Posts Tagged ‘joy’

Dogwood at sunset.4 1 2020

One evening this week, as the sun began to set, the little dogwood in our front yard filled with late-afternoon sunshine and held it. As John Muir, the naturalist, conservationist, and champion of American national parks once said: 

Spring work is going on with joyful enthusiasm.

The dogwood is going about its spring work not only with joyful enthusiasm, but with a flair for the dramatic that makes me very proud. I feel the tree is a kindred spirit, because part of my spring work this year has also been an attempt to hold sunshine and preserve it. Here are three recent projects:

Dandelion salve. Dandelion salveA reportedly pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory ointment, dandelion salve may or may not ease the pain of arthritis, but it absolutely glows like trapped sunlight. Knowing that I could harvest dandelions to make salve transformed my ill-will toward dandelions. Suddenly, having more dandelions in the yard than anyone else on earth became a point of pride, something to celebrate. I collected a cup or two of the blooms, made a dandelion-infused oil, then performed the necessary magic that turned it into actual, successful, impressively rich and golden salve. I gave a good portion of the batch to my dad for testing. He said it makes his hands shiny.

A scarecrow! 

Another spring project that we tackled with enthusiasm was the making of our first scarecrow. We hope he’ll keep the critters and birds from eating our young garden. I have tied lengths of twine to his hands, with aluminum pie pans on the ends, thinking that when they blow in the wind they might startle the more nervous rabbits. After we got the scarecrow up, I had him model nearly every hat and helmet we had in the house. That last one is a fascinator, which would be nice for Easter but honestly wasn’t nearly as becoming as some of the other choices. It seems almost to enhance his pallor.

Wildflower teas. Recently a vast crop of white clover blossoms appeared near the back door, so this morning I brewed a quart of white clover tea. There it is at left, quietly humming along. White Clover TeaDoesn’t our Mexican cherub almost look as if he plans to take a dip in the tea? This is the second wildflower tea I’ve brewed this season, out of an abundance of flowers, an unusual amount of free time, and (most importantly) access to the wonderful website Grow Forage Cook Ferment (also responsible for the salve, above). Wild violets—we have them in purple and white, scattered all over our five acres—made a lovely teal-colored tea. Both teas taste of spring and are perfectly pleasant, especially when sweetened with a drop of honey. I have read that violet and clover teas are anti-inflammatory and bolster the immune system, which are strong arguments in their favor no matter what they taste like. On the other hand, having had two cups of iced clover tea in a five-hour span, I am beginning to wonder if the muscles in my back are seizing up. They feel a bit odd.

Come to think of it, I probably shouldn’t drink strange brews with such gusto, but should sample them judiciously first. But don’t you feel that judiciousness is anathema to joyful enthusiasm? That being so, I say let my muscles seize up! I will rub them with dandelion salve, and if I am not healed, at least I’ll be shiny.

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My neighbor, Sharon, sent around a notice in early November that she was having a show of her handmade clothes for American Girl dolls. I decided to go and check out the goods, since my niece owns an American Girl doll. Anna received the doll last Christmas, and I figured she might be due for some new things.

I have never seen so many adorable little outfits in one place: snowsuits and sundresses and one especially beautiful white dress with a scalloped hem that Sharon made from a tablecloth. But ultimately I chose a pair of red-and-white striped pajamas with a matching pillow and gave them to Anna when we went to North Carolina for Thanksgiving. 

Anna said, “Thanks! This would be great with the American Girl wheelchair that I want.”  (Yes, they sell wheelchairs for dolls now. Or you can purchase an ensemble—a wheelchair, crutches, and a bandage for only $41.99!)  That was the end of it, because Anna didn’t have the doll with her. 

I had pretty much forgotten about the whole thing until about two weeks later—maybe three—when my sister sent me an e-mail saying that Anna had taken a photo and asked her to forward it to me. The picture is featured above. 

I forwarded the e-mail to Sharon so she could see for herself how her work was appreciated.

And that’s when the magic happened.

The next day, I got an e-mail response from Sharon:  “I’ve left something on your front porch,” it read.  I stepped out the front door. There, wrapped in tissue paper inside a brown bag. I found a red fleece doll-sized bathrobe and a matching pair of slippers.

