The Daily Muse

Thoughts from an Austin Garden  -- October 2007


Last update: October 31


The National Cathedral in Washington.


October 1 - morning


Well, as advertised, here are  a few of the images from my recent trip...



A sheltered overlook at Dumbarton Oaks.



An oval allee of trimmed trees at Dumbarton Oaks.



At your leisure...



The largest Japanese maple I have ever seen, Dumbarton Oaks.



Cascading stones and plants.



A garden gate.



In the green room, Dumbarton Oaks.



The gardens at the Smithsonian.



The "moon gate" gardens at the Smithsonian. Note how the circular bench in the background echoes the form of the gate in the foreground. Very cool.



The courtyard of the Freer Gallery at the Smithsonian.



A closer view.



The World War II Memorial on the Mall.




The Viet Nam Memorial.



A small service was just concluding.




Canadian Geese swimming in the reflection of the Lincoln Memorial.



A little wider.



Flying buttresses at the National Cathedral.



The Bishop's garden at the National Cathedral.




October 2 - morning


In the courtyard of Union Theological Seminary, New York.


My trip to the East Coast involved a very quick trip to New York for a couple of meetings. One of the meetings was in the area known as "Seminary Row," where several of America's great theological seminaries and many of its religious institutions are located or headquartered. I didn't have time to take many photographs, but here are a few...



Riverside Cathedral as seen from Grant's Tomb, New York.





























Columbia University Quadrangle.


October 5 - morning


Gardens "sheds" at Dumbarton Oaks.


One of the highligts of my recent trip to the East Coast was a peaceful afternoon spent at Dumbarton Oaks in Washington D.C.. Dumbarton Oaks was the home of a former diplomat and art collector and is internationally known as the site of a conference that led to the creation of the United Nations at the end of Wold War II. Today, it's extensive library and art collection are important centers for the study of Byzantium, pre-Columbian Art, and the the history of gardening. The ten acre garden was designed by the legendary landscape artist, Beatrix Jones Farrand. The gardens are a masterfully orchestrated series of spaces all utilizing classical European garden motifs. Despite the precise and formal design, some areas have a decidedly American energy to them. Here are a few more pictures, enjoy...



A terrace bordered with perennials overlooking a woodland and an orchard.


Another view of the terrace mentioned above looking off to the right.




The gardens are located on many different levels and are connected via beautiful walkways.



Goldenrod in the cutting garden.



Shaggy and overflowing with energy, yet bounded by a tight framework of hedges and walls.



A tromp l'oeil gate that artificially extends the view of a short path.



A quiet nook.


The pebble garden.


October 10 - evening


Shrunken legs dragging her forward.

Shrunken arms hanging

over the glinting arms of her chair.

Head bowed, she wheels herself

through the darkened parking lot

towards the liquor store's glare.


Not a pretty picture, but there it was - I witnessed the scene above just a few minutes ago as I was driving home from a local coffee house where I had been visiting with friends. I was  listening to Mary Oliver recite her poem "When Death Comes" on the DVD player of my car and I was thinking about a friend who was just diagnosed with breast cancer that has metastasized. And then, out of the corner of my eye, the sad scene appeared. What a strange confluence of thoughts and images...


Mary Oliver says that, "When it's over, I want to say: all my life I was a bride married to amazement, I was the bridegroom, taking the world in my arms."


My friend is strong, and filled with spirit. I can actually see her stepping through that door with widened, curious eyes (if this is indeed her time.)


But, what about that woman in the parking lot? When I hear politicians and preachers talking about a moral society and family values, why aren't they talking about the millions of abandoned people in our country, why aren't they talking about her?


October 14 - morning


Potted Agave, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.


I have been busy working on a tribute to Lady Bird Johnson, the program will air on Thanksgiving night here in Austin. Yesterday, I had the pleasure of spending the day at the Lady Bird Johnosn Wildflower Center and took the images below. Enjoy...




A wider view of the potted Ageve (Agave havardiana, I believe.)



Queen butterlies were mobbing the Gregg's Mist Flower.



Another view.



A common mestra butterfly. (Thanks for the I.D. sis!)



American Beauty Berry.



A meadow garden punctuated by several forms of yucca.



A wider view.



Agaves and grasses... a great combination.



Maximillian sunflower.


October 22 - morning


A strong cold front just blew though accompanied by a brief downpour. This is the first true cold front of the season and I am breathing a sigh of relief - finally, autumn has reached Central Texas!


Another meadow image from The Wildflower Center.


Looking at the image above reminds me of  the first written descriptions of the Hill Country as a lush grassy savannah - an open landscape that was home to massive herds of bison. Today of course, the Hill Country is largely a tangle of cedar; the soil, once held in place by the abundant grasses has been washed away leaving rutted scars of exposed caliche running across the landscape. Since the introduction of cattle, fences, and the suppression of wildfires (that renewed the grasslands and held the cedar in-check) we have unintentionally let much of the Hill Country become a barren monoculture. However, images like the one above show that the grasslands can be restored. In some places this kind of restoration has been done on quite a large scale, like at Selah, Bamberger Ranch. This healing process takes a great deal of work, but the rewards are evident: dried up springs flow once again,  threatened species return, balance is restored.


It seems to me that we could all use some personal restoration work - a return to balance. Our efforts to bend nature to our ends usually result in dis-ease whether in an ecosystem or in our lives. There is a fascinating article in this month's Atlantic Monthly about the physical and mental debilitations resulting from our "multitasking" ways. We are overloading ourselves in the name of... what? Progress? What is progressive about driving while talking on a cell phone,  listening to an I-pod, and gazing at a navigation system? That is a kind of diversity that apparently can lead to brain atrophy if not accidents. (Read the article!)


Every time I think about these kinds of questions I am reminded of the widom of the Tao te Ching:


Fill your bowl to the brim
and it will spill.
Keep sharpening your knife
and it will blunt.
Chase after money and security
and your heart will never unclench.
Care about people's approval
and you will be their prisoner.

Do your work, then step back.
The only path to serenity.

Take some time to day to do nothing but watch the rain and feel the cool!


Express yourself completely,

then keep quiet.

Be like the forces of nature:

when it blows, there is only wind;

when it rains, there is only rain;

when the clouds pass, the sun shines through.


(both passages from the Tao te Ching translated by Stephen Mitchell)


October 31 - morning


What a delightful few weeks we have had here in Austin! The weather has been cool and dry and the garden is positively swarming with butterflies. Many of our trees are shedding their leaves weeks ahead of schedule - they seem a bit exhausted after all of the intense growth that was fueled by the monsoon earlier in the year. My schedule has been pretty frenetic and hasn't allowed me nearly enough time to simply enjoy the garden, but just a few moments ago when I was out picking up the paper, a screech owl kept me company for a few splendid moments. It was perched on a low hanging branch over our front walk, its haunting call stopped me in my tracks and we looked into one another's eyes for a brief time. Finally, it lifted its wings and glided away into the darkness of our neighbor's yard. It felt as if I had drawn water from a deep healing spring - a nice way to start the day!


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