to ignore the
I can't see them from the
house or from the gardens close
to the house. A few years ago they were
productive, but they've never
been abundant, so I
end up kind of
when they called
for attention. As I am
apt to do, I dove in, slashing
the grasses with my Japanese Hori
Hori gardening knife, madly
giving those poor
first bush, I just
cut back the grass; On the
next one, though, I focused on one
section, pulling up grass by the roots. It was
harder work, especially since we're having a drought
and the soil is compacted and dry. But as I
said, I was in one of those "I have
take care of this NOW"
kind of moods.
I stopped for
some water, though,
my 'yay me look what I've
been doing' moment became 'oh
no, there's so much more.' How often do
I focus on one part of a thing and
feel great about it, until I
notice how much
more there is
how I feel
right now with all
that is happening in our
country and around the world.
It is easy to ignore things I can not see,
whether because they are actually
out of sight or because I
have such a narrow
no quick fix
for these struggling
shrubs. They need so much
more than air and space. But after
the superficial grass removal & my one
'deep dive' with that one bush,
my hands ached and I
rain stopped this
afternoon I went to visit
those same bushes, this time
with my camera. In that cool late
afternoon light that cast such appealing
shadows, I stopped disparaging these forgotten
shrubs and instead paid attention to their actual shape,
colors and texture. Buried in those demanding &
overpowering grasses, though, these
blueberry bushes revealed
poise & resilience.
But I felt
sad & really bad
that I had not actually
provided them the nutrients
& care they needed to thrive and I am
sure they were annoyed when I whispered
"please be patient. The entire garden is calling. I'll
be back." How could they not be annoyed? They know
that in recent years I have only paid attention to them when
blueberries are in season (when there's something in
it for me); They also know that I have been
disappointed with their production
even though I have obviously
been ignoring their
& whispered those
promises, I could feel their
skepticism & anger. "Yes," they're
probably thinking, "you do have a lot to
manage. But you planted us in the first place.
It really is your job to figure out how to not just
admire us, but to also do what it takes
so that we & all these other plants
can thrive in this garden
of your design &
work to do
at home and all
around, so we've been
working - digging & mulching,
pruning & planting. It
feels good to
these phlox are out
of control and need attention,
I'm OK with their extravagant abundance
because five years ago, there was
nothing in that particular place
but a neglected corner
of the terrace.
lupin blew over
from a neighbor's field,
but the comfrey by its side and
those chives behind were intentionally
planted to increase soil fertility on what was once
a rocky dry hillside. These woodland phlox, so different
from those flowers surrounding the bird,
thrive in a space that was once
a pile of sticks.
this myrtle (or
Vinca Minor) have
finally merged on the
hillside by our driveway.
5 years in the making,
this space is, at
to my garden
for reminding me
that neglected places
can be transformed. There
just needs to be a plan, focused
attention, and patience to
let what will emerge,
to share the stage with
other colors, like these white
flowers on a lone Hawthorn tree that
is abuzz. It was for these pollinators that we
created this garden in the first place, so hearing them
in action gives me hope and purpose as I
go outside to get back
please & thank
you. A call for spring
and gratitude when it finally
arrives. That's how my
week has been.
And a response.
Thank you. There's not
a lot more a gal
the reality of our 'new
normal,' but finding solace
outside, with camera,
texture & color.
I frame leaves or flowers,
stories emerge. Today blankets of
Sweet Woodruff reveal the
truth about perennials,
how they sleep,
the story was about
people - - crowds at the annual
Yard Sale where I purchased this dignified
bird, my friend Larry, who gave me these violets,
and Elmer, from whom we purchased
these River Birch trees over a
showing up in random places,
a pesky weed for some, but a cheerful
harbinger of health for others.
