Saturday, April 5

Visit My Shop on Etsy

Sunday, April 1

The Timing of Natural Events: Phenology

The arrival date was marked on the calendar, seed and garden magazines flooded the post office box, temperatures warmed and we shed our winter coasts. Telltale signs were all around: Spring had arrived in New England! 

Erica Dale Strzepek, Hearing Spring,
Watercolor, 5x7 inches, ©2012 

With three young boys, each hectic morning begins with breakfast, school lunches, and packing backpacks. During the winter, our routine is drab and resembles a scene from Director Bob Clark’s A Christmas Story, “I can’t put my arms down!” With spring’s arrival however, the mornings are fresh and less bulky. The world seems better listening to birds singing and seeing American Robins hunting for their breakfast of worms while we are eating ours. 

Our town refreshes itself too as spring-cleaning begins in gusto. Dull winter lawns and empty lack luster flowerbeds are forgiven as hedgerows of forsythia bud and bloom. Large expanses of petite yellow blooms brighten otherwise still gloomy landscapes.

The blooming forsythia prompted a discussion and lesson in phenology from my husband, a practice second nature in his daily work routine. Merriam-Webster defines phenology as “a branch of science dealing with the relations between climate and periodic biological phenomena (as bird migration or plant flowering).”

“When the forsythia is half-yellow half-green, it’s time to apply pre-emergent weed control.” He continued with his examples, “Annual Bluegrass Weevil's timing control coincides with the blooming of the Pink Dogwood (cornus florida). The presence of clover (triflolium) can be an indication of low nitrogen. Clover is a legume which fixes its own nitrogen (N) from the air, the most abundant mineral in the air but not available to turf. If you see Broad-leaf Plantain (plantago major) it can be an indication soil compaction.”

His numerous fastidious accounts were enlightening. A more disciplined observation to the cues of nature and our surrounding environment is a lesson we can all benefit from.

Saturday, March 24

Finding Meaning in the Sand

On a pleasantly cool fall afternoon, I combed the shoreline once again. The small beach off Buzzards Bay is perfect for beachcombing. The sea grass embankment often holds drifting sediments inhibiting their return to the sea. Partially submerged in the sand, it shimmered and called to me, “Here…I am here!”


Erica Dale Strzepek, Sea Grass Embankment, Digital Photograph, ©2011

How could I have missed this I wondered? I picked up my find, gazed upon it, then tossed it into the plastic shopping bag at my hip filled with shells, sea glass, and assorted careless litter I picked up while on our walk.

Back at the house we compared finds with soft ooohhs, ahhs, and several exertions of wow, how neat. Like a sport, we try to outdo each other with our stash. My sister shared a humorous story of collecting with her daughter: “Wow! Look at the pretty piece of sea glass mommy just found,” and held her hand out to show my niece. Her excitement deflated greeted by the two-year-old’s own out stretched hand that held a much larger and more spectacular piece of sea glass. “My shell shell,” she remarked in an innocent voice.

Erica Dale Strzepek, The Salt Cellar, Digital Photograph, ©2012 

I pulled from my bag my share of the loot. “Check this piece out,” I said. “What do you think it could be?” We examined the sandy square weighty glass piece with a circular depression in its center that revealed a diamond pattern stamped bottom. The piece although marred by the surf, retained its original beauty.

We speculated over what it was. The slightly heavy weight gave thought to a small paperweight. My husband suggested an inkwell although under consideration we rejected this notion, as the depression seemed too shallow. Was it part of a candlestick now broken and without its mate for untold years? Had it broken off an ornate liquor bottle, formerly a stopper perhaps? We were stumped noting its edges remained clean and the circular rim appeared smoothed intentionally, not the result of a break. Not one of the four adults present was able to identify the mystery piece or how it may have ended up on the shore of a Buzzards Bay beach.

The fall air changed and the (albeit mild) winter season moved in. Typically pottery chips, glass shards, and washed up flotsam I collect are added to clear glass vases about our house. This piece however was special; I had taken a particular liking to it and it adorned my bureau. I wanted to know what it was or what it had been, its story I wanted to understand better. I loved the optical illusion it gave when looking into the center depression to diamond cut detailing. When the sun came round and brightened the room, it took in the rays reflecting back prisms to the surrounding room. I could imagine it offering this same greeting to the monochromatic sand where it had once been stranded. I felt compelled to share it and its story.

In early February I mailed the shard to my uncle. It was a new journey I imagined, carefully wrapped and enclosed by a padded mailer, making its way safely across the state. I included a letter that began: “In 2012 I am continuing my goal of improving myself and bringing my artwork to a new level.” My note talked about enjoying everyday moments and embracing the sorted uncertainties our lives can pose. “I wanted you to have this small glass shard,” I continued. “I am not sure what it actually is; I do know it doesn’t belong amongst the shells and sand of a Cape Cod beach. I wonder how it got there, what was its journey and marvel that even though it is out of place, its beauty shines as it captures the sun’s rays and casts back a beautiful unique rainbow as a gift to the shore. With minimal chips, it survived. I am not sure what you may do with this little gem. Maybe place it on a window where it can continue to bring prisms to all around as it reminds us to make the most of all uncertain journeys of life.” I found enjoyment in sharing my found treasure with him. A few days later he called to let me know how much he liked the glass piece and my expression of self-journey.

I thought this might be the end of the story, but I was wrong and was caught off-guard as I wondered through a small vintage shop located in the Berkshires of western Massachusetts. My oldest son was with me and I motioned for him to come see what I had found. On a table filled with antique vases, pink Depression glass plates, and random mismatched silver forks and spoons were several small weighty glass pieces some with circular depressions in the their center. Beside them a hand-written note read “Salt Cellers [sic] $5.00 ea.”

Erica Dale Strzepek, On The Cluttered Table, Digital Photograph, ©2012 

“Mom, it’s like your piece,” remarked my son. He was correct; there on the cluttered table was a piece that looked exactly like the one we had found on the Buzzards Bay beach. For $5 including tax I took the vintage salt cellar home to replace the one I sent my uncle. Although proportionately the same glass square with a circular depression and diamond stamped bottom, the two pieces indeed were different.

My original salt cellar was weighty and smoothed by surf, but still whole with minimal chips. It had brought dimension to the sandy beach amongst the organic materials of shells and sea weed, and an occasional tennis ball from a game of fetch gone astray. I now knew it belonged on a handsome tabletop, filled with salt to accompany a carefully planned dinner. In that setting I imagined it reflecting candle light from an ornate candelabra, not the sun’s rays I had previously imagined and enjoyed upon my bureau. Its journey brought it in contact with untold sea creatures and chemical debris tossed about on the cool current of Buzzards Bay, making its way almost to the famed Cape Cod Canal. As the world kept changing the salt cellar was out of fashion, replaced first by the salt shaker and then not to be seen at all on the table as we learned of the excessive sodium found in today’s prepared food choices. My salt cellar had somehow been discarded to a watery new life no longer filled with salt, but surrounded by it.

What about the $5 salt cellar and its journey? After its fall from tabletop fashion was it tucked safely away amongst fine china and delicate ornate wares? I discounted this idea noting it had considerably more chips than that of its seafaring twin. Also, it was less weighty than my original leaving me to question if it was merely a replica with an even less interesting former life?

It became clear to me I enjoyed the seafaring salt cellar so much because I would choose to be the first over the second. As I had expressed in the letter to my uncle, I would rather endure the unpredictable journeys of life than be tucked safely away. I appreciate at any moment one can be chipped and broken, or reflect the sun’s rays.