Wildflowers & Creeks

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Elle's first time in a creek

Believe it or not, this photograph shows Elle experiencing the joys of walking barefoot in a creek for the first time in her life. That sounds a little unreal, doesn’t it? You have to remember, though, that she is Florida-born and bred, with the exception of the last eleven months of her life here in Oklahoma, and little girls from the South, at least mine, just can’t walk around barefoot in creeks and ponds for worry of gators and poisonous watersnakes. There was a single reminder of our Florida days, however, when we came across a mound of miniature seashells. Ah, Oklahoma’s Cretaceous Period?

Oklahoma seashells!

The two of us were attempting to make our walk worth at least a couple of miles but I really underestimated the heat and foolishly left my thermos of ice-cold water in the car. After a short stroll around the creek we crossed an old iron bridge and found ourselves near a field of wildflowers. Elle and I snapped a few photographs while getting eaten up by mosquitos and chased by bees the whole time. All those bug bites were worth it, though, at least to me. I am quite enamored of wildflowers, especially the field of Mexican hats I stumbled upon.

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mexican hats

mexican hats

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Drying Out

My mother called me this morning from Florida and after the usual banter about work, the family, and my father’s upcoming birthday, she began to complain about the rain. Tropical Storm Andrea is poised to dump six inches over coastal North Florida. Friends of mine as far north as South Georgia are under a tornado warning. My mother can’t get the German Shepherd to go outside and pee because he’s afraid to get wet. He’s also afraid of the dark.

“I don’t want to hear about your rain. I don’t feel sorry for you,” I told her. For the record, she laughed then asked me how my garden had made it through the last two weeks of Oklahoma’s record-breaking rainfall. The answer is: I don’t know yet. I’m hoping it stops raining long enough to give the soil an opportunity to dry out, otherwise we’re back at square one.

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my cucumbers, in better days

For all my frustration with the vegetables, my flowers are thriving. My daylily doubled in size, the sunflowers are mostly all over two feet tall, and the lavender is…doing something. It hasn’t gone brown or lost its heavenly scent. I call that a score. The Indian blanket has spread a few feet in all directions and this makes me very happy. When I brought that plant home with me last summer, there were two measly blossoms. I’m thinking I should go get more. Seriously, my desire to rip out all the ugly things in my yard and replace them with Indian blanket grows by the day!

A surprising sprawl of #indianblanket #wildflowers and a climbing ivy

Also, my theory about petunias is becoming as true as my theory about goldfish – it takes a lot to kill those suckers, even when you try. No, I’m not trying. I’m only emphasizing how important petunias can be to the beginning gardener’s precious and fragile ego.

TAKE HEED, first-timers.

Macro? And Mammoths.

Having a camera doesn’t make one a photographer, but it’s still fun to play around with pictures. I have a few friends who are photographers and, as artists of any medium will probably argue, some believe in the art of digital manipulation while others do not. I am not a photographer, I just have a camera, so I can do whatever I want and not feel like I’m cheating.

Last weekend, before all hell broke loose, I decided to enjoy the few hours of decent weather we were expecting to have for three days. My hour-long walk in a nearby park in full floral bloom produced some gorgeous photos. When I was finally able to upload and filter them, and just downright redesign them into what I wanted them to look like, I ended up with these:

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a rose

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an iris

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a marigold

yellow goatsbeard

the fuzz of yellow goatsbeard

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a petunia

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another rose

I don’t dare call this macro photography because I didn’t exactly follow the rules. Actually, are there rules? I simply cropped close-up photographs for an even closer-up view of the flowers’ insides. To be honest, I don’t know what to do with my camera without the help of editing software. Besides, it’s fun!

Some of these flowers are from my own front porch. I think a lot of this might be stemming from my need to be in the garden. Stemming? The pun was not intended, but now you can possibly see where my head has been lately. Speaking of stems, though, my mammoth sunflowers have broken through the soil, way ahead of schedule. I wasn’t expecting them for at least another ten days but the rains during the last week must have hurried them along. If that’s the case, maybe they’ll reach their full height of 12 feet when I’m still here in Oklahoma to enjoy them!

mammoth sunflower seedlings

my mammoth sunflowers, in infancy

 

Florida Marches

Spring is slowly, slowly pushing its way through. Strangely, I’m a little hesitant to rush it it only because I know severe storms and tornadoes become the norm this time of year. It snowed in parts of Oklahoma a few days ago and today we were enjoying seventy-degree weather. I’ll probably never stop complaining of the wind, though, which seems to accompany these bursts of warmer weather making it a little more difficult to enjoy the outside world. We’ve been enjoying the hot tub much more lately since night time temps tend to hover around 40 or 50, on a good evening.

