May flowers

IMG_7138Ah, spring.  One explosion of beauty after another.

Hmmm.  I seem to always be starting these posts with apologies for my lack of keeping to anything resembling a reliable blogging schedule.  It’s embarrassing to realize that I went through chemo and radiation without ever missing my self-imposed post-per-week assignment, and now…well, I have only the dusty corners of my house to look to, when I wonder where the weeks have disappeared.

Honest to goodness, between furniture purging and freezer kill-off dinners and puzzle and Lego donations, I’ve started drafts for four posts since the last one.  Let’s see, there’s a draft about my complete incapacity to recall birdsongs, particularly migrating warbler tunes, and another about how ill-equipped I am for leaning in, Sheryl Sandberg-style. I had an idea for a post about the things I will miss, just a little bit, when our kitchen and bathroom renovations are complete; and one more about … help! I can’t even remember what the fourth one was. More free lessons gained by showing up at remarkable events around my fair city, perhaps.   A couple of them have expiration dates (the spring warbler migration is nearing the end of its crescendo, as I type) and some will keep, I hope.  That, or roll over as the seasons turn round and round, and we’re back here in the carousel of springtime, once again.  And I’ll still be wondering how it all just keeps happening so fast, the shift from the sadness of darkness at 4PM, to twittery little sparrows waking me up at 4AM–every spring, every autumn, every year, year after year.

The thing that’s kept me sane through this endless clearing of the decks has been getting myself out of doors, every day.  My daily walks have been good for clearing the cobwebs, or more accurately, the dust bunnies, out of my system.  And it’s May, which is brings its own particular joy.  May is my birthday month, and May flowers are the very best.

IMG_7142You could find this sad, this puddle of petals.  Or you could read ahead and find out what comes next.

I’ve long thought I was the luckiest duck in my family, to celebrate my birthday in May.  Because, let’s face it: Lily-of-the-valley wins the Best Flower of the Month contest by a mile.  Truly, is there a lovelier scent on the face of the earth?  I live for it.  And yes, I have been known to snatch lily-of-the-valley blooms from places that are public and overflowing with my birthday bloom. I never steal them from anyone’s garden.  I have been known to help myself to some of Harvard’s more obscure patches.  I confess, I am a lily-of-the-valley thief, and my only defense is that They’re My Flower.

IMG_7337First lily-of-the-valley of the year, in the woods near Fresh Pond,  protected by the first poison ivy.  Leave them be!

IMG_7254A whole hillside of lily-of-the-valley near Auburn Lake.  I might have sneaked a few stems into my pocket…

IMG_7371The last of my Mother’s Day lilies, along with my purloined birthday blooms.  On the kitchen floor that I will miss for its graphic elegance, but not for its capacity to look dirty about 15 minutes after being cleaned…

Then there’s iris.  They come up later in the month, which means they tend to be blooming when my birthday finally rolls around.  (And no, I’m not angling for birthday greetings here.  Just know I always get a Memorial Day break somewhere around my b-day, which means I get to celebrate for the entire of the three day weekend.)  Iris aren’t fragrant, but something about their delicate shape, their slender foliage, and the spectrum they inhabit, from yellow to blue to purple, that has always appealed to me.  I love that they grow wild and free in woody wetlands, as well as big and showy in well tended gardens.  Sadly, they want more light than my shady front yard can muster, so I find myself admiring them in south-facing venues all over town.  And I leave them be.  You can’t hide an iris in your pocket, after all.

IMG_7345First delicate wild iris blooms, at Black’s Nook, where the green heron and kingfishers live.

IMG_7386This is what you get when you google Van Gogh Irises.  The painting in that top row lived in Maine, at the Payson Gallery of Art in Westbrook, until it was sold in 1987.  The whole of the State of Maine wept when it left.

