Thursday, April 28, 2011

Monumental Blossoms

Spring! Nature shares her beauty in a paint-by-numbers way, dabbing in one beautiful hue daily. Early on, delicate pink cherry blossoms brighten the dull remnants of the barren winter landscapes. Japanese culture reveres this beautiful, evanescent blossom, which also equates to a spiritual understanding of the innocent, ephemeral nature of life.

In 1912 Japan gave flowering cherry trees to the United States. Every year thousands of people visit Washington, D.C. to view these spectacular trees lining the Tidal Basin. The ephemeral nearly gossamer blossoms epitomize the beauty of the present moment; memories or photographs cannot replace the enjoyment of the actual viewing.

In Washington, D.C., the pale petals flutter against a backdrop of stark monuments. The contrast is remarkable.  Our nation’s masonic heritage undergirds structures built to commemorate the past and built to stand long into the future. For instance, the George Washington Masonic Memorial in Alexandria Virginia pays tribute to the Alexandria, Lodge for which George Washington held the office of Master when he was inaugurated as President on April 30, 1789. Thomas Jefferson had proposed this site as ideal for the nation’s Capitol. The cornerstone was dedicated in 1923, and the memorial was officially dedicated on May 12, 1932, the bicentennial year of George Washington’s birth. See

Along the Tidal Basin the Jefferson Memorial, completed in 1943, honors our nation's third President.  Nearby, the Washington National Monument stands sentinel over the National Mall.  Completed in 1884 after decades of delay, this 555-foot obelisk, the world's tallest masonry structure, houses 897 steps to its pyramid observation area.

Amidst all of this permanence, the gracefully cascading pink blossoms are dessert for the eyes.

         Though I searched all day for spring
             I could not find it.
         Carrying my staff
            I crossed over mountain after mountain
         Coming back home
            I happened to grasp a spray of plum blossoms
          There I saw spring, blooming at its tip.
                    --The Blue Bird, Tai-i [Sung Dynasty]

Beauty is in this fleeting moment.  It is the sturdy structures of our lives--relationships, avocations, and values--that ballast life's impermanence.

All photos by N.D. Mignone 2011

Friday, April 8, 2011

Keeping Step With a Vision

In Nassau, Bahamas, between 1793-94, slaves were forced to carve a 102-foot staircase into the limestone ridge leading to Bennett's Hill and Fort Fincastle. Although the staircase reportedly had sixty-six original steps, it now has only sixty-five. Later, this historic site was named The Queen's Staircase to commemorate the alleged sixty-five years of Queen Victoria's reign. For the record, Queen Victoria reigned from June 20, 1837, until January 22, 1901, about five months shy of sixty-four years.

Climbing these dauntingly steep steps resembles progressive goals journeying toward a bigger vision. Start with the vision, memorialize it, then take the first step. Incremental achievements motivate us upward. If we feel discouraged, we can see how far we have come.

Creating the vision occasionally presents challenges. Unlike the Queen’s Staircase, though, a vision is not carved in stone. Starting from even glimpses, the vision over time becomes crystal clear.  A vision can change, too, or it adapts to changed circumstances. For example, this octagonal building built in 1797 as the Nassau jail now houses the Nassau Public Library and Museum!

What vision do you hold for your life? The day-to-day duties of life can feel more like trying to stay afloat in an endless ocean than traversing a groomed trail to a summit. When life feels off-course from what we think we envisioned, take refuge in the words of George Eliot, that "It is never too late to be what you might have been." 

At any moment lies the opportunity to reclaim or create a vision, and then you can take that courageous first step.

A statue of a young Queen Victoria guards the former British colonial seat of government in Nassau, Bahamas.
All photos by Nicole D. Mignone