Working on the Bonsai

Dear Liza,

Just about one year ago, I planted some birch and maple seedlings into a shallow pot and named it The Hundred Acre Wood. I have always been fascinated with bonsais and wanted to create my own tiny forest.

The Hundred Acre Wood, May 2019

Of course, there is more to bonsai than just sticking seeds in pots. Their beauty is in their perfect proportions and their aged, rugged beauty. Most fine bonsais, like those displayed at the Japanese Garden here in Portland, are hundreds of years old, taking generations of gardeners to create and maintain.

One of the bonsai at the Japanese Garden

The gentleman showing the bonsais told a story about a man who had taken on the care of an ancient bonsai and then died suddenly. The Guardians of Heaven asked him if he had arranged for the care of his bonsai and when he said “No,” he was sent back to get that in order before he would be allowed to pass away. A bonsai is a serious commitment.

The Hundred Acre Wood, September, 2019

My Hundred Acre Wood lives on my balcony, getting just an hour of direct sun a day, and it seems to be doing well. Since it is a year old now, I have started to try and develop the gnarled, twisted trunks that I admire so much.

Hundred Acre Wood, being trained to lean

Using a soft yarn to be gentle on their fragile trunks, I have given most of them them a lean, all in one direction, to look like they have all been subject to the same winds. I have tried three different techniques to hold them at about a 45 degree angle: yarn tied to a rock; yarn tied to the pot’s support; and a stick, wedged against the side of the pot. It’s like a science experiment that will play out over many years.

My bonsai is a good companion, especially in quiet, slow times like the current shutdown. I can lavish attention on it or just give it the required water, and it is fine. I can wander its tiny acreage and escape myself for a while.

I look forward to watching it grow and develop over many years.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Tardigrade Poetry

Dear Liza,

By now, you know I love writing silly poetry. I like learning new forms and playing with the rhyme schemes, discovering which words fit the pattern and the meaning.

A tardigrade

You also know I love tardigrades. These tiny animals are about the size of a comma on this page. They are found in forests and are also called water bears or moss piglets. Scientists have studied them and found that they can survive intense heat, years of being dried out, and even the vacuum of outer space.

So, there is the mystery. WHY would an animal on Earth have evolved these features? What ELSE can they do?

A different tardigrade (I think, it’s hard to really tell…)

It is their mysterious origins and almost cute “bear-like” features that have inspired our friend Betsy Streeter to do a series of drawings that celebrate their versatility in cartoon-ish hyperbole. You can find more of her work on Instagram @betsystreeter or email her at tinyletter.com/betsystreeter.

Her drawings, in turn, have inspired me to write a parody of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18 about the little critters.

“Alas, poor Yorick, I knew him, Horatio…..”
”Bardigrade” by Betsy Streeter

From “Sonnet 18”

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s gnat?

Thou art more handsome and more alluring

Mere swats can squash a tiny bug like that,

But tardigrade, thou art ‘ere enduring

Sometimes too hot the eye of heaven shines

The tardigrade just laughs and snuggles down

Sometimes the icy voice of space opines

The tardigrade regards it without frown

For thy eternal tiny-ness goes on,

Delighting those with minds which seek you out

Thy protein-bas’ed armor thou shalt don

Proving thy just perfection, without doubt

    So long as we can live, and learn and see,

    Thou, tardigrade, our Shakespeare-buddy, be.

Silliness reigns supreme!

Love,

Grandma Judy

Spring Beauty with a Side of Poetry

Dear Liza,

We got to walk through the neighborhood yesterday, on our way to Whole Foods for groceries. Our last two days of bright sunshine have encouraged all the flowers!

These irises with just a touch of yellow are magical

The bees are going nuts, too, though they were skittish and wouldn’t let me get close enough to take their pictures. However, this solid brick of azalea blooms was very patient.

Perfectly managed azalea bush!

Up on Ankeny Street in a poetry box, I found this very personal poem. If I had seen it on Mother’s Day, it would have felt cruel and bruising. But today I am stronger and can see it as beautiful.

Lovely poem that perfectly invokes Great Grandma Billie

Feelings are such delicate balances between joy and melancholy, sweet memories and frightful hauntings, it is a miracle we maintain as well as we do. I only really appreciate joy when I have pulled out of a dark hole and can sigh with relief at my freedom.

Thanks, Momma.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Smiling Anyway II

Dear Liza,

It was nice to see you, your Mommy and your Daddy on our Mother’s Day ZOOM call yesterday. It was nice to visit with Auntie Katie, too. I am surrounded, as much as I can be, by people who love me. That is a real gift.

Auntie Bridgett and I even got out for a bit of a walk. We avoided the park, because we had seen dozens folks heading that direction and knew it would be too crowded to safely social distance. We walked through our Sunnyside neighborhood and enjoyed seeing flowers, kids on bikes, and even a “Free to a good home” bicycle sitting on the corner. I hope it finds someone nice.

