Category Archives: Gardening

My Favorite Day

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Sundays have lately become my favorite day of the week. I don’t work on Sundays, and since I also have Monday and Tuesday off, there is no urgency to get things done. I have plans, of course, but I approach them slowly. The most important thing on my Sunday agenda is relaxation.

I don’t set the alarm for Sunday. My morning routine stays intact, but it begins when I wake up naturally. I take my time with it, too. Journal-writing can get a little more expansive on a Sunday morning; I put additional time and effort into my drawings. I may spend a few extra minutes in meditation practice, or increase the time spent exercising.

When I open my book to study, I don’t have to watch the clock. On a work day, I may only get through two or three pages, reading and taking notes. Sunday mornings, I can finish a chapter, or complete a topic. I can continue until I’m tired of it.

On days when I have to be at work by eight o’clock, the dogs don’t usually get a morning walk. They often sleep in, and wake up slowly. One by one, they go outside, and come back in. I take all three of them out for a quick turn around the yard before I leave for the day. Most of their exercise happens after I get home in the afternoon. Sunday mornings, though, we set out early.

I bring my little tablet to take pictures, and to listen to whatever book I currently have downloaded. Right now, that is Think Like a Monk by Jay Shetty. Often, the book I’m studying, the one I’m listening to on Audible, and the one on my nightstand for reading before bed are widely disparate. At this time, they are all quite similar in topic and energy. In the morning, I’m taking notes and doing exercises from Meditation & Mindfulness by Andy Puddicombe. Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words by David Whyte is what I turn to before I switch off the light at night.

When we’re back from our walk, the dogs are ready for a nap; I’m ready to turn on the news. Because the programs I like are available on my computer, I’m not tied to their programming schedule. I enjoy CBS Sunday Morning. It’s the news, but more inclusive of personal interest, arts and entertainment as well as the usual headlines. Then I watch Face the Nation, which gives me an in-depth look at the current happenings.

After that, I plot out my day. My blog had moved to Friday, when that was my only day off. Now, I think, it’s better planned for Sunday, when I have the whole day to fit it in. In addition to that, I have a few choices. The weather is cool, but the sun is shining; I could start the mower and finish giving the yard one last good trim. The raspberries need to be pruned before winter, and I’d like to transplant the roses this fall.

I brought movies home from the library yesterday, to entertain me while I worked in the studio. That’s another good possibility; there’s plenty to do there. I also picked up a book review, and haven’t read it yet. I got a new catalog in the mail yesterday, and a magazine the day before that. No need to rush to any decisions. I have this entire wonderful Sunday ahead!

Here is Fall

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“Time is a storm in which we are all lost.”

~ William Carlos Williams

Finally, here is fall.

Not that I’ve been trying to rush the season. No…summer, could have stayed awhile. I am not yet tired of long, warm and sunshiny days. I could stand several more weeks of it, without complaint.

Still, this year more than others in recent memory, fall started announcing its pending arrival early. Chilly nights brought out the blankets, and warned that cold weather was coming. First, it was acknowledged as a relief:

“Great sleeping weather!”

“I’m loving these cool nights!”

Warm days at the beach followed by nights nestled under heavy quilts is how I remember August on childhood vacations on Beaver Island. Wonderful! “Chilly,” though, gave way to downright cold this year. Almost a month ago, I went around and closed every window, stored the box fan in the attic, and carried the portable heater downstairs.

For weeks, conversations have turned toward all the signs that warn of a hard winter coming. The days, which lengthen by such slow increments in the spring, seem to shorten rapidly this time of year. “Dark, already,” I observe with surprise day after day. The activity of deer and squirrels; the gathering of birds; the behavior of small rodents are all signals to watch.

The mice are unquestionably moving inside. At the hardware store, the section of the store that holds rodent-control products is depleted weekly. I’ve heard many stories of mice showing up in homes and in places where they’ve never been seen before. Too many apples? Too few coyotes? We can only speculate on the reasons.

