Sunday, September 18, 2011

What you what you get

In the 1960's Donald Egolf, a research Horticulturalist at the National Arboretum, began hybridizing Crape Myrtle Trees (Lagerstroemia.)   His goal was to create a tree that was resistant to powdery mildew.  Before he ever discovered a cross that successfully resisted the mildew, he managed to create trees that stood up to the cold, that had varying heights,habits, flower colors, fall foliage colors, and bark characteristics.  A man with a different attitude may have given up.  From an outsider's perspective, unintended positive traits could be seen as repeated failure instead of  success.  For many years there was disparity between his achievement and his goal.  However, as a result of the lengthy disparity, 24 types of Crape Myrtles were introduced.  Had he succeeded on his first try in the fight against powdery mildew we might not have all the varieties we see in the nurseries today.

And so I pose these questions: In life, do you spend your time in the negative space between where you are and where you thought you'd be?  Do you value things intrinsically or do you only value them based on an outside standard? 

Once I saw a painting of a white gardenia, on a dark lush background.  I attempted to recreate the painting in a mosaic form.  When the mosaic was completed, I hated it because it didn't look like the painting.  It had no value to me because it didn't compare well with the vision in my mind of something else.  Months later I came across it.  The light hit the pieces in a such a way that it was full of texture and depth. I started to appreciate the mosaic for itself.  Not it's value compared to what inspired it, but it's intrinsic value as a mosaic.  Was it pretty?  Was it intricate? Was it interesting?  Yes,yes and yes.  Whether or not it looked like original painting became irrelevant.  Making comparisons hardly ever aids in creativity because nothing begets nothing.  Adding negatives never produces a positive. Fixating on emptiness is not a way to be filled.

This summer I thought a lot about the significance of perspective.  Day to day, a satisfying life comes from recognizing things for what they are instead of focusing on what they aren't. The disparity between what things are and what you think they should be is negative space. In photography and art, the negative space can be vehicles for the feeling the piece is trying to evoke. The art is intended to make you feel a certain way. But in  real life negative space only contains two things: Potential and disappointment. Potential to fill the space, disappointment that the space exists. There must be a better place to focus.  There must be something richer to see.

What do you see?  Is it something alive, something with momentum?  See what life is...forget what life isn't.

Abraham Lincoln said it best:
Photo by LAM

"We can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses."

Wednesday, September 7, 2011


My work at the Arboretum is highlighted on days when I get a surprise visit from any kind of wildlife.  What makes it doubly exciting are the like minded individuals who work with me.  Whether it is someone announcing over the radio that they saw a Scarlet Tanager or a discussion about a fox someone saw darting out of sight in the Brickyard, the staff are full of stories.  This creates camaraderie and mutual respect. It's a gift to find a place where you walk in and feel immediately in midst of friends...this is mine.

This season's star is Ed's turtle.  Ed named him Eddie. (Surprise) He is a box turtle with exceptionally yellow markings. Ed found him sitting out in turf the Boxwood Collection.  When I asked Ed why he thinks they are called Box Turtles, he said, "Probably because they like to hang out in the Boxwood."  (I almost believed him.) Ed brought him over to Friendship in the bed of his pick-up. He found some worms and this is a picture of him eating on his first day.  This was at the beginning of August. Every morning since, he's in the same spot in the Boxwood.  Ed finds him and feeds him worms and crickets and turns on the water for him, and then puts him back where he found him. He's pretty much part of the crowd now and everyday someone asks, "Did you feed the turtle this morning?"

In addition to the turtle I've seen numerous types of butterflies and a Leopard Frog.  One day after two years of carefully looking, I finally saw a Black Snake. I startled it and it slid backwards into a hole. 

One morning while cleaning up the hanging basket of Million Bells I saw, in my periphery, something that looked like a beetle or a bee flying towards me.  I looked up to see a hummingbird, hovering right before my eyes.  I froze, hoping to prolong her visit. She hung in the air for a good 10 seconds before flying away.  She has visited a few times since. I watched her make her way around to each Lantana flower before she flew to a tiny branch at the top of an Arborvitea in our yard. She rested there so calmly, head proudly raised to the sky.  It's the longest I've seen a hummingbird be still. 

For a longtime it was my wish to see an Indigo Bunting.  They are an unbelievable flash of bright blue that you'll miss if you blink.  I saw one female early last season.  But it was so fast that I wasn't sure.  They fly high for such a tiny bird and like to perch on the top of grasses.  But this year I saw the male twice.  Mission accomplished. What a magical creature.

One of the best interactions I had with nature was at the Beach.  For two days a huge community of Dolphins enjoyed the very area where we were swimming.  We watched them jump the waves and play together, so close to us that we could see their faces.  They swam in lines and rows and families at the edge of the area where it was safe to swim. It was as if they were showing us the line between the shallow and the very deep.

Being observant about issues regarding, economics, politics and cruelty around the world can sometimes make you wish you were more oblivious, but being observant about your outdoor surroundings can directly impact how happy you feel.  It can make you realize how deeply and fiercely you cherish being alive. The stories we're heard of Dolphins feeling and experiencing pleasure, of saving people's lives are not made-up.  They seem to have perfectly aligned moral compasses. A Hummingbird is almost an impossibility, half bug, half bird, she seems something out of a fairy story. But she isn't made up either, she's real. There to remind us, that we are equipped to do the impossible, wildlife proves that the unlikely can be your reality.  

"You can change your life by changing your mind."--spoken by some television personality