Hydrangeas Turn Rust and Go Soon

I tell you the white hydrangeas turn rust and go soon.
Already mid September a line of brown runs over them.

― Carl Sandburg, from Chicago Poems, 105

Almost a week ago, I visited Heritage Museums and Gardens again, in Sandwich, Mass., on Cape Cod, to attend their “Cocktails for Cars” event, a dressy affair, full of Ferraris, Porsches, Corvettes, and other vintage vehicles, hosted by a breathtaking garden in full hydrangea bloom.

If you’ve come here today looking for hydrangea species and variety names paired with photos, prepare for disappointment. I remembered only toward the end of my gaping and gawking to look at the identification tags, my eyes so dazzled by the flowers’ colour range and hues. The only thing I can say for sure along those lines is that there were representative plants from all four major hydrangea species

  1. the colourful Hydrangea macrophylla (mophead — like “Endless Summer” — and lacecap), which prefers USDA zone 8 but can grow to zone 5b with protection — I inherited a mophead in my zone 4 yard eight years ago and it lives still, though it did not bloom this year for the first time (on the other hand, it did grow larger and put out more leaves than ever); it is situated in a protected microclimate against the southeast-facing side of the house. I’ve seen them growing on the coast of Maine, too. This is what mine looks like, when it blooms:
  2. the white-to-light-green Hydrangea arborescens (‘Annabelle’ and family), which can grow in as cold a climate as USDA zone 3 (possibly 2), but it’s also happy in warm climates; some forms of H. arborescens are native to the eastern U.S.;
  3. the white-to-pink Hydrangea quercifolia (oakleaf), hardy to zone 4b, and unlike others happy with drier soils, but it needs a hot summer to bloom well. Here’s one at Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania earlier this year:
  4. and the white-to-pale pink Hydrangea paniculata (PeeGee and family), another hardy hydrangea, to zone 3a, but also grows well in warmer climates. I have one of these, pruned to tree form, bought on the cheap at a local plant sale three years ago, and it is blooming profusely in the back border as I type (the first photo was taken today). There’s another, more shrubby,  growing in the rock wall garden, planted by someone else; it makes particularly beautiful dried flowers.
    My back border:
    My rock wall:


In fact, Heritage has two other types of hydrangeas as well, H. anomola (climbing hydrangeas), and H. serrata, which they characterise as ‘delicate but hardy,’ and which are offered mainly in a lacecap version, with a few mopheads, similar to the species macrophylla, but serrata are supposed to be more cold hardy (possibly to zone 5). More about those, and about pruning and caring for the hydrangea species, in a (9-page pdf) handout from Mal Condon, who spoke at Hydrangea University 2017 at Heritage in July.


The colours of the hydrangeas at Heritage, oh my, so startling, so vividly muted, so comforting somehow. And the shapes of the individual flowers, so varied and geometrically sweet.

First a few lacecaps. Not sure whether these are Hydrangea macrophylla normalis or H. serrata, but the bumblebees like ’em!:


See the sort of filament across each of these pink-red flowers?


And, judging from the white-green colour and the large round heads, I think this is a small hedge of Hydrangea arborescens:



And this may be H. paniculata (a PeeGee type), also in hedge form, with more pointy blossoms, turning pink:



Here’s a pink-reddish H. quercifolia (oakleaf) edging the walkway; see the leaves?:



I very neglectfully didn’t take photos of the H. anomola — climbing hydrangeas, as seen to striking effect at The Fells in Newbury, NH, and at The Mount, Edith Wharton’s home in Lenox, MA, in the Berkshires — and I can only say it’s because my head was turned by the moptops, both H. macrophylla and H. serrata.


I mean, look at the colour and shape of this stunning blue-grey flower!
And this blue-green-grey with a ruffled edge!
Blue green grey pink!
This one is speckled, insouciantly.
I did check the label here. It’s H. serrata ‘Preziosa’
And this gorgeous nodding cluster is H. macrophylla ‘Frillibet’
The hydrangeas have been blooming on Cape Cod since the end of June but I actually prefer them distressed, browning, spotted, faded.
Blue, with bright blue centers, the petals speckled with red! This one is H. macrophylla ‘Europa’. Doesn’t it knock your socks off?
Another bloom on H. macrophylla ‘Europa’, with more pink.