“Are the leaves changing yet?” The questions come from other locations, from people who would happily travel north for the glory of fall colors. We watch closely, as that is another signal that fall is coming. First it’s just one branch showing red, on a whole tree of green leaves. Or one single golden leaf. Then, just overnight, it seems, the King’s highway is ablaze with color!

The cold weather continued, through August and into September. Cool night temperatures dipped to cold, and stretched into the daylight hours. We compared the readings on indoor and outdoor thermometers. We asked each other, “how cold did it get?” The farther you live from the Lake Michigan, the more vulnerable you are to early frost. When Doug Tilley reported he’d had to scrape ice from his windshield, I knew my garden was on borrowed time.

On the last day of summer, I filled one basket with spinach leaves, and another with kale. I pulled up the basil, and plucked every precious green leaf off the stems. I picked all of the tomatoes. I was merciless in discarding those with blemishes and bruises. I threw away the ones that were too immature to hold any hope of ripening, and filled one bowl with perfect green tomatoes. The red ones, I lined up on the counter near the sink.

I stacked and stored the metal tomato cages, then filled the wheelbarrow with the vines. I pulled up the cucumber plants, harvesting four that were hiding in the greenery. Squash was next. I saved every blossom. I tossed two tiny butternut squash that had no hope of ripening. The zucchini and other summer squash, which has produced spottily all summer long, served up more than a dozen new fruit, no bigger than my index finger.

I dug the shovel into the ground where my potato plants had been, then pushed my hands into the loosened soil. I was rewarded with a half dozen fist-sized potatoes. I pulled up all the bush beans plants, then yanked out the branches that formed the pole bean teepees. The tall vines yielded a handful of overripe beans that I’d missed when I last gathered them. Everything harvested at this late date seems dear: the last the garden has to offer.

On the last day of summer, I simmered peppers, basil and tomatoes with salt, pepper, and a dash of balsamic vinegar to make a fresh sauce that seemed to capture the essence of the season. I spooned it over diced and roasted potatoes for dinner. Before I went to bed, I put a handful each of dried black beans and great northern beans in a pot. I carefully peeled back the pods of my own pole beans, and added each bean seed to the mix, then added water to let them soak.

On the first day of fall, I made end-of-summer soup. I put the teakettle on to boil, then sliced an X into the top of each ripe tomato, and set them into the sink. When the water boiled, I poured it over the tomatoes to loosen their skins. I drained the soaking water from the bean pot and set it on the stove. As I peeled and rough chopped the tomatoes, I added them to the softened beans, and brought them to a simmer.

As the day progressed, the dry beans softened and took on the flavor of the tomatoes they were stewing in. I cut up the spinach, kale and squash blossoms, and added them to the pot. I chopped up a green pepper, a half head of cauliflower, two stalks of celery and three carrots that were in the vegetable compartment of my refrigerator. I diced an onion, and the last of the potatoes. I washed and sliced each tiny, seedless zucchini, letting their fluted edges dress up the mixture. To finish, I tossed in a slight handful of barley, and sprinkled some salt and pepper.

When it was done, I filled a bowl with soup. I carried it outside into a day – the first day in more than a week – that felt like summer. Warm enough to sit outside without a sweater. Warm enough to think, if it weren’t for the calendar, and the fall colors, and the now barren garden spot, that summer was still with us.

We all mark the changing seasons in ways large and small. In my house, warm soup made from the last of the garden’s offerings is a good way to welcome the beginning of fall.

Can I Ever Catch Up?

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Two weeks ago, I was on top of things. At least that’s how it seems, looking back from my present situation, which is polar opposite of “on top of things.” Today, it seems like I’m on the bottom of a very large pile of things, scrambling to get my footing. What happened?

It was just about two weeks ago when my sisters started arriving for their week-long Beaver Island vacation. I’d had a good summer up to that point, both relaxing and productive. My garden was doing well, the house was in order, and work was progressing nicely in the studio. I was working a few days a week, but was looking forward to more time than usual with my family.

