This morning I was wakened by a rather portly robin scuttering along the gutter outside my window. Winter is almost gone. Now I sit on a sun-warmed stone with my toes in an icy, chattering creek, sunlight streams through leafless trees, and there are songbirds calling from every side. Though another frost or four will certainly still come, it feels safe to say that spring is on the move.
My thoughtful spot today is a lovely corner off a trail behind a neighborhood. Long ago some kind soul set stepping stones across this busy creek, or at least it looks as thought is was long ago, for the stones are very deeply set and covered in moss. And there is a quiet, thoughtful bench, and a picnic table, slightly the worse for weather, yet somehow made friendlier by that.
Then was winter shaken, and fair was the earth's embrace.
- Beowulf, ll. 1136b-1137a
Green leaves are peering through the buds on a wild rose bush (Rosa canina), which is currently also home to a little nest. It is clearly last year's handiwork, but I've no doubt it will be made shipshape by new inhabitants in the near future.
Chickweed (Stellaria media) and henbit (Lamium amplexicaule) and blue creeping speedwell (Veronica repens), nestled deep in oft-overlooked obscurity, herald in their tiny, joyful way the sunny days and warmth ahead. And a single, bright faced dandelion (Taraxacum officinale,) on a tiny stem is the first brave one of its kind to emerge in this little thoughtful spot.
... a new year, full of things that never have been...
Though ice still clings to the grasses around the mouth of a little culvert nearby, and the bushes are still white with frost most mornings, still it seems that perhaps, slowly and happily, the world is indeed beginning to quicken.
Along a stream that raced and ran / Through tangled trees and over stones,
That long had heard the pipes o' Pan / And shared the joys that nature owns,
I met a fellow fisherman, / Who greeted me in cheerful tones.
We stumbled upon the foundation of an old home beside the trail. It was settled in a perfect corner between large trees, and just a few steps down the path away from it a bridge led over a small waterfall. What a pleasant place to live it must have been. The dried flowers of the wild hydrangeas still look as though they're blooming, and the mountain laurel is everywhere. In the spring this path must be overwhelmed by their pink and white blooms.
An early morning walk is a blessing for the whole day.
These are also the sort of woods which provide fairy-house trees in abundance. Hollowed out trunks with tiny violets sprouting at the base, and little ribbon streams leading to puddle-sized lakes. And, oh, the mushrooms! Ruffled white tree ears and tiny toadstools that look as though they've been lifted straight from the illustrations of Beatrix Potter, and dainty umbrellas nestled in the soldier moss.
Fairy places, fairy things,/Fairy woods where the wild bee wings,
Tiny woods below whose boughs/Shady fairies weave a house...
The landscape sleeps in mist from morn till noon;
The morning mist is frosty. The dried seed heads of the iron weed are encased in a feathery shroud of white, and they glitter in the early morning light. The air is cold and bright, and all the world seems awake and gleeful and scattered with twinkling dust. I'm in somewhat unfamiliar woods, I've walked them before but I don't know them like my woods at home, so there's an air of discovery around every turn: a little bridge to span a marshy patch of trail, a bramble of wild roses covered in hips, a little grove of cattails. They all come as a surprise, little gifts of wonder on this most stunning of frosty mornings.
The frost flowers have bloomed in abundance this morning. The delicate tendrils and ribbons that cling to the dead stalks are utterly marvelous, and every one unique. I wonder what it would be like to watch them form, to see that thinnest, most delicate layer of frost twist and curl out from the stalk and create these magical little clusters of ribbon-like ice.
November has always seemed to me the Norway of the year.
Autumn is a second Spring, when every leaf is a flower.
As long as autumn lasts, I shall not have hands, canvas, and colors
enough to paint the beautiful things I see.
Four young ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba) trees, resplendent in drooping branches of brilliant yellow leaves stand there, to walk beneath them is to enter a great hall of golden arches, with a golden carpet underfoot. I've always loved ginkgo trees. I love their tenacity and longevity even in harsh environs, their legendary benefits for the mind and memory are fascinating, and their graceful, almost willow-like branches, which earned them the common name "maidenhair tree," are stunning. But I think my favorite thing about them is the curious fact that these leaves must not be harvested while green and thriving, as one might expect, but now, in all their golden glory, just as they fall from the tree.
Lo! I am come to autumn / When all the leaves are gold...
Along the tops of all the yellow trees,
The golden-yellow trees, the sunshine lies;
I cannot resist gathering up a great armful of these brilliant leaves and tossing them into the air to watch them tumble down. This cheerful little thoughtful spot is chilly but bright on this glorious, final shout of color day. What a perfect ending to autumn.
So join me on this new adventure of searching for a little hermitage, surrounded by the beauty of nature, to study and observe and marvel at, every month. Whether it be an old log in the hundred acre wood, a mossy rock beside a waterfall, or a path to the grocery store through maples that are just beginning to turn, these thoughtful spots must be sought after and discovered, wondered at and then shared, as they teach us to never take for granted the glorious minutia of daily life, and the overwhelming beauty with which God has filled the world around us.
- J. R. R. Tolkein
Great is the sun, and wide he goes /Through empty heaven with repose;
And in the blue and glowing days /More thick than rain he showers his rays.
A few quiet corners of New England beach and bike path became my Thoughtful Spot this August. The colors struck me the most, just the endless, shimmering shades of blue would be enough to instill wonder, but then there is the neon pink of the beach plum flowers and the dusky red of their fruit against deep, green leaves and many-hued pebbles and fallow sand and suddenly this seaside world is a vibrant, exuberant tumult of of perfectly clashing colors.
In small proportions we just beauties see;
And in short measures life may perfect be.
I often wonder who is sitting at that thoughtful spot now, though I have no doubt that it is beloved by someone and its peaceful solitude is enjoyed by many. It's easy, though now two years later, to let my thoughts drift to a sweater discarded in the sun's warmth, cheery wildflowers, resplendent purple and blue mountains, and a little wooden bench from which to enjoy it all. A great many memories can be summed up in a photograph, and so it always makes me smile to see that, though still in Switzerland where I sincerely hope it is the favorite spot of many other thinkers, my beloved thoughtful spot of yesteryear also resides, quite happily, at the top of this page.
Green is the grass and the leaves of trees,
Green is the smell of a country breeze.
Green is a coolness you get in the shade
Of the tall old woods
Where the moss is made.
Green is an olive, and a pickle.
The sound of green is a water trickle.
Green is the world after the rain,
Bright and bathed and beautiful again.
- Mary O'Neill, What is Green?
The earth has donned her mantle of brightest green;
all things are glad and flourishing.
And so... with the great bursts of leaves growing on the trees, just as things grow fast in movies, I had that familiar conviction that life was beginning over again with the summer.
The air has cooled in an instant, a rumble of thunder is overhead. Old childhood words dance through my thoughts, as they always do in this particular sort of weather. Wind's in the east, mist's blowing in/Like something is brewing, about to begin...
Roses have always held a prized place in the herbalist’s materia medica. Rose petals have strong anti-inflammatory, analgesic, and astringent properties and are very high in antioxidants and vitamin C. They are a valuable first aid herb and can be used topically to soothe and ease inflammation caused poison ivy or similar skin irritations, and the petals have been used for centuries to aid in wound healing, as they relieve pain, prevent infection, and reduce inflammation. An infusion of the petals has been shown to relieve headaches, help lower a fever, and support the immune system, and, of course, the marvelous scent of roses has also gained this herb lasting fame. The essential oil has long been valued for its ability to lift the spirits, and both historical herbalism and recent studies agree that the fragrance of roses can aid in relieving anxiety and stress.
Wild roses, a general phrase for a multitude of unique species, grow throughout most of the United States. Commonly found varieties that are excellent for medicinal use include Rosa mulitflora, Rosa palustris, and Rosa carolina, all of which are thorny shrubs that produce strongly scented, five petaled flowers in the spring, and bright red hips in the late autumn. Many cultivated roses also contain medicinal benefits, particularly older varieties with a strong fragrance, however, roses that do not have a scent or have been sprayed with pesticides should be avoided.
There are many ways to preserve medicinal herbs, and one of the simplest methods of preserving rose petals is to simply air dry them on a mesh rack, or in a low dehydrator. They can then be stored in a glass jar with a tightly fitting lid and used for blending teas or making infused oils and vinegars. However, my personal favorite way to preserve fresh rose petals is to steep them in honey. Honey preservation has a long and fascinating history, and as honey is recognized as one of the few foods that has an indefinite shelf life, it is the perfect method to both preserve and enhance the medicinal properties of fresh, low-moisture herbs. It is always best to use raw honey, preferably from a local source, when making herbal preparations.
These beautiful flowers have delighted gardeners, poets, and herbalists alike for centuries, and the healthful benefits of this herb can be easily infused into daily life. So next time you pass a rambling bramble bush, stop, and smell the roses, and then gather their petals and enjoy the beautiful medicinal properties of this wildflower.
Rose Petal Honey
- Fresh rose petals (enough to fill a jar)
- Raw honey
Do You Have a
Many current trends in natural health focus on ecotherapy and shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing, reiterating with scientific studies and medical terminology something that Winnie the Pooh taught us many years ago: we all need
a "Thotful Spot".
We need a little corner surrounded by nature where we can sit and be still, ponder and pray, and observe closely the beauty around us.
These posts are musings and meanderings from my Thoughtful Spots, recorded once every month, and interspersed with occasional ramblings about my favorite medicinal herbs.
I hope you'll join me in finding a Thoughtful Spot, visit it often, record the things that make you marvel, and remember,
"the world will never starve for want of wonders..."
- G.K. Chesterton