This may have been my favourite shrub; I couldn’t get enough of it, but did I check for a tag? No, I did not.


A few other flowers blooming in late September at the gardens:

Stewartia flower
Ligularia dentata ‘Othello’
caryopteris, a late-summer favourite in my garden, too
the windmill with gomphrena and cleome blooming, and some Russian sage, too, I think




“Quinnipeague in August was a lush green place where inchworms dangled from trees whose leaves were so full that the eaten parts were barely missed. Mornings meant ‘thick o’ fog’ that caught on rooftops and dripped, blurring weathered gray shingles while barely muting the deep pink of rosa rugosa or the hydrangea’s blue. Wood smoke filled the air on rainy days, pine sap on sunny ones, and wafting through it all was the briny smell of the sea.”  ― Barbara Delinsky, Sweet Salt Air


Previous Heritage posts: June 2016 and April 2017.

This website, with microscopic views of various parts of the blue H. macrophylla ‘Blaumeise’, is instructive and beautiful.

Wednesday Vignette


Resiliency. Nature finds a way. You can cut the tree down, but sooner or later, a small maple stem emerges, and grows.

“The triumph of vegetation is total.”
— Michel Houellebecq, The Map and the Territory

Wednesday Vignette is brought to us by Flutter & Hum.

Wednesday Vignette

Kind of looks like a bird of paradise flower, doesn’t it?


But it’s the petals of a striped orange gazania flower, folded inward. I took this shot about a week ago.

Gazania, native to South Africa, comes in lots of colours, including strikingly multicoloured combinations. It’s also apparently called treasure flower, though I’ve never heard anyone call it that.  A “half-hardy” annual here, blooming from late May into mid-November, beyond a light frost, it’s very valuable to me. And no-care: Water, no water, good soil or not, whatevs; just give them 4 or 5 hours of light each day, please.

Hard to beat the artsy look above, but here are some of its other poses, from June to November in 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2017:

In Junes:


In Julys:


(Above: I mean, that is a crazy and varied colour palette, is it not?)



In Augusts:


(Below: I love the “stitching” around the center!)

redgazaniayellowstitchingbrowncenter23Aug2017darkorangeGazania23Aug2015 NewDayClearOrangegazaniablooms9Aug2016

In Septembers:


(Below: with earwig)


In Octobers:


(Above: one of my favourite looks)


(Below, in rain)


In Novembers:


(Below: after light frost)


Orange is the single-hearted color.  — Sandra McPherson, in her poem “Poppies”

Wednesday Vignette is brought to us by Flutter & Hum.

What In You Can Answer To This Blueness?

I’ve posted several times about Knights Hill Nature Park, in New London, New Hampshire: a July 2014 trip, an April 2015 trip, a compilation of trips over five years, and a photo summary of four trips in fall and winter of 2013, 2014, 2015.

I also posted last September about the gentians, mostly.

“Oh, what in you can answer to this blueness?” — DH Lawrence

As it happens, gentians are why I went to Knights Hill yesterday. I know of only one other place where wild gentians grow in central NH, the Bradford Bog in Bradford (which I’ve blogged about only in winter), and I believe these are actually two different species of gentian. The gentian at Knights Hill are meadow bottle gentians (Gentiana clausa); I had long thought them to be Gentiana andrewsii, (non-meadow) bottle gentian, but according to Go Botany that species doesn’t grow in New Hampshire at all, and their photos of it really do look different than the ones at Knights Hill (see below).

Narrow-leaved gentian, Gentiana linearis, also grows in some counties in NH, and perhaps that’s what I’ve seen at the Bradford Bog; these photos were taken there on 31 August 2014.


There are also gentian growing at The Fells, in Newbury, NH, but I believe they were planted by someone, and their crinkled leaves and unclustered flower habit don’t resemble the native species:


I grow willow gentian (Gentiana asclepiadea) in my yard, which are gorgeous but not wild or native.