And finally, lupine.  I was all grown up before the classic picture book about Miss Rumphius hit the bookshelves, but I became familiar with it through my oldest sister and her boys.  Heidi was living in Maine when her sons were little, not far from the town where we’d grown up ourselves, and just down the road from the spot that writer and artist Barbara Cooney called home. Cooney’s lovely book was published when my nephews were still of the age to have bedtime stories read aloud to them, and this was a family favorite. Here’s a quick summary: As a little girl, Miss Rumphius admired her grandfather, and vowed that she, like him, would travel the world, then settle down near the sea. Her grandfather told her that was all well and good, but she must make sure to do one more thing: “You must do something to make the world more beautiful.”  Spoiler alert, if you’ve never encountered this lovely story: in the end, it’s lupines she uses to make the world a more wonderful place.  I leave it to you to read how.

IMG_7387Miss Rumphius, by Barbara Cooney.  Making the world more beautiful, one lupine at a time.

IMG_7360These from Lusitania Meadow. I love how they open each little blossom, from the bottom up.

IMG_7366I also love how the leaves are designed to hold the raindrops.

I think of Miss Rumphius every time I circle round my reservoir, around this time of year.  Because for whatever reason, more than the lilies, more than the iris, it’s lupine that reminds me how there’s always the next thing to be looking forward to.  Don’t cry for the tulips and daffodils that are faded and gone, for the cherry tree petals in the gutter and the flowering dogwood trees, with blooms gone brown around the edges–wake up early and see what’s blooming next!  And rejoice in the wonder of it all.

IMG_7432Oh my. two days later.  Alleluia.



Sunday morning bike rides

IMG_6453My objective for my first bike ride of the season.  Made it!

Sorry, gentle readers.  The race is on to empty the construction zones in my house before the contractor shows up.  I’m on my 5th pile of stuff offloaded to to sidewalk for a charity pickup, and I’ve filled I don’t know how many boxes, each one requiring that part of my brain that does triage: give away, put in storage, save for summer.  It’s sapping all my creative efforts, this project.  Not sure how I did this last time around, with two young boys and all their precious stuff, but I’ve decided that renovations are like childbirth: you forget the details, and enjoy the results.

And yet, even this endless packing up project hasn’t come between me and my sacred Sunday morning bike rides.  Along with skiing, biking is the thing I do that makes me feel normal.  Feel like myself, my better self.  Well, except that I’m sticking to the bike path these days, not grinding up any significant uphills.  Not setting any land speed records, either.   My joints all creak when I start out, various body parts demanding to be listened to, but truly it doesn’t take long before I feel okay enough to keep going.  And these days, I’ll take okay.

Three weeks ago I set out on my first ride of the season, just to see if I could, not really knowing how my newly cranky hips and long suffering left knee would react. My objective was Lexington Center, which is a pretty easy ride, requiring not much shifting.  It’s gently uphill, all the way to the village green where the Revolutionary War began, and only barely downhill all the way back.  Probably a good thing for a first ride.

IMG_6445Yep, it began here.

The fact that I have photos to share is proof that I’m not the same biker I used to be.  Even before the advent of cell phones that fit in your back pocket and took decent photographs, I was a determined cyclist, forever in the Don’t Stop zone.  I’d go for rides with my sweetie in New Hampshire, and we’d get to Center Sandwich and turn onto the little byway that skirts around by the church where we were married, and always, I would spoil this sweet moment of reverie by wanting not to stop.  Slow down, fine.  Drink some water, okay.  Take a minute to pull the banana out and peel it open whilst still in motion, required.  The notion of stopping always seemed to me to be nothing more than an unfortunate opportunity to find out how dead my legs were, and how incapable of making it back to where we started. So I always opted for Keep On Going.

Now, not so much.  I do suffer from having to remind my left knee that it really does possess the range of motion to go through the entire pedal stroke, after even the briefest of rest stops, but that seems like a small price to pay, when the weather is nice and the light is lovely.  And all is blissfully quiet, early on Sundays.

