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31 August 2009

WANDERLUST: New Orleans


Last year, I had the opportunity to volunteer in New Orleans, hanging sheet rock at a little house in St. Bernard Parish, pictured here, near the Lower Ninth Ward.
I also carried out my idea to plant a little garden there and had a lot of help with that--sort of a "stone soup" story. You can see the border in front of the house, below the large window.
Here's a link to an essay I wrote afterwards: "Gardeners Without Borders."

I plan to visit NOLA again in November, but I don't know if I'll get to the parish to check in on the border we planted.

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30 August 2009

WANDERLUST: The Jersey Shore


Another day dawning on Absecon Island, Longport, New Jersey

Photo by Colleen Smith


Just back in town from the Jersey Shore, where
I celebrated the start of my 49th trip around the sun with an early morning walk on the beach, thinking simple and profound thoughts:
The ocean heals. There's little on Earth more beautiful than seashells. Vacation allows re-creation of one's self. Tossing a Frisbee on a beach is a meditative act of communion. Just a bit of fine champagne gladdens the heart and causes no hangover. Raw oysters taste like the ocean. Every breath is tide turning. Mysteries never leave us, and moments of grace wash over us like ocean waves.

“I do not at all understand the mystery of grace--only that it meets us where we are but does not leave us where it found us.”
-- Anne Lamott


I body-surfed Hurricane Bill and lived to tell the tale. Hurricane Bill washed up jillions of jellyfish and stripped off my bikini and tumbled me more than twice. Jimmy Buffet had everyone dancing at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City. I returned with a nice suntan and some new seashells for my collection. I sent no postcards, bought no souveniers. I still half-expect to find my dogs in the house when I return; and, in a way, they are there--sort of like the ghost dog in "The Nightmare Before Christmas."

One consolation regarding the melancholy end of summer: Ski season's just around the corner.




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29 August 2009

A Seagull's Sand Mandala on the Jersey Shore


A seagull breakfasting on a creature
inside a seashell
created this art in the sand
on the Atlantic's shore.


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27 August 2009

Jackson Browne Rocked Red Rocks: Putting Myself in Harmony’s Way



We support the arts. The arts support us.

Sorry for the lame photo, but here's my iPhone's view
from Red Rocks Row 5,26 August 2009:
Jackson Browne and his badass band.




"...and the river opens for the righteous.
And the river opens for the righteous.
And the river opens for the righteous. Someday."
-- Jackson Browne, "I Am a Patriot"

"Righteousness strikes the harmony chords of truth, and the melody vibrates throughout the cosmos, even to the recognition of the Infinite."


Musicians are magicians, in my mind. These gifted people walk on stage, pick up instruments that often amount to inanimate bits of wood and metal and string; and they make music. Jackson Browne’s band polished smooth the songs time has not conquered: “The Pretender,” “For a Dancer,” “In the Shape of a Heart.” These minstrels rocked the rocks. What we see and hear seems seamless, almost effortless. What we don’t often see or hear are rehearsals. We don’t often stop to think how much these people must have practiced their craft to hone it to art.

Jackson Browne is one of my heroes artistically and politically.

And when the singer-songwriter strolled onto Red Rocks’ stage last night, I couldn't help rising from my seat in the 5th row and waving an unbridled giggly groupie girl welcome—my right arm fully extended skyward, all wiggly in my wrist and fingers, all smile on my face. Behind my old Raybans and under a bandana covering my crown chakra, I felt sufficiently shielded from the minstrel's considerably brilliant starpower.

Maybe I imagined it, but Jackson Browne seemed to see me.

Probably all his fans feel that way. But really, he had just reached center stage and gotten into his guitar, and he looked my way and lifted his chin and lengthened his neck a little as if to acknowledge my greeting. I have to admit, I was twitterpated because, for me, Jackson Browne is more than a hero: He’s a muse.

His music mesmerized, thanks, in part, to a romantic evening under a star-spangled sky decorated with a rising half-moon. Rising to our feet, an almost sold-out audience grooved to old hit songs and new songs swelling in the natural amphitheatre between Ship Rock and Cathedral Rock. Jackson acknowledged, “There aren’t too many places like this.”


I'm so grateful to have received the gift of Jackson Browne’s inspired and inspiring music in such a sublime setting as Red Rocks--felt like a holy birthday gift to me one day after I turned 49.

