Tuesday, March 25, 2014

RETURN TO SEWANEE

On our return to The Mountain, our first glimpse of the yard at Sewanee revealed yellow and white daffodils nodding in the sun. When we walked around the side yard, we discovered scattered clumps of wild violets surrounded by an accumulation of leaves heaped there by winter winds. Spring is trying to emerge, but the woods in front of the house are still bare, and none of the trees have begun to green. Inside the cottage, we found ladybugs swarming, hunting for warm shelter. We must have vacuumed up a few hundred of these unwanted visitors who sneaked in while we were in Louisiana, many of them clinging to the ceiling in a bedroom.

Strange how many articles about killing wild violets appear in gardening columns—these reports about ridding yards of spring's loveliest flower seem outrageous to me. But entries about sod cutters and chemical weed killers (I didn't know the wild violet belonged to the family of weeds!) abound—and they're such bad press for the beautiful flower that attracts butterflies and is even an edible plant. The wild violet also contains salicylic acid, which can be used to soften tough skin, and to treat corns and warts.

No less attractive is the yellow daffodil that surrounds a bird bath in the front yard, a bright flower that can also be found in orange, pink, red, and, more recently, lavender hues. Although, the golden daffodil has been immortalized in Wordsworth's poem of that name, and the Chinese have adopted it as a symbol of their New Year, its beauty is deceptive for it contains an alkaloid poison called lycorine which, when ingested, can cause bodily harm. Also, I'm careful when I cut these bright flowers to bring indoors because the plant has been known to cause daffodil itch on the hands.

Actually, as we drove in yesterday, the first glimpse of our Sewanee property was at the entry to our
drive and included the view of a skeleton of apartments being constructed for students at the University of the South. The huge building overshadows our retreat, but we're fortunate to have a privacy fence around the back and one side of our property. The sight of this structure isn't a surprise as we received word, months ago, that the building would be constructed while we sojourned in Louisiana. However, we're still shocked when we look out the kitchen window and see this building rising a little higher in the sky each morning. The construction reminds me of e. e. cummings' succinct poem, "Pity this busy monster, manunkind," in which he writes: "Progress is a comfortable disease...plays with the bigness of his (mankind's) littleness...

I can always sit on the front porch of our retreat, look out at the emerging daffodils, and wait for the wildlife to appear in the woods. My contemplative hour will probably include pondering the words of another poet, Robert Frost, who reminds me that "good fences make good neighbors."


P.S.  Just to warn us that spring is not ready to spring, snow flurries have begun to veil the high rise construction, and the weatherman says that temps will dip to 21 degrees tonight.  While shopping for groceries, we saw three friends who teased us about our lack of timing in returning to The Mountain while a freakish winter wind is still blowing out of the North.

Photographs by Victoria I. Sullivan
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