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Celebrating at Mount Auburn Cemetery

Saturday, August 1, 2015

It never even occurred to me that celebrating my birthday in a cemetery was anything to remark upon, until someone remarked upon it.
Mount Auburn Cemetery is one of my happy places. It's a place of great beauty, tranquility, comfort and happiness for me. I saw so many of my life birds there--warblers, vireos, my first summer tanager...the list goes on and on. 

When I was a student, I used to read between the Sphinx's great paws. I didn't realize that sitting there could be construed as disrespectful. When the leaves were golden and the air was sweet and I couldn't stand the inside of a library for another second I'd go nestle on her stony bosom and read there. 

We saw what looked like hawk pellets there, and Phoebe climbed up for a second to retrieve them.

Corey and I dissected them, agreeing that the robust claws and teeth said gray squirrel to us. 

We thought they were hawk pellets because they were too small and disorganized to be good owl pellets. Yep, hawks cast pellets too. Saw a harrier cough one up once, and ran to retrieve it when she left.

The Sphinx stares stonily at this gorgeous little chapel. Look at those flower beds! They look like hyacinths in May, or lupines in June--but this is late July. What are they?

An annual called Angelonia, or summer snapdragon. Angelonia salicarifolia (Scrophulariaceae). Native from Mexico to the West Indies. I love it, love it love it. I have planted one here and one there in my flower borders, but never massed them like this. Brilliant! Makes me wonder if they grew them from seed in the greenhouses. I want to try this too. Heat and drought tolerant. And...deer don't like it!

There are no deer in Mt. Auburn Cemetery, something which amazes me. It is very well fenced, but still...there are foxes, coywolves and wild turkeys...hmm.

A sourwood tree in full bloom. Those pendant clusters of creamy bells make a fabulous honey. "Hit's got a whang to it," said a gentleman from Bristol, Virginia. I think of him every time I taste sourwood honey. This is a very large sourwood. It's native to Appalachia, a small understory tree.

Daylilies, reaching toward the light, remind me of angels blowing their trumpets. Mt. Auburn's trees are so huge and mature it must be quite a challenge to grow anything that needs full sun.

Corey appreciates an ancient weeping beech. People have gone in the green rooms beneath its canopy and carved the heck out of it. Why do they do that? It's vandalism, pure and simple. I love finding beeches around Cambridge that haven't been carved, by virtue of being in the front yards of elegant homes. They're out there. You just have to look for them. It's a small miracle when you find one in a public place that doesn't have somebody's dopey initals on it.

Mt. Auburn Cemetery is paradise for tree freaks. Wonder what that weird-barked thing is? Well, trot on over and read the label! It's an arboretum, that's what it is, a bird sanctuary, a sculpture garden, a park. And a cemetery.

We love it here. The perfect expotition: Hodge in the lead, Corey and Phoebs entwined, me bringing up the rear, digging around, smelling flowers, reading labels, pontificating about this plant or this dropping or that tree or this flower. Bla bla bla bla. They don't seem to mind.

Hodge points out the Roxbury puddingstone that proud and prominent citizens of this Boston suburb used for their headstones. Pretty it ain't, all conglomerated as it is, but it's authentic. I like authentic.

Corey for scale. I wonder how they got that monster there?

On this expotition, we break with tradition (being hungry as usual) and have our Watertown Diner breakfast before our hike. Mmmm. Hash.

My favorite diner of them all. Hash. You must try the hash. Now, hash can run the gamut from pasty red Alpo (with subtle overtones of puke) to absolutely divine. WD's hash is stringy, slightly dry, exquisitely beefy (think rump roast flavor); it has small chunks of carrot and new potato, and the next time I'm going there I'm ordering just hash. So, so delish. Phoebe is now a believer. Her own mother turned her on to hash.

I love being around these two. The glow coming off them puts neon to shame.

Every now and then I force the shadowy, notoriously camera-shy but impossibly cute Hodge to submit to a quick snapshot. Follow @khmacomber on Instagram. 699 followers can't be wrong!