Cheryl arrived on Saturday. I stopped at the family farmhouse after work to say hello. We made plans to meet later for dinner and a trip to the cemetery to plant flowers, and I went home to take care of my dogs. They met me at the kitchen door. I gave them a good greeting, and we went for a long walk. I wandered through the garden to pull a few weeds and pick what was ripe. Inside, I packaged up my contribution to dinner, and started to fill the dog’s dishes for their evening meal.

It was only then that I glanced into the front room. What in the world?!

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My bookshelves had given way, spilling their contents all over the room. My little television was dangling by its electrical cord. The stereo was face down on the floor. Books were strewn over every surface. Baskets, once filled with yarn, cassette tapes, CDs, DVDs and assorted on-going projects, had been relieved of their contents, too. I was thankful that the dogs, often sleeping right in the path of all of the destruction, had not been hurt. I assessed the damage, made a few necessary adjustments, fed the dogs, and went out the door to keep my plans.

So, it was several hours later when I sifted through the mess to make some sense of it, and cleared enough of a path through the room to make it usable. Cheryl had offered several times to come and help me, but I declined. The room is small, and the mess was huge. Even alone, I often had difficulty finding a place to step; there was no room for a second person.

Books had to be picked from the shelves before the shelves could be moved. Sometimes, removing the books caused a shelf to slide away in an unexpected direction. It was a long, tedious process. By the time I went to bed, I had a huge pile of books in a corner, and a stack of shelves against one wall. The supports were in a mound on the dining room floor, and the TV was on the table. And, my back was out.

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And, two weeks later, that’s exactly where everything still is. Because, the next day, I worked eight hours. And my back was still causing problems. And, three more sisters arrived, along with husbands, friends and one niece. My brother-in-law, Keith, brought up my shelves more than once; if I’d asked, I’m sure he would have helped me tackle the project. I didn’t ask. One week is a short time to visit with loved ones that I see only a few times in an entire year. That was my priority.

Meals together; game nights; beach time; catching up on family happenings, mutual acquaintances, general news and health updates after months apart: that was most important to me. That’s how my time was best spent, and I don’t regret it a bit. I took time away from work last Sunday to – sadly – see the last of my family off on the ferry boat.

Monday, I went back to work at the hardware store, after a four-month hiatus. Many of the summer workers my boss had hired are going back to college, so my job was available again. Continuing to honor commitments I took on in the meantime, I am now suddenly working six days a week. And, boy, am I out of practice! This is exhausting! In addition, over the course of the last two weeks, weeds have taken over my garden and the grass needs to be mowed.

Today is my only day off. The electric screwdriver is on the charger; if it charges, I’ll be able to tackle the bookshelves. I bought gas for the lawnmower. Bed linens are in the washer; I plan to hang them on the line to dry. I’m going to take all the rugs outside to shake them, and sweep through the house. I intend to make some salads to carry for my lunches this week. Big plans…if I ever find the energy to get out of this chair!

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a sunset shared with my sisters

Happily Behind

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sisters sunset

The grass in my front yard is longer than it’s been all summer. Weeds are gaining the advantage in the garden. More than a week ago, the bookshelves in my living room collapsed. Since then, I’ve had a small television set on the dining room table, baskets of yarn and embroidery floss tucked onto other surfaces wherever they’d fit, and a huge mound of books stacked in front of the front door. The shelves are stacked against one wall; the supports against another. I haven’t stepped foot in the studio in a week. I’ve missed at least three blogging days.

Normally, situations like this drive me crazy. Disorganized procrastinator that I am, I often find myself behind. Usually, I hate it. I berate myself for my laziness and neglect; I rant and rail about all the obligations that keep me from my tasks. I feel anxious and frustrated. Not this time!

My sisters came to the island last week! It was a welcome and long overdue chance to catch up. I spent the whole week enjoying their good company and smiling faces. I relished every conversation, loved every shared experience, and basked in the feelings of comfort and joy that come from  sharing time with people I love. I’m behind, yes, but happily so. It was absolutely worth it!

