Friday at the Farm

This past Friday was my last day of school and my first day of vacation.  I decided to celebrate by meeting my friend, Karen, at a local gardening shop aptly named, The Farm at Green Village.  It has a pond, acres of trails and foliage, an enormous greenhouse, and even a resident peacock.  I am not a gardener, but I love going to The Farm.  It is my Zen place, my place to unwind and breathe; my place to meet a friend and laugh.

When I arrived, Karen was already picking out plants.  She is the gardener. Her home is surrounded by flowers.  I love visiting her; sitting out on her back deck surveying her flowers, watching  bees and hummingbirds pause by the blossoms, and scolding her cat, Pepe, as he tries to catch butterflies in his claws.  It’s like a wonderful summer ballet.

We walked the aisles looking for the right flowers and hanging baskets for Karen’s home.  We marveled at the colors and types of flowers.  Karen knows many more flower names than I do.  I would love to be more garden-knowledgeable. I love reading the names off the garden tags: salvia, hydrangea, echinacea, begonia, petunia, impatience, zinnia.  Lots of lovely rolling syllables. Lots of bright and cheerful colors. We filled up two carts with flowers for Karen’s garden and planters.  I felt my body relax as I roamed the aisles of flowers, taking in their fragrance. It was like spending a morning in Eden with a friend.  It made me so happy.  What better way to start the summer.

My new favorite flowers were the Lantana.  I have admired them but didn’t know their name.  They have delicate little flowers that grow in little bunches in a variety of complementary colors. I especially loved the Sunburst Lantana.  They just make me happy when I look at them.  They remind me of flowers you would arrange for a summer tea party for the fairies or a wedding for garden gnomes.

After a couple of hours, we sat among the flowers and chatted, soaking in the morning sun. Then we headed inside to look for houseplants and planters.  This is another happy place for me.  While Karen, selected two small houseplants, I went hunting for colorful pots with my camera.  I don’t have room to collect such things, but I collect them with my camera, and that means I can keep them forever and never worry that they may break.

I roamed among all the beautiful things, clicking away in wonder of each little object: pots, statuettes, vases, mirrors, and baskets in an array of colors.  If I had a grand mansion, I would fill one wing like this full of plants and light and love.  Instead, I choose two small ceramic objects: a bunny and a turtle.  The bunny will grace my desk, and the turtle will be a present for my husband.  He loves turtles because they remind him to slow down and concentrate on what’s truly important. 

I am glad I slowed down today. I am grateful for this time with Karen, for this day among the flowers. I cannot wait until our next trek, but for now the flowers are enough.

Alone by the Sea

It’s June.  I live in New Jersey.  It’s time to “go down the shore,” as we Garden State residents say.  It’s beach time!  The last three weeks, I have trekked to the Atlantic, which is only an hour and. Half away.  The past two weeks have been crowded: throngs of people in the water, on the beach, on the boardwalks, and lining up at restaurants.  That was not the beach escape I was craving.  I am in much need of ocean meeting sky, of a blue expanse, and a summer of possibilities.

I have been fortunate in my life to have had a career that allowed me to have my summers free.  Of course, I do not count the twenty or so summers that I taught remedial English or directed summer camp.  Instead, I count the twenty summers that I had the whole twelve weeks free to explore, gather, and breathe.  I traveled, read, wrote, and met with friends. The twenty summers seem like a bright blue blur.  I’m not sure I will get the gift of twenty more summers.  This summer, I want to remember keenly: what I am thinking, what I am reading, and what changes I made happen. I know this sixty-sixth summer is important for me.

This weekend, I came to the beach on an overcast day.  The sand was wet with recent rain. Just stalwarts were laying out on bright blankets.  But there was the sea and quiet and a space for thinking.  I just finished reading Katherine May’s memoir about walking Britain’s southeast coast path, The Electricity of Every Living Thing: A Women’s Walk in the Wild to Find Her Way Home. I love her writing.  Much of what she expresses, I feel so deeply.  She wrote about the “value of being in places you love and knowing them and coming back to them.”  I have always loved the Atlantic coast (on the American side).  I have lived close by all my life. This place I know well. Some of the surroundings have changed but the sea remains the same: the salty smell, the sounds of the waves, the glint of light on the ocean. The Atlantic is where I feel most at home.  It is comforting and makes me feel connected to something larger than myself.

