The Large and Small of It

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I was still up in my northwest office on a recent evening when a line of storms came through.

It wasn’t much of a storm up there. Although some people on the north side had hail, and we had a little hail last week (and if there are going to be iceballs falling out of the sky in Austin it will usually be up around my office), all we had gotten was a bit of rain and a gloomy sky. It was noticeably chilly when Travis and I left for the day.

But as I drove home on an amazingly empty MoPac, which offers quite a view of the sky, I could see that some impressive weather had happened. It was one of those skies that looks like every type of cloud and every shade of blue-gray had been thrown across its expanse. We could call it a very busy sky.

Once home I jettisoned my work clothes as quickly as possible and headed out the door to collect the 5,000 steps I still needed and see if there would be any photos worth taking. Sunset photos, I know. But it seems a good time to remember that there is still beauty in this world, even if it is – as it seems – beyond the reach of humans.

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Sometimes the idea of “rising above” is exactly what is needed.

I wish I were better at seeking solace in nature. I did TA a British Romantic Poetry course for two years, for Pete’s sake. But I find nature mostly terrifying: composed almost entirely of things that can hurt, maim, kill, and eat you. As soon as I start waxing rhapsodic in my mind, I’ll see a clump of cat fur left over from a coyote’s dinner, or remember a recent news article about someone killed by a falling tree branch in Washington. DC! Not even the heavily forested Washington!

Usually the best I can ask for is a quieter mind, a few minutes of leaving my petty problems alone and taking in an entire universe about which I can do almost nothing.

We don’t expect the air to be a chilly as it was this late in May. We don’t expect a storm to turn a humid day to a clear cool night; we usually just expect intensified heat and even worse humidity. As I walked the slow curving uphill toward the fancy pants neighborhood hoping to get the best view, I was aware of my hands going numbingly cold and wished I weren’t in sandals. But I couldn’t stop watching.

That’s the thing about sunsets: you know perfectly well how they’re going to turn out, but the light show is changing by the second and you don’t want to miss any of it.

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I found myself wishing I had a camera that could shoot the whole sky at once. It would have been worth lying on my back in the middle of Travis Country Circle to get the shot. Everywhere I looked the sky was doing something different.

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There was gold, there was silver, there was pink. And every blue the sky gets. I thought back to an evening many years ago, when my then-husband’s best grad school friend’s brother was visiting. If I tell you he was an avid bird watcher who could also accurately count at least seven decks of cards at a blackjack table (and had been kicked out of enough Vegas casinos to attest to it), you get some idea of Bruce as a pretty interesting guy. He and my roommate were chatting on our way out to dinner and he asked her, a native Texan, what was something she thought special about Texas.

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The skies, she said simply. Even though I live in a relatively hilly part of the state, and have for half my life now, my Connecticut self never ceases to be amazed by how much sky I can see from here. And how big it is.

On the other hand, a recent morning walk with Travis saw me all interested in flowers that are dime-sized and smaller. Of course I wasn’t carrying a dime, so all I had to use for scale was Travis’s leash. Remember he’s a good-sized border collie with a sturdy leash.

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It’s along that stretch of curving road where there’s a miniature meadow planted with a dazzling array of wildflowers. At the moment Mexican hats (here), blanket flowers (here), and little daisies dominate. They could distract you from their tiny brethren, but it’s worth bending down for a good close look. This flower is the one on the bottom in the above photo:

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There’s an interesting little white flower all over the place, too; it’s just about the size of those orange beauties. That’s a plain old regular-size ant on there, and I’m sorry about my lack of focus. I’d blame it on the fact that I only had my phone, but we both know that’s not the problem. I just could not believe the tiny dabs of different colors in each of those minuscule flowers. Who would have bothered?

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A quick pass with my phone camera inspired me to go out with a real actual camera camera. I have rock-solid data to prove that the air outside can be absolutely motionless, still as the grave, nothing moving; and the instant I even think “macro,” the wind starts. Oh well, perfection is probably a wrong-headed goal. I’m certainly not disciplined enough to wait for there to be no wind, since such a condition is so fragile anyway.

Here’s another one that’s similar in size to the first two:

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I’m on my knees in the rocky dirt, my big umbrella propped as a sort of wind screen and also serving as insurance against the rain which must certainly be imminent when it is 473% humidity. I don’t know what passers-by must have thought.

This next flower is larger than those above, but still well within size-of-a-dime limits.

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I mean, really! It’s like a carpet of miniature miniature orchids.

This last little guy is really tiny. You could fit half a dozen of the flowers on a dime, I’m quite sure. They float companionably on four-inch stalks, like sweet little faces daring you to step on them. This one was holding onto a drop of the humidity that was starting to run in rivulets down my back. Such is the nature of my connection with nature.

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I don’t want to end without mentioning my birthday present from Floyd. It was a steel base for something!

But then I was supposed to figure out a steel base for what.

Could a frame be attached that would hold a nice finished piece of 3/4 inch plywood, so I could have a larger sewing table behind the couch, one that would hold both sewing machine and serger?

Floyd didn’t think so.

I’m pretty sure he had a plant stand of some sort in mind. Okay, well, then I will want it to be on casters because sometimes plants have to be moved and I grow weary of the pitched battle needed to wrestle plants into and out of the greenhouse when the time comes.

Casters would be no problem.

But did I want a stand for one big plant? I thought citrus, but the folks at the Natural Gardener want you to remove all foliage and fruit for two years because Texas laws require that baby citrus be treated with insecticide that isn’t exactly organic, and it takes two years’ growth to clean up that act.

I have no idea where I’ll be in two weeks, let alone two years. (Well, in two weeks I’ll be at Mary’s house, but you get my drift.)

At last I said, how about a plant tree that could hold several 12″ hanging baskets? Then I basically forgot all about it. Then one evening – I think the evening Lucy came to live with us – a new thing appeared on the patio. I think Floyd likes to sort of drop my presents in obvious places to see how long it will take me to find them as I walk back and forth past them fifty or a hundred times. This is what I saw:

It stands about five feet tall and all that texture is a very time-consuming (and rod-consuming!) array of welds. I couldn’t wait to hang pots of my favorite dark red bougainvillea from it! The decision was made to let it rust a little, and then clear-coat.

But did the Natural Gardener have any hanging pots of dark red bougainvillea? No. Nor did they have any the second time I went out. But what they did have were candy-colored arrays of purslane.

I remember purslane as portulaca, and I remember being very little and helping Carolyn from two cottages over in Westbrook collect the poppyseed-like seeds from the flowers at the end of summer. We put them in a square milk glass salt shaker with a blue windmill on it. She told me the seeds would be planted next year, in the same circle at the base of the flag pole.

I may not be Wordsworth, but I can manage to eke at least some comfort from the continuity of nature.

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From outdoors and in, it is a very pretty sight.

2 thoughts on “The Large and Small of It

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