Spring’s Blessings

Spring’s blessings are here, asking to be noticed.

Days of continuous rain have (dare I say?) stopped and the sun is out.

"In the Spring, I have counted 136 different kinds of weather inside of 24 hours." ~Mark Twa

“In the Spring, I have counted 136 different kinds of weather inside of 24 hours.” ~Mark Twa

 

Mark has captured two swarms this spring. The healthiest colonies we’ve got are from swarms.

Mark has captured two swarms this spring. The healthiest colonies we've got are from swarms.

“There are certain pursuits which, if not wholly poetic and true, do at least suggest a nobler and finer relation to nature than we know. The keeping of bees, for instance.” ~Henry David Thoreau

 

Seeds we planted in the last days of March burst into life under grow lights, graduated to window views, and are being tucked gently into the garden. Seeds planted outside in the cold soil are now cheerfully competing with weeds, rabbits, and human hands.

“Spring drew on…and a greenness grew over those brown beds, which, freshening daily, suggested the thought that Hope traversed them at night, and left each morning brighter traces of her steps.” Charlotte Bronte

 

We’ve planted quite a few fruit trees this spring including apple, cherry, pear, and peach.

"For in the true nature of things, if we rightly consider, every green tree is far more glorious than if it were made of gold and silver." ~Martin Luther

“For in the true nature of things, if we rightly consider, every green tree is far more glorious than if it were made of gold and silver.” ~Martin Luther

 

We enjoy the pleasure of spotting all sorts of wildlife in and around the pond including snapping turtles, herons, and grebes.

Spotting a grebe in the pond.

“Every spring is the only spring, a perpetual astonishment.” ~Ellis Peters

 

And just a few days ago, Mark noticed these northern water snakes engaged in what’s politely termed a “breeding ball.” Sweet reptile love!

northern water snakes breeding ball

“Forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair.” ~Khalil Gibran

 

Out back, we’re inoculating logs with shiitake, turkey tail, and oyster mushroom spores.

“The world’s favorite season is the spring. All things seem possible in May.” ~Edwin Way Teale

 

Bird books don’t have a name for this unusual species but we know for sure this is a sighting of the Red-Capped Olivia.

“She decided to free herself, dance into the wind, create a new language. And birds fluttered around her, writing “yes” in the sky.” ― Monique Duval

“She decided to free herself, dance into the wind, create a new language. And birds fluttered around her, writing “yes” in the sky.” ― Monique Duval

 

These lilies of the valley are one of my favorite flowers. That they were transplanted from my parent’s yard make them even more special.

“It always amazes me to look at the little, wrinkled brown seeds and think of the rainbows in ’em,” said Captain Jim. “When I ponder on them seeds I don’t find it nowise hard to believe that we’ve got souls that’ll live in other worlds. You couldn’t hardly believe there was life in them tiny things, some no bigger than grains of dust, let alone colour and scent, if you hadn’t seen the miracle, could you?” ~L. M. Montgomery

 

We’re seeing beauty everywhere, like this hill of dandelions. (They’re magic — just ask any child.)

"Spring has returned. The Earth is like a child who knows poems." ~Rainer Maria Rilke

“Spring has returned. The Earth is like a child who knows poems.” ~Rainer Maria Rilke

 

 

The true blessing for our family this spring is that our oldest son has come through emergency brain surgery and in the process of recovering. Time for a deep breath, deep appreciation, and paying attention to all we cherish.

“The beautiful spring came; and when Nature resumes her loveliness, the human soul is apt to revive also.” ~Harriet Ann Jacobs

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Slow Down and Move Over

rural road safety

Not my street, but you get the idea.

Many drivers are unaware of what it’s like to be on the road without a metal exoskeleton. Most days I walk our dogs down our rural 55 mph township road and I can tell you this — if you’re driving by you probably have no idea how we feel when you pass us.

Unless we hear you slow down and move way over, every car raises an unbidden sense of alarm. When you zip past you’re probably not aware you fling stones as you go by. A gust of wind also lifts in your wake, raising dust that gets in our eyes. My dogs shrink in fear. And really, we have no way of knowing that you’re not distracted while flipping to another track on your iPod or answering the phone.

