Category Archives: Uncategorized

The Bowl of Roses

Bowl of Roses: Peach colored David Austin rose in Manito Park, Spokane, Washington by Betsey Crawford

Since my brother’s death in June, words have been hard to come by, for writing, speaking, even reading. Poetry has been a companion; so much meaning in so few words. And, on these bright, blooming California days, the tender mercies of beauty have been deeply consoling. Perry, who started his landscaping business in college, told me while he was still able to contemplate such things that he was profoundly grateful that he could spend his life making the world more beautiful.

My daily life takes me past a garden where the quintessential June flower — roses — are still blooming in profusion. Their intricate, soft voluptuousness reminds me of some of the most luscious words ever strung together: Rainer Maria Rilke’s poem The Bowl of Roses. For this post, I am floating on his words. I’ve coupled them with photos of roses from the gorgeous Rose Hill in Spokane, Washington’s Manito Gardens.

Bowl of Roses: Yellow and pink rose in Manito Park, Spokane, Washington by Betsey Crawford

The Bowl of Roses

Rainer Maria Rilke

You saw angry ones flare, saw two boys
clump themselves together into a something
that was pure hate, thrashing in the dirt
like an animal set upon by bees;
actors, piled up exaggerators,
careening horses crashed to the ground,
their gaze thrown away, baring their teeth
as if the skull peeled itself out through the mouth.

Bowl of Roses: Three gorgeous David Austin roses in Manito Park, Spokane, Washington by Betsey CrawfordBut now you know how these things are forgotten:
for here before you stands a bowl full of roses,
which is unforgettable and filled up
with ultimate instances
of being and bowing down,
of offering themselves, of being unable to give, of standing there
almost as part of us: ultimates for us too.

Beauty: David Austin roses in Manito Park, Spokane, Washington by Betsey CrawfordNoiseless life, opening without end,
filling space without taking any away
from the space the other things in it diminish,
almost without an outline, like something omitted,
and pure inwardness, with so much curious softness,
shining into itself, right up to the rim:
is anything as known to us as this?

Bowl of Roses: Peach David Austin rose in Manito Park, Spokane, Washington by Betsey CrawfordAnd this: that a feeling arises
because petals are being touched by petals?
And this: that one opens itself, like a lid,
and beneath lies nothing but eyelids,
all closed, as if tenfold sleep
had to dampen down an inner power to see.
And, above all, this: that through the petals
light has to pass. Slowly they filter out from a
thousand skies the drop of darkness
in whose fiery glow the jumbled bundle
of stamens becomes aroused and rears up.

And what activity, look, in the roses:
gestures with angles of deflection so small
one wouldn’t see them if not for
infinite space where their rays can diverge.

Yellow David Austin roses in Manito Park, Spokane, Washington by Betsey CrawfordSee this white one, blissfully opened,
standing among its huge spreading petals
like a Venus standing in her shell;
and how this one, the blushing one, turns,
as if confused, toward the cooler one,
and how the cooler one, impassive, draws back,
and the cold one stands tightly wrapped in itself
among these opened ones, that shed everything.
And what they shed, how it can be
at once light and heavy. a cloak. a burden,
a wing, and a mask, it all depends,
and how they shed it: as before a lover.

Yellow rose in Manito Park, Spokane, Washington by Betsey CrawfordIs there anything they can’t be: wasn’t this yellow one
that lies here hollow and open the rind
of a fruit of which the same yellow,
more intense, more orange-red, was the juice?
And this one, could opening have been too much for it,
because, exposed to air, its nameless pink
has picked up the bitter aftertaste of lilac?
And isn’t this batiste one a dress, with
the chemise still inside it, still soft
and breath-warm, both flung off together
in morning shade at the bathing pool in the woods?
And this one here, opalescent porcelain,
fragile, a shallow china cup
filled with little lighted butterflies,
and this one, containing nothing but itself.

Bowl of Roses: Peachy petals of a David Austin rose in Manito Park, Spokane, Washington by Betsey CrawfordAnd aren’t they all doing the same: only containing themselves,
if to contain oneself means: to transform the world outside
and wind and rain and patience of spring
and guilt and restlessness and disguised fate
and darkness of earth at evening
all the way to the errancy, flight, and coming on of clouds
all the way to the vague influence of the distant stars
into a handful of inwardness.

Now it lies free of cares in the open roses.

Two yellow David Austin rose in Manito Park, Spokane, Washington by Betsey Crawford

Translated by Galway Kinnell & Hannah Liebman

I’d love to have you join me! If you add your email address, I’ll send you notices of new monthly posts.