I don’t think I’ve seen them, but a couple of slightly differently genused (is that a word?) gentians grow in NH — stiff dwarf-gentian (Gentianella quinquefolia) and greater fringed-gentian (Gentianopsis crinita) — and there is a red-stemmed gentian (Gentiana rubricaulis) that in New England grows only in Maine.


And now, without further ado, the meadow bottle gentians (Gentiana clausa, also called closed gentians) blooming at Knights Hill yesterday:


Don’t they take your breath away? Who thinks of these colours, this vibrancy?

God made a little gentian;
It tried to be a rose
And failed, and all the summer laughed.
But just before the snows
There came a purple creature
That ravished all the hill;
And summer hid her forehead,
And mockery was still.

— from ‘Fringed Gentian’ by Emily Dickinson

There’s another small colony of gentians in another area of the same park, not by the pond but along the birdwatch loop, in a shady spot:


On the way through the brush along the pond to check on the gentians, we stumbled on these brilliant (though not so blurry in person) orange berries of the Jack in the Pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum):



I went to Knights Hill for the gentians, but I stayed much longer than planned … for the monarch butterfly caterpillars! There’s lots of standard milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) as well as a few butterfly weed plants (Asclepias tuberosa) in the two largest meadows. Both host monarch larva (aka caterpillars).

Here’s the butterfly weed; I can’t get enough of the orangeness:


Can you see how its pods — in the top and middle photos — are similar, though more slender, than the pods of regular milkweed?

(For comparison, this is a standard milkweed pod, taken at Knights Hill in August 2015:


I didn’t notice any caterpillars on the butterfly weed yesterday, but there were a few big ones on the standard milkweed, in the main meadow and in the birdloop meadow:


I hope the caterpillar can get all the nutrients it needs from these yellowing leaves.

There was also a caterpillar on some bramble leaves —


— so spouse moved him/her to a nearby green-leaved milkweed plant. When we came by about 1.5 hours later, the caterpillar seemed to be right at home there.


The other commonly found caterpillar on milkweed plants is the milkweed tussock moth (Euchaetes egle) larva. In past years, I’ve had scads of them on my garden Asclepias incarnata (swamp milkweed … usually pink, sometimes white), but not this year so far. So I was happy to see this little one on a milkweed plant in the birdwatch loop:


Doesn’t it look like a 1970s crochet or macrame art project?


Speaking of tussock moths, as one does, there were several hickory tussock moth (Lophocampa caryae) caterpillars in the park, on various leaves (maples, black cherry) and one was on a bare stem near the ground. They look a little different from each other, the black spots more or less significant from individual to individual, and I understand from the helpful folks in the Facebook insect ID groups that these are the varied looks of different instars, or caterpillar stages.

hickory tussock moth caterpillar on maple leaf near pond
another hickory tussock moth caterpillar on maple leaf near pond
hickory tussock moth caterpillar on stem near ground, in the woods (on the Core Trail)
hickory tussock moth caterpillar on underside of a black cherry leaf, near the main meadow entrance

The hickory tussock moth itself doesn’t bear much resemblance to its larva, I don’t think.


I was excited to see dozens of these common ringlet butterflies (Coenonympha tullia) flitting around the main meadow; I hadn’t seen one this year until now.



Another caterpillar, that of the American dagger moth (Acronicta americana), was crawling underneath a beech leaf. Bug was small, leaf was moving, spot was shady, thus photo is a bit fuzzy but I did my best.



Before we leave animals entirely, two on the red spectrum, a meadowhawk dragonfly —


— of which there were dozens that day,  and, surprisingly (we thought) for this time of year, since we commonly see them in the spring, an Eastern (or Red-spotted) newt eft:


It turns out this is perfectly normal: “After the eggs hatch, Eastern Newt larvae spend the summer in the pond and at the end of the summer transform into terrestrial salamanders. At this point they crawl out of the water, and for the next three to five years live on land and are referred to as Red Efts, due to their coloring (initially they are a dark bronze color, but eventually turn orange-red). After several years of life on land, they return to the water, no longer red, but olive green. … Young Red Efts can be found wandering on land in August and September looking for a protected spot such as under a log, rock, leaf litter or in the burrow of a mammal in which to spend the winter hibernating.   (Mary Holland, Naturally Curious)

This eft was atop a log and smack-dab in the middle of the trail when we came across it,


so we moved it just a little to the side to avoid foot traffic. I hope it finds the right log or other hibernation spot.


