November Skies

Maybe the sun has been shining more, or maybe my outlook has been lighter, but I’ve noticed a number of beautiful sunsets this month. We live farther down a rather long hill, so the best views are always near the top of the street. This is also the best vantage point to watch thousands of crows stream in at dusk to circle the county courthouse a few blocks away in a local remake of Hitchcock’s famous movie.

I’m not sure why they congregate in this spot every year. Perhaps the glow from festive lights strung from surrounding streets to the building’s dome attract them. Maybe this ground is their ancient gathering place where thoughtless settlers happened to build a courthouse long ago. Whatever the reason, you know it’s the holidays when the crows arrive. Before we moved here, our own family holiday tradition brought us to this quirky city with its unique art galleries, funky boutiques and ethnic restaurants between Christmas and New Years.

If we stayed in the town square until dark, we would see clouds of crows swirl around the courthouse and settle in the trees. They are big and loud, and . . . make unwelcome contributions to the lawn and sidewalks. For years, the city’s maintenance department has tried various ways to deter the birds with fake owls and sound recordings, only to be outwitted by the crafty creatures.

Humans are once again reminded that nature usually has the final say, one way or another. Crows are smart–I can only hope the group of them isn’t contemplating murder.

Summer’s Farewell

September has been a long, lingering sip of wine for me. In my youth, I was thoughtlessly busy with the beginning of school, homework, new friends and harvesting on the farm. This year I have slowed to a crawl and savor the heat and dry days while letting go of my former life yet again. I’m facing the fact that I will never return to work with the public as a teacher, writer or artist. The crone’s inward turning after 60, release of old blood ties and obligations, and a new gratitude for simply waking up every day have replaced the angst in my fifties.

I am grateful daily for the little dramas and triumphs I find in my small urban lot–the spiders who live or die by what ends up in their web, a mockingbird’s virtuoso performance all day long in the backyard, the monarch’s heroic journey as it finds respite from the Tithonia or zinnia of its homeland before heading south, and the late-planted poppies that insist on flowering no matter how late in the season.

I hesitate before planting my fall crops, afraid to break the spell of this enchanted late-summer slumber before the hard frosts. I know the cold will come but I’m in no great rush, lulled by the soft song of tree frogs and crickets amid the whir from grasshopper’s wings that continue to fairy dance on languid evenings. Winter will come soon enough, but until then I pause on the doorstep, listening to the faint echo of summer’s retreating footsteps.

August Angels

They came in all forms, winged, buzzing, and pollinating their little hearts out. The seeds I’d ordered through catalogs in the dead of winter, nurtured from faith under grow lights, transplanted to flats that waited through a cold spring, finally planted in ground later than usual — were waiting for them. The targets were a mix and a gamble, all of them. Some blooms had started out strong and sure, budding and expected to perform, only to be cut down in their prime by ravenous rodents or hoofed invaders. The weak and spindly that were not expected to survive have surprised and surpassed expectations, a reminder that struggle can create strength.

I am always humbled as a gardener to witness the urge to grow and flourish at all costs, to sacrifice the root and plant for the flower and seed, the extraordinary acrobatics required to fertilize and perpetuate all species. I’ve seen nature be cruel but also extravagantly generous. In the garden, as in our human culture, bullies and victims exist under our noses, those who succumb senselessly to infestation and the lucky ones who flourish where they are planted.

On nature’s stage, her dramas and comedies put any of Shakespeare’s plays to shame since life and death is not an illusion to be performed the next day. There are no repeat performances with the fear of winter’s breath blowing down the necks of those desperate to reproduce for another year. Every day I stand in my yard and gaze in wonder at the bumblebees wearing their pollen pantaloons that are so full they can barely fly, cardinals gorging themselves on the bowing sunflower heads, lightening bugs who are still shining for their mates as autumn kisses the breeze and crows congregating for their rowdy fall fraternity parties in the trees.

The sun wanes and our shadows lengthen after cicadas march down into earth for another seventeen-years’ sleep, monarchs lay their eggs on the way to Mexico, the honey bees gather their last golden mead, goldfinches rear their final offspring and we don our masks for another season.

Happy harvest and safe travels to another spring.

Bountiful Beltane

On this last day of April I look up to receive the emerging leaves on our backyard red maple, an ancient sentry that has overlooked our little bungalow for decades. As the lone tree on this skinny lot, she reaches her arms out to welcome and shelter us as we go about our outdoor chores. Last year on the final day of May I had just been given permission to begin gardening again after some scary eye issues post surgery. I’ve never been more grateful to get back to the earth and ground my grief for the world in fertile soil again.

This year I may have gotten a little carried away with the seed buying and propagation, but I’m determined to see no plant left behind. This vow of mine may become quite a challenge since my neighbors are equally intent on sharing their abundance of riches after a year of scarcity. I’m thrilled to share my bounty with my daughter living up the street, and together we will spread gardening cheer in spite of the deer, rabbits and groundhogs that cruise through our yards like they own the place (which they do).

With the help of my editor husband who needs a break from the hours of remote business meetings he covers, we have dug up a good bit of our front yard lawn to make room for new flower beds that will host native plants and pollinator flowers for the insects that are rapidly disappearing from our world. There are four new raised beds for the vegetables in back as well as a no-dig vegetable plot. The radishes and greens are already thriving and the snow peas are popping up. To my mind there is no better sign of hope than flats of seedlings ready for launch.

As I clear away the non-natives and invasive plants, I am learning to recognize the natives that I will leave and encourage. That includes loads of wild violets in every shade of purple, lavender and even white. I cheer on the white clover and enjoy watching rabbits nibble up the spent dandelion stalks like spaghetti noodles. Our bluebird pair has returned but unfortunately the neighborhood mockingbird who serenaded us with an amazing repertoire of calls was taken by a hawk last week and the yard falls silent in the evenings now. Its absence serves as a reminder that there is still loss in the midst of fresh new life that kisses the boughs and peeps from nests lined in rabbit hair.

