One Determined Marigold

Various people in my world are struggling. Some have chronic pain. Some have jobs that make them crazy. Some feel creaky, obsolete, scared, unwanted, frustrated or alone. All of them are like my one little marigold.

Apart from certain, strangely-not-completely-out-of-control areas, my garden is a mess this year. I’ve had some perfect veggies, enough for the marginal labor to have been worthwhile, but roughly half of the space qualifies as a jungle. With the front porch project I simply haven’t had the time. Plus this aggravating shoulder of mine, unimproved after three weeks of physical therapy (maybe worse), holds me back.

Still, I like fresh green pepper on my pizza and Samuel said he’d make some the other day. My contribution amounted to walking to the garden for a pepper. The jungle mess did not encourage lollygagging – it wants to get about its wild business without critical observers – so I got my pepper and was about to leave when a spot of gold caught my eye.

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There it was, one single marigold, standing tall and beautiful despite the choking weeds not far away. I had not planted it. I am unconventional in a list of ways, but it would not even occur to me to plant a flower in the middle of a path. One of the seeds from last year’s lovely crop must have found its way to this spot.

In August of last year the marigolds I did plant were huge and just beginning to blossom. My granddaughter Rise, five years old at the time, sweetly gives you the idea how tall they were.

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By September they were so full and heavy they fell over with gorgeous weight.

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This year I planted gourds instead, and some of them are remarkable (see the one hanging in the upper left? it keeps getting bigger!), but no zinnias, marigolds, asters or any other purely-for-color-and-show plants. Yet here is this one flower – standing strong, beautiful in its own way, determined – despite the mess – to have its moment.

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What a lovely parallel. Just like each person I know who is not in ideal circumstances presently, each person struggling with this or that, my one marigold is determined to

Stand strong: It’s hard to endure pain! It’s hard to have no time for yourself, or be far from those you love, or go to a job that feels dead-endish or keep up your end of a deal when those around you slough off. It’s hard to see the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel, to remain positive when you feel like crap, to hold your tongue when someone is out of line, to go to the gym when you feel weak, to push through when you want to stay in your comfy little cave. Yet all around me I see people standing strong just like this marigold. It doesn’t care that it’s the only one. It proudly manages feeling like the first grader in the college class, being the newbie on the block, saying the words that are hard to say. Bravo, little marigold!

Be beautiful: See all the green around the marigold? The scene of mostly weeds (other than that one funky gourd) sets the stage for this one determined flower to shine. In our own mess of life, in the chaos or worry or disharmony we endure more often than we would like to, it’s easy to simply become part of the mess, to add to it, to blend in and become invisible. Instead we can choose to be the marigold – at least sometimes – and be other, be radiant, be beautiful.

Have its moment: The older you get, the more fleeting time proves itself to be. Time is so limited. Resources are so limited. So what. None of us will be here forever, or do everything we want to do or reach all of our goals. We are bound by our bodies, our relationships, our location, our circumstances, our education, our wisdom (or lack thereof). Bound. Having a bum shoulder has made me think a lot about the elusive thing we call equality. I can’t do what I want to do! I have a disadvantage compared to people with good shoulders! (Funny how you see things like good shoulders that you didn’t see before!) But this shoulder is mine, for better or worse. I own it. It is unique to me and limits me in ways I wish I could change right now. Alas, we do what we can while we can with what we have. This little marigold will be seen and admired by precious few people before it succumbs to the frost in a few months. No matter. In this season, this year, in this place, it will be like a gem in the dirt, determined to have its moment and do what it can despite its limitations.

I wonder if it grew in this spot just to bring these ideas to me.

Geocache on a Pinecone

Why do people traipse through forests? Hiking maybe? Hunting? Birdwatching? I expected my next foray into the woods to be a search for small dead cedar trees to use as poles. We need some small poles around here. Never before has it been my goal to find a mysterious object, investigate it, write in it, put it back and walk away. But that’s what geocaching is all about.

If you have never heard of geocaching, join the crowd. From the few people we talked to about it last week, it seems you’re either really into it (or know someone who is) or you’ve never heard of it.

My sister Lynn was here for a visit with her daughter Erika and granddaughters Kaileena (11) and Brea (5). We decided to explore some of the pristine lakes in this part of Virginia, having been motivated in part by a free-entry-pass that came in the mail (these promos do work sometimes!). On the way to Sherando Lake in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Erika mentioned that they had what you could call a mission while in Virginia – finding a geocache in which to put a little “travel bug.” You’re doing what? Mom said.

This is Sherando Lake. Ooh, so perfect.

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Kaileena’s “travel bug” is plastic, the size of a large coin or a key ring and has a cartoony dragon image on it. It was found at a geocache in Southwick, Massachusetts, by Kaileena’s Girl Scout troop leader, Lisa, who handed it off to Kaileena when she found out about the trip to Virginia. The idea is to give this little bug/trinket a ride from there to here to some other place eventually, and in doing so, connect with fellow-geocachers in a worldwide hide-and-seek adventure. Every cache is some version of a little treasure chest and contains a list of who has been there. Some of the caches also contain a constantly changing array of trinkets like Kaileena’s dragon, placed there for the next person to find.

For geocaching though, peaceful and picturesque Sherando Lake was a bust. We had fun there, don’t get me wrong. The weather was splendid, as you can see. Mom clearly demonstrated You are never too old to be silly with a fishing net!

