Retreating to the Trees

IMG_0308 (480x640)Trees and I are on good terms again. On Tuesday, I even went on a walk at the Arboretum, which is literally “a place with trees.” The North Carolina Arboretum, located just off the Blue Ridge Parkway, features many plants besides trees. Its attractions include (but are not limited to) a quilt garden, a greenhouse, outdoor artwork, native plants, a model railroad, a cafe, an outdoor ampitheater, 10 miles of hiking trails, and a bonsai garden (more trees but tiny ones). You get a lot for your yearly membership fee at the Arboretum, which is how my husband justified renewing at the end of September.

To get to the trees, my husband and I took the path on the other side of the Baker Exhibit Building. Immediately, we were shaded by friendly evergreens and hardwoods, which was helpful since it was warming up. We both regretted not having left our jackets in the car. Most of the leaves haven’t changed color yet, although this sassafras sapling is getting into the act. sassafras saplingYears ago, we used to take our kids on the “tree trail” at the Arboretum, which featured 10 trees with a number nailed to the bark. The goal was to identify what kind of tree each was, but an even more important goal was not to accidentally miss one of the 10 trees: if we skipped one, that meant turning around and going back til we found it. I can’t fault my children for being obsessive about things like that, since I am myself. Aside from being one of those activities that gives you the pleasure of checking off tasks, the tree trail (officially called the “Carolina Mountain Trail”) taught me something about trees. I can usually identify those ten types of trees without much trouble: red oak, sourwood, tulip poplar, maple, pine, dogwood, white oak, mountain laurel, sassafras. . . . Oh, well, I remember most of them!

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On Tuesday, our destination was not the Carolina Mountain Trail but the Bent Creek Trail, which meanders alongside a pleasant little stream. Last time we took this trail, I startled a snake sunning himself on the path, but today the only wildlife that we encountered were an elusive blue butterfly, some busy squirrels, and numerous birds. I wish I were better at identifying birds, particularly since my father is a birder who keeps a lifebook of all the birds he’s seen. Still, we enjoyed listening to their calls as we got deeper into the woods.

It was good to be outside on Tuesday: I sometimes think if I could spend a couple of hours walking in the woods every day that I would be a better person. (I would be a happier person and a more fit person, but what would happen to home and hearth and homeschooled child?) Like most of us, I have been struggling to come to terms with the unthinkable tragedy in Las Vegas. On Monday, I was hardly aware of it and happily penned a fluffy piece about missing September. Then, after I’d posted it, I started scrolling through the Reader and browsing on the internet. I began reading more details and trying to fathom what could have prompted such an evil act. How can the world be such a beautiful place and such a terrible place at the same time? But it is.

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Today, as I sit at a bookstore and wait for my son to finish his chess game, I am surrounded by the tranquil beauty and normalcy that I often take for granted. It helps me to recall the lovely woodland scenes that my husband and I saw on Tuesday. You don’t get impressive vistas at the Arboretum; there are a few places where you can glimpse the mountains, but mostly what caught my fancy was down in the forest: a funny red mushroom, a place where the foaming bubbles in the creek had formed something that looked like a mushroom, the flaming red leaves of a slim sapling that caught my eye, an oddly shaped wildflower, the twisted trunk of a mountain laurel in the middle of the path.

At the end of our walk, my husband and I had lunch in the cafe, where the food was better than I had remembered with lots of yummy options. I went with the veggie muffaletta while he had the chicken salad sandwich with apricots, almond, and basil. No pictures of the food, though: I’m trying to cut down on my incessant picture taking, at least if I sense that it is annoying other people. But pictures help me to remember and to relive beautiful moments, so I’m not going to stop altogether. In the foyer of the Education Building, I saw a lovely arrangement of fresh flowers: something about the formality of the arrangement and the predominance of purple flowers, which I associate with mourning, made me think again of the 58 people whose lives were ruthlessly truncated on Sunday.

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Beauty helps to distract us from the horrors, although it doesn’t make them disappear. It doesn’t erase the evil, and, in some ways, it acts as an ironic contrast to the ugliness of life. An acquaintance of mine posted a poem recently that captures that sense of disjointedness: how can the sky be so gorgeous when there is such grief in the world? Yet I hope on, trusting to the providence of a God whose ways are mysterious and inscrutable. He is creator of the beauty and comforter of those who mourn.

