Tuesday, 9 April 2019

The beauty of a sick day

I've been thinking about stress and how much of it we as a society deal with. It's astounding when you ask people about their lives, especially the over 45 crowd. Life just has a way of multiplying challenges as we age and what else can we do but roll with them. Add in the demands of a long term relationship, not the familial kind, but rather that stinkin' social media-- a far more high maintenance commitment than your husband or wife-- and you can feel like you're climbing up a mountain in sandals.

A few days ago, I had had it. Nothing was getting done, my column's topic was too boring to write about and I couldn't come up with a timely alternative to save my ass. Getting clients to call me back was like waiting for seeds to germinate and all my dog could do was give me dirty looks for making him wait "just 5 more minutes" the 6th time. So, I did what any smart professional would do-- I got up, turned off the computer and took a sick day. Basically, I walked out on my job, free-lance as it was. And I walked right out the door, dog leash in tow. Nature was calling. Unbeknownst to me, she  literally was calling. Not just the dog.

After David had relieved himself on my neighbors hellebores (sorry no pics), I remembered I had volunteered to water the young magnolia trees at the park and they were probably thirsty. So we headed on down, with me grumbling about work the entire way.

Once we were there David saw the "Do not Swim" sign and immediately dove in. Frantic, I yelled like any hysterical mom would, worrying about all the toxins and bacteria he could be ingesting. Got him out pretty quickly, and took him across the path to a nearby stream. An easy rinse solution that hopefully prevented him from getting diphtheria.

On on the path, I watched David run into a field covered in little yellow flowers. I knew they were invasive weeds (Lesser celandine, aka, Ficaria verna), but I write a blog called Neglected Beauty, so... They were pretty! As I watched him run like a drunk puppy, it dawned on me, this was exactly  where I was supposed to be. On a walk, in the woods, with my dog. Not at a desk, stressing about things out of my control, waiting for the phone to ring. Still without a topic for the column, I didn't care. I got one for the blog.

We found things on the forest floor. Nice things. Pretty things. I didn't care if many of them turned out to be invasive weeds. (I consider myself a very open-minded Master Gardener). There's reason after all for every single plant in this world. Besides, they were fetching under the clouds, adding a charge of color and texture to a very drab April day.

When I returned home, I took out my journal, I wrote down the following list. I realized a "sick of this job" day totally counts as a sick day, in my book at least. There's a whole lot of healing to be had outside in nature. The first step is to disengage from that whiny internet relationship that you spend more time with than your loved ones (true fact).Say goodbye to stress. You'll thank me. #getoutside

Prescription to de-stress (Tested):
Gently but firmly step away from your computer. 
Call in sick, to your boss or yourself. 
Go outside. Take a walk. 
Go into the woods, urban or country. 
Take a deep breath. Exhale. 
Keep going. Feel lighter. 
Pull out cell phone. Take a pic of the forest floor. 
Reminisce about discovering nature as a kid and playing outside. 
Smile. Ask yourself why you don't do this more. 
Go home. Sit down. 
Write in day-timer: Remember to do this more.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

There is no beauty in climate change

Every time I write a post, I put the word beauty in the title. This blog is about finding beauty in whatever form it may take, so bringing the theme of what it is I write about seems fitting. While I managed to get "beauty" in this time, you'll note it is prefaced by the word "no." I just can't find any beauty in climate change right now.

On April 29th, I went to the People's Climate March in Washington, DC, which was held to protest the current administration's attacks on the environment, including the recent slew of budget cuts in the E.P.A. More than 150,000 people from all over the country attended, exceeding the estimated 100,000 turn out by the National State Park officials.

The purpose of the March was to pressure our nation's leaders to act on climate change as opposed to dismissing it, or denying it, which seems to be more of the case in the current administration. It was well organized and timely, marking President Trump's 100th day in office, however, he was not in Washington, but rather at his home in Mar a Lago, FL-- a trip that costs taxpayers an estimated 3 million dollars per visit. Should this weekend getaway habit continue, it could easily result in the highest amount a president has ever accumulated for vacation time.  (http://www.nbcnews.com/politics/white-house/trump-s-mar-lago-travel-triggers-cost-ethics-concerns-n743541

The dominant message was loud and clear: Our environment needs help; we need to repair and create workable solutions to protect our planet NOW--and it cannot come fast enough. Laws already in place are in danger of being revoked and environmental anything is at risk of being cut, just ask the new E.P.A. Administrator, Scott Pruitt.

