On Artifice In Spring

paintbrushdetailSpring’s First Paintbrush (Castilleja indivisa)
if you must.
Fit filigree
round stem or stamen,
re-saturate the sky.
  Pretend your dew be diamonds,
your webs a finer silk. Yet Spring —
her breeze, her birds and brooks — still breathes this
quiet wisdom: “What is, is good enough.”
Comments always are welcome. 
For more information on the Etheree, a syllabic poem that, in its basic form, contains ten lines and a total of fifty-five syllables, please click here.

109 thoughts on “On Artifice In Spring

    1. They are a delight, aren’t they? Even though everyone’s been talking about how mild our winter here has been, the appearance of even a few flowers makes clear that it has been winter. And now? Spring’s truly on the way.

    1. I did write it, Bee. I’m fond of etherees, and I’m always happy when another one forms. This one’s been in process for longer than usual, but I think it was waiting for spring to arrive.

      I’m glad you like the photo, too. I’d seen an Indian paintbrush in the blog of a friend who lives one county over, so I went looking to find one of my own. I found a dozen, scattered in different locations, and was happy as could be.

    1. The Indian paintbrush and the bluebonnet are Texas’s iconic spring flowers — as you surely know. It made me happy to find a paintbrush this weekend, although it’s a little earlier than I would have expected them. When I starting seeing the pretty little crow poison everywhere, I thought it might be time to start looking for other flowers — and it was.

    1. Thank you, Oneta. I was so pleased to find a fresh new flower to go with the etheree. It would have worked with an older photo, but I love that this year’s spring provided such a pretty one.

    1. I like it, too, Gerard. That line’s an example of hard-won wisdom on my part. It can’t be applied universally — sometimes there are situations where “what is” needs to be changed, and sooner rather than later — but so often our assumptions about perfection and quality get in the way of appreciating the world as it is.

    1. Thanks, Maria. I was trying to find a way to photograph the flower rather than the bracts, and I was delighted when I discovered this image. Everyone loves the paintbrushes, but it was fun to get a little more up-close-and-personal than usual. Both the poem and the image made me happy, and I do think they make for a nice pairing.

    1. Thanks, Sheryl. I’ve been writing etherees for a few years now, and have come to appreciate the form. In the beginning, I found myself concerned mostly with syllable counting, but as time went on, I began to realize the real challenge is to include other poetic devices — rhythm, rhyme, metaphor — inside the structure of the poem. I’ll be writing more about Etheree-the-person in the future. She was the reason I went off to Arkansas on my trip last fall, and there were some surprises as a result.

    1. Why so inspiring? Well, there’s beauty. Regeneration. The comfort of nature doing what nature does regardless of human foolishness. Did I mention beauty? I’m looking forward to seeing what the season evoked for you.

    1. Thanks, Yvonne. Do you know what else I saw? The season’s first goldenrod. There were only three little stems blooming, but one had its very own skipper enjoying a feast. It was such fun to see — and a bit of a surprise, too.

    1. With my tongue firmly planted in cheek, I’d say, “Because there’s not a tree planted in Etheree’s grave!” There will be more about her and her form to come. I really need to get back to Arkansas to do a proper job — but at least I can get a start.

  1. Hi Linda
    Many thanks for both the image and the etheree. ‘What is, is good enough’… we need to be reminded of this every so often.

    Where I live, the snowdrops are now abundant, the crocuses are poking their gold, purple and white heads out, and the daffodil bulbs are getting fatter. Spring is on the way!!

    1. I’ve been seeing snowdrop photos here and there, and always stop to admire them. The early spring flowers in northern climes are especially wonderful.

      You’ve reminded me that there’s a place north of me where a true daffodil fan allowed the bulbs to naturalize across acres and acres of her property. I only found out about it last year, and it was too late to visit as the bloom was finished. I need to try again this year. In the meantime? More appreciation for what already is.

    1. This weekend I saw scattered bits of what’s to come: a few evening primroses, three very small but blooming goldenrod stems. a clump of what looked like greenthread by the end of a highway barricade (it might have been, but it might not — I was traveling too fast to be sure, and there was nowhere convenient to stop).

      The real mystery is a lot filled with what seemed to be dogwood, in Dickinson. That’s worth a trip back down the road, just to check it out.

