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The Volunteer

Blog Post #41

mojave desert

Mojave Desert

This year, our otherwise fruitful garden looks more like the Mojave Desert. After much deliberating, my husband, Brad, chose not to plant his favored vegetable garden because of the amount of water it would require during a time of serious drought. Reluctantly, he sacrificed his annual indulgence of thick, red, juicy slices of homegrown garden tomatoes to go on his homemade bread spread with a generous layer of homemade basil pesto. We still have the bread and pesto, but let’s face it—eating a grocery store tomato is like biting into a bar of soap. I was sad when he told me his plans, because I know how he looks forward to this summer delicacy each year, often eating his healthy, tomato-y treat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, all in the same day!

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A few months ago, our grandson, Max, came to do some yardwork and weed the neglected garden plot. As I was showing him what he needed to pull-up, we found a small tomato plant had pushed its way up through the soil and was competing with the weeds for sun and for the gentle showers that were the gift of Kind Providence throughout the winter and spring. I put a stake in the ground next to the little volunteer tomato plant to identify it, and told Max to pull up everything but the tomato. I was excited to show it to Brad when he got home from work!  However, it’s hard to beat “Nature’s Son” when it comes to anything having to do with the natural world. He had spotted it long before I did.

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Hobble Creek Canyon, Springville, Utah

I’m not sure why I thought I could see it first. Eons ago, when we were dating, Brad would be driving up Hobble Creek Canyon in Utah at forty miles per hour, and would point to a mountainside from here to the North Pole, exclaiming, “See those deer on the side hill?” I’d strain my eyes in the general direction he pointed. I saw the mountain all right; I saw trees in abundance, but no deer. Squinting like an utterly bewildered four-year-old intently focused on the night sky at the end of her dad’s pointed finger as she tried to locate Cassiopeia, I’d say with frustration, “WHERE?”  To which he’d once again point in the general direction of Lake Erie and cry, “Those little white things—on the side hill!” “NO! I don’t see them!” I’d cry, desperate, now.  “There!” he’d announce with greater intensity and heightened pitch. Again, I’d stare wild-eyed at the mountain looking for the white things, with one eye wandering (like ‘Mad-Eye’ Moody) toward the road—since someone needed to look at it. Finally, after whizzing by that blur of mountainside, he’d back up the Ford Bronco and pull to the side of the road.

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Old Ford Bronco similar to the one Brad drove

After ten more minutes of straining, at last, I could see the teeny-tiny, spots that were deer way off in the distance, their little white tails sticking up in alarm—as if they knew Mr. Telescope Eyes had caught them in the act of bathing. I marveled each time this happened. (I came to realize his eyes were sharp enough and trained enough to spy those bitty camouflaged specks of deer on the mountain while watching the road at the same time. I don’t know how he did it, but he did it dozens and dozens of times.)

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Lone mule deer on side hill. Imagine trying to locate this deer with the state of Vermont between you and the mountainside.

And I thought he hadn’t seen the little tomato plant….

The Volunteer

 

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The Volunteer

 

As I washed dishes, I watched the little tomato plant from the kitchen window. Moved by its courageous efforts, I went out to admire its deepening red fruit. It stood there, alone, but triumphant in that deserted garden—a monument to the strength and tenacity of a lone, little seed. The thing that most touched me was that this little plant had volunteered. It hadn’t been carefully coddled as a seedling, nor had it been transplanted like a start from a nursery. Someone else had not made the decision. It had sprung up of its own accord, against the odds, amidst neglect, and among weeds that were strangers and competitors of all it required to thrive. Not only did the little tomato plant forge onward and upward, alone in the world, it spread its leaves out and gathered in the rays of the sun, amassing strength and power to benefit its fledgling roots, asking nothing of anyone, and defying naysayers. That would be enough to admire, but that’s not all. This little volunteer is producing fruit. I counted twenty-eight tomatoes in various stages of development on its branches last evening. It volunteered in order to bless others—in a sense, the ultimate sacrifice: to give its life for its friends.

 

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A second volunteer

As I walked back toward the house with my camera in hand, pondering the little tomato plant, I noticed another volunteer. Bedecked in brightly colored regalia, it called to me to notice its offering—that of beauty and cheer. I smiled as I crouched down to take its picture. Living up to its name, little Johnny Jump-up had done just that. I realize some consider this little viola a weed because it springs up readily all over the place and with very little assistance. I see it as one of those volunteers who, tiny as it is, spreads its exuberance and optimism in the least likely places—growing just as well in topsoil as in cracks in the cement. I welcome its offering and praise its purple badge of courage for forging ahead –smiling in the face of the danger presented by its location in the sidewalk.

