Time On My Hands

I see by the date of my last post in July that many moons have passed since I posted. Indeed, the act of writing itself has become foreign to me while my hands were used to weed, water and plant seeds. The cultivated earth mistress that demanded most of my attention this year has finally been put to bed, all 5,000 square feet of her. I look at my hands beat up by countless days of cuts from the soil knife or spines off the squash vines, and can actually see clean fingernails as familiar calluses fade into the paleness of my skin.

For the first time in months, I have time on my hands and I find myself a bit lost. The house cries out for attention–closets full of items tossed in randomly for lack of space or safety from sharp kitten teeth, floors that need a good scrubbing to rid them of ground-in garden soil, receipts piled in a drawer with budgets long neglected, paintings and craft projects waiting to be finished before spring. (I could go on, but it’s too early in the day to start drinking.)

I look around in amazement and wonder what happened to that obsessive-compulsive overachieving minimalist who used to inhabit this body sitting here on another dreary mideast morning, the sun that I used to curse for heatstroke by midmorning in the summer, now nowhere to be seen. Wild birds huddle at the feeders outside my insulated windows and the nearly full-grown cat I rescued is squeezed into her favorite cardboard box that’s now three sizes too small for her.

Like a growing child who puts on last year’s winter clothes, I find that my old ways and concerns no longer fit me in this new life of organic gardening, rural living and community consciousness. I’ve learned so much beyond what not to plant next year, or how to manage when the power goes out. I’ve tested my physical limits and personal boundaries this year, and found out when to say no. I’ve become more of a realist and less of a dreamer, although my imagination is still sparked by the light glinting off of dewy spiderwebs and ice-encased red berries.

I’m back to long walks on the wild trails down by the river with my spouse, a patient man who has put up with my obsessions and depressions for over 30 years. Finally, we have the luxury of staying home on snow days without the guilt or grueling commute on dangerous roads. And because of the little community we live in, we can avoid the isolation that rural life often demands in the winter. Gathering together on cold, dark nights before solstice for food, music and laughter, or organizing a trip to the college town close by, are perfect anecdotes to the winter blues.

Meanwhile, there’s still some kale sleeping under its winter blanket, pale parsnips waiting to be harvested from frozen ground, and plenty of sweet potatoes to last us through the holidays. It’s been a good year and time to celebrate.

Maybe I’ll even paint my fingernails.

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Where Has All the Rain Gone?


Naturally, or unnaturally it seems, we’re experiencing a drought where I live just when I’ve started to garden again. Community members scour the skies, and hunker down in front of the computer weather sites while keeping their phones tuned to weather apps. Time and again I have watched a promising storm split within a mile or two and circle around us. We water incessantly, nearly every plant has already peaked before June, new temperature records are set daily.

This is life in the new climate, I fear. The art of growing food becomes more than a practice in sustenance, it becomes a leap of faith. I can only plant the seeds, and hope our well doesn’t run dry. Water becomes more precious than gold. The guidelines set by local county extension offices are now meaningless. A seismic shift in seasons sends us all reeling — even the wild ones who are frantically trying to raise their young feel fast-forwarded by weather extremes.

And yet, I wake early every morning anticipating what I will find growing in the garden and what has pushed itself up from darkness, not caring whether it was watered from a hose or the sky, the will to live overriding all.

April’s Foolishness

The tulip’s version of the “jester hat.”

As a gardener, April has been the most challenging, frustrating and puzzling month so far this year. I have enjoyed it immensely. There’s nothing more “in the moment” and strangely invigorating than carting 164 tomato plants to safety amidst gail-force winds and snow, or protecting 260 lettuce seedlings with 16 sets of cotton sheets kindly donated by a fellow gardener.

I remain in debt and awe to the remarkable recovery witnessed in plants and the kindness of community in helping to grow food, plain and simple. Looking forward to Beltane and May’s gentle (non-freezing) breezes.

Here’s to the merry month of May!

Short and Sweet

Winter Aconite in the garden.

Since February is short and sweet, so is this post. I’ve been wandering around the gardens on this warm final day of the month, searching for signs of life after death in the aftermath of a very bitter cold December and January. And sure enough, I see encouraging signs poking up out of the old leafy remains of last year, signifying that hope truly springs eternal!