Monday, Monday…

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We are awfully close to halfway through summer. In some ways, it seems to be flying by. In others, this has been the summer of my dreams, and distant memories. I’ve probably already mentioned that I haven’t had a summer off, on Beaver Island, since I first moved here in 1978, until now. I always worked hard, too: busy days; long hours. Summers are the busiest season here.

This year, though, Covid-19 has wreaked havoc everywhere. Though this island remains, at this time, free of the virus, we still have all the usual misgivings about how to stay safe. We need the business, but it’s scary to think of crowds of people coming here from areas where the virus is prevalent. Fortunately or not, many usual summer visitors have not come. The Corona Virus has taken a big bite out of our tourist industry, and left me temporarily out of work.

I watch with sadness and horror as other communities deal with overwhelming sickness and death. I’m very aware that my age puts in in a “high risk” group. There is still some trepidation whenever I have to be in public. I cancelled a planned trip to attend my grandson’s high school graduation party downstate, due to fears about being exposed. And I’m still second guessing myself over that decision. I don’t want to be ruled by fear, but I absolutely want to be safe.

Beyond all that, though, I’m having a wonderful time! I am kind of a loner, and definitely an introvert. I have house, garden and studio to keep me busy, dogs to keep me entertained, and a regular routine to provide some structure to my days. I have a little one-day-a-week volunteer position, and a new part-time job on the week-ends. I get a little Social Security check each month, and a little unemployment to supplement that. This is a lovely summer!

Mondays, though! When I worked at the hardware store, and before that when I worked at the Shamrock Restaurant and Pub, I almost always worked Saturday and Sunday. My “week-end” is Monday and Tuesday. So, even now when I mostly don’t work, I wake up on Monday with a sense of urgency, a feeling of near panic, at all the things I need to do. Today was no different.

I got up early and got going right away. First my morning routine: meditate; write; draw; yoga.  Then I spent about an hour studying. I am working my way through an embarrassingly large collection of self-help books, with topics ranging from art techniques to exercise to how to stop procrastinating or become a better listener, writer, cook or general human being. If nothing else comes of this time off, I will have at the very least made every effort to better myself!

I took a shower and dressed, then took the dogs on their first walk of the day. Garden, next, to water and weed. Then on to one of the flower beds It’s hot out there, though! Especially in that flower bed, against the south wall of my house. There was no breeze, and the heat was magnified by the white siding. When I was driven inside, I’d start a load of wash, dust a surface, or sweep something. Then back at it. When I cleaned up for lunch, I made a pot of chicken soup. Always, with the idea that I’d better keep busy. No time to waste. Lots of things to get done.

As I was working at filling the wheelbarrow with crab grass and bladder wort that has taken over among the day lilies, my mind was racing ahead to the next thing to do. The rugs need to be shaken out and washed. I have two paintings underway in the studio. Windows show patterns of dog nose and dog paw. Before long, the yard will need to be mowed again.

After my third long bout of weeding, while wiping the sweat from my brow, it occurred to me: what I don’t get done today, I can do tomorrow. Or the next day,Or the day after that! I broke into a big grin. I love this summer! Mondays do not have to be filled to the brim with urgent tasks. Mondays can be just another normal day. As long as I remember!

This Summer

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I’m sure that every single childhood summer day was not as perfect as those that live on in my memory. I know there must have been times when the heat seemed too much, or the days seemed too long. I have vague memories of begging to come inside out of the heat, of complaining that there was nothing to do, and of anxiously wishing for school to start back up. Mostly, though, the impressions that I hold are of long, lazy, sunshiny days, with fields to explore and the ever-present shade of the big willow tree.

Summer was playing in the sprinkler and wandering barefoot around the yard. It was reading for hours with my feet in the sand. Walks to the store for ice cream, and to the beach for the cool water. It was green fruit from the orchard, fresh peas from the garden, and bunches of grapes plucked from the vines. It was vacations on Beaver Island and all the perfect white-sand-blue-sky-warm-days-cool-nights magic it offered. In my memory, summer lives on as a perfect time.

