Beauty Everywhere to See

Fall Patterns shadows and leaves

 

Many of us inherit our tastes from our parents. I am no exception. My mother was an artist with her own gallery. There she sold her paintings and a few decorative items that included carved wooden works by my brother and his wife, that might be bought by those who came in for a look around. She primarily painted abstracts, and she enjoyed wielding her brush to music. She had a brush in her hand most of every day. She once told me she had sold paintings to people all over the world.

She did not normally paint in bright colors. Even her rare red and purple paintings were slightly toned down.  Her subjects were simple, her canvases were uncluttered. Her personal palette was also muted. She seldom wore any colors but tan, ivory or brown. What little jewelry she wore wasn’t bold. By contrast my father liked bright, bold colors and was himself a colorful character. I inherited his tastes both in clothing and in life. I dress primarily in red, pink, and bright turquoise.  I like bold earrings and bracelets. My tastes are very different from my mother’s. She preferred muted simplicity while I, like my father, like vivid complexity.

The strong colors of fall make it my favorite time of year. The beauty of fall is spread over the roads as well as the hills and meadows like a cloak of brilliant hues, and the loveliness of it resonates in my heart. All during the months of fall when I am driving, I have to keep reminding myself to keep my eyes on the road, and when I have the treat of being driven, I am ever so grateful because then I can look at the landscape without fear of landing in a ditch.

Spring is lovely too. An astute observer once wrote that the colors of spring and fall were similar, only the colors of fall were more intense while the colors of spring exhibited a pastel palette. I hadn’t considered this before, however the next spring I observed the truth of what he was saying. Still, though the spring landscape is indeed lovely, for me it does not have the poignancy of fall. Spring heralds the warmth of summer, vacations, visits with friends and relations, and playtime for many. Fall, at least in the northern hemisphere, heralds the last of the warmth. Its bright days dwindle as the hours shorten. Soon winter will be upon us, and the bleakness of that landscape.

But wait, there is more. In winter, in contrast to the lush, rounded shapes of leaf burdened branches, the bare branches of the trees trace their design against the winter sky, revealing their essential shapes. Too, the dried weeds and grasses exhibit a delicacy that draws the eye, while once the flakes begin to fall their shadows decorate the snow drifts in subtle ways. Beauty does not always shout its presence, sometimes it whispers. The eye of the beholder needs to be attuned to the subtleties of beauty as well as to its obvious ones. If rather than turning my eyes inward with my thoughts I pay attention to what there is to see, I will find beauty everywhere I look regardless of the season.

 

A Smile is the Best Cosmetic

Tasha full f ace My young daughter asked if she could draw a portrait of me. I sat in the living room, smiling as she drew studiously, being very careful in her five year old way, to get everything just right. Suddenly she ran over, peered at my face and then went back to her drawing. Her pencil went dot, dot, dot on the paper as she put in her final touches. Proudly she showed me the portrait. To my dismay, the dots were a representation of a recent break-out around my lips.

Sadly, I realized at the time, I was becoming allergic to lipstick. This began for me when I was twenty five with the break out of the skin around my mouth. When I stopped using lipstick my skin cleared up. Then eye makeup began to make my eyes itch. Any lotion I put on my face created more breakout. I realized that my days using any form of makeup were over, and so they have been ever since.

The history of cosmetics is long and varied. As far back as 10, 000 B.C. in Egypt Women and sometimes men have used cosmetics. In the days of Queen Elizabeth fashionably inclined women painted their faces with lead to look fashionably pale as well as to cover up any blemishes. This was extremely dangerous to their health. Believe it or not, according to Wikepedia red lipstick,  was popular way back in 13th century Italy.

At times in history, women of the peasant class were forbidden to wear makeup; at other times it was thought to be sinful and thereby frowned upon or even forbidden. Earlier in the last century and even before, makeup was thought to be used only by “fallen women.”  The used of cosmetics has waxed and waned through the years, yet it seems one way or another always to have been part of human society. The high school I attended strictly forbade us to wear lipstick in class. Every morning the older girls would wipe it of in the coat room before they went in to study.

