“Earth knows no desolation. She smells regeneration in the moist breath of decay.”
– George Meredith, 1828-1909, English novelist and poet
Is there any better metaphor for faith than spring? Whether your faith rests in God, Nature, Love or Self. The proof that life emerges after strife — indeed, because of it — is ever present in the warmth of spring.
Typically, the pinnacle of my day is a very small thing. Like putting my toes in the grass for the first time since autumn.
I nearly missed the park, and when I saw it, I took the last turn into the parking lot. It was a one-way in the wrong direction, but the park was nearly abandoned and no one honked or even noticed. The breeze blew chilled across the icy lake, but the sun was warm between dark blue clouds. Ducks’ wings whistled overhead, and something splashed in the open water along the shore.
Drawn to connect, I smiled an impish grin. I looked left, right, then back, before I slipped off my first leather shoe. The other shoe and both socks followed. In seconds I was barefoot in the park; skin to skin with Mother Earth. The ground was cold and the moisture seeped up to make mud on my heels. But it felt real, like putting my face against the rain, or catching snowflakes on my tongue.
It wasn’t too long before I was back in traffic headed home to make dinner.
But I was reminded that sometimes it’s the last turn in the wrong direction that brings us down the right path.
It’s that time of year when we dream of new life. Tulips breaking the ground, their faces to the sun. Seeds bursting open with tender roots and delicate shoots. Tiny blades of grass finding their way through last year’s thatch.
Ah, the lawn.
That bane of man’s existence. That symbol of status or flag of defeat.
This picture undoubtedly elicits one of two reactions in you:
“Look at the pretty little purple flowers!”
“Sweet Mother of God! That’s Creeping Charlie!”
If you are in the first group, bless your little heart. Although pervasive, they are pretty.
If you are in the second group, I’m guessing you’re stocking up on herbicides as we speak. I’ve stopped buying herbicides and fertilizers. I buy compost and grass seed. I rarely water. I’m gradually planting the yard with flowers and shrubs that need little care, and adding raised gardens. Fresh vegetables eaten right out of the garden? Now there’s a symbol of status for you. Ideally, I’d like to have just enough grass to sink my toes into while I sip a glass of wine.
As for Creeping Charlie and dandelions, those reliable messengers of spring, they’ll feed the bees until everything else catches up.
No winter lasts forever; no spring skips its turn.
Bubba just got in from snow-blowing six inches. And it’s still snowing. I never mind a spring snowstorm. He might disagree.
A spring snowstorm reminds you of how much you want the spring. It imprisons you in your house for a day and heightens the anticipation of warm walks and buzzing bees. A spring snowstorm is old man winter boasting his strength, even under the lengthening days. Even in my weariness of cold and boots and shoveling I must admit it’s pretty. And I have to wonder if this is the last pristine white snowfall until next year. It’s like wishing a toddler would grow, and at the same time trying to appreciate each day.
Is this the last time you’ll help him with his boots?
Behold, my friends, the spring is come; the earth has gladly received the embraces of the sun, and we shall soon see the results of their love!
I’m keen on experimenting in the garden. My friend Mary says I’m a horticulturist. I like that thought, but I’m not sure I’d use that word to describe myself. Maybe just a goofy plant lady who gets bored seeding in straight lines.
Last fall I planted eight garlic cloves for the first time. In their place, eight tender green shoots reach up through the otherwise neglected soil. There is something about coaxing nature that satisfies me. One year I tested straw bale gardening. If I can find some good bales, I’ll try it again. I’d like to give keyhole gardening a shot in the front yard. The one thing I can’t grow is grass, but grass is on the way out anyway.
I’m just ahead of the curve.
My yard could also use a few rain gardens. I live in the middle of a big hill and there is an underground river that would like to flow right through the middle of my basement.
Bubba helped me fix the drainage so we no longer see any water in the house. But here’s the deal. If I and all my neighbors up the hill would do our best to keep our water in our own yard, fewer homes would have drainage issues.
