Posts Tagged ‘Ralph Waldo Emerson’

If the world were merely seductive, that would be easy. If it were merely challenging, that would be no problem. But I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.
~ E.B. White

One such day, which was already planned, was not a particularly seductive one, but, it was a challenging one filled with the usual chores, responsibilities, and the this-and-that of life to attend to. There was someone to visit and a stop at the vegetable/fruit market before returning home where I set about preparations for our supper.

While the chicken was marinating, I checked my emails, my blog comments and your posts, then suddenly realized that there was a lecture I had hoped to attend; The Pen and the Trowel with Marta McDowell. When I first read about it, the lecture sounded interesting and the name of the speaker was vaguely familiar. Funny, isn’t it, how life’s tidbits of information marinate as we wander along in life?  I clicked onto the saved informational link, which still sounded interesting, and wondered aloud if I could still attend.

Explore the ways that writing and gardening intertwine with author and speaker, Marta McDowell. For years, McDowell has been occupied with writers who garden, and how their horticultural interests have changed her planting beds as well as her bookshelves. Starting with Mark Twain, and connecting to authors ranging from Henry David Thoreau to Louisa May Alcott, this lecture explores that rich, writing-gardening connection. Instructor: Marta McDowell, author and horticulturist. *

The lecture was at 7pm. It was already 4:30. Could I make it? I scurried about like the little chipmunk who gathered the stuffing out of the pillow on my porch rocker (not the one pictured above). I registered online, changed clothes, made sure all was in place for Tom’s supper and off I went to one of my favorite places, the Morton Arboretum.

I parked in the lot behind the Sterling Morton Library and enjoyed the short walk to its doors. If you have not visited this library you should. Membership to the Arb allows you to check out books but all visitors may enter, browse the stacks of books, learn something from the curated displays and more! The Sterling is, indeed, sterling in its embrace of nature.

Like the seasoned gardener and horticulturist she is, Marta McDowell sowed her words like flower seeds through the garden writings of such notables as Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens) and Emily Dickinson, Louisa May Alcott and Ralph Waldo Emerson. She shared photos of her own garden’s many transformations after being influenced by the writings of many authors, as well as having visited many of their gardens while researching her several books.

In the course of Ms. McDowell’s lecture, I learned of the friendship between Samuel Clemons and Harriet Beecher Stowe. Stowe would often cross the lawn between their two homes and take plants from his large conservatory. Their neighbor was Charles Warner, who wrote “My Summer in a Garden” (note to self, check this out). She reminded us that before Louisa May Alcott’s  “Little Women” there was “Flower Fables” and that Beatrix Potter used features of her own Lake District home and gardens in her adored illustrations. The web of writers, illustrations, photographs and more cast a spell upon me that made me want to learn more about writers who did, indeed, improve the world while also enjoying it. It also reminded me of the shelves of books I have about gardening; shelves groaning with poetry, essays, literature, and lifestyles and I am filled gratitude for how words and photographs have shepherd me along my own garden paths.

My “aha” moment came when I saw Marta McDowell’s newly released book, and I realized she had authored such books as “All the Presidents’ Gardens”, “Beatrix Potter’s Gardening Life” and “Emily Dickinson’s Gardens”. It was my dear friend Janet, aka Country Mouse, who recently alerted me to a book giveaway she knew I would be interested in, which I was, and which included some of these books as well as her newest book, “The World of Laura Ingalls Wilder”.

Do you have a favorite gardening writer or author who influenced your garden or your lifestyle?

The link to that giveaway can be found here

Here is a link to Marta McDowell’s lecture schedule. She might be in your area, in case you are interested: http://www.martamcdowell.com/events

*From the Morton Arboretum website.



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IMG_8347Never lose an opportunity of seeing
anything that is beautiful
for beauty is God’s handwriting
– a wayside sacrament.
Welcome it in every fair face,
in every fair sky,
in every fair flower,
and thank God for it as
a cup of blessing.
Ralph Waldo Emerson

We have an abundance of potted plants. They fill the nooks and crannies in the garden and soften the landscape the sometimes seems to go on and on. They bring much-needed color into the hardscape of pavement and wood.

Potted plants need more water than those who are rooted in the ground – and they need to be fertilized from time-to-time. That time had come here and so it was on a close to perfect morning that I set about with a watering can and determination to feed my potted plants. I must admit that I was a bit like Mary, Mary quite Contrary as I went about this task. The watering took me away from a chore I was not enjoying; editing submissions for a newsletter , late-comers that were not to specifications. I needed some time to clear my head and the pots needed tending, so there I was, doing it slowly for all the backside bothers I’ve had, putting powder in the watering can, filling it to the brim, then watering, pot by pot by pot, doing the deck first. By the time I was through, I swear there were blossoms smiling at me in mass appreciation.

IMG_8521 - Version 2

The watering can full again, I took to the steps and tended to the pots on the driveway. These are larger pots and they were very thirsty, so, I needed to make a few trips up and down the stairs, then off I went to the front, hauling the watering can, which was easier than lugging the hose all the way up front, which is where I spotted Emerson’s “wayside sacrament”. A hummingbird was darting about, up and down shrubs and in among ferns. She was so busy that she did not notice me, nor the fact that I had just watered the fuchsia where the hummingbirds usually go for sweet nectar. I finally realized that this little wonder was looking for the blossoms of Rose-of-Sharon.

As you might imagine, in my excitement, I spilled the fortified water all over my feet. I wonder if it will help my toenails grow?


