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Posts Tagged ‘growth’

crocuses rock light flowerbed

The Place Where We Are Right

From the place where we are right
flowers will never grow
in the spring.

The place where we are right
is hard and trampled
like a yard.

But doubts and loves
dig up the world
like a mole, a plough.
And a whisper will be heard in the place
where the ruined
house once stood.

***************

I came across this poem in the anthology How Lovely the Ruins, which I’ve been dipping into for weeks. As spring (finally) arrives here in Cambridge, I am seeing new growth firsthand, in flowerbeds and yards, and even in patches of bare ground.

We are living in contentious times, and there is so much shouting and trampling everywhere I look. Amichai knew something about this: he was an Israeli poet who served in two wars and lived in a hotly contested region.

I get attached to being right, sometimes. But ultimately I’d rather be part of the “doubts and loves” that dig up the world, and make room for hope and flourishing, even among the ruins.

April is National Poetry Month, and I am sharing poetry here on Fridays this month.

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Edging toward spring

forsythia branches yellow flowers

The forsythia are late this year.

I usually spot their electric-yellow blossoms toward the end of February: they are sometimes an early sign of winter’s end. But although my friend Amy brought an armful of boughs inside to force them in midwinter, I only spotted them blooming outside last week.

crocuses stripe flowers

The crocuses, my faithful little friends, arrived right on time, along with the snowdrops, which sprouted up in their beds along the paths I walk daily in Cambridge. The long, elegant stems of daffodils and the uncurling leaves of tulips are up, too, but they’re not blooming yet – as far as I know.

tulip leaves flowerbed

It’s a long wait, every year, for the budding trees and green grass and soft air. I’m still getting most of my flower fix from my beloved florist, and from the geraniums in my dining-room window. They are blooming as though it were June already, scarlet and cheerful. They care as little for the weather forecast as do the saucy robins I see hopping about on the river trail.

geraniums red flowers

Some signs of spring arrive regardless of the weather: the approach of Commencement, the joy of Easter, the pageantry of the Masters. But I’m ready for it to feel like spring. I’m ready to revel in new beginnings. (And to wear lighter clothes, for a change.)

Until the forecast improves, I’ll be over here, bundled up, drinking tea, and watching the flowerbeds for (more) signs of color and life. Surely spring will win in the end. It always does.

scilla flowers blue

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crocus-sprouts

The crocuses in that triangular bed across from my beloved Darwin’s.

daffodil-sprouts

The daffodils tucked up against brick walls in Cambridge flowerbeds.

witch hazel bloom cambridge

The witch hazel in front of the Harvard Art Museums.

snowdrops dew flowers

Snowdrops tangled in the ground cover on a side street near my office.

Something’s coming, Tony sings in West Side Story. Something good, if I can wait. 

I’m watching and hoping for spring, which isn’t quite here yet. (We’re just knocking on March, after all.) But these sprouts are giving me joy while I wait.

tulip sprouts flowerbed

Even the tulips – a little early – are joining in the show.

What’s sprouting where you are?

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paperwhites flowers window

“My paperwhites are making me unreasonably happy,” I texted a friend last week.

Years ago, I learned from Tara’s blog that you can “force” paperwhite bulbs in the winter. As in: stick them in a (tall) vase with pebbles and plenty of water, put them in a sunny spot, and watch them grow. I tried it for the first time the following year, and was utterly delighted at the results: tall green shoots with delicate white flowers, which perfumed my dining room with their odd, sweet scent.

I haven’t grown paperwhites in a couple of years, but I picked up a handful of bulbs at our local garden center in November, and started two in my tallest vases right before Christmas. Since we were away for the holiday, I was afraid I’d miss the blooms, but – as you can see – they’re in full glorious flower.

paperwhite narcissus flowers

Every morning I walk into the kitchen and marvel at two things: the sunrise out the east-facing windows (new every morning, seriously) and the paperwhites on the low table next to the fridge, blooming away.

Winter in the Northeast is a long haul: it’s only mid-January and I know we won’t even see crocuses for a while yet. I’ve learned to appreciate the sharp white beauty of winter and also to grit my teeth through the tough parts. But meanwhile, I’m completely delighted by the fresh green growth in my kitchen – both the paperwhites and the leggy geraniums I’m tending.

paperwhites flowers window night

This is my eighth (!) winter in Boston, and I’ve come to appreciate the need for rest and fallow time, in the natural world and in my own life. But the paperwhites are a reminder that not all growth has to wait for spring. With a little sunlight and water, there’s room to dwell – as Emily D. has it – in possibility.

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Nine years

katie jer xmas 2016

Marriage hath in it less of beauty but more of safety, than the single life; it hath more care, but less danger; it is more merry, and more sad; it is fuller of sorrows, and fuller of joys; it lies under more burdens, but it is supported by all the strengths of love and charity, and those burdens are delightful.

—Bishop Jeremy Taylor

I heard these lines years ago, at the very end of the movie Forces of Nature: an odd place, I admit, to pick up wisdom about marriage. I wasn’t married then, or even thinking about it. But I tucked those words into my heart, and they have resurfaced in recent months, as my husband and I have navigated our ninth year of married life.

We were married nine years ago today, in a ceremony filled with pink roses and a cappella music and rows of people we love, sitting in black folding chairs in a spacious atrium on our West Texas college campus. Our friends Tim and Julie (who are the older, wiser, more grace-filled versions of us) took turns reading aloud from 1 Corinthians 13: love is patient, love is kind, love never fails.

