Napatree

In my mind I am often on Napatree. You're welcome to come along.

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May 31, 2014

I am unsure which of our neighbors spotted the barred owl in a tree on the edge of the arboretum several weeks ago. Actually, they might have heard the bird before they saw it as owls can be hard to spot. And the barred owl has a distinctive call. The initial sighting, though, has turned into a neighborhood watch for the owl family. The neighbors are engaged.

My friend told me that yesterday one of three recently fledged owlets somehow found its way into a window well of a home across the street from the arboretum entrance. Too young to fly, it was in a precarious situation. Because baby owlets walk well, actually climb, a thinking person put a plank into the well and the young barred owl climbed, its little round head slowly appearing over the edge of the window well opening as my friend described it, up and out. My friend happened to look up, as this escape was happening, and noticed a parent owl in a tree overhead.

We live with technology. Television shows, animal cams, youtubes, put nature at our beck and call. Virtual nature. Real nature occurs when we brush for a moment against the world of the others. It is then when we understand more clearly, who we are. 

6:36 am cdt | link 

May 30, 2014

I meet interesting people at the farm. Last week Ian, a student of organic farming who has recently returned to Minnesota from a farming stint in Massachusetts, two days ago Bob, who is growing hazelnut bushes in a controlled environment, and yesterday Tim, who is involved in the Main Street Farmers chicken project.

There are three groups raising chickens at the farm. Because the farm is comprised of groups and individuals all committed to organic and sustainable practices, the chickens are all free range. And Scarlet likes to herd them. The first time she took off after a couple of laying hens that had gotten out of their penned in area, I was concerned. But by breed, Scarlet is a herder. She circled the chickens moving them back to their pen. Herding them was her instinct.

The Main Street Farmers have a huge fenced in area near the garden where we grow flowers. The chickens, being raised for meat, are all a similar light brownish color as opposed to the laying chickens who are black or white. They wander freely in their large pen, which includes a shelter containing incubator facilities. The Main Street Farmers, graduates of an agripreneur training program, are immigrants working to launch their own farm business. As Tim told me, the chickens are fed non-GMO grain, sprouts and forages, and they are free of antibiotics, chemicals and synthetic hormones. They are raised humanely with plenty of space and sunlight. The web site for Main Street Farmers is mainstreetproject.org.

5:39 am cdt | link 

May 29, 2014

Yesterday Scarlet had a visit with the vet. She was not sick, it was a routine visit, a maintenance visit. She was checked for heartworm and received two preventative shots.

Scarlet likes her forays to the vet. Great smells, great chance encounters in the waiting room, and the exotic sounds of a parrot in a cage. Best of all, the doting on by the vet’s assistants. “Oh, Scarlet, what a pretty girl. Scarlet, your weight is perfect! Would Scarlet like a treat?”  A dog’s weight, like a human’s weight, is checked before a visit with their health care provider. Scarlet always receives a treat after weighing in, unlike us, so stepping on the scale is a rewarding event.

The vet listened to Scarlet’s heart and lungs. He watched her, checked her out without seeming to check her out. He sat on the floor and played with her for a few moments before lifting her up, with an intake of breath, to the examining table and her shots. He pronounced her healthy save for some tartar on her teeth. A good visit.

And a good visit for me, too. Upon entering the vet’s waiting room a large blackboard, where the names of patients for the day were listed, grabbed my attention. Names beautifully hand printed in different colors of chalk, names which I am listing here in order of their appointments. Champ, Duffy, Reagan, Thistle, Kieva, Muffy, Neil, Molly, Lily, Autumn, Harper, Gobbles, Bertie, Parker, Timber, Teacup, Muffin, Scarlet, Zoe, Dozer, Fluffy. These are important names. Just writing them down, I smile.

6:08 am cdt | link 

May 28, 2014

When we moved to Northfield one of the first things I noticed, besides the wind and the train whistles, was newscasters using the words 'car crash' when describing vehicle mishaps. Why, I wondered, didn’t they just say car accident? Crash sounded strange to me then, a word a kid would use like crash, bang, boom. Someone explained to me that crash is a more definite word. A deadly word to describe what car accidents really are. A word that tells it like it is. This answer made perfect sense.

Through the Memorial Day weekend we honored our soldiers who, we were told repeatedly, gave their life for their country. I also caught part of a PBS special about Civil War dead. About the thousands of men who gave their life for either the Union or Confederacy. The Civil War, like all wars, demanding its participants, and their families, give their very existence to a cause.