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Kaileena and Brea spent hours in the water — til they were “prunes,” as Mom says. And we watched some people throwing a watermelon around in a water game – one presumes there were rules, but I cannot be sure. See the watermelon? The guy with the open hand had just thrown it. Or maybe he’s trying to catch it?

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Alas, geocaching – along with so many other activities nowadays – requires internet. Zeroing in on a specific cache online gets you exact (longitudinal and latitudinal) coordinates that take you to within 16 feet of the cache. Erika had checked the online global geocaching map and knew there were some caches near Sherando Lake, but of course they are not out in the open – what would be the fun of that!? By the time we got to the lake, we had no signal. She even drove to a parking lot next to the fishing end of the lake, but mountains will be mountains and will sometimes very effectively block signals.

We had better luck at Walnut Creek the next day. A county park closer to home, Walnut Creek is almost as pretty as Sherando Lake.

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The lifeguards told us internet was sketchy here too, but “See those two little pine trees up on the hill? Try there.”

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They are hard to see in the shadow, but Erika, Kaileena and I trekked up toward them anyway …

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… and sure enough, service! Terrible service, make no doubt, but as we all know, one bar is better than no bars. Within a quarter mile, the coordinates told us, up the hill more, to the right and through the woods, we would find the cache. Erika switched to compass mode on her phone and off we went, following the arrow. It tells you almost step by step how close you now are.

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No two caches will look the same. When on the search, as you make your way toward the hidden or not-quite-hidden cache, the thing to look for is something odd, something out of place, something not as it should be. Hmmm, here we were, branches snapping underfoot, clueless about any specifics to look for other than “it will look wrong.” See how on top of the phone it says “One of these things is not like the o…” We knew ahead of time that this cache was a micro-cache, meaning it would be too small to put the bug into, but we were determined to find it anyway (challenging as that might be!).

We got to where Erika’s arrow stopped. “We are within 16 feet. It’s got to be here somewhere.” Miraculously, she suddenly found it – a pinecone hanging at eye level from a branch with fishing line (which is not as pinecones should be hanging from trees). “One of these things is not like the o…” has to mean “One of these branches [from which a pinecone hangs] is not like the others.”  Hanging right underneath the pinecone, a little cache. Ta-da!!

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Closer up, the pinecone looked like this. See the little cache hanging off it? See the fishing line above?

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This little waterproof case holds a paper list of those who have stopped by.

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Both Kaileena and Erika added their info. Erika then re-rolled-up the list, tucked it back in, screwed the lid on and put it back on the pinecone. That’s it, folks! Quite the lovely view we had from the top of that hill…

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… but back to the lakeside beach we went.

What about the dragon-bug, you ask? (I knew you didn’t forget.) The next day, Erika and Kaileena got new coordinates, found a box in a stone wall near the hospital in Charlottesville, deposited the bug and signed their code names. The box was a bit worn and shabby, could stand to be replaced, so Erika added a note to the online info about this particular cache. Someone else will come along sooner or later and replace the box hopefully, and maybe even decide to give that bug a ride and take it elsewhere.

Who knows where it will land next!

 

Enough is As Good As a [ _____ ]

When Claudia visited in 2016, her first trip to the states in a few decades, we were acutely aware of how rare and precious our time together was. You know how it is – time flies with dear friends. You want to do everything you’ve been talking about for so long: Let’s make that no-knead bread and the homemade mozzarella cheese and a salad so you can dress it the way I love, oh and let me show you how we make our pizza now. Let’s watch Downton Abbey and Witness and The Lives of Others – and have you seen The IT Crowd? (Both stupid and hilarious, for when we just want to laugh!) Monticello is nearby, and Yoder’s, and the downtown pedestrian mall that’s so much like Burlington’s, and don’t forget Barboursville Vineyards with its cool stone ruins of Governor Barbour’s mansion. Let’s take walks in the morning when it’s brisk and in the daytime when the sun is warm and in the evening when the sun glows in the western sky – oh, yes, and Humpback Rocks is a great hike, best in the evening (not like Tirol, okay, but for Virginia, a great hike!).

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We had only nine days. And when I had asked her ahead of time what she wanted to do when she came, she replied with one word: “Rest.”

So let’s, instead, be real. Life comes down to choices, right? As I lamented, she comforted: Zu viel nimmt weg von genug, which I wrote down on a post-it, duly translated and left stuck on the side of my fridge.

Too much takes away from enough.

You could play with the translation and say Too much is worse than enough or Too much negates enough. The idea made sense – if we try to do too much, the time will not be restful, we’ll make ourselves crazy, we’ll miss the balance. And the German had a nice cadence to it. But the verbatim translation didn’t quite work for me. It stuck in my mouth somehow. And it never occurred to me to flip it around and put “enough” at the beginning.

This past week I got help from Mary Poppins. As I watched my five-year-old great niece giggling her way through this classic, I stumbled on a translation of Zu viel nimmt weg von genug that I’d missed the last, oh, say, five times I watched this movie. After the bit of nursery magic when all the toys and clothes dance and bounce and jump around, finding their way into drawers and cabinets and closets, converting the room from messy to tidy in a few delightful minutes, Jane and Michael wanted to do it again. More magic! More fun! How can that be bad? Mary Poppins drew the line in her practically-perfect, matter-of-fact way: “Enough is as good as a feast.” Click on the link to watch her say it.