It's all about the narrative
at the foot of
a tree, shaded by
daffodils feels different
from the dandelion blowing
in the wind on a grassy
hillside at the
above that same landfill
inspires a different kind of reverence
than do robins digging
in my yard.
how even when
alone in the garden or on a
hillside in an industrial part of town, I
am with others, part of a narrative that transcends
the weather on a single day or my state
of mind in a given
May I find hope
in a time of trouble. Thank
you for the gifts that emerge. Forget
me not. The world is sweet, even though it
can be hard to focus & things feel
blurry when people & plants
try to share space. It's
So much is
It seems absurd,
really, that a gal has to
take care of things at home
even when there are so many cool
things happening, at, say,
her first solo show.
does come to an end,
and snow does appear and the
temperatures do start to fall,
so one does have to
take care of
It's funny, though,
how the list evolves over
time. Just as one thing is finally
crossed off, another activity or two or
three gets added on, like mulch
on the garden and those
perennials that keep
though, how I
save my favorite activity
for last - - shredding leaves to
use in the compost in the spring when
things are wet and need a boost
of dry carbon. It's a
thing for me.
joins in the
fun, begging me
to throw him sticks while
I methodically mow the leaves
in the still, dry garage. Spread them out,
consolidate, spread again. Back and forth I help
break them down so they can more
efficiently integrate with all that
nitrogen in the melting,
It hit me,
though, as the
pile got smaller, that
this is another one of those
routines I do all the time that is,
on the one hand, just another item on
the endless list, but on the other hand, is an
integral part of a bigger climate action narrative, a
story in which I find joy in routines that feel
good unto themselves but are also
part of a larger creative
how I can
of a previous year's leaves
on the wall of a gallery and by doing
so inspire others to think differently about
leaves, carbon and our
climate action and
creativity converge to inspire
joy and new ways of being - - all the time.
This was my view a few
days ago while hanging the laundry.
It takes my breath away every
time I go onto our
in a great mood
because I had set the day aside
to work on a major embroidery project
I'm exploring this
kept getting in the way.
You know how it can be - managing the
compost, changing toilet-paper rolls, drinking water
to stay hydrated on a hot day, cleaning up
after the dog made a mistake...
and, of course, doing
I think I was
able to finish about
half a leaf between each
interruption. By the time I went
out to hang the laundry, I was feeling
really frustrated by how slow my progress was.
I'd been feeling bad about other things too. Like the fact
I hadn't written a blog post for more than a
month and that I hadn't finished
the next playbook
in my series.
But while standing
on the terrace and hearing the
baby birds and seeing a monarch butterfly
head toward the volunteer milkweed in the orchard
we planted, I remembered that not long ago,
none of this was here: no terrace, solar
panels, shrubs or perennials, and
no monarchs or baby birds
learning to sing.
I also remembered
how exciting it was to see
these peonies and iris bloom together
after we had transplanted them that first year
with the terrace garden - that
was 8 years ago.
I have to remind myself
that over time, lots of little actions
accumulate and become something larger
than themselves. A single stone becomes a terrace. A
single flower becomes a garden. A single
stitch in a small leaf becomes a
just have to consciously
remember how things really work,
which is why when I dumped the compost and
took yet another photograph, I remembered the power of
showing up and of big little things. 10 pounds of compost a week
adds up to 500 pounds a year -- a ton over four years.
That's a lot of food diverted from the landfill.
It's also a lot of photographs
So this week
I'm celebrating Big Little
Things. Like the fact that after creating
thousands of Compost Compositions, I finally have
two in a juried show this summer and I'll have a few dozen in
a solo show this fall - - All at AVA Gallery in Lebanon,
NH. Friends told me that if I kept showing
up for my work and for myself,
cool things would happen.
They were right.
the simple climate
action of composting would
lead me to become a photographer?
Who knew that photographing that compost
could lead to learning about embroidery and the craft
of remaking old clothes? Who knew that the
act of remaking old things would
inspire new ways of thinking
and new ways
the Big Little Things
in your day or your week?