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I walked through the rest of the yard and was surprised to discover other characters who had long been there, but whose alter egos I hadn’t discovered before.

The Encroacher

 

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The Encroacher

All along the walls of our backyard are encroachers—vines that began growing in someone else’s yard, then gradually, stealthily, snuck-up on ours. They have now climbed and spread their leafy tentacles over the wall. Repeatedly we’ve cut them back, but without regard for our wishes, they continue to march over the wall like another wave of infantry ready for combat on the field of battle. They are determined, and ruthless, weakening the fence on the east until it has taken to leaning, and creeping onto and over the ground on the south. They care not for what we think, or what we want. I resent their pushiness. It’s not as if they’re volunteers—springing up from the ground from a forgotten seed like our little tomato.  No, they’re well-established old-timers—“The Good Ol’ Boys” of the plant world—who, with their cronies, push their network of intolerant “plantism” into our yard where they’re completely unwanted.

The Fighters

 

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The Fighters

In the yard, there’s an old, cement fountain bowl that my father made four decades ago, but cast aside because it wasn’t perfectly round in shape. (I say cast aside, not threw away. There’s a difference. My parents were of the depression era mindset that you don’t throw things away.) In time, my mother filled that old fountain with dirt and planted it with succulent plants and cacti. It sat for years in the corner of the yard on the kitchen side.

When Brad and I moved home a decade after my mother’s passing, I relegated the failing fountain succulent planter to the opposite end of the yard, filled it with fresh dirt and planted it with a variety of pretty flowers and greenery. It looked beautiful that first season, but the drought and heat took their toll and all of the plants died. I thought.

I found that each spring, drought or not, up pop these lovely little purple dwarf flowers  (Nierembergia Caerula) in a corner of the ring. They pay no heed to their location on the nether side of the yard, near the basketball court where they’re bound to get pounded at times, and where water comes in small increments—especially in that old cement bowl. They stand up shouting for respect—respect for their resilience, for their determination to survive, and for their beauty. And deservedly so. They’ve fought root and stem for their right to survive and I applaud their perseverance and admire their beauty!

The Pleasers

 

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The Pleaser

My artichoke plants have really worked hard to please. It isn’t their fault that they were planted in the middle of an ant metropolis, or that they were planted just when we were learning how expensive water is in our community, or how serious the drought had become. And it certainly isn’t their fault that their husbandmen were inexperienced with artichokes and did not know how to take better care of them so their fruit would be moist and tender. They have given their all to produce. They’ve grown to enormous proportions, producing more than twenty artichokes on a single plant. They are amazing! Unfortunately, they are tough to eat, even when picked young. Artichokes can be a labor-intensive dish to prepare (the way my mother taught me is labor intensive, but delicious). After trying to cultivate, harvest and prepare them several years in a row, I have now retired our artichoke plants.

But they are Pleasers. Brad cuts them down to the ground, and they immediately begin growing back with large and flourishing leaves. Soon more artichokes appear. I look at them and sigh. Right now, with the dynamics of our lives, I don’t have the time, energy or patience to wrestle with those tough, spiky, ant-beridden buds only to be disappointed by their toughness. Being the pleasers they are, they don’t give up there. No! After growing to the size of softballs, the buds open up their pointed petals, and begin to produce the most beautiful, soft to the touch, lavender flowers related to the thistle family. Showy? Yes! Worth the wait? Absolutely! They found a way to please—if not epicuriously, then by appealing to one’s sense of mystery, beauty and art.

The Old Stalwart

 

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The Old Stalwart

Walking back toward the house, I stopped and contemplated the great, old Peruvian Peppertree casting its cooling shade umbrella-like over the patio. For close to fifty years it has stood firm and immovable, enduring years of plenty, and years of neglect (during which time my elderly father mourned the loss of my mother), as well as undergoing hefty pruning over the decades. The Old Stalwart created a beautiful canopy for our eldest daughter’s wedding reception twenty years ago, and now, protects my father’s great-grandchildren who play under its branches from the searing rays of the sun. With quiet dignity, it stands apart, a giant beacon of hope, strength, and endurance.  It is both mighty, and serene. It is friend, and grandfather, and it is beautiful to me—like an old friend.