Well, look at that! In 1910, the setting for this film, they too were struggling with When is enough? Where is the line? Clearly this is not a new problem. Well before that, people in biblical times were likewise advised about moderation. Have you found honey? Eat only what you need…. (Proverbs 25:16)

The idea of potential excess, should-I-or-shouldn’t-I-cross-that-line, comes up all the time.

What fills a day (or nine days)? Activity, yes, but how much is enough to be fun and satisfying yet avoid utter exhaustion?

What fills a house? Stuff, but how much is enough to fend off clutter and inundation?

What fills our bellies? Food and drink, but how much is enough for good health? How much crosses the line?

Decisions. Every day I have to make hard decisions – not every day as in on a daily basis, no, I mean continually    throughout    every    day – what to say yes to, what to spend money on, what to put in my mouth. Abundance has a downside, some would say a curse.

Funny, we don’t have trouble deciding how long to stand there rubbing our hands together with the soap before we decide they are clean enough. We know when’s enough. We’re pretty good about knowing how fast to drive (we value our lives), how much physical space should exist between us and the person standing next to us (how close would be too close), how many toppings we want to put on our pizza (how many would be too many), when we’ve been sitting too long (need to move!), when enough time has passed since we last heard from an old friend (time to send a message). How come that same mostly-good judgment can’t apply so nonchalantly and easily to (pick a temptation, any temptation) shall we say ice cream?!

While standing in line to get ice cream recently, the person next to me ordered a small but said out loud while staring at the price list that looked something like this,

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“I want the super-size.”

Aren’t people the same no matter what year it is!?

A friend who was watching her weight once told me that a small scoop of ice cream didn’t taste better than a large bowlful, and that when she had less, she savored it more – or at least she was trying to train herself to think this way!

Maybe training is the answer. We can train ourselves (or be trained) to do new tasks at work. We adapt to new surroundings or circumstances with a bit of self-talk. It’s an idea.

Hmmm, but I like a feast as well as anyone. (We have only nine days! … That bread is fresh now! … I really like that bowl/table/shirt/game/book/gadget!)

How about mental gymnastics? Maybe I could reconfigure the feast, spread it out over time a bit or have one a little less often?

I hear once again my wise professor’s words. The topic at the time was bacon: Should I eat it? Shouldn’t I? How much? He calmly said three words: Balance. Variety, Moderation. Is it really that simple? Maybe.

My Imperfect Home

If you could live anywhere, where would it be? Do you have a top three? Are you there now? Have you ever been there? Does that place appeal to you because of the people who already live there or the people you would be with if you went there? Do the politics draw you? What about the culture? The natural beauty? The economic opportunities? Would you go because of the proximity to hiking trails, golf courses, excellent restaurants? Did you get where you are somehow and happily (or complacently) just stay, or did you firmly and purposefully decide that’s where you want to be?

I came to Virginia when I needed a job. We had been in Vermont many years, then moved to Maine so I could attend grad school. You get more for your dollar in Maine. I traded a standard raised ranch in Vermont (which, to be fair, we had made very nice) for a very cool log house in Maine. It was on the first fairway of a golf course, had three interior staircases, two driveways, a 20-foot granite fireplace and exposed logs in the living room…

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…and access to a pristine, private lake. (Oh, did I ever wish I could airlift that house to Virginia when we moved here!)

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Winter of 2004-05 in Maine was a snowy one. I was not unfamiliar with snow – we got plenty of it in Vermont as well. But we did not have a plow for shoveling the driveways, instead had plain old ordinary snow shovels. One morning as I was leaving for school, the snow was so deep I had to take it down one layer at a time, three layers deep. That means I took as much onto my shovel as I could once… twice… three times in order to get to the asphalt. That’s a lot of snow. When the time came to choose a new place to live, I think it can be understood that part of my reasoning was Yeah, maybe not so much snow.

Mom and Dad lived in New Jersey and I wanted to be a reasonable car ride from them, so as a starting point I drew a one-day’s-drive-from-them circle around their location and decided that anywhere within that circle was acceptable – point being, I did not want to have to get on a plane to get to their house. Their health was okay at the time, nothing alarming, but I look ahead. When a job came up in Charlottesville, Virginia, I remembered that some Vermont neighbors had moved there and had said nonchalantly one time that the daffodils bloom in February.

Daffodils in February?? After thigh-deep snow that sounded heavenly. Plus it was “only” a seven-eight hour drive from Mom and Dad. Okay. Virginia it is. I took this photo in February of 2017.

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As it turns out, this part of Virginia has a lot going for it. We get all four seasons – glorious blooming spring (oh the redbuds!)…

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…a longer growing season than up north (you can harvest spinach in December!), colorful foliage in the fall (okay, maybe not as spectacular as in Vermont, but still breathtaking) and real snow in the winter (though half an inch in the forecast causes school to be closed).

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But we are far enough west from the Eastern seaboard to avoid the more serious downsides of crazy coastal storms (winds usually dissipate by the time a storm moving north up the coast gets this far inland – which applies to both hurricanes and winter storms). And being on the eastward side of the Blue Ridge Mountains means that storms coming from the west or southwest are interrupted in their movement by those mountains and we get a lesser version of their fury and usually less snow. Summers are hot but there’s air conditioning and c’mon, with a/c it’s tolerable. When I am gearing up to complain, I try to remember that a/c is a relatively new comfort – imagine living in the South when there was none, and people were not so free to choose airier, lighter and less body-covering clothes.