Although at first I felt a bit out of place among my friends, let alone women in general, I soon got used to the freedom it gave me not to have to spend time putting  on makeup. Now when I see the price of cosmetics in stores I rejoice to think how much money I have saved by not having to buy any. I use only hot water on my face. For occasional dry skin I have a lotion made from herbs and vegetables that helps keep it to keep from getting too dry.

It is also possible to create natural cosmetics from foods and herbs. I knew a woman who used beet juice to make her cheeks rosy. They did look quite bright. However, it is also true that good health, exercise that enhances the circulation, and a good night’s sleep go a long way toward nourishing the skin. Yet the best of all cosmetics is a smile. It strengthens the muscles of the face makes every face glow with youthful energy and is free to all.

Spring is a Time for Awakening

Maple ree flowers and leaves 1Though I am fonder of some than of others, for me every season has its unique blessings. Autumn has always been a favorite of mine because I like the crispness of the air and the vivid colors that paint the scenery. However, the cycle of the seasons produces different feelings in everyone and we all have our favorites. It may be that as a poet I am more sensitive to or pay more attention to the change of the seasons because I feel it so keenly. Winter for me is a time for rest and often for extra sleep. The dark hours encourage it. During the winter, like the bare branched trees and the hibernating creatures, I am less active and more inclined to quieter occupations.

It’s easy to sleep late in the winter. The light does not come through the curtains until morning is well advanced. Chilly weather does not encourage leaving warm covers for frigid floors. Yet as the light hours grow longer and the dark ones shorter, the day calls to me sooner and sooner. Reluctant as I may be to get up from my bed, it becomes less alluring to linger than to rise into the day. Even as the trees and the birds greet the brightening weeks, with the spring, something in me begins to wake up.

Winter encourages me to make soups and stews. My pantry and refrigerator are stocked with warming foods. With the advance of spring I think more about salads and lighter meals. I toss the cold weather recipes that I have accumulated yet not found time to make and clip out more recent ones geared to fresher, less sturdy meal components. Now that I can see it, when I look around at the winter dust on shelves and surfaces, I feel more diligent about eliminating it. Somehow when I can’t see it, it is so much easier to ignore. Now it no longer is.

When I was out and about, my eyes had become accustomed to bare trees sleeping in the cold. All winter I admired the still shapes of the bare branches against the sky. Now as the trees blossom and leaf out, they seem to be dancing with joy. The spring breezes flutter the trees’ new emerging clothing as they dress themselves in their fresh spring wardrobes. When I go about my errands, my heart sings along with the turning wheels of my car.

When I used visit my daughter in Italy, she would come into my room of a morning to waken me from my jet-lagged sleep. She would open the curtains and turn to me as I clung to my pillow. “Wakey, wakey,” she’d say with a smile. Finally I’d open my eyes and greet the day, glad to be awake and alive, ready for a new adventure. Spring feels like that. It is time to pursue the new, the untried, the innovative. Time to put away the darker, heavier winter clothes and put on light, bright colors and fabrics, to free the feet of boots and don sandals. Time to awaken to the new season and to rejoice in it.

Rejoicing in the Advent of Spring

dogwood blssoms 2Spring arrives in a dilatory fashion. Like fall, it is a back and forth season. In addition, some years spring arrives early, sneaking up on us and forcing us to get out our warm-weather clothes much sooner than we think we are going to need them. In another year like this one, we begin to feel weary of our winter wardrobe and yearn for the spring clothes still put away in closets or storage places. There is no telling when the weather will change. Spring is a fickle season, whether daily or yearly. I have written a lot of poetry about the way spring behaves.

I am fond of fall. I have written a lot of poetry about that season also. It is actually my favorite of the four. As it begins I delight in the cool crisping of the air, especially welcome after the moist heat of August. However, fall does not have the same kind of excitement to it that spring does. Fall colors are loud and obvious. The autumn brilliance blares from the hillsides like the brass in an orchestra. Spring is delicate; violins and flutes, with an occasional clarinet announce the softly evolving colors that slowly permeate the landscape. Where fall is blatant, spring is subtle.

These days as I drive along the roads between towns I enjoy watching the ends of the tree branches slowly green and redden, highlighting their tracery against the sky. There is a maple outside my bedroom that’s the first thing I see when as I open the curtains. Lately I have been watching the ends of the twigs turn green and then begin to unfold into maple flowers. I know these will in turn eventually fall and produce the seeds we call maple keys. Do children still peel the ends open and stick them on their noses as I remember doing?

Spring is an opportunity to get out and enjoy a walk. It is a treat to amble along the sidewalks of my town’s neighborhoods and see the flowers springing up in the gardens around town. Daffodils and jonquils, hyacinths and tulips abound with their lovely colors. The magnolia trees with their glorious pink and white flowers along with the dogwoods that come into bloom make me feel almost giddy with their generous bouquets of blossoms. How happy the bees must be to put an end to their long winter nap and emerge into activity.

The blooming of the lovely spring trees and flowers is also apt to stir up allergies in those who are vulnerable to them. This makes the spring season a lot less pleasant for some. Stephen and I have been fortunate to have the help of homeopathic remedies that alleviate the discomfort and sometimes even eliminate it. Still, the loveliness of the season may be some consolation to allergy sufferers. I am so glad to see the arrival of spring. Early or late no matter how long it has taken once it gets here all is forgiven, winter is forgotten, and we can rejoice in the glorious beauty of spring.

 

Weeds are Flowers Too

Dandelion and pebbles

When I was growing up there was local horticultural society in our town. They had a show every year, and I participated in the children’s class, always happy to compete for the prize money awarded. One easy win was to collect 50 wildflower species and label them. This was easy for me, as we lived in the country and there were plenty of them around in August when the show was held. I diligently combed the fields around our home and won. First prize: five whole dollars, was a princely sum for a ten or twelve year old. Later when I studied the medicinal qualities of wild as well as cultivated herbs I learned to value them even more. Now though I no longer live in the country I still feel fond of the weeds I studied as a child.

Each spring, whenever I walk through the series of parking lots across the street from my building, my eye is drawn to the weeds decorating the barrier between two of the lots. All year long I watch them grow, flower, and then succumb to the cold, their length still softening the hardness of the barrier they have grown against. I also often notice the weeds growing next to concrete highway dividers. They struggle up through tiny cracks in the pavement, signaling the persistence of nature against human concretization. Soon now snow will fall and the remaining stalks I see when I walk will cast their shadows on the snowfall, reminding me of the inevitability of spring regardless of the current winter weather.

Despite the gardener’s dismay, weeds are flowers too. In addition to their roadside beauty, their seeds feed birds and the roots and leaves may be medicinal and even nourishing. Many of the weeds we have today formed a significant part of the diet of those who lived here before the Europeans arrived. The early settlers who planted them to harvest for food and medicine brought others. The virtues of a plant that we call a weed may be many. Now that I no longer have a garden I can appreciate their beauty even more. A weed is by definition something that grows wild, that grows where it has not been deliberately planted: an unwanted, uninvited guest in the garden. In a metaphorical sense, weeds could be defined as the unwanted catalogues that keep arriving in the mail, the undesired emails that show up in my inbox, or even those annoying begging or advertising phone calls from telemarketers.

How are these flowers in the garden of my life? Perhaps because as I eliminate them, they call me to pay better attention. I could also see them as helping me to be grateful that once they are gone I have more space and a better awareness of what I wish to keep for myself. These weeds are persistent in the gardens that we call our lives. However at least they do not require my bending over to remove them or to dig out their roots. As I appreciate the beauty of the actual weeds when I see them so too I can rejoice for that beauty that comes uninvited yet welcome to my view.

Our New England Fall

 

Autumn Blaze

 

When my children were young we used to gather colorful leaves and iron them between pieces of waxed paper to preserve them. There is something magical about the wonderful colors of fall leaves. They are everywhere, now, and people echo their beauty with doorstep pots of chrysanthemums in yellow, red, gold and rust. When I was growing up people didn’t decorate for fall or Halloween. People gave parties—I remember one year my parents gave one for adults. This was once also a popular time for divination games, which often centered around finding one’s true love.