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Each time I walk through the yard—even though relentlessly affected by drought, or maybe because of it—I see our garden in a new way. Mother Nature’s creations are not wimpy, or cowering, but endure with a strength and resilience that demand respect and inspire awe.

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Stopping once more to gaze with admiration at The Volunteer, I am flooded with gratitude to that little tomato plant. I wonder if the seedlings from which it sprang have infused within their DNA the hours of tender-loving nurturing and care Brad gave their parent plants, and are returning the favor in kind. I think Brad will relish every single bite of those precious few tomatoes this year, and they will be the sweetest, most precious ever because they were freely offered!

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“Freely ye have received, freely give.” (Matthew 10:8)

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Einstein Quote

The True Measure of a Man

End Piece

© June 3, 2016

From the bottom of my heart, I thank you, dear Friends, for reading.

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Would You Like Your Snails Salted?

Blog Post #39

escargot-on-a-plate

Escargot or Babbaluci

My nine-year-old grandson recently told me he couldn’t wait until he could try pouring salt on a snail. I fear I’m to blame for this reckless desire. I once told him how, as children, my sister and I had explored the chemical reaction and scientific wonder of salting live snails. We did it in the name of Science, for isn’t the spirit of inquiry—isn’t downright curiosity—the basis of all science? A child’s mind is curiosity itself. We had heard an intriguing hypothesis about the effect of salt on a snail, and we performed the experiment to prove or disprove it. So fascinating was it, we experimented more than once, just to see the foaming, frothy miracle occur.

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A Snail’s Trails

Snails were in abundance in our area when I was a child, leaving their slimy little trails all over the sidewalks and lawn around our home. We stepped with caution across the dichondra that was our lawn, maneuvering as through an arcade game avoiding all the little round spiral hazards. If by accident, the sole of one’s avatar foot came in contact with these hazards, the result would be a terrible crunching sound, and goosh splattering all over said avatar.

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The ivy was newly planted around the border of the lawn in this photo taken in 1956. After it filled in it became inundated with snails.

Even before the salt experiments, Karen and I were harbingers of destruction to the poor snails inhabiting the ivy in our yard. Shod with flip-flops we tramped through the ivy just to hear that crunching sound so reminiscent of the satisfying snap of crisp fall leaves. I don’t know what we imagined made that sound, but it never occurred to us that each crunch was a tiny life, crushed away by five- and seven-year-old giants. One day our mother saw us and put a stop to it. She told us what was hidden beneath the ivy, and didn’t want the slime tracked through the  house, or her ivy smashed. (No doubt the hearty ivy better survived our stomping than those poor, unsuspecting snails.)

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It’s been decades since I’ve seen a snail traversing our yard. I don’t know where they all went. They seem to have packed up their tiny camper shells and moved on to greener pastures.  Or the real story may hearken back to those experimental days when we came in to grab a salt shaker from the kitchen and our mother wanted to know what we were going to do with it. We dragged her out to the sidewalk to show her, expecting her to be “wowed” just as we were. But she wasn’t wowed. She showed sympathy for those poor little creatures in the face of our rank brutality, convincing me I shouldn’t do such a thing like that again. Sometime after this speech, she went to the garage, got the snail bait, and scattered  it all over the yard. Like them or not, snails are notorious for eating and destroying garden flowers and crops (things immensely valued by my mother). They are, in most cases, considered pests, and though my mother had a tender heart for all living creatures, she did not welcome them, favoring the lives of her garden plants more.

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This leads to other scientific questions: Which would a snail consider to be worse? Salting—a rapid death by osmosis and dehydration? Or a slow demise by poisoning? Science will never be able to accurately answer this question, since it requires interviewing a snail.

Even though she thought salting them was inhumane, my mother really wasn’t crazy about snails. Once, when I was five or six, my grandparents (both of whom were born and reared in Sicily, and could barely speak English) came to visit our Southern California home from Detroit, where they lived out their later years.  Apparently, my grandmother thought to do a great favor for my mother. Wandering in the garden for some time, she at last returned through the back door of the kitchen. Though I was quite young, I will never forget the expression on my mother’s face when she saw her best Wearever pot in my Grandmother’s hand, filled to the brim with mucus-y, tentacled snails slowly slithering over the rim, and leaving disgusting trails of slime crisscrossing every square inch of the pot . (It was a sight I have never forgotten!) Grandmother was going to cook them for dinner. My poor mother. It was clear that repulsion followed hot on the heels of shock. In addition to accosting her delicate senses, how could my mother, (though 100% Sicilian, yet unable to utter a single word of Italian herself ) nicely tell her non-English-speaking mother-in-law, that Escargot (Babbaluci in Sicilian) was NOT happening in her kitchen using these revolting snails and her best cooking pot?