But there was a revolution in the air that day and thankfully, the creators of the world--the artists, designers, writers, thinkers, architects, scientists, environmentalists, community activists, parents, farmers and small business owners all came together for several hours to create some positive and inspiring messages of hope. Thousands of thought provoking signs flooded the march, a reminder of the perseverance and ingenuity of the human spirit where a powerful narrative always manages to elicit new solutions.

The good news is there are many more fighting on the right side of the environment than not. Communities are coming together all over the world out of a need and desire to protect and honor the earth. Whether it's an urban tree planting, introducing legislation to eradicate plastic shopping bags, cleaning up a local stream or contacting your local State Senator or House of Representatives (PLEASE DO THIS) to support environmental bills or just to complain about cuts, the most important thing any of us can do is to get involved. Organizations such as 350.org: https://350.org/ Greenpeace: http://www.greenpeace.org/international/en/getinvolved/ and More than Scientists: http://morethanscientists.org/get-involved/ are great resources on how you can help.

The message remains the same in any protest--we are stronger when we collaborate. Mass mobilizations create change. And slowing down climate change IS possible if we take the giant first step so many refuse to do: admit we have a major problem and our world's health is in crisis.

As I left the march and got into my car, I found myself feeling unusually calm and optimistic. Being engulfed in a sea of thousands of like minded souls made me remember I am but one of many who are willing to fight for solutions to protect the only environment we will ever know. That day, I managed to find hope in a vast crowd of passionate earth worshipers whose idea of change was, well... not so neglected, but rather... quite beautiful.

All photos by C.A. Langrall, April 29, 2017. Washington, DC.

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

New, old city beauty

Galanthus nivalis, Snowdrops 

Well, to say it’s been a long time since my last post is an understatement. Three years to be exact. Between a smattering of several exciting marketing and design jobs, writing a monthly column for a local New Mexican newspaper, a new dog (first one), traveling back and forth to care for an elderly parent, and then relocating across the country, I honestly just didn't have the energy. Or the time.

Despite the monumental transitions going on in my life, I never stopped spying neglected beauty. I found it everywhere, from the high desert to the endless pastures of middle America, and then back again to the east coast, where everything seemed more lush and green than I ever remembered. No, I never stopped seeing "beauty". I simply cataloged it away in my mind for a later date—a much later date it seems.

Jasminum nudiflorum, Winter Jasmine

Living in the high desert in New Mexico for nearly six years changed my perspective on so much, to say the least. And now I find myself back in the land of black and white, a place my newly adopted Southwestern gray attitude often has no bearing. Luckily, there is grass (I’ll never take it for granted again), as well as gorgeous perennials and dozens of varieties of trees every bit as tall as northern New Mexico’s conifers to distract me. Baltimore, MD is a beautiful place, there is no denying it, but it changed a lot since I last lived here. The energy is chaotic and restless now, an on-going reminder of the Freddie Gray tragedy that nearly broke Baltimore City. Coupled with the current mercurial political climate, it makes it hard to concentrate on finding anything beautiful after a long day of misinformation and frustration.

Helleborus, Hellebores

But find it I will. I am more determined than ever to revisit the neglected beauty I started writing about nine years ago. Here, in quirky, old Baltimore, also known as Charm City and Mobtown, two polar opposite nicknames that both describe its quaint yet rough edged history, there is still a lot of beauty to be found.

Crocus longiflorus, Crocus

So, three years later, I am starting my first post with images of some early harbingers of spring. Where there is growth there is hope. Let's face it, we all need to look forward to something, especially after this dreary winter where political unrest and strange weather patterns reigned supreme. Regardless of the fear and anger that surrounds us, there is always one thing we can count on: beauty.

Cydonia oblonga, Quince

Sunday, 1 June 2014

Yoshi's world: Desert cast-off beauty

Yoshi Arasaki came to the United States over 30 years ago with her husband "Saki" to open Japanese restaurants on the west coast. They were hugely successful and when it came time for Saki to think about retirement, the couple choose to move to Santa Fe to enjoy the quiet mountain living. Saki never did retire, although he can be found on any golf course that is open when he is not freelancing as a sushi chef around town. With Saki working, Yoshi found herself alone with little to do than make origami and create a pleasant home for Saki to come back to at night.

