Wednesday, June 30, 2010

You Can't Roller Skate in a Buffalo Herd

Here are some other things I have learned in the last twenty-four hours:

Always look around the basement or the shed before going to town to buy something. Almost without exception, everything I need, like oscillating sprinkler heads, is already here. It seems I just need to Look. And Listen.

Those blue gardening shoes, a generic version of Crocs, which I found on the porch when I moved in and swore I wouldn't be caught dead in? They are my new best friends.

Always know where your garden hose is before starting to mow. No, I didn't, but I came mighty close.

The delphiniums are in bloom and the exact same color as my garden shoes.

Lost bungee cord for mower's grass-catching bins (If there's a fancy name for them, I don't know it yet) must be replaced. They tend to want to jump off and lay in the grass, about fifty feet from wherever I happen to be. Bungee cords in basement? Oh yeah, they're there.

Squirrels like cracked corn and sunflower seeds. Very much. Must buy new bird feeder, new bird seed,  squirrel-proof. They're acting like they own the place. The mama wrens are not happy. A friend has suggested some possibilities, but admits there are few truly squirrel proof bird feeders. Apparently, there's a motorized version that's supposed to spin when squirrels jump on, thereby thwarting their eating efforts. He says, "I've seen footage of squirrels riding them like they're on a carnival ride."

Cancel any plans for joining a gym. Not that I was seriously considering this. I have a new plan. Doesn't cost a thing. It's called Teresa's Tan and Tone.  BTW: a farmer's tan happens fast.

Oscillating sprinklers wait for no man. Or woman. Running through the sprinkler is still fun.

Always wash off my feet at the outdoor spigot before going in the house.

It's good to have a mud room, with a washer and dryer next to it.

Along with the Norway pines in my yard, there's a majestic looking grove on the back of my land. Next to them, inside the grove of plantation pine, is a small grassy meadow. Two deer have bedded down there recently. And, the bluebells are in bloom.

I love the smell of freshly mowed hay and, what I call, buffalo bales. Despite their newness, they look solid and true. Like they've roamed there a long time. Actually, I've known I love freshly mowed hay for a long time. It was nice to have my neighbor's reminder, though. And, I'm sure glad I don't have to do that ever again. Baling and stacking hay bales (the old-fashioned square ones). It's hard work, ingrained in my ten-year old mind, never to leave.

I'm going to call it a night. Listen to some music.  Maybe the title song, by Roger Miller. Here it is, from the very first season of The Muppet Show, with the Whatnots, of the Gogolala Jubilee Jugband:

Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Night of the Living Cows

A weariness has overtaken me. Not enough sleep is part of it. Taking on a false sense of responsibility is the other. The neighboring farmer has a cow that bellered about every three minutes all night. I thought perhaps I'd left the garden gate open and one had entered and could not find her way out. I finally went out at 1:30 in the morning, to see if she was in distress and if I could do something to help. I saw nothing in the garden and realized the sound was further away, closer to the neighbor's farm than I first calculated.
I thought about a night long ago, when JB and I were visiting country cemeteries, wanting to check out just one more before dark. We turned into a winding little road that took us past a small herd of cows, silhouetted against the growing dusk. An old Gary Larson cartoon came to mind and I dubbed our adventure, "The Night of the Living Cows."  Silliness was running rampant, maybe as a way to stave off cemetery jitters at that late hour. Sort of like whistling past the graveyard. We found it, set amongst some pines, and spent a few minutes looking at headstones, then left, just as darkness settled in.
This morning, I returned to the house, reluctantly, as I knew the situation was not resolved, but eventually fell back to fitful sleep, around 4:00, just as morning was not-so-quietly breaking.
I got up again around 6:30, brewed coffee and sat with anxiety, trying to come to terms with my inability to resolve the cow problem, realizing I could not accept responsibility for the neighbor's cows, but also being very aware, that if I didn't, in these circumstances, who would?  Were they out of town, cows unattended?  Was she concerned about her calf and needing assistance?  Why was I shouldering a burden that wasn't mine?  I was hoping an answer would reveal itself to me, so that, in the future, I would have clearer direction at hand.
It rained fairly heavily for about a half hour and then, at 8:30, I went out again and weeded the far perennial bed devoted to irises that had already bloomed earlier this summer. There are a few strays of other varieties that have created a smattering of color, but I had let this go, not being a priority. I thought it would be good to give the late bloomers some room to show off.

