patiently survive my sporadic gardening.

It turns out that I was wrong. That’s exactly what the name means: impatient. It seems that the seed pods “discharge forcibly at a slight touch,” an explosive trait I’ve never noticed before. They obviously do this quietly and on the sly. I plan to do the slight-touch test when pods form this season.

Flowers have long been used as symbols and presented as messages. In Victorian times, people were especially interested in giving flowers significant meanings. Victorians often conveyed their feelings by sending flowers, which must have felt a bit sneaky, like sending a secret, coded message. Pink carnations proclaimed, “I will never forget you.” Red carnations announced, “My heart breaks.” Striped carnations meant, “I cannot be with you.”

And impatiens meant impatient. But here’s the interesting thing: Impatiens also came to symbolize motherly love. I guess that makes sense. Impatience and motherly love often go together. I’ve certainly felt both simultaneously. But now that I’m a grandmother, I’ve found patience much more accessible. Maybe that’s because I’m aware that my time in the world grows shorter with every passing day, so my priorities become clearer. When I look at my grandchildren, I think, “I have all the time in the world for you.” What, I wonder, is the flower for grandmotherly love?

Last summer I visited Norway, where the family of one of my daughters-in-law lives. The windows at the back of their house gives a perfect view of the sea. Each morning while sipping my coffee, I watched slow-moving ships make their way up or down the coast. The ships eased past, looking as if they were in no hurry to reach their destination. They’d get there when they got there. Patience.

So I’ve decided to rename my impatiens. I’m calling them “patiens” instead. I have a planter full. If I were to hold them all as a bouquet, I’d have my arms full. They’re my bright, quiet reminder to stay in a calm, peaceful place. To have patiens.

“The strongest of all warriors are these two –

time and patience.”

– Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace

 

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Text and photos © 2018 Karyn Henley. All rights reserved.

 

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To See the Ordinary

 

“[I]t takes a lot of looking before you learn to see the ordinary.”

David Bailey, photographer –

This past weekend, Art and Soul, the artists’ studio where I take classes, held an art market. All the artists who were offering art for sale, including me, met on Friday evening to hang our work. During this set-up time, each of us periodically took a break and strolled around the space, expressing delight and amazement at the displays of our fellow artists’ work. It was like being in a museum. Each piece was unique, brought into existence by an artist’s hands and eyes and heart.

The pianist Glenn Gould once said, “The purpose of art is the lifelong construction of a state of wonder.” In my experience, that’s absolutely true. A state of wonder. That’s the way art affects me. Art (visual arts, song, dance, theater, photography), whether it’s unusual or wildly creative or thought-provoking or calming, calls me to pay attention.

Later, as people walked through the art market, I noticed that while many people seemed as full of wonder as I was, not everyone was drawn to the art that drew me in. In fact, some hardly paid attention at all. They wandered in and wandered out. I realized that the state of wonder is not really in the art but in me. I’ve chosen to pay attention. So I can choose to see the wonder in the art. Or not. In the same way, I can choose to carry that state of wonder with me into every day. I can learn to see – really see – the ordinary.

Or not. Our usual paths can become so familiar that we don’t even notice them anymore. We can wander through life with our minds traveling back to yesterday or forward to tomorrow or down into a screen . . . and never pay attention to the patterns of petals on flowers and veins on leaves and seeds on grasses and anthills and vapor trails and puddles and roly-poly bugs and cracks in sidewalks and reflections . . . and on and on and on. It can take one glance to be drawn to something extraordinary like a piece of art. But as David Bailey said, “it takes a lot of looking before you learn to see the ordinary.”

So here’s wishing you the eyes to see the ordinary and a heart to sense the wonder.

“The only real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes

but in having new eyes.”

Marcel Proust

 

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Text and photos © 2018 Karyn Henley. All rights reserved.

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