Prairie*

Mike has almost five acres of the farm planted in prairie now, a long-term project in conjunction with USDA (United States Department of Agriculture), a federal program that pays landowners to convert tilled acreage to native prairie. He planned the largest plots along a grass waterway to address field erosion, and another substantial area where the old McCullough homesite once stood. Neither of these locations are visible from the cabin, so he started three small prairie patches on the hill, where I could see them from the porches. This year they have arrived at their full beauty, and as native plants will, are now seeding themselves throughout the meadow grasses.

Beauty. And a husband who brings it to my doorstep. May the goodness of others and the delights of the natural world deliver to you a happy heart and lightness of step today—–

*(The June flower theme continues, as I am in full-blown summer bloom myself, basking in the season. Can’t stop just yet, since there is a back-log of gorgeous flower photos from my sister’s visit. We got ourselves to the Whetstone Park of Roses, which will be featured next week.)

Petunias

Flower Walk, Mama. With Diana.’ That’s Vivi speaking, just up from her afternoon nap, re-entering the world slowly, held in the arms of her mother. Alicia (Vivi’s mamma), gave me these sweet petunias a few weeks ago, and they are flourishing on the front porch.

Many things bring my mother to mind, gone from us 44 years this spring. Petunias are one of them. ‘Pinch the old blooms. It helps the new ones grow and you will get more flowers that way.’ And so I hear her voice as I pinch my plebeian petunias, heart full with the past and grateful for the present. Thank you, mom. Thank you, Alicia.

Tickseed

Mike and I visited Oakland Nursery the week before Mother’s Day, and proceeded to fill a large cart with plants for the front garden. Among the many was a tickseed, bearing one lone bloom. And look at it now, profusely blooming and wildly pleased with its new home.

Tickseed, of the coreopsis family, is deer resistant, a native plant here in the Midwest, and a perennial. All pluses for this garden and gardener.

The oppressive heat has subsided, and today ushers in a cool breeze and sun in a puffy white cloud sky. Perfect. Wishing for you a day of beauty. I’m off to a happy hour with P.J.—-

Iris

35 years ago, my next-door neighbor, Sylvia B., gave me iris rhizomes from her rock garden. On either side of her front walk, so much beauty. Three residences later, Sylvia’s gifts are going strong, blooming more prolifically than ever before.

Not only furniture and kitchen boxes and clothing and books need to be moved when selling and buying property, but garden treasures as well. Only a handful; the buyer, after all, purchased the gardens along with the house, but a few must travel to the next home. They define home place; they are residents, too.

These beautiful blooms bring to mind (and heart) each spring the memories of our first and most wonderful neighbors, Ray and Sylvia, with whom Mike and I have remained in touch all these years. Sharing photos on our phones not too long ago, Sylvia admired one I had snapped of a single iris bloom. At Christmas, another gift arrived, a painting of that very iris! Two other pieces of Sylvia’s work grace our home, and now the golden iris joins them. Thank you, Sylvia. Thank you, irises.

Prelude

A month of blooms ahead. It’s a diversion from the usual format of illuminating Alexander Technique principles via every day life examples; let’s call it an Alexandrian Pause from Habit.

About the photo—Leo was filling up the bird bath when this lovely vignette came to my attention, morning sunlight on wild mustard and Siberian iris. Third summer at this address, first summer for wild mustard, all volunteers. They are everywhere, and blooming madly, even with the lack of rain. That’s the beauty of native plants—- resilient.

I’m a native, too, and would like to think resiliency is a trait I possess. My early 1800’s ancestors certainly did, leaving their Virginia homes to travel by horse and wagon over the mountains, then on flatboats down the Ohio River to Lawrence County, Ohio, where they homesteaded in the hills.

The southern Ohio phrase used was ‘dressing the graves’ and that’s what we did each Memorial Day. Mason jars were filled with water, flowers and sprays snipped and arranged, boxes of them placed in the backseat, followed by long drives over hot and dusty roads to place a jar of blooms on each resting place. I remember it well, most vividly, the year I accompanied Grandma Irene to the tiny backwoods plot where her first baby was buried, having lived only 3 days.

Three days, or 30 years, or 30 years tripled, we will all join them. Until then, may we remember well our beloved dead and honor them, not only with flowers, but also with lives well lived—-

Come Rain or Come Shine*

Maysville, Kentucky. It’s an Ohio River town on a narrow strip of land between river and bluffs; birthplace of Rosemary Clooney. A leisurely hour was spent walking the streets. Most everything was closed on a Monday morning, but that only served to keep me out in the bright sun with blue sky overhead.

A Maysville stop was not part of the day’s plan. I didn’t even know Maysville existed. Opting to drive backroads for the return trip home from Berea, KY, Maysville appeared. A happy surprise, especially after the drive south of the day before. High winds had buffeted the car, dense rain reduced visibility, lightning jags could be seen much more clearly than the other vehicles on the interstate.

What a difference a day can make! Take heart. As your go-to-guide for all things Alexander Technique, I can report it is possible to practice good Use of Self on both stormy and sunny days. Either way, the work of the Technique is the same—-note physical responses to stimuli (whether that be a semi truck way too close on the rain-drenched interstate, or the pleasure of driving a winding and smooth two-lane country road), Pause and Choose ease. Rain or shine, the Technique serves us well.

*Johnny Mercer/Harold Arlen’s 1946 torch tune, Come Rain or Come Shine,1946. Rosemary Clooney sings a Nelson Riddle arrangement here.

