Still in the Garden



It amazes me what two years of neglect has done to my garden. Aunt Katie tells me that – years ago, when she was a student here – her class took a field trip to one of the outer islands. There, still coming up in rows, were remnants of gardens put in by a religious community that had made a home there. The gardens had been abandoned in 1927, at least fifteen years before my aunt’s visit there. At the rate my little plot was deteriorating, I doubt a visitor would find more than a weedy field in a few years!

With help, I have been able to get a good start on the garden this year, and I fully intend to be watching vegetables – rather than weeds – grow this summer! But what a lot of work! I have removed the garden fence, a series of cedar posts that enclosed a space much too large to be reasonable. I saved every one, to surround a smaller garden space.

From the large area that will eventually, now, be mow-able lawn, I have to dig up raspberries, asparagus and strawberries, then level out the raised beds. I am in the process of removing the overgrowth of berry brambles and grasses that took over what used to be my tomato garden. I plan to enclose a bed for strawberries there, and possibly another for asparagus.

The life of the raspberries is still in question. They are a lot of work (maybe too much work for the time I have?) to keep up, what with pruning and keeping up with their wild spread…but, oh, what beautiful large berries they produce, when they are taken care of!

The herb garden is so overgrown, I can hardly get a shovel in. My lovely sage plant has turned into a woody shrub that has crowded out just about everything else. Except for the grasses, which seem to persist, always. Lemon Balm, which I have in a pot because of its invasive nature, is barely hanging on. Even the chives, which have spread out of control in other years, seem to have disappeared.

In all the pathways between garden beds, herb garden and flower beds, two or three inches under the gritty soil – but sometimes even closer to the surface – is a layer of heavy black weed barrier. I had forgotten all about laying it down there, many years ago. The township had bought a chipper, for using materials cleared from road edges and intersections, and was selling wood chips at a tremendously good price. I bought a truckload. I put down the weed barrier and, wheelbarrow load by wheelbarrow load, moved all of those wood chips to the pathways and open spaces. I remember thinking, “The weeds won’t have a chance!”

The joke was on me. Wood chips deteriorated, creating soil that strange new weeds seem to thrive in. Grasses, sending roots across the ground, found any opening in my weed cloth, and came up to see the sun. With their roots protected by the sturdy cloth, any attempt at pulling the whole plant was foiled. Now, with a different plan, I am straining my back removing the weed barrier from areas where it would tangle in the blades of the mower.

To prepare for mowing, I have also had to dig out several boards and flat rocks that had once served decorative or useful purpose that I’ve now long forgotten. I’ve had to find places for totes and buckets that used to reside just inside the garden fence. I’ve raked up brambles and dug up weeds, hauled one load after another to the woods.

I’m still far from finished. It’s an ambitious undertaking. This year, as apposed to the last couple years, I have a direction. That, alone is a big help. No photos yet, but soon I’ll be ready to show off my progress!

Present, This Day



Here it is, Sunday morning, and here I am, present for it.

So far, it’s not looking like the best of days.

The weather is cold, and damp, and drizzly. Yesterday, it rained. That means the grass is too wet to mow, and the garden is too soft to work in. If I bundle up, I could do some outdoor clean up. There are a dozen dog toys to be gathered up before I can cut the grass, abandoned when some other activity caught the big dog’s attention. There are two sturdy, lidded trash cans and a few other items that sit along what used to be the fence line. Now that the fence is down, they just look out of place. There’s still a mound of the vinyl deer fence in the back yard. It needs to be rolled or folded up for storage. So far, I’m not enthusiastic about any of it.

I have plenty to do in the house. I left dishes to drain-dry in the kitchen; there are clothes folded and stacked on the washing machine that need to be put away. There is a load of towels that need to be transferred to the dryer, since it’s not a good day for hanging them on the clothesline. I should wash the rugs…but I think I’ll wait for a better day.

I have several letters to write. This job has been hanging over my head for weeks, now, and I can’t seem to work up a plan or any determination. The letters are to accompany second – or sometimes third – bills to advertisers in my news magazine. The agreed upon service has been delivered: I have included the ads, paid for the printing and the cost of mailing; the burden should be on them to cancel the ad if they don’t want it. I am justified in asking for the payment, as agreed upon. Yet, I struggle.

