On the bluff, in the wind

Indian paintbrush blooming on the bluff (Mendocino Headlands) At the edge of the bluff, the gaze glides down towards the ocean shimmering deep blue under a bright summer sky. It stops at the tuft of Indian paintbrush blooming brilliant red half-way down, a small fire, burning heatless on the steep sandy slope.

The Indian paintbrush is not the only plant surviving in the harsh environment,
scorched by the mid-day sun that has burned off the nightly fog,
shaken by the wind that accompanies the fog daily mass migration to and from the coast,
splashed by the salt spray the ocean showers when it pounds the shore.

But among the gravity-defying bluff flora, the Indian paintbrush is the plant that most assertively heeds its urge to bloom, bursting into flames of flowers. It doesn’t wait for something to change its surroundings, doesn’t try to move elsewhere. It sings its colorful song today on this rocky stretch of California coast.

The place or the time not being right for the blooming burning inside me is an excuse easy to make. The Indian paintbrush turns that excuse into sand. Where my feet are now and when I breathe this breath are as right a place and time as there will ever be. I look at the blue expanse of the Pacific Ocean marbled with streaks of white foam.

I breathe in the cool coastal air carrying the taste of salt and seaweeds. Like the Indian paintbrush, I cannot imagine a better place or a better time.


© 2015-2020 Simona Carini

Pruning shears

My pink rose bush

Last year, at the end of the blooming season, I pruned the two rose bushes that grow on the western wall of our house.

Every evening for over a week,
after the day’s work was done,
in the suspended moment between day and night,
I pruned.

The air was still,
the Pacific Ocean, though constantly chattering, seemed to slow down and settle for the night.
Birds were silent,
bunny rabbits were safely tucked deep in the bushes,
raccoons were preparing for their nightly raids,
and I pruned.

Brandishing shears in my gloved hands, I snipped and snipped and pulled long thorny branches tangled with others. I was unravelling a mystery.

I wished the bushes understood my destruction’s purpose was to make them better. But I doubted myself and them. What if I bungled the whole thing and the bushes died as a result of my inexperienced snipping?

The light thump of each branch coming to rest on the growing pile of siblings sounded final, like a chapter-ending period. I left only healthy-looking branches off the main stem. The bushes looked kind of naked, exposed. The while walls behind them glared at me, exposed too.

I carried the last mound of severed branches to the discard pile and went inside without looking back. A sense of having survived a necessary painful process prevailed, liniment on the raw wound. For months, I didn’t go close to the bushes for fear I would see signs of deteriorating health.

In early spring,
a small red rose bloomed shyly
in the still cool air.

Then,
the pale pink bush exploded
into a firework of delicate blooms.

I tried to remember how sparse the bushes had been after my surgical intervention, but it was hard to match my six-month-old memory with the lush growth in front of me:
a lavish
ravishing
rose world,
a world lighted by pink and red petals.

On a recent morning, demoralized about sustained creative efforts not bearing the expected fruit, I went outside and looked at my roses:
bejeweled by dewdrops,
compliments of the nightly coastal fog,
they smiled at the pale morning sun and at me.

And I understood.
I must cut away what saps my energy,
what served a purpose, but whose role has come to an end.

To bloom, I must prune — mercilessly.


© 2015-2020 Simona Carini

Garden nasturtium

Leaf of garden nasturtium with raindrops
Leaf of garden nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus)

August 2013

Garden nasturtium‘s large shield-shaped leaves gather water drops (dew or rain) like solar panels gather sunlight.

On a horizontal leaf, droplets slide towards the depression at the center. In the morning, a giant lenticular drop reflects my image on its tense convex surface — a dome that wiggles in the breeze, a drinking pool for the visiting hummingbird.

I wish there were something similar for sunlight, a way of collecting a small pool of it, into which I could dip a finger or a brush and paint the day on the canvas of time stretching ahead.

If the leaf is in a vertical position, drops glide on its slightly parabolic surface and end up hanging from the bottom edge, suspended over the abyss.

Nasturtium plants exhibit a tendency to take over our garden. Besides embracing the house in several spots with sometimes suffocating enthusiasm, they worm their way into the jasmine bush, wrap themselves around draining pipes, blanket the compost pile, emerge where I least expect them.

Sturdy stems push their way forward with determination: there is no crevice, however small, they won’t explore. They find plenty of opportunities around our house, tugged by tectonic forces stronger than its foundations.

Garden nasturtium flowers in bloom
Garden nasturtium flowers in bloom

The yellow nasturtium flowers compete in brightness with the sun during the day and the orange ones out-orange the setting sun. They are also winners on the table.

Raw nasturtium flowers pop into a flash of flowery pepperiness in the mouth, firecrackers exploding with flavor rather than sound. They brighten a butter lettuce or steamed snap bean salad with both their color and their zest. Tossed into a skillet with cooked dark leafy greens, their splash of brightness is like a lightning fracturing the darkness of the night sky.

Pressed between two layers of pasta dough, nasturtium petals make an edible “stained glass” that charms the eyes.

A harvest of garden nasturtium's seedpods
My harvest of garden nasturtium’s seedpods

In flowers left to complete their life cycle, seedpods develop as the petals wilt and fall off. They cluster in groups of three or four, light green and succulent. They are called “poor man’s capers,” I learned. One evening around sunset, it didn’t take me long to harvest a cup. I carried them to the kitchen on a large nasturtium leaf and pickled them in distilled white vinegar. When the right combination of ingredients presented itself, they played their role well and henceforth will be called “lucky woman’s capers.”


© 2015-2020 Simona Carini