I am missing Florida, too. The greenery, the lushness of it all, even the goddamn kudzu. I can’t really say that I wish I was there. According to Sam Champion, my favorite national weatherman, Oklahoma City has been warmer than Jacksonville. One day, we were even warmer than some cities in South Florida. Winter – it’s time for you to go home now.

These photographs are from some of my previous years’ March adventures. Florida usually provides a nice warm spring/summer atmosphere this time of year. Beachworthy, even! Since nobody anywhere in the country seems to be basking in any of that kind of weather, feel free to enjoy these photographs of the botanical gardens in Gainesville and Jacksonville. While there are no photographs of me, I can assure you I was wearing shorts and flip flops on both occasions. My toes, already painted in a deep green polish, are screaming to be released from the confines of socks and shoes. Seriously, Winter – go home already.

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bamboo

daffodils

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garden window

Preparing for Spring

Spring is coming! At least, that’s what I keep telling myself. From the looks of things, central Oklahoma has a long way to go before the trees start bursting with green and the flowers bloom vibrant again. I doubt I’ll even be convinced of a warming until I hear my first buzzing bee. Only then will I believe it’s actually happening.

My spring fever is spiking right about now for two reasons:

1)      Daylight Saving Time is right around the corner!

2)      This is the season when the azaleas start to show off in North Florida.

I started thinking about this a few days ago when I saw my hometown of Jacksonville was getting drenched with much needed downpours while Oklahoma was under the threat of a crippling blizzard. Our blizzard never even hit Oklahoma City (phew!) but I hope all that rain in Florida helped push off the drought.

The following photos were taken last year in March at my friend’s house outside of Gainesville, Florida, a few weeks away from where we are right now and after a very mild winter. Their colors only last for a short while, but they are a welcome sight to anyone who has become bored of the standard green of loblolly pines and palms.

After reading that last sentence back to myself, it sounds ridiculous. Who would ever become bored of evergreens and palm trees? It sure beats the dead shit scenery I’ve been looking at here for the past three months – leafless trees, brown leaves covering the ground, snow, melting snow, mud, muddy dog paws in my house. So, in short, azaleas just make what is already pretty prettier.

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It’s your turn now, Oklahoma. I see you have a spectacular wildflower show in the springtime and I’m quite anxious to experience it for myself!

Also, I’m eager to get my hands dirty and dig a native flower garden, to grow my giant sunflowers that will greet me every morning from outside my bedroom window, to find fruits and vegetables at the farmers market (instead of buying all that frozen bagged stuff at the grocery store, which feels like a form of blasphemy in this local food-networked city).

We have an emergency weather radio, a basement, and a tornado siren a few blocks down the road. I’M READY.

Cyanotype

Our friend is a photographer who works strictly in the old school ways, meaning he uses no digital manipulation on his photographs and crafts all of his stuff from film. There have been times when he has tried to explain photography tricks and styles to me that go right over my head, seeing as I am of the digital age when it comes to picture-taking, but he mentioned something a few weekends ago that got me wanting to try this technique called cyanotype.

This printing process has been around since the mid-19th century, courtesy of Sir John Herschel, and was mainly to preserve and copy diagrams. Anna Atkins, it is recorded, was the first to use this technique for documenting plant life. There are plenty of websites out there in the Land of Google that will tell you all about cyanotype’s importance in the world of engineering, architecture, and blueprints, but I find that stuff boring. Instead, I was more drawn to how botanists used the technique to preserve things they found in nature: flowers, algae, ferns, etc.