Those memories – faulty though they may be – are what fuel all of my present-day hopes for summer, in the same way that anticipation for Christmas is fed by an impression of that perfect holiday, that may not have ever truly existed. Because of my high hopes, summers are often a bit of a disappointment.

I take care of my own yard and garden. That has managed, most years, to take up much of my spare time while still constantly frustrating me. The garden was always lacking something; I was constantly behind schedule, whether for planting or harvesting; the grass was always overgrown; the weeds continually got the better of me. Housework, studio time, and other projects had to be squeezed in around other obligations.

This is the busiest time of year here on Beaver Island; it’s when I work the hardest, and the longest hours at my job, whatever that job is. It’s also the time when  family and friends come here. Of course, I want to find time to see them! Many summers, the only time I get to the beach, to the shore to watch a sunset, or visit any of the wonderful sites that Beaver Island has to offer, is when I go with visitors.

Not this year! Because I was stuck (most pleasantly, but still…) on vacation due to travel restrictions caused by the pandemic, then had two weeks of mandatory self-quarantine before I could go back to work…I was replaced in my job. I should be concerned, but I’m not. I’m too busy, frankly, enjoying myself. For the first time since I moved to Beaver Island (in 1978!), I am not working this summer!

I wake up every morning to the rooster crowing with a smile on my face, knowing I have this time. I’m doing a little volunteer work. I’m making art. I have a whole routine of meditation, gratitude, reading, drawing, writing and yoga that I enjoy immensely. I’m growing my garden. I’m mowing my lawn before the grass is knee high. I take the dogs for walks morning and evening. Today, I’m contemplating a drive with them down to Fox Lake. I’ll bring my book. I had an ice cream cone for lunch. This is the summer I’ve been dreaming of!

Thanks, Dad…

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It is Father’s Day. My Dad would be on my mind today for that reason alone. This time of year, though, there are many things that make me think of him. The weeks of spring and early summer were Dad’s time, when he brought his expertise at farming and gardening into practice for his large family, and when he showed tremendous patience in sharing that knowledge.

It was in the spring when Dad would bargain and trade for truckloads of manure, often delivered in steaming mounds when he was at the shop, where he worked second shift as an electrician for Chevrolet. Mom would direct the driver to dump it at the edge of the garden, and downwind from the house. In the spring, Dad would be up at the crack of dawn, and out on the tractor early, to till and enrich the stubborn clay soil. Spring, he’d plot out the garden, and start pounding in stakes, running twine down the rows, and putting in plants and seeds.

The peas can be planted as early as Mother’s Day, and replanted every two weeks for a longer harvest. When planting corn, your hand, stretched out from thumb to pinkie finger, can be used to space the kernels down the row. After planting a hill of squash or pumpkins, run both hands through the surrounding earth to make a circular depression, to hold the water there. A thick mulch around squash, melons and tomatoes will hold the moisture, and keep the weeds at bay. Some things I learned because Dad taught me; others I picked up just from watching him.

Still, today, when I’m working in the garden, it seems like Dad is right there, at my side. I’ll puzzle over something for a minute, and then the answer will come. It seems, always, to come from Dad. Did it arrive as a distant memory, fresh in my mind just when I needed it? Or did my Dad, so present in my garden, just convey that bit of wisdom to me? Either way, he surely had a hand in it.

A few years ago, I answered a question posed by a friend on why I garden:

I garden for the connection…to the earth, yes, but also…
…to my father, gone now almost twenty years, and the memories of the first little garden he helped us plant. I can see him, still, cutting the furrow in with the hoe, and letting us – tiny children – measure with our hands to space the dried peas and beans, then helping us to cover them over and tamp down the earth…
…to my mother, who would accept our meager bowls of berries or beans and figure a way to incorporate the little bit we hadn’t already eaten fresh into a dish for the whole family…
…to my children who, when I realized children benefited from watching things grow, caused me to abandon my plans to “never step foot in a garden as an adult”, and helped me to know that we all benefit from getting our hands in the earth…
…to other gardeners everywhere who, I find, are related to me through our connection to growing things, whether we have another single thing in common or not…
…and not only presently, but through time, for I can relate to Henry David Thoreau or E.B.White or Celia Thaxter when they speak of their gardens, as if they were sitting here with me today…
For all of this, I garden.

