August 2012

Dear Friend

Our July was a huge contrast from our June trip to Provence. We celebrated the entire month in residence; most of our time we spent quietly in our tiny back yard. We were far from bored. We experienced the inner peace and contentment rare in our busy, complex lives today.

By choice, we decided to embrace the opportunity to become completely encircled in our hydrangea jungle. I moved my writing room to our garden. Rather than looking down at our hydrangea forest from my writing room, I chose to sit on a wood bench hugging the common white picket fence of our wonderful neighbor. Rather than facing the hydrangea, I chose to have my back to them while I worked, otherwise I wouldn’t be able to sit down. From late June throughout the entire month of July we experienced the most astonishing breathtakingly magnificent beauty created by my love of my favorite flower. Brooke told me recently that blue hydrangeas are not flowers; they are a state of mind.

No matter how many times I write about my passion for beauty, I am continuously stimulated by my obsession for hydrangea. And while my most favorite color of hydrangea is the deep Nikko blue, I adore all hydrangeas in every shade, tone and tint. This year was the best year ever for hydrangea in Stonington and across the state line in Westerly and Watch Hill, Rhode Island. I’m far from the most fanatical enthusiast. Just as I'm drawn to the flower’s extraordinary ability to bring my great joy, I enjoy listening to other gardeners who share this love of hydrangea.

One sultry day in July we went on a field trip to Rhode Island. On our way to lunch and back home, our son-in-law Tony indulged Brooke, Cooper, Peter and me in taking dozens of detours where we drove along quiet roads where large houses were hidden from view as well as their bushes bursting with blue blossoms. The ones easiest to spot become faded by too much sunlight. The ones near trees and along the side of the houses are the hidden treasures. What a fun game for each of us to gasp and try to be the first to discover some hydrangea bushes. Tony drove slowly to let us savor the pleasure. All of us were gasping in awe at the sheer abundance of this year’s bounty. Hands down, the Rhode Island blue hydrangeas are the prize winners. When the bushes are planted near the Atlantic Ocean, the combination of the salty air, the water and how much acid is in the soil makes all the difference. I’m certain there are some professional gardeners who do more than put rusty nails in the soil. There are all kinds of fertilizers that are created specifically for hydrangeas, but I don’t have an urge to manipulate the colors in our jungle because I’m fascinated to observe the variety of variations of colors.

Sitting peacefully on the bench with Peter, at a small table in front of me, both views toward the harbor, out of the corner of my eyes, I see blue blossoms reaching out toward the front of the bench. Some tickle my neck, making me grin. I can turn my head, and peek. I can see the beauty from the window pane mirrors on the outside of our cottage walls. And, on my writing table, I always have a bouquet in front of me.

Cooper went to marine biology camp for a week while Brooke and Tony were on vacation in Stonington. The original idea was for them to stay with us at the cottage, but serendipity changed the plan. Friends have an adorable cottage they rent year round a few blocks from ours, and by a fluke of good luck (for us) there was a mistake about dates and rather than being booked the exact ten days of their vacation, it was wide open. There were jugs of blue hydrangea on tables, on the kitchen counter and in the bathrooms. It was a dream. The yard of Starfish cottage overlooking the harbor has blue hydrangea bushes as far as the eye can see. Even across the street, in front of the main house, there is a giant ten foot high hydrangea bush. The circumstances could not have been more splendid. Cooper had her dolls and stuffed animals and a big bed for her parents to read her nighttime stories. There is a balcony for watching sunsets and grilling corn on the cob, and a small porch in the front of the cottage with a swing sofa for gazing at the hydrangea.

In the evenings, we often had cookie parties in our kitchen we now call The Blue Café. The grocery store had paper plates and napkins the exact shade of blue as our kitchen batten board trim – hydrangea blue, the color of a perfect blue sky. Peter and I refer to this color as Mühl blue because our favorite artist Roger Mühl was a master of blue, his signature color, where he’d paint the sky, mountains and water in different shades of blue to give the depth perspective.

Our white kitchen table has a shiny reflective white glass top, and I enjoy making a series of miniature arrangements with different shaped clear vases. The monochromatic color scheme of blue and white is quite striking and in the candlelight before dark. With the aid of an outside light we can see out onto our secret garden.