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The snails in my mother’s pot looked something like this.

 

I think my father was there and handled that uncomfortable conversation, explaining that snail bait had been spread throughout the yard in an attempt to eradicate these little calcium carbonate delicacies, and it wouldn’t be safe to eat them. It seems those garden variety snails (Helix aspersa) might have been first class for cooking had they not been exposed to poison.

The looming question became who would clean the pot? Certainly not my mother! (Thankfully, I was too little.) After some unlucky person (who, in fact, probably was my mother) did the initial cleaning and escorting of escargot from the pot, I suspect my mother put said pot through a rigorous disinfecting.

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Fast forward four decades or more. I am sitting in an elementary school classroom in Colorado. Teachers had ordered, through a science catalog or some such, some long awaited specimens for the children to study. I happened to be acting as an aid in the classroom the day the surprise specimens arrived.  I watched with rapt attention as the children’s excitement increased. Would it be some rare butterfly or chrysalis? An ant farm? I was completely surprised when, placed on the tables in front of the children, (with strict instructions as to how to handle—or not handle—them) were none other than humble garden snails (Helix aspersa), just like the ones we had so conscientiously exterminated from two of our home gardens.

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Helix aspersa

(Suddenly, I thought I could account for the exodus of a multitude of snails from our neighborhood. Perhaps some enterprising person gathered them up and sold them as scientific specimens, and perhaps as food stuff, gleaning sheer profit for his efforts.)

The children did not experiment with the effect of salt on live snails, although in the interest of science, I thought the children might find it extremely intriguing and informative. I thought about mentioning it, but, first of all, it was not my place, and secondly, I knew it would have the same effect as it did on me, my sister, and my nine-year-old grandson. It would create an intense desire to perform a scientific experiment and observe the results. I didn’t want to be responsible for the destruction of those expensive specimens, even in the name of science, so I kept quiet.

(I did find myself asking the air, “You paid for these?”) Maybe when all scientific observation was over, the teachers were planning an extraordinary feast.

I have never salted a snail since my mother encouraged me against it. While I recognize that many a gourmet (or Italian grandmother) relishes snails (Escargot or Babbaluci) as a delicacy, I sincerely hope I don’t meet them in my garden or on my plate from this time henceforward.

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My First Blog Post EVER!

End Piece

© May 19, 2016

From the bottom of my heart, I thank you, dear Friends, for reading.

 


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A Sheltering Tree

Blog Post #38

Friendship is a sheltering tree

If you ask a second grader to draw a picture of a tree, the odds are the result will consist of a brown trunk (long, thin, brown rectangle) with green leaves on top (a round splotch of green), and maybe some apples (small red spots)—don’t all trees have apples? I’ve noticed that adults sometimes perpetuate the idea that this is how trees are drawn. It has become a bit traditional, and almost generally accepted, that trees have brown trunks topped by green leaves.

When I was in third grade, we moved to a community that still had many acres of orange and lemon groves. Naturally, we learned about orange trees and smudge pots in school. As part of the lesson, our teacher asked each of us to paint a picture of an orange tree. I was new to the area, and didn’t really know an orange tree from a oak, so I painted a brown trunk with the roundish green blob at the top, and colored the usual red spots orange in the leafy top. I’ll always remember the teacher holding up Julie Wilson’s painting of an orange tree, and being completely surprised and impressed. Her painting had a tree consisting of a large irregularly roundish leafy area that went almost to the ground, with only a tiny bit of trunk showing at the bottom. The leaves were laden with oranges throughout. It was beautiful. (I think she may have included a smudge pot in the picture, too.) Obviously, Julie had looked at and “seen” orange trees as they really were. On our next drive through the north part of town where the orange groves were, I noted how accurate her painting of an orange tree was compared to the cartoonish and generic painting I had made. How different orange trees were shaped from other trees—or, more accurately, from what I had assumed all trees looked like. I was determined to pay better attention in the future, but sadly, that didn’t always happen.