    1. You’re welcome, Tina. I wonder: is admiring our own photos the same as laughing at our own jokes? I had a similar response to the photo, and was happy to have such an appropriate poem to pair it with.

  2. I don’t think we will be seeing blossoms about the landscape, but by the end of this week we will be enjoying nearly 60 degrees. I’m sure along foundations there are lovely green things quivering towards the sun…It wasn’t a bad winter, but it was another oppressive dull one. Winter isn’t over yet, but the coming warmth is so, so welcome.

    Enjoy your baby bounty!

    1. If you’re heading to 60, it won’t be long before you’ll be seeing some spring lovelies, too. I’d forgotten how much fun it was “up there” to see those first bits of green in the sheltered spots.Then came the forsythia, the pussy willows, the bulbs, and my favorite flowering almond. Do you have a favorite spring flower? or is enough to see blue sky and green anything?

    1. I’ve never tried growing an orchid, but I have heard that they require a good bit of patience. I once had a neighbor whose orchids seemed to thrive on her benign neglect. She always had a few in bloom. It was remarkable.

      I hope you’ll post pictures when your bit of beauty decides it’s time for the great reveal.

  3. “What is, is good enough.” Wise, wise words, Linda. But I am not sure we are programed to heed them. :) Paintbrush is still months away here, but the daffodils are preparing to burst into bloom. –Curt

    1. Perhaps we’re not programmed one way or the other, but are encouraged to live by a different societal mantra: “What is, is never enough.” To the degree we can leave that one behind, we’re lucky, indeed.

      Daffodils are a worth alternative to paintbrush. By the time your paintbrush are blooming, Curt, we’ll have moved on to — something else, just as lovely.

      1. In total agreement, Linda. We are programmed to want more, to buy more. Billions are spent on it. I have learned over the years that very little is needed for happiness.
        Blue bells, lots of them. :) –Curt

    1. Isn’t that the truth? I was so surprised to find the paintbrush already, but I’m glad I did. It’s a reminder that the new season of paying attention is here. Is it time for your special patch of buttercups to begin blooming yet? I thought about them the other day, when I saw a few here. There’s something about a bright flower that always brings a smile — even the tiny ones can do it.

      1. From here it seems impossible for wildflowers to be blooming. I did try to find a buttercup in the place where they bloom this time of year but couldn’t even get to the trail that leads to the area.

        1. Oh, my. Well, it is only February. You must have a good bit of snow, which means a good bit of water. Do you ever have the kinds of problems that come with a fast snow melt? A friend in Manitoba managed to avoid being flooded out in 2009 when the Red River rose. I suppose in the mountains avalanches could be a problem, too. (And who knew there was an avalanche center?. Well,besides you and your fellow mountain-dwellers.

          1. In this immediate area there are few snow-melt problems. We are having fairly warm days which melt some of the surface snow and then cold nights so it re-freezes, and the overall snow melt is slow. Avalanches are a constant problem, but they usually don’t have much effect in the valleys. Those who get in trouble are usually the back-country skiers and snowmobilers.

    1. I thought of you when I saw how the colors glow and swirl into one another. I’m so glad I didn’t content myself with my “standard” images of the plant. There are plenty of those, but not so many like this.

      I talked with a woman last night who’s heading to Ecuador with a group, for bird watching. I told her I knew where there were some very rare, endemic birds with extraordinary colors — some so new they haven’t been named! — but she didn’t seem interested. Her loss.

      1. Oh my, I suspect that person will be part of a small group (of women) that I’ll be helping with — in a few weeks! They’ll be staying at a friend’s place on ‘the eastern slope’ and she asked if I’d help with the cooking! Then they’ll be Mindo bound, and I asked (begged?) to tag along to return to Angel Paz’s Reserve to see the Antpittas and Cock of the Rock lek…

        1. I’ll send names via email, so you’ll know for sure if you’ve met them. But, in our quick conversation, I got the impression they are leaving sooner than that. I do know it’s in March, though, so maybe.

  4. Your choice of selective focus here is as eloquent as your Etheree. A wider depth of field would have detracted from the irresistible draw on the eye to the minute details. Once one enters your image’s influence, it’s hard to break the bond.