So, yes, the climate has pluses. Also, the University of Virginia is in town, there are resorts and wineries and historic sites nearby for my visitors, and Washington DC is a two-hour drive away. I’m very happy in my neck of the Virginia commonwealth. All good, right?

Nope. No place is perfect. Everywhere, every place, has some negative to it, some imperfection. I didn’t say Overwhelmingly Imperfect. I didn’t say Intolerably Imperfect. But Imperfect nonetheless.

Funny, on Saturday afternoon Samuel and I were driving together talking about places to live and why a person would go here or there. “They have scorpions in the Southwest,” I told him. “I’d hate that.” New Orleans might get flooded again, Austin has tarantulas, California has some serious fault lines and the North is so darn cold.

Then, on Saturday evening, Sandy was driving out past the chicken coop and thought he saw a black snake in the driveway. You might recall from a previous post that I am not fond of snakes, even black snakes that are supposedly the good ones. On closer inspection, this snake was not a black snake. It was the ultra-nasty, potentially deadly kind called copperhead. He chopped its head off with a shovel (thank you, Sandy!) before coming to get me and Samuel. For least fifteen minutes we stared at it and took some pictures before our Disgust Sensors reached their limit and it was time to pitch the body and the head over the hill into the woods. Despite the amount of time since the head had been severed, those jaws were still in chomping mode and that body was still twitching. Ugh! Mega-ugh!

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As we walked back to the house, I said to Samuel, “Why do I live in the country?”

He replied, “How long have you lived here?”

“Eight years,” I said.

“And how many copperheads have you seen here before today?”

“Zero.”

Not that others hadn’t seen them. Not that Sandy hadn’t killed five the first year and Bradley hadn’t seen a black snake eating one the second year. But they are rare. We’ve seen bear once on the property and so has our neighbor. I’ve seen a black widow spider once. We hear the coyotes frequently. There are supposedly wolves again in the Blue Ridge and I’ve heard of rattle snakes around here too. All these creatures are possibly deadly. Hey, we even had an earthquake a few years ago.

My Airbnb cottage guests sometimes say this place is a slice of paradise. In many ways it is. But no place is perfect. No place is without some negative. It may get to twenty below in Vermont, but you don’t have deadly snakes and spiders – they just can’t tolerate the cold. You might have an occasional monstrous earthquake in San Francisco, but you don’t need a sub-zero parka.

By extension, the same applies to a job, a church, a relationship, a pet, a car even. I LOVE driving a stick-shift, always chose that option when I could, but when I was in the market in 2012, the most reliable car with the best gas mileage was a Prius and there was no option for 5-speed standard clutch. It just isn’t made that way. So yeah, I drive an automatic now.

Imperfect is the norm, and that’s okay. Imperfect is enough work, enough trouble, as it is. I shudder to think how stressed I would be if I upped the bar and expected perfection of myself, of my home, of the people in my world. I’d make myself crazy, or miserable, or both. No, thanks.

A Mighty Oak Meets the Earth

Imagine being a very big tree, a mighty red oak. You have been standing in your same spot on a Virginia hillside for a very long time, say, at least a hundred years. You are part of a forest, not a national park or anything so grand, just a peaceful forest not terribly far from the Blue Ridge Mountains. You grew strong over the years, pushed your way ever higher toward the sun.

Ah, the sun, the seasons. Bask. Bask.

When you were about 50, some humans came to the site to build a house, but you survived this possible demise because of being just far enough away from the spot they decided was best. They put a utility pole fairly near you, but its inanimate state was uninteresting, and you said Paugh, who cares about that?

When you were about 90 and towering proudly among your adjacent tree-fellows, another risk came along, another building project, a cottage this time, but your majestic canopy and the glorious shade it provided these new humans saved you. You said to the young beech trying to grow right next to you, I’m feeling a mite weak in the joints, little fella, but don’t get any ideas about taking this spot. I’ve been here a long time. No offense, but it’s mine.

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Wind. It comes, it blows.

The sound of a tree-fellow nearby crashing to the ground during a storm always adds to the drama of the day, always causes you to ponder your own strength and good fortune. You tell yourself that if you were not meant to become the mightiest grandfather in this neck of the woods, you would have fallen already. Some tree has to become the giant among giants – it might as well be you. Then one spring day that blasting wind comes again, and in one super painful stroke, your hugest north-pointing limb lets go at the joint, its weight bringing it instantly to the forest floor below and leaving a massive, open, splintery wound on your side.

Crap.

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The humans come and inspect. They bring other humans to come and inspect. They all shake their heads and use words like risky, problem and electrocution. Electrocution? They point to that inanimate pole that’s closer than it used to be… or, oh, maybe you’re just bigger than you used to be. No! you want to say to them. Don’t worry! I am still strong! I can stand another fifty years! You are a little like Mike Mulligan, who used to say about Mary Anne (his steam shovel) that “she could dig as much in a day as a hundred men could dig in a week.” In this classic children’s book, Mike’s assertion is always followed by “but he had never been quite sure that this was true.”