Jackson aimed no direct jabs at John McCain/Republican music thieves.

I appreciate that Jackson, to his classy credit, did not utter a word about his recent lawsuit settlement with John McCain and the Republicans over their infringement of his copyright on his hit tune “Running on Empty.” The band just broke into the number, which forevermore shall be an anthem to artists’ rights to their intellectual property.

A concert at Red Rocks always presents a pilgrimage.

You have to make more of an effort to get there—and to get out of there after nightfall without falling. Like so much in life, the rewards are commensurate. I went to the concert with no expectations: Jackson’s catalog all pretty much pleases me. The set list showed off the band, the lyrics, and Jackson’s still-sound vocals sensationally enhanced by this tour's addition of two soulful back-up singers who put us all in harmony’s way. Jackson Browne and his band walk the talk when then “go out and make a joyful sound.”

Check out my Denver Post article on Jackson Browne and take my 70s rock quiz!

Music unites us all, puts us in harmony's way.

Music allows us to share a vibration. Literally, scientifically, that's what music is: a vibration. That's why live music can move us in ways that even the best sound systems will not. Live music is just that: living. Music is humanity at a high point.

Which is why I always feel good about purchasing CDs in a record store or even buying music online. As Jackson Browne pointed out recently in his Associated Press statement after his successful lawsuit settlement against the Republicans for copyright infringement, if we don't support artists, they won't be able to make a living creating art--and all of us will lose.

Why are outdoor concerts especially cosmic?

AND because as anybody who's gotten into the groove of a really great concert knows, there's special mystery and magic inherent in being part of a shared experience like Jackson Browne's recent gig at Red Rocks, here's a link to my piece the Post published on music therapy and the value of outdoor concerts.

Other recent concerts I've enjoyed indoors and out:
• Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band at Pepsi Center, Denver
• Colorado Symphony at Fiddler's Green, Denver
• Chicago Symphony at Millennium Park's Pritzker Pavillion in Chicago
• Jon Chandler and the Wichitones & Cowboy Classic bands, Lakewood Cultural Center
• Dakota Blonde at Nissi's, Lafayette, Colorado
• Rod Stewart at Fiddler's Green, Denver
• Jimmy Buffet at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City
• Robert Cray at Civic Center Park in Denver

"Let the music keep our spirits high." -- Jackson Browne, "Before the Deluge"

We support the arts. The arts support us.

Pass it on!

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26 August 2009

TREBLE CLEF: Jackson Browne on Red Rocks Tonight--Put Yourself in Harmony's Way


One of my muses is in town: Jackson Browne plays Red Rocks tonight.

Here's a link to my piece on Jackson Browne in The Denver Post, where you'll also find my multiple choice quiz about Seventies Rock.

Meanwhile, from today's entry on my Denver Flower and Gardening Examiner page,
here's an excerpt from a teaching that mentions music:

“The garden of your heart can be a riot of flowers in various colors; a symphony of music when blended together harmoniously, and when you bring forth the fruits of the spirit in loving tolerance and service towards all, in a forgiving and caring attitude, inspiring hope and confidence in others, and being a comforting presence in hours of need. It is so very important to be an island of peace in this confusing and perplexing world, where there are so many floundering souls seeking their way ‘home.'

To read the rest of this 11:11 teaching click through to my Denver Flower and Gardening Examiner page, where I've posted the entire teaching.

PHOTO BY COLLEEN SMITH Sorry, these red rocks pictured above are not
the Red Rocks in Morrison, Colorado. Instead, my amazing iPhone imagemaker captured this shot in Sedona last autumn. Sedona's gorgeous, too, but has no natural amphitheatre, to my knowledge, so in my opinion Red Rocks rocks and rules.

Support your local concert venues! One more thing I think I know for sure: There's no substitute for
live music.

Put yourself in harmony's way!


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20 August 2009

Elizabeth Gilbert talks about creativity

Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, suggests a new way of thinking about creative genius that allows brilliant minds a less tormented existence. This inspiring and inspired lecture came to mind in the wake of learning about the poet Deborah Digges' suicide. Click here to hear this talk.