As I weeded, I questioned my sanity and thought about the biblical story of Cain and Abel. Cain kills his brother, Abel, over some petty jealousy concerning Abel's more fruitful offering. For punishment, Cain was relegated to tilling the soil from whence he came and we, so the story goes, are still paying the price. Or something like that. Anyway, that's where the questioning my sanity came in. As I questioned and weeded, a funny thing began to happen. I noticed how nice the bed was looking, how quickly it was returning to a weed-free state. How I was going to need the wheelbarrow to haul away the weeds. I decided I wasn't crazy after all, at least in that respect, finished my little project and walked back to the house in a happy state of accomplishment.

The cow stopped bellering, the sun started to peek through the clouds, then came out in full array. I think there's a terrible pun there, completely unintended.
Anyway, I took the rest of the day off.

This afternoon, out of curiosity, I googled bellering and found a site devoted to it, really, a forum in which farmers noted that last year, at least, cows were doing some excessive and overly loud bellering, mostly at their new calves. That answered my question. I think. So, what's up with the cow anxiety?  What do they know, that they aren't telling us?

Friday, June 25, 2010

Grape Arbors and Chinese Poppies

Yesterday morning, a spike buck was pruning the lower branches of the fruit trees right outside my living room window. He must be hanging out with the doe I saw. I was so enamored of him I didn't even think to reach for my camera until he had moved on. Having deer present provides a sense of companionship. I can learn from their quiet gentleness. It's become necessary, though, to use a natural repellent on the flower beds to keep them from nibbling, which they did a few nights ago. They are particularly fond of the new buds that are forming on the hollyhocks.

The grape arbor is beginning to fill out nicely, creating a canopy of green that expands and deepens every day. After the Great Jelly Fiasco, at Ansel, in '91, I promised my younger son I would never make jelly again. It was scarring. The grapes had been picked, some were still being strained, glass jars were boiling and jelly bubbling. Then, the phone rang. It was the tipping point that took us right into harrowing. I thought I could handle multi-tasking with the phone on one shoulder, but the kitchen soon turned into a disaster scene. Triage became necessary. Sometime that evening, jelly did get into the jars, the jars were sealed and, eventually, we enjoyed the fruits of our labor.

Time heals all wounds and I'm planning to make another attempt at the mountain. This time, along with the jelly, I'm threatening to make wine, which might be a better and more fun alternative. We shall see.

The Chinese poppies have bloomed in large numbers. I must have at least fifty that will soon be joining these early bloomers.

I also have at least fifty of these getting ready to open. They are part of the lily family. I'm not sure what they will all look like, but beautiful, that is certain.

For the first time in many years, I washed sheets and hung them out on the clothesline to dry. I remembered how wonderful they smell after being in the sun and fresh air. When I was young, we spent many hours hanging clothes out to dry. It seemed like a monumental and sometimes unbearable task, at the time, but last night I went to sleep with the sweet smell of childhood.

There is such beauty in this old world. All we have to do is open our eyes, really open our eyes. It's everywhere.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Sisyphus, Riding Lawn Mowers, and George Carlin

Lest you think my new life is all sweetness and light, I suppose I should come clean with my confession.

Last Friday, I cried. Not that that's highly unusual. I can be a bit of a crybaby sometimes. It was the circumstances.

For the life of me, I could not remember how to start the riding lawn mower. I bought it from the previous owner, with her instructions as well as a manual. I don't do well with manuals and her instructions had disappeared into the ether. I hadn't planned on crying. It just sort of happened. The rain had made mowing difficult for the week or so before we closed on the sale and with all she had to do to get ready to return to Iowa the yard and gardens had taken a back seat, shall we say. The lawn I had seen previously seemed like a distant memory. I knew it was going to be fine, eventually, and as soon as the weather cleared at all, I would get right to it. Right after I started the riding mower.