Travels in Massachusetts

Thursday, July 30, 2015

My first task on coming to Cambridge is to visit Houghton Mifflin Harcourt to meet with my editor and the new book’s designer about proofing the color of the book’s 500+ paintings. I thoroughly enjoy meeting with Lisa and Martha, and leave HMH with an armload of proofs to take home and pore over. I have the originals at home, so it’s me who will be doing the proofing. Yikes. I hope I can deliver as good a result as the pro's at Houghton. Well, I know my colors, and I have the originals right here, so I should get close.

I tromp through Harvard Yard carrying my proofs and come out on the plaza by the Science Center. Since I was in school here, Harvard has repaved the large dark asphalt plaza with white granite, which has proven to be a perfectly horrid choice. When the sun’s out, the granite reflects it upward,  to blinding effect. So anyone who wants to linger there has to be under a shelter, tent, or umbrella lest they be simultaneously blinded and roasted alive. I think it's the kind of thing you don't think about until it's all installed and you go, "Hey. I can't stand being out here."

Under some makeshift tents, I am delighted to find a farmer’s market in full swing. I drool over fresh-picked produce and wish I could buy it all. I can hardly believe my eyes. A farmer's market. In Cambridge. At Harvard.

Man, those are gorgeous eggplants.

Ohh Massachusetts blueberries. Wow. It's all I can do not to buy them, but I am on foot, heavily laden with color proofs.

Earlier in the day, I have delivered Liam to my niece Karen's care. He will spend the week in Rhode Island, hanging out with my two sweet and energetic grand-nephews. Giving Karen a little break.

Max considers his cousin Liam something of a god who walks the earth. Liam's coming to Boston was a surprise. Here, Liam is showing Max his Charlie card, for the public transit system. Max still can't believe his eyes. They would spend several magic days together, bonding as only boy cousins can.

On Tuesday evening, I gave my talk, "Situational Awareness and the Art of Disappearing," to a small but warm and wonderful crowd at Story Chapel in Mt. Auburn Cemetery. I composed a little poem to Mt. Auburn, and shared some of my photos of its many wonders before launching into the talk. 

I sold lots of books and notecards, and had a wonderful time. I like to end my talks with a song when I can, and the privilege of singing in that space was worth the flight to New England, worth driving in Boston traffic. 

When we came out of Story Chapel, the sky was doing this. 

Look at the light of this hour!

Much more on Mt. Auburn Cemetery's joys to come.

From there, on Wednesday July 22 I hied me to Harvard MA, about an hour west of town, where my dear sister Barbara lives. I gave a talk based on Letters from Eden for the Fruitlands Museum, a Shaker village nestled in the rolling orchard country of Harvard. Man, is it beautiful there. Once again, a small but devoted crowd, a beautiful space, a song, and best of all my two sisters Micky and Barbara there to cheer me up and on.  I don't have a photo of that because I had a show to do, and book signing afterward, and it just didn't happen. Dang it! I took this in the calm before the talk.

The next morning, July 23, I had to be in Topsfield MA at the fairgrounds by 9:30 AM to set up for a talk on bird gardening for the Massachusetts Nursery and Landscapers Association. Three in a row, all different talks, and all fresh and new. If you haven't heard as much from me lately, that's how come.

Another small crowd, great people, gorgeous weather, even a kingbird smacking a redtail circling in the sky overhead. I took a pretty difficult plant ID quiz along with all the professional landscapers and nurserypeople and got a respectable 79, which I'm told is enough to pass my Master Gardener's exam. Whee! I finished up there, and had a three-hour tooth and nail stop and start fight through Boston traffic to get down to Canton by dinnertime, to meet with some artist friends for dinner. Overnight in Canton, and on Friday morning July 24 I met with Amy Montague, Director of the Museum of American Bird Art about mounting an exhibition of my work. 

Hanging there now is a show of Don Eckelberry's paintings. This small museum is making quite a name for itself in the quality and variety of its shows. Amy is just the greatest, so knowledgeable, caring, energetic and a true visionary. I'm honored to be considered for a show there. It's been awhile since I've had one. Stay tuned for next spring!