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From Theme to Shining Theme

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This LEGO sculpture was part of a Sean Kenney exhibit at the Arboretum last November. All other pictures were taken October 2, 2014. Kenney takes LEGO creativity to a new level.

As any child who has ever built a LEGO set under my roof knows, I have compulsive tendencies. Woe to the child who skips a step in building his X-Wing fighter or–unthinkable–attempts to make his own design without first assembling the figure as laid out in the instruction booklet. I have even gone so far as to order missing pieces from the LEGO company. Once the prepackaged creation–an oxymoron, I admit–has been assembled, I accept that I must allow the toy to function as a toy. On principle, though, I prefer to follow steps in the correct order (a preference that has resulted in conflict with my husband, who turns to the directions when all else fails).

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Quilt garden at the Arboretum

And so, in my dilatory but determined progress through Blogging 101, I came to Assignment 5 and felt compelled to complete this exercise if for no other reason than that it was the next step in the plan. I felt unenthusiastic because this assignment involved change: experimenting with three different “themes.” For the non-blogging reader, a blogger chooses the header, page layout, menus, and so on when she sets up the blog. There are over 290 themes here at WordPress. Not all themes are free, and, given that I was unsure how long I’d stick with this gig, “free” was my prime consideration when I became a blogger.DSCN0464

Anxious to get my blog set up, I had settled quickly on Twenty Ten, which allowed me to upload a header image; the title’s white default font, however, did not show up well over the photo, making my quotation hard to read. I had headed back to the theme showcase and chosen the first theme I found that would give me both a custom header and a visible title. Big Brother did the job, although the title font seemed a bit utilitarian.  After a week or so, I was used to it, but I had been bothered by my inability to use a featured image. Still, playing with different themes takes time. Was tweaking something that wasn’t broken worth the effort? On the Commons, I had read about bloggers trying to go back to their original themes and having to start from scratch. This worried me.

DSCN0453But the theme assignment was before me, with no way around it: I had to go through it. I was emboldened because of another blogger’s explanation of how to restore a theme. Counting Big Brother as my first experiment, I had to try only two more. So–deep breath–I set off to find a theme. By filtering the themes according to features that I wanted, I narrowed down the field to 78. I still had some browsing to do. Finally, I got out a notebook, archaic though it felt, and wrote down a few themes to try. It did take time, and I had to backtrack from activation more than once. After Twenty Twelve, Simplicity, and Widely all let me down, I was on the verge of restoring Big Brother, when I spied Able. I liked the preview well enough to activate it and have decided to keep it.

DSCN0442DSCN0437Once again, it seems that the folks writing the Blogging 101 assignments know what they are doing. Able is working far better for me than Big Brother did. I like the way my title looks. I can customize my header and my font color. I can feature an image when I publish my posts. While noticeable to me, the changes probably seem insignificant to others, but maybe that is the easiest way to approach change: one step at a time–one shade darker here, one shade lighter there.

DSCN0469With the assignment done, I felt so light-hearted that I proposed a walk at the Arboretum to my husband and son. There, the gradual move into autumn is changing the look of things.  The color changes are subtle in the woods, but, slowly, the greens are giving way to reds, oranges, and yellows.  Since it was late on a week day, we had the place almost to ourselves and could enjoy a quiet walk, drenched in the afternoon sunlight.

One incidental felicity of our visit to the Arboretum was an indoor exhibit on deep-sea exploration that my fourth grader found fascinating. He and his father had fun trying to piDSCN0444ck up a sponge with a robotic arm like the one recently attached to Alvin, a submersible that helped to photograph the Titanic. Science lesson for the day? Check!

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Although the Arboretum grounds are open until 7, the exhibits close at 5, so I had time for only one bonsai photo.

Although David would have happily remained at the Extreme Deep exhibit for another hour, I welcomed the time when the curator ushered us out of the building and back into the sunshine. My husband and I are going to enjoy our year’s membership at the Arboretum, an anniversary gift from our children. Nothing clears away the cobwebs like a walk in the woods.

One challenge down–for the moment, at any rate. In the wonderful world of WordPress, nothing is set in stone. Who can say that I won’t find a theme that I like better next month? For now, I can stroll past the reddening leaves of the dogwood and take cheer from the yellow daisies, knowing that today’s decision is behind me.


Note to the Reader: as of late October 2014, Able no longer appears to support a Featured Image.

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