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19 August 2009

IN MEMORIAM: Deborah Digges, the tragic passing of a poet, a classmate

Just walked home from Bikram class, and while noticing the slowing of crickets’ chirps and the earlier setting of the sun, felt some melancholy over the end of summer and a birthday around the corner--the last of my 40s.

At home, I settled in with my new New Yorker, which had arrived earlier today, the 24 August issue. From time to time, I know a writer whose work is publishing in the prestigious magazine.

I noticed Deborah Digges' name in the table of contents. I went immediately to her poem. Deborah and I were in a class together at the University of Iowa’s Writer’s Workshop in 1983. The professor had invited me to join the class, a graduate poetry class, though I was still an undergraduate. I was young, shy, awestruck and intimidated by the talent of the other poets in the class.

Glittering shadows

Especially Deborah. There were only a few women in the class of about a dozen poets. I picture her as a petite, pretty, brunette woman with apple cheeks and a bright smile. I picture her wearing white blouses and blue jeans and black boots. She could write like an angel. Even her comments in class, I remember, were like poetry. One day, I remember, she was talking about a post-modern poem and she said, “Even the shadows glitter.” That line stuck in my head all these years. At the time she was involved with the poet Stanley Plumley--a handsome, bearded, swaggering rogue poet teaching in the Writer’s Workshop. I admired them. Deborah and I were never friends--just acquaintances. Classmates.

I’d seen Deborah’s byline in the New Yorker before, and I’d read her prose in other magazines, as well. I always felt a twinge of writer’s envy, yes, but also a surge of pride in having known her. I was pleased for her to be enjoying the honor of seeing her work in what I consider the most best-written magazine in our nation. I knew in the Workshop that she was great, but I had not really followed her career.

Gleaming laurels

But to have poems published in The New Yorker? I knew she'd reached someplace lofty. I'm not a poetry expert, but I understood the gleam of that laurel. To make it in our day as a poet is almost impossible. To make it as a woman poet? You do the math.

As I read Deborah’s freshly published poem, titled “The Wind Blows Through the Doors of My Heart,” I pictured her as I knew her. If Deborah had been a songbird, perhaps a swallow. In fact, the title of her first book of poetry was "Vesper Swallows." Holding The New Yorker at my ready-for-bifocals distance, I read and heard her voice. The lines of the luminous yet troubled poem drew me in, mesmerized me. “How does she do it?” I asked myself, working through the poem to the last lines, disturbing.

And then, even more disturbing, I saw below her name in parentheses (1950-2009).

Deborah died? I had not heard. I turned to the contributors' page that carries a brief biography of the writers and saw that Deborah had passed over in April. She was only ten years older than I. Breast cancer? I wondered. Ovarian cancer?

But when I Googled her name, I learned that she was a suicide. Evidently, she had jumped from the top tier of a stadium.

She jumped?

The whys are unbearable.

I like to think of her spirit ascending, even as her body fell.

The obituaries revealed that Deborah had published four books of poetry, two memoirs, landed impressive grants, won coveted prizes. I learned that she and Stanley had married and divorced. That her maiden name was Sugarbaker, and that she was raised on an apple orchard in Missouri, one of 10 children. That she loved animals, volunteered at a shelter. That she also traveled with some frequency to Africa to volunteer, helping children there. That a forthcoming book of poems, "Dance of the Seven Veils" was scheduled to be published this fall, and that she also was writing a historical novel.

Even her shadows glittered.
Link
Here is a link to Deborah Digges’ obituary in The New York Times. And a list on Amazon of books she's written.

On his website, Edward Byrne, an English pr
ofessor at Valparaiso University and editor of Valparaiso Poetry Review, posted three lines from Digges's poem "Broom."

"Once I asked myself, when was I happy?
I was looking at a February sky.
When did the light hold me and I didn't struggle?"

And here's a link to yesterday morning's Denver Flower and Gardening entry on writers in the garden, posted about seven hours before I'd learned of Deborah's decision. The entry even includes a poem and encourages readers to read it aloud.
I trust Deborah, who at the time of her death was teaching classes on creative writing and "The Architecture of the Imagination" at Tufts, would approve.

I wonder whether Deborah had a garden. I wonder when last she'd stared at the ocean.


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15 August 2009

Interviewing authors: Temple Grandin, David Whyte, Garrison Keillor, Wole Soyinka and Skip Gates, Elizabeth Gilbert, Fr. John Dear, Jamaica Kincaid


In today's Sunday Denver Post, my story on Temple Grandin appears in the Books section. Since I’m an animal-lover, I took great interest in Dr. Grandin’s new book, titled “Animals Make Us Human.”

Here's a link to my story on Temple Grandin.

I’m also including links to some of my other Denver Post articles on books and authors that might interest you.

• Of all the people I’ve interviewed over all the years—decades, actually—I think David Whyte ranks among the most articulate. His British accent and his poet’s mind combine for artful conversation. Whyte’s most recent book is titled “The Three Marriages: Reimagining Work, Self and Relationship," and if you've never heard his audio recordings, I highly recommend those, as well. Whyte will make you think. And laugh.

Click on this link to read my article on David Whyte.

Speaking of laughing: I’ve listened to Garrison Keillor and “A Prairie Home Companion” since I was in college. We have a lot in common, both being shy English majors from the Midwest. You’ll enjoy this good humored interview with Keillor, conducted via two emails: my email with questions to him and his email with answers sent back to me about two hours later. I did not change a word. I did not have to. He's masterful. And quick. I had just read his book "Pontoon" on the shores of Cherry Creek Lake.

Click here to read my interview with Garrison Keillor

• Wole Soyinka is the only Nobel Laureate in literature that I’ve had the good fortune to interview. What makes this interview particularly interesting is that for the story I also interviewed Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. Also known as Skip Gates, the professor dominated the news recently after being arrested at his home, then invited to drink beers with the arresting officer and President Barack Obama at the White House.

Click here to read my
article on Wole Soyinka and Henry Louis Gates.

• I was on top of the world when I got the assignment to interview Elizabeth Gilbert. Literally, I was at the summit house at Keystone, warming myself by the fire between runs on a snowy day when my iPhone vibrated in my ski jacket. The call came in from one of my editors asking me if I’d be interested in doing a piece on Gilbert--at the time the "It Girl" of the literary world. I had not yet read her wildly successful book "Eat, Pray, Love" but several of my friends had and people had been telling me I had to read the book. Of course, I accepted the assigment. Liz Gilbert in person is every bit as wise, warm and funny as she is in print. After our interview, I saw Gilbert gracing the cover of TIME magazine in the good company of the other 99 most influential people in the world.

Click here to read my
article on Elizabeth Gilbert.

• Jesuit Father John Dear is a peace activist with the courage of his convictions--and he has a string of convictions, jail sentences, and a stretch or two in prison for his bold activism. Originally, I contact Father Dear to interview him for a national stewardship newsletter that I edit and art-direct. When I learned that his memoir was about to be published and that Archbishop Desmond Tutu had nominated the priest for the Nobel Peace Prize, I knew I had a bigger story. Every time I see a peace symbol, I think of dear John Dear. His memoir is titled "A Persistent Peace."

Click here to read my
article on Father John Dear.

• I used to read Jamaica Kincaid’s pieces in The New Yorker without knowing she was the then-daughter-in-law of then-editor William Shawn. Our interview veered off subject many times and we both enjoyed a lot of belly laughs as we talked about everything from magnolias to LSD. She has the most beautiful speaking voice! And her literary voice captivates, too. Check out "My Garden Book" for her perspective on plants.
Link
Click here to read my
article on Jamaica Kincaid.

And if you're a gardener or enjoy flower photography, click here to drop by my Examiner.com page where I serve as Denver Flower and Gardening Examiner. (Best title I've ever held!)

Photo at top by Colleen Smith depicts detail from a painting in the permanent collection at the Art Institute of Chicago.


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14 August 2009

Watery reflections: swimming laps outdoors

The closing of the 50-meter, outdoor pool where I swim my laps adds to the mounting melancholy of August’s dog days. Today is my last day for making my way length after length, lap after lap in this big, beautiful blue gem of a pool. It’s almost as sad as closing day on the mountain at the end of ski season except there are other swimming pools. Indoors.
But swimming laps outdoors is the best: submersed in the quiet aquamarine water beneath the blue sky, observing the rippling nets of sunlight on the pool bottom, feeling the sun on my face every time I turn my head for a breath, watching the clouds as I backstroke.

Stroke. Kick. Breathe. Stroke. Kick. Breathe. Stroke. Kick. Breathe.

Demanding repetition and conscious breathing, lap-swimming becomes meditative and washes my mind clean. Gliding through the water feels akin to flying, albeit slowly. Do you ever have that flying dream that allows you to breast-stroke across the sky?

The buoyant sensations of the swimming pool bring to mind my youth. Water is my element. Even before I learned in elementary school science that water can take three forms—liquid, solid, or gas—I knew water was magic. As a kid, my little sister and my best friend and her little sister spent every afternoon at the pool. We hosted underwater tea parties, dove for buried treasure, then raced our Stingray bikes home to watch Star Trek while slurping Popsicles or Eskimo Pies. In high school, I got my first real job as a lifeguard and instructor for kids’ swimming lessons. I have the wrinkles and sunspots to prove that I sunbathed with abandon, my only concern that the pool chemicals might be off enough to turn my blonde hair chartreuse.

Somewhere in one of my many journals, I made a list of all my swimsuits over all the summers, beginning with a tank suit color blocked to resemble a beach ball. I had the suit when I was about four years old.

At the pool, pulling on my swimcap and goggles, I eavesdrop on conversations that now have switched from opinions about Michael Phelps’ racing suits and Dara Torres’ injury to opinions about the best indoor lap pools. Many are 25 meters, or crowded, or costly, or more difficult to get to, or offer limited parking. All are indoors. Not the same. Not at all the same. The pool chemicals have no way to escape, so the smells are all off in a nautatorium.

Last winter, after skiing, I had the good fortune to swim in the most glorious pool in Vail. Gorgeously constructed, the pool was filled with saline. Aaaaaah. Like the watery womb, this warm and salty pool comforted.

One of my favorite aspects of the outdoor pool is that when rain falls—and lots fell this season—it mingles with the water in the pool. Then evaporates. And falls again. The water cycle teaches us that all water on the planet is the same water, eternally antique. The same water I swim in is more or less the water dinosaurs drank, the same water Jesus Christ turned to wine at the wedding at Cana, the same water I swam in as a child whether ocean, pond or pool.

The only thing better than an outdoor pool is an ocean. Not that I swim laps there, but the beach heals me in another way, and I'm soon to be on the sands of the Jersey shore. A beachcomber, I've had a seashell collection since I was a girl. About 10 years ago, on a beach at the southern tip of Portugal, I began collecting seaglass. I have a large bowl filled to the brim with translucent glass from far-flung beaches. The ocean has a way of softening even my sharpest edges.

I've always thought if I could be another animal, I'd be a dolphin. I had a swim with the dolphins in the Bahamas a few years ago. They are the dogs of the deep blue sea.

When the astronomers seek life on other planets, they look for one necessary element: water. Water is life. And we, when alive, are made up of mostly water. H 2 Ohhhhhh.

Photo by Colleen Smith
Image shows detail of one of Monet's waterlily paintings in the permanent collection of the Art Institute of Chicago.

For a slideshow with more captivating details from Monet's masterful waterlily garden paintings,
click here.



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12 August 2009

Pick up a Denver Post this Sunday for my story on animal ethics expert Temple Grandin


I recently had the good fortune of interviewing Temple Grandin, Ph.D., a leader in the field of animal ethics. Passionate and articulate, Dr. Grandin expressed opinions on topics ranging from coyotes in Greenwood Village to dog clothing to circuses.

The author of 10 books and an internationally sought-after speaker, Temple Grandin is particularly impressive given that she is autistic.

Please pick up a Sunday Denver Post and look for the centerpiece of the Books pages in the Arts & Entertainment section. Dr. Grandin's most recent book, "Animals Make Us Human," spent four weeks on the New York Times nonfiction bestseller list.

Raising a pound puppy and adopting another certainly taught me a lot about love and life, humanity and divinity. The photo courtesy of The Denver Post shows my late-great friend Copper taking it easy in my secret garden. I learned a lot about dogs--and other critters wild and domesticated--from Dr. Grandin's new book. If you're an animal-lover you'll appreciate the book and the upcoming interview.

Wherever you may be, support your local newspaper!


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11 August 2009

GUEST BLOG: Corazon Aquino delivered democracy


Please take a few moments to read this guest blog by my longtime friend and collaborator Mila Glodava. Having introduced me to her homeland in the Philippines in 1993, Mila last year appointed me to the board of the Metro Infanta Foundation she founded to assist people in the Philippines. Mila is a much-decorated dreamer and a doer.



Corazon Aquino promised and delivered democracy far beyond Philippines
By Mila Glodava

When Mrs. Corazon C. Aquino became president of the Philippines in 1986, she sent me a letter thanking me for my expression of support. In that letter she also appealed to my “sense of patriotism” to do what I could in my sphere of influence to support her in her enormous task of nation building. As she suggested, in my own small capacity, I found ways to make a difference. Mrs. Aquino inspired me—and countless others--so her passing deeply saddened us.

Corazon C. Aquino, widow of Filipino charismatic leader and martyr Benigno Aquino, led a civil disobedience act against Dictator Ferdinand Marcos, when the latter decided to steal the election. The result was a toppling of the corrupt autocrat. Moreover, the revolution set a new standard because the movement was bloodless. Mrs. Aquino’s agenda was backed by what became known as “people power” and credited to the Filipino people’s steadfast faith in God. The turnabout was one of the most dramatic achievements in modern history. People Power toppled a powerful dictator and restored democracy, a feat that not a few world leaders would want to have on their resume.

Mrs. Aquino—the Filipina answer to Joan of Arc—set the stage for motivated uprisings in Burma (Myanmar), Pakistan, Eastern Europe, and South Korea, among other nations. These achievements alone have assured Mrs. Aquino and the Filipino people a special place in history –– to inspire generations upon generations to come.

Mrs. Aquino became the symbol of strength and integrity which she manifested during her term as president of the Philippines and even as she battled her illness from colon cancer. The world remembers her as "an icon of democracy."

In her effort to rebuild the country, she weathered at least nine coups, yet she persevered until she was able to turn over the presidency to a democratically elected president. Certainly, there is still much to be done in the islands of the Philippines, where change does not come easily after more than 20 years of alleged plunder and economic mismanagement, not to mention the effects of more than 380 years of foreign domination, including stretches under the thumbs of Spain, the United States, and Japan.

Mrs. Aquino gave the Filipino people what they only had dreamed of, or simply talked about, six years before she led the revolution to topple a dictator. Mrs. Aquino laid the foundation for progress in a truly democratic form of government. Like many Filipinos, I pray that her successors now benefiting under the democratic process of free election will continue what Mrs. Aquino started and will lead the country forward to what the Philippines once was before martial law.

In her death, Mrs. Aquino is, once again, reviving the spirit she inspired in 1986. Her death has reminded the Filipino people of that once glorious feat of courage. Perhaps her death will cause a conversion of heart for traditional politicians who are caught in the web of graft and corruption that now plague the country.

Mila Glodava, a native of the Philippines, lives in Arvada. A woman’s advocate and author of Mail Order Brides: Women for Sale, she founded the Metro Infanta Foundation to assist her homeland and Filipino people in need.


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08 August 2009

Don't miss divine lotus now in bloom at Hudson Gardens


"However fickle I seem, my heart is never unfaithful; Out of the slime itself, spotless the lotus grow."
-- Japanese Folk Song



Photos by Colleen Smith and her amazing iPhone imagemaker


What these photos do not show is scale. The lotus leaves are bigger than large pizzas. The pod at the center of the fully opened flower is about the diameter of a cake donut. And that bud is the size of a small melon.

Hungry for more info on lotus?


Click here for my entry on Examiner.com, which includes more lotus photos and some background on lotus in sacred traditions.

If you want to see these divine blooms in person, you have to hurry: they're predicted to bloom through mid-August. I swear, these are E.T. flowers or something out of Dr. Seuss. The lotus are well worth the drive, plus Hudson Gardens has lots of other attractions, as well.


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06 August 2009

Flower photography and garden guru guidelines



In this photo, humble rose moss rivals blue ribbon heirloom roses. What a difference perspective makes!
To ogle more stunning flower shots from my gardens, photographed this summer by Quincy Benton, click on this link which will take you to my Examiner.com page. If you're a gardener, you'll enjoy the entries.
And even if you're not a gardener, you'll find lots of beautiful images from the natural world. I hope you'll click on by for a visit.

Meanwhile, tend your garden. August is upon us.



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Pass it on!

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