The old adage is to divert the water away from the house. This is sound advice, but to most homeowners this means draining it from the yard and eventually to the street where it flows freely through underground systems to our natural waterways, fertilizer and all. We now know this has harmful effects on both the environment and those of us who live in it.
When I moved into my home, it was April. After some unusually long hard rains, I realized I was now the proud owner of lakefront property and a couple of ducks. My first instinct was to dig a little trench on the downhill side of the yard and let it all drain away. That worked great. This was the year of the foreclosure, and the houses on either side of me were vacant. The growing pond below me was a great solution.
Then the house uphill from me sold. A builder came in to flip the house. He had no interest in neighborliness, only profit. He used my water hose without asking and parked his trucks in front of my driveway before I had to leave for work. He pointed rain spouts right at my house, and all of the pavement drained my way. A call to the city resolved nothing. After the first good rain, there was a river through my basement, the garage, and the backyard. The little trench I dug out to drain the yard was quickly eroding and becoming a waterfall.
What’s more, I now had a neighbor downhill from me too, and I was feeling really guilty about draining into his backyard. But it wasn’t just his yard. Mentally, I mapped the route the water on my property had taken. Twenty houses uphill were all emptying their run-off downhill. Once it hit my yard, it went on to reach other basements, garages, the sewer and eventually our waterways.
Wishing the uphill properties wouldn’t drain into my yard wasn’t enough. I was a neighbor to those below me. A change had to occur somewhere with someone. And that was when I decided it might as well be me.
I stopped using chemical fertilizer and pesticides. What used to embarrass me, is now an emblem of pride. My dandelions feed the pollinators in early spring when other foods are hard to find. I also have a rabbit who loves for me to forage the chemical-free greens for her breakfast. As the gardens take over the lawn, maybe someday I can even get rid of my gas-powered lawn mower.
I filled in the drainage trench. Even if it means living lakefront once a year, I want to keep the water that comes into my yard from leaving my yard. If we all thought that way it would be an easier task. And we would be better stewards of our neighborhoods, cities, and the planet.
I built a hugelkultur. A hugelwhat?
A hugelkultur. There are right and wrong ways to say it. I say it hoogle coolter. That, I believe, is the wrong way, but I’m sticking with it.
I suppose there are also right and wrong ways to do it, and things to plant in it the first or succeeding years. As I am a dubbed horticulturist and stubbornly self-sufficient, I will learn as I go.
The word hugelkultur translates to the term hill culture. Typically, a hugelkultur is a raised bed with an inner filling of rotting wood and other composting materials. I highly suggest, if you have more than a bizarre interest in the word hugelkultur, you do your own research, and not use my trial as your reference.
Last fall I scooped out some earth to create an indent that will eventually become a rain garden. The sod and dirt, along with dead wood, was piled on the down side of the indent as a type of dam for heavy rains or spring thaws. The dam doubles as a raised bed with fertile, moisture-retaining compost inside.
I’ll plant the rain garden this year, making it larger after seeing how well it performed this spring. Once I add soil and prepare the hugelkultur for planting, I’ll share more photos and you can all watch from your armchairs without getting dirt under your nails.
The hard part will be keeping the dog off of it. The hugelkultur is in the direct line of Frisbee flight, and you may remember my past challenges with that.
Yesterday the sun was shining, beckoning me, like most Minnesotans, out of my stuffy house into the fresh air. There was enough of an early spring wind to keep my hat pulled low over my ears. Yet, it was one of those days that reminds me spring is on its way.
As my car now doubles for a mobile office, I’d been hoping for a day such as this to give the old Neon a little spring cleaning. Salt and sand brought in from boots and dog lined the carpet, which now looked less like the floor of a car, and more like a beach. Grime collected in the crevices, and coffee (or was that ketchup?) spotted the seat.
Let’s face it, cars are designed by men. Men sell them to men, with women leaning seductively against the grill. If they ever placed a car ad with this guy waxing the front fender, I’d have to buy it. But they haven’t figured that out yet.
So when I pull out the toothbrushes, rags, shop vac, and steam cleaner to scour the inside of my automobile, it’s likely I’ll have a few sexist remarks to mutter under my breath.