Now on to fungi. I don’t know most of these but I like their looks.

a coral fungus
an amanita mushroom
no idea but quite lovely
more red fungi, looking like Christmas in the moss
yellow jelly fungi
almost a perfect saucer cap
and the saucer holds water!
just a cute little white one
a sort of crenellated, fluted, folded mushroom underside
slime mold on a log


Speaking of Christmas, someone has decorated a small hemlock tree on the Core Trail with one gold ball ornament:


You never know what you’ll find on a walk in the woods.


For instance, these beech drops (Epifagus virginiana). They’re an obligate parasitic plant that subsists on the roots of the American beech tree (“obligate” means that the beech drop needs the beech tree to enable it to reproduce). They are sometimes hard to notice in a brown woods, and even harder to photograph.

Here they are with beech nut husks laying around them:


Here’s another:


And these are the flowers, which are often sterile and always hard to capture on film:



Looking somewhat similar and about the same height are Indian Pipe plants (Monotropa uniflora, aka ghost plant, corpse plant). Though it might appear to be fungal, it’s actually a herbaceous perennial plant that lacks chlorophyll. Another way to say it is the way Go Botany does, “Indian-pipe is a mycotroph, which is to say it is a parasitic plant that obtains all its nutrients by stealing them from a tree. It does this not by entering the host directly but through a fungal intermediary.”



There were, of course, lots of goldenrods in bloom at this time of year, and I can’t begin to tell them apart.


This variety, with reddish leaves and stem, was striking, though:


Asters, mostly white but a few purples, also dominated the landscape.



The purple bramble berries were good eatin’, as spouse can attest.



A few leaves:


Fall is coming.


Some fern love.



And a little landscape love, too.

trail sign
pond with cattails
main meadow
apple tree meadow


Hope you enjoyed it! Come back again.


‘Harvest Home’ by Arthur Guiterman

The maples flare among the spruces,
The bursting foxgrape spill its juices,
The gentians lift their sapphire fringes
On roadways rich with golden tinges,
The waddling woodchucks fill their hampers,
The deer mouse runs, the chipmunk scampers.
The squirrels scurry, never stopping,
For all they hear is apples dropping
And walnuts plumping fast and faster;
The bee weighs down the purple aster-
Yes, hive your honey, little hummer,
The woods are wavering, ‘Farewell Summer.’

Wednesday Vignette: Butterfly Bush

What’d’ya’ know? Butterflies on the buddleia, aka butterfly bush, a painted lady and a monarch respectively.


Here in northern New England, zone 4, buddleia seems not to be invasive, yet. I can barely get one to survive two consecutive winters, and I don’t know anyone else with better luck. It’s not a plant you see around here — I know of no other in my neighbourhood, around town, or in my friends’ yards — though most nurseries sell it. This particular specimen is my only remaining buddleia, though I have planted five of them on the property since 2010. I believe it’s an ‘Ellen’s Blue’ variety, which I switched to after consecutively losing three ‘Nanho Blue’ plants and a ‘Nanho Purple.’ It’s three years old, and I think it’s survived, growing almost 5′ high, because I moved it after its first harrowing winter to this warmer, protected microclimate, smack dab up against the south-facing side of the house.

Of course — responding to Doug Tallamy’s screed against buddleia in the link above — I also grow lots of natives and many plants that host pollinators, caterpillars, and offer other forms of nutrition for birds: standard milkweed (which does spread like wildfire here), other asclepias, native pines, native oaks, crabapples, apples, native maples, blueberries, raspberries, peaches, bunchberry, bloodroot, tiarella, violets, native ferns (mostly sensitive fern), pin cherry, echinacea, wild columbine, clover, vervain, Joe Pye weed, goldenrod, larch, pagoda dogwood, hazelnut, juniper, sweetgale (myrica), grey dogwood, wild grapes, elderberry, mosses, birches and aspens, bee balm, trillium, clethra (summersweet), spicebush, New England aster, willows, viburnums, inkberries, lots of herbs, etc.