These reasons hold true for me, still, and on this Father’s Day, it feels important to note that my Dad’s influence was the first on the list. Thanks, Dad!

Dear Mom…

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When my mother was alive, I missed a thousand opportunities to have a chat with her. I could have easily picked up the telephone, but didn’t. My letter writing was pretty hit or miss: I’d write pretty regularly for a while, then neglect the practice for months at a time. I am ashamed to admit that sometimes, arriving in my home town, I’d deliberately drive past my parent’s house, waiting until I felt “more prepared” for a visit.

In the last few months of Mom’s life, when I knew the end was imminent, I regretted each one of those missed opportunities, and cherished every chance I had to speak with her. Though she’s been gone almost nine years now, there are still things I wish I could talk to her about.

Dear Mom, the pussy willows are blooming, now, off the King’s Highway. They always make me think of you. I first noticed them growing there more than thirty years ago, when I saw Madonna McCafferty, parked at the side of the road and trying to navigate the ditch to cut some of them. You always had a big bouquet of pussy willows every spring. I wish I knew where you got them. You put them in a glossy, mottled gray ceramic vase. The vase sat in the back room, on top of the clothes dryer. The blossoms seemed to last for months.

The few times I’ve followed in Madonna’s path and waded into the ditch to cut them, they seemed hardly worth the effort. After only a few days, each gray fluff would  send out a myriad of tiny threads with yellow ends, that would drop in a powdery mess all over the table. How did you make yours last so long? How did you keep them from going to seed?

Dear Mom, the snowball bush is in bloom in my front flower bed. Mine is much more upright in habit than the one that grew beside the cinder driveway in your parent’s yard, but the blossoms are the same. Their’s grew rounded, like an igloo, with each of the branches tipping over to the ground. It left a hollow space underneath. You’d walk us on the path from our house to theirs, then go inside to visit with Grandma, while Brenda, Ted and I, tiny children, played in the cool shade under the snowball bush. I wonder if Grandpa Ted pruned it to make it grow that way. I wish I’d thought to ask you.

Dear Mom, after working in the yard and garden for most of yesterday afternoon, I was ready for a simple summer supper. Grilled kielbasa and potato salad was my plan. I always use your recipe for potato salad: potatoes, hard-boiled eggs, radishes and cucumber. Cooking for your big family, you always made two large dishes of potato salad: one with onion; one without. Most of the time, I don’t bother with the onion, though I like it both ways. The dressing is mayonnaise, mustard, salt and pepper. I’m a little more generous with the mustard, but otherwise, just like yours.

When making pasta or potato salad, I always make a big batch so that I can eat it all week. Not a “big batch” by your standards, mind you, but enough to fill my two-quart covered bowl. So, I set the potatoes and eggs to boil while I cleaned up and changed out of my gardening clothes. Then, as you well know, it took a concentrated effort to drain, cool, peel, slice and dice all the ingredients. By the time I mixed it all together and put in in the refrigerator while I grilled the meat, it was almost 7:30! Not such an “easy summer supper,” after all! I blame you for that, Mom. You always made it seem so effortless.

Dear Mom, my rhubarb is doing well this year. I’ve given quite a bit of it away and, three times this spring, pulled out your recipe for rhubarb crisp. It’s a nice dessert when it’s warm, fresh out of oven and topped with milk, the way you used to serve it to us. After that, I’ll eat it for breakfast, cold, until it’s gone. I was still in high school when you gave me the recipe. I wrote it right inside the Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook that you’d gotten me for Christmas, on the contents page for the chapter on desserts.