I hate cleaning, and I usually tackle what bothers me the most first. That way, if I succumb to boredom, fatigue, frustration, or procrastination, at least I have made the biggest difference for my peace of mind. In this case it was the floor, so I hauled out the shop vac. Automobile carpeting is a pretty shallow nap. Yet, it never ceases to amaze me how much dirt it can hold. And not only does it hold a lot, it won’t let go. I took those floor mats out, raised them high above my head, and brought them slapping down to the driveway time and again. I kneeled on them to hold them in place while I vacuumed, little grains of sand bouncing around like it was some sort of disco rave. And vacuumed. And vacuumed.
That was when I remembered. It doesn’t matter how many times you slam them on the ground, beat them with a bat, or vacuum over the same spot. There will always be a little sand rave party going on inside the nap of the floor mats. You just have to get it good enough to look clean when you get in the car.
Then I started on the carpeted floor. Remember when we all got carpeting in our houses? It was so that we could get out of bed and not feel the cold hard floor beneath our toes. Somebody tell me why we started carpeting our cars. In my house, I can take off my shoes before dragging mud in on the carpet. Should I dedicate a little floor mat for muddy shoes in my car? Wouldn’t it make more sense if I could simply run a rag over a vinyl floor and be done? A woman would have designed it that way.
No, the floor has its own little dance party going on as I vacuum it, and something more. My long blonde hairs whip around when the windows are open and somehow fall out and weave themselves into the short nap. The shop vac can suck at that thing all day, but it’s not coming out. The rug acts like some sort of hair Velcro, which would be great if you wanted human hair carpeting. I developed a system which involves using the vacuum to lift up the end of the hair. I then pinch the hair against the vacuum hose while pulling back to draw the hair out of the carpeting. Once the hair is out, I let go of the pinched end and the hair sucks up the tube. Apparently a man would rather bitch about a woman’s hair falling out in his truck than design a vehicle with bare flooring.
Next I tackled the dash and center console. Mostly it’s just dust that gets wiped off, but then there are those crevices. The little cracks that give the car sophistication when it’s new, make great places for grime to collect as it’s used. This is where I start losing patience and fingernails. And believe me when I say I don’t have a lot of either to begin with.
If a woman had designed my car, she would have made the air vents removable. They would snap out, be dishwasher safe, and snap back in just as easily. The cup holders would do the same. Those things are never coming clean. I literally poured Windex in and let it soak before the coins came loose from the bottom.
The lid on my center console swings up and over to double as a cup holder for passengers in the back seat. It houses a mini tissue dispenser as well. It is the single best thing about my car right after the sunroof. I’m convinced some dude was given an ultimatum when he designed it.
“Either design this lid with functionality, or we’re going to my mother’s for the Super Bowl.”
But he could have gone further, and possibly secured his place in bed indefinitely. You see, the dog seems to think that console was made for her. She stands on it, sleeps on it, and uses it to reach the sunroof in the summer. I can see a lot of design options here. My favorite would be a piece that flips up to make a wall, blocking her to the back seat where she belongs. The second best option would be a dog-safe place to stand or lay that would keep her from flipping up into the front seat when I brake suddenly. Of course, the best option would be a boyfriend who wouldn’t have botched my attempts to train her to stay off of it in the first place.
As I clean the paw prints off of the console lid, I am reminded of how it all comes down to flaws in the working of the male mind.
Finally, I drag my steam cleaner out to the driveway, and heat up the water tank. The seats are thankfully black, and made of fabric which is neither too hot in summer nor too cold in winter. The length to which I would go for a clean ride surprised Bubba. He asked, “Next is my car?”
He’s so funny.
The liquid the steam cleaner pulled out of my seats was a putrid brown, like that of stale latte, becoming clearer the longer I worked. Eventually, the results of my efforts pleased me. I replaced the tools on shelves and in drawers. Wiping my feet before entering the car, I drove it into the garage. I filed the shredded edge of my nails to smooth nubs, and I took a wonderful hot shower.