I count myself lucky to prepare for a second Beltane in my little yellow house. May you all enjoy a beautiful May Day tomorrow!

Spellbound


The reckless spells conjured by careless and cruel humans over the last two months cast long shadows that have reached even my little haven. Still, I do what I can, harvesting sage, rosemary, lavender, and marigold petals while stocking up on hope and optimism for the long-predicted winter isolation. Moon water collected to cleanse, and palo santo lit to protect. Ballot mailed in early, chest freezer filled, local trips limited, and projects lined up to take my over-active mind off whatever sensationalized news darkens my doorway.

Will all of this be enough to keep my loved ones and me sane and healthy? The specters of unexpected illness and poverty from a broken healthcare system and looming economic crash haunt my dreams at night and my social media by day. I wish I possessed a crystal ball, but they are all backordered from China. Still strangers in a new town, my only scrying comes from out the window where I gaze upon our neighbors like socially distanced guests at a masked ball. I can only guess at their lives and affiliations by symbolic porch decorations or political signs. Rental houses sit empty with mailboxes overflowing or grow neglected, covered in vines.

Deer wander through our yards in broad daylight, perusing me like I am the one trespassing, and rightfully so. Squirrels have formed their own militias, armed with nuts and determined to show us who’s boss. The trees are slow to turn, as if reluctant to move into autumn, and exceptionally warm temperatures have led into an uneasy Indian summer where the enchanted garden still hangs on despite the frosts.

Safe for now in our little cottage on the hill, a bubbling pot of soup on the stove and a line of salt on the threshold, we light a candle and sit waiting for what is to come, spellbound in a captive world.

Life Cut Short


Numbers rising, mandatory masks, hospitals full and bars closed. All this and the college students haven’t really arrived yet. My world consists of wandering up the street to my daughter’s house, forays into our vegetable garden and pickups at the grocery store. Occasionally we don protective armor to hit the hardware superstore at the earliest hours and never on weekends.

My husband began to watch baseball again until the games were cancelled one by one because of Covid cases. The local schools push back their starting dates later and later. Restaurants reinvent themselves monthly. My writing is limited to supply lists for online orders, and my art relegated to decorating window shades with markers. My attention span is too limited and distracted for even the easy summer paperback reading.

Today I discovered that almost all of my houseplants are infested with tiny thrips that I can barely see now with my lack of close vision. My husband called it a pandemic, and I thought how appropriate, of course I need my own private pandemic on top of the national one. And then I got to thinking about other little pandemics going on around me; aphids engulfing the nasturtiums, spider mites sucking all the life out of pole beans, the usual Japanese beetle invasion and a plague of flea beetles on the arugula.

Then there’s the animal kind like the hopping hordes of rabbits (seven frolicking under our back porch one morning!), a rotating rodeo of groundhogs, voraciously domesticated deer herds and the raucous starling tenements in my neighbor’s eave.

All summer I waited patiently for a volunteer sunflower to bloom that I had moved to my front garden. It was just starting to flower when I walked by one morning to find the doomed bloom hanging by a thread, already wilting in hot summer sun, some sort of brown beetle making another fresh cut as straight as a surgeon’s incision in its stem.

My good mood deflated instantly. Was there nothing in this world allowed to achieve its full glory without threats from predators, disease and bad weather? Unwilling to accept another life derailed, I grabbed the flower after flicking off the offending bug, and brought my poor victim into the house to revive it in a vase.

From the photo above, you can see that it has continued to unfurl into a beam of light enjoyed in my dark interior, a fitting tribute to its resilience in spite of a life cut short and best laid plans gone awry. May we all find inspiration in the little accomplishments around us even as arrogant civilizations fail and topple in the storm.

Holding the Light


This dark ending of the year is full of paradox. The mind naturally summons up a highlight reel of the last 365 days, and I don’t know about you, but the angry, humiliating, sad and frustrating episodes always run on a constant loop in my head. The lovely, serene and successful moments are apparently kept prisoner in aging 2018’s memory closet, waiting for rescue and release into the light of hope and future plans. A fresh start is always appealing, but why is the human spirit so drawn back into cinematic replays of the past year’s smoking wreckage in flops and failures?

I choose a new word every year. Whether self-fulfilling prophesy or wishful thinking, the theme is usually noticeable throughout the months. 2018’s word was “magic” and I think that was pretty accurate on the whole. What came out of a garden beset with heavy clay soil, limitless weeds, ravenous insects and extreme weather conditions certainly seemed like magic. I learned that despite all obstacles, life loves to grow given any kind of encouragement.

Perhaps that same support needs to be applied to myself and other fellow humans in 2019 including the nation and the world, even if and when we don’t deserve it. Choosing to focus on the light while acknowledging the shadow is not without merit in these chaotic times. I would love to switch my brain’s channel to the happy highlights reel or at least last year’s funniest home memories. Since when does watching those bad reruns over and over until you can act them out in your sleep ever teach you anything?

So my word for 2019 is “light,” the kind you can hold. How do you hold onto light you ask? You can when you hold a purring kitten or a thriving seedling. You embrace it with your eyes on a frosty morning at the edge of a fallen leaf lying in the frozen shadows. You cradle it in the truth of words that ring true to you and light a fire within your soul. It is there when you look for it.

It is my wish that at the end of 2019, we are all seated in the deep womb of the year’s theater, sharing popcorn and watching a victorious highlight reel of shining moments in what will be seen as historically dark times by future light beings.

May the light be with you, always.

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.