Gratitude is a powerful force.

In the last couple of weeks, as I prepared to leave my job and move on to a new challenge, I have had an avalanche of kindness descend upon me—lunches, cards, home-cooked food, accessories, books, hand-crafted and carefully chosen items for my home, even  a surprise party with cake and testimonials!  And all the time I felt like I’d been enchanted, rendered speechless.  “There aren’t words,” I thought.  “There is no way I can ever express how grateful I am.”  The best I could do at the party was compare it to a Quaker funeral—which I intended as high praise, but may not have come out exactly right.

My friends gave me so much, that they even filled my need for words. One of my parting gifts—a book by Anne Lamott called Help Thanks Wow: The Three Essential Prayers—gave me some words I can borrow, for now, until I can get Anna to make me a handmade sign that shines with charm as hers does.

Gratitude begins in our hearts and then dovetails into behavior. It almost always makes you willing to be of service, which is where the joy resides.  … When you are aware of all that has been given to you, in your lifetime and in the past few days, it is hard not to be humbled and pleased to give back.

Most humbling of all is to comprehend the lifesaving gift that your pit crew of people has been for you, and all the experiences you have shared, the journeys together, the collaborations… the solidarity you have shown one another. 

To my entire pit crew of people: Thank you.  I am humbled, pleased to give back, and eager to be of service.  There is so much joy mixed up in all of these feelings, that it’s hard to know precisely where it does reside.  I expect it’s humming along the invisible, electric lines that connect us to one another.

Merry Christmas!

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Aug 10 2012 003

We came across a row of mysterious doors in the park last Friday evening. There was no explanation for them, although signage is abundant everywhere else in the park— especially next to the creek, which the locals call a river. Stern warnings advised us repeatedly not to swim, fish, or dabble in the waterway, which is a possible conduit for sewage when the rains fall heavy.

If playing in the water is forbidden, maybe it would be all right to play with the doors. There is no posted warning not to, nor is there any explanation of what they are for. A child’s elaborate play village?  Representative of a pretend motel or apartment complex?  I decided the doors must be part of an art installation, perhaps in the process of being dismantled. I went online to see if I could find anything about it. I couldn’t.

What I found instead was artist Jeff Waldman, who installed tiny, unexplained portals around the San Francisco Bay Area. He sent out a call for artists to create little Alice-in-Wonderland fairy doors, and then he attached them randomly around town for people to discover and enjoy.

Jeff Waldman is all about joy.  Here’s how he describes another of his Happiness Projects, one that involved swings:

To start, we set out across San Francisco and installed swings. A lot of them. The first in a series of projects aimed at discovering the unexpected, lost and often ignored pleasures that make life so amazingly joyous.

The moment when you first surrender yourself—for many, the first time in decades—your stomach rises a bit, the wind catches your hair and at the apex of that first swing it’s instant smiles. Lying on your back, staring up the sky through a few lofty branches and for a second gravity is only teasing about pulling you down. Some giggled. Most laughed. No one walked away without a huge grin and sunnier disposition.People passed these on their way to work. Walking home. Running errands. Going through the motions of a mundane existence. Almost all of them stopped to see what we were doing. Some asked to try them. Others had to be offered an excuse to succumb to something so child-like. Every one of them learned an incredible lesson in giving yourself up to simplistic delights that every child knows so well and so many adults have dismissed and forgotten.

The man in the parting shot of the video let his young autistic son try out our second install of the day. You could see Dad eyeing the swing the whole time with a little jealousy. That itch in the back of his brain that hadn’t been scratched in forty years. We asked him if he would please get on it…that it would make our day. He didn’t require much goading. He wedged himself in and gave a little shake to get going. He didn’t have much luck so we offered to give him a push. He scoffed just a bit. Everyone old enough to have a mortgage thinks they’re above a push. But he relented. Surrendered to that basic urge to indulge in something joyous. The very second he took off there was a giggle. I swear to God, a giddy little scream escaped that man and his legs kicked out instinctively. His son laughed near the point of tears, probably not having seen his dad let go like that in quite some time. Instant and utter happiness.

We could all use more happiness. So get out there. Open a mysterious door. Swing. Let yourself be pushed, especially if you have a mortgage.

Enjoy the ride.

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