Monday, April 16, 2012

The Understory...

Enchanted Forest Norfolk Botanical Garden photo: L.A.M.
Recently, while driving on I-95, I found myself delighted by the flashes of color in the woods.  Given a moment to look, it was the forest's diminutive beauties showing off their color for Spring--Lilacs, Dogwoods, Forsythia and a rainbow of Azaleas--These dainty hardwoods make up the Understory-- While petite, these trees are ready to put on a show.  Batting their figurative eyelashes and showing their curves, alluring birds, bees and people alike they say,

 "Venture into the woods to see us!"  
"Taste our nectar, bask in our fragrance---we are stunning."

The forest's towering grandfathers-- Oak, Maple and Beech-- are more discrete, they brush off the winter dust, distributing their seeds without fanfare.

Only in Spring does the understory have the spotlight. By May the winsome blossoms are long forgotten. The larger trees have taken center stage. We become unaware of the understory because it's mixed in the bramble.  But--even when we can't see it--it's there--existing, thriving, contributing. 

And isn't it interesting that we call these smaller trees, the Understory?  It's a very human label--not a scientific term. When we refer to a person's understory we say, "background, point of view, context, or details."  Whatever we are referring to, we are talking about something underneath the surface.

Here are the details of the relationship between the forest's towering canopy and the understory:

The giant trees are genetically engineered to grow up to 100 feet.  The smaller flowering trees and shrubs are only designed to be 10-15 feet tall.  In this way they are well suited to live together.

The ostentatious flowers of the understory trees attract the attention of the pollinators early.  They get all the sunlight they need to leaf out when the tall trees are still in bud.  They complete the business of pollination, and collect plenty of energy from the sun, before the larger tree's leaves appear.  At that point, the tall trees take most of the sunlight for their own photosynthetic process, but it's okay because the understory trees are satisfied and are enjoying the dappled shade that the giants provide.

In this way they are not competing for resources, they are existing together in harmony. Each tree-- the tall and the small-- fulfilling its intended destiny.

Without knowing the details however, we might not understand this relationship.

And so it's logical that if there is a background and a context to every forest, then there are details and stories to every human being.  Our current disposition is a result of our understory.  It's not an excuse, but it is an insight. We are responsible for what we do with what we have, but there is an understory, a place that we came from.  There are parts that we can't see yet, parts we don't not know about other people.

If we miss the forest's spring showcase, it may take a full year before we get a glimpse.  A forest can take a lifetime to display all it's secrets and its gems.  So it is with people. Be on the lookout for the understory. Be aware of its mystery, and its beauty.

“You never really know a man until you understand things from his point of view, until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”
 Lee, Harper. To Kill a Mockingbird. J.B. Lippincott & Co., 1960

Monday, April 2, 2012

My DC bucket list

Like a parade of hope, Spring marches into view, awakening our senses and redirecting us with her steady determination.   Revealing herself slowly at first, the white and pink Magnolias open on bare branches, floating their perfume on the still chilly breeze.  She picks up speed when the Forsythia and the Quince pop, Daffodils bob, Tulips stand tall, and then the Redbuds emerge, revealing their heart-shaped leaves--the sweethearts of spring. One by one Cherry Blossoms burst, clinging to their branches like snow before they flutter to the earth. The Crab Apples flash their vibrant pink petals, Dogwoods unfurl and soon the fragrance of lilacs and viburnum fill the air.
Leaf by leaf, blossom by blossom, Spring allures us outdoors and back on the town.  Stiff from winter's monochrome, the rainbow of flowering trees has us refreshed and ready for a new adventure. 

My Spring Adventure is a DC bucket list of sorts:

1. Eat at as many DC restaurants as possible and rate the food  

2. Sit at the National Gallery's Jazz in the Garden on a Friday evening
3. Go to a Screen on the Green event
4.  Go to the Portrait Gallery
5. See a show at Arena stage and at the National Theater
6.  Visit the LBJ memorial
7. Go to a Nats Game
8. Go to a Wizards Game

It's no surprise that I've gone right to work on Item 1.   I found the perfect partner in crime to enjoy this city wide taste test with me. I'm thinking we should don aliases like Victor and Veronica or Margaret and Norman--when we are in food critic mode.

First stop:  
The Madison Hotel Restaurant (The Federalist)

We started at the Hotel bar, both of us chose a drink called Pimm's Cobbler.  Gin, I usually avoid, but this was delicious, not too sweet, not too strong, perfect really.
The decor is true to Madison--elegant modern Americana, layers of chrome and gray with flashes of color.  The restaurant honors our heritage of farmers and fresh vegetables with its creativity and penchant for collaborative, homegrown good tastes.
We started with the Roasted Rainbow Beets and the Potato Leek Flatbread (with goat cheese...yyuuuuumm) Perfectly roasted, and seasoned --through the meal's entirety I never thought to check whether salt and pepper were on the table.
For entrees I ordered the special: Milk Poached Cod with fresh garden peas.  My cohort ordered Amish Chicken Roulade* with Black Truffle Mousse, Baby Carrots, Potato Puree and
Madeira Jus
(The asterick indicates the fact that this meal can be prepared gluten free, a bonus for my gluten intolerant friends)
The savory flavors of the truffle mousse and the jus melded perfectly with the tender chicken.  The cod was so fluffy. The peas, cooked so they still had a green garden crunch.  The entire dish was creamy, light and refreshing.  Besides tasting just right, each dish looked beautiful.
We chatted the evening away and sadly didn't order dessert. Next time!

Nuts and bolts:  Server was friendly, knowledgeable and attentive. Didn't need a reservation. We tried to find something mediocre about the experience-- to no avail.  The only complaint we could muster up was that the bathrooms weren't as innovative as the rest of the place.

Cheers for spring!