As I write I ponder the word 'give' used in conjunction with the word 'war.' Soldiers who fight and die for causes, just, wise and otherwise, seem not to give their lives but instead to have their lives taken. A soldier knows what he or she is getting into when engaging in conflict but somehow, I feel, they might not give their legs, their mental well-being, their life in a war but instead have those things taken from them. Those Palestinian and Jewish women, those wives and mothers, are they continually giving, year after year, their husbands, their children, to battles fought over a stretch of land?

We war, and war becomes the stuff of movies and novels, of good guys and bad. Nineteen-year-olds kill other nineteen-year-olds or die in the trying. Give, or take. I am thinking it is peace that gives. It is war that takes away.

7:16 am cdt | link 

May 27, 2014

Today, according to my late grandmother, we can don white shoes and eat on the porch. Memorial Day is in the rearview mirror. I, though, don’t own any white shoes. And we have already eaten out on our tiny porch. Rules about white shoes and tablecloths and when to do this and that, rules disregarded by daughters and granddaughters, once held a generation of women together.

Meals on our large, bittersweet covered screened in porch were special when I was growing up.  Dinner became supper when eaten on the porch. Porch suppers had about them the air of a picnic despite a properly set table which always included a tablecloth. A menu for porch dining might include hamburgers or homemade sloppy Joes, ham sandwiches or American chop suey. A porch salad would be lemon jello with chopped celery, minced onion and grated carrots chilled in. Lemonade or limeade made from concentrate, limeade being particularly special, was what accompanied our family meals eaten on the porch.

Porches now include patios and decks. And they often include Bobby Flay sized grills where good food happens. Or, they are nothing more than a handkerchief sized balcony, an appendage tacked to a fifth floor apartment living room. It doesn’t matter. Food eaten anywhere outside, especially with friends and family, always tastes good. 

5:58 am cdt | link 

May 26, 2014

It probably began with food. We fought over food. And then land. We have yet to acknowledge that no one really owns, can own, the land. Religion, ideologies, oppression, evil people. We fought, we fight on. Today, Memorial Day, we salute and march and wave a flag. We place a hand on our hearts and bow our heads. Today is the day set aside to honor our loved and valiant warriors, their ultimate sacrifice. As for Romeo and Juliet? Causalities of war, both dead. The Montagues and Capulets now friends.

Could our warming earth be growing weary of our wars? It seems we, earth’s temporary inhabitants, never tire of battle. Every generation owns a war This Monday we look back over our shoulders with gratitude and sorrow and see the grave of a mother’s child. Tomorrow, though, we might be wise to focus on the straight ahead. A mother’s child

7:09 am cdt | link 

May 25, 2014

Memorial Day weekend is for many, though it could just be me, the start of potato salad season. I love potato salad. Not all potato salads maybe, but most. My mother didn't make potato salad, probably because my brother and father weren't fans, so I don't remember much potato salad from my childhood. I do remember once reading somewhere, however, that a good cook is known for his or her skill at making a good cup of coffee and delicious potato salad. I'm not sure what makes potato salad delicious.

My friend Louise put radishes in her potato salad, delicious. My friend Judy puts sweet pickles in hers. Also delicious. The potato salad I buy from a deli has neither pickles nor radishes and it is delicious. Potatoes in potato salad have to be perfectly cooked. Never mushy. And the right kind of potato is important. Skins off, fine, skins on, okay too. Hard boiled eggs are good in potato salads as are cherry tomatoes and bacon. I could natter on about one of my favorite summer dishes but I am not going to. Remember when Dan Quale spelled, or rather misspelled, potato by adding an 'e'? Vice President Dan Quale? His love of potato salad, which he may have this weekend, is probably diminished. 

9:00 am cdt | link 

May 24, 2014

A Connecticut friend just emailed me a poem she’d happened on and enjoyed.  She knew I would enjoy it, too. And I did. A small thing, really, sending along a poem, but a small gesture started my day with a smile. In small gestures there is power.

I am not sure exactly when I realized the power of small acts. Maybe such knowledge is something your mother tells you or you read in Readers Digest while idling in a somewhere waiting room. Maybe it is something told to you in church or scouts or by your grandfather. Maybe it is something you are born knowing. An innate sort of wisdom. Maybe it is a fact learned in a happiness course or emphasized by someone lecturing on public television.  Possibly it is all of those places. Or, maybe you just come to know, over time and through experience, that a simple act of thoughtfulness, a word of sincere praise, an exposure of your own weakness might give a hand up to another.