I wasn't sure how I was going to tackle this problem, as admitting I didn't have a complete handle on everything was not yet an option. My immediate solution was to head to town to buy a push mower - the kind that has a motor, but you still gotta push it - knowing I would need one for touch-ups anyway, once I got the riding mower started. I would see what I could do by hand. I wanted the exercise and knew it would be good for me. Yada, yada.

I was delusional.

Mowing this acreage by hand would be tantamount to Sisyphus pushing that rock up the mountain. Repeatedly. Forever. Or at least until it snows.

I needed a bit of advice on mower-buying and so called Ex #2, knowing he had recently bought one for our son, Coleman. Did I have ulterior motives? Probably. It was time to admit I didn't quite have a handle on everything. He made his recommendations and then I went on to tell him of my troubles with starting the rider. Suddenly, yes, this is one place I legitimately get to use that word, I was crying. One could even say I was sobbing. I realized I had let myself get overwhelmed by all I had to do to get settled in my new home, let alone get the yard and gardens back to their previous state. I knew I had plenty of time to do it, but that didn't matter. I had hit the wall and did not know it until that moment.

He told me to stop crying. Nicely. Kind of. And then we laughed. And then he gave me advice on the mower starting problem. By that evening, I had a brand new Poulan push mower, I'd gotten the rider going and had half the yard done. Now, I have the entire yard done and looking pretty park-like even. Love that riding mower.

I have much weeding still to do in the garden, but am taking it slow, day by day, handful of weed by handful of weed. No, not the recreational kind. The next-year-I'm-going-to-lay-down-a-lot-of-mulch kind.

A friend called while I was in the garden. I told her about my crying jag and then shared with her that my hands were covered in dirt, I was sweating up a storm, I hoped my boys would be over soon so I could pawn some radishes off on them, it was starting to rain and my nose was running. We laughed. We talked. We exchanged tales of losing sleep over our recent projects. Then, back to the tasks at hand.

I will tame this patch of ground, if it takes me all summer...

"Weather forecast for tonight: Dark."   George Carlin.

May 12, 1937 -  June 22, 2008.  Funny man. I miss him.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Where Peace Lives

When I got up at 5:15 this morning and wandered into the kitchen, I noticed several peony petals had fallen onto the table around their vase. I know what you're thinking, "Will she never shut up about those peonies?" Please bear with me, winter will come soon enough. I knew from past experience they were at That stage. The one where they are letting go and the slightest movement will set off a cascade of petals. I gingerly picked up the vase to move it off the glass table and onto the counter where I could manage it better. As I got to the middle of the kitchen floor, the petals started falling and didn't stop until all had fallen except those little buds at their center. They fell onto my bare feet and all around the floor where I was standing. My first thought was, "Oh no."  My second thought was, "I'm standing on, and surrounded by, pink peony petals. How fine a gift is that?"  The smell was so sweet and they felt so soft against my skin.

As I had lain in bed earlier, I prayed. I prayed for an openness of thought and action that would invite in all the goodness my new place has to offer, that I would be receptive to its gifts and messages, that I could shoulder all the responsibilities inherent in it, and along with the garden, the fruit trees, and the flowers, I would grow, as well.

Yesterday, a deer explored the yard as I quietly watched from my living room window. Perhaps she's the one who bedded down on the lawn, right outside the front door, two nights ago. The impression left in the grass was unmistakable. I've seen it many times before in my life, but it had been a good many years.

This morning, as I write this, with peony petals covering the kitchen floor, peace settles in ...