Sometimes, when the fastest cars go by, I can’t help but think of writer Stephen King, who years ago was hit by a minivan while walking near his rural home. His injuries were so dire he had to be transported to a trauma center by helicopter. He sustained broken bones in his right leg, hip, and ribs plus a punctured lung and head injury –requiring five operations and many months away from work. The driver, who apologized for being too distracted, did not lose driving privileges or serve jail time.

A few years ago I was walking our elderly German shepherd and small dog in the late afternoon. We walked slowly because our dear old dog had spinal problems. The exercise was good for him but probably also brought him pain. A red pickup truck was speeding toward us. There are no berms on our road, only grassy ditches. One must trust that a driver will move over: there are no other options. So I trusted. Suddenly the shepherd jerked us to the side with such force that I fell right into the ditch, dogs along with me. I was yelling at him as we fell, shocked that he was misbehaving despite his pain. He wasn’t. Somehow he knew that driver wasn’t moving over. The red truck hurtled right over the portion of roadway we’d been on a second ago. Shaken, we pulled ourselves out to see the driver stop ahead and back up. “I’m sorry,” he yelled, “the sun was in my eyes and I couldn’t see you.” Yup, nearly a Stephen King moment.

My sons, as young as 14, have driven tractors from our property to acreage we’ve leased to grow hay. It’s not possible to drive a tractor at anything close to road speed, especially pulling haying implements or a loaded hay wagon, yet some drivers act as if slow-moving vehicles are some kind of personal insult. They honk, flip off, and steer crazily around tractors. I interviewed a farmer friend for an agricultural magazine a few years ago. He said the number one thing he wants non-farming people understand is that their driving endangers the very people who raise their food.

I mean to advocate for anyone on the road who is not in a car. Take my street as an example. Kids are sometimes out walking their 4-H animals; we’ve seen sheep, donkeys, goats, even a pig. Riders go by on horseback. Bicyclists enjoy our area for the scenery. There are also runners, walkers, and Amish buggies.

And let’s remember the people who must stand out on roads to perform their jobs including traffic cops, crossing guards, surveyors, garbage collectors, and road crews.

I have learned to slow way down and move fully into the other lane when I pass anyone out on the road. It’s kind. It’s safe. And it takes only a few seconds of your life to show some consideration. You may think you’re providing plenty of clearance when you move over a little but if you’re not fully in the other lane, you’re too close. You can’t control unexpected variables —-bikers might careen around an obstacle, runners might fall, horses may shy away into your path, dogs may pull out of their collars.

One of our dogs was found abandoned as a puppy, sick and wasted, with a wound on his side. Like any traumatized creature he still reacts to loud sounds with fear. On one of our walks a car’s approach was so loud that somehow he twisted out of his harness and darted into the path of the vehicle. I flung myself after him and thankfully got him out of the way in time, but I hope you’ll think of my dog and of me when you pass anyone on the road. You never know if we’ll end up right in front of you.

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I Ate The Cosmos For Breakfast

 

I ATE THE COSMOS FOR BREAKFAST

—After Thich Nhat Han

 

It looked like a pancake,

but it was creation flattened out—

the fist of God on a head of wheat,

milk, the unborn child of an unsuspecting

chicken — all beaten to batter and drizzled into a pan.

I brewed my tea and closed my eyes

while I ate the sun, the air, the rain,

photosynthesis on a plate.

I ate the time it took that chicken

to bear and lay her egg

and the energy it takes a cow to lactate a cup of milk.

I thought of the farmers, the truck drivers,

the grocers, the people who made the bag that stored the wheat,

and my labor over the stove seemed short,

and the pancake tasted good,

and I was thankful.

 

Melissa Studdard, from her extraordinary new collection I Ate the Cosmos for Breakfast

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Five Minute Tomato Soup

a

Today is a perfect late winter day. A tromp to the barn with birds singing and sunshine glittering against frost-covered trees — entirely satisfying.