Fully dressed for some errand running, we decided to take Bubba’s Pontiac because my seats were still damp. As I slid my foot through the open car door, I saw it. A banana peel lying next to an empty food container. “Oh my God! This is disgusting!” . . . This coming from the woman who just drew sewage-colored liquid from her car cushions.
I plucked the banana from the rubber floor mat and hauled it to the trash. After returning to settle myself into shotgun position, Bubba smiled at me.
— The Bishop of Geneva, Saint Francis de Sales (1567-1622)
We’ve all heard these words of wisdom. Blooms are beautiful, and graceful, and showy. They also smell good. And who doesn’t want to smell good? But the old adage sounds a little to me like, “Shut up and get back to work.” I mean, making the best of things is always a good idea, but there’s nothing wrong with thinking outside the planter.
You may be a late bloomer, in full bloom, or just wearing bloomers, but I think we can all agree that blooming is good. A bloom is a plant’s marketing campaign. It’s like walking through Macy’s. You’re only going in for the white sale, when all of a sudden you’re sidetracked by the bright lights and juicy colors of the cosmetic department. Your head turns. Left, then right. The next thing you know you’ve walked headfirst into a woman spritzing you with this year’s version of Miss Dior Eau De Toilette. Suddenly you’re dancing around like a bee on a stamen.
When someone tells me to bloom where I am planted, it’s usually because they’ve buried me in dirt. “Sit here, I’ll bring you water when you look dry. Now, do something fabulous!”
Last year I planted some zinnia and sweet alyssum seeds. They came up great. They bloomed where they were planted as expected, and at the end of the summer, I pulled them out and dragged their dead, lifeless carcasses to the compost pile. Their job was done. I gave them water, sunshine and the occasional human-to-plant conversation. I enjoyed their grandeur, and I was grateful.
On the way to the compost pile last fall, a few seeds fell off and nestled into the scrappy little spot between our driveway and the neighbor’s. In the spring, they germinated. The seedlings were unnoticeable until their height surpassed those of the weeds. Eventually demanding my attention, I realized they were unmistakably zinnia. It wasn’t until a few weeks later I noticed the smaller, daintier white flowers of the sweet alyssum too.
My front garden blooms every year. It greets me on the way in, and rivals the draw of any cosmetic counter for the bees and butterflies. But it was the courageous zinnia with its alyssum companion that made me smile the most this summer.
While weeding the cracks, my neighbor called from his backyard deck, “Don’t pull the flower!” I knew they were smiling too. And it made me think about Saint Francis de Sales’ words a lot. I thought about the difference between blooming where you are planted, and finding a place to plant yourself.
When you find a place you want to grow, you’re no less beautiful, and you smell just as good — provided you practice personal hygiene, of course — but it might take a little longer to get noticed, because people won’t expect to see you where they aren’t looking. But once you rise above the weeds, and they get a chance to know you for who you are, you will make them smile. You will be blooming in a place they didn’t even realize needed a flower, or knew that one could grow.
In time, you might even find that they make a regular garden out of it, and you can take pride in knowing that your blossom was the first of many. And maybe . . . just maybe, as one day they haul your body off to the compost, one of your seeds will fall in a crack in some other forgotten space . . .
It is hard to believe we had snow just five days ago! Friday was a put-down-the-windows-and-drive-with-the-sunroof-open kind of day! I had lunch with a friend, watched a couple movies, and celebrated the annual spring puppy-poo pick-up!
However, I think you will agree when I say that my puttering has improved. Here are two items handmade in shop classes and given to me years ago. I have been meaning to paint them forEVER. My daughter, who is 26 years old, made the shelf unit, and the candle-holder was made by Bubba’s son a couple years ago.
As per suggested by Lois at Living Simply Free, I primed them both with Killz, which I already had in the house, then bought latex paint to finish them off.
I painted the candle holder black and the cabinet white to match the bathroom. After the first coats, I set them in the window to dry. Then I went outside to soak up that gorgeous weather!
The second coats were added in the afternoon. The shelf knob was purchased five years ago. I stored it in the drawer so I would always know where it was when I was ready. Hey, I am a very organized procrastinator!