Spring (Finally)

This poem lay dormant for months, seeded in the waning days of autumn, when I wrote Anthem.  Finally, spring is here with “A shout of triumph / An anthem of joy.”

Tight, verdant buds dot the naked limbs laid bare in winter,
and a chartreuse film covers the ground greened in new grass
raised from the teeming dark.

K. Ashby


Holy Week: Nature Tells The Truth

agriculture backyard blur close up
Photo by Lukas on Pexels.com

Maybe you’ve shoveled compost into your garden beds, mixing the dark organic matter that some gardeners call “black gold” into your native soil. Or, maybe you’ve walked into the woods and inhaled the moist, verdant fragrance of humus, that soft, springy top layer of the forest floor. What does that fresh, earthy fragrance have in common with compost, or aged animal droppings?

They’re both the product of death and rot. “Homemade” compost is an amalgam of discarded organic material—grass clippings, food waste, manure—that has rotted for months, aided by sun, moisture, insects, micro-organisms, and humans. The result is a dark, rich soil component that smells like the forest floor. We add this compost to our gardens for the same reason humus is vital for the forest soil–decomposing matter is rich with the nutrients plants need to thrive. And just as death is no respecter of persons, decay eventually touches every living thing.

Everything that is vibrant with life dies and decomposes, both things that are beautiful, useful, and loved, and things that are poisonous, rotten, and unwanted. Richly-hued autumn leaves; fallen, unpicked fruit; the maggot-infested carcass of a baby bird fallen from its nest; tattered dragonfly wings; and fragrant pine needles all become a part of the nourishing forest floor.

Everything that is vibrant with life dies and decomposes, both things that are beautiful, useful, and loved, and things that are poisonous, rotten, and unwanted.

As one season gives way to the next we might grieve the loss of beauty, or recoil at signs of decay, but these are necessary for new life.  A wise gardener knows the same truth shouted by a thriving forest. Death is not the end.


Holy Week: Perfect Love
Holy Week: Hope and Resurrection

On the Way Home

We drove past the Reservoir on the way home. The day is grim winter gray punctuated by bare trees and piles of wet lifeless leaves. It is sprinkling. The temperature is cool enough for light layers and warm enough to feel muggy. This is not a day to delight in nature.

This is a day to huddle inside some man-made structure, to insulate oneself with bricks and mortar, with snacks and favorite libations, and ignore nature until she gets her act together and launches spring.

But we drove past the reservoir. We drove past a small spread of water ringed by dull, denuded woods, and today, unexpectedly, caressed by a thick, undulating silver mist. A shifting, swirling fog covered the lapping water and transformed a country recreation spot into a setting fit for fairies and nymphs and other odd folk who act out truth in children’s stories.

Man made that lake, they say, but anyone who sees it today will know that is not true. On this lukewarm day, nature graced a common, man-formed stretch of water with a subtle, uncommon beauty. And it was good.


This I Know

XVI.  This I Know

Sometimes devastation pummels
from a charcoal sky at noon, but
a dark sky doesn’t change day to night.
Night will only come
when earth turns her face from sun.

Proverbs 3:5-16, Joshua 23:14

K. Ashby

Silent Shout


Anyone can see
those pale curves were molded by a master.
No amount of dust, no darkened corner
can hide the same truth told by the sun
as it sinks into lavender mountains–
rustling, fragrant trees hug glinting streams,
uncurling ferns, a dragonfly wing–
the creation reveals its creator
with a silent shout.

K. Ashby




When the air chills and the light dims,
Autumn flames, then falls–
All that glory ground into the winter wet earth
With other dead things–
Because in winter
Life lies beneath, devouring death,
Transforming all the rot and worthless things
To cradle life, holding it in trust
Until warmth and light return
And the earth breaks open, greens and flowers.
A shout of triumph,
An anthem of joy.

K. Ashby


Next Year’s Fruit


No, leave that one on the ground.
Don’t be fooled by the ruddy lustre
captivating your tongue’s imagination.
It looks like a crisp bite,
a mouthful of firm flesh and sweet juice.
Turn it over. See where the taut skin thinned,
failed open to marauders.
Leave it. Let it nourish next year’s fruit.

K. Ashby


In the Company of Trees

cropped-smriver2.jpgSix years ago, when my family moved from a  suburban lot in Texas to the feet of Great Smoky Mountain National Park, I felt we had entered Eden. Rivers brimmed with water, the landscape curved voluptuous, and trees covered hills and mountains in the rich, warm shades of autumn.  Soon after our arrival, I wrote the following.

I grew up beneath the outstretched arms of a century-old native pecan tree, its limbs reaching up and over our historic two-story home.   In winter, bare branches were stark sentinels against the cold blue sky.  Then spring brought flush after flush of leaves, softening the severe lines.

There were other trees on our property, too. In memory, my father planted any seed, seedling, and transplant that had a chance of surviving. There were ash, live oak, jujubee, pecan, mesquite and pine trees.  And though the great pecan tree towered over all, the patriarch of our yard, every one of them gave us the dreamy shifting patterns of light and shade that carpeted our play yard.

For the last six years, I have lived without the shadows of trees.  My suburban lot, scraped bare to facilitate quick construction, was bereft of even the tiniest of trees.  Sunlight, at all times during the year, struck our faces unfiltered by leaves, branches, or fruit.  The grass was always warm and bright beneath our feet, neither marked nor cooled by the shadow of overhead beauty. The soft, mysterious light between the shadows of trees was missing.

Now I have it again, almost to excess, an abundance of light and shadow, dark patterns and mellow autumn light moving across my children’s upturned faces as they stretch out their hands to catch the drifting colors.

After three years in the eastern United States, we moved to California and lived on three acres in the central coastal mountains of Santa Cruz County.  It was a whole new world of trees, tenacious, always green despite the drought, and never mindful of seasons.  There, our land was speckled with coastal live oaks, a living playground made for exercising body and imagination.

Redwoods still towered in little pockets here and there outside the great forest parks.  On our neighbor’s land, a beguiling footpath curved past an old farm shed and led us to a fairy ring of the ancient giants. Beneath their evergreen branches, upon the cool, soft carpet they laid for our feet within the masses of pale,  voluminous ferns, we stepped back in time to the fragrance of fecund, unplowed earth.

IMG_0346Now we’re back on the east coast and as we wound our way to our new home through familiar, brightly-hued landscapes, I looked forward to again experiencing the change of seasons with my old friends, while in the pages of my mind are pressed memories of all the trees I have loved.