A Fine Cup of Tea


My life has become one of ritual – more of the slow motion type.  These rituals center around the garden and putting food by.  For years (and years) I have begun the canning season with rhubarb, always the first vegetable to make an appearance here.  I planted my own patch of rhubarb on the property about 5 years ago.  My mother always told me she couldn’t grow it here, she had tried for years.

Our real rhubarb ritual was to go to a friend’s house every spring and pick our fill there.  Their patches of rhubarb are magnificent.  This plant is showy and large.  The rhubarb at this house fills large swathes around the back yard of the house as well as over by their vegetable garden.  The woman with the gardens was also my mother’s best friend and I dare say picking rhubarb was an excuse to sit around a table with a cup of tea as well.

This ritual has gone on for more or less 55 years.  The family became part of who we are.  My mother passed away in 1989 but the ritual continued.  The rhubarb gave me an excuse to visit, hear the stories of my childhood, catch up with a family I felt was my own.

I would be greeted at the door with a paper bag and a paring knife.  Walking to the back yard I would pass a little flower garden where pansies were often planted.  Little smiling faces in the sun not bothered by a little frost, first blooms.  Once out back I would pull the stalks from the plants, cut the leaves and put them in a pile to mulch all the while remembering childhood sledding on the hill in the  back.  Recalling croquet games on the front lawn or swinging on the swing hung on the huge maple in the front yard.  Overnight stays with crazy family dinners including homemade bread and the best tollhouse cookies.  Laughter, always so much laughter and love beyond measure.

Once I had picked enough I would go into the house for that cuppa and chat.  What should have taken a few minutes often turned into hours but this is what it was all about.  Reminiscing and words of wisdom imparted across the kitchen table over a hot beverage.  Most of all it was a reminder of how much we all loved each other and our families.

The most difficult part of life I think now is the shifting of generations.  I am now of an age when all of our parents are leaving us.  This year I will not go to pick rhubarb.  The house is empty now and I am coming to terms with the fact that the matriarch is gone, left us a few days ago to join her beloved husband.  I picture cups of tea being served all around in that great reunion.  Walks around a warm, green verdant yard discussing kids and gardens.  That is my vision of heaven really.

The shift is also to my own patch of rhubarb here. On hearing of her death I went out and picked some rhubarb and baked a cake to be eaten with a nice cup of tea while I remember.  As I was in the garden I realized it wasn’t about rhubarb not growing on the property at all,  it was about the ritual of visiting.  Conscious or unconscious these women knew what they were doing.

Throwback Thursday – Those Family Photos

660701 Perry's Nut House (1)I posted this photograph at the risk of my siblings never speaking to me again.  I was looking for something totally unrelated and found a few of these taken at Perry’s Nut House in Belfast Maine in 1966.

Apparently this was the beginning of my photography career. The camera around my and my sister’s neck were acquired with Kellogg’s box tops I seem to recall.  I used that camera a few times and still have it with my initials emblazoned on the front of it with a permanent marker.  I’m not sure the photographs I had taken with that camera are even around anymore.

We all went through those incredibly awkward stages.  Your mother took your picture standing in front of ridiculous things, dressed in ridiculous clothes.  We pull them out every so often and think to ourselves “What were they thinking?” or “Who the heck was dressing me?” or “Were those really the only glasses available in the mid sixties?”  What I am finding out, more so as I get older, is the importance of some of these images to other family members regardless of how annoying they are to me.

Distant family members set up a memory page for a branch of my father’s side of the family a couple of days ago and many photographs have been shared.  I can’t describe the feeling of seeing pictures of my grandfather that I have never seen before.  He’s been gone since 1976 and it feels like this tiny little miracle getting just another, new glimpse of him.  We all have the same photos we look at over and over – more so after someone dies.  It’s a finite number, you memorize them, inventory them in your head.  When someone shares a photograph at first it is so unexpected, then it’s an image you take into your heart.  It’s a pretty wonderful thing.

With the photos of me and my sister and brother I laugh at them initially, then I see our children and grandchildren in those faces.  There’s the miracle, right there.  We are blessed with the technology that now allows us to record with abandon but it’s only a recent phenomenon.  My generation and all those before us have a limited number of photographs and I think, no matter how embarrassed you might be, it’s important to share them with your family.  You never know what they are going to get out of it.

Meanwhile I’m thinking, “Really Brian, nice socks!”

660701 Perry's Nut House (2)


Sharing My Garden

130707 Swallowtail Caterpillar (2)


Every year I plant something for the birds in my vegetable garden.  This year it was scarlet runner beans.  Last year, and many years before it was sunflowers.  I love the fact that they always find what has been planted and visit the same time every day to eat their fill.

This year I have unexpected guests, and they are eating my dill.  Had I known they were going to visit I would have planted more, I’m not adverse to sharing.

I originally thought this was the caterpillar for a Monarch Butterfly but after doing a little digging sister Sue pointed out it was missing the telltale black horns.  It’s a Black Swallowtail caterpillar.  Once I looked them both up I have to say that this caterpillar is much more showy. I love the symmetry in nature.  How even the stripes and yellow dots are on its body.  I am amazed at how they will metamorphose into something that looks so  completely different from what it is now.

130707 Swallowtail Caterpillar (1)The Black Swallowtail caterpillar is also known as the Parsley worm due to their affinity for everything in the parsley family.  Dill, parsley, cilantro, fennel, they love them all.  These caterpillars go through 4 molts of their exoskeleton before it builds a chrysalis.  These caterpillars are in their 4th stage.  As they grow their small yellow dots turn more into yellow ovals.  I fully expect them to be gone soon, they will be spinning a cocoon on some stronger branch.  In about two weeks they will be beautiful butterflies.

When they emerge from their cocoons they will look like this –

Black SwallowtailHow amazing is that?  We always have a lot of these butterflies around the yard.  They are beneficial pollinators so I don’t really mind sacrificing the dill for the butterflies (although all of the pickle eaters in my family might disagree).  Next year I will plan on planting more dill, parsley and cilantro in a different garden to see if they will concentrate somewhere else.  Or I will just plant a lot more so we can share.



Happy First Day of Spring



I photographed this as I went out the door to work this morning.  It’s a little deceptive because these bulbs are under a cedar tree so the snow didn’t really accumulate there.  It’s nice to see they don’t care.

I could do without the snow now.  I’m over it.  I know there won’t be another snowshoeing day until next year.  We will just have to contend with cold, slush and ice until it finally warms enough for it all to go.  I love spring, the warming of the earth, going through the perennial beds to see what coming up and where.  The spring bulbs are the first to poke their heads up.

These daffodils are everywhere.  The photograph was taken in Enfield but there are hundreds in Rowe.  They started out as a pot of 12 bulbs that Mabel gave my sister when she was in the hospital for surgery during the blizzard of ’78.  Sue planted them in a flower bed around the patio in Rowe.  Over the years they’ve been dug up, divided and moved everywhere.  There are hundreds that bloom around the patio and now in other gardens.  They are over the bank going to the back forty because that was my mother’s mulch pile years ago.  I’ve given the bulbs to people all over New England and moved some to Enfield.

I think that’s my favorite part about perennial gardening – giving plants away and getting plants from other gardeners.  We have peonies that came from my third grade teacher’s garden, irises from my mother’s best friend.  I have a gas plant that came from an abandoned garden center in Enfield that has moved with me three times.  They are all beautiful in bloom but for me the true beauty is the reminder of gardeners that I loved that are no longer here.