January colors and the High Line’s “Four Arches”

Faded grasses, gray skies, a myriad shades of bare branches. The colors of January are, for the most part, soft and muted. Such colors lined the walkway of New York City’s High Line, an elevated park built on an old train line, on a recent early morning walk.

I was struck by how the earthy colors of the leaves and branches blended with the brick of different buildings.

Other times bursts of color stood out, as with the red berries against a bare wall,

the coppery branches set among the evergreens, and a few splashes of yellow.

An unexpected pleasure was coming across one of the “En Plein Air” art installations that enliven the Highline — “Four Arches” by artist Sam Falls.

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A simple walk through the four slender arches provides a subtle thrill, perhaps coming from the delicacy of plant life depicted on the arches. The colors of the painted leaves and flowers blended with the muted quiet of the day. Understated and elegant, the arches seem perfectly situated for the High Line.

The plaque next to the installation explains why the design so resonates with its surroundings. Falls created “four ceramic archways supported by the steel tracks from the High Line’s original railway, each of which is dedicated to a different season in the park. For one year, Falls collected plants from the High Line, embedded them in ceramic, and fossilized them with colorful pigments.” 

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The linearity of the gray steel rails and the painted plant life complement each other in an unexpected way. The artwork is a collection of oppositions: the rails are durable, rigidly straight, industrial and functional; the depictions of plant life are delicate, airy, colorful, organic in shape, and decorative. The nearly hundred-year-old rails contrast with the seasonal ephemeral plants. 

The installation is so slender and unobtrusive that you could easily miss its intricacies, especially when the High Line becomes crowded at midday, or if you are engaged in conversation or taking in the views of the city. From a distance “Four Arches” is one thing — an angular walkway set among the other angles of the surrounding buildings.

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Close up, it becomes a seasonal garden of gorgeous colors and shapes,

full of individual compositions which must have involved countless decisions for the artist: How to present such variety? How best to portray the delicate flowers, leaves, and grasses? Which plants should be placed at eye level, and which will work on the top horizontal beams? How to represent the seasons? Which colors work best together?

“Four Arches” is a welcome garden on a gray January morning.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ursula — the Christmastime series

The Christmastime series takes a turn beginning with Christmastime 1943, with the sub-plot set on Kate’s farm in Illinois. Kate, Charles’s sister, and her two teen-aged daughters, Ursula (17) and Jessica (15), run the farm while her four sons are away at war. With the workforce severely diminished, and the demand for food production greater than ever, Kate does what many farmers had to do – she uses German POWs to help with the farm work.

Her elder daughter Ursula is furious about it. Francis, the brother she was closest to, has recently been killed by the Nazi army and Ursula is filled with anguish and hatred of the German soldiers. She adamantly refuses to have anything to do with the POWs.

Below are a few excerpts from Christmastime 1943: A Love Story, along with images suggestive of scenes with Ursula during the seasons of 1943-1945. Ursula: beautiful, willful, dreamy, passionate. (All images are from my Pinterest board Ursula – the Christmastime series, 1943, 1944, 1945.)

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Our first introduction to Ursula comes from Lillian. She’s been working on a series of war posters with the theme of Women in the Workforce, and the next posters will be on women and farm work. Based on an earlier visit to Kate’s farm, Lillian sketches an image of a young girl on a tractor.

Lillian studied it and realized that she had largely based the girl on Jessica, the younger of Kate’s daughters – blonde, cheerful, wholesome. Lillian had first tried the sketch based on Ursula, but the look was all wrong.

Again, Lillian gazed out the window, tapping the pencil against her cheek. Both of Kate’s daughters were extremely pretty – but Ursula had that elusive quality of beauty. Though her features were striking, Lillian felt that her beauty had more to do with her expressions, her soft way of speaking, her behavior – she was both pensive and brisk – as if her mind pulled her in one direction, and her body in another. No, thought Lillian, Ursula was more difficult to imagine on a tractor than Jessica, even though Kate wrote that Ursula had really taken up the slack at the farm as one by one her brothers had left. It was easier to imagine Ursula as some kind of mythic heroine – Diana the huntress, perhaps, or a winged victory figure.