Remember: When you show up for
yourself and those you love,
cool things can
Messages for the Future @ AVA Gallery
AVA's 2019 Summer Juried Exhibition
July 12 - August 21
Monday Morning's Activities (not listed above):
Writing & mailing post cards to daughter and mother-in-law;
Emptying the dehumidifier in my basement studio;
Packing up some college supplies for a friend, who happens to be passing through, to take down to DC so that we won't have so much to manage in August when our son goes to college there;
Managing a broken nail that I got while packing those supplies;
Receiving a packet of pachysandra from a neighbor with whom I had just spoken during my morning walk - - She mentioned she had more pachysandra than she needed; I mentioned I could use some. I thought the plan was for me to go over and harvest it. What a gift!
And it all happened between 9am and 1pm.
Who knew trees could be so tricky? When looking for shade in a parking lot, I head for the trees. When seeking a place to hang a hammock, I look for trees. When wandering in the woods, I revel in the play of light through the leaves and branches. Trees, and the forests they inhabit, truly are the lungs of the earth. They absorb our poisons and release the oxygen we need to breath. Why then, given this reverence, would I advocate cutting them down in order to install solar panels?
To be clear, I love trees. I also love moving toward a 100% renewable future. If cutting trees allows me to reduce my personal and our collective dependence on toxic fuels, then it's something I am willing to consider, just as I am willing to consider altering mountain or ocean views in order to promote wind power (that's a different conversation). The fact is, I knew nothing about carbon sequestration when we cut dozens of trees to clear a view and to make room for more sun in 2004. It never occurred to me to do a cost-benefit analysis because I didn't know there was a choice. I loved trees from a distance, but hadn't really paid close attention to them.
Our goals were to create a soccer field for the kids, a vegetable garden, and a beautiful near and distant view. It's been almost 15 years and a lot has changed. We've planted a River Birch 'glen,' a bird-friendly hillside and a rain garden. We've installed solar panels and have a great lawn for all manner of sports. Each year, however, I become more and more curious about the trade-offs we made in order to create our own private Eden.
So here's what I've learned. On the most basic level, it's easy to plant new trees that serve multiple purposes but that won't block the sun. Fruit and nut trees, for example, absorb carbon and produce food. Flowering trees of all kinds provide nectar for pollinators and berries for birds. By cutting down all those evergreens all those years ago, we made room for a significantly more diverse landscape the provides food for us and a host of flying creatures.
When I did some research, I learned the following about the tree-solar trade-off. It takes 1.106 lbs of Co2 to produce 1 kwh of electricity so if you install a 5,000 kwh system, that would avoid 5,530 lbs of Co2 emissions each year.
No two trees are the same: A 30 year old white oak absorbs 60 lbs of carbon a year; A white pine absorbs 193 lbs of carbon a year; A fast growing red oak can absorb 240 lbs of carbon a year. In Hanover and much of New England, we have a lot of white pines. 5,530 lbs/193 lbs = 28.65 trees. If you cut less than 28 trees to maximize your solar options, don’t feel guilty in terms of carbon absorption and avoidance - - If you are cutting white pines.
I'm a photographer who loves trees and light. I'm also a gardener who loves backyard biodiversity and a world free from fossil fuel dependence. In my quest for a sustainable future for my family, I am constantly making trade-offs. We needed shade for our terrace and planted a tree whose maximum height is 30 feet, just below our rooftop panels. I had wanted an elegant oak, but needed to compromise as oaks get too large and would shade our rooftop panels. Who knew we would now have more than 15 varieties of trees on our property where before we just had white pines and a few oaks?
In July, we considered electric lawn care and the many alternatives to gas-powered machines, including reducing the actual size of your lawn. This month, we continue the lawn care theme, but address it from the point of view of the trees and solar power. Both absorb the light. Both generate energy from that light. At the moment, however, we need to maximize the rate at which we transition to renewables. If that transition necessitates cutting some trees, I am willing to do so, especially if that creates more light for more diverse plantings and clean energy.
Evelyn R. Swett
reframing the narrative in community and with myself, finding transformation and joy in the mess of it all
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