Years ago I worked with a child who struggled with reading. A girl of nine, a plain sad-faced child with lanky hair. For thirty minutes twice a week we would work one on one sounding out words. I would read to her, she would read to me. Together we would look at letter combinations, figure out words from the context of the story. We would read riddles, jokes and poems. This child did not fit into a specific learning category and no term of disability had been assigned to her. During one session, out of the blue, she told me that her dad was in prison. I don’t remember how I responded. At that session or a later one, I told this little girl that she had the most beautiful gray eyes I had ever seen. My words were true. Her eyes, so often downcast, were a gorgeous shade of gray. After my sincere compliment this child, for the first time ever, skipped her way back to class.  Small words had the power to make a child skip.

8:59 am cdt | link 

May 23, 2014

There are two purple tulips in a vase on my kitchen table. Truncated tulips, in a short vase, because I was handling them roughly and they broke off mid-stem. They are a gorgeous shade of purple. I could not toss them away.

We planted hundreds of tulip bulbs last fall. We were worried that the exceptionally cold winter which had the ground freezing to record depths would cause the bulbs to freeze and rot, but a heavy snow cover sustained them. Our worry was unwarranted.

Tulips are interesting flowers. They are one of the first flowers a child draws - the long stem with two fat leaves, the bright oval of color, usually red, riding on the top of the stem. The multi-colors found in some tulips, the streaking, the color variations, the fringed edges, are the result of breeding methods. Years ago, though, such color combinations were caused by a virus. These tulips were valuable and sold at a high price.

Cut tulips look like tulips until age and light flatten their petals out and they take on the appearance of a totally different flower. Tulips also 'stretch.' Cut and in a vase, their stems become longer each day. Try measuring them and see for yourself.

Every evening I cut about fifty tulips which I bring, in the morning, to a garden shop which sells them. I like walking between the rows of color, appreciating, as I cut them, their sturdiness, their vigor. And I like thinking of the rhyme my mother said when I was a child. “Tulips in the garden, tulips in the park. But the tulips I like best, are the two lips in the dark.”

5:31 am cdt | link 

May 22, 2014

Malcom, whose business is called ‘Junk Truck,’ was just here to haul some broken furniture to the dump.  Which put me in mind of this ‘dump story.’ The action took place years ago at our local landfill in Connecticut.

This particular dump is a beautiful place. You approach it on a winding drive bracketed by stately trees. Planters filled with flowers greet you at the gate. Speakers in the dumping area regularly blast out opera music, at the time of this incident, “Turandot.”  There is a repository, a shack, for old books called “The Library,” there is a spot for reusable items called “Blue Light Special.” Into this setting comes a man I think of as a Florida man because he is older, tanned, silver-haired, and dressed in pastel clothing. He is wearing white gloves. This man puts a stack of newspapers, including a sheet of cardboard, in the newspaper area. The red-haired landfill manager, who is watching, immediately calls him on it, telling him cardboard must be put in the cardboard area. The dump manager picks up the cardboard and holds it out to the Florida man expecting he will put it where it belongs. The Florida man doesn’t. Instead, a shouting match breaks out between the two men, the piece of cardboard now on the ground between them. Loud and ugly words are exchanged. Cutting, derogatory words which shock others, including me, who are attending to dump business. Aggressive postures are taken. Everyone around seems compelled to watch the battle that is taking place.

A dump patron and observer of this spectacle, a young woman wearing jodhpurs and sleek riding boots, a woman whose single braid hangs down her back, leaves the circle of onlookers, walks into the arena and picks up the piece of cardboard. Silently she walks it over to the cardboard recycle location. The red-faced, angry men, hands on their hips, are shocked into silence by her action.

The young woman preformed a perfect coup de grace that day and I smile as I remember it. I have, since witnessing that incident at the landfill, always wanted to be that woman in riding boots. Who wouldn’t?

5:55 am cdt | link 

May 21, 2014

Just as I sat down to write, an email rang in from the Al Franken campaign. It was a letter from Al Franken’s daughter requesting money for her dad’s current reelection bid.  The email mentioned it was Senator Franken’s birthday. Al’s daughter also wrote, in the email, that her dad has a love of dark chocolate. Like in rich, dark chocolate birthday cake.

Dark chocolate is on the current list of things that are good for us. The super foods that we are encouraged to eat. Foods like blueberries, kale, almonds, oats, beets and cranberries.  Dark chocolate, according to one study I read, is good for your heart. It helps lower blood pressure and contains flavonoids which reduce the risk of blood clots. It is also good for the brain but the study didn’t say why. Dark chocolate controls blood sugar and it contains theobromine which helps to strengthen tooth enamel. It contains vitamins and minerals. Chocolate's good for us. I know this because I looked it up.

The current list of  healthful foods is so much better than my grandmother’s list which included liver, canned spinach and cream of wheat. And Jello, which was eaten to maintain healthy fingernails. I’ll go with the blueberries and beets, anytime. I also like dark chocolate though I know that its healthy properties are cancelled out when eaten in a cake. My friend once stated that she preferred milk chocolate over dark chocolate which she finds bitter. I like her for her honesty.

