Friday, May 9, 2014

Spring Boats, Blooms and Books

Britain's men beat UW Husky Crew
Early May is wet and gorgeous in Seattle.  The green landscape is washed in soft colors.  Everything is in bloom.  Even some of the weeds look good.  They haven’t had time to grow up yet.  Of course, it is raining most of the time so you need your umbrella and rain boots.  Last Saturday was no exception.  It was the opening of the Boating Season along the Montlake Cut and the 140th running of the Kentucky Derby.  I got up early and started weeding and pruning the overhanging bushes along my street before 9 am.  A few rainsqualls blew over me but passed by rapidly.  By 11 am I was sitting on the banks of the Montlake Cut, right at the University of Washington, watching the Huskies row against Great Britain in the Windermere Cup.  It was perhaps the most exciting rowing race I have seen in the thirty something years I have watched the UW crew.  Each year, the Windermere Cup pits the UW men and women’s teams against an international team.
Most years, the outstanding UW teams win with no problem.  But not this year.  The women’s race was neck and neck but our Husky women pulled ahead to win in the last 100 yards.  No such luck for the Husky men. 
The men’s race was a toss up until right before the finish line.  
The powerful Brits won by only a couple of strokes.  
We spectators sat in the rain and cheered for everyone!  The athletes deserved our cheers.  This year’s Windermere Cup races were a grand showing of the venerable sport of rowing which owes much to Great Britain.  Hail Britannia!!

Later I returned home and ate British Bangers to celebrate the win while I watched the Kentucky Derby.  Boat races and horse races have coincided for me on the first Saturday of May ever since I moved to Seattle.  It is a great day to celebrate two sports that trace their history back to the 19th century – long before football and basketball dominated the airwaves.   

Yesterday I had lunch with my friend Martha and toured her beautiful garden.  She has been working on it for many years and her efforts show.  There are multiple mature shrubs and trees; perennial herbs and grasses that make the spaces in her garden flow seamlessly and gracefully together.  I wonder if a reluctant gardener like me could ever make our garden even a little bit as pretty as hers.  I don’t know the names of all her plants but they were all in bloom – some I had never seen before – one she called Pieris Japonica – it was covered with masses of tiny white bells that looked as if a fairy had crafted them out of translucent paper.  There were blooming spireas, viburnums, rhododendrons, and an enormous Japanese maple that was simply grand.  She had maidenhair ferns clustered in the shadows along a woodland path that bordered a small slope covered in hydrangeas.  The whole garden space was extraordinary…sort of a Japanese Zen garden complete with large rocks covered with moss and falling water.  The sense of tranquility continued into the house where all the walls are floor to ceiling windows that beg you to look or go outside.  She has spent years completing a total remodel of her house.   It is very sparse and peaceful – not full of the brick-a-brac that fills all the surfaces in our house. 

Martha’s spare spaces made me think about all the stuff in my house.  While I feel friendly towards my stuff… I know I need to get rid of some of it.  But where do I start?  A few weeks ago I sorted through hundreds of books in my basement and recycled many to Goodwill.  But there are so many left that I don’t want to get rid of.  Should I throw away the ones that belonged to Jeff’s grandfather…it seems a sacrilege to recycle a book that he gave and inscribed lovingly to his bride, my husband’s grandmother, in 1914.  But where does one keep all of these things?  In the end at my parents’ house, when we cleaned it out after they died, we recycled thousands of books to the Salvation Army although each of us kept a few. 

Books, books, books
I grew up in a house that put a special value on books, especially classical books.  Years ago I could never have imagined recycling even one book.  On the contrary, my habit was to feel inadequate that I owned too few books.  I felt as if it implied, no proved, that I didn’t read enough books.  Of course that was before the Internet was invented.  Now it is difficult to have the same emotions about every book.  When I need information I turn to my computer, not to my library.  I don’t need my World Books or encyclopedias anymore.  I can find more current and likely more accurate information on line.  So what do I do with all the books that crowd my house?  And it isn’t just books, it is pictures, photographs, knick-knacks from our years of travel, clothes that date back thirty years. 

Martha’s house was an inspiration…with its stark restful spaces.  Perhaps we long for what we don’t have.  I remember Martha once telling me, years ago when she was in the middle of her long remodel (is there any other kind?) that she envied my home with all its pictures on the walls and mementoes filling the shelves.  Now I envy her spare style.  She told me that a mutual friend came and helped her weed out her wardrobe the day before.  One disadvantage of staying the same size – both Martha and I kept off the 10 pounds every 10 years by just continuing to exercise and eat healthy food – is that you still fit into clothes that went out of style years ago.  We laughed about that.  But we also lamented that most of the clothes available for women over 60 are all loose and shapeless with elastic waists.  We don’t have a solution but we both find ourselves wearing jeans and exercise clothes most days of the week.  We don’t want to wear clothes that are meant for our daughters’ age or that are thirty years out of date.  We hugged goodbye after a final garden tour in the rain.  One good thing about old friends is shared history.  Now that is something that cannot be replaced or recycled.  Just cherished.

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