Human Flower Project

Orrington, MAINE USA

flag flower bed

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Princeton, MAINE USA

Friday, December 31, 2010

The Gift of an Orange

Brighter than gold, juicier than frankincense, sweeter than myrrh—and packed with wondrous information.


Feed the mind and spirit with something ripe and real

Photo: John Groome

By James H. Wandersee and Renee M. Clary

EarthScholars™ Research Group

Our grandparents told us that when they were children, they cherished receiving oranges as a special Christmas gift. We probably looked puzzled and utterly grateful that we would be receiving much more than that. Yet, each year they made sure that we would also find oranges in our own Christmas stockings.  The orange was an object-lesson – one that took hold for both of us.

Today, we make sure there is a bowl with polished oranges on the dining room table to grace our families’ Christmas celebrations, reminding us that a Christmas gift does not have to be battery-powered and expensive to be beautiful and memorable.  Oranges also demonstrate that all life on Earth depends on plants, and that plants are more important for our happiness and survival than anything humans make.  For our own families, the gift of an orange is a tradition we hope to continue across many Christmases yet to come. 

In the 21st century, the experience of smelling and tasting a sweet and juicy orange on a cold winter’s day may not seem as amazing to children as it once was “back in the day.” Still, we know that without thoughtful and intentional, perspective-altering lessons from their elders, children may lose their natural sense of wonder.

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Posted by Julie on 12/31 at 03:54 PM
CookingEcologySecular CustomsPermalink

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Pachysandra Chorus

Bundle up, and open up. No time like now to get out and relish the December garden.


Green stars: Euphorbia amygdaloides var. robbiae and Pachysandra terminalis

Photo: Allen Bush

By Allen Bush

I love Thanksgiving and don’t like to see it veer into the shopping season before leftovers are gone.  Days become shorter (but they do drag on) in December.  Blessedly after Christmas, there will be no more grit your teeth trips to the mall. But face it, until the solstice (let’s be honest and say: April) it’s slim pickings for good cheer.  Wet, cold and gray arrived a few weeks ago. There is always Handel’s Messiah.

It could be worse than drizzly and 40 F (5 C).  Winter months in Kentucky feature a long-playing version, with puny snowfalls, interrupted by crippling ice storms. This proves my point:  It could be worse.  Ice storms take-out power lines and the furnace. The fantasy of a warm hearth and visions of chestnuts roasting on an open fire… without a working furnace, it’s holiday hokum. Every morning I walk from the front door to the street to pick-up the newspapers or get in the car; and the oak leaf hydrangea Hydrangea quercifolia is the one ornament I look for. The faded, dry brown blooms, and the lingering red foliage, come face to face with self-pity.

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Posted by Julie on 12/19 at 09:52 PM
EcologyGardening & LandscapePermalink

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The American Cemetery

At the American Cemetery, a memorial to the WW II U.S. servicemen stationed in England, John Levett tries to discern the people from among the dead. 


The American Cemetery, Madingley, England: a memorial to the more than 5000 U.S. soldiers stationed in Britain who died in battles preceding and following June 6th 1944.

Essay and photos by John Levett

Madingley is a small village on the outskirts of Cambridge. Nothing much to speak of—a hall of the gentry, a decent restaurant, a school house. Go there on a dark, dank day and it presents itself as a location from a John Wyndham novel. Go there in sun in Summer and you could feel yourself back in the ‘50s, the English ‘50s of faded entitlement. Go back in Winter and convince youself you caught sight of Peter Quint at a cottage window.

I pass through Madingley frequently. It’s the way out or the way back for numerous bike rides. It’s also the turning point for the one hour exercise rides that I do during the Winter: just long enough to stretch the heart and lungs, just short enough to arrive back home before frostbite sets in. In Summer it’s a picnic spot along the footpaths that cross the fields towards Girton. The mill doesn’t grind anymore; I have no idea how many in England still do.


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Posted by Julie on 12/15 at 12:45 PM
Culture & SocietyPoliticsPermalink

Friday, December 10, 2010

Kiku Ningyo—Bodies in Bloom

The craft of making chrysanthemum dolls, an imperial entertainment and art of the Edo period, is dwindling, but one town north of Tokyo soldiers brightly on.


A tableau of chrysanthemum dolls in the annual kiku show of Nihonmatsu, Japan; mythological figures or Japan’s version of Donna Reed?

Photo: Human Flower Project

We don’t go in for “bucket lists,” really, but having learned about Japan’s chrysanthemum fairs several years ago from Masashi Yamaguchi and seeing pictures of Hirakata’s astounding life-sized chrysanthemum dolls, we certainly have dreamed.

Perhaps Buckminster Fuller did too – the blooming ozukuri, a living prototype for his geodesic domes.

This fall we woke up from that dream in Nihonmatsu, Japan. Botanical gardens in many Japanese cities continue to hold fall chrysanthemum shows, but very few have sustained the esoteric art of making kiku ningyo (chrysanthemum figures/dolls). Nihonmatsu’s exhibition is the biggest and perhaps the last.

A small city, about 2 ½ hours north of Tokyo by train, Nihonmatsu lies on the edge of the Abukuma Mountains. To the west, Mt. Adatara rises over an extant volcano, the thermal waters percolating up to many onsen (hot springs) in the vicinity of Dake. (Please consult—or initiate—the Human Bathing Project on this!)

Nihonmatsu has held a chrysanthemum fair annually since 1930. In recent years it’s been staged at the castle on the northern edge of town, quite a spread and very well suited to this astonishing imperial art form. (A samurai warrior in a cape of purple buds, daisies sprouting on his chest, deserves a promontory to gaze from.)

The event opened October 1 and would run all the way through November – chrysanthemum prime time. Fortunate as we were to see this spectacle at all, unfortunately we could be there only in the show’s first week. There were plenty of mannequins and lots of greenery but not too many blooms. The ozukuri had barely begun with a few white sparks of open petals, not much trace of the visual fireworks ahead.

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Posted by Julie on 12/10 at 03:33 PM
Art & MediaGardening & LandscapeSecular CustomsTravelPermalink
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