5:54 am cdt | link 

May 20, 2014

I do not enjoy British comedies but I am a fan of British productions such as "Masterpiece Theater" and "Masterpiece Mysteries." I enjoy them for many reasons including the incredible sets, the attention to detail, the period costumes and their historical accuracy. Or what I assume to be historical accuracy as I am no authority on things historical. And I love the dialogue, the English way of so often raising a question during a conversation, a question that sort of sneaks in and requires no answer. I find myself embracing words or phrases like 'gob smacked' and 'bits and bobs,' words and phrases I want to blend into my vocabulary but don’t. Also pleasure is an hour of television sans advertising.

I have heard that several American shows like "The Voice" and "The Office," hits here at home, are copied from successful British shows. What we enjoy and are entertained by crosses over culturally. A British show which has had remarkable success in the US and, I have heard, elsewhere in Europe, is "Doc Martin." A production set in a picturesque English village. A show peopled with characters, ailing and otherwise, about an MD with a blood phobia. Theatrically, the characters in this production are drawn to the extreme. Over the top.Yet..the phone just rang and it was someone I know who tends to be over the top. He and I, maybe most of us, are "Doc Martin" characters, too. 

6:20 am cdt | link 

May 19, 2014

Last night I went to a party in St. Paul. I did not drive. For no reason, really, a story about driving floats to the front of my mind this morning which I feel compelled to type out here. It has to do with guilt.

My children played lacrosse. Weeks, months, years of lacrosse. One child played, when he was in elementary school, on a traveling team, his games often in other towns, in other states. And because our family had other children, other responsibilities, we did not always travel with him. I will add that maybe I also felt, and feel, some, many, parents are overly involved in their children’s sports.

So I asked my friend, a team mother I trusted and liked, if she and her husband would drive our child to those games we were not able to, or chose not to, attend. I had ridden places with this new friend though I had never ridden anywhere with her husband.

During those years my child had much time on the road with this lovely family. Many car rides. Time passed. The boys went on to high school and the lacrosse parent friendship remained intact. One weekend we decided to go into the city for the day, and a dinner out, with these friends. My friend’s husband volunteered to drive. We traveled fast. Very fast. We tail-gated, we wove in and out of highway traffic. I feared for our lives. When we returned from New York I apologized to my son. His teenage response was this. “I always wondered why you wanted me to ride with them.”

9:30 am cdt | link 

May 18, 2014

This is how things stand in the garden. The greenhouse is overflowing with seedlings ready to be put in the field. Though a few late germinating seeds are just now poking up. Snapdragons seedlings in two raised beds have been planted, seeds sowed directly in the soil of two other raised beds, and kept covered, are almost ready to transplant. One bed of lisianthus, which we also cover at night, is in.

The field has been tilled and is ready for planting. Soon. But not too soon as when the days and evenings are cloudless in May, nighttime air temperatures can drop. Sweet peas, which are planted as soon as you can work the soil, are coming up. And the tulips, in random fashion, keep coming into bloom. The stand of yarrow looks healthy as do several delphinium plants. The garden lilies, too, have broken ground.

Gardens are fragile. The weather can be iffy. This has been a cold and rainy spring. Seedlings are vulnerable to diseases, greenhouse pests. And not every seed planted germinates. Too much water, not enough. But in most every garden everywhere, rhubarb, one of the first plants harvested each spring, flourishes. Yesterday I picked an armful of it. Rhubarb was said to have been brought here from Europe by a Maine farmer between 1790 and 1800 according to one source I happened on. By Ben Franklin in 1772, by another. Maybe it isn’t important. I am going to make a pie.

8:27 am cdt | link 

May 17, 2014

Scarlet, our rescued bi-black sheltie, with maybe some border collie mixed in, has her ways. Because she came to us from the Humane Society, we do not know her history. Her age was estimated to be about two. On meeting her at the shelter she seemed distant and detached. We debated taking her home with us. Once home she seemed no better. She was afraid of her shadow. But even more startling was what I can only describe as her deep depression. She barely ate. She moved slowly. She took refuge under a table, she shied from strangers. Nothing held her interest and her eyes seemed washed with sorrow. Then one morning, over a week later, she approached me. She stood on her hind legs putting her front paws against my chest. She looked into my eyes. After a moment or two of eye contact, she went back on all fours and started running around the house wagging her tail and barking. She had remembered joy.

Yesterday someone sent me the video of the cat that took after the dog which was attacking a little boy. The little boy in the cat owner’s family. Cats do take on dogs but not in this way. The cat’s protective behavior, of other than one of her kittens, was startling.