Alone by the Sea

It is my turn 
to walk alone
Along the boardwalk.
I am here to collect images,
To put together
My life story.
The day is quiet and clear.
After a recent rain,
The sand is dark and wet.
Some beach goers remain
On their bright blankets.
Lifeguards jog together,
Racing and playing tag 
with the waves.

I slow my steps,
Pay careful attention.
A redwing blackbird perches
above the beach roses
And sings loudly.
I bid him good-day
And continue on,
Past the reed-covered dunes,
Past the mother and young daughter
Sharing a picnic together,
Feet dangling over the boardwalk,
Holding triangles of pizza in their hands
As it drips with cheese
Into their happy mouths.

I remember moments like these.
My mother, sister, and I 
at our beach bungalow -
Sand, sun, surf.
Sinatra playing in the background
Mingled with the laughter of children.
Sailboats gliding across the bay,
Fresh laundry flapping on the line,
Lazy summer days,
Spread ahead of us 
And we took them in,
Soaked them up,
Were grateful for them,
Knew they were precious.

I look out to the Atlantic
Try to see to the end,
Where ocean meets the sky.
The horizon is dotted with clouds.
Below, there is a thin azure line.
I imagine heaven to be
in this precise place,
Somewhere out there,
Just beyond reach for now
And I am content,
Truly content.
All I need is sand, sky, sea
And an overcast day
In serene solitude.

Be the Flower

This has been a heartbreaking week, a gut-wrenching month: senseless violence in Buffalo and Uvalde.  Teenage gunmen destroyed lives while people shopped at a grocery store and children and teachers were busy in their classrooms teaching and learning. The rage in the minds of these individuals is unfathomable to me.  And though this blog is about literature, art, and education, I cannot let this week go by without addressing the terrible loss and helplessness I feel due to this horrific tragedy.  There must be solutions: stiffer gun control regulations, better mental health care, and stronger protection for our school and public spaces.  This saddens me deeply. What is happening to humanity?  Are we all to live locked away in our private residences with limited social contact?  What will happen to us then? As these thoughts buzzed around my mind this week, I turned to nature, as I always do, for solace – for an answer.

Connection to nature, I believe, is a source for hope, well-being and mental health.  This spring has been filled with flowers.  There are flowers blooming around our school campus,  flowering trees in my yard, and a plethora of flowers casting their spell over many local gardens.  I pass by wild irises on the roadside, their purple tongues dotted with raindrops.  I concentrate on their color and form. I wonder at such beauty, such grace, such an exquisite being, and I want to transform myself into that flower.  I want to grow where I’m planted, feel the soil beneath my feet, spread roots, shoot up tall, and blossom. 

When I began my teaching career, I worked with preschool children.  We spent much of our time outdoors in both good and inclement weather.  The children dug in the garden and were surprised when they pulled up carrots and radishes, believing there was magic in the soil.  They loved to weed, water, and harvest.  They felt control and accomplishment.  Flowers served as a respite for us, a signal to stop and take in beauty, to breathe.  The children would gather small bouquets for me of dandelions, clover, and buttercups. They would string flowers in each other’s hair and make magic potions from the bits of vegetation they collected.  Life outside was a necessary part of their growth and development.

I remember a time, when one girl brought me a lovely red tulip.  She had dissected it, separating its stem, leaves, petals and stamen.  There were tears in her eyes as she held out her hands to me, “Put it back together,” she commanded.  I looked at the flower and wondered, at first, how I could reassemble it for her.  I took the pieces from her hands and placed them on the ground making a tulip mosaic.  I knew this was not what my student had in mind.  She thought I could mend it completely and make it whole again. When I explained to her that it couldn’t be brought back to life, she cried, and I consoled her. She learned that the flower was a delicate and fragile thing, something to care for, something to admire and cherish.  And maybe flowers are part of the answer.  They have been powerfully and wonderfully made. They are a gift from God to humanity to give us strength and make us resilient.

As often happens, a book popped out a me from our school library shelf wanting to be read.  It was a new Caldecott Honor medalist, Have You Ever Seen a Flower?  by Shawn Harris.  It is brilliantly illustrated using simple tools: pencil and colored pencil. It is childlike and surprisingly powerful in its simplicity.  The girl in the story asks the reader to really think about flowers: look deeply, take in their smells, watch them with a microscopic wonder.  Watch them so closely that you can imagine what it feels like to be a flower: to grow roots, take in water, and bloom. The book reminds us to use the flower like a resource – to grow, thrive, and blossom.  Flowers help us reflect, turn inward, and respect life.