I need to make lunch but there’s no rush. This morning I counted to see which home canned goods we’re going through more quickly than others. We’ve been piling through salsa, zacusca, and applesauce the most. But we still have a a few dozen quarts of marinara made with our tomatoes, garlic, peppers, and onions.  I grab a jar, knowing soup will be on in minutes.

There are lots of ways to transform tomato sauce or marinara into tomato soup. If you’re using plain tomato sauce, add a pinch or two of basil, oregano, black pepper, and garlic powder. If you’re using marinara or spaghetti sauce, no need unless you’d like some extra kick.

Then pour your tomato sauce of choice into a saucepan. If you’re using a quart, add 1 tablespoon salt, if you’re using a pint add a half tablespoon.

Fill the sauce jar about a third of the way full with half-and-half (or for a really good soup, use all heavy cream) — basically close to a ratio of three parts sauce to one part cream. You might want to add more cream to taste. (Yes, you can use milk or soymilk or almond milk, it’ll just be less rich and more watery.)

Heat to a simmer but do not boil. Taste. If you’d like, garnish with croutons, fresh herbs, and/or some hefty shavings of Romano or Parmesan cheese. Yum.

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A Dress-Your-Lawn-Ornament Creation Story

 

outsider art sculpture

A handmade, life-sized Trumpet Man stands in our flowerbed near the street. One of his steel hands clutches an old dented trumpet, the other holds a wine bottle. He was made by my son Kirby, who has taken no art classes yet taught himself to weld and used those skills to create this utterly fantastic piece of art in an afternoon. Kirby says he measured his own torso and limbs to get the correct proportions. What he’s created is not only proportional but full of personality. Trumpet Man reminds me of a blues player standing on stage, fully present in that pause before the performance begins. It’s a powerful piece of outsider art and I love it.

I’m also a silly person right to the core and Trumpet Man makes it too damn easy to express that silliness. During the summer he wears a fedora, tilted at an ever more rakish angle as the weeks go by. At Christmas time I give him a Santa hat. Through the depths of winter he sports an old scarf that blows around in the wind with cheerful zest. My favorite look for him is a Viking helmet with horns (something my daughter assures me is not historically accurate).

outsider art, Viking hat

I won’t apologize for my delight in dressing him up, but there’s some history* behind this. I say Trumpet Man is an edgier version of the dress-your-lawn-ornament-goose thing that continues in some Midwestern lawns. In our area, there are Amish produce stands that still sell handmade outfits for these geese. They’re available online too.

lawn goose

Not kidding. Seasonal goose outfits are still a thing around here. mileskimball.com

I may actually know the creation story behind putting clothes on yard adornments.** Settle back my dears and I shall tell you.

In a Cleveland suburb in the 60’s, a nice modest family lived in a nice modest house. Their children rode bikes, played with neighbor kids, graduated from local schools, and went off to make their way in the world. One of those grown children was a nice young man who ended up working in an Asian country. When he came home to visit he brought gifts from the land where he lived. The gift he gave his parents was a large stone Buddha meant to be placed in the yard as a blessing.

His mother was uncomfortable putting it outside. Maybe this had to do with the preponderance of Catholic neighbors. Maybe this had to do with the utter foreignness of Buddhism to 1960’s suburban Ohio. Maybe she was uncomfortable with his nudity.

The statue wore little more than a robe, open at the chest. Surely he was too exposed to the elements. Surely he was embarrassed to find himself in so conservative a neighborhood. What did she do? She made Buddha some outfits.

He wore a yellow slicker and yellow rain hat in spring. He had a straw hat and t-shirt in summer. He sported a sweater with the local team’s insignia in the fall. Naturally he wore a Santa outfit in the winter.

She didn’t see anything wrong dressing the spiritual founder of a 2,500-year-old religion this way. She was treating him like a member of the family. And that bit of kitsch, my friends, may have been reborn as Dress-Your-Lawn-Ornament geese. Samsara baby!

Not THE statue, but you get the idea.

Not THE statue, but you get the idea.

 

*There’s a much longer history behind lawn ornamentation if you count garden hermits.  These were, believe it or not, living people paid to dress like druids and live as unwashed hermits on wealthy estates.