Handwork

Grandma Bertha stitched quilts with her Ladies Sewing Circle. Grandma Irene made quilts on a large wooden frame next to the living room picture window. As a young girl, she did linen cutwork with my Great-Grandmother Rachel. My mother sewed most of our clothing, and following a cancer diagnosis, she began a fall scene crewel piece which I finished after her death. And so, the women in the family keep me company as I stitch, as does Mr. Alexander and his Technique.

Handwork is detailed and cross-stitch requires minute stitches a thousand times over, creating color blocks of designs. It’s the perfect activity for Self-Awareness, Inhibition and Direction, the Big Three of Alexander Technique practice. Observing my Self, the following are noted: arms pulled inward, gluteal muscles contracted (yep, who knew the body/mind would attempt to use gluteals to make a neat stitch! Shout-out: It doesn’t help), gripping the hoop.

On to Inhibition: it’s often enough to simply quit with the Habit. Merely stopping what I am doing, whether it be clenching gluts, gripping hands, or contracting arms, means the body (and mind) can then go about their business unencumbered by all the extra effort.

However, if needed, there is always Direction. ‘I allow my head to move away from my spine.’ ‘Long legs, feet on floor.‘ ‘I allow my spine to lengthen and my torso to widen.’ Thoughts only, not a ‘DO.’

Happy Mother’s Day to all—–

Psithurism

Photo by Steve Johnson on Pexels.com

Gusts rattle the metal cabin roof, light breezes create a rustle in the dried brown leaves of the surrounding oaks. Wind can be heard in the distance, an approaching low-level roar that builds until all is immersed. I like to imagine the vast sheets of wind traveling across the plains of Indiana and western Ohio, arriving at our outpost along the glacial till, land of soft hills and wide valleys.

How happy was I to discover the word ‘psithurism,’ defined as ‘the sound of the wind in the trees and the rustling of the leaves.‘ It’s an onomatopoeia, a word that sounds like its meaning. In the pines, I become taller, longer, more fully upright as I listen to psithurism. It’s a community of UP out there in the woods.

Alexander Technique teacher, Frank Pierce Jones said ‘anything can be regarded as the stimulus to which you choose the response of lengthening and freeing.‘ Anything. Choosing ease and length when captivated by psithurism is an easy choice. Choosing to ‘think up’ in response to fear is quite another.

We resist expressions of fear, such as shaky knees, sweaty palms, pounding heart, by ‘pulling down,‘ successfully dulling sensation, making ourselves smaller, contracting. There’s a time and a place for that response, but not when there is a show to perform, a song to sing, a line to deliver. We can choose, even when the stimulus is fear; ease and space. This is precisely what Barbara Conable encourages us to practice in her primer, How to Learn the Alexander Technique. Her advice is ‘Embody the fear.’ Feel it, choose to not ‘numb out’ and ‘think up’ instead.

Now we’re talking! And moving, and singing, and dancing, and, and, and….

A Walking Week

Christmas Rocks Nature Preserve, April 1, 2021

Mike and I drove Fairfield County backroads and arrived at this magical preserve close to Lancaster but a world away. We were greeted by a kingfisher at the trailhead and the marvels continued. Hemlocks, clear-water stream rippling over rock beds, early woodland wildflowers, tight leaf buds on trees, and SNOW! Only light flurries, but still. It was cold.

The destination point of the hike is a vista view atop a rock escarpment, looking south over hills and valleys. Getting there meant a steep ascent. After all these years living with Alexander Technique principles, it’s still possible to be surprised at its usefulness. With thought and attention to my Use, and frequent rest breaks, the summit was crested. Mike and I paused to be astonished. Sitting on moss-covered rocks, at eye level with the tops of the cliff side trees, we breathed it all in.

Heading back, muscles and hip joints fatigued, it was here the Technique became most efficacious. I utilized a few lesson prompts from Monday’s AT class: ‘Give attention to the back leg of the stride. Let it propel you forward. No need to do anything else. Let the earth travel under you and support you. Spaciousness overhead. All the space you need to be long and wide.’

The week concluded with another student requesting a walking lesson. A Week of Walking, indeed. Grateful to be on the path with such fine students, and to receive the beauty of Christmas Rocks–

Gesture

Photo by Hebert Santos on Pexels.com

‘Of course, for each of us, there is the daily life.

Let us live it, gesture by gesture.

When we cut the ripe melon, should we not give it thanks?

And should we not thank the knife also?

We do not live in a simple world.’

At the River Clarion, Devotions: The Selected Poems of Mary Oliver*

Gretchen McCulloch, in Because Internet: Understanding the New Rules of Language, writes of ‘co-speech‘ or ‘illustrative gesture,’ coined by linguists to describe the gesturing we do while speaking. She explains that gesturing is thought to be more about the speaker’s thinking than the understanding of the listener. In other words, the speaker is processing thought via bodily motion, rather than gesturing to ‘make a point’ for the listener’s benefit.

Although I had picked up the book curious to learn more about my students’ formative experiences as life-long consumers of online content, I became intrigued with the idea that our minds access language with the body, through movement, through gesture. Dances are often choreographed with a set of gestures at their core; expounded upon, returned to, and then modified, much like phrases in a musical score. We are ‘saying’ more than we know with our bodies. Dancers just do this on purpose, and to great good effect.

May we, as Mary Oliver invites us, whether dancing or slicing melons, live ‘gesture by gesture,’ mind with body.

*Heartfelt thanks to Alicia, who gave me this book as a 64th birthday present. How I cherish it, and Alicia.