Through Hills and Seas to the Universe

I carved out some time on my birthday to sit in the garden, despite deadlines, mosquitoes and heat, to sit and sketch. It was quiet except for the chirping of birds (especially numerous in our tiny garden this spring) and the distant hum of air-conditioners along the alley. Even a short time spent among growing things is restorative. I share the sketch and this poem.


The trees put forth luxuriant foliage,
the spring begins to flow in a trickle.
I admire the seasonableness of nature
and am moved to think
That my life will come to its close.
So little time are we granted human form in the world.
My eyes wander
over the pictures of hills and seas.
At a single glance
I survey the whole universe.
He will never be happy,
whom such pleasures fail to please!

—Tao Ch’ien



Mothers Day


On my way back from the Library of Congress one morning, it was such a beautiful day that I took my time strolling through Capitol Hill, and I came across this mysterious garden—completely fenced, with no apparent connection to any of the surrounding houses, and bearing no sign, yet obviously cared for.

Often I carry my sketchbook without taking the opportunity to use it, but this time I justified my delayed return in order to sketch a subject so suitable to the season. Happy Mothers Day, all you Blessed Mothers everywhere, past, present, and to come!

The Sunlight on the Garden

As we approach the end of summer, a rather melancholy poem, on the birthday of its author John MacNeice (1907-1963). By way of contrast, a watercolor of sunny wood poppies, which bloom most satisfactorily all season long and sprinkle their seed generously every year, ensuring a steady supply of offspring. Painted for sunny and generous Colette.


The sunlight on the garden
Hardens and grows cold,
We cannot cage the minute
Within its nets of gold;
When all is told
We cannot beg for pardon.

Our freedom as free lances
Advances towards its end;
The earth compels, upon it
Sonnets and birds descend;
And soon, my friend,
We shall have no time for dances.

The sky was good for flying
Defying the church bells
And every evil iron
Siren and what it tells:
The earth compels,
We are dying, Egypt, dying

And not expecting pardon,
Hardened in heart anew,
But glad to have sat under
Thunder and rain with you,
And grateful too
For sunlight on the garden.

—Louis Macneice

A Field Trip for Moms


If you have not yet visited Tudor Place in Washington, DC, and the mothers in your life (perhaps including yourself) are fans of garden walks/historic houses/afternoon tea, you may want to add it to your Expeditions list. Built in 1816 by Martha Washington’s granddaughter, Tudor Place sits on, unbelievably, five (5!) acres in the middle of Georgetown, and is a green, flowery and bird-filled retreat from the busy surrounding streets.

I post this sketch today because Tudor Place was one of our three-generation (grandmother-mother-daughter) destinations when my mother was still with us, and every visit is a lovely, though poignant, reminder. Happy Mothers Day, Mom, and all you mothers out there. May your day hold flowers and bird-song.



My Heart is Like a Singing Bird

On this Valentine’s Day, a poem by Christina Rossetti, and a painting.

For another beautiful Valentine poem, and a different painting, please see The Song of Wandering Aengus.


My heart is like a singing bird
Whose nest is in a water’d shoot;
My heart is like an apple-tree
Whose boughs are bent with thick-set fruit;
My heart is like a rainbow shell
That paddles in a halcyon sea;
My heart is gladder than all these,
Because my love is come to me.

Raise me a daïs of silk and down;
Hang it with vair and purple dyes;
Carve it in doves and pomegranates,
And peacocks with a hundred eyes;
Work it in gold and silver grapes,
In leaves and silver fleurs-de-lys;
Because the birthday of my life
Is come, my love is come to me.

—Christina Rossetti (1830-1894)



New Year’s Resolution: Garden


Every year I plan to be organized enough to start our vegetables INDOORS instead of succumbing to the purchase of seedlings at the garden center. I’ve managed it only twice, but I remain hopeful. The beautiful High Mowing Organic Seeds catalogue just arrived in the mail, with its tempting photographs of artichokes, fennel, and ornamental gourds… items I know will never be seen in our tiny, semi-shaded Mid-Atlantic garden unless they fall out of the grocery bag on the way to the house. However, those Japanese greens and Red Russian kale look pretty interesting.

