Aloysia triphylla

Aloysia triphylla

Lemon verbena nestles among
my showy crimson roses and vibrant blue hydrangea,
its white-nearly-lavender flowers inconspicuous in the greenery.

It comes to my garden with a long history,
discovered long ago in Argentina and Chile,
brought by Spaniards in the 17th century to Europe,
named after Marie Louisa, Princess of Parma, wife of King Carlos II of Spain,
a royal crown its heritage.

Loved by writers of poetry and prose,
it came alive in the pages of books,
in L. M. Montgomery’s  Anne of the Island,
William Faulkner’s Unvanquished,
Louisa May Alcott’s An Old-fashioned Girl,
favored by Scarlett O’Hara’s mother in Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind,
its literary heritage only part of its existence.

Its invigorating, lemon-scented green leaves and white flowers
flavor teas, sorbets, cookies and cakes,
scent perfumes and sachets,
infuse vodkas,
refresh our lives.

Yet there it is nearly unnoticed
amid the splendor of the roses
and the breath-taking blooms of the hydrangea,
accomplishments multitudinous,
providing immeasurable daily joy.

Subtlety, it says, brings its own rewards.

© Barbara Flass 2011

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Is this place on your bucket list?

Occasionally, I hear someone talk about making up a bucket list of things to do before they die.  I don’t really have a bucket list, at least not on paper, but I do have a number of things floating around in my head on days that seem especially difficult.  My mental list includes places I have been to and loved, places I want to return to.  One of my favorite places is Arizona, especially the area from Prescott north to Sedona and up to Flagstaff.  I know everyone’s bucket list is different, individually tailored to their interests in life, but I can’t imagine anyone would not love to have Sedona, Arizona on their bucket list.

Several years ago while driving my oldest daughter to college in Arizona, my family took a drive down from Flagstaff  through Oak Creek Canyon to Sedona and down to Prescott.  It’s a harrowing drive, a near-frightening drive in fact, but so exhilarating, one wants to do it over and over, I guess like people who love skydiving or jumping from cliffs.  When we returned home, I wrote this description of our trip so I wouldn’t forget it, but truthfully it’s not easy to forget the beauty of Arizona.

 Oak Creek Canyon

The drive down to Sedona from Flagstaff took us miles over a narrow road to Oak Creek Canyon, one of the most beautiful places in Arizona.  It was a 2000 foot drop from the top of the canyon through the Verde Valley to the bottom of the canyon floor and the town of Sedona at the base.  The red, sandstone walls of the canyon were mixed with muted purple, gold, and bronze and create rock formations resembling castles with cones and cylinders reaching toward the cloudless, deep blue sky.

Along the way were lookout points, and several times we stopped the car, got out, and tried to capture on film the brilliance and the magnitude of the canyon.  The edge of the winding, sharp-curved road was precipitously close to the drop off to the base of the canyon, causing our hearts to beat rapidly.  Near the top of the canyon we entered the town of Jerome, an historic, copper-mining town with cobblestone streets and renovated structures that balanced precariously on the sides of the cliffs.   Gift shops, pottery and craft shops, art galleries, and restaurants filled the buildings which once housed miners and their families.  Steep steps led from the road up to and down to the shops and galleries.

As we neared the bottom of the canyon, the trout fishing stream wound its way in front of resorts, cabins, and inns set back from the road.  In several places flat, slate-gray rock ledges jutted up out of the clear blue water, forming areas for tourists to sunbathe as they sprawled on colorful beach towels and blankets.  Tall pinon pines towered above the road and the fragrance of the pine forest permeated the air and wafted in through the open car windows.  As we neared the base of the canyon, the picturesque town of Sedona came into view, the main street lined with art galleries, shops, and restaurants.  The courtyard in front of the adobe chapel surrounded a variety of small fountains and colorful gardens.

From Sedona we could look straight up to the top of the canyon, where we had started our descent a few hours previously.  I felt a sense of relief mingled with awe as we drove out of Sedona on less treacherous roads through the hot, desert sands of Arizona.

I’m not sure why anyone would care about my trip to Sedona, but I hope everyone has a place like this they can visit, even if only in their minds, when life gets a little rocky.  I wonder what places are on other people’s bucket lists.  I especially wonder if Sedona is on anyone else’s list of favorite places to find peace and beauty among the rough spots in our daily lives.

photo credit:  billandkent’s photostream

Lighthouse Dreams

Lighthouse Dreams

He stands on alert,
his solidness and bulk
belying the grace of his light.

Guarding the rocky shore,
the waves crashing at his feet,
he is unmoved by the force without.