    1. That experience of entering an image is wonderful, isn’t it? Your comment took me back to an exhibit of Impressionist painters at the Houston Museum of Fine Arts, where Mary Cassatt’s “Child in a Straw Hat” was shown. When I walked into the gallery where it was hanging, it was as though the rest of the gallery disappeared, and I spent a good bit of time in front of the painting — until my friends pulled me away.

      If this photo did even a tiny bit of that for you, I’m pleased beyond words.

  5. Such a lovely post, Linda! Sorry it’s taken me a while to get over here. I see I missed part two of the chain gang story, and I’ll remedy that pronto. I’ve been up to my ears in alligators lately, but finally I’m seeing a bit of light in that tunnel. We’ve had such a warm winter here — I don’t think I’ve shoveled once! I imagine we’ll pay for it in April, when we least need it, ha! Happy Valentine’s Day and watch those tornadoes!

    1. We avoided the bad weather this morning, Debbie. Some went north, some south. I was pleased to get rain, though, and pleased that I was smart enough to get out and about this weekend while the weather was good. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have this lovely little flower to enjoy.

      It’s hard to believe you’ve had such a mild winter. Still, winter can be gloomy even without snow. Sometimes, it’s more gloomy — all that brown and gray. I do remember those March and April snowstorms and blizzards, though. One of our Iowa weather traditions was the boys’ basketball tournament blizzard in mid-March.

      As for alligators — if another one shows up, this golfer has a tip or two. It occurs to me that a tip from a golfer might be especially appropriate for you.

  6. Is it already spring? Well, I guess it depends where in the world you are. Outside my windows it’s below freezing point. Not really spring. Your photo is a delight, and does radiate spring and joy. Your use of selective focus is exquisite.

    1. And in Australia, friends are sweltering in the heat while our flowers shiver again — a frontal passage dropped our temperatures nearly thirty degrees today, and the wind’s howling. But that’s our Texas spring: wide, sudden weather swings, until things settle down around in March or April. In the meantime, our sturdy little plants do their best to cheer us.

      The Indian paintbrush is an iconic flower here, and much photographed. I was thrilled to capture it as I did — not at all a usual view — and I wasn’t a bit distressed that it took a half-hour or so of sitting on the ground next to the plant to do it. I’m happy you enjoyed it — and of course I’m pleased that your photographer’s eye appreciated my way of focusing.

  7. This is beautiful Linda, and the poem is beautiful too. I wish I can see colours like that soon but no, it’ll be another 3 – 4 months perhaps before we’ll see some. But I’m glad we’re not having the blizzards like your NE coast has been battling. So, I’m not complaining. :)

    1. By February, a little gentle complaining is perfectly acceptable, Arti. It’s been a long winter, and some color and warmth is much to be desired. I think I remember you saying that even the birds have been absent for you this year. I know you enjoyed them as much as I enjoyed your photos of them — I think you need a good dose of spring.

      While you’re waiting for spring to arrive, you might enjoy browsing Sheryl Normandeau’s blog. She’s from Calgary, and has some interests that echo yours: writing and birding, for example. I’ve enjoyed her posts about native plants particularly, but there’s much else to engage your interest.

  8. I really think that dew bests diamonds in the beauty department and webs (especially dewy ones) make linen pale. Alas, as per Arti, it will be awhile before we have flowers blooming around here!

    1. But they’ll come. The way I imagine it, the flowers and the masts probably rise up about the same time in your neck of the woods.

      We are almost to the equinox (March 20). What amazes me is that we’re moving to daylight saving time a week earlier, on March 12. Maybe in the future they’ll eliminate daylight saving time by moving the beginning back, and moving the end forward. It could end on December 31, then begin again on January 1. We could throw some sort of big party with fireworks to mark the occasion!

    1. I’m so glad you mentioned the daffodils, Becca. I’d forgotten about the daffodil gardens in Gladewater. I missed them last year, but I’m going to call tomorrow and see how the bloom is coming. Gladewater’s only about six hours from here, so it could make a nice weekend trip.

      Enjoy your bits of floral sunshine — I saw the first dewberry blossoms last weekend, too, so things are beginning to perk up.