I weave whiny, defensive, “why am I being taken advantage of this way” letters in my head. I approach it as “one business person to another.” I try out lengthy diatribes about why my bill-sending is so sporadic, taking the blame for their lack of payment. And then I do nothing. But they have probably just forgotten. And I need to collect. I have to just get it done.

I have on-going projects in the studio…several things I’m quite excited about, even. This could be a good day for making art. I could set that as my final goal, and hammer out a few necessary jobs before rewarding myself with time in the studio. It sounds good, but doesn’t stir me to get moving.

I have not yet been able to work up much excitement about any of it. I am not in a rush to move from this comfortable chair. I’m not driven to get out of pajamas, or to abandon my cozy bathrobe. There is still hot coffee in the pot; I could use another cup of it. So far, this Sunday morning, I am here, and that is all.


Timeout for Art: More Collage



Last night, after a long day at work, after taking the dogs down to Fox Lake for a romp, after putting my dinner in the oven, I managed some time in the studio, continuing work on a series of small collages. Though these photograph as rectangles (allowing me to choose the juiciest surfaces to show), they are actually small squares. With a three inch matt all around, they frame up at 14 x 14 inches.

For many years, I put together the beginnings of one small collage every single day. I’d incorporate bits and scraps of interesting papers – a piece of corrugated cardboard, the corner of an envelope, the frilly edge of paper torn from a spiral notebook – that had found their way into my pockets, along with selections from my large collection of “collage material.” I thought of them like diary pieces: my mood and the weather reflected in the juxtaposition of colors, shapes and textures. It was the way I started each studio session, a way to throw off the rest of the day, and bring my focus to creative projects.

Though each collage has an image and personality of its own, there is language evident in their varied surfaces. I like zig-zags, juxtaposing organic with geometric shapes, and “lines” of cut papers marching side-by-side. I use lots of angles, though rarely precise, and I like shapes to barely meet, at their corners. It is important to have the objects interact with each other, and with the edges of the page. Colors vary slightly from day-to-day, and greatly from one season to the next.

I haven’t taken time for this daily practice in quite some time, but I find the visual imagery is still with me, as is the love of combining disparate shapes and colors to set a mood. That gives me encouragement, for when my time opens up!


My Life as a Dig



Today is Tuesday, the day I set aside for memoir-writing-based-on-belongings. My inspiration came from my friend, Mary, who is working on a similar project. She calls it “My Life as a Dig,” as she excavates memories through possessions accumulated over a lifetime. I – wanting to be different while appropriating her idea – called my entries “Artifacts to Memories.”

Not today. Today all excavation has been done in the garden. For that, I have stolen Mary’s title, because it is most appropriate to my day’s activities. With necessary breaks to refill my water bottle, doctor my persistent head cold, or check on what our president is up to, I have spent this day with my hands in the soil.

Though I wasn’t feeling well, I forced myself to get outside to work at least part of the day yesterday and the day before. Progress was slow; there was still an awful lot to do. Today, my last full day off, I started the day with a long list of things I wanted to accomplish. Sprinkles this morning made everything seem more urgent. Rain will bring the mosquitoes: then every chore will be complicated by protection – in the form of netting, added clothing, and chemicals – from the biting insects.

Also in my plan was transplanting strawberries, raspberries and possibly rhubarb. If rain was coming, best to get those tasks done so that the showers could help settle everything nicely into its new location. In order to do the transplanting, I had to prepare the bed. When my young helper was here last week – with the rototiller, no less – I purposely had him avoid that spot, as there were a few stray poppies I wanted to relocate first.

That’s what I started with today. I moved four Oriental Poppies to the long flower bed. Also a bulb that I believe is a Casa Blanca Lily – long forgotten among the overgrowth there – and a couple day lilies.

Next, I dug out four lengths of vented PVC pipe that I had buried between tomato plants as a means of getting the water down to the roots. I used to bury plastic milk gallons, with small holes along their bases, and their spouts above ground. Every day I would fill each jug with water, so that it could seep out at the root zone. The jugs got brittle after a season, and would break apart in a mess of plastic shards. The PVC pipe was my attempt at a similar but more lasting solution.