Still, I enjoy seeing butterflies on the butterfly bush! As well as hummingbirds, moths, clearwing moths, hawk moths, bumblebees, ants, and other insects. I just hope it makes it through its fourth winter.

Wednesday Vignette is brought to us by Flutter & Hum.


How Much There Was Outside My Little World

On arriving in Paris, after the usual inevitable agony of a dreary, maddening, and hopeless search for a studio, racing from one side of the city to the other, and back and forth, I found a place in a charming little garden-like passage in the Rue de Bagneux, of which there are so many in out-of-the-way corners of Paris, the mere existence of which makes life worth living. — from The Reminiscences of Augustus Saint-Gaudens, vol. 2, 1913.


I’ve previously posted some photos and info about Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site, administered by the National Park Service, in Cornish, NH. It’s not only gardens (formal and not so formal), but also an historic house, art gallery with rotating exhibitions, small atrium and pool, large studio (which hosts classical music concerts on summer Sundays), small artist’s studio in the woods, sculpture throughout the gardens, a meadow, and some trails in the woods and along a brook.


It’s an enchanting place, especially on a fair summer day with chamber music wafting through the air, yet it’s said (NH Magazine, June 2013) to be the least visited national park in the U.S. However, a tally on the nps.gov website for national park recreational visitors in 2016 shows Saint Gaudens ranking 302 of 374 parks, with a little more than 42,000 visitors last year (I bet a lot are locals, repeats).

When spouse and I visited on Sunday, he was able to use his new National Parks & Recreation Lands Senior Pass for the first time! (If you’re over 62 and want to pay only $10 — lifetime cost! — for the senior pass rather than $80, you need to order it before Monday, 28 Aug.) The senior pass is good not only for parks for but historic sites (like Saint Gaudens), parkways, preserves, reserves, rivers, monuments, memorials, battlefields, recreation acres, national seashores, et al.


Back to Saint-Gaudens: It was the home of Augustus Saint-Gaudens (1848-1907), a leading American sculptor (born in Ireland, educated in Paris and Rome) of the late 1800s, the Gilded Age. His wife, Augusta (Gussie), convinced him to buy a home there, which they did in 1891 (the house and 80 acres for $2,400), naming it Asplet after his father’s birthplace in France. In 1900, by which time Cornish was a thriving artists’ colony (and future president Woodrow Wilson’s summer home was nearby), the family settled there year-round.

According to an essay on the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s website, Saint-Gaudens is responsible for ” redirect[ing] and invigorat[ing] the course of American sculpture away from a worn-out Neoclassical aesthetic to a lively, naturalistic style, while also ardently promoting the nationalistic concept of an American school of sculpture flourishing on American shores.” He was commissioned to create twenty or so public monuments, including The Farragut Monument, a sculpture of Admiral Farragut, hero of the Battle of New Orleans; the standing Abraham Lincoln;


the over-lifesize Puritan;


the Robert Gould Shaw Memorial (now in Boston), depicting “a procession of African-American foot soldiers of the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry with their commander Colonel Shaw on his horse with an angel of glory hovering above, a stunning synthesis of real and ideal;” Diana, an “ideal female nude” in gilt sheet copper, modeled after his mistress, Davida Clark; Robert Louis Stevenson; the Sherman Monument, a gilded bronze equestrian monument depicting General William Tecumseh Sherman led on his horse by a winged classicized female Victory.  He was also commissioned in 1905 by President Theodore Roosevelt to redesign the ten- and twenty-dollar gold pieces.

You can read (for free) the entire two volume set of his reminiscences, edited by his son Homer, online.