You are not quite sure that you will not fall one day and hit the cable coming off that pole. You cannot be sure. The humans cannot be sure. As they walk away, you want to believe it will all be okay. You settle into your new life, feeling somewhat off balance, slightly less steady, especially when the wind kicks up, now that you have no huge branch on the north side counterweighting all the other branches. Weeks go by. The humans seem to have lost interest. What a relief.

Then one day some big vehicles arrive. They stare and say, “See how it leans?” They curiously turn their attention to a perfectly nice (younger, smaller) oak that stands between you and the biggest vehicle.

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Odd.

You watch. A man sits in the bucket attached to the vehicle, starts at the top, lops off branch after branch, then sections off the main part of the trunk one piece at a time, letting each one crash. Huh. They cut that poor little fellow down to earth-level for no seemingly good reason. Then they move the truck in closer.

Oh.

It’s your turn. They start on the side closest to that damn pole. They work carefully to make sure nothing falls near the cable. The 75’ reach of the bucket is barely high enough to get them to the best position. But they manage. Bit by bit, they buzz their tool and drop your limbs. Parts of you that only ever knew sky meet the earth.

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Then they move on to the side that hangs over the little cottage. Yeah, you knew that lowest one was perhaps your weakest limb. Maybe they had reason to worry about that one. It didn’t take much for it to break. They were careful on that side, using a rope around it to make sure that when it swung down, it would avoid the cottage roof and land where they wanted.

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This is it, you realize. You reached, you grew, you survived. You gave beauty to the forest, shade to the humans, home sites and abundant food to forest creatures for many years. Now you will give warmth by way of firewood. Lots of yourself is already on the ground, the danger of hitting the pole now a thing of the past, but they left some for the next guy to come and fell.

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“Sad,” you hear the lady of the house saying. “Reminds me of The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein,” she says, “a book that’s been called ‘a touching interpretation of the gift of giving.’ Maybe that’s what this tree did. It gave. For many years it gave. As with all of us, its days were numbered – even if none of us ever know the number! But chapters do close….”

Since Micah’s death, there have been two more people that I knew for years, two more I talked with, played with, greatly admired, two more who gave to those around them, who added depth, joy, love, fun and substantial contributions to the circle they walked in, two more whose chapters have closed. To the families of C. Wayne Callaway and Ken Brown, I offer my deepest condolences.

Shakespeare’s Pick Up Lines

It’s funny to me that when we go to a Shakespeare play, we understand at the outset that we will miss a lot of the dialog, we will miss some of the meaning and some innuendos, therefore possibly even some basic elements or twists of the plot. The language is challenging to say the least. Yet we continue to go at least two or three times a year. Last week we saw The Comedy of Errors. Even if some of us didn’t understand about how the gold watch and the money for it fit in till the end, we were still rolling in laughter almost the entire time.

These two “servants” in their matching plaid shirts (shown here during the pre-show, take-photos-now-or-never, come-get-a-drink-on-stage time) and all their compatriots performed hilarious slapstick that needs no words.

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The basic premise of the story involves, according to the American Shakespeare Center’s website, “two long-separated twins, their two tricky servants (also twins), a jealous wife and her lovelorn sister….” You can’t help but enjoy how they find each other, fool each other and ultimately feel great joy together in this all’s-well-in-the-end family drama.

The costuming is from the 1940s. Why not? One actor embellished her role with a heavy Brooklyn accent. Shiny-red-with-big-white-hearts undershorts made a brief appearance, as did fluttering eyelashes, hops onto the laps of those patrons watching from the primo on-stage seats and ouch-didn’t-that-hurt(?!) dives onto the wooden stage.

This troupe of professional actors, performing three or four plays a season, eight or ten shows a week in Staunton, Virginia, has never failed to make me glad we drove the 45 minutes up and over Afton Mountain to get there. They don’t do only Shakespeare. Every year we attend their version of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, which they keep as fresh and enlightening as traditional and heartwarming. Scrooge generally works his way roughly through the audience as, in the script, he is fighting the crowd on the street on Christmas Eve. One year on his trek between rows, he took a cup an audience member was holding, tasted it, made a face and gave it back. We roared.

You can’t get away from funny at this theater. We all know Shakespeare’s material runs from comedy to tragedy, and there is generally some love interest (because in life, there is generally some love interest). This is the theater that boldly boasts (after they explain that the play will be performed in full lighting as it was in Shakespeare’s day), “We do it with the lights on.”

Bravo to the person who decided to put Shakespeare’s top ten pick up lines on a t-shirt. I expect this is a perennial bestseller in their gift shop.

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In case you find them hard to read on the shirt, allow me to make it easier (minus the references). I cannot speak to the order they are in: chronological according to when the play was written? favorites of the t-shirt creator in reverse order? most or least likely to achieve desired outcome?

You can decide which is your favorite, which you wish someone would use on you, which is most romantic, which you would soooo enjoy using one of these days just to see the reaction you’d get, which would warm your heart, which would bring images of intimacy most effectively to mind…

10. If thou hast sinned, teach me.

9. I come to answer thy best pleasure.

8. I thy parts admire.

7. Come sit on me.

6. Madam, my instrument’s in tune.

5. I entreat thee home with me.

4. I’ll do it in my shirt.

3. Make some sign how I may do thee ease.

2. Let me take you a buttonhole lower.

1. With thy lips keep in my soul a while.

There is no way to top the top ten. I leave it right there for you to do with as you please 😊

Welcome/Unwelcome

Now here is a conundrum. What do you do when a thing that creeps you out, makes your flesh woobly and jiggles your insides is actually good? When, as much as you want to destroy it with one fell chop on the neck or well-aimed whack of a shovel, you are indeed asking for more trouble?