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I began to notice that all trees were not the same, and that, in fact, if you really look at the details, you’ll find an astonishing variety. In addition to an assortment of colors, you’ll discover differences in overall shape—some sprawling with sturdy, gnarled trunks and umbrella-like canopies, others tall, graceful, and straight with willowy, softly undulating ribbons of leaves. Contrasting textures are also obvious–some with mottled or pealing bark, striations and deep grooves, geometric patterns, and contrasting darks and lights. The combination of texture, color and shape create breathtaking and beautifully varied effects.

Although there are many examples of monochromatic color schemes in nature such as may be found in ocean, dusk, dawn, and nighttime scenes, nature also uses a broad palette of complementary colors.

 

Nature is bold. She paints stark, snow-laden mountaintops against brilliant sunset skies, blazing vermilion rock formations arching over a brilliant backdrop of blue, yellow and purple pansies, and red tomatoes against deep green foliage.

Nature doesn’t limit herself to one texture or one shape either. A tree–a Brazilian peppertree, for example, such as line the parkway of my street–has multiple textures and shapes, from the rough and deeply grooved trunk to small, greenish-yellow, oval, pinnate compound leaves, and tiny round pepper seeds that turn from green to red to brown (and, incidentally, burn the lawn with their heat). In addition to a peppertree’s varying color and texture, the trunk weaves its way upward, its branches writhing in a twisting tangle of knotted masses. (Hardly a straight stick of a trunk with a green ball at the top! Although, to be fair, if you look at the bottom of the trio of pictures below, from a distance, the peppertree does appear to fit that description.)

If you were to describe a Brazilian peppertree, an orange tree, and a Quaking Aspen, you would have to give very different descriptions. Still you could describe all as having roots, trunks and leaves.

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As creatures of nature, people are more complex than trees, yet many find themselves characterized as “trunk and leaves,” after all, people all have heads, arms and legs. At a glance, people may appear to be objects: dumbed-down, over-simplified caricatures of what they really are. (She’s pretty. He’s tall. She’s mean. He’s old. She’s a gossip. He’s cocky. She’s shy. He’s self-centered.) How many a tall fellow has been asked if he plays basketball–as if his height is his only defining characteristic?

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These observations are likely arbitrary, biased, and viewed through a flawed lens. One may choose to believe over simplifications one hears via rumor or gossip, or one hazards at first sight, because it resounds with one’s own preconceived ideas. Such claims may satisfy for the moment, but also may be mostly false. They may appear correct, based on circumstantial evidence, but unfounded when the whole truth is known. At first glance, there are always—always—unknown quantities of information. In most cases, the observer failed to look close enough to see all the colors, all the textures, and all the shapes, to see the combination of these as one uniquely whole “tree.” There’s the possibility the observer didn’t even know what the whole “tree” really looked like, and didn’t bother to find out. Almost certainly, the observer wasn’t perceptive or empathetic enough to have walked the proverbial mile in the others’ shoes. In other words, he or she didn’t really know the tree.

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I have been guilty of seeing people as “trees”—brown trunk, leaves on top. When I was young, it was mostly: she is popular, he is smart, etc. That was all I knew of some people. How sad that is. How sad that I was too shy, too backward, to delve a little deeper, to walk a little closer and really look at the tree, at its roots, its differing shades and nuances of color, of personality, of ideas. I missed a lot because I based so many of my impressions on a glance at a tree that I was too shy or afraid of to know or to understand!white willow

I have been fortunate enough to meet some of those “trees” again later in life, and to “see” them anew, after maturing enough to have genuine interest in them instead of fearing them, and appreciating them instead of weighing their strengths against my weaknesses. How silly I was when I was younger!

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Southern California Orange Grove

I went from seeing thin, rectangular brown trunks topped with green circles (maybe with red or orange spots) to seeing deeply complex root systems, sturdy, varied and profoundly textured trunks, and wide canopies of sheltering, beautiful and intensely colorful leaves. When I inspected and comprehended the true nature of each individual tree, and saw the beauty therein, I wondered how I ever missed the innate wealth of each. I really began to appreciate people as uniquely beautiful, strong and intricate. I began to appreciate each individual soul as the amazing “tree” it is.

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Social media (i.e. Facebook) has helped me reconnect with people I had forgotten that I once knew. Recently, I reconnected with a girl I knew in elementary school. I never thought she liked me back then. (Brown trunk.) She was stuck-up and popular. (Leaves on top.) She wasn’t interested in being my friend. (Red spots.) All I saw was a generalization of the tree, not the real person. And what I concluded was false.