Some shots from the formal gardens and atrium area:

atrium pool reflection
hickory tussock moth caterpillar near the atrium and art gallery
formal garden flower border — a lot of phlox right now
lady bug
tropical lilies
monkshood, lilies, phlox
close-up of monkshood
hummingbird clearwing moth in phlox
Hermes (Messenger of the Gods) sculpture, holding apple and caduceus, among phlox
detail of apple held by Hermes (Messenger of the Gods) sculpture
Gilt bronze Pan sculpture above small pool, with leaping fish spouts below
‘Bust from the Standing Lincoln’ sculpture, in its own outdoor alcove


The little art gallery offers a space for artists to show work for a couple of months at a time. Right now, Nancy Azara has a show called Passage of the Ghost Ship: Trees and Vines:



One of my favourite spots is the planted, semi-walled, yet rather wild garden beyond the house; right now there are plenty of perennials, bulbs, and annuals blooming — bee balm, phlox, helianthus, dahlias, daylilies, monkshood, zinnias, foxglove, gladiolus, crocosmia, Joe Pye weed — but also plenty of “weeds” — jewelweed, goldenrod, some vines, and others I’ve forgotten. The paths are overgrown, hummingbirds, clearwing moths, and bumblebees zip around, and hardy anyone seems to visit it. It’s a sweet refuge.

phlox, helianthus (?), daylilies
daylilies, jewelweed, phlox
daylilies, jewelweed, phlox
bee balm, helianthus (?)
dahlia, one of many varieties
(blurry) Snowberry clearwing moth at bee balm
Diana sculpture made of vines


Then there are the trails along Blow-Me-Down Brook. There’s a shorter trail, from the little artist’s studio to the classical white memorial on the edge of the meadow, and the 2-mile loop trail starting at the far end of the meadow and returning on the other side oof it.

waterfall and dam at the end of the shorter brookside trail — this trail starts at the little artist’s studio and ends at the white memorial monument on the edge of the meadow)
fall is coming
green frog — Lithobates clamitans melanota — along brook (shorter trail)

There are never any maps available for the long trail (there is an empty map slot by its trail sign), and the return trail is not well marked, so we always seem to “take the long way home.” Lots to see, though, including a marsh that usually has waterfowl in it, interesting fungi, a boardwalk to another marsh view (boardwalk was flooded when we were there this time), wildflowers, et al.

trail sign for the 2-mile loop trail
view along longer trail — longer trail starts at the very end of meadow and returns on the other side of it
fly on purple mushroom (longer trail)
tableau: another purple mushroom, acorn, oak leaves (longer trail)
broken bridge (longer trail)
marsh view (longer trail)
reticulated netwinged beetle, aka Calopteron reticulatum (longer trail)


I also spent a good deal of time stalking butterflies in the meadow. I missed photos of the fritillary and the common buckeye, but I was happy to catch this one:

clouded sulphur (Colias philodice) butterfly on red clover

And this cutie, hopping from meadow to wood’s edge:

American toad


As always, go if you’re nearby, or make a trip of it with visits to Saint Gaudens, the Song Gardens and Tea House (also in Cornish — I’ve never been but plan to!), the very fun Path of Life Sculpture Garden in Windsor, VT, just across the river from Cornish, and cap it off with lunch and a flight of beers at Harpoon Brewery in Windsor.


Now let me turn to other pleasures, and chief among them to my coming in 1885 to Cornish, New Hampshire, or Windsor, Vermont, as it is often called, since that is the town in which we obtain our mail. For this coming made the beginning of a new side of my existence. I had been a boy of the streets and sidewalks all my life. So, hitherto, although no one could have enjoyed the fields and woods more heartily than I when I was in them for a few days, I soon tired, and longed for my four walls and work. But during this first summer in the country, I was thirty-seven at the time, it dawned upon me seriously how much there was outside of my little world. — from The Reminiscences of Augustus Saint-Gaudens, vol. 1, 1913.

Walking, Not Smiling

Yesterday, spouse and I went to Kezar Lake in Sutton NH, as we often do, but instead of us both walking around it, this time he brought his canoe. He took off from the inlet, after checking in with the Lake Host on the other side of the lake (the Lake Host is there to check for invasive species that could be tagging along on watercraft), and paddled an almost-straight trajectory through the marshy area — and over two small beaver dams, where he had a surprise encounter with a large snapping turtle — across the lake to the beach side, while I meanwhile walked the 3-mile road around the lake.


