A Tropical Urban Oasis

W.W. Seymour Botanical Conservatory

Seymour Conservatory, Wright Park, Tacoma, Washington, USA. Built in 1908.

They call it a hidden gem. It certainly is a gem, but it’s not so hidden. The conservatory is at the edge of Wright just off South “G” Street. Wright Park isn’t exactly hidden, either. It’s on top of a hill high above downtown Tacoma.

Seymour Conservatory is one of my favorite places in the city. When I used to work downtown, I was lucky enough to have a one-hour lunch break. I’d frequently take my coffee break late, have lunch then and use my meal break to walk up the hill to the conservatory. Wandering around the greenhouse was like taking a miniature tropical vacation. The warm, humid air is very relaxing, just the thing when I needed to get away from my stressful job for a little while.

These are photos of plants the I found intriguing or just plain beautiful.

The Ponderosa lemon.

The pretty lemon tree is located right inside the front door. It fruit are almost the size of a man’s head. Who’d have though this huge hybrid is a native of Maryland? I’d have thought maybe Brazil or Argentina. I wonder how many lemon meringue pies could be made out of one lemon?

I took this photo to show the relative size of the lemon to the man’s head.
I like this wrought iron arch.
I was fascinated by the white patches on this tree’s bark.

This is a tree philodendron. The white patches are scars that are left when the leaves come off. This is a native of Brazil. The trunk reached high above my head.

Is it any wonder these huge leaves leave such big scars when they come off the tree?

Another plant whose trunk fascinated me.

It’s hard to tell from this photo whether the fronds are attached to the trunk. They probably are. A visual internet search was of no help in identifying this palm.

Spanish moss. Shades of Tara and Gone Wit the Wind

Spanish moss grows on trees, but it is not parasitic. It’s an epiphyte, an air plant, which gets water and nutrients from the air.

Agave or century plant

This guy’s a “pup” that was taken from the mother plant, which also lived at Seymour. The older plant bloomed in 1988. The flowering stalk was thirty feet (9.14m) tall. To accommodate its height, they had to remover several of the glass panels. The leaves are about 3-5′ (.9 – 1.5m) long. Even though it’s called a century plant, it only lives about ten to thirty years. It’s a native of the southwest United States and Mexico.

African Milk Tree

Is a native of tropical West Africa. It may look like a cactus, but it’s actually a succulent. They grow six to eight feet (1.8 to 2.4m) tall. All parts of the plant are poisonous if eaten. I can’t imagine who would want to. The milky sap can cause skin irritation.

Entrance to the next wing

Yes, there are flowers at Seymour Conservatory. I have so many pictures that I’ll have to save them for the next time. I got so engrossed in finding photos in my collection, editing them, doing research, and writing captions and descriptions that haven’t noticed how much time has passed. I’ve also forgotten to eat.

My photos, not Seymour’s.

Caring for the Forgotten, Ignored, and Demonized

Life on the Not-so-Violent Ward. These people are human beings, just like the rest of us.

This is not a “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” story. There are no Nurse Ractheds in this true story. This is a brief biographical sketch of my mother’s career. 

For twenty-two years, until her retirement, my mother worked as a mental health technician in a state mental hospital. When she first started work there, she was a “floater,” working on different wards. After she’d put in a few months my mother was assigned to the violent ward. By the time my mother went to work at the hospital, they had stopped doing the kinds of “treatments” depicted in the movie re. It was all group therapy by then.

My mother (in the middle) and her co-workers on break in the hospital. In the early days they were required to wear uniforms. Later they could wear “civvies.”

The hospital is still in operation, though in a much more restricted way than it did then. It has handsome, sturdy brick buildings and stands on beautiful, park-like grounds. The grounds aren’t as they used to be either. The greenhouses are closed. The little ravine with its rhododendron bushes, rill, and walking path is gone now.

My mother liked her work and she liked the people, including the patients, she worked with. It may have been called the violent ward, but the most violent thing that ever happened to her was getting her watchband broken while attempting to restrain an unruly patient. One of my mom’s co-workers did get beaten up one time, but as I recall, the woman didn’t even have to go to the hospital.

I visited my mom and the hospital a couple of times. The interior wasn’t nearly as nice as the exterior. It was pretty bleak, but it was quiet. There was no moaning, no screaming, nor cursing. The patients were actually better behaved than some so-called normal people today.

The patients liked my mother, too. There was a piano on the ward, so she took piano music to work with her and played for the patients.

In the early years, there was a farm across the road from the hospital where trusted patients were allowed to work. They would bring the produce they’d helped to grow and, like proud children, would show their veggies off to my mother, “Look, Mrs. Pedecis!”