Lillian thought of Ursula as she was two years ago – setting out on one of her restless walks across the fields or along the country road, or tucked away poring over a book. Her heart was set on going to college, and that was the life that would best suit her. She was intelligent, curious, strong-willed. Kate had sent a photo in the summer, and Ursula was prettier than ever. Lillian began a sketch of such a girl – tall and slim, with wavy dark hair, and those exquisitely lovely eyes – deep blue, beneath eyebrows like angry wings, smooth and beautiful. An air of intensity surrounded her, as if a quiet fire burned within.

Another impression of Ursula comes from Ed, the old farmhand who has worked for the family for years. He has news for Kate regarding the arrival of the POWs, but on hearing Kate and Ursula arguing about it inside, he waits out on the porch, reminiscing about Ursula as a child.

Glancing back at the kitchen door, he thought how he loved them all – Kate and her sons and daughters. He was fond of each and every one of them, but he couldn’t help the soft spot he had for Ursula. Even as a curly-topped child, she had a way of winning people over with her wide-eyed wonder and her demand for answers – “But why? How? What would happen if…?”

He chuckled, remembering how she used to ride around with him on the tractor, how he helped her learn to ride a bike, how she and little Francy used to hold hands as they jumped from the hayloft. And how, after her father died, she had transferred much of the affection for her father onto him.

How quickly the years had passed. Now here she was, almost eighteen years old, and more headstrong than ever. Yet sweet as a summer day. A hard worker, and capable, yet he often caught her staring out at the sunsets, or wondering at the beauty of snowdrifts, or listening to a strain of music on the radio with a hand pressed to her chest. There was a poet inside her, he often thought – though he doubted it would have the chance to come out now. If only she could have gone on to school, like she wanted. Well, there’s still time, he thought. He gave another shake of his head at the memory of the little girl who used to romp around the farm. Ursula. Here she was, seventeen – a breathtaking beauty in overalls.

Now Jessica, he thought, giving a little nod. She had more chance for overall, everyday happiness. Was more practical, down to earth, did not set her expectations up there with the moon. And was dang pretty. But Ursula…

Ed rubbed his whiskers, and his tanned wrinkled face scrunched in worry. She had that kind of dark beauty that troubled the heart. He took off his hat, inspected the rim, and readjusted it on his head. Well, they’re still young. It’ll all work out, somehow – it always does.

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Ursula, after the argument with her mother about having German POWs on the farm.

Ursula plopped down in a chair in her overalls, arms crossed, an angry fire burning in her eyes. The only adornment she allowed herself these days – and in Kate’s eyes, evidence of her contrariness – were the amethyst drop earrings her family had given her after she was accepted into the women’s college downstate. She wore them every day as a reminder that she would go to college. Some day. And though Ursula wouldn’t admit it, she was just as hungry for a bit of beauty as was Jessica – perhaps even more so. In the middle of milking the cows, or feeding the chickens, or hauling firewood into the house, she would lightly touch the earrings – as a reminder of her dreams.

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Jessica later attempts to give another point of view regarding the POWs — but to no avail.

“I was all ready to hate them. I really was. But it’s hard to do when they look like our neighbors. When they look like us.”

Ursula could listen to no more. “Listen to you. They’re brutal Nazis! They’re killing our men. Doing horrible things to the Poles and Jews. You’ve read the papers, seen the newsreels. Don’t be fooled by their appearance. They’re nothing like us. They’re cold-blooded murderers. Never forget that.”

She stuffed the remnants of the overalls into the rag basket, and then stood stiffly, sore from overdoing her chores.

“You look all done in, Ursula,” said Kate. “Why don’t you go soak in a hot bath? It’s been a long day.”

Ursula went upstairs and ran the bathwater, letting her clothes drop heavily to the linoleum floor. She looked at her reflection in the mirror, pushing aside her hair. She did look done in.

She touched the amethyst earrings. It had been so long since she felt pretty, since she had worn a dress, since she had gone to a dance. Everything now was bleak and grim. Her brothers, and most of the town boys, were gone. Everyone was having a hard time, having to adapt to all the changes. For the most part, she didn’t mind. She loved the farm, loved the fields at sunset, had even learned to love the backbreaking work. It kept her mind focused, prevented it from filling with daydreams. Foolish dreams of college and travel, of seeing the beautiful capitals of Europe. She wondered if those cities would even still be standing after this nightmarish war was over.

