16 November 2015

Night Vision

In a week when my second fledgling left the nest, 'Night Vision' came to mind again. This is the song I used to sing in my head (I spared them any rendition of mine out loud :-)) when both my sons were little and indeed as they grew up. It was one of my parenting anthems, if you like; it's surely what any parent wants for their children:
I would shelter you
Keep you in light
But I can only teach you
Night vision
(You can find the lyrics and a list of all the writers of the song on this site.) You can listen to the song here:

Rumour has it that both much-loved sons, and their wonderful girlfriends, are doing well in London and Montréal; long may you stay in the light my dear ones.

Empty nest or not, day-to-day life goes on. Warm temperatures over the weekend meant a lot of tidying up in the garden. I don't overdo it--listening to wise admonitions from other gardeners to leave overwintering places for the beasties who share my patch--but there does come a time in the year's turning where I have to acknowledge the oncoming quietness of winter. For me, some judicious cutting back of dead and dying perennials helps that along. I think that many of those who advise us to leave the garden as is, allowing nature to take its own time etc. etc. probably garden on much larger patches than mine. I can see just about all of the garden from my back window, and the horizontal asters, collapsed grasses, slimy ends of Maianthemum, and raggy, burnt-looking leaves of Rodgersia eventually get to be too much to bear. It's not a scorched earth policy, by any means: I don't cut them all the way down but leave about 8cm or so to provide some winter shelter for the plant. I also don't do it all on one day (the garden isn't that small or maybe I'm not diligent enough), but there is something very satisfying about, as my father used to say, putting a bit of smacht on it.

Fallen stars: the asters gave in to Autumn winds a couple of weeks ago
And so the garden is looking very bare and rather dreary now, but Autumn has of course brought some wonderful colours. Just a couple of weeks ago, I gathered this small selection from a tidy-up of my dad's garden:

Autumn flowers and berries light up any room
And a few weeks before that, in late September, I brought together some flowers and foliage for a friend whose mother had just died. It was the first time I've made what's called a coffin spray and it includes the colours and some of the plants her mum loved, gathered from her mum's own garden, and from my garden and that of a friend, supplemented with a few plants bought in the Dublin flower market. It was an honour to be asked, and I should point out that the rather jaunty looking upside-down blue trug was not part of the arrangement! It was just a handy thing to stand the spray on while I was working on it in the back garden.

In memoriam Marcella B.
Some things I learnt while working on this:
  • a few hours' work doing something you enjoy just flies by (well we all know that one, right?) 
  • I enjoy making things that not only have aesthetic value but also have some meaning: this was especially important in this case, and there's very little that made it into the spray that didn't have some significance
  • ivy is a *great* filler
  • it turns out I do love colour 
  • undertakers find colour in funeral flowers 'interesting' (by which I think they meant, surprising)
Thanks again to LB for asking me to do this and being okay with my writing about it here.

My progress on the birch tree has been s-l-o-w. There has much hand wringing on my part about composition, and while that was going on in my head I was also trying to get the colours right for the changing autumnal leaves:

Still having trouble getting value as well as colour
(any arty friends reading this, feel free to comment here or on facebook with helpful hints!)
Raggedy leaves are more interesting to draw...
Yellows are tricky
All coloured pencil (Caran d'Ache Luminance and Faber-Castell Polychromos) on Fabriano Artistico, for those who wonder about such things.

To finish, some lovely worldwide webbiness. Looking at the picture of the asters, while I was compiling this blog, I thought of fallen stars (aster,  ‘a star’): via Latin from Greek astēr ‘star’.)
and that brought Frost's Star in a Stone Boat to mind. While looking for a link to bring you the poem, I found this piece by Kevin Keller; you might like to listen to it while you read the poem, which I've included below... you'll only need to take about seven minutes out of your day:

A Star In A Stoneboat
For Lincoln MacVeagh
Never tell me that not one star of all
That slip from heaven at night and softly fall
Has been picked up with stones to build a wall.
Some laborer found one faded and stone-cold,
And saving that its weight suggested gold
And tugged it from his first too certain hold,
He noticed nothing in it to remark.
He was not used to handling stars thrown dark
And lifeless from an interrupted arc.
He did not recognize in that smooth coal
The one thing palpable besides the soul
To penetrate the air in which we roll.
He did not see how like a flying thing
It brooded ant eggs, and had one large wing,
One not so large for flying in a ring,
And a long Bird of Paradise's tail
(Though these when not in use to fly and trail
It drew back in its body like a snail):
Nor know that be might move it from the spot—
The harm was done: from having been star-shot
The very nature of the soil was hot
And burning to yield flowers instead of grain,
Flowers fanned and not put out by all the rain
Poured on them by his prayers prayed in vain. 
He moved it roughly with an iron bar,
He loaded an old stoneboat with the star
And not, as you might think, a flying car, 
Such as even poets would admit perforce
More practical than Pegasus the horse
If it could put a star back in its course.
He dragged it through the plowed ground at a pace
But faintly reminiscent of the race
Of jostling rock in interstellar space.
It went for building stone, and I, as though
Commanded in a dream, forever go
To right the wrong that this should have been so.
Yet ask where else it could have gone as well,
I do not know—I cannot stop to tell:
He might have left it lying where it fell.
From following walls I never lift my eye,
Except at night to places in the sky
Where showers of charted meteors let fly.
Some may know what they seek in school and church,
And why they seek it there; for what I search
I must go measuring stone walls, perch on perch; 
Sure that though not a star of death and birth,
So not to be compared, perhaps, in worth
To such resorts of life as Mars and Earth— 
Though not, I say, a star of death and sin,
It yet has poles, and only needs a spin
To show its worldly nature and begin 
To chafe and shuffle in my calloused palm
And run off in strange tangents with my arm,
As fish do with the line in first alarm. 
Such as it is, it promises the prize
Of the one world complete in any size
That I am like to compass, fool or wise.  
Robert Frost
In a week where it was brought home to us once again how some of us choose death over life, fear over love, and ignorance over learning, it's good to remind ourselves that 'such resorts of life as Mars and Earth' are rare and precious and we need to treasure all lives as best we can.


  1. I love the leaves!

  2. Those funeral flowers are beautiful - and the leaf drawings are fab. You are so talented!