This technique involves two solutions but I won’t get into that stuff here. While researching cyanotype, I came across a few websites that suggested using other solutions or adding chemicals to the two original solutions in order to give longevity to the paper one uses in this method. I would hate to be held responsible for someone losing their eyesight in a horrible potassium ferricyanide explosion (see, I just gave you one-half of the concoction right there – you find the rest!).

Last week, our friend brought over two bottles of solution, mixed media paper, a paintbrush, and a case for pressing objects to paper and gave Elle and me a quick tutorial. So for a short time one afternoon, while he and a bunch of other bearded men poured concrete in my backyard in exchange for a lunch of hot dogs and future hot tub time, Elle and I played with chemicals and paintbrushes, henbit and dandelions. And sunlight. That’s the most important part of the whole process.

A bonus was blowing the mind of a little boy who was visiting us that afternoon, too. He wanted to help with the water wash process. Remember hypercolor t-shirts from back in the 1990s? The change of colors from light green to Prussian blue in a matter of 3 seconds practically made his eyeballs pop out of his head.

Here are our first (and, so far, only) attempts at cyanotype. (Click here to view other people’s cyanotype art.) Come springtime when there are more plants outside to play with, we will definitely try this again.

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cyanotype

dandelion

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henbit

 

Fleeting Spring

The two-day break in the winter weather could not have come at a better time. My spirits were already a bit down by mid-week and after a sleepless night on Friday, all thanks to some ill-settling Lortab, I woke up to a beautiful and warm Saturday morning wishing I could just feel somewhat human again. My husband convinced me to leave the house so we headed out to the Home and Garden show being held at the state fairgrounds (we still have that hot tub to install). That night, I finally managed to eat a full meal, read a number of essays on America’s moral decline, and write (and finish!) a critique for one of my classes.

At last, clarity!

I decided to reward myself, after all. That walk I missed taking on Friday really needed to happen, for my own mental health, and Sunday proved to be even more spring-like than Saturday. So I kissed my husband goodbye, dropped Elle off at her friend’s house, and headed into the woods.

Back in November I had visited this same park with my friend, Liz. Everything was still fairly green and lush then, which was surprising because we were months into fall and there was very little autumn color on the trees. This time around, though, the trees were bare enough to let in the sunshine. And, in a moment of perfect timing just as I was trying to decide if I should take one more trail before heading home, a church group with three vans of children swung open their doors and let loose a wild pack of screaming monsters. My outdoor therapy adventure had already done me some good (playing in the trees and tiny creeks can do that to you) so I took the screeching noise as my cue and left after my hour-long walk.

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white pumpkin in the woods

a white pumpkin just randomly resting in the woods

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Can anyone tell me what kind of grass this is? It sounds really cool when the wind rustles it.

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a restoration project filled with native grasses and wildflowers

tree limb reflection

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Teddy, who had been helping my husband and a friend dig a long line of holes into the backyard (I can’t wait for this hot tub to be installed), had already been in trouble with me once for leaving the yard (and quite casually, I might add!) to sniff around across the street. In a long moment of trying to drown out his sudden and incessant barking, I left dinner cooking on the stove for a minute and walked outside see what had caught his attention.

It seems we weren’t the only ones enjoying the sunshine. Look how happy Teddy is at such a discovery in the sky!

Mom, I'm going to bark at that thing until it drops!

hot air balloon over the house

Getting Things Done

Do you ever have those kinds of days that leave you feeling like your head is somewhere else, like you can barely muster through the daily grind because you lost your focus and you’re moving in slow motion? Receiving really bad news will do that to a person. I’ve been barely plugging through most of my week – first by fighting off the pain of a slow-healing dental procedure and now by dealing with the emotional blow of that aforementioned bad news, all while trying to remind myself that shit still needs to get done.

Does it really? Because, well…no.

The laundry got done. The dishes got done. The legal paperwork got done. The dogs were fed twice a day, every day, and so was the family. I showered each morning and remembered to change my socks. Sometimes it’s the most a person can do.

Actually, that’s a lie. Because another thing I am able to do is constantly remind myself of all the things that are not getting done (like a lot of my classwork, watering the tree, and the vacuuming). Their incompleteness will not cause any kind of crisis and will probably serve me well when I am able to really get things done once again. I am very much looking forward to that day when I can tackle all those tasks, big or small, and feel accomplished.  In fact, I know for certain that one day soon I will feel spectacularly proficient in all things routine and mundane!