Eventually, the farm was closed. State officials had decided that having the patients work on the farm was forced labor. My mother thought that was a pity, and I do, too. Working on the farm gave patients a sense of accomplishment and pride. A sense of normality. It also got them out of the bleak wards into the fresh air and sunshine. That may be the reason the greenhouses closed, too.

Other things also changed toward the end of my mother’s career. Some things go more lax, others go more rigid. Responsibilities that the mental health techs had been handling for decades were turned over to LPNs and RNs, making the techs feel like menial laborers. My mother could have worked for several more years, but these changes made her decide that it was time to retire.

There were one or two break-outs at the hospital. Nothing got broken. People would just walk away while out on an authorized, supervised group outing on the grounds. There were also a few attempts at break-ins and theft. “Oh, boy! Bread!” The ward was in a half-basement.

A Brief Taste of Winter

(So here is the belated post. Strange how yesterday these images had “empty alt attributes,” but today they don’t. It isn’t because of anything I did)

Winters finally showed up when it was supposedly on its way out. I wasn’t eager for snow, but when it finally arrived, I changed my mind. Snow is magical. It transforms the world, covers the unsightly, and makes it beautiful. 

It slows everything down. Or, if it doesn’t it should. Otherwise, disaster can result. Some people’s idea of the way to deal with inclement weather is to drive as fast as possible, so as to get out of it sooner. My preference is to get there safer than sooner.

I love snow silence. Snow is porous. There’s a lot of open space in those six-sided crystals, which absorbs sound waves. But it’s necessary to have several inches of snow to create that effect.

Western Washington finally saw a serious snowfall. We get one maybe every two years. That’s not how it always was. There was a time when snow fell in November and lasted all of two weeks. Then it might snow again in January or February, but as far as I can remember, it never lasted much longer than two weeks. This month we had one day of glorious snow, followed by days of rain which gradually washed away the snow.

I thought about not doing this post at all. I’ve already done winter three times featuring snow, ice, and saying good-bye to the season, so this post seemed superfluous. But when I posted my newest photos on social media, they garnered a lot of “likes.” Many people posted snow photos and they were all popular. These photos are quite different from the ones I posted before. 

Icelanders have some great words. Gluggaveður is one. It means “window-weather.” The kind of weather you’d rather look at than experience.

How white was my valley. No blue sky and sunshine this time.
Thinking of Robert Frost. “Whose woods these are, I think I know/his house is in the village though”

The previous photos were from the back of my building. The next ones are from the front, facing west. It’s funny how there’s always “more weather” to the west.

In recent years we haven’t had snow this deep. This is about six inches (15cm)
The many trees on the grounds are one thing I like about living here. This is the west side.
Some monster’s scrawny claw-like paw, full of snow. Snow is good for fueling the imagination.
A good day to stay at home. You can see how busy grounds maintenance has been. Why bother when warmer weather and rain will take care of the snow?
Bush of snow flowers.
There was color that day. The fern didn’t mind the snow, not even when it had cold feet.
Until this week, it’s been a warmish winter. My bulbs thought it was spring. The fern would be fine, but I worried about my tulips. How far down did the freeze go? Would they survive? If they did, would they bloom?
I wasn’t the only one who went outside that day. Walking, even one a gentle slope, was tricky. Thank goodness for the railing.
Some robotic monster with a mouthful of snow.

In Latvia mumming season lasts a long time, from late fall for Latvia’s equivalent of the Day of the Dead, though Christmas to February for  Meteņi. This video shows yet another celebration of winter. The words mean, “Don’t bark, village dogs.” I’m not sure what that has to do with winter or Christmas. I couldn’t find a translation of all the lyrics. There doesn’t seem to be much to them anyway. It’s just another excuse to dance and sing in the snow. It’s probably pretty obvious that this is another celebration of fertility, new life, and growth. I love this video.

I think “Kaladu” is just a meaningless word sung along, maybe something like, hallelujah.

The girl in the green shawl is wearing a necklace of “barankas.” They’re kind of like bagels, only smaller and much harder. They must be made for dipping in coffee, tea, or milk. While on my visit to Latvia, I told them how my mother used to love “barankas,” and would buy them on a string, just like in the video. So they brought me a necklace of “barankas.” I ate them all.

The sashes the dancers are hopping over go with Latvian folk dress. They are wrapped around the waist several times, and tied in front.