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One day I saw this girl’s picture on the Facebook post of a mutual friend, she still looked young and beautiful. She had a lovely smile, and looked content. I wondered what weathering had shaped the tree rings of her life. I became interested in her textures and the shades and tints that colored her life. I decided to make a comment, and I truthfully told her how lovely I thought she looked. Next thing I knew, we were corresponding back and forth. She was sweet, kind, and interested. We talked about our folks, our families, and our friends. She was not what I had believed her to be so many years ago. I’m sorry to say I had carried those old ideas in the baggage compartment of my mind for years. I felt ashamed of the petty views I’d had. (Then, I wondered if she had seen me as trunk and leaves before, too. Thankfully, I’ll never know.) But what a waste! I’m happy to report that I have grown into more of a “tree admirer” over the years. I now truly make an effort to see people (and trees)—really see them, and all the magnificent uniqueness and beauty each has within and without.

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A lone and unique Oak tree

“The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way. Some see nature all ridicule and deformity… and some scarce see nature at all. But to the eyes of the man of imagination, nature is imagination itself.”

― William Blake

My First Blog Post EVER!

“To dwellers in a wood, almost every species of tree

has its voice as well as its feature.”

― Thomas Hardy, “Under the Greenwood Tree”

 My First Blog Post EVER!

“In a forest of a hundred thousand trees, no two leaves are alike. And no two journeys along the same path are alike.”

― Paulo Coelho, Aleph

End Piece

© May 14, 2016

From the bottom of my heart, I thank you, dear Friends, for reading.

 


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"The Lizard Whisperer"

Blog Post #9 (A True Tale)

 

My husband Brad is “The Lizard Whisperer.” That’s right. Lizard. Whisperer.
Living here at my father’s house, Brad hasn’t been able to have his preferred menagerie: dog, cat, horse…. so he has settled for the next best thing: whatever there is.  He made and mounted wooden feeders for the squirrels on the block wall surrounding the yard, and hung sugar water for the hummingbirds. Although he isn’t crazy about the *mockingbird that sings outside our bedroom window while we’re trying to sleep, he would welcome its companionship and musical medley the rest of the day. I’m grateful he hasn’t chosen to befriend other critters that have happened into our yard: opossums, skunks and a hive of bees. He is interested in them, however, watching and studying their behavior.
 
Brad is nature’s son, loving and respecting animals and nature. He’s the kind of guy that turns over rocks to see what’s underneath, feeds and waters the horses before eating his own breakfast, and takes a whole roll of film of his Golden Retriever posing in El Dorado Canyon, Colorado.  He saves every drop of water, and is expert at making campfires under a tree in the snow. I love and admire all these things about him, partly because they are what I am not.
 
Brad’s dog, Kona, posing in El Dorado Canyon, Colorado
Another picture of Kona in El Dorado Canyon
(Imagine how many pictures he might have taken if he owned a digital camera at that time)

 

Brad is also one of the most resourceful people I’ve ever met. And frugal.  He doesn’t waste anything.  If he finds something lying around, he’ll put it to good use in a way nature didn’t intend. It seems reasonable, then, that when he found lizards lying around, —which is what they do—he put them to use in a way nature didn’t intend.  
I realize many people keep lizards and other reptiles as pets. Brad doesn’t bring them in the house. (Just let him try it!) Nor does he keep them in a cage or case. He hates seeing dogs on leashes, and horses tethered (unless he’s riding one). With liberty and justice for all lizards, they roam our yard, emerging from their hiding places between the shed and the block wall, from holes between rocks and from under the barbecue to sun themselves on the pavement. But they pledge their allegiance to our yard–all because of The Lizard Whisperer.

A favorite hiding place of our lizards
 
Our lizards are quite normal. As is common, they like to show-off their strength and dexterity by doing two thousand push-ups at a time on the block wall. When the grandchildren attempt to catch them, they demonstrate their quick reflexes and speed by darting off on their short little legs, faster than speeding bullets, like grounded Supermen—capes flowing in the breeze.
Exceptionally normal lizards, really. Except for one thing: The Lizard Whisperer.

Ready or not, you shall NOT be caught!
 