I am enchanted by the colors of the trees at this time of year. I could almost believe that if I were pulled over by a policeman I might appear intoxicated. That’s a joke, of course, as for many years my body has not tolerated more than a sip or two of alcohol, and that only on rare occasions. No, what I would be drunk on is the beauty that glows along the roadsides. As I drive around on my errands these days, the slanting rays of the autumn sun shine through the reds and golds of the turning leaves, leaving me breathless.

I feel fortunate that I have the eyes to see it and the heart to appreciate it. I remember a conversation I had once with someone who was chronically depressed. When I said something about the beauty around us she shrugged and told me she couldn’t really appreciate it. Although she didn’t say it I could tell that she was simply too sad to do so. Her mind was totally preoccupied with her troubles and sorrows. I felt for her.

The gorgeous display that is the essence of a fall in New England is something many people travel here to see. It’s one of the reasons I prefer to live in this part of the USA. Nearly thirty years ago, before we moved to Grafton I spent seven years in Virginia. While we were there I found that the leaves that turned did not do so with much intensity, and I missed the brilliance of our autumn very much. When a great many years ago I was in southwest Texas in the fall I felt the same. I was three I have lived here in New England since I was three years old, and perhaps it is in my blood. One thing is sure: each year I look forward eagerly to the changing of the season and the beautiful colors.

One of the houses we lived in had a window that looked out over a very special Maple tree. The colors that brightened the leaves would begin with a single branch, sometimes as early as late August. How I enjoyed it when that patch of leaves burst into color. The loveliness of nature in autumn warms my heart in a way that enlivens my whole being. I am so very thankful for this special gift of loveliness, free for the gazing, billowing over the hills and presenting on yards: our New England fall.

 

The Many Ways to Happiness

Grafton sky 2When I was a child one of my favorite occupations was to rearrange my mother’s pantry shelves. I delighted in doing this. It seems to me that I was born with a need to accomplish. In many ways, this has been a source of my happiness and a way of making myself feel good. I can remember when I was a young mother that time spent in the kitchen helped to heal any disappointment or dismay. Baking cookies for my children did wonders for my spirits and helped keep me cheerful. Even simple tasks like the ironing I did then were useful to me in lifting my spirits.

I learned long ago that whenever my spirits need lifting I have a choice. Beyond dwelling on whatever it is that may be bothering me, I can seek happiness or I can stop and look around me for something to be grateful for or to enjoy. When I do I have taken a significant step toward being kind to myself as well as making myself feel better. But there is more: I can keep reminding myself to take note of the many things to appreciate that surround me. My happiness is made up of small smiles harvested daily.

While the link between accomplishment and happiness is still strong within me, this other link is even stronger: the opportunities to notice what makes me happy. It functions for me whenever I notice whatever is beautiful around me; it is delivered in the joy I receive when I walk with Stephen in the mornings and listen to the birds twittering and chirping around us. When I get a phone call or an email from a friend I haven’t seen or heard from for a while, my heart fills and I smile. I feel happy when I read the morning newspaper and find interesting stories from it to share with my husband.

It is truly said that happiness does not work as a goal. If for instance I buy something I have wanted, it may make me happy for a little while yet that kind of happiness does not last. Not unlike taking a drink of alcohol or indulging in sweets, the good feelings gained this way dwindle soon. This diminishment is one of the stimuli for addictive behavior. Once the good feeling is gone it is normal to wish for more in order to regain or prolong it. This experience leads many people to practice self-destructive behaviors.

However, the happiness that comes from the appreciation of what is given is not addictive nor can it be sought. It comes from the practice of awareness, of noticing some small joy or gladness that comes to us as a kind of gift. It also helps to have an understanding of what makes us feel happy so that we can take extra care to notice it when it is given to us. I must open my eyes and ears to notice the beauty around me in order to appreciate it. I need to remember to look out the window to see the lovely sunset when it glows there. This kind of happiness lasts beyond the experience and nourishes me always.