Finally, I was ready to begin digging the bed. It was overgrown with blackberry brambles, wild strawberries, clusters of a noxious weed that sends a thick beige root straight down into the earth – impossible to pull – and grasses. Quack grass and crab grass are both plentiful. Just like with buttercup and butternut squash, I can never remember which is which.

I think it’s the quack grass that grows in a circle, in a dense mound that is hard to pull, and that the mower scrapes across, leaving an ugly scar. If that’s right, then it’s the crab grass that is my worst enemy. Crab grass, with its long, white roots that travel miles, it seems, to make it into my flower beds, that twist around the day lily tubers or the corms of iris, ensuring that to pull it and its offspring out entirely would mean disrupting everything else in that bed besides.

I attacked both today, and anything else that kept company there, one shovelful at a time. Push the blade into the ground, tip it back, flip the mound. Drop the shovel, then, and dig in, pulling out plants and roots. Shake every bit of earth away, as topsoil is precious on this sandy island, and toss the rest into the wheelbarrow. Check the hole for rocks and roots, then dig in again. One scoop at a time, one row after another.

I hauled away five wheelbarrows full of roots and weeds. I doubt my knees will ever be the same; I wonder if I’ll ever get the dirt out from under my nails. I have not yet put together the raised beds for my berries, or laid down the weed barrier, or transplanted a single strawberry. Still, it was a productive day.

A Little Enthusiasm, Please



I have a cold. Not one of those ordinary, bothersome colds that are annoying but manageable. No. This is a headache, earache, fever-inducing, mouth-breathing, sapped-of- all-energy, can’t-sleep-but-can’t-seem-to-wake-up-either ugly cold.

Right at the start of my “weekend.” Just when I have so much to do in every single direction.  On Mother’s Day, no less. [Here, with all the breath I can muster, I sigh a big self-pitying sigh.]

Some days, the good things in my life are right out front, easy to see and appreciate. Today, since it is Mother’s Day, I was planning to write an upbeat piece about motherhood and gratitude, and all of the good things going on here in my world. I’ve been sitting here for an hour, trying to drum up a little enthusiasm. I just can’t do it.

I think I’m going to go back to bed.

Timeout for Art: One Day Late



Yesterday, we had no long-distance telephone or internet service on Beaver Island. It lasted, until after eight o’clock last night.

It gave me a feeling of disconnection: I am accustomed to being able to check frequently on the antics going on in Washington D.C. and around the country. I finally thought to turn on the radio, just to make sure the world was still out there, beyond our Lake Michigan shoreline.

It also freed up an amazing amount of time. I left work after freight was put away, to take advantage of the sunshine. After my aching back caused me to retreat from the garden, I spent a few hours in the studio.  These little collages are coming along nicely, I think.

Artifacts to Memories: In the Garden




I’ve had one helper, and two days to spend in the garden. While my young friend moved rocks, set posts, and dug holes, I crawled around in the flower beds, clearing away leaves and pulling weeds. There is much more to do, but we made good progress.

My hands are covered with cuts and scrapes; my nails are broken and jagged. I have two blisters, and one nasty splinter. My back aches; my knees hurt. I started the morning with ibuprofen, and I think I’ll finish the day with more of the same.

The garden is littered with items that tell stories. In the flower beds, along with bright daffodils, fragrant hyacinth and creamy tulips, one can find:

  • two deer skulls, carried home many years ago by two young grandsons. They reside on a flat rock in a corner of the back bed, their heads leaning in toward one another as if in conversation.
  • a curved cast iron door that once belonged to a wood stove in some long-abandoned camp leans against the back of the house, serving as backdrop for a spray of narcissus. Yet another little grandson found in it the woods, begged to keep it, and carried it – almost as big as he was – all the way home.
  • a flying pig, fashioned of mixed metals by my son-in-law, and presented as a gift. From his place of honor in the front of the flower bed he watches over the garden.
  • a little ceramic bunny, curled up as if sleeping. She rests in the hollow of the old iron wagon wheel that encircles my cherry tree.
  • a crazy lady with a big grin, cut of rusty metal, holds court over a long row of day lilies.

If I weren’t worn out, and desperately in need of a shower, I’d have lots of stories to tell. As it is, I’ll leave you with just these few words and images.