Not everything that looks bad is bad. Not everything you want to obliterate ought to be obliterated. But put yourself in my shoes. Okay, my sandals.

You are walking toward your house, hands full. Mine were full of cleaning supplies, yours might have groceries or sporting equipment. You decide to go into the house by way of the back door – easier to drop off your stuff – and you head along the side of the house to where the staircase leads up onto the back deck. About ten paces away from the bottom step you look up and you do not like what you see.

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Yup, a black snake. The question then is this: Is it a snake that’s black, or a black snake?

Snakes in general make me nervous, and someone told me a long time ago that juvenile copperheads look a lot like black snakes. Copperheads are bad, very bad, and they certainly live in my area.  You will spend $500 for a vet visit if your dog tussles with one. Copperhead bites (to pets or humans) are serious, though fatalities are rare and they will bite you only if you try to handle them or if you step on them. I got close enough to take a picture, but that’s it.

It turns out that juvenile copperheads don’t look a lot like black snakes (having one in what I consider my territory encourages googling them!), therefore this is not one of those I should worry about. Therefore I return to the conundrum. Black snakes are the kind of snakes you want in your vicinity. They eat unwanted rodents and other pests. They can even kill the copperheads! Still, they are snakes. Are they welcome or unwelcome? What is it about them that is sooooo unnerving?

Is it the no-legs thing? Is that just too weird? It is the slithering thing? Is it their ability to move vertically without seeming effort or grip? Is it the tongue that flicks in and out? Why do our fear and disgust sensors kick into high gear?

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This photo gives you an idea of its size. Small, as snakes go. Harmless, as snakes go. But I don’t like it! I want it to go away!

Let’s get a little closer (and thank God for cropping tools!). Is it the eyes that chill my spine?

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Makes me think about other things we like as much as we dislike.

French fries come to mind. I love them, but if they are not in front of me I will not eat them, and that is infinitely better for my body.

What about our cell phones? How amazing is it that we can call people, message people, take/send photos/videos, do research, make reservations, calculate numbers, play games, etc, etc, etc. on one device, but go crazy when we can’t get a signal or when we are bombarded by robo-calls or when the battery dies at a very inconvenient time? We never used to have a way to tell someone we were five minutes away – we just gave our best estimate and got there when we got there. We never chatted with friends unless we were in the same room – but those in-person conversations were so much richer.

Thunderstorms? Loud and violent but bring much needed rain (usually) and have a wonderful majestic quality.

Airplanes? So unnatural being 30,000 feet up in the sky, but they do get us to faraway places quickly.

All right, I admit I don’t want French fries or cell phones or thunderstorms or airplanes to go away altogether (maybe just sometimes), and I don’t dislike them anywhere close to how much I dislike snakes. I admit there’s not much I dislike more than a snake. You have your own list of what rattles you to the core.

But black snakes serve a useful purpose despite their inherent eeriness.  I just don’t know what to do with myself when one shows up. Should I be grateful? Thank you for eating all the nasty little mice we don’t want getting into the attic or the basement. But what’s to stop the snake from getting into the chicken coop and feasting on eggs? Nothing. What’s to stop one from showing up on the deck of the cottage and terrifying my Airbnb guests? Nothing. It’s one thing to see wildlife like owls perched in nearby trees or eagles soaring overhead or foxes scampering through the woods. But snakes? No one wants a snake to appear uninvited — especially while enjoying a cup of morning coffee in a lounge chair under the canopy of trees. Okay, a few people might think it’s cool. But most won’t.

To be fair, they are not a common sight. I see a snake about every other year (which is plenty for me!). Perhaps being deep in the woods has an advantage. There’s enough forest all around me, enough natural wooded environment, that they don’t have to come up to the house. Usually they don’t. I wish they wouldn’t. Why can’t they just not come so close?

Betty Alights on Golden Hill

Right now in my corner of the world, temps are in the mid-60s, low breeze, clear skies, super air quality, perfect sleeping weather, perfect waking up weather. I wonder if that’s why a winged marvel decided to stop by.

Betty, her code name in Virginia, was surely on a scouting mission. She and umpteen others like her have been sent far and wide to check out and report on landing sites that could potentially turn into what her kind calls “home zones.” Points to consider include number, health and variability of maple and oak trees, hiding and nesting options, and the HIF (Human Interference Factor).

Daredevil Betty chose her alightment spot without hesitation, determining it to be both shady (she was hot and tired from the journey) and central (for gaining a full assessment of the surroundings). She touched down, initially unseen, and kept still as a stone, but was less than successful at the stealth part of her job description for two reasons.

  1. Boldly contrasting colors are not as inconspicuous as she thinks. She saw the soft gray-green of the siding, thought of her own soft yellow coloring and decided Yeah, that’ll work. But she momentarily forgot about her baby-girl-pink stripes. Color valuation was never her strong suit.
  2. Vanity got in the way. No one can blame her for thinking that her yellow hair, fine and fluffy, is her crowning glory, and no one can deny that the way it coordinates with the rest of her cape and sleeves is primo. No one can fault her for having an iota of hope that even while gathering intel for her superiors, she might be noticed and admired (and left alone).

Betty showed up quite nicely against the siding of the cottage.

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Is this for real?! Do we really live in a world where moths are the crayon colors a child would choose? The delicate wisps of fluff on the heads of these yellow-topped fuzzies, the tiny pincers that I assume work to gain it food or whatever else moths want, the near-perfect (but not quite because then it might as well be manufactured) symmetry of the coloration – you can’t make this stuff up! Betty caught my eye as I came up to the door. She is a Rosy Maple, apparently not altogether uncommon all the way up and down the East coast.

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Her report is as follows:

Location (1-10 scale):
Hidden – 9
Quiet – 10 (excepting resident and migratory wildlife and HIF)
Safe – 10 (excepting unanticipated newcomers)

Oak/Maple Ratio: 20:1

Aerial View of Alightment Spot:

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Anomalies:

1. Gawky, squawky birds in secure enclosure, some attempting (though failing utterly) to mimic/compete with Rosy Maple hair style.

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2. Unintelligent hard-shelled reptile stuck until rescued.

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3. Broken Oak (sheltering possibilities).

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Human Interference Factor:

Insignificant. Humans emerge from a domestic enclosure or arrive in loud vehicles; putz around briefly; make noise; move objects; tend to above-noted, enclosed, gawky, squawky birds; speak with each other as well as the assortment of clueless, funny-looking canines (see photos below) as if they can understand; and drive away or disappear back into domestic enclosure.

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Additional Observations:

Roses in bloom.

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Strawberries coming.

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Directional Assistance.

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Summary

Observations and Assumptions: Optimal mix of open and wooded spaces. Oaks predominate dense treescape; far fewer maples than desired. Clear signs of benign activity (human and canine), restricted by their inability to fly, all notably innocuous excepting one human (sensed from behind while I was in stealth mode) with flat shiny black object that clicks; no harm occurred. Typical native wildlife unobserved on this visit includes hawks, eagles, owls and other snatchers; skinks and lizards and other quick-tongued crawlies; coyotes, foxes, wild turkeys and other larger predators undoubtedly intent on larger prey and therefore unimportant. Directional assistance could be handy.

Recommendation: Excellent home zone potential. For purposes of resting and nesting, this safe, viable location is well suited. 

Respectfully submitted,
Betty, R.M.

 

Making the World More Beautiful

We get our images from all over the place – from real life, from books, television, movies, YouTube, wherever. Images stick with you sometimes, like wallpaper inside your head, a permanent part of the structure. I read a lot of books to my kids when they were small. One image, from one of those books, was this.

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The character you see, Miss Alice Rumphius, had a grandfather who had traveled to faraway places and then become an artist and lived by the sea. She told him, “When I grow up, I too will go to faraway places, and when I grow old, I too will live by the sea.”  

“That is all very well, little Alice,” said her grandfather, “but there is a third thing you must do.”

“What is that?” asked Alice.

“You must do something to make the world more beautiful,” said her grandfather.

“All right,” said Alice. But she did not know what that could be.

Whenever I turned to this page, where Miss Rumphius, as a young woman now, goes into a conservatory and lets “the warm, moist air wrap itself around her and the sweet smell of jasmine fill her nose,” I was right there with her. I was in that big glass house where the beauty of gorgeous, growing things filled me too, enveloped me too, transported me too. Almost.

The way she puts it: “This is almost like a tropical isle…. But not quite.”

So she went to a real tropical isle (and I’ll tell you later how she made the world more beautiful.)

I’ll settle for a real conservatory.

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Monday was the perfect day to visit the Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens in Richmond, Virginia. There you get the real deal – the huge glass house, the pool with fountains, the pathways with multiple shades of green leafery hanging from stone archways…

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…the azaleas bursting with color…

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… even a turtle scurrying off under more incredible blooms.

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But in that conservatory, oh my, you are indeed transported. The wing of the building with the orchids left me speechless. This gives you some idea.

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I know you can buy orchids in the grocery store now. Yeah, yeah, flowers, you say. Look a little closer at these flowers! Their colors, delicacy, form, patterning, individuality, splendor! Let your eyes fill up with the beauty of these blooms and tell me if you are not, even in a small way, transported to a place of wonder…

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In this same conservatory is a special room for incredibly beautiful butterflies and moths. You enter through one door into an airlock space, then through another door into a larger space where flutterings happen all around you and even on you! This weary traveler used Mom’s leg as a pit stop for a few minutes. She, post-back-surgery, wisely limiting her walking, happily hosted him. Uhhhhhh…. Is it going to fly off soon?

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He was perfect and delicate up close.

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But not quite as pretty as his fellow flutterers. They were not so easy to photograph. Orchids just sit there of course. These fellows do land here and there, but often they close up their wings so you can’t see their glorious spreads. I caught a few – some on plants, some on metal grates, some on the rotting fruit put there for them to feed off. Again note their colors, delicacy, form, patterning, individuality, splendor!

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Whoever made this conservatory, whoever grows and maintains the orchids, whoever protects and oversees the butterfly/moth room – these people have surely done something to make the world more beautiful.

Miss Alice Rumphius, for her part, planted a few flower seeds – lupines, one of her favorites – at her house by the sea, and then fell ill for a long time. From her bed she saw out her window that the blue and purple and rose-colored flowers had come up the next year and she said, “I have always loved lupines the best. I wish I could plant more seeds this summer so that I could have still more flowers next year.”

But she was not able to.

The next spring, when she was finally able to get around a bit, she saw a large patch of lupines on the other side of the hill! The birds and the wind had dispersed the seeds and her one small act, her few planted seeds, had made the world just a little more beautiful.

Then Miss Rumphius had a wonderful idea!

She ordered five bushels of lupine seeds from the very best seed house and sowed them everywhere she went. The next spring, and every year after that, there were more and more lupines. Miss Rumphius had done the third, the most difficult thing of all!

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Now let me think… For my part, what am I doing to make the world more beautiful?…

 

___________________________

Miss Rumphius, Story and Pictures by Barbara Cooney, Viking Penguin Inc., 1982

Oh, Glorious Redbud

I might be able to convince myself that I can make food or do jigsaw puzzles or dig in the yard, but I draw the line at technology. Last week I was out of my mind trying to get the pictures in this post to upload, tried this, gave up, tried that, gave up, chatted with the person you can chat with who might be able to solve the problem (that didn’t help either), got distracted making Easter dinner for eleven people and a very cool Easter carrot cake / cheesecake with my sister — wanna see?…

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…and the only way I am uploading photos now is through my phone’s hotspot (which I have never used in my life anywhere) but hey, it’s working.

This tree, the one I tried to write about in the first place, looked this pretty a week ago. Its leaves are coming out now but just pretend it still looks like this.

It had to have been standing there in that same spot at the one end of my driveway when I moved here eight years ago. You can’t miss it, right? I’m talking about the pink one. Please note: I am not responsible for the pink tree bearing the name “redbud.” Do you see red? I don’t see red.

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But I hardly remember seeing this tree the first few years, which tells you something about how busy I was with other things, how un-focused. Shall we say blind?

Maybe I just didn’t know what I was looking at. I did not grow up with redbuds. Maybe the climate in New Jersey is too cold for them? Certainly they don’t grow in Vermont, where I spent twenty-some years. But in Virginia and south of here (maybe north of here? maybe Maryland or Pennsylvania? I have no idea), you find them randomly all over the place. I especially like their splash of color along the highway here and there.

Two years ago my son Bradley transplanted a smaller one to the front of the cottage. It was small in comparison with the one at the end of the driveway, but big enough, i.e. the roots were already deep enough, that he did not have much hope for its survival.

We chose the wrong time of year to transplant – May (!) of all times. It had fully leafed out by then. To be honest, I didn’t even know what kind of tree it was. I just knew it was getting too big to stay in the back corner of the garden (as were some others, but this one was in front of them and had to come first). Look how big it is! This is a tree that started as a stick with wet, icky, short white tentacles at one end that you take for roots, the kind of stick you get in the mail when you send the arbor foundation a donation. I’d say it did pretty well.

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But getting it out was not fun at all for Bradley.

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Poor tree. If it had a way to protest, I’m sure it would have. Wintertime, folks! Wintertime or fall or springtime is best for transplanting! At least wait until after my leaves have fallen and I’ve gone dormant!

Oh, well, what did we know? I was just glad for Bradley’s muscles! He even smoothed out the dirt after moving the tree. Piper was so small two years ago!

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It makes me think about how many things I have done or continue to do with so very little understanding. These are a few items on my very long list, which does not include the aforementioned tech stuff.

  • Something is wrong with my rhubarb. It’s not growing as well as it did for a few years. There’s a reason for that, but I have no idea what it is. Maybe it needs food? Maybe it gets too much sun? Maybe I should look it up?
  • Some of the plants I put in the large planter boxes last year have returned. I think. I mean, I think they are the same. Maybe they are weeds. Maybe they are a perennial, which would be nice! I’ll wait a bit and see.
  • Weeds have definitely barged into the strawberry bed. They are purple flowers, quite pretty actually. But maybe I am beginning a losing battle?

 

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Sandy and I moved many clumps of these purple weeds, and they look nice (for now) next to the arbor that leads into the garden, though I suspect we will be moving them out of the strawberry bed on a regular basis.

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Back to that redbud Bradley transplanted two years ago – I did know to keep it well-watered, especially in the heat of summer. Every evening I watered that poor tree, knowing full well it was complaining about being jerked around and relocated. I had hope! This is what it looked like initially. Pretty good, huh? Looks healthy!

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Bradley was doubtful, un-encouraging, disbelieving. Brace yourself, Mom, It’ll probably die. Every time I gave him a report about it (The tree’s doing well, Brad! It hasn’t died yet!), he’d say Don’t get your hopes up. I kept watering and watering.

Look at it this spring! Two years later and it has flowers. I think it survived!

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The redbuds bloom just before the dogwoods. Here’s a close-up of the buds I saw last week in one of the trees we transplanted this winter. I think it too is going to survive.

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Pretty soon they will be gorgeous white flowers. Oh, right, that was last week. By the time I got the pictures to attach, those buds bloomed. Now it looks like this.

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Soon something else will bloom. Don’t ask me what – I have no idea! I might know a little more about gardening than about technology, but not much. Right now I’m just glad to be able to post something again.