I went searching for solace this week.  I went hunting for answers.  I found them in the form of flowers and poetry. Once destroyed, lives cannot be put back together.  Some things cannot be made whole again. But I believe that the solution for violence must be in a turn towards nature, towards beauty, towards the preciousness of life.  Consider the flower.

May Posies

Early spring showers have turned the landscape green with dots of pinks, yellows, and lavenders.  My corner of the world is alive with flowers, and I am immersing myself in their glory and hopefulness.  This year more than any other I need flowers and the promise of spring.  I need something to celebrate.  I am in search for beauty.

I am ever grateful to the flowers of Moggy Bottom.  It is my secret garden in close proximity to where I live.  I saunter down its gravel paths and savor the colorful sights and fragrant smells.  Walking there reassures me that spring is surely here, and summer is on the horizon.  It will be soon time for my yearly respite from school.  And though I love teaching and learning, I am in much need for a hiatus from busy. 

When I was a child, I loved preparing impromptu spring bouquets for my mother.  I’d gather them from the wildflowers that grew on the hill at the side of our home: black-eyed Susan, sweat pea, daisies, cornflowers, and buttercups.  I’d gather them in simple arrangements in jam jars or wrapped in damp paper towels tied with string.  I can still see their colors, smell their perfume, feel the calm their beauty brought to me.

Lately, I have been reading about Emily Dickinson’s life of poetry and gardening.  I hadn’t realized that the Belle of Amherst was an ardent and accomplished gardener.  Re-reading her poems, I recognize how integral a role flowers played in Dickinson’s experience of the world around her.  The garden was a metaphor for life and its complexities. She delved in deeply as a gardener would: tending plants, encouraging growth, and intimately noticing the shift of seasons. 

I wanted to delve deeply this week, focus on the flowers of Moggy Hollow, listen to what they were saying, and find a way to express what I was feeling.  I created a posy of flowers to share: trillium, lily of the valley, magnolia – delicate and fleeting like this time in spring when the first flowers bloom and then give way to summer’s abundance.

April Poem #24: My Garden of Eden

My inspiration for “My Garden of Eden” comes from  Verse-Love, Ethical ELA, which was created by Sarah J. Donovan. Today’s prompt was from Jessica Shernburn, a high school English teach who lives in Chicago, Illinois.  Jessica suggested that we look at text annotations for inspiration.  Could there be beauty and poetry in annotations?

I fell in love with annotation when I taught Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White.  I poured over its book of annotations – like secrets held only for me.  I loved sharing tidbits I had learned with my students, and they began seeing annotation as a treasure hunt. Annotation is, indeed, the key to reading deeply and mindfully.

I am currently reading, French Dirt by Richard Goodman and I have been marveling at his turn of phrase, the words he chooses to describe his year as a gardener in France – how he wrangles and wrestles the earth to create something beautiful.  I have re-arranged some of his words that I had underlined, wanting to hold them in my mind and heart.

© Joanne L. Emery, 2022

April Poem #21: April Remembers

There is something bittersweet about April. Maybe it is because it is my birthday month that I feel this way. My birthday comes at the beginning of the month, and then towards the end of the month, I feel a deep longing. I don’t want April to depart. I want to keep its spring-freshness and cleansing showers. Then I remember that May is coming and with it, the respite of summer. And May means flowers, and that makes all the difference!

My inspiration for “April Remembers” came from  Verse-Love, Ethical ELA, which was created by Sarah J. Donovan. Today’s prompt was from Leilya Pitre, who teaches at Southeastern Louisiana University and coordinates the English Education Program. Leilya invited participants to go for a walk to our place of comfort and write a poem about our experiences. She used “A Late Walk” by Robert Frost as inspiration. These Frost lines stood out to me:

 By picking the faded blue

Of the last remaining aster flower

     To carry again to you.

© Joanne L. Emery, 2022
April Remembers

The flower does not forget
How to blossom.
One green moment
Small and slow.

The moon remembers
To rise above the mountain.
A long, lone breath
Spinning in the silence.

April unfolds to May,
My hand opens to yours,
Your hand embraces mine.
Together we walk towards
Interminable spring.

April Poem #16: Wood Songs

I live at the edge of a woods and often hike the fields, hills, and woodlands of my surrounding countryside.  One would think I live in a rural, bucolic place but I live in bustling New Jersey, not know for its pastoral qualities even though it’s called  “The Garden State.” It seems a sort of joke, but New Jersey has varied beauty from its Atlantic coastline to its western hills and farmland. Most of my inspiration comes from this terrain that I know so well.  And even though I know the woods, the hills, the coastline, the land often surprises me.  There is always a gift to uncover.  The woodland is where I find solitude, where my thoughts keep cadence with my footsteps, where I can go to unpuzzle the world and find peace.