Hope springs eternal in the human breast;
Man never is, but always to be blessed:

The soul, uneasy and confined from home,

Rests and expatiates in a life to come.
Alexander Pope from An Essay on Man

Finding the Magic


This blog’s long silence can be blamed on our move to the country, and lots of trips with the back of the car loaded Beverly Hillbillies-style holding what we thought were our “minimalist” belongings, which turned out to be quite a few.

Granted, the capacity of our hatchback isn’t cavernous, and we managed to relocate without a moving truck, but still, our “living with less” egos became a bit bruised over the weeks and months that dragged on as we filled box after box. We also were cured of the whole weekend-house-in-the-country mystique after we did our best not to buy and own two of everything, a feat that inevitably led to at least one item residing in the wrong place just when we needed it every week.

However, as I wander around still searching for hastily packed items that ended up in the oddest of places (paring knives with the bath supplies, anyone?), I’m constantly amazed by how everything seems to gravitate toward its perfect placement, and the stuff of my dreams (rustic bohemian cottage with flower gardens) is coming to life after thirty years.

Around every corner, and out the window especially, I’m struck full of wonder each day by a brilliant light beam, or the jewels of frost on an unruly tussle of native seed pods. A walk to the river nearby can lead to a sweet encounter with a baby river otter or the sleepy gaze of a garter snake. The sacred soul of this land that drew ancient prehistoric people to leave their calling cards in the form of earthworks and stone tools, is palpable here.

Which leads me to my Word of the Year, completely entwined with the prolific vegetation that could easily compete with Jack’s beanstalk, and heralded by the fairies that live in a world garden created in love. What could be more appropriate than “Magic” for 2018?

I’m sure that magic won’t be hard to find every day.

Going Up the Country


With the earthy tones of Canned Heat’s signature song humming in our ears, my husband and I are headed back to rural living after nearly 15 years in the suburbs and city.

As quickly as our last move transpired three years ago, this particular transition is paced as leisurely as the river that meanders through lands that we’ll soon call home. In fact, each hour-long trip with a car load of possessions is a kind of moving therapy, a decompression if you will from the stresses carried along city sidewalks that we can exhale into the long shadows cast on an evening walk next to fields stripped of their summer splendor.

The ground’s stalky quilts are bedded down, ready for winter winds, snow and solitude, and so are we, anticipating the longest night of deep rest and introspection away from the world’s flashing beacons and whirling distractions, all its fussin’ and fightin’.

Now more than ever, we’ve got to get away.

Staying Strong


A dear writer friend and I went in search of oaks and acorns this week after a lovely lunch at my favorite local coffee shop. The walk was a welcome reprieve from the swirling chaos of horrific news and bad human behavior that we futilely attempted to recognize and understand over delicious fare, supporting the hardworking small business that bravely hopes to make a living in a fickle and uncertain industry.

The weather was amazing. If ever there was a reference picture for a perfect fall day, this was it. A slight, crisp breeze with the hint of cider, clear autumn-blue sky lacking summer’s haze, spots of ruddy blush as the leaves turn. I had a specific tree in mind for my friend to see, one that I pass every day on my morning walks before my hot cup of reward at that same coffee shop.

I call her The Grandmother, the ancient one who all the others surround. She existed before the military fort was built over a hundred years ago and wisely left standing when the army cleared the land. From her carefully manicured limbs, you can tell she’s been well cared for and honored through the years.

Towering over the rest of the former parade grounds, she doesn’t need the maples’ flashy foliage or the fir trees’ decorative pinecones to assume her throne with quiet dignity. On this particular day, her leaves had yet to turn gold, although the afternoon light that hit the highest branches already suggested a change to come. How many years had she worn her golden crown, I wondered as I pulled my head back as far as it would go.

Her acorns were few, a job left to younger trees as part of their service in exchange for her wise counsel. No doubt her roots connect to all, not just the young oaks, but to maple, gum and walnut trees that dot the landscape. She sends them messages of reassurance and fortitude earned from more than a century’s experience with drought, wind and lightning. She has seen preparations for war, and still remembers the young soldiers who stood in formation beneath her boughs, never to return.

On a late afternoon, I too stand under her protective shade and wish that she could share with me, with all of flailing humanity, the truth of what she has seen, an impartial telling of our human history from the view of one whose heartbeats send out the sap of life-affirming support through underground capillaries of ancient understanding, to those who are right or wrong, deserving or not.

And in her presence,  I humbly ask for guidance, knowing that in these turbulent times we all need to call on the strength of oaks.