Sometimes we get complacent about what we think we know about animals. And because we feed them, read about them, observe them, we think we might totally understand them. We think we might have knowledge of their animal spirit. Scarlet is an exceptionally happy and loyal dog. And a nondescript house cat attempted, with risk to herself, to save a child’s life. About animal behavior we can be surprised.

8:03 am cdt | link 

May 16, 2014

I have a recipe for May wine, or May punch, given to me one spring day by my friend, Sharon. It is important to know that Sharon knows things I don’t. Necessary things like how to debone a chicken, where to find morel mushrooms, how to make a perfect crepe. A mutual friend once said about her that you consider having a baby so you will be beneficiary of a ‘new baby meal’ prepared by Sharon.

Sharon’s May wine punch recipe:

1 bottle of Riesling

1 bottle of champagne

About ¾ of a cup of sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum) cut up

A cup of strawberries sliced

Mix the wine and champagne with the sweet woodruff and let steep for several hours. When ready to serve, strain out the sweet woodruff and add the sliced berries. Garnish with whole strawberries.

Sweet woodruff is an ingredient found not in stores, but in someone’s garden. When Sharon gave me the recipe, she also gave me a plastic bag of sweet woodruff which had been freshly picked from her garden. I used what I needed and left the sealed bag on top of the refrigerator. For a long time.  In fact, I forgot about it. By the time I remembered, the delicate plants had grown roots. Because the plants were moist when they were cut, the sealed bag had created a mini greenhouse. The rooted woodruff was planted, and survived, in my shady garden.

May wine, a German brew, is served the first of May. I think its origins have to do with May pole dancing. But spring comes late to Minnesota, sweet woodruff not quite ready. So any day is a fine day for May wine. Traditions aren’t written in stone.

5:39 am cdt | link 

May 15, 2014

The lawns look beautiful and green. The days, weeks, of rain have made this greenness happen. As I lift my head from the computer I can see my neighbor across the street working in his yard. For the last few minutes he has been using a tool, it looks like a walking cane, to unscrew the few dandelions that have found footing on his pristine property. This neighbor’s hedges are correctly pruned, his sidewalks swept, the wood chips circling his trees always confined. His home care is an asset to our neighborhood.

Earlier this morning I was at the greenhouse, adjacent to a property whose owner takes similar pride in his landscape. He too was going after dandelions. His dandelion hunting, however, was not as labor intensive. He walked the property, his wife ahead of him, with a backpack of chemical zapping the occasional weed and dandelion she pointed out.

I am not a lover of large expanses of lawn. I love a yard, like my adjacent neighbor's yard, which includes ground covers, flowering shrubs, small wild areas and in the spring, puddles of daffodils and tulips. I love landscapes that fill with life. I can’t wait to tell my neighbors that this morning I saw an American Redstart warbler in their white lilac and that a cat bird is nesting in our cedar. They understand and love their landscape. They might already know.

5:35 am cdt | link 

May 14, 2014

My mother was a fan of wallpaper. It covered the rooms of my childhood. Paper hangers, always dressed completely in white, were familiar figures at our house. Not a single room of the house where I currently live is wallpapered except for one wall of a bathroom I have never gotten around to re-doing. But I have several outdated wallpaper books, in a supply closet, that I use for children’s art projects.

In this week’s New York Times style magazine, entitled "Spirit of Summer," there is an article about a woman in her eighties who designs wallpaper. She is a designer whose nature-inspired patterns are sought after by the English style cognoscenti. I might have thought there could be nothing new in wallpaper design but photographs, included in the article, changed my mind.

The papers have the wonderful sense of being hand done. Printed in beautiful colors, they are graceful and detailed. They give off warmth. One of the wallpaper photos includes the artist who stands in front of a papered wall. She wears a striped wool skirt, a printed blouse and a plain blue jacket edged with an ornate band of trim. Both the wallpaper and the artist look very right. They both look very English.

5:55 am cdt | link 

May 13, 2014

This month’s reading for my book group was When Women Were Birds by Terry Tempest Williams. I have read other books this author has written and have had the good fortune to hear her speak. Terry Tempest Williams’ written words are impactful, thought provoking and powerful. Her speaking voice and demeanor, feminine and soft.

I have been thinking about a line from the book, words the author’s mother says when she is asked about a quilt square she has framed and hung on the wall. When questioned why this quilt square mattered so much to her, she says this. “It represents how women piece together their lives from the scraps left over for them.

