Encounter a White Landscape . . . “Seen” by Pēteris Vasks

note: Often the purpose of links is to indicate further information is available on related topics. Most links are independent, but some help support this web site.

a snow-covered winter scene showing a row of leafless trees growing at the boundary of an agricultural field that stretches all the way to the horizonIn his evocative 1969 meditation on winter titled simply “Confirmation” (Apliecinājums), Latvian writer and translator Māris Čaklais said,

How good it is that once again we believe in the snow,
which is like the dawn of dawn.

As you know, snow comes in only one color: white, and dawn brings only one thing: light (and as that light builds, day). So what is it that’s getting confirmed here? Read more

French Cantatas for Winter Winds: Discover Boismortier’s Four Seasons

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The North Wind attempts to blow the traveler's cloak off him. Illustration by Milo Winter from The Aesop for Children (1919).
The North Wind attempts to blow the traveler’s cloak off him. Illustration by Milo Winter from The Aesop for Children (1919).

People frequently declare our time the Social Era. You’ve heard that term before, haven’t you? We won’t find naming winter storms among Nilofer Merchant’s new Rules for the Social Era, but lately our human tendency to personify everything inanimate has been applied in yet another way.

We’re far from the only culture with this tendency to look at the world around us and create characters. Every culture has! If we look back in time, the wind and weather provide good examples. (Pssst! Would you like to add a word to your vocabulary? There’s a term for making characters of wind and weather. Doing this is called physitheism.)

I hope that crazy word didn’t blow you away! It is pretty abstract, and might leave you groping for examples. So what were some of these breezy, gusty epithets, and how far back in history do they go? Read more

Flowers of the Forest by Jean Elliot

a woodland scene with bluebells carpeting the forest floor

There’s always a time appropriate for these verses, given the events in Syria, the Central African Republic, South Sudan, and the unchanging human condition. It is safe to predict the forests of humanity will always produce such flowers.

The best introduction to these timeless “flowers” comes from about 1,000 years ago: Read more

Expert Interview with Scientists About Spring

a woodland plot loaded with lavender crocus in bloom

Don’t miss this!

The New York Times talks to scientists in different fields, including marine biology, and asks them how they know when it’s spring. Beyond the usual signals from plants or perhaps the return of your pollen allergy, there are many natural indicators, and it’s fascinating to hear them described.

Also fascinating is a phenomenon called precession of the equinoxes, Read more

The Shocking History Behind Two Brides of Spring by Edmonia Lewis

note: Often the purpose of links is to indicate further information is available on related topics. Most links are independent, but some help support this web site. If you prefer, feel free to donate instead. Also, this writeup is long and strays from the topic of gardening. Initially all I wanted to do was share a lovely sculpture pertaining to the season and raise awareness of a little-known artist. As you’ll see from the background I uncovered, how could I not tell you about this?

 

“There is nothing so beautiful as the free forest. To catch a fish when you are hungry, cut the boughs of a tree, make a fire to roast it, and eat it in the open air, is the greatest of all luxuries. I would not stay a week pent up in cities if it were not for my passion for Art.”

letter from 1864

a statue of a draped figure of spring carved by 19th Century sculptress Edmonia LewisAt the end of the 1870s, while living in Rome, American sculptor Mary Edmonia Lewis appears to have made two personifications of Spring evoking the Roman goddess Flora. Both figures are veiled and pose identically, but one statue, decked with beautiful garlands, is more elaborate. There is a fine essay by Theresa Leininger-Miller describing that piece. The simpler second one, exhibited in Boston in 1881, is shown here courtesy of Skinner, Inc.

A veiled figure was very challenging to portray convincingly in stone, so one was always undertaken to demonstrate mastery. Part of the inspiration for a veiled figure may have been Read more

Sound of the Season: Claude Debussy’s Enchanting Music for Spring

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painting The River Epte by Claude Monet (1885)
The River Epte (1885)
by Claude Monet

To be interested in the changing seasons is a happier state of mind than to be hopelessly in love with spring.