After meeting with Amy Friday morning, I was leaving the museum grounds when I heard a robin scolding incessently. There was a red-tailed hawk perched smack in front of me in a dead tree. I couldn't have missed him if I'd tried. I know it doesn't look like much more than a white dot in this bad iPhone photo, but trust me. He was there, with a bullet.

Well, we all know that's my Dad visiting on my birthday morning. 

A redtail perches 
a robin cussing him out
The least observant
among us could not miss this.
I'm accompanied
Watched over with love
flown on summer-ragged wings
from the Great Beyond.

Fresh Pond Native Plant Party

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Red Admiral, Sweet William and Queen Anne—all the celebs are making the scene at Fresh Pond Reservation this morning! It’s a quietly riotous party. 

The robust shuttlecocks of purple coneflower ought to be festooned with butterflies by now. Not sure where they all are, but it seems we have more swallowtails and admirals in Ohio right now than I'm seeing in Massachusetts. 

I’m surprised to see Joe-Pye weed already in bloom. It has yet to come out at home, though we’re considerably farther south in latitude. 

Much as I love its wifty plumes and the way it sings with chicory, white soapwort and QAL, I can’t say I was happy to see the first early goldenrod coming into bloom. My associations with goldenrod and autumn are far too strong. I sigh and decide to accept it, if not celebrate the headlong rush toward the end. After all, September and October are among my favorite months.

I’m happy to see the yellow buttons of tansy teaming up with chicory and QUAL for another salute to Sweden. Tansy is a pretty plant, and smells so good when you rub it on your arms. It’s said to repel ants and mosquitoes. We don’t have it in Ohio. Whoops, Googling it on a slight suspicion that it's not native, I find it's considered yet another noxious weed from Eurasia. Gawrsh. All three of these are considered such. 

Sometimes I wonder when we will just lie down and accept that we have a global flora, a global fauna. Even as I fight tooth and nail against Miscanthus grasses and Japanese stiltgrass, wisteria and ailanthus and Japanese honeysuckle, garlic mustard and creeping Charlie. Never, I guess. I freely admit to a bias for the pretty ones. I'm dumb that way.

Hodge and I find four young Canada geese stranded and looking longingly out at Fresh Pond from behind a low chain link fence. The gate is closed and locked or we’d open it for them. A terrier mix, running off lead, rushes in and starts to snap at their tails, totally ignoring the yells of his owner. Hodge and I rush to stop him. Grrrr. Come on, woman, get control of your durn dog. The geese seem unable to fly over the three-foot fence; perhaps they’re in molt. Their wings look fully feathered. Hmm. Perhaps they’re just having an attack of the dumbs.

photo by K.H. Macomber
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 I sidle up, stand next to them and make clear pictures in my head of me helping the geese over the fence. I ask their permission to help them. The nearest bird allows me to reach down and grab it with little protest. I hoist it up over the fence and toss it into the air, expecting it to plane down into the water, which is about 3' below the concrete berm on which they stand, gazing out longingly. Then, I figure, I'll quickly toss the other three over the fence to join it. It flies out over the water and immediately doubles back to land with its friends again on the wrong side of the fence. Thank you, but no thank you; I don’t want to go without them. Because there’s no way I can catch and toss all four at once, I give up. We go inside the nearby visitor’s center and Hodge leaves a sticky note for the park ranger, asking that the gate be opened for these poor, seemingly witless birds. Knowing how intelligent Canada geese are, I can’t help but think that there’s something going on here I don’t understand, something to do with the fence height and the fact that the water level is too far below the berm for them to feel comfortable dropping into it. Much as I want to help them, I can't.

I like the little lost mateless shoes. Liam left a trail of those as a babe.

 Thus ends our visit to the spectacular native plant showrooms of Fresh Pond Reservation. Workers and volunteers, I salute you! Thank you for showing us what a moist prairie meadow looks like. We’d almost forgotten.

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