Rhubarb Crisp

1 cup flour, 1 cup oatmeal, 1 cup brown sugar, 1 stick of butter

Mix together until crumbly. Put half of mixture in a buttered 13 x 9 inch pan. Top with three cups of diced rhubarb. Cover with remaining crumble. Sprinkle with 1 tablespoon of cinnamon and two tablespoons of water. Bake at 375 degrees for about 40 minutes.

The ingredients were written at a forward slant; I hadn’t yet gotten in the habit of writing with the upright letters that I was certain looked more creative. Oh, and that reminds me, your beautiful handwriting…

I could go on and on.

 

 

 

Finally, the Garden

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the west (back) edge of the garden, with freshly planted tomatoes inside, and a healthy border of rhubarb outside the fence

Yes, it’s that time of year again: garden time! Actually, I’m late. I could have planted peas a month ago, and most of the greens would have appreciated a cooler start. Here it is, June already. And a very warm June, too. Even here in northern Michigan, where nighttime frosts are a danger well into the late spring, I should have had my seeds in the ground before this.

Spring – once again – got away from me. First it was cold. Cold enough for the furnace and, when I stubbornly decided I would not continue to use propane well into May and turned off the gas, cold enough that I had to bring the portable heater downstairs. Sixty degrees should not be too much to ask for! A month ago, I still had snow along the fringes of my yard.

Next came the rain, which washed out the last of the snow, freshened everything up, and caused the grass to grow. Oh, yes, and the mosquitoes hatched. So, first, in order to be able to work outside without being carried away by blood-thirsty insects, I had to mow the lawn. So the garden waited.

In hindsight, I always think I could have sped up the process, stuck to it longer each day, pushed myself harder, but at the time, it feels like I’m doing all that I can. With my little 18″ push mower, and whole swaths of long, tough quack grass, it took me four days to complete the job.

Finally, the garden. Which has taken a week. Though each evening I told myself I’d be able to finish up the next day, it hasn’t worked out that way. Mornings have been damp and chilly. Mosquitoes are voracious. By mid-day, the sun is beating down mercilessly. The dogs peek out with pathetic expressions from their bits of shade, pleading for a walk or a ride to the lake.

So, every day, I carry outside:

  • a tote of garden tools
  • my garden plan, sketched in pencil on graph paper
  • the book, Carrots Love Tomatoes, on companion planting, which I use to plot out my planting arrangement, but also refer to when I’m squeezing something in
  • sun screen
  • mosquito repellent
  • my full-body, hooded, polyester net, hotter-than-hell-but-effective anti-insect suit, for when mosquito repellent is not enough

And I give it my best. And every evening, I carry it all back inside.

It’s coming along. I have planted thirteen tomato plants, all generous gifts from family and friends, and sixteen basil plants started by my cousin Bob. I have double-dug, spaded and raked nine garden beds, each roughly 36″ wide and twelve feet long. I’ve planted peas, bush beans, summer squash, winter squash, and cucumbers.

Yesterday, on my afternoon walk with the dogs, I gathered long branches that had fallen over the winter, and carried them home. Today, I’ll use them to make my pole bean tepees, and plant those seeds around the perimeter. Because I have run out of space, I’ll plant Swiss chard around and inside of those tepees, and hope for the best. The kale seeds are going in the asparagus bed, along the north wall of the garden, and the salad greens will be planted in my last canvas tub. That’s it! Finally, the garden will be done!

 

 

Bumping Along

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“Today I’m flying low and I’m not saying a word. I’m letting all the voodoos of ambition sleep. The world goes on as it must, the bees in the garden rumbling a little, the fish leaping, the gnats getting eaten. And so forth. But I’m taking the day off. Quiet as a feather. I hardly move though really I’m traveling a terrific distance. Stillness. One of the doors into the temple.”

~Mary Oliver

I was doing fine, really. Covid-19 entered our world, our consciousness, our news cycles, and we were all affected. Sadness, loss and fear became a daily, always escalating theme. Through all this craziness, that seems to have thrown the whole world into a tailspin, I was okay.