Savior of all who sail the surrounding seas
and savior of all who walk
beneath his eye.

Drawn to its serenity,
to its protectiveness and strength,
we let our dreams reside within.

Who better to guard them,
our hopes and our wishes?

And later, maybe years beyond,
he will lift them into the light,
beam them into the darkness,
scatter them into the sky.

We stand alone on rocky beaches
searching the sky,
seeking the stars for our lighthouse dreams,
feeling the guidance of the light
as we float into eternity
toward our greatest dream of all.

© Barbara Flass 1998

Courage in the Oncology Suite

Today was another six-month checkup with my oncologist.  It has been seven years, but there is still a twinge of fear every time I step into his office.  As I enter the building today, I look at the sign next to the elevator that points out to me the oncology/hematology suite on the third floor.  I wonder once again how that could possibly be a place I would need to visit.

My checkup is fine as usual.  Then I am escorted to the lab to have blood drawn.  The lab is an open area next to the chemotherapy infusion room.  Today the three chairs within my vision are empty, but I can hear a woman speaking softly to someone from the chair just outside my field of vision.  I have a flashback to the times I went with my sister to her chemo treatments.  We sat together like the two women at the end of the room, talking softly and laughing together.  I wonder how it is possible for someone sitting there with the poisonous liquid coursing through her veins to hold a conversation like it was occurring over a cup of coffee in her kitchen.  My sister did that.  I just don’t really know where such strength would come from.

The nurse draws my blood and places it into the machine for analysis.  When the report has printed, I am free to go.  For a moment as I sat there,  I was wishing my sister was still with me, but then I realized that I did not want her to have to go through chemotherapy again or have her blood drawn to see if the cancer had returned.  I miss her voice, her laughter, her camaraderie with the nurses and with everyone she came into contact with.  Today she would have tried to get our oncologist to laugh or maybe just smile a little.  She had an uncanny ability to bring light into the darkest moments of life.

Every time I enter that medical building, that oncology suite, I feel pain in my heart for the suffering the patients are enduring.  But then I listen to them talk with their family members who are with them, and I watch them go to the window and schedule more appointments and more tests, smiling at the receptionists, joking a little, a radiance emanating from them even in their illness.  I admire them.  And I think that maybe my sister’s spirit is really a part of their ability to cope, that maybe she is with me after all.

When does the spirit of the Fourth of July end?

The wonderful part of yesterday, the Fourth of July, was how everyone came together with patriotic fervor to celebrate our country’s independence.   We were united as Americans in a show of community.  But today listening to the politicians in Washington, to candidates for the presidency, to local New York state politicians argue about what is best for this country, promoting aggressively their own agendas without seeking enough compromise to satisfy everyone, then I wonder why we come together only during tragedies or celebrations.

Yesterday I went to the Fourth of July celebration in Saratoga Springs.  The day began with the Firecracker 4 Road Race, a four-mile run with 2500 runners.  Then came a parade brought up at the end by a group of dog owners and their dogs, many dressed up in little patriotic doggy costumes.  People milled around the streets of town, shopping, dining, and enjoying the $1 samples of BBQ and desserts provided by local restaurants.  Everyone was friendly.  Children loved the dogs, the dogs loved the attention, the food was good, the antique car show was fun for reminiscing, and the family activities in the park followed by the fireworks made for a memorable Fourth of July once again.

But then came the fifth of July.  Back to politicians bickering, back to the oil spill in Montana, back to the Casey Anthony trial, and divisiveness.  I don’t think we could ever manage a world with total acquiescence on all issues.  That wouldn’t even be an interesting life.  Still, patriotism was so strong on 9/11 and yesterday, flags flying everywhere.  It’s best to overlook those Americans who didn’t even know what country we got our freedom from or what year or why and those Americans who thought of the 4th of July only as a great day off from work.  We took a drive around Saratoga Lake, one of the most beautiful and scenic lakes in New York, and observed all the parties and the swimming and boating, but also standing out against the clear blue sky flying proudly from boats and docks all along the shore was the American flag.  So maybe it’s true that most people do feel more than a twinge of patriotism on the 4th of July.  Maybe those dogs strutting their stuff along Broadway felt proud to be American dogs.  Maybe all of the antique cars in the park were actually made in America.  Maybe barbequed pork sliders and strawberry shortcake truly represent the American 4th of July celebration, and maybe the idea of America is still strong somewhere on the 5th of July.  Do we really need  a 9/11 disaster or the Fourth of July to fly the flag and come together as Americans in working for what’s best for our country?