  9. I am amazed to see paintbrush so early… I wonder if it is blooming anywhere in my area yet. But I’m surprised by a lot of things that pop up and pop out in February! I love your photo, and your poem is captivating me with its philosophical ending.

    1. Believe me, GJ, I was surprised to see them, too. There weren’t many: perhaps a dozen scattered here and there, but they brought some friends with them: a few Texas dandelions, a bit of early goldenrod, one patch of evening primrose.

      I’m so glad you like the photo. Don’t the flower’s colors seem to glow? When “what is” is so beautiful, how could it not be good enough?

  10. SO pretty. With such a mild winter, I almost feel bad when I say, “I can’t wait for spring”. I noticed my hollyhocks are breaking ground. It’s forecasted to be in the 70’s this week. How wonderful

    1. I talked to my aunt in KC a couple of days ago, and she was thrilled by the warm temperatures, too. I smiled at your mention of hollyhocks. We had them on the east side of the house in Iowa, and I made dolls from them every summer. Such simple joys.

      I was suprised how happy I was to see the bits of color. Our winter was mild, too, but it did finally turn a bit drab after our frosts and light freezes, and it’s nice to see the changes begin.

  11. My tentative “beginner’s mind” got a workout with this photo — a completely new look at paintbrush for me. (I’ve been enjoying these for years but never quite saw them in this way — macro is amazing.) And as for the poem, stunning in its detail and form (another new idea for me). You got the whole package, girl!

    1. It’s only been two or three years since I learned that the brightly-colored portions of the paintbrush are bracts. I’d never tried to photograph the flower itself, so I tried this more straightforward version as well as the more abstract. I confess I was pleased.

      I’m glad you liked the poem, too. It’s a fun form to work with — and the story of my trying to “meet” Etheree herself is a tale yet to be told.

  12. A splash of colour like that is such a lovely sight at this time of the year when we have got so used to monotonous shades of grey. I remember seeing an Indian Paintbrush either in California or BC – but is was not as showy as this one, but then I read that there many ‘varieties’ of Indian Paintbrush

    1. There are many species — and many colors, too. I’ve seen mostly the coral-to-red that’s most common, but I’ve also seen some orange, and this lovely yellow. My favorite sight is a large field of bluebonnets and red Indian paintbrush combined. Those fields glow a luscious purple.

  13. Hi there! What a perfectly crafted way to convey that important understanding about accepting “just” what is. I guess it’s a little easier to see what is, as being enough in Spring than in late Winter though! We have a way to go up here – we’re in that darker time before Spring, when all the wear of winter has left everything looking worn and trampled. But there are buds, there are pussy willows out, and birds are beginning to sing. And while it must be enough, there’s a certain pleasure too in wishful anticipation of things to come, don’t you think? ;-)

    1. I’ve grown so fond of this line from Mark Twain: “The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter. ‘Tis the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.”

      I thought about that when I read your comment about accepting “just” what is. It seems to me that there’s a lightning bug/lightning-sized gap between “what is” and “just what is.” In fact, at one point “just” tried to sneak into the etheree, but I spotted it, and booted it out in a flash.

      I don’t know — maybe I was traumatized by “just” as a kid. But it always feels to me like a modifier that disparages anything it’s attached to: sentences like, “Oh, that’s just a dandelion,” or “We’re just having soup for supper.” Combine my distaste for “just” with a preference for the real world over virtual reality, and I suppose you get this etheree.

      But of course there’s a place for anticipation, and hope — and memory, for that matter. I’d never deny that, any more than I’d deny the importance of moving beyond difficult situations as best we can. But the rich complexity of life as it is — like the combination of photos in your last blog entry — is worthy of admiration. Head out to photograph and find a highway stripe, or pink mailboxes, or a mis-shapen cactus? It’s what is, and it’s all good enough. Even your post combining hospital images with the beauty of the gardens is a perfect illustration of what I was trying to say in the poem. We may not like “what is,” but there’s still room to honor it with our attention.