Related posts:

The power of allurement, the mystery of beauty

The call of wild beauty

Cows in Osceola, Missouri by Betsey Crawford

Walking in beauty

 

Denali

denali-national-park-Alaska-by-Betsey-CrawfordThere is a great mystery on this journey: the fact that I seem to choose some places to go, and that others call me to come. Alaska called. Before leaving home in 2011, I never gave any thought to going to Alaska; in the mayhem of leaving I barely gave thought to where I was going once I pulled out the driveway. But almost as soon as we left, Alaska started calling. And, every time I looked at the map, the voice seemed to be coming from Denali, the ‘Great One’ in the Athabascan language, the mountain and its surrounding wilderness, which create one of the largest preserved areas in the country. The only vast wilderness in Alaska with a road through it: a single road, two lanes at its best, 92 miles long.

From left: monkshood (Aconitum dephinifolium), eskimo potato (Hedysarum alpinum), tall Jacob's ladder (Polemonium acutiflorum)

From left: monkshood (Aconitum dephinifolium), eskimo potato (Hedysarum alpinum), tall Jacob’s ladder (Polemonium acutiflorum)

Despite that persistent call, the realities of visiting the park almost put me off.  In order to penetrate this wilderness, you need to spend 8 to 11 hours, depending on how far you go, on the equivalent of a school bus. This had little appeal to me, though I would have done it. But it would have been impossible for George. He is happy to have me go off on my own adventures, but this was a call to go together.

From left: Siberian aster (Aster sibericus), one-flowered cinquefoil (Potentilla uniflora)

From left: Siberian aster (Aster sibericus), one-flowered cinquefoil (Potentilla uniflora)

One evening, at our RV park in Seward, I started chatting with our neighbor. We discovered we were from the same part of the world, both full time travelers, so had lots to talk about, including the places in Alaska she had already been. She told me that they were able to get a pass to drive their own car through Denali because her partner has MS, and would not have been able to deal with a day on the bus.

An entire lichen village taking over an old tree stump, from the white and pink (common name: fairy barf) on the right to the tiny, gray green golf tees of cladonia cryptochlorophaea growing out of moss on the left

Lichen needs close-ups, but I was enchanted with this entire lichen village taking over an old tree stump, from the white and pink (common name: fairy barf) on the left to the tiny, gray green golf tees of cladonia cryptochlorophaea growing out of moss on the right. A click will give you a somewhat larger view.

So we went, and got the pass, good for four days, from a warm and helpful ranger. As we drove in the first day, I got teary, and George told me he had goosebumps. I went all four days, George three. The second day I planned to hike and see what wildflowers were still around, but, on discovering the amazing lichen world in the park, spent most of the afternoon lying on the ground. The third and fourth days we had a quick view of Denali itself, shimmering in the distance, having briefly emerged from its usual shroud of clouds. The last day we just kept driving, and went the entire 92 miles in and back, a nine hour adventure, discovering, at the far end of the road, a world of bog and muskeg different from the rest of the drive.

denali-national-park-Alaska-by-Betsey-CrawfordDenali, though full of beauty, isn’t the most beautiful or the most intriguing place I’ve seen, and people don’t go for that reason. Its lure is the ability, via the road, to see the wildlife living and roaming freely within a sliver of its 5 million acres. The original impulse to create the park was to conserve this wildlife. And there’s plenty of it: we saw caribou, moose, eagles, ptarmigan, and lots of grizzlies, one digging up roots less than 20 feet away from us. (We were in the truck, needless to say.)

grizzly-bear-ursus-arctos-horribilis-denali-national-park-Alaska-by-Betsey-CrawfordI loved seeing the animals and birds, and the flowers and lichen, but there was something about the land itself that made it hard to take my eyes off it. Denali is subarctic wilderness, definitely not a showy landscape, with lots of low shrubs, dark green spruce, small scale wildflowers and grasses, acres of moss, tons of lichen. They are all native to their place. With few roads to carry plant invaders, native plants have been able to form a vast, millenia-old ecosystem that supports both the animal life of the park, and the Athabascans, who have a 13,000 year history there, and still use the park for subsistence hunting and gathering.

denali-national-park-Alaska-by-Betsey-Crawford-2It filled my soul to float through mile on mile of this subtle tapestry of greens, browns, tan, yellows, punctuated with rivers and ponds, rimmed with snowy mountains, usually under a moody gray sky. To see the mountain itself show up one evening as the sun set on its western flank, and then to see her luminous presence the next morning, before the clouds veiled her. To lie on the ground with lichen. To see the last of the wildflowers. To have caribou walk by on the road, heading in the opposite direction. To watch a bear at close range.

caribou-rangifer-tarandus-denali-national-park-Alaska-by-Betsey-CrawfordThere is a crucial magic about this. It’s not just about seeing the animals, or the landscape. It’s about knowing, as we build and pave and improve and fix, that there are enough places left for life to go on as if humans were not rushing to dominate the rest of the planet.  Denali is one of the places where the heart of the world can beat undisturbed, and that is what makes it so important.

Why the call? I have no answer. The calls seldom explain themselves. The landscapes they leave on the heart take time to make their difference. I may never look back and say, this happened because I was there. But Denali called, I went, and I am changed.denali-denali-national-park-Alaska-by-Betsey-Crawford