Thursday, June 17, 2010

A Plethora of Peonies

From  the movie, The Three Amigos:

Jefe: I have many beautiful pinatas in the storeroom, each of them filled with little surprises.
El Guapo:  Many pinatas?
Jefe: Oh yes, many!
El Guapo: Would you say I have a plethora of pinatas?
Jefe: A what?
El Guapo: A plethora.
Jefe: Oh yes, you have a plethora.
El Guapo: Jefe, what is a plethora?
Jefe: Why, El Guapo?
El Guapo: Well, you told me I have a plethora. And I would just like to know if you know what a plethora is. I would not like to think that a person would tell someone he has a plethora, and then find out that that person has no idea what it means to have a plethora.
Jefe: Forgive me, El Guapo. I know that I, Jefe, do not have your superior intellect and education. But could it be that once again, you are angry at something else, and are looking to take it out on me?

Okay, enough of that.

With the rain falling outside, we closed the deal Tuesday morning. "Today is the first day of the rest of your life," holds a whole new meaning. I'm sitting here in my living room with greenery on every side, and in every imaginable shade, as far as the eye can see. The birds have formed a choir in surround sound and a squirrel is hanging from a tree, trying to reach a feeder. So far, no good. And, it's not like he isn't trying. They are a persistent bunch. Tenacious, even.

Last evening, I walked barefoot around my yard. The grass beneath my feet felt wonderful. There was the remnant of a mud puddle in the driveway from rain the day before. I was sorely tempted to walk through it and feel the mud squish between my toes, as I did about a hundred million years ago, back when I was very young. Next time, for sure.

There was a bird on the feeder outside the kitchen window I had never seen. Didn't get to my camera in time. A new bird book is in order. I also see the Reader's Digest Complete Book of Gardening in my very near future. There is such a thing, right? I believe a friend had one years ago that seemed pretty complete. Lost it in the divorce, along with the goat hoof trimmers. Oh, life can be so cruel. Right now, though, he's in Alaska visiting his son and has seen whales, dolphins and sea lions, all while on an afternoon sea cruise. Between that and his description of a colorful boat boneyard, the stuff photo junkies get their fix from, I have officially stopped feeling sorry for him.

Anyway, back to my land baroness duties.

Today, I tend to the great outdoors. And, the day after that. And the next day after that. For all eternity. Or, so it seems. A responsibility I gladly shoulder.

I think my radishes are ready. She, she being the previous owner, planted a garden before I entered the scene. She didn't know when her place would sell and wanted to be prepared for the summer. I have an already-planted garden behind high enough fencing to keep out the deer. Oh, I forgot to tell you, two deer were here to greet me when I returned from the closing. I introduced myself while they munched on the shrubs defining the property line between the not-exactly-next-door neighboring farmers and myself. Their red coats against all that greenery was a pretty sight. I'm sure they'll be back.

In addition to the radishes, I have beets, carrots, beans, potatoes, onions, squash and cucumbers. Also inside the fence line of the garden are several wild roses, lilac and raspberry bushes, and a whole bunch of peonies. That's Minnesotan for 'a lot.' A Johnny Jump Up infestation is, sadly, going to require some serious culling of the herd. They are pretty, but they are many. Too many. It won't help to move them, because they are attempting to take over the perennial beds up front, also. They need to be dealt with and I hate ending the life of any living thing. Especially something with small yellow and purple faces. This will be hard.

These pretty girls are hanging from a large bush outside my bedroom window. They look like little orchids. Note to self: Add flower book to list. I apparently gave away too many of my books, in an attempt to lighten my load before leaving Santa Fe.

I just took a break and went out, ahead of the coming rain, to pull some very ready radishes.  "Tares" have definitely come up along with the "wheat."  The parable says to let them grow side by side until the harvest, but I don't think he had my garden in mind. Just wishful thinking on my part. I need to wash these radishes and then off I go again. The Johnny Jump Ups are fomenting a rebellion.


Monday, June 14, 2010

Moving Toward a New Life

This is my last morning on Upper Whitefish, here on this bank overlooking the lake, where I've been staying for the past few weeks. I will miss going to sleep with the song of the loon, getting up in time to greet the morning sun as it slowly rises on the horizon, changing the colors of the sky as it does so. I was thinking about all the changes that lie ahead of me, the return to a way of life that I grew up with, but put aside for several years while living in Santa Fe, and since, as I looked at the possibilities. A few weeks ago, I bought a refrigerator magnet that summed up my feelings about my return to Minnesota. It said, "Sometimes 'right back where you started from,' is right where you belong." 