      1. My apologies for not being clearer – it’s late so maybe I’ll add more tomorrow, but for now – I was using the word in the Buddhist, specifically zen, sense, where “just” implies an essence which is anything BUT denigrating to the fullness of the reality at hand. So when I mention “just” what is, I mean that “what is” actually encompasses a great deal, i.e. is very important to pay attention to.
        It’s the concept pointed to in this article on shikantaza, the Soto zen school’s notion of “just sitting” and accepting life “just” as it is. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shikantaza

        OK, enough heady stuff for one night! It’s good having these meetings of minds.
        (And thanks so much for your comments on my recent posts, much appreciated).

        1. How interesting — and what an instructive “East meets West” experience. Of course I know a bit about Zen (thanks in the beginning to Thomas Merton, but also through poetry forms, and casual reading) but it’s never felt congenial enough that I’ve really studied it. Hence, my total ignorance of the Buddhist sense of “just.” When I read this comment, my first thought was, “No wonder understanding can be so difficult. Imagine Manhattanite meets Minnesota farmer, and so on.”

          The article you linked was interesting. I recognized some of the concepts, and also pondered (again) how nicely hours of hand-sanding can result in a similar, almost meditative state. It also reminded me of one of the most charming Liberian customs, called “spending time.” It rattled me when I first experienced it, but later, more attuned to the custom, I enjoyed it.

          Now and then, someone (sometimes an individual, but more generally a small group) would show up at the front door and say, “We have come to spend time.” Invited in and offered chairs, they simply would sit, and I was expected to join them. There wasn’t conversation, as such, although an offer of water was considered polite. Eventually, someone would say, “Now, we have spent time.” And off they’d go. Silly me once asked, “How do they know when it’s time to go?” The answer? “They leave when they’ve been there long enough.” That’s almost koan-like.

          1. I’ve never heard of that Liberian custom. I’m a little envious – it must have been a good experience to be thrown off your feet in such a pleasantly puzzling way. Interesting! Yes, very koan-like. I admire you for keeping an open mind and wading through that article – most of the concepts are not easy to grasp.
            Hand sanding! On a boat, I assume….once in art school I made a small wooden sculpture with curve edges and spent hours and hours hand sanding it. I bet you could write an entire essay on hand sanding. Have a good day!

            1. A boat — yes. Well, boats. I couldn’t begin to tell you how many board feet of teak and mahogany I’ve sanded in the past twenty-five years, but I can tell you that my first poem took form on the back of a piece of used sandpaper. I need to drag that story out again — maybe when the next blog milestone arrives, since the title of my blog came from that poem.

  14. Hi Linda! I wanted to stop by and thank you for leaving the note you did on my blog. For a wide variety of reasons I stopped writing on that subject – I realized it was really more private writing I had to do. I am starting a cooking blog – I found hundreds of my grandma’s old recipes and have decided to cook through them – and once it’s up and running I’ll leave you the URL. Thanks for checking in.

    1. It doesn’t surprise me that you’re taking a different direction. Your new blog sounds wonderful, and I’ll be happy to have the URL — please do email or leave it here. You might be interested in another blog I follow called A Hundred Years Ago. Sheryl posts hundred year old recipes and other cooking and homemaking hints from that earlier time. It’s really quite fun — both for those of us who remember those days, and even for younger readers.

      I’m really happy to see you. My best to you and the kids.

    1. I’ve never bedazzled a tee shirt or pair of tennies in my life, but I’m happy to dazzle you with a photo, Susan. I’m pleased to see you, too. I was thinking about you a couple of days ago — my Bellehouse CD arrived, and it certainly is fine listening.

      I hope all’s well in your world, and that spring doesn’t dawdle too long.

  15. The poem is beautiful – and the picture works perfectly with it. I’m slightly jealous that you have flowers already. It will be awhile until we even see crocus and snowdrops.

  16. I’m glad you liked the pairing of poem and photo, Sheryl — thank you. I guess we’re even when it comes to jealousy, since I’m always slightly jealous in the fall when you have such beautiful foliage.

    I know some others of my favorite flowers must be out, but places where I’ve found them before have been mowed, so I’m going to have to roam a little farther afield to find them. I’m hoping to get out for a while today, before rain returns tomorrow.

  17. This is beautiful, Linda. Both the poem (a wonderful capture of words and thoughts) and the photo (a wonderful capture of nature). The pink seems to speak of spring. We’ll have it soon, I hope. I’m glad you have it now.