During the entire hour my walk took (his paddle was considerably shorter), the sound of a speeding motor boat with water-skier was grating on my eardrums like fingernails on a chalkboard. Among perhaps 10 canoists, kayakers, people fishing in bass boats, and folks in slow moving pontoon boats was this one power boat, zipping and circling around the lake, apparently heedless of the two adult loons and one chick in the water.



I watched the boat almost drive right over on adult loon. I couldn’t get the bow number on the boat, unfortunately, because while power boats are allowed on the small lake, harassing loons by being too close to them is illegal.

So dismay, anger, fear for the loons, frustration were coursing through my veins, and the noise of the clamorous power boat ringing in my ears. (I realise it doesn’t bother lots of people, but it bothers me. Sort of like the effect of Mary Hart’s voice on Kramer, in Seinfeld)

Then I watched a young (10-ish) boy in the water with a large (beautiful) doberman dog, pretending to shoot it repeatedly with a stick close to the dog’s face, then splashing water on the dog’s face. The dog seemed unsure what to do, moving away from the boy but not entirely out of the water, barking once or twice, not seeming to know how to respond. If there were parents nearby, they did nothing to stop what seemed to me like taunting behaviour. The dog seemed confused, the boy persisted, and I felt sad watching this interaction.

Then I rounded the corner,  where a slightly older man, walking the opposite direction, jokingly (I guess?) said, “You’re only halfway done!” My response and the set of my mouth was apparently not what he felt they should be, because he followed up with “Smile, young lady!”

If you know me, you know I don’t swear aloud much, but with the motor boat sound, the recklessness of the boat and the danger to the loons, the way I interpreted the dog interaction, I was this close to telling him to STFU. Instead, because I know that reaction would be unkind, rude, and not compassionate, on the one hand, and I also know it would be escalatory and potentially dangerous on the other hand, I kept walking, serious face and all, angry, downhearted, and disquieted. Definitely not smiling.

When I had earlier met this man on the other side of the lake, with no other people around, and he had boomed out “Hello there!” in a sort of odd way (I felt), I’d had a slight frisson of discomfort, and now I was very thankful I was near the beach, among a small crowd people, even the taunting boy and his lax parents, because I know that what can follow non-compliance to the command “Smile, young lady!” is verbal abuse, attempts at intimidation, or worse.

I left that encounter walking fast (-er than usual) and furious, eventually breathing normally again, eventually letting my senses take over, smelling the air, observing what was around me, feeling the road and my ligaments and muscles as I moved, listening for the bird calls through the sound of the power boat.

A half-mile later or so, I encountered this lovely Yellow Wooly Bear (Spilosoma virginica), who obligingly curled itself around my offered clover stem so I could move it off the road.


Then later a white admiral butterfly (Limenitis arthemis … there is also a red-spotted purple form of the same species) —


And this interesting fungus formation —



I realise that some folks (even some women) don’t understand why many women react so strongly to being told to “smile.” They don’t understand how it’s patronising and demeaning, this auditing and evaluating (by complete strangers!) of another person’s emotions, this assertion of a right to control someone else’s emotions or the way those emotions show up on their face.  Here’s some help for those folks:

The Sexism of Telling Women To Smile, in Atlantic: “I couldn’t imagine that my facial expression should affect strangers in any way. I couldn’t understand how I was supposed to just go about life smiling at nothing all the time. It’s pretty nonsensical. Why would I smile for the duration of a 30-minute walk?  I felt it was very much about them, not me — as if my facial expression was a reflection of them, I wasn’t a whole person with thoughts and feelings of my own, and I was put on this earth to reassure men they were adequate on a daily basis. And I was viscerally aware that this rule only applied to me because I was female.”