I  stopped to pay homage to my family’s favorite 1775 citizen-patriot, Samuel Whittemore.  There’s this fantastic historic marker in the center of Arlington that I discovered with my boys, back when we had a Thursday afterschool drill, whereby Ian and I had 45 minutes together after his piano lesson and during Eric’s boys’ club meeting.  Every week, after Ian’s  “Use the words in a sentence” homework was complete, he and I would walk to the nearby Starbucks, past this marvelous commemoration of a remarkable man:

IMG_6454It got to be our little thing.  We would stop here, are read this aloud, together.

“He was shot, bayoneted, beaten, and left for dead, but recovered, and lived to be 98 years of age.” Unfathomable!

Honestly, I was a little shocked to find this marker was so unkempt.  It was, after all, April 20th, the day after the true Patriots Day, the middle day of the three day weekend when Boston and its environs re-enact the original battles, one in Lexington, one near the rude bridge that arched the flood in Concord.  Then there’s that Marathon, always on Monday, always with the added dash of an 11AM baseball fest at Fenway.  Seemed just wrong for Samuel Whittemore’s memory to be soda-splashed, the ground around it trodden and dusty.

IMG_6617I needn’t have worried.  Here’s what that spot looked like on my next ride, a week later, after Arlington had celebrated Patriots Day with a parade on the Marathon Monday.  Spiffed up and then some.

You won’t have to suffer through any other photos from that, my second ride, because the photo above was the only one I took.  It was a cold, wet morning, which got colder and wetter as the day wore on, so I just got myself a bit to the Bedford side of Lexington before I turned around, short of the railway station that is the bike path terminus.  As Ed Viesturs says of mountain climbing: summiting is optional; making it back is imperative.  My bike rides don’t even vaguely resemble his hikes, but I was cold and wet and needed a warm shower.  Oh, and as my orthopedic surgeon always says, “The enemy of good is more.”  I’m all about not over-doing, these days.

But I’m glad I did head outbound from Lexington that morning, despite the weather, if only to see the flora popping in the woods along the trail.  Most of the Minuteman Bike Path, a reclaimed railroad line repurposed for recreational use, is what you might expect of an urban-to-suburban passage.  You see the back sides of housing developments, shopping centers, school yards.  You see a lot of the sort of things that get shoved off to the the far perimeters of the property owners’ sight lines.  Think of all that graffiti and garbage that whizzes by when you take an Amtrak train from Boston to New York, and you’ll have an idea of what some of my bike path offers for visuals.

But something happens between Lexington and Bedford.  It gets rural.  There’s the smell of cow manure, and the sound of red-winged blackbirds.  There’s less graffiti and more greenery.  And on that drizzly Sunday, there was evidence of a sign of spring I remember well from my growing up days in Maine: Skunk Cabbage.  It’s a plant that hardly needs time lapse photography to be impressive; it just pops up and out while you’re watching.  Well, okay, not exactly, but i know of no wild plant that claims more real estate so voraciously, so early in the season.  There were buds when I rode by in the rain, and then, one Sunday later, this:

IMG_6795Oh, hello. Look who’s here!

IMG_6822I seriously considered taking off my bike shoes to get a down low shot of the light on those cabbages across the way. Instead, I settled for their lovely reflection.

IMG_6801This one was easily three feet across.  And smelly.  Thus the name.

As you can tell, the sun was out on this, my third Sunday ride.  And I now have nearly entirely shed the notion of never stopping.  I was thinking about Samuel Whittemore on my way back to Arlington, and wondering if he was buried in Arlington, at the ancient graveyard near the center of town.  Seemed worth a look, on a glorious spring day.

IMG_6818Bottom line: I didn’t find his grave, but I did find proof that he’s in there, somewhere.  That’s a project for another day: Find Samuel Whittemore, and pay him my regards.  Thank you, Daughters of the American Revolution!