George Santayana

a portrait of Claude Debussy by Marcel Baschet (1884)
portrait of Claude Debussy by Marcel Baschet (1884)

As a young adult, when the French pianist-composer Claude Debussy was living in Rome as a laureate of the Rome Prize, he was expected to send works back to Paris indicating his artistic progress. One of them was supposed to be a symphony or a piece of similar scope for orchestra. In fact, he hardly completed anything because he was trying to write music “that is supple and concentrated enough to adapt itself to the lyrical movements of the soul and the whims of reverie.” It also helps to acknowledge he was a meticulous craftsman and re-writer who held himself to an exceedingly high standard and an innovator who wasn’t content to write music the way it had been before.

One of the few things he did complete and send was a piano duet called Spring, and he added that the full score for orchestra, piano, and chorus had been lost Read more

Sound of the Season: Spring (in Catalonia)

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the 1918 impressionist painting Almond Trees in Blossom by Theo van Rysselberghe
Almond Trees in Blossom (1918)
Theo van Rysselberghe

“When you remember me, it means you have carried something of who I am with you, that I have left some mark of who I am on who you are. It means that you can summon me back to your mind even though countless years and miles may stand between us. It means that if we meet again, you will know me. It means that even after I die, you can still see my face and hear my voice and speak to me in your heart.”

Frederick Buechner,
who is Read more

A Damn Good Guide to Growing Magnificent Rhododendrons Through the Year

note: Often the purpose of links is to indicate further information is available on related topics. Most links are independent, but some help support this web site. If you prefer, feel free to donate instead.

A young plant of Rhododendron 'Maruschka', showing the black leaves it has all winter.
Some varieties, such as this young plant of Rhododendron ‘Maruschka’, have black leaves all winter.

“Things reveal themselves passing away.” Although this quote is often attributed to William Yeats, I couldn’t trace it to him. Whenever a plant dies on you, however, there has to be a reason, and this group of plants is notorious for not being durable and adaptable.

The primary reason rhododendrons die on people splits into two related factors: unsuitable soil and inadequate drainage. Keep in mind that in the wild, rhododendrons grow on the sides of mountains and the banks of streams. People who fail often plant them on flat ground. Try a slope, and remember they need loose, fluffy soil like you find under trees in the woods. Since the roots are shallow, mulch lightly if you do.

Second point: If a plant lives but doesn’t flourish, try moving it to a sunnier spot.

January: Appreciate varieties that have black winter leaves, such as ‘Black Satin’, ‘Ginny Gee’, PJM types, and ‘Maruschka’. Take advantage of warm beverages needed on cold mornings: Collect coffee grounds to distribute around plants once winter ends. Coffee grounds are good as a source of nitrogen that isn’t too strong, but note that they don’t make the soil more acidic. Pay your American Rhododendron Society membership dues or join a chapter. Browse nursery web sites and catalogs for inspiration. Read more

You’ve Never Heard the Seasons in Sonic Panoramas Like This

In 1799, William Blake wrote “The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way . . . But to the eyes of the man of imagination, nature is imagination itself.” In 1816, John Keats wrote that no matter how still a summer day or winter night may be “the poetry of earth is never dead.” If you’re an avid gardener or a lover of the outdoors overall . . . and you’ve never heard Haydn’s large-scale treatment of the seasons for chorus and orchestra . . . isn’t it about time to find out what you’ve been missing?

This is a piece as much of our time as it was of its own. Long before Keats and Blake were alive, and in a culture far different from theirs, Confucius famously observed, “Music produces a kind of pleasure which human nature cannot do without.” Versions of The Seasons are available in German and English, so you can’t use the language barrier as an excuse! For recommendations, skip to the bottom, or keep on going if you’d like to find out how early The Seasons became famous, when the oratorio crossed the Atlantic, what it was like to write, or why this piece represents the epitome of Enlightenment values.

note: Often the purpose of links is to indicate further information is available on related topics. Most are independent, but some help support this web site!

images of country life during the four seasons from Flemish baroque painter Sebastian Vrancx
Allegories of the Seasons, date unknown
Sebastian Vrancx (1573-1647)

On June 12, 1799, while working on this oratorio, one of the greatest composers in history wrote to his German publisher about–would you believe?–his concern that he was losing it: Read more