    1. Thanks, Jeanie. Think of it as my version of a valentine for you — not to mention it being a wonderful valentine to us all from nature. I was out yesterday, and found more flowers popping up, including some pretty pink primroses. When do your flowers and such normallly start appearing? We’re about two weeks ahead of schedule, I’d say, but it surely is fun to see the changes.

      1. It’s a splendid valentine! Normally our daffodils and crocus, the earliest, begin to pop in mid-April or sometimes late March if it’s very warm. Last year things were early. Yesterday I saw small shoots of daffodil coming up through the mulch in several places. I put more mulch over it. Even though yesterday was in the 60s and today, too, and even when it gets cold this week it’s only going in the 40s which is seriously warm and weird for here in February, I don’t trust that there won’t be another winter storm. The flowering trees seem to kick in early May, though last year was early and the year my mom died on April 21, a week or two before, the campus was in full bloom. I remember, because my cousin visited her and we took loads of photos at her old dorm. I have to admit, I feel guilty for loving it because I know that it’s really probably not a good thing…

        1. Somehow, I think you can cross loving the weather off your list of things to feel guilty about. That’s like feeling guilty because your choice at a restaurant outshines everyone else’s dinner. :-)

          The good news here is that the pecan trees aren’t showing one bit of leaf or bud. They’re always the last to come out, and people who understand things always depend on the pecans to make gardening decisions. Even the water temperature is a bit warmer than usual, but until I see the pecans leafed out, I won’t make a bet against more cold weather.

  18. We still have a mild winter in Norway, we’ll have to wait for ages for beauties like this to appear. Lovely macro and beautiful words framing it, Linda!

    1. Thank you, Dina. Spring seems a little early here this year, but our pecan trees haven’t yet shown any inclination to bud. That’s the real sign of spring. Even now, we still could have a frost or freeze: at least, that’s been the case in the past. I hope you don’t have to go through weeks of “just brown,” but get some nice, winter snow to finish out the season. Then, it will be time for beautiful blossoms!

    1. Absolutely. Of course there are “what is” situations in the world that need to be changed. But far too often, we make ourselves unhappy by longing for the imagined better. I’ve read a good bit recently about the depression that many people feel when they read on Facebook about the extraordinary — even perfect — lives of their friends. Those friends may or may not be living a perfect life, of course. It’s amusing to remember the Christmas letters that were so common during the 50s and 60s. By the time you got done reading about the salary increases, the educational achievements, the travel, the this and the that, you were ready to declare your own life worthless. I could go on, but I know you get the point. (For me, it’s travel. Remembering that what is is good enough can be hard, sometimes!)

      1. You know, none of those letters or Facebook posts really effect me in that way, which is a good thing since my father-in-law was always pointing out how much better all his friends’ and relatives’ kids were doing than I was when we’d visit for dinner. I developed a thick skin in that regard (it’s thin enough in others). It’s always important to keep things in perspective. We have, as I imagine you do also, a good life with all that we need. Wanting things is natural but they are rarely a requirement. Maybe it’d be nice to be a little younger and healthier, but life is pretty good anyway…at least for the time being.

    1. And I can’t wait to see all of the new “what-is-es” in your new part of the world. I’ll bet you’ll find plenty that’s good enough — and some that’s even better!

  19. Coming back here at Albert’s prompting, I was reminded of a line from “Mary Poppins.” By way of apology/caveat, I’m not very familiar with that movie, which my poor husband had to hear and see hundreds of times at work, in a facility for severely developmentally delayed clients who loved to watch it over and over. It was this little bit of Poppins philosophy that jumped out at me the one time I watched the whole movie, that stuck with me: “Enough is as good as a feast.” Is that not the spirit of true thankfulness and contentment?

    Thank you again for this poem, and I’m glad I was brought back to it again.

    1. I’ve never seen Mary Poppins, but that line you quoted is quite wonderful. It’s so, so true, and quite consonant with the spirit of the poem. Just as optimism isn’t quite the same as hope, contentment differs from happiness: at least, I think it does. It seems to for me. Happiness comes and goes, and is related to particular events. But contentment? It’s as constant and dependable as an old pair of slippers — comfortable, too. I’m glad you came again to slip into the poem!

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