The steam gradually blurred her reflection – just as her dreams had blurred and faded, she thought. No matter. There wasn’t time for girlish daydreams. Her mother was right; she had behaved childishly today. Work needed to be done, and she would do it. 

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Amazon link:  https://amzn.to/2paLyMt

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Early Spring

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“The snow has not yet left the earth, but spring is already asking to enter your heart.”
― Anton Chekhov

“When spring came, even the false spring, there were no problems except where to be happiest.” – Ernest Hemingway

“That is one good thing about this world…there are always sure to be more springs.”
― L.M. Montgomery

“In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer.” — Albert Camus

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“If winter comes, can spring be far behind?” –Percy Bysshe Shelley

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The Garden House – a novel

A story of love, family, and home set among the lush summer evenings of Seattle. When Miranda rents out her garden house to a mysterious new tenant, she begins to have disturbing dreams that someone is in danger. Is it mid-life crisis? Empty-nest syndrome? Or is something sinister lurking right outside in her beloved garden? There’s only one way to find out.

“Enchanting, beautiful and heartwarming.” – Amazon review

“I was completely swept away by this tale.” – NetGalley review

“A thoughtful narrative with a mystery at its heart.” – Goodreads review

“Inspiring, romantic and suspenseful.” – Amazon review

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Passages from The Garden House

Clara had loved the profusion of forget-me-nots that surrounded the garden house, and decided to christen the cottage the Forget-Me-Not House.

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[Miranda] loved every section of her garden, but this shadier and damper part always stirred in her a feeling of tenderness. It grew thick with hosta and ferns, and perennials that didn’t need much care – patches of bleeding hearts and shy lily-of-the-valley.

Paula stood and held up a potted flower. “Just look at this clematis – it’s as big as a saucer.”  Miranda reached out to touch the pale purple flower. “It’s beautiful.”

A sigh released from deep inside. Home. She was home and everything would be all right.

Filling her arms and basket, Miranda carried the flowers and greenery into the house, and spread them out on the kitchen table. Then she began arranging the flowers in vases and jars, and floating them in glasses and bowls.

Miranda led the way to the lower garden, where the tree-like rhododendrons and lower azaleas formed a sort of double wall.

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Amazon Link: http://a.co/6NUjTZI

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(All images are from my Pinterest boards)

 

 

Autumn Orchards

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A trip to the orchard always feels like stepping back in time, especially at this time of year. There is something quaint and old-fashioned about the crates of red, green, and yellow apples, the rows of trees and pumpkin fields under an open sky, the warm colors of autumn’s harvest all around.

Even the things you can buy at an orchard are wholesome and picturesque. Besides bags of apples, there are rows of jams and honey, pumpkins and gourds, and ears of Indian corn in those gorgeous colors that always surprise.

And who can pass up the apple cider, the caramel apples, and the apple cider donuts?

There were several orchards around the small town in Illinois where I grew up. But there was one we went to every fall, making almost weekly trips to buy apples. We’d also buy jars of apple butter, homemade peanut brittle, and containers of popping corn. Once I was visiting home during the Fall Festival and was lucky enough to find beautiful bunches of bittersweet for sale. They were tied in thick clusters, vibrant in color. I bought several bunches and they decorated my NYC apartment for many years.

The old-fashioned, romantic allure of the orchard  found its way into my WWII era Christmastime series. The main character, Lillian, was raised in upstate New York where the seasonal beauty of the orchards and fields influenced her as an artist. She moves to the city, but her sister, Annette, runs an orchard with her husband. Lillian is grateful to have that haven to return to, where she can reconnect with her girlhood and enjoy the pleasures of country living. And her two boys, Tommy and Gabriel, love the freedom of running through the orchard and playing in the cider house. And sometimes, they celebrate Christmas there.

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This time of year is all too brief — the harvest season, apples and pumpkins, the colors of fall, sweater weather. Soon the trees will soon lose their leaves, the temperatures will drop, and the orchards will close their doors.

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Before that happens, make a trip to an orchard — crunch into a juicy apple, take some cider home with you, treat yourself to a caramel apple. Or just stroll around the earthy charm of the orchard, and savor this beautiful time of year.

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Late September — Central Park

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Yellow. The color of late September. Faded gold, gilded green, amber. In Central Park today, even the air appeared yellow as sunlight filtered through the thinning leaves. Throughout the park, yellow leaves lay scattered beneath the trees, on the roads, sidewalks, and grass. The day was unusually warm and the bright sun brought out the golden hues.

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I strolled through one of my favorite walkways, a short path alongside a fence covered in a tangle of morning glories. The vines still showed pink and purple, with yellowed leaves mixed among the green.

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Something caught my attention in the distance, and I had to stop and stare, puzzling out what I was seeing. A patch of air glittered among the yellow trees. I realized it was a shaft of sunlight shining on a spray of water from a sprinkler. Shadows boxed it in so that it looked like a square patch of sparkles hovering in the air.

Straggly clusters of flowers still showed a bit of color, as in the clouds of white that surrounded the elms.

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And though most flowers now have woody stems and drooping leaves, there are still vibrant patches of color to be found, soaking up the warmth of late September.

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The weather will change soon and cooler temperatures will bring about the more dramatic colors of autumn. Who knows? By next week touches of orange and red might tinge the trees. And September’s soft yellow will shift to the sharper, more vibrant yellow of October.

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The Four Seasons – today in Central Park

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Even though the weather is still cold and spring is officially weeks away, I pulled on my jacket and gloves and headed to Central Park to check on the progress of spring. To see if more flowers had bloomed, if more bushes were beginning to bud. But instead of finding spring, I found all four seasons.

I stood on the little arched bridge over the pond, and from there I clearly saw winter. Against the backdrop of the Plaza Hotel, the pond still lay rimmed with ice.

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The cattails and plants growing alongside appeared dormant, almost frozen. And behind me, came music from Wollman rink. There were the skaters, twirling, jumping, gliding over the ice.

Fall made its presence felt in the bare trees throughout the park, IMG_1429especially in the oaks. Their dry, brown leaves clung to the branches and lay scattered over the ground. They seemed to be tucked around all the clumps of flowers.

Under one such oak, I came across a little coupling of spring and fall, the contrast beautiful. A patch of crocuses nestled against a large black rock and above it, almost protectively, dipped the branch of curled brown oak leaves.IMG_1423

Spring was in the park, though at this time of year it seems to be close to the ground. There were bunches of green-speared daffodil leaves along the paths, and even a few daffodils in bloom.

I found a group of Lenten roses and some snowdrops, though like the daffodils, their blooms hung down, as if against the cold.

The sound of birdsong added to the sense of spring, as tiny birds flitted and chirped among bare branches. The forsythia bushes showed yellow, just waiting for a few warm days before bursting into fuller bloom. And that delicate first green appeared on several bushes.

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The most spring-like thing I came across was a little sunlit patch of bright purple flowers that from a distance I thought were crocuses.

But up close, I found that they were something like miniature irises, almost forming a ground cover.

Summer?  A bit of a stretch to find, but it too was there. summer cartsThe tourists were out, so the crowds alone made it feel like summer. At the Children’s Zoo, a few food carts for ice cream and popcorn were parked, just waiting for milder weather before opening up for business.

And at one of the baseball fields, a group of young men were practicing their fielding. One man stood at home plate, hitting balls out to different positions. The sound of the ball against his metal bat was a real summer sound – a deep rhythmic ping, ping ringing in the air.

But the sky was shifting once again from blue to gray, and the clouds were now growing heavier. Rain was predicted for tomorrow. The temperature seemed to have dropped. Would we have snow? Spring was hiding its head and taking cover once again. I pulled up the hood of my jacket.

I passed the statue of the Falconer as I made my way out of the park. There he was, reaching up to a gray winter sky, undaunted by the cold. I tried to imagine him against the color and mildness of spring, and for the moment, I couldn’t. Falconer

Perhaps I am impatient. It’s just that I know what’s up ahead – Central Park in the spring is magnificent. But there is also something tender to be found in this subtle shifting of the seasons. It’s as if relationships are there among the dried leaves and green shoots, a protective urging forward, alongside a slow goodbye.

So I will slow down and appreciate this understated, changeable time of year. A time when we could have blossoms or snowflakes, and all the seasons are present. A remarkable time of year.