Brad has spent hours doing yard work, cleaning-up and restoring Daddy’s yard to some of its former utility and beauty, and tending our vegetable garden. He has spent a lot of time observing, (and being observed by) the lizards.  They’re curious, and suspicious, creeping out from their hiding places, always warily keeping their distance, as if they weren’t sure they heard IT call out “Olly Olly Oxen Free!” Like fleet-footed scouts, they zip away with lightning speed if startled.

 

Garden where the lizards and T.L.W. often meet
Methodically, Brad began testing the lizards. Finding small bugs he knew looked like thick juicy steaks to the lizard watching a few feet away, he set the tiny wiggling insect a small distance off to see if a lizard would take the bait. Gradually, he moved the bait farther away from the lizards, discovering their Superman speed is only rivaled by their remarkable eyesight. From great distances, they raced like sleek tailed-dragsters to beat other lizards to the free eats.
Not only were the lizards watching Brad, but so was I. One day I noticed him scouting around the wall and shed area. His movements were a little odd, so I asked the obvious: “What are you doing?” Nothing. (He was focused on what he was doing.)  After a few minutes, I gave up and went inside, but watched from the window. He crouched down, waiting. He is good at waiting. I’m not; I stopped watching.

One day he told me he was going to ride his bike to the new sporting goods store around the corner. He’s an umpire, so I thought he might check out the baseball gear. After he got home, a new little white plastic container appeared, first on the dryer in the garage, and later in the fridge. “What’s that?”  Nothing.  Later, I reached for a tub of margarine from the fridge. “Not margarine. Mealworms!”  I’m onto him now! He’s been purchasing mealyworms to feed the lizards! The small white container the store provided must not have been large enough, so the mealworms graduated to a roomier margarine tub, and to an air conditioned place in the fridge. (This was either for Brad’s convenience, or for the comfort of the mealworms. Not sure which.) 

What I found in the fridge
Mealworms….Yum
What next? I’ll tell you…
 
He’s kneeling down, arm outstretched, hand open on the ground. Something small and wiggly on his palm. Yoga position?  No. A lizard is standing on the pavement about four or five feet off. He’s having a stare-down with Brad.  The mealworm’s destiny lies in the balance. Lizzy creeps closer, keeping a weather eye out for danger. Keeps creeping. He’s in Brad’s hand. Grabs the worm and takes off. Score!
 
History repeats itself, but this time the lizard comes from the block wall. Brad’s hand outstretched, waiting. 
Ready.

 

Set.

 

Go!

 

 
Word gets out through the lizard grapevine. Other lizards line up for the dole. (I don’t know how they pass the word, but I’m sure they do.) They’re eating out of his hand, some nibbling at his toes. A lizard in hand is worth two behind the shed.
 

 

One day, Brad was walking around the shed, scrutinizing the side near the wall with particular interest. “What are you doing?” Nothing. I stayed, waiting. Suddenly, like a Close Encounter of the Lizard Kind, one by one, half-a-dozen lizards appeared out of the darkness cast by the shed’s shadow on the block wall. Others came from the holes in the top blocks along the wall to the right. Brad waited, arm outstretched, mealy worms in his open palm close to the wall. Soon, lizards were jumping off the wall into his hand, grabbing a worm, and jumping back onto the wall again, taking turns getting the worms. Two worms each, Brad kept track.  Amazing!

Brad tempting lizards with plump, juicy mealworms.
You can see them coming out from behind the shed (upper middle of picture).
Since then, most of the lizards in our yard seem to know Brad. They aren’t tentative in the least, openly approaching him for mealworms. Like feeding chickens, he makes his normal rounds after work each day. They are comfortable walking onto his hand to eat: a drive-through café for lizards.
 

 

Last week, a very plump, familiar lizard was lying on the sidewalk near the back door. Too many mealy worms, I thought. Later that day, Brad asked if I saw the pregnant lizard. (Yup. That was her.) Poor thing. She looked as if she had swallowed a small mouse. Not long after, she was fit and thin again. Her clutch of eggs must be hidden somewhere nearby, and before long, we should have a lounge (appropriately named) of baby Lizzies lounging around waiting for Brad to befriend, coddle and feed them.
I walk out the back door; two hopeful lizards are waiting there—like miniature furless, long-tailed puppies, anxious for me to pet and feed them. I’m not the one they want. I’m only his wife. But those little guys know the hand that feeds them: The Lizard Whisperer.
 
Western Fence Lizard (or Spiny Lizard)
Sceloporus occidentalis
For a split second, I see through their lizard eyes: 
 
The Lