Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Friday, March 26, 2010

Going Medieval

Burg Eltz Castle, nestled in the hills above the river between Koblenz and Trier, Germany

I'd rather slay a dragon than listen to more Washington rhetoric.
I'd rather be a damsel-in-distress than hear tonight's news.
I'd rather view the distant past than look at television today.

So off with their talking heads, I say! I'm slipping away to my picture files and a once-upon-a-time visit to this mystical, magical 12th century castle, unchanged by centuries of what we call progress.

It was built in 1157. If you stop at the Burg-Eltz website, you'll read, "The river Eltz flows around three sides of an elliptical rock crag, the foundation of the whole castle, and on this, towering up to 70 meters above the river, is the fortress...the castle of joint heirs remains in its original unchanged condition." Keep reading and you'll wish yourself away to "a fairy-tale castle come to life...history cast in stone...a past revived."

The castle and the families who own it haven't seen a battle in centuries. Everything remains intact, managed amicably by its heirs. After the tour of the public rooms of the castle, we were invited into the inner sanctum, the round-table room where the castle heirs come together for annual meetings.
Civilized negotiations.

The long enchanting path through the forest back to the tour bus offers a delicious feast for the eyes and ears. I thrilled to the dripping, limey mosses, the unfamiliar tree formations, the sumptuous palette of earthy umbers and viridian greens. The quiet sanctuary of the forest canopy graciously harbors wild things--the birds singing from limb to limb, the low-crawling beasties sliding beneath its moss-covered stones, and the woodland creatures scrambling along the trunks of its black-barked trees.
Peace on earth.
Grace in the world.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

When In Rome...

...eat, pray, love the food, the architecture, and the people's open spaces.
...sit on the Spanish Steps under starry skies. It's a good place for a kiss in the dark and a limoncello gelato.
...walk everywhere. It's safer than getting on a bus with pickpockets who easily spot the American tourista.
...touch the hand of God in the Sistene Chapel. Well, at least point. People are expected to hush themselves there but the Vatican hires a guy dressed in black to come out on a staircase every few minutes. There, in a deep voice, he shouts, "Silencio!!" The crowd quiets for a minute. Before long, their enthusiasm regains, the place hums with voices, and the man in black comes out again.
...wait for the Pope's Swiss Guard to appear and practice maneuvers. Chances are, the pope isn't there to be guarded.
...sob over Michelangelo's Pieta in St. Peter's Cathedral. Some idiot came in there with a sledge hammer once and beat on the sculpture to damage it. Now we can view it only through bullet-proof glass. :(
...walk in the ancient part of the city where Brutus and his buddies walked and talked. It's a ruin, of course, with barely a tree in sight but it's rich with history just the same.
...stare at the miracle of the Pantheon, walking around its spaces so well-lit by one grand skylight.
...sample paninis, red wine, fresh salads.
...watch the police.
...shop in the Galleria.
...but don't leave before you've tossed three coins in the fountain--Trevi Fountain, that is.

Thursday, March 18, 2010


The robin picked a risky perch for her nest last spring. I spotted her woven hollow of mud and grass outside my second-floor window where it was precariously anchored between the roof slats of our pergola and the rail moorings above the pergola posts. The wide-spaced roof slats over the nest provided scant protection from the rain. However, the robin's poor choice for a nesting place afforded me a first-class view of her hatching affair.

By early April, three blue-green eggs appeared in the cradle. Sometimes, if the expectant one saw me press my nose to the window, she'd startle and fly away, then circle back. More often, though, when I sneaked a peek, she sat confidently on her nest, adjusting her body over her booty with the tenderest of tail feathers.

It rained.
It rained every day.
April showered the earth with a wealth of precipitation while the wet robin sat on her eggs and fanned her wings over her nest to keep it dry. Sometimes rain fell all night as she continued her umbrella act. Every time I looked, her wings were spread, her body shedding water like a duck.
My arms ached with empathy.

After ten relentless days of rain and wing spreading, I could stand no more. I pulled a sheet of plywood from the garage and flipped it onto the pergola roof over the nest. When the plywood slapped down, the frightened robin flew off. Minutes later, she returned and disappeared under her new roof.

Now I couldn't see the nest. I could only guess what was happening. I didn't mind--I was content as a midwife, thinking the robin was dry and that her babies would come through these perilous days. A week later, the rains stopped and I pulled the plywood from the pergola roof. She was still there--huddling, fluffing, and waiting.

The sun came out and dried the earth.
The lilac-scented air warmed the nest.
And, one baby robin chopped his way into the world while I watched.

Excited, I hurried home from work the next day to see the others. Nothing had changed. Each day was the same. For two weeks, the unborn eggs were coddled while the wild newborn flapped his awkward way around the available space in the nest. With growing concern, I feared the two remaining eggs would never hatch. Then, one day, they disappeared from the nest.

I went into mourning, grousing around the house for days about unfavorable environmental conditions and feeling personally responsible for the under-developed family. A dull grief settled in at my window.

Meanwhile, the hungry hatchling was eating well because he had the undivided attention of both parents. He grew fat and round while his mother dropped food down his gaping gullet. His protective father scuffled and flew at the chipmunks that circled their camp.

I was there for the virgin flight.
Teetering at the edge of the nest, the fledgling robin flapped furiously in the wind, preparing for take-off. Then, lunging, he aimed for a branch in a nearby pine. He missed the tree, but flew--almost gracefully--to the ground near the peonies. Running quickly along the ground on thin, little bird legs, he explored the grassy slope. Moments later, he disappeared from view.

I wondered if the mother robin would return to her nest for a last look around.
She never did.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Beautiful Desolation

And the spring arose on the garden fair,
Like the spirit of love felt everywhere:
And each flower and herb on earth's dark breast
Rose from the dreams of its wintry rest.


Achingly beautiful in its spareness, springtime in Iceland haunts the heart. In defiance of winter's harsh breath, tiny, bright flowers re-emerge between cracks in the magma surface. Waters flow without ice and sheep pastures on the tundra warm to a bronze-colored green.

Slender trees dangle new green spangles...and light, spring winds give them a whirl.

At the Rift, people reach out to touch the edges of earth's crust and walk between two of its tectonic plates--the Eurasian plate on one side and the North American plate on the other.

Deep holes dot the magma landscape, releasing a harvest of steamy thermal heat...

...and big skies wrap the springtime tundra. This strange and wonderful, moonscape-like garden of northern pleasures is open for visitors.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Botany Desiring

No matter how long the winter,
Spring is sure to follow.


Phalaeonopsis (moth) orchids, resemble the shapes of moths or butterflies. They're the most resilient members of the orchid family and make ideal gifts for family and friends--especially those with cabin fever.

I wonder if this intergeneric hybrid orchid was developed in an abbey garden...the label that came in its container says, "K34P, BROTHER LAWRENCE 'B#1' x DTPS. BROTHER LOVE ROSA 'B#1' 6/8/05"

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Wave Meditation

I must go down to the sea again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied.

+ Sea Fever, John Masefield