I will be sleeping in my new home tomorrow night and waking up to a new way of life. One of the things that I am particularly happy about is that my land includes 147 feet of riverfront. The Pine winds along, just across the road, my place right on an elbow of the river. The former owner created steps leading down to a nice spot beside it with a fire pit. I plan to make this my little sanctuary, a place of respite. The river flows down to where Upper and Lower Whitefish join together. I love knowing that all the beauty, all the goodness that Whitefish holds, is only a short canoe trip away. I won't be leaving this behind, I will still feel its heartbeat, the island.

I didn't want to leave here without expressing my gratitude for having such a wonderful place to be for awhile, this piece of Earth that is now part of my consciousness. For whatever reason, an Alison Krauss song kept running through my mind early this morning as I stood outside and watched the growing daylight move across the water, and so I decided to post it as my way of paying homage to this time. I suppose it was all that thought about heartbeats as I looked out on the island. It was written and first recorded by Don Williams, many years ago, but Alison, who has the voice of an angel, and John Waite, a perfect match for her, have re-created this beautiful song. It just seemed to fit somehow.

P.S. Just as I  posted this, I looked up and saw a bald eagle flying over the water along the bank, right outside my door.

Here's "Lay Down Beside Me"

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Getting Back to the Garden

For the past three weeks, I have been trying to follow an adage my father often used, "Don't tell people what you're going to do, tell them what you've done." He was a big believer in not sharing plans or ideas prematurely, but keeping plans close to the belt while all the details were being worked out. I doubt he would have worded it this way, but it was his way of clearing the field of energy so that the idea could unfold naturally. My father, despite growing up in very difficult circumstances and with only an eighth grade education, managed to educate himself, picking up a great deal of wisdom along the way to his own version of the American Dream. I try to remember what he shared with me and follow that wisdom as I shape my own course in life. A growing enthusiasm for its unfoldment, and its nearness, allows me to share my big news with you today.

I have found my property.

My sons are referring to it as my  "slice of heaven"  and my own  "Paradise."  These feel like apt descriptions to me.

Taking this big step again is a bit scary. With owning this piece of land comes a responsibility to it. It has been lovingly cared for throughout the years and it deserves my utmost respect and dedication.

It consists of 5.77 acres of almost park-like grounds, with a house that may not be my dream house, but has the potential to be, either through refurbishment or, eventually, replacement. It is the land itself that drew me in and wouldn't let go, albeit it did this rather quietly and without a lot of clamoring for my emotional attention.

I first looked at it several weeks ago, before spring had sprung. I hesitated, uncertain whether I was ready to take the plunge. Three weeks ago, my plans for the day kept being altered and so, without becoming frustrated, I waited for further direction. That afternoon, I knew I was supposed to take another look at this property. I made the arrangements,  ready to ask a few more questions, look a bit more closely at the nuts and bolts of the place.

I wasn't prepared for its beauty. Spring had indeed sprung and the lushness of the grounds and  a new awareness of all it offered started to sink in and with it a closer look at the possibilities. While standing in the driveway, on a perfect sun-filled day, I made an offer. By later that day it had been accepted, and we close the sale this Tuesday, June 15th. I will share more of it as I go along, but for now let me just say, I feel I have been given an opportunity to steward a fine piece of Mother Earth and I intend to do so with a great deal of love. I am looking forward to spending my days in a quiet sense of duty to this land, getting dirty, getting tired, and getting peaceful at the hands of this little piece of Paradise.

This is the view from the porch of the 100 year old log cabin that also sits on the property. It's waiting to see how I will use its very cool space.

We are stardust.
We are golden.
And we've got to get ourselves back to the garden...