I have a single quilt square beautifully framed and hanging on my wall. I have had it for years. It is pieced from thin strips of tan, gray, and black fabrics including a single strip of peach colored material. Four of the twenty strips are patterned and appear to be from men’s shirts. The square is over a hundred and fifty years old. I was drawn to this square because it is well designed and very graphic. I love that it is hand sewn and that a couple of basting threads, with knots, are still in place. It was, I imagine, sewn by a woman with scraps left over for her. She pieced her work together very well. 

7:19 am cdt | link 

May 12, 2014

The perennial garden outside my window is an oval shape; its centerpiece is a armillary. When I established this garden a few years ago, I edged it with coral bells and creeping phlox. The plant varieties I included inside the garden included lilyturf, lenten rose, chives, aquilegia, Oriental poppies, veronica, lupine, blue linum, and shasta daisies. Also English and cowslip primrose, plus Louise’s thyme, which traveled with me from Connecticut. My plan was to include annuals like cosmos and pincushion flowers for late season bloom in this wild looking perennial bed.

I knew the primrose varieties would probably not survive and they didn’t. The lenten rose also succumbed to the cold. And other things happened, too. I didn’t like the look of the lilyturf and replaced it with astilbe. I added a patch of pale yellow daffodils. But mainly, the garden changed itself. The lupine, digitalis and linum took over. The chives wandered as did the poppies; I have had to transplant, out of the garden, Louise’s too vigorous thyme. The birds added wild columbine and coreopsis and several hollyhocks hopped over from their bed near the house. Both purple and yellow violets decided to fill spaces between perennials, trout lily also moved in.

Control over anything in life, even a garden, is elusive. My garden looks not at all as I had originally envisioned and planted it. It is beautiful. 

7:08 am cdt | link 

May 11, 2014

A person reading  “The Lanyard,”  by Billy Collins, smiles. The reader of this poem becomes the writer.

It is the day to give lanyards to our mothers. All mothers hope to receive one, but will forgive us if we forget. Forgive us because they are our mothers.

I was lucky in the mother department. Very lucky. My mother gave me the best things a mother can give her child: love, acceptance and her confidence that I would do, or try to do, the right thing. She also passed along her sense of humor. I didn’t have her long enough in my life to thank her for her mother gifts. These words of gratitude, tossed out on the wind, are written for her.

And I was lucky a second time. With a mother-in-law who made me feel like I was the daughter-in-law she always wanted. When I knew, in my heart, this could not possibly be the case. Lucky a third time, too. A woman came into my life needing a daughter as much as I needed a mother. A woman who became grandmother to my children.

My lanyards would be three in number, as beautiful as I could possibly make them. They would be given with gratitude, received with love. 

9:40 am cdt | link 

May 10, 2014

Through the winter I observed a building going up. A building tucked between two small structures, one of them a house the other an insurance agency, in the Northfield downtown area. My interest was piqued when I heard it was a church.  Yet, as I drove past it on those below zero days when it was being constructed by men in heavy jackets and ski hats, it looked not at all like a church. And as it turned out, it isn’t.

The building, soon coming to completion, is a Quaker Meeting House. I know very little about the Quaker faith but I do know this. The Quaker church is the community of believers, not the building where worshipers meet. Years ago I was invited to a Quaker wedding. It was a joyous affair where the bride wore a white wedding gown and the groom a dark suit. There was an exchange of rings and a wonderful dinner after. There was about the ceremony, though, an unusual air of easy and contemplative quietude. It was beautiful in its simplicity.

I enjoy looking at the newly erected Quaker Meeting House. I like the long side porch, the New England style paned windows. I imagine the inside of the building filled with plain chairs or wooden benches. Having lived in Pennsylvania, and also close to Rhode Island where the Quaker population is greater than in the Midwest, the sight of the newly erected Meeting House gives me pleasure. It looks like home.

8:28 am cdt | link 

May 9, 2014

Earlier this week I spoke to a group about poetry. In particular, modern poetry. The discussion was lively.

Art changes. And newness can be unsettling. Bach and Mozart were once new, Degas and Picasso, also. Rothko and Rosenberg are still new to many. Visiting a museum of modern art, listening to new music, reading verse without rhyme or punctuation can ask a great deal from the listener, viewer, reader. Newness makes us stretch.

Within any art form, drama or sculpture, photography or dance, not all that is produced under the banner of new, is good. Time can be required to sort things out. Luckily, we all have the freedom of our individual taste. That painting over there, the orange one with the green square in one corner worth thousands of dollars, well, it’s okay if it doesn’t speak to you. No one requires you to like it. The same holds true for that difficult to understand poem that doesn’t rhyme.

As I write these words a saying of my mother’s flies into to my mind. I think it went something like this. “To each to his own said the old lady as she kissed the cow.” 

8:44 am cdt | link 

May 9, 2014

Earlier this week I spoke to a group about poetry. In particular, modern poetry. The discussion was lively.

Art changes. And newness can be unsettling. Bach and Mozart were once new, Degas and Picasso, also. Rothko and Rosenberg are still new to many. Visiting a museum of modern art, listening to new music, reading verse without rhyme or punctuation can ask a great deal from the listener, viewer, reader. Newness makes us stretch.

Within any art form, drama or sculpture, photography or dance, not all that is produced under the banner of new, is good. Time can be required to sort things out. Luckily, we all have the freedom of our individual taste. That painting over there, the orange one with the green square in one corner worth thousands of dollars, well, it’s okay if it doesn’t speak to you. No one requires you to like it. The same holds true for that difficult to understand poem that doesn’t rhyme.

As I write these words a saying of my mother’s flies into to my mind. I think it went something like this. “To each to his own said the old lady as she kissed the cow.” 

8:44 am cdt | link 

May 8, 2014

If you didn’t know, and I didn’t until I read this morning’s paper, it’s Teacher Appreciation Week. Here’s to teachers. Those patient individuals at the preschool who work so hard at listening, are constantly bent over, are always making mental counts of fast moving little bodies. Those people who can zipper snowsuits in their sleep. And to those tolerant adults in front of a high school classroom explaining, and re-explaining, a difficult math problem, reading and marking endless papers, trying to maintain discipline while worrying about a student having problems at home. We raise our glasses.

Teacher territory is familiar to me. There are many burned out teachers, not-so-capable teachers, teachers who would be happier doing something else. And there are wonderful teachers, too. Two exceptional teachers who had a huge and positive influence on my life were Miss Torgerson and Mr. Boyd.

Mr. Boyd was my high school band teacher. He saw abilities in me that I didn’t see in myself. Strict, demanding and at times frightening in his quest for musical perfection, he loved music and was always teaching music. He taught me to practice and take pride in my musical accomplishments. He taught me to stay focused.  As for quiet and unassuming Miss Torgerson, her first grade room was a sanctuary of gentle learning where everyone flourished from wild Billy H. to struggling Kathryn J. Miss Torgerson had magical powers.

Our lives were, and are, affected by good teachers. This week, remember yours.

5:41 am cdt | link 

May 7, 2014

I know people who read a book more than once. They turn again, even again, to a beloved story. Similarly, people sit through a favorite movie many times. They buy a film, or TV series, so they can enjoy returning to characters and a plot they have knowledge of. There is pleasure and comfort in the familiar.

At the moment I am reading Romeo and Juliet. Though I have seen the play preformed, I have never read it. Or much of Shakespeare for that matter. I don’t recall reading Shakespeare in school though surely I did.

So at the moment I am reading about sixteen-year-old Romeo Montague and thirteen-year-old Juliet Capulet. I am thinking about the familiar words and phrases I am coming upon, enjoying laying them out in my mind. I suppose I am reading this classic now because I never have and because I am enjoying the challenge and because it’s spring. The season of young love. 

In the play the Montague and Capulet families hate each other, their dispute dividing the lovers. I have no knowledge as to what the differences are between the families, we only know of the animosity. Such an old, familiar story. Also such a current one.

6:50 am cdt | link 

May 6, 2014

If one was required to join either the cat lover line or the dog lover line, I would be lined up with those who prefer dogs. Even though I have lived with and owned two cats.

On a bare spot inside the fenced in garden, a spot where I yesterday sprinkled grass seed, a cat is sprawled out in the sun. The cat is the same color and size as the small, recently seeded patch. His fur is a warm, sandy colored gray with slightly darker markings. He is perfectly camouflaged on the piece of earth where he is spread. The cat rests on his side for long moments then sits up to scratch beneath his chin. He rolls over on this back and stretches. He licks his paws. It is when he faces me, and slightly turns his head, that I notice one side of his face has been recently injured. A big wound on a small face. Scarlet, resting at my feet, is unaware of the cat outside the window and only a few feet away. I watch until the cat, an animal I am certain is not feral because he seems well fed and not terribly wary, stretches and moves, in cat fashion, out of my line of vision.

I did not frighten the cat away even though I regularly shoo away cats to protect the garden birds whose presence I encourage with bird feeders.  Nor did I go out and attempt to assess the cat’s injury. I only watched. For the entire time the cat was there. In those moments of observation, I learned something important. Something I needed to know.

6:23 am cdt | link 

May 5, 2014

My May garden and greenhouse to-do list is as long as my arm. With the sun deciding to reappear, I need to spend serious time outside. May, for me, is a month of gardening; it has been this way for years. Here at my window desk I can, with the vista this location provides, quite easily look backwards.