Saki and Yoshi moved into a well-respected neighborhood called Casa Solana (Spanish for sunny house), which may seem ironic or strange or both, depending on how you look at it, as it served as a Japanese Internment Camp during WWII, nearly 70 years ago. It may seem questionable how a prisoner of war camp could have morphed into one of the most sought out communities in Santa Fe. Isn't the energy bad? Could it be cursed? While one could ruminate over the possibilities, especially in a place filled with haunted Native American stories, the answer would lie within its residents, who seem, well, genuinely happy. Yoshi and Saki included.

Like most communities in Santa Fe, the neighborhood has many hiking trails and vistas to enjoy, which Yoshi started to take advantage of when Saki slept in after a hard night's work. She would disappear for hours, and when she returned, she always had something in her hands or her arms. Most times she would be carrying obvious desert fare-- tumbleweeds, dead sunflower stalks, a cholla branch, weird branches. But every now and again, she would have other something unidentifiable on those small determined shoulders and I always got excited watching her head to her casita, imagining what she was going to do with all the dead stuff.

I never asked her what she was doing with them, until the day I looked across the street and saw something unusual sticking out of her half dead purple robe locust tree. It looked like the wind blew a tumbleweed that attached itself to some branches. But there was something dangling, something put there on purpose--it looked like pine cones stringed on yarn. A mobile of desert dead stuff. (picture damaged, not available)

That day, I summoned the nerve to go over and ask Yoshi what the odd thing in the tree was. She smiled, not speaking much English, she pointed for me to come inside. When I went in, I saw all the dead plants she had been carrying home from her walks. They were everywhere, corners, ceilings, on tables, bookshelves. Like little dead plant sculptures, each carefully placed, some stuffed with silk flower blossoms she bought at the Dollar Store.

Yoshi said, "I like things on floor." I wasn't sure what she meant, then she pointed to the ground outside her home and then my yard, which was a tragic waste land of weeds and dead cholla branches. I thought about it some, and then I got it--Yoshi found beauty in the weeds, the left over desert plant remnants.

I asked her if I could take some pictures, she said yes, but I stopped after the 5th one. It felt a bit invasive.

I hope one day it doesn't and I get to take more. Thank you, Yoshi, for your beautiful vision.

Saturday, 8 March 2014

Mistaken beauty

Even though I'm a Master Gardener, I still have to remind myself that I became certified in the Southwest-- a place my east-coast root's still grasps to understand. The culture, the adobe buildings, the wildlife...just about everything I see in this high desert is incredibly exotic, and I find myself playing the "what is that called?" game, in particular with the flora. I test myself when no one is around, trying to identify each native plant and flower variety I stumble across. I surprise myself sometimes at the vast botanical knowledge I have gained here in just 3 years, and then there are those occasions when I am sorely mistaken.

                                                                   Plant in question...

Take this golden beauty pictured above, for example. While my friend was moving from Santa Fe, NM to Pojoaque, NM last week, I was thrilled to spot what I thought was the first forsythia, surreptitiously spilling out of a cracked adobe wall. I snapped its image, looking forward to sharing it with all my winter weary readers who would surely become excited at the thought that spring was closer than any of us thought. Just as I posted the image, something didn't feel quite right. While everyone commented on it's beauty, I was second guessing it... was it really a forsythia? For starters, forsythia stems are woody, this plant clearly has green stems. Then, there was the flowers, these six petal blossoms were perfect, but didn't forsythia have four petal blooms?

Winter jasmine, close up

I was right to doubt and do a little sleuthing, and after an hour scouring the web for "plants that look like forsythia," I finally stumbled across a similar image that said in small italics, 'winter jasmine.'

Forsythia, close up

Winter jasmine? I had never heard of it (to my embarrassment). After reading up on it, there are some similarities to forsythia; it grows in zones 6-10 (Santa Fe is 6b), but this plant is in the jasmine family not the olive, and blooms before forsythia, that is a month or two before. Like forsythia, winter jasmine can grow tall and wild, but unlike the free-standing forsythia, this hearty jasmine likes to be supported by things like walls and arbors. It isn't fragrant like regular jasmine, but it certainly captures your attention with its diminutive sweet flowers.