I still have time. (And so do you!)

For another resolution, please see Library.

This World is not Conclusion

Today is the birthday of Emily Dickinson (1830-1886), and it is difficult to choose from among her rich and relentless outpouring. But here is one to ponder as we move inexorably, yet hopefully, toward the darkest time of year.


This World is not Conclusion.
A Species stands beyond —
Invisible, as Music —
But positive, as Sound —
It beckons, and it baffles —
Philosophy — don’t know —
And through a Riddle, at the last —
Sagacity, must go —
To guess it, puzzles scholars —
To gain it, Men have borne
Contempt of Generations
And Crucifixion, shown —
Faith slips — and laughs, and rallies —
Blushes, if any see —
Plucks at a twig of Evidence —
And asks a Vane, the way —
Much Gesture, from the Pulpit —
Strong Hallelujahs roll —
Narcotics cannot still the Tooth
That nibbles at the soul —

—Emily Dickinson


Advent I: I Heard an Angel Singing


This year the First Sunday of Advent happens to fall on the birthday of visionary poet and artist William Blake (1757-1827). And so it seems appropriate to post this poem, with its manifestation of hope in the midst of bleak reality.

I heard an Angel singing
When the day was springing,
“Mercy, Pity, Peace
Is the world’s release.”
Thus he sung all day
Over the new mown hay,
Till the sun went down
And haycocks looked brown.
I heard a Devil curse
Over the heath and the furze,
“Mercy could be no more,
If there was nobody poor,
And pity no more could be,
If all were as happy as we.”
At his curse the sun went down,
And the heavens gave a frown.
Down pour’d the heavy rain
Over the new reap’d grain …
And Miseries’ increase
Is Mercy, Pity, Peace.

—William Blake

United Nations Day

These drawings are from a couple of sketchbook-journals carried on visits to the beautiful gardens of Dumbarton Oaks in Georgetown, Washington, DC. However, I post them not for the sake of those lovely gardens themselves (to which the sketches don’t do justice) but in honor of today’s anniversary of the ratification of the charter for the brand-new United Nations. Perhaps some of you folks out there already knew that the foundation of its charter had been hammered out at Dumbarton Oaks. I only learned it recently.



Dumbarton Oaks, built in 1801 as a private home, was purchased in 1920 by diplomat Robert Bliss and his wife Mildred. With Beatrix Ferrand they created the fabulous gardens and renovated the house, adding a music room for concerts and lectures, and a museum for their art collection. In 1940 they gave the property to Harvard University.

Although in 1940 the United States had not yet even officially entered the Second World War, entities private and governmental were already discussing the possible creation of a post-war international peacekeeping organization—but secretly, because of the strong isolationist, anti-League of Nations element existing in the country. Isn’t it amazing what significant matters we managed to keep secret in a pre-Internet era?

FDR first offered the optimistic term “United Nations” to refer to such an organization in a 1942 Declaration composed at the Arcadia Conference by the USA, the UK, the USSR, China, and twenty-two other countries to lay out their common goals during and after the war. Other nations signed on later. Bliss, speaking for Harvard, offered the use of Dumbarton Oaks as a possible location for future talks. This setting was deemed suitable, and the offer was accepted.

So, between August and October, 1944, representatives of the USSR, the UK, the USA, and China (although never with the USSR and China at the same table at the same time!) gathered at Dumbarton Oaks to wander the lawns, dine in the Orangery, and sit in the music room for a series of discussions. At their conclusion, the four nations had agreed upon a series of proposals which, along with provisions born of the Yalta conference, formed the basis for the new United Nations Charter, which was signed in San Francisco on October 24th, 1945.

Among the goals were these: The development of friendly international relations. The strengthening and maintenance of international peace and security. The removal of threats to peace through collective cooperation. And collective measures to solve economic and humanitarian problems.

What an impressive and inspiring global perspective, especially for a species that only a few thousand years earlier routinely regarded an unfamiliar tribe as the enemy. (This antiquated response is occasionally observed even now.) May we see these goals one day fully realized.


Yahrzeit2Aunt Mary