It is the month of "May-ing," went the song we sang in elementary school. In our singing my friend and I changed May-ing to ‘mating.’ Wanting to be caught for our daring. May is the month of candy baskets and poles decorated with crepe paper. The month to take off your shoes and run barefoot.

May is prom time, the time to pick out dresses and tuxedos, to wash cars and windows. The fifth month is a study month, the month of finals and term papers, graduations and tearful goodbyes. May is the time to plan for weddings, to pick out a swimsuit, paint a room, adopt a dog. A warm May midnight, filled with stars, is the perfect time to give birth to a baby.

The trees are greening in front of my eyes; nature is frenetic. It’s time to go outside and tend to greenhouse and garden. I will be taking off my shoes. 

9:18 am cdt | link 

May 4, 2014

The boy across the street is going to the prom in a black tuxedo. He poses near a trio of birches while his mother, wearing blue jeans, takes his photograph. All week it has quietly rained and when it stopped, the neighborhood grew noisy with perennials pushing and grabbing for space, trees, starting to green, vying for attention. Now, everything looks new. The boy stands in a way he has never stood before; his mother, looking into the camera, notices and realizes she, too, has become a different person.

On the other side of the river a girl, wearing a satin charmeuse dress purchased with money made working at the Dairy Queen, slips into strap heels and waits for spring.

6:43 am cdt | link 

May 3, 2014

Once, in a writing class I took several years ago, an assignment was to write about sights one might describe to a person so depressed they were contemplating ending it all. Students were asked to describe these sights with the intent that the suicidal reader of their words might have a change of heart. Writers were asked to give a visual argument for life.

Yesterday I took what some teachers call a ketchup and relish day. I just took off. Having only a day, more like only a handful of hours, I went to look at art. Time for me in a gallery or museum is ketchup and relish time. But yesterday, things were different. It was not museum art that I relished, it was instead the ordinary art around me that gave me pleasure and that I will describe. I saw a barn with a blue roof and wondered at the story. I saw a handful of puzzled cows standing on a pancake of dry land which was completely surrounded by recent rain water. I saw a kestrel and two egrets, I saw swans. I saw a paddock containing seven chestnut horses, I saw two old men playing chess. I saw a clutch of artificial flowers attached to a county road sign and knew I had just seen someone’s sacred ground. I saw a baby in a backpack wearing her father’s ski hat, I saw clouds thinning to expose an almost forgotten blue sky. And that is only what I saw. As important, were the things I heard.

8:47 am cdt | link 

May 2, 2014

Spring is the time when interested elementary school students choose a band or orchestra instrument to play the following school year. Cellos and trombones are perennial favorites. When I was in sixth grade, someone from the University of Wisconsin came to our classroom and administered a musical aptitude test. I failed the test. Not only did I fail, I got every answer wrong. The damming note on the letter sent to my parents said this. “It is not recommended that this student learn to play an instrument."

The summer after sixth grade my mother took my brother and me to hear the traveling Cleveland Orchestra. The first chair flute wore a dazzling gown. It was in part her flute, which caught the light, but in larger part her gown, which prompted me to ask my mother if I could learn to play the flute. ”Mother, please."

I was attached to that junior high flute, purchased I’m sure, with sacrifice, and to the flutes that followed it. I am still attached. But this little story is not about musical instruments, the dresses I wore for concerts or to my then out-of-character stick-to-it-ness. It is all about my mother.

6:07 am cdt | link 

May 1, 2014

My friend is a naturalist. She knows birds. She knows many things about many birds and I envy her knowledge. Yesterday she mentioned that when she teaches kids about the natural world she does not stress learning the names of bird or plant, but stresses instead learning information about the insect or animal the child has asked the name of. It is this information that is important for the child to know.

I am not a birder. I keep no life lists. It matters to me not at all what bird varieties fly into my field of vision. What gives me pleasure is watching birds, the everyday kind with the sometimes surprise sighting of an oriole, the blue flash of bunting or bluebird.

At the moment I am watching a pair of mallard ducks. I call them mallard ducks but they care not a whit what name I call them. Their interest is in being ducks. They are moving in duck fashion around the garden, at times lowering their heads to peck at something, at times squawking. The ducks decide to cross my  busy street. “But wait,” I say out loud, “traffic is moving too fast.” They do not hear me and step down from the curb. And I stand up from my desk at the window and turn away. I am relieved to hear no squeal of brakes, relieved, when I return to my window desk, to see no scattering of feathers on the pavement. My bird watching has limits.  

8:02 am cdt | link 


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