Regardless of the mix up, I am glad I trusted my instincts and questioned my authority (something I highly recommend). Yes, even Master Gardener's can be wrong. When in doubt... Wikipedia.

Bountiful winter jasmine

Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Natural floral beauty: Compliments of New Mexico

Still life of found objects from northern New Mexico deserts and the Pecos Wilderness.

It's been too long since my last posting, life in New Mexico sure does keep me busy writing, designing and scouting neglected beauty. I am excited to announce my latest project where I am writing and promoting a new, local publication called EcoSource with some incredibly talented people. Owned by TREND Magazine, EcoSource covers the green side of Santa Fe featuring art, architectural landscaping, design and green efforts that being made by some incredible sustainable, local businesses.

For now I'd like to share some inspirational photos of floral designs where the elements are all organic and gathered locally--in backyards, the desert, the sides of roads and in the Pecos Wilderness. It's pretty amazing to get to work one on one with Mother Nature.

When people tell me there is but pinyon pines, juniper and chamisas in our landscape. I always say look again.

 Santa Fe Master Gardeners Association arrangement: Local, seasonal spring blooms from various gardens and roadsides in Santa Fe.

Bark with lichen, fungi and found botanicals. New Mexico.

 Antique compotes with succulents. 

Beautiful spring assortment from Santa Fe gardens. Santa Fe, NM.

Donna Nash, owner of A Woman's Touch Landscape company holds
 organic orb created by C.A. Langrall. Santa Fe, NM.

Harvest bouquet of local apples, buffalo gourds, roses, switch grass, radishes and 
tropical protea from a Santa Fe greenhouse.

All designs by C.A.Langrall except for bark piece which was created by an outside source

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Rattling beauty: Gourds as art and music

What happens when you  play with your fruit rather than eat it? According to Santa Fe gourd rattle artist, Marianne Macres, you make music, beautiful, tribal, exotic music.

Music?... from gourds that are fruits, not vegetables? How can that be? Well, sometimes Mother Nature plays tricks on us in the garden and what seems a part of one family can actually be another. As for gourds as a musical instrument, Macres had to explain. "Years ago, I was in Taos and met a friend who showed me gourds where more than just ornamental fall decorations, they were beautiful dried fruits with many purposes, like becoming a musical instrument."

Marianne found her new passion when she picked up her first gourd rattler and shook it. As a trained artist from southern California, Macres, she has been involved in the arts most of her life and now decided to experiment with gourds. She says it took fifteen years to perfect her craft when she founded "Gourdjus Rattles," a line of musical instruments she sells in New Mexico for Native American rituals, spiritual ceremonies, and personal collections.

Before coming to the Southwest, Macres lived in Maui for nearly two decades earning her living as a well-known scrimshaw artist. Her love of flowers was apparent in all of her pieces, each design had a blossom or a plant that she painted in tiny detail. As much as she loved her work, Macres began to get discouraged over the harvested ivory that came from elephants which  provided her art medium. She eventually ended her career working with ivory and focused on raising her family until she moved to New Mexico in the early 90's.

Painting gourds came naturally and so did her inspirations. As a worshiper of the earth, female form, animal totems, and native symbols, Macres found gourds to be the perfect source to create fantastical scenes and imagery. 


She chooses her gourds based on their shape, texture and variety. Ornamentals, including Crown of Thorns, are great for floral designs while hard shells work well for animal/pagan totems. She buys local, getting the majority of ornamentals from a roadside stand in Riconada, NM. If she can't get certain varieties there, she purchases them from several organic farms in California. She refuses to buy imports from other countries.


Macres explains her design process is a random one. She says the stick or handle often comes first, which she finds on her long walks in the mountains. Her favorite material is aged wood that she gets from juniper, cottonwood, sycamore, apple wood and cholla plants and trees. Her prerequisite is that they must have character.


She then matches the handle with the right gourd, which she will dry for six months. Once the gourd becomes moldy, she washes it in water with some bleach and black soap and scrapes off the remaining mildew. She does 8-12 gourds at a time, making the process go quicker than doing them individually. The paint comes last, acrylic is best says Macres, "because of all the amazing colors you can create."