My inspiration for “Every Bend” came from  Verse-Love, Ethical ELA, which was created by Sarah J. Donovan. Today’s prompt was from Cara Fortey, who suggested to write in a modern Tanka-style as modeled by poet and UCLA professor, Harryette Mullen.

I also received inspiration  for “The Only Proof” from NaPoWriMo, or National Poetry Writing Month: 30 Poems in 30 Days, which was created by Maureen Thorson. Their 16th writing prompt was inspired by the curtal sonnet – “Pied Beauty” by  Gerard Manley Hopkins.  I did not write in the curtal sonnet form, but I endeavored to create the same tone in my poem as in Hopkins’.  The ever-changing nature of the woods is something that comforts, astounds, and leads me towards acceptance.

© Joanne L. Emery, 2022

April Poem #12: Good News & Brighter Days

I am in the need of good news.  I am thirsty for happy possibility. So much information now is negative: COVID, a multitude of possible diseases, racial unrest, economic downturns, and violent crimes.  Oh, and did I mention war? Our beautiful world is marred by war.  Humans are committing atrocities towards each other. Unspeakable tragedies happen every day. It is enough to make one weep uncontrollably. To keep myself afloat, I have made a conscious effort to turn towards hope.

I have been listening “Brighter Days” by Blessing Offor, who is an amazing singer.  His personal story is truly inspiring.  I am in awe of how he was able to take his tragedy and transform it into a life of faith and hope. I find myself singing his song while doing the dishes, while walking, and I turn it on just before bedtime.  We all need brighter days, healing words, and good news.

My inspiration for “Good News” comes from NaPoWriMo, or National Poetry Writing Month: 30 Poems in 30 Days, which was created by Maureen Thorson. Today,  the writing prompt was to write about something small. And I also received inspiration from  Verse-Love, Ethical ELA, which was created by Sarah J. Donovan. Susie Morice, an English language literacy, gifted education, and leadership specialist, suggested we turn to the news for poetic inspiration.

© Joanne L. Emery, 2022

April Poem #10: Love is Love

Today, my sixty-sixth birthday, I have been tasked to write about love. It is a good and solid subject. I know a thing or two about love. Or at least I think I do. I have poured out cups and cups of love to both the deserving and underserving. When love was new, I jumped in head-over-heels, mesmerized and awe-struck. My heart knew no bounds. I look back at that time in wonder. I was so completely trusting, so completely willing to take a chance. That is the beauty of young love.

It took me decades to learn self-love. I am still learning to care for myself, to cherish who I have been, who I am, and am becoming. This way of thinking is new to me and expansive. I don’t have to be one singular, solitary being. I am ever-changing, and in my metamorphoses, I am becoming beautiful. At sixty-six, this is no small feat. So I celebrate this day with a love poem. The tenth day of April – spring love is in the air; it abounds and abides.

My inspiration for “Love is Love” comes from NaPoWriMo, or National Poetry Writing Month: 30 Poems in 30 Days, which was created by Maureen Thorson. NaPoWriMo. Today, they suggested writing a love poem. I also received inspiration from Sarah J. Donovan’s site, Verse-Love, Ethical ELA. Today’s prompt comes from Margaret Simon, teacher and poet from New Iberia, Louisiana, who suggested writing a definito, a definition-based poem. I was struck by Nikki Grime’s poems and structured my poem about love in a similar way.




© Joanne L. Emery, 2022
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April Poem # 8 – Blessed April

After four days of constant rain and widespread flooding, the storm passed leaving the bluest of skies and sunshine. The air warmed, raindrops pooled on bright petals, and birds shook out their wet feathers. I marvel at how changeable April weather can be. April is a moody child. I understand. I was born in April. Even though she storms and rages, I am drawn to her springtime glory. I am in awe of blessed April.

Blessed April

Petulant and capricious,

Your moods shift

To suit the day –

Both golden and cloudy.

Here come the soaking rain,

Rivulets transform into rivers,

Thunder sounds, lightning flashes,

Illuminating the midnight sky.

Early daybreak,

Sunlight streams through,

Clouds drift and part,

Blue sky appears once again.

Birds perch on the rooftops,

Commence their joyful songs

All the colors of the world

Saturated with springtime.

© Joanne L. Emery, 2022