Today just isn’t that day. Tomorrow might not be that day either.

My plan was to work really hard all week and get most of my class assignments turned in early because this afternoon was reserved for my photo walk through Martin Nature Park. It was going to be my reward, to play in the 60 degree weather and enjoy the trees and sunshine with my camera, all by myself, before the next Arctic cold front pushes through.

Plans? Ha, says the Universe.

Before the New Year, Elle shared with me how much she disliked accompanying me on walks because I am constantly stopping to take pictures and this made her very bored. When I reminded her that she could use the digital camera her uncles had given to her at Christmas, she actually asked to come with me on one of my walks. The two of us spent hours out there, just walking the trails and crouching in the ferns and hopping off red rocks to get a good shot. Elle enjoyed herself so much I actually caught her laughing. I haven’t shown her that photograph yet.

This was a day when I was really into it, though, and totally focused on having a good time with my daughter. I didn’t seem to worry about all the other shit that needed to get done. Maybe it was already done. Maybe it wasn’t. I don’t remember. I doubt even weeks from now I’ll look back on mid-January and say I wish I’d gotten more shit done! No, I won’t. There are bigger things going on in the Universe and my job right now is to get my shit together.

And that’s what needs to get done.

So here are some photos from that walk I took with Elle a few weeks ago in the nearby city park, when none of that other stuff mattered.

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"E" on a tree

cypress stumps

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Living Greenery

Last weekend my husband and I filled our home with plants – all kinds of plants! It is pretty incredible what a little bit of living greenery can do to a room, not to mention one’s mood (namely mine). We now have a lovely cordatum cascading from the high kitchen cabinets and a Norfolk Pine tree in the office.

Norfolk Pine

A philodendron in the living room is doing a nice job of filling out a corner in which nothing else seemed to belong. The kiddo even chose a beautiful orange bromeliad for her new bedroom desk/work table. California ivy hangs down from a bookshelf and kitchen herbs now take up a part of the kitchen that had been reserved for junk mail in the past. We are constantly motivated now to keep the counters cleared of paperwork, especially since the ceramic planters match the kitchen curtains so perfectly.

And this? This is a very unique looking succulent, chosen by the husband and Elle.

succulent

Sometimes I look at it and imagine it’s some kind of alien life form. Anyone have any advice on how not to kill a house-bound succulent?

The Biophilia Theory

I think it is safe to say that I was not born with a sunny disposition. The majority of my life has been spent observing, contemplating, and fretting internally about things over which I have no control. Few and far between are the times when I feel completely at peace with myself and the world around me. Sleep doesn’t count because the ache in my jaws every morning only assures me that my anxious brain was still working overtime even after everything else shut down for the night.

It’s exhausting.

But I found solace this past weekend, if only for a few hours, and that peace eventually crept into my later hours when I was tranquilly asleep. Earlier in the day, I watched a documentary called Happy, which provides both a personal and scientific look at what makes us happy, how people achieve happiness, and how much of it is actually the product of opposing sides from the nature vs. nurture debate. More importantly, I felt validated in defending my personality (to a point) and the film responded to my biggest question regarding personal happiness: Is there anything I can do about it?

Seeing as I had already planned my first trip to a local nature park with a friend that afternoon, my answer came in the form of spending those couple of hours outside. We explored a  nearby creek, crossed over bridges built into the sides of red rock walls, watched a deer graze in the woods, and just enjoyed the sun and the fresh air beneath the canopy of autumn colored trees. It was a long moment of bliss for me and I noticed how happy I felt.  Happy and exhausted, but this time I was exhausted for all the right reasons.

I crawled into bed after exclaiming to my husband, “What a fantastic day I had!” and before I closed my eyes for the night, I read a few pages from Richard Louv’s Last Child in the Woods. I learned for the first time of a term called biophilia and a newly emerging interdisciplinary study on the biophilia theory.

The biophilia theory, though not universally embraced by biologists, is supported by a decade of research that reveals how strongly and positively people respond to open, grassy landscapes, scattered stands of trees, meadows, water, winding trails, and elevated views.

It certainly works for me.

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