~from "Woodstock,"  by Joni Mitchell 

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Indian Island, Rainbows, and a Walk with Red

It was another magical evening on Upper Whitefish. As dusk fell, a double rainbow appeared, not just over the lake, but right out from my deck. It was complete, with each end settling on the water. Neighbors on both sides, up for the weekend, came out to take photos as well, commenting on the rarity of seeing a complete double rainbow. Exactly through the middle of the arch, was Indian Island.

Last Saturday, on Memorial weekend, my younger son, Coleman, came over by boat from his dad's resort just down the shoreline and took me for a ride over to the island. It is now called Big Island, a unimaginative name, given by an unimaginative bureaucracy, that holds nothing for me. I prefer its original name, which does. The island is an old growth forest comprised of sugar maple and basswood, along with a few white pine, one of which is probably close to two hundred years old. Aspens grow along the banks.

When we arrived, we saw that a few people had set up camp just off the small beach, their tents among the trees. A black lab came down to meet us. His name was Red. We returned his enthusiastic greeting and then chose a trail leading up a small hill, with Red fast on our heels. He seemed to want to tag along, so we promised his owner we'd make sure that if he continued along with us, we would not return without him. He said that would be fine and off we went.  We walked up to where the cathedral of trees I mentioned in an earlier post still stands. It's as beautiful and feels as good as I remembered it from years ago. I had arrived with mixed feelings about allowing camping out on the island, but Red's companionship offset it. He made our small version of a walkabout more complete somehow.

When we got to the far side of the island, we sat down on the bank overlooking the lake, underneath a canopy of trees. Red did a little exploring within sight of us and then waited patiently while we talked about life and the state of the world. It was the kind of talk we both appreciate, envisioning together what we hope to see. From inside that green paradise, it made it a little easier to imagine that world, for ourselves and our home, planet Earth. 

A short while later, we continued on the path, which circled around, taking us back to the beach. We thanked Red for joining us and said our goodbyes. He returned to his crew, as we climbed in the boat and headed back to my place. As we moved across the water, Coleman would occasionally cut the motor to share his thoughts about his own recent experiences that not only illustrate what we're hoping for, but expect to see. After all, it starts with expectation.

Last evening, the rainbow seemed to be a continuation of our visit to the island. With all that would appear to be wrong with the world, it still speaks to me of promise and all that it implies. That promise lingered, turning into a deep pink shadow of itself as it faded, that same pink moving silently on the surface of the water. For several seconds, off to the right, lightning flashed.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Resistance is Futile

A couple of weeks ago, I shared with you my love of Russel Wright designs, "Living in Harmony with Nature," in which he would bring the outdoors into his living spaces. He designed some pretty nice dinnerware which caught my eye, as well. Perhaps you remember that I said I might be able to justify a small plate. A, being the key word. Well, Memorial Day I went to see friends I hadn't seen in many years,  friends who own an antique store about forty-five minutes away.

Pat's Place is a wonderful shop with all manner of collectibles. Before I go any further, let me just state that I did not go over to visit them with Russel on my mind. I had almost forgotten my covetessness for all things Russel Wright. Almost. Anyway, I showed up, we were busy catching up - where I'd been, which friends were where, sharing names of writers and book titles, the state of the union - when Russel popped into my mind. And that's when the trouble began.

Pat not only had heard of him, but led me over to his collection of original pieces, with Russel Wright's signature impressed into the clay on the bottom of each. The real deal. Pat quietly moved away while I dove deep into picking my favorites, silently doing the math, and working out the justification in my mind. He had a small dessert plate, sort of a speckled salmon color, edged in cream. It was yummy. There was just one small problem. It had four siblings. You see, this is the reason I don't have a dog. I could never pick just one. Or even two. I would have to go home with the entire litter. Which is pretty much what happened here. I told myself I was not splurging on the pink dinner plates, or any of the other pieces...these were just five little dessert plates...the price was right...

Here they are.

I can resist anything but temptation.

Pat's Place. Motley. Really. In case you're ever in the neighborhood. Just stay away from the Wright stuff.