In February, when the virus was just beginning to make the news, my sisters and I took a planned trip to Florida. In March, when it was making bigger news, my daughter Jen and I, after thoughtful discussion and much weighing of options, decided to push forward with our plans to visit my daughter Kate in Hawaii. We listened to warnings and advice, took added precautions, and warily made the trip.

By the end of our first week there, the virus had taken off, closing down travel and businesses throughout the state, and the country. We kept a close watch on the numbers in all of the states. Just like everyone else, we were horrified at the mounting death toll, and fearful of the future. As one scheduled flight after another was delayed, then cancelled, we kept in touch with family members, work associates, and the lovely people who were taking care of my dogs.

Still, I more than once said, “If we have to be stuck, what a wonderful situation to be stranded in: surrounded by family…in Hawaii!” With my normal routine disrupted by the enforced, extended vacation, I expanded the time I spent writing and drawing. I continued my little exercise routines. I read a lot.

Time spent at the house was lovely. Mornings, Jen and I sat on the porch, drinking coffee, chatting and reading books. Chickens were always close by, and three little Kona pigs often stopped in. One of my daughters or grandchildren would sometimes accompany me on my walks.

Excursions were extra special for their scarcity. One morning Kate, Jen and I walked on the lava cliffs at the shoreline. One night, my son-in-law, Jeremy, took me up into the foothills to look at the stars. On our last day there, we gathered lava rocks and bits of coral from a beautiful, deserted beach while watching the waves crash against the shore.

Getting home was scary, with stops in Los Angeles and Detroit. Again, we were thoughtful and careful, taking every precaution throughout the trip. The trip from Lansing to my home on Beaver Island was a new adventure, too. I have become hyper-aware of every encounter, whether with humans or door handles. A simple pause at a rest stop was a mask-wearing, disinfecting-wipe-wielding, hand-sanitizer-using challenge!

Finally home, I had two weeks of self-isolation that I spent loving on my dogs and re-acclimating myself to the not-so-perfect weather. I think leaving Hawaii’s near perfect climate would always require adjustment…but snow?! Really! Still, I kept my good habits, and enjoyed my time alone.

After that time, I did not go back to work. Though my position in the hardware store is considered “essential,” I am of an age that falls into a high-risk group. In addition, my boss had to keep the store staffed while I was stuck on vacation, so hired new employees. Business has been slow. While I was away, several things broke down, and it sounds like for some reason I am considered at fault for not letting the boss know (I know, right?).

In any case, at least for the time being, I don’t appear to have a job. Worrisome, yes, but unemployment benefits will keep me going for a while. I have on-going projects in the studio, and many others in the planning stages. It’s spring, so there is plenty to keep me busy in the yard and garden. I called to offer my volunteer services at local non-profit. I still have my daily “meditate-write-study-draw-yoga-walk-read” routine to give substance to my days.

So, I was doing fine. Until, with no warning at all, I wasn’t. I lost a filling, and getting in to see a dentist has proved challenging. My ex-husband’s aunt died. I broke the handle that turns on the water to my shower. The replacement I bought for it was missing a set screw. I learned that an old friend, my age, has been put into hospice care. My tomato plants didn’t come. Big things and small, they all played on my emotions.

After having just explained to a friend how I had conquered my insomnia by getting up at a set – early – time each day, I spent an entire night tossing and turning. That was the final straw. Yesterday, I woke up discouraged and depressed.

I was fearful of the future, worried about finances, and troubled about my work situation. I was distressed by the bitterness and animosity that is running rampant on social media, disheartened by a thoughtless comment made by a political candidate (does he not realize how important this is??), and sad for the state of the whole world.

I let myself be miserable. I not only allowed it, I wallowed in it. I skipped over or abbreviated every element of my morning routine. I ignored my to-do list. I took a long afternoon nap. I watched mindless shows on Netflix. I went to bed early.

Today, I’m better. It turns out it wasn’t the early signs of a big down-turn It’s not a path I’m staying on. It was just a few bumps in the road.