Something happened in July that was quite dramatic. We had a giant 100 year old maple tree that was sixty feet tall with eight large trunks that spread out in all directions eighty feet. Half of the main trunk was on our property, the other half on the property of the Holy Ghost Society, a Portuguese club that shares our seven foot high garden wall. We were advised the tree was too near our house and their club house and we should consider cutting it down. The entire process took six weeks because we used a local tree man who works alone. I’m writing about this vanishing tree in my book about the Beauty, but the reality is the tree is no longer there, the stump was ground down. The huge two-foot trunk removal required knocking down nine feet of fence. The solid fence on our side has mirrors and then ivy-covered trellis. It’s dazzling to discover how bright the north side of our cottage is now.

The space that took up the maple tree trunk will now become a garden for the grandchildren. Not only did we eliminate the squirrel problem by removing the tree, Peter and I now have brilliant light in our writing rooms. When the tree was in full bloom, the squirrels would dance around from branch to branch, scamper around our roof where our windows, when they are open, could be greeted by a squirrel about to hop into our cottage. Now I can have peace of mind when I throw open the windows. The reason I don’t have screens is because they make me feel caged in. I love the expansive feeling of feeling out-of-doors even when I am inside.

Peter has taken up reading about Impressionism and studying books about Provence, greatly inspired by our June pilgrimage to Roger Mühl country in the South of France. I’m enjoying my work enormously and feel in the holiday mood writing in the beauty of the garden. Some of our pink roses are blooming again, and the boats in the harbor with their white sails and rainbow spinnakers, along with the breezes of fresh air are exhilarating. We walk about the village, surrounded by the beauty of water and gardens. The Sunday July 22nd New York Times Travel section had a glowing article, On Connecticut’s Quiet Coast with a photograph of a sunset in Mystic, the next town from us, that looks strikingly as though it were the Stonington harbor. “Along Connecticut’s shore beyond Fairfield,” toward us! Amy Thomas ends her article, “Past downtown Mystic’s upscale boutiques, lies Stonington, the last town in Connecticut. Out on a peninsula, a lovely stone lighthouse, which dates to 1840 and has seen everything from British bombardments to Category 3 hurricanes, stands across from a wee public beach. In every direction, water. Here, feeling the sun, solitude and sea air, I am convinced: there is no place like home.” Amen!

Lunching down at the harbor at Dodson’s Boatyard at The Dogwatch Café, we go to a large white wedding-style tent for ice cream. There are white wicker rocking chairs where Peter likes to rock with a companion. He invites Cooper to join him for ice cream and they rock together. A few weeks ago the best man in our wedding in 1974, James Lane Buckley, came for lunch and he and Peter both selected Butter Pecan ice cream cones. To watch these best friends rocking in unison as they remembered the good old days at Yale, Class of ’44, was priceless.

July also brought me great good news of my final subtitle for The Shared Wisdom of Mothers and Daughters: The Timelessness of Simple Truths. I couldn’t be more pleased. It’s just right and the whole situation of getting the right title and subtitle was worth the struggle. It ended up being a beautiful collaboration between my editor Jessica and my literary team of Carl and his able assistant Henry.

August will be mostly spent at home. The best two words in the English language are “August” “Afternoon.” We’ll go down to Chevy Chase to be with the grandchildren and spend some time in New York on both ends, before returning to our quiet corner of the world where earth meets heaven seamlessly.

Happy August! Live to the hilt. Summer days are precious few and go by quickly. Take time to be alone each day and read. I find the quieter I am, the happier I am and I hope this is true for you.

Love & Live Happy

Have you taken photos at one of Alexandra's events that you'd like to share? If so, you can email them to AStoddardInc@aol.com. Please be sure to include the names of those in the photo and where and when it was taken! We will try to include them on the website in the future.

Alexandra in her Hydrangea garden.
Photo taken by Alexandra's neighbor, Charles Clark

Photo taken by Charles Clark

Photo taken by Charles Clark

Peter and Cooper sharing the loveseat bench

Some stems were 7 feet tall. Some blossoms 9 inches in diameter. Some leaves 8 inches long. Amazingly beautiful!

Looking into our forest from our neighbor's yard

Our precious view from the window in front of the kitchen sink.

Alexandra and Peter looking out at their hydrangea forest.

Photo taken by Jim Hicks

The stamp we used for our daughter Alexandra's wedding invitations in 1997.

Grace Note

"The simplest subjects are the immortal ones."
- Pierre-Auguste Renoir