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A Day of Misery

Thanks to Word Press

Bad enough that I didn’t get any bread in my grocery order. Bad enough that I suddenly lost my internet connection for no known reason. Thanks goodness it came back online just as I was talking to the service provider’s CSR. Still. It spoiled my mood. And then I suddenly couldn’t post images to my Word Press page. I got a cryptic message that my image had an empty alt attribute. No explanation as to what that means. WP’s help site is not help. It’s a forum with all sorts of people offering advice, so you don’t know who to believe or what to try. Word Press has ignored my previous three calls for help regarding different issues. I sent a call for help for this issue anyway. They probably haven’t had time to respond. This is not the first time something hasn’t worked and I’ve had nothing but a crypt message. There’s a lot to like about Word Press, but there’s also a lot to hate.

This is how I feel about Word Press today.

The above image is old. It took so long to load, like the new ones, that I was beginning to think I’d get that same “empty alt attribute” message. Beats me why I can post an older photo and not a new one. I’m not holding my breath while waiting for an explanation and help from Word Press.

I love writing blog essays and illustrating them with my photos. I hope I can keep on doing so. I write novels that require no illustrations. When the words flow, it’s fantastic. My blog is a nice change of pace. I have lots of old photos, but eventually I’ll run out. I use stock photo services, but I want to use my own photos whenever possible.

ARGHHH!!! Here we go again. I just tried to add a photo taken on the same day as the one above. No, Word Press, I am not off line. Guess this image also has an empty alt. attribute. Makes no sense.

This too is an appropriate image to show my mood today.

This second image was also taken on the same day as the one above and the one I couldn’t get posted.

I guess I shouldn’t complain. Right? Two out of three images, for this essay got posted. I had another photo essay I was gong to post today, no images at all for that one. Go figure.

Writing Is Also an Art


Like any art, writing takes hours. Sometimes even days, weeks, or years. It seems like something anyone can do. Just sit in front of a computer or take a sheet of paper and a pen or pencil and start writing. Then read what you’ve written. Does it make sense? Does it flow? Does it hold your interest? Does it tell a story or teach you something? Look at social media posts by non-writers and then take a look at a magazine, newspaper, or literary magazine. How does your writing compare? Is it more like a social media post or more like something written by a professional? I don’t mean to dismiss regular people who write on social media. Some are very good. The majority are not. Many are downright incoherent, vague, badly spelled, poorly punctuated.

Good writing requires much thought, rewriting, editing, and perhaps rewriting again. Many drafts until you get one that’s polished as close to perfection as the writer can make it.

Writing is easy; all you do is sit staring at the blank sheet of paper until the drops of blood form on your forehead.” Attributed to the journalist, Gene Fowler. It’s an exaggeration, but not by much.

Winter: “Not So Fast…”

It would be fine with me if we didn’t get any more snow than this.

Winter says: “You thought you were going to get rid of me? HA! I have five more weeks to go. I’m not done with you yet, Earthlings.”

This afternoon winter made itself felt again. So far, it’s been a deceptive season, acting like spring–warmish, rainy, sunny, windy in turn. Today winter reminded us who it really is–a freezing cold, snowy season. Surprisingly enough, the reminder arrived within twenty minutes of when the forecasters said it would.

Teeny-tiny flakes fell for about four hours before stopping. Has it stopped for good? Who knows? Winter isn’t saying. It’s dark now. The sky is pale, but it’s not as white as it would be if snow were still in the clouds. The forecast says this area will get four to six inches of snow. I’ll believe it when I see it.

Fooled by the mild season, my plants thought it was spring and have sent up new leaves and buds. I hope they don’t freeze. Since they’re in planter boxes on my balcony, I could move them closer to the building where it’s warmer. I think bulbs are pretty hardy; soil-filled containers are pretty heavy, so I may leave them where they are, maybe cover them with plastic sheets. Decisions. 

Snow has started falling again.

I’ll keep on monitoring the forecast and checking outside to see what’s happening, to see if we get all those inches they forecast.

February snow two years ago is what took down Tibby (Tree By my BalconY)

Wind blasted right through me and blew snow in my face, when I went out on my balcony to take these photos. 

It’s hard to focus on snowflakes when they’re blowing in your eyes. These are on my balcony railing.

Nature Therapy

“The next time you feel sad, put away your devices and go and sit by a river. Let it heal you. Go and walk in the forest, the trees will listen. Let the elements hold you. This life is fleeting. Let us tread lightly, we do not own any of it.” ~~Author unknown

My friend, S.a. Tudhope allowed me to use her photo of a creek that flows into Lake Washington in Washington state, USA.

This would be a great place to sit and contemplate. Perhaps to write poetry. Or just to be. We don’t spend enough time just being with no pressure, nor rush, no expectations.

For me, any body of water will do, even though running water is better.

Snake Lake in autumn.