**A friend told me this story years ago. To my chagrin, I’ve forgotten who.

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Year Round Indoor Salad Gardening, Fuss Free

From seeds ….

 

to sprouts.

to sprouts.

I’ve grown sprouts for decades, mostly when I need sprouted mung beans for stir fry or sprouted broccoli for a healthy smoothie. You’ve probably done this. It requires nothing more than a mason jar, some seeds, and a sock stretched over the opening. (Or a straining lid)

I’ve also grown microgreens. Basically they’re adorable little miniature arugula and Swiss chard plants grown in trays under grow lights and harvested so early it feels murderous to cut them down.

Then I encountered a process that is halfway between sprout and microgreen, yet is ridiculously easy to grow.

The process was developed by gardener Peter Burke, who loved greens but found his busy schedule didn’t give him time to fuss with grow lights, heat mats, or greenhouse enclosures. He didn’t give up. After many experiments he discovered a technique to grow fresh greens any time of year.

Burke calls these nutrient-packed tender greens “soil sprouts.”His method provides a harvest of salad greens in a little over a week with almost no work.  Staggered plantings can provide several pounds of fresh greens every day. You don’t need a south-facing window, in fact to grow the firm stems of these plants you need to start them in the dark.

Inspired by his new book, Year-Round Indoor Salad Gardening: How to Grow Nutrient-Dense, Soil-Sprouted Greens in Less Than 10 days, I gave it a try. I used potting soil I had in the barn, loaf pans I’d brought from my parents’ house, and some old (I mean old) seeds I had abandoned in our refrigerator crisper drawer for a few years.

I was pretty sure the seeds were too old to sprout and the area I’d chosen was too cold. I violated one of Mr. Burke’s rules, sneaking in an extra dose of water on the second and third days. The seeds were slower to sprout than his timeline predicted, but then again, I was using old seeds in a cold bedroom. To harvest I cut them close to the soil using kitchen scissors, sprinkling these nutritious pea, radish, and broccoli sprouts over our salads. What great salads— fresh, alive, and scrumptious.

Then I violated another of Mr. Burke’s rules, leaving the more slow-to-sprout seedlings where I’d planted them. In another few days I had more soil sprouts to cut. I replanted several trays, but still couldn’t bear to toss out the soil that was still sprouting with my first plantings. Instead I’m letting a few of them grow (again, in violation of his rules) well past the point where they should have been cut. They’re still flavorful, offering wonderful texture and complexity to winter salads.

Thanks to my not-so-well-behaved experiments, I bought several of his books as gifts for friends who are as garden-crazy or health-crazy as I am. They too think he’s on to something. You’ve got nothing to lose giving his methods a try. I suspect you’ll be a soil sprout aficionado too.

If you’re interested, you’ll need seeds to sprout, potting soil, compost (we used well-rotted cow manure from out back),  kelp meal, some paper (newspaper, paper towels, whatever), and some trays (even a baking dish) to plant in. I bet you’ll be surprised how easy this is and how delightful these soil sprouts are in a stiry-fry, salad, or wrap. Let your windowsills come alive!

 

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Praying Kind

 

Praying Kind

 

I’m not much for church-y praying.

Especially the kind where you say

somebody else’s words,

expecting them to snag off you

like a match

dragged across the sandpaper

of your particular circumstances

so as to flare right up to heaven,

lighting your miseries

for some of God’s attention.

 

But when a siren’s whine cuts close

I can’t keep myself from passing words through

my chest to add whatever holiness I possess,

saying “oh Lord give em strength,”

before turning back to shelling peas

or stacking firewood.

 

And I think it’s like prayer

to farm, mindful

that plants and animals

need to be exactly what they are,

seeing as nature is God drawing circles

for us to learn the shape of things.

 

Still, when I pass a big dairy farm

where hundreds of cows never walk in sunshine,

never eat green grass

growing so close they can smell it,

never get to suckle their calves,

I put in mind the quiet peace

of our own cows on pasture,

and I send that peace out

to every confined creature.

If that’s prayer,

then I’m the praying kind.

 

 

Published in the poetry collection, Tending.

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