We were happy to see Stumptown Coffee open, and got an iced coffee to help our closest coffee shop. I found the image of the day there, in this magnificent lupine growing out front. The angle of the sun was such that it highlights the Aalto Bar, which isn’t even open now, but that’s the way the photograph clicks sometimes.

We also found this cartoon by a local artist, posted on a telephone pole, that sort of said it all for me at that moment. Amidst the flames, we sit in our houses and cope. “This is fine,” we say.

So, for now, I will be fine, even when I’m not. I will appreciate and relish the beautiful while quietly acknowledging the underlying “What the Heck?” aspects of our current situation. It’s a delicate balance.

Love,

Grandma Judy

Books with Pictures is FOUR!

Dear Liza,

You might not remember when Auntie Katie opened her bookshop, called Books with Pictures, in 2016. You were only three years old.
I remember, because it was one of the busiest and proudest weekends of my life.

The big day!!

Grandpa Nelson, Auntie Bridgett and I flew up from Salinas to help. The weather was hot, and the work was hard! Setting up food for the opening, shopping for wine and such, then visiting with the hundred or so wonderful folks who came to see the new shop and buy books.

Wonderful crowd

We crashed at our hotel, then got up and flew to Colorado to be with Auntie Bridgett’s brother Matt’s wedding. The flight, the drive, and the altitude sure took its toll. We slept like rocks. The wedding was pretty and all, but I was reminded that I’m much more of a beach girl. Rocky places with thin air do not appeal to me much.

Pretty, but too high

I realized that weekend how much work it takes to get a new business off the ground. And now, four years later, I realize that the work doesn’t stop. All the arrangements to open a business, then finding an almost-comfortable plateau, then moving to a new building with bigger obligations, then opening a branch bookshop in Eugene, and now, figuring out how to stay afloat during a quarantine, have been a huge challenge. And Katie has done it while raising two absolutely awesome kids.

Auntie Katie, entrepreneur par excellence!

I am incredibly proud of Auntie Katie for her professionalism, her caring for her clientele, and her focus on getting things done.

The whole, thriving family

Hoping to see you soon!

Love,

Grandma Judy

Reaching Out

Dear Liza,

Yesterday morning, I was feeling a little sad. The weather here is turning warmer, and the flowers are blooming. It is my favorite time of year to be out and walking, and we are cooped up inside. I thought about what my Dad, your great grandpa Lowell, would say about that. “When you feel down, find someone worse off, and help them,” was always his advice.

So I tried to think who might be feeling even more cooped up than me, and I thought of the very elderly folks who live in our local senior care facility, Laurelhurst Village, up on Stark Street. I was sure the couple hundred folks who live there feel lonesome. I wanted to see if I could help.

Chelsea Madewell (great name!) got back to me, very happy to have letters and cards come her way to distribute to the residents who don’t get regular letters. Photographs and other pictures would be welcome, she said. So I have been writing!

I guess I have some practice at this, from writing letters to my big brother and other ‘older’ friends. Our cat, springtime in the neighborhood, old movies and books, and food, are always good topics. I stay away from politics, because life is hard enough without all that.

I spent the afternoon composing letters and collecting cards from my Momma’s stash and Aunt Bridgett’s card box. There were lots of birthday cards, so I made a special bundle for those. Everyone wants to get a card on their birthday, and in a facility as large as Laurelhurst, they must have one nearly everyday.

I spent this afternoon making some cards to include. They look very childish, but that’s just fine.

Cards to send off…

Great Grandpa Lowell was right. I feel better already.

Love,

Grandma Judy

There Will Come Soft Rains

Dear Liza,

I went out for a walk to the grocery store the other day, and took some pictures of our fabulously colorful Portland spring. There were not many people out, because of the shutdown, and the combination of uncanny quiet and lush flowers reminded me of something and tickled in the back of my brain.

I just figured out what it was.

There is a poem called There will Come Soft Rains, by Sara Teasdale. She wrote it 1918, in response to the horrors of World War I that the world was living through at the time. The Spanish Flu, spread by the movement of soldiers and lack of health measures, swept across the world at that time, killing 63,000 American soldiers, more than the enemy‘s weapons did.

Sara Teasdale was feeling as some of us are now, despairing of our capacity for self destruction, and the poem tells of the beauty of nature that will go on when mankind has finally wiped itself out.

There Will Come Soft Rains

There will come soft rains and the smell of the ground,
And swallows calling with their shimmering sound;

And frogs in the pools singing at night,
And wild plum-trees in tremulous whit
e;

Robins will wear their feathery fire
Whistling their whims on a low fence-wire;

And not one will know of the war, not one
Will care at last when it is done.

Not one would mind, neither bird nor tree
If mankind perished utterly;

And Spring herself, when she woke at dawn,
Would scarcely know that we were gone.

Our country has lost, so far, 72,000 people to Covid-19. It is so sad that it hurts to think about it. But most people are doing what they can, staying inside, wearing masks, sending help to family and neighbors, supporting the doctors and nurses. We are being our best selves. This is how we will survive.

And then we can get out into the springtime again.

Love,

Grandma Judy