The groomsmen, four of our dear college friends, slung their arms around each other’s shoulders as we sang “The Lord Bless You and Keep You,” and I choked up at the sight. (I could hear at least one of my bridesmaids – my dear friend Bethany – sniffling, behind me.) Our friend and minister, Mike, who grew up with my dad, spoke a few wise, simple words over us, and told a couple of jokes.

We walked back down the aisle to an exuberant James Taylor song, grinning at the truth of his words: How sweet it is to be loved by you. Afterward, there were fajitas and iced tea, toasts and dancing, and a brief downpour during the reception followed by a dramatic sunset. We drove to a B&B down the street, owned by friends of ours, and headed for our honeymoon in Ruidoso, N.M., the next day.

That was a beginning, but also a continuation: we have been husband and wife for nine years, but loved each other now for nearly 14.

The trick in many long-term relationships seems to be loving the other person as they are, while holding space for them to grow and change. It can be hard, sometimes, to allow for those changes after knowing each other so long and so well. We are, and yet we are not, the same people who met as college freshmen, started dating long-distance as sophomores, got engaged at 23. We have fought (though not against each other) to declare our independence, to carve out a place for ourselves in the world. We haven’t always known what that place will look like, except that we want to inhabit it together.

It isn’t always easy, this work of building a common life: it requires grace, grit, compromise, lots of forgiveness and so much listening. In our case, it is also held together by so many bowls of chips and salsa; countless loads of laundry and sinkfuls of dishes; years’ and years’ worth of inside jokes; and numberless days of blowing each other a kiss when I get out of the car in the mornings. It is rolling over to kiss one another good night when we’re half asleep at the end of a long day. It is checking in via text or a quick phone call in the middle of the workday. It is remaining near, as my friend Lindsey noted a few summers ago. It is choosing each other, over and over again – whether we are tired or frustrated, furious or sad or delighted.

I love Taylor’s words about marriage because they capture the all of it: marriage is full of both dailiness and magic moments, tears and laughter, deep sorrow and overwhelming joy. It is a burden I’m grateful to carry alongside the man who carries so many of mine.

Nine years feels like a moment and a lifetime all at once – especially when I pause to consider the whole arc of it. And yet, in some ways (I hope), we are still at the beginning.

Happy anniversary, love. Here’s to many more.

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lab girl book tulips

“Science has taught me that everything is more complicated than we first assume, and that being able to derive happiness from discovery is a recipe for a beautiful life.”

This is one of many wonderful lines from Hope Jahren’s memoir, Lab Girl, which I read this spring. As I walked under budding trees and past flowering bushes, Jahren’s narrative of becoming a botanist, building three successful labs and constructing a life from scratch resonated with me deeply.

Jahren draws wonderful parallels between plants and people, exploring roots, leaves, seeds, flowers and fruit in both the botanical and human realms. She writes about the cyclical nature of growth, the right conditions for flourishing, the ways both plants and humans react to unexpected strain. She never loses sight of the fundamental differences between plants and people, but her elucidation of those differences is also insightful.

I’m over at Great New Books today talking about how much I loved Lab Girl. Please join me over there to read the rest of my review.

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harvard yard banners commencement 2016

Each beginning is the end of a waiting. We are each given exactly one chance to be. Each of us is both impossible and inevitable. Every replete tree was first a seed that waited.”

—Hope Jahren, Lab Girl

It is Commencement season here in Cambridge (as I may have mentioned once or twice). As we have prepared to celebrate our graduates, I’ve been reading Jahren’s smart, luminous, wry memoir about simultaneously building three labs, a career as a botanist, and a life. My brain has craved good nonfiction this spring, and I am feeding it with thoughtful, beautiful true stories: Stir, Becoming Wise, Orchard House, My Kitchen Year, and now Lab Girl.

Jahren writes about seeds, roots and leaves: the building blocks of the plant world, which she has spent her career studying. She emphasizes their otherness: plants are not animals, and they are definitely not the same as people. But she draws many sensitive parallels between a plant’s growth and that of a person: the right conditions for growth, the patterns we can chart and some we can’t, the ways both plants and humans react to unexpected strain.

Jahren also writes, wisely, about the cyclical nature of growth: plants, like their environments, have seasons, and endings are inextricably tied to beginnings. So it is, of course, with human beings. There’s a reason these elaborate ending ceremonies, at Harvard and elsewhere, are called Commencement. Each end is also a beginning.

I have done a lot of waiting over the past year, since I was laid off from my job and have spent months searching for what is politely called “my next step.” This has entailed a tremendous amount of work and worry, but much of it is out of my control. Every single part of the process – combing the job boards, sending out applications, worrying over where I might land next, questioning everything from my chosen career to my identity as a writer – has involved waiting. There have been multiple endings, and also beginnings.

Three weeks from now, I’ll finish up my temp gig at the Harvard Gazette, where I started in mid-March and have worked through the full cycle of Commencement prep and activity. It’s been a wild ride, and I have loved it up here, on the sixth floor overlooking a slice of Harvard Square. It will be an end, and also a beginning.

After a vacation with my husband, I will take that much-anticipated next step – right across the street, back to the communications office of the Harvard Kennedy School, where I temped from November to early March. I’m heading back to an office full of colleagues I already love, and a school whose mission of service and scholarship I respect. There will be a lot of learning and adjusting, as there always is when something new begins. But this feels like the next right step. I am grateful – and thrilled – that it’s worked out this way.

We are each given exactly one chance to be, as Jahren says: to forge our paths without always knowing precisely how to do that. My path has led me, somewhat unexpectedly, to Harvard, and it has become one of my places. I am grateful for the chance to stay here, to continue doing the work I love. To keep growing and asking questions and thriving. Because that is what people – and plants – do.

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