The filler, or noise makers consist of ant rocks and mung beans. Macres believes her rattles posses a direct relationship between the under and upper worlds, and the ants seem to have mastered living in both, which is why she chooses their diminutive, self-produced pebbles. "I couldn't be happier doing my part as an artist to create something that is used to honor the rhythm of life," says Macres.

A deep spiritual connection is apparent in all of Macres's gourds. Creating art from a living, organic source that is used for a ceremonial purpose gives her great pleasure. Healers, Shamans and therapists all use her gourd rattles to call upon spiritual guides from the past to integrate and heal those in the present. Macres says each gourd she designs has its own personality, soul, and sound, which she says "invokes the spirit... driving the heartbeat of Mother Earth."

Gourdjus Rattles range from $30.00 to $75.00 and may be purchased on her Etsy website: www.GourdjusRattles.etsy.com. Marianne Macres may be contacted by email at: gourdjusrattles@gmail.com.

All photos provided and property of Marianne Macres.

Monday, 2 April 2012

Lost and Found beauty

Santa Cruz, NM

Living in a place called the "Land of Enchantment," you think would quell any complaints about the ambiance. Undeniably, it is absolutely beautiful here, sometimes so much so that it is hard to put into words. My friend Nancy Kenney says there aren't enough superlatives to describe Santa Fe, NM. Agreed. Yet as much as I am inundated in beauty, both raw and created, I sometimes, well, get a little bored by the repeats and that 'oasis in a desert' feeling. I feel terrible for saying that but I come from another city, also with a charming nickname, aka Baltimore, MD or Charm City, which seems funny, because when I lived there, I thought that was small.

Joy ride

So I plan escapes every full moon or so. Last weekend was one of those get-outta-dodge romps that provided some serious new doses of neglected beauty. Friends like Eddie help. When he shouted at 8:00 a.m., "Mandatory field-trip, get dressed," it's like he read my mind. We got in the Jeep, and headed south on 25.

Espanola, NM

First stop: Espanola. Ok, it's a start. Eddie, who is well-known for his Spanish Colonial wood carvings, needed to drop some samples off at a friend's studio. On our way, we spotted this incredible weeping willow so massive and perfect I made him pull over for a shot. Funny how neighbors can be, the lady across the street threw me the most putrid look as I took a picture and then demanded, "What do you all want?" All I could think was beauty, lady, I just want beauty. But I said nothing.

Santa Cruz Lake

Next stop: water. Eddie wanted to show me that it does exist in New Mexico, contrary to popular belief. So we headed towards Santa Cruz Lake. At least we thought we did.

Not so fast...after chasing a dirt road that dead-ended in a cow field in Truchas, we turned around only to get side-tracked by the mountain-side towns' funky vibe and numerous little galleries. It was my kind of place, but we were on a mission, so back to find that unmarked Rt 76.

Sun shadows

Mission accomplished. When we arrived at the lake, we convinced the Park Police to give us just enough time to absorb the view without having to pay the entrance fee. Ten minutes later, we were saturated in sun and sparkle which made us very happy as we planned a return camping trip.

Enter at your own Risk

Stop #3: Casa del David: character extraordinaire who is Eddie's friend. David's drive way entrance is a mixed bag of memorabilia...strange combinations of things like cleaning mops arranged as of they were miniature sculptures; rusted antique refrigerators which made us wonder what might still be inside; and dangling dead animal carcases that we deduced may have come from inside said rusted refrigerators. I was instantly entranced.

David and Eddie

David spoke in one of those rare dialects where ancient New Mexican Spanish attaches itself to English cliches, an often magical yet difficult to comprehend combination that only Eddie seemed to understand.

Disturbing plastic headless baby that kinda looks like Bart Simpson

I asked David if I could take some photos and he said no. He mumbled something about my camera stealing spirits and ruining the aura or something like that. After a rather awkward pause, he laughed and said, "Si, of course." Then he handed me a bottle of port wine, and said bebelo, so I did.

Cow skulls and Christmas lights

After a while, Eddie wanted to leave and return to the enchanted land where my little casita painted the colors of tropical citrus fruit awaited our weary day-tripper souls. As we pulled out of the driveway, I noticed two Maryland license plates. Could it have gotten any better?

He only had plates from Maryland

All photos by Carole Langrall