Men, we need to stop telling women to ‘Smile!’ by Matthew Hansen in the Dallas News : “”You really should smile,” a man will say. Or: “Why you so mad? Smile!” Or: “You’re pretty. You would be prettier if you smiled.” In this moment, Rosie Meegan is faced with a choice that nearly all women recognize, and a choice of which most men are blissfully unaware. She can smile, even though a male stranger telling her to smile makes her feel the exact opposite of smiley. Or she can say no and potentially face his wrath. … ‘It assumes that I’m a decoration in your life, an ornament, here to give you pleasure.’ … By my count, I have talked to 19 women about ‘Smile!’ All 19 said it has happened to them. Most said it happens regularly. All 19 said they don’t like it. In some cases it’s simply grating. In other cases, it carries a vaguely menacing undertone — fear is a main reason women do force a smile, women told me. Most depressingly, all 19 women I spoke to considered it a fact of life, part of the tax that women must pay. And here I am, drifting through days during which no one ever requests that I change facial expression.”

Nope, from Shakesville: “Telling people to ‘smile’ and/or ‘laugh’ is not, in fact, nice. Telling people how to behave is an assertion of ownership; it is disdainful of individual agency, a failure to acknowledge boundaries and autonomy. That auditing other people’s emotions could be considered ‘nice’ is absurd.” (She’s responding to a “Do Something Nice” campaign in Vancouver, which is why she keeps using the word ‘nice.'”)

Tatyana Fazlalizadeh’s “Stop Telling Women to Smile” street art project: “I am not here for you.”


I have male friends (and a few older female friends) who sometimes make it known that they like it (me?) more when I smile (e.g., if I post a non-smiling photo on Facebook, I usually get at least one “Where’s that pretty smile?” or “I’d rather see you smiling” comment). I’m ambivalent about that — when it’s actual people who know me and really might have my best interest at heart, who really might feel sad because I look sad — but my response is totally unambivalent when a stranger on the street instructs me to look or feel the way he wants me to: I’m not here for you.

Yes, being told to smile — generally by men who are only acting on what they’ve learned and internalised, who aren’t intending harm — is a minor thing compared with the kinds of oppression, suppression, violence, and the threat of violence that many people face daily. Everything is relative. But it is a regular reminder for many women that being pretty, seeming attainable and non-threatening, looking agreeable and cheerful no matter what we feel, are what’s expected of us as full-fledged autonomous human beings in this culture, and that when those cultural expectations aren’t met — when we don’t smile on command or if we respond with something benign like “No thanks, I don’t feel like it” — men may retaliate with slurs, intimidation, threats, verbal abuse, and rarely (I hope), physical abuse. As one of the women in the Atlantic article says, just being told to smile makes us feel watched and vulnerable. Being called “bitch!” when we don’t smile makes us feel worse.

A woman quoted in the Dallas News article says that though she used to force a smile in response, and apologize, and feel bad about herself without understanding why, now she “she doesn’t smile on command, even though she’s risking the possibility that the benevolent sexism will turn into something worse — the hostility often reserved for women who refuse to accept gender norms.”

I guess that’s where I am, unwilling to smile on command; it’s certainly where I was yesterday, when I was feeling dismayed by humans and our wanton aggression and destructiveness. And I don’t want to add to the culture’s already high level of resentment, aggression, and anger by rudely rebuffing a probably well-meant (or at least unthinking) attempt at encouragement; but on the other hand, I think I have a right to look and feel the way I do, without being told to change because a stranger is uncomfortable with it.

Being told to smile leaves me with no good option here — either I ignore it, probably appearing rude and dismissive; or I react angrily, which will almost surely evoke resentment and retaliation (toward me or a convenient scapegoat); or I smile or make a joke — one woman says “I’m trying to cut down” when men tell her to smile — but that seems to me a capitulation equal to smiling on command, seeking to help him feel comfortable about her demeanor — and in fact her being.

So men (and a few women), please, please stop telling strangers, and even acquaintances and coworkers, to smile. If we’re looking serious, sad, angry, upset, dismayed, or anxious, we probably are, and you’re not going to turn that frown upside down by force or by even by suggestion. If you want us to really smile, give us a reason to do it: do something kind, say something genuinely funny, or just smile at us without expecting repayment in kind.  Thanks.

Black-eyed Susans along road



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