I love hummingbirds and am delighted that they have returned and are usually found  sipping on the fuchsia, which is dscn8860-e12785074643571strategically positioned just outside our living room window. They also frequent bee balm out in the prairie and even come up on the deck. Yesterday, one stopped for a sip on a single stem of bee balm I had cut for a small vase.Tom has noticed them on the blooms of  Zeus and Aphrodite – drinking from the flowers of the gods.

I took it all in; the fair faces and flowers, feeling  very thankful for my “cup of blessing”.


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Spring has sprung!


We have been enjoying some bright, sunny, warm days and pleasant nights for sleeping with the windows open.

Robins have constructed a nest in the crook of the gutters, Mr. Woodchuck made a brief appearance, the spring peepers have performed with a great deal of gusto, Mr. and Mrs. Mallard have returned from their winter down south – and I saw an owl, perched upon a dead tree, seemingly directing traffic on a busy route.

Life is good.

Swallow on post:blue:long

I took some time to walk about at the Sagawau Canyon Environmental Center; a slow walk with the sound of songbirds, the babble of a brook coming tumbling out of the canyon. At first, I thought this was a bluebird oh, how I hoped it was!  He sat on the pole for the longest time, serenading with all his might, then, suddenly swooping into the cerulean sky, his true love joining him in a a dance of love.


I never, ever tire of this, dear reader; this primal rhythm of love and life and nature with the slow pull of wonder that leads me to wander about my garden, into the woods, across the arboretums and conservatories and lands that have been wisely conserved for generations upon generations to enjoy.


I “get it”.  I think I understand Mr. Emerson’s words that “earth laughs in flowers”.

Daffodils:long view

Bluebells:stump Woodland flowers Robin's egg:crushed IMG_6586 IMG_6753Brunerra:2016

There have been several days of hard work in the gardens, for sure. Two beds are now raked clean of winter’s wrath, three more beds still sit await, including the swath of prairie we have been slowly developing. There is a bit of a story of our little prairie that I will try to share in another post. Let me just say that where there is smoke, there is fire (and not-to-worry, all’s well that ends well).

Along with my “walk-about”, there is “here-about” the tender emergence of Mayapples, brunnera, and celandine poppies. Lily of the valley are pushing through, as are lungwort and feverfew, marjoram and lavender. Siberian squill is abundant – and then, there are the sweet violets that I first noticed while walking the grounds on my mother’s birthday.

Ma’s name is Violet.


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I’m in a silly mood and just had to share that scene from Beetlejuice, which leads me to my first dinner guest, the man who  brought this song to us here in the States, Mr. Harry Belafonte. He will be a charming dinner guest with much insight into civil rights and the issues of today, the movie business as well as the record business. Oh, the stories he will tell with his distinctive voice,  the opinions he will bring to our table and maybe, just maybe, he will sing a tune for his supper.

Of course, I will invite Louisa May Alcott. If she happens to bring some party crashers, like Henry David Thoreau or the Emersons, I will gladly set a few more places and welcome them in. Can you imagine our conversation with Harry Belafonte and America’s famous transcendentalists?

Since it is dinner party,  I think it would be grand if Julia Child would give us the pleasure of her company. I wonder what she will think of all the renewed interest in her life and her continued impact on the culinary scene. She and her husband were known for their lively dinner parties. I’d love to have her dine with us – and hear about her years as a spy.

Last, but not least, I would invite Abigail Adams to join us. From the very beginning of our country’s founding, as citizens declared a state of independence and started our Revolutionary War, Abigail had a say in things that mattered. She wrote to her husband, John Adams  ” . . . and by the way in the new Code of Laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make I desire you would Remember the Ladies, and be more generous and favourable to them than your ancestors.” I will look forward to her views on how we ladies are “remembered” today, and I will encourage her to write a blog.

Who would you invite to dinner?

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“. . . In these beautiful days which are now passing, go into the forest & the leaves hang silent & sympathetic, unobtrusive & related, like the thoughts which they so hospitably enshrine. Could they tell their sense, they would become the thoughts we have; could our thoughts take form they would hang as sunny leaves.”     

“A Year With Emerson”, selected & edited by Richard Grossman, October 9.

We went into the forest on a warm and sunny October afternoon, just a few miles and minutes from our home. We gathered the beauty around us as we admired the sunny leaves. What a joy it was to find this wooded treasure so close to our house – and what a joy it is to have Emerson’s words in this lovely volume.

We wandered around the edge of Maple Lake, where plants were dying back, their seed pods bursting forth with all the promises of another spring. There really is a beauty in the grasses and prairie plants come October. They bring about a restfulness in their hues of brown and yellow. They also give nature’s most amazing backdrop to the fall asters and the butterflies who are still seeking nourishment.

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I do not wish to treat friendships daintily, but with roughest courage. When they are real, they are not glass threads or frostwork, but the solidest things we know.

Ralph Waldo Emerson


Above is the January 30 entry in A Year With Emerson, a beautiful daybook I received in a contest hosted late last year by Nan at Letters from a Hill Farm. Nan writes with regularity about life in her neck of the woods; books, poetry, cooking and life, and many other things in between. She has some of the best thoughts, and the best recipes around.

I’ve been enjoying this daybook, filled each day with words from Emerson – a teacher, even now. Today’s quote, smaller than most in the book, moved me to share it with all you reading my little post here on the Cutoff.

Thank you for being my friend.

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