I love reflections in water. And leaves floating on water.

Any tree will do, whether it has leaves or not.

I love the grace and elegance of bare trees, stripped to the essence of their treeness. Come spring, I almost hate to see them leaf out.

What do you do when you’re cut of from woods and water, like I am now. Like so many of us are now. And how some of us are always. You find nature wherever you can.

I’m fortunate enough to have this view from my balcony. This is how I get my nature fix.

To those of us who live in its lap, Mt. Rainier (14,411 ft., 4,392m) is known at The Mountain, as if there were no other. We have many mountains in Washington state, but this is the biggest one. The Monarch. The symbol of our state. The one that’s most visible from urban areas for miles around. This view is from Tacoma, but people thirty miles (approx. 50km) to the north in Seattle can see it, as can people thirty miles to the south in our capital, Olympia can see it.

But sometimes, too often, The Mountain hides in the clouds.

Yes, there is a mountain back there. Not all the white stuff is clouds, some of it is snow.

Mountains, whether you are on their flanks or looking at them from a distance, are also great nature therapy.

For when The Mountain is completely hidden by clouds or just to have something green close by, I have plants on my tiny balcony.

Autumn fern. Its frond are not dying; they’re golden because that’s the nature of autumn ferns.

Sometimes you have to bring nature indoors.

Peperomia. House plants help keep indoor air clean. And help the housebound to enjoy nature.

Meteņi: Good-bye Winter! Hello Spring!

A Latvian Celebration

Winter is on its way out. Spring is on its way in. Sledding and traveling by horse drawn sleigh are a big part of the festival.

Latvians work hard, but they also play hard and celebrate often. Just as they’ve finished celebrating Christmas and the New Year, they’re looking forward to the end of winter and the arrival of spring. Meteņudiena (diena = day) is the day that marks the halfway point between Christmas and Easter, halfway between the Winter Solstice and the spring equinox. The longer Meteņi is celebrated, the better the harvest the following summer. 

Many traditions, rituals, and beliefs are associated with Meteņi. Too many for me to describe here. Each region, district and village has its own rituals and customs.

Like Fat Tuesday, also known as Pancake Day, Meteņi is a time of feasting. A boar’s head with fritters is the traditional main dish for the celebration. Gobble. Eat and drink till you’re sated.

Like all festive days associated with the sun–the spring and autumn equinoxes and the winter and summer solstices meteņi is a fire festival. Bonfires are lit at night to symbolize days growing longer, with more light. People sing and dance around the fires. Straw effigies are rolled down a hill and then set on fire to burn winter away. 

Fire festivals are ancient traditions in many cultures.

 Meteņi is a fertility festival, as are all the fire festivals. Bounty and fertility for people, crops, and animals are vital for agrarian communities.

One fertility ritual is for young brides to be spanked with “switches of life.”

Mumming is a tradition during all winter festivals. It’s kind of like Halloween, except it’s the adults who dress in costumes–fur-lined coats turned inside out, topped off with straw hats and masks. Dressing up in costumes is a fertility ritual for men.  Mummers visit neighboring homesteads where they sing, dance, and play music. The mummers must be feted with food and drink.

Latvians have thousands of folk songs. Some are specific to Meteņi with refrains of repeated words of power. 

Meteņi is the last of the mumming occasions. Once spring arrives folks will be too busy working to go around in costume

An example of Meteņu rituals by the folk group, Auļi. I can watch this video over and over.

My First Published Piece


Tibby and the moon

During my senior year in high school, I took a creative writing class, during which I fell in love with haiku. The teacher taught us the Anglicized rules for the Japanese poetry form–three lines of five, seven, and five syllables. They must be about nature and have a reference to a season. Perhaps in those days no one knew, or cared, that in Japanese syllabification is not the same as in English.

I adored the poems of Basho, Buson, and especially gentle Issa.

Now, if you look up haiku on the internet, you’re likely to see the poems in English and also in Japanese both in Latin script and in Japanese script. Modern haiku, written in English does not necessarily follow the strict rules I was taught. It seems to be pretty much free-form. Nor is the subject matter as restricted.

Anyway, I wrote my little poem as I was taught and submitted it to our local newspaper, which used to run a poetry column in the Sunday edition. What a surprise when they accepted it! My first attempt at getting published. They also sent me a check for three dollars. Much better pay than many periodicals offer these days. I should have framed that check, but I didn’t.

I recently found the newspaper clipping in a box of old photos, a bit brittle, yellowed, but still legible. I still have a little volume of haiku from my school days. I love this subtle poetry form as much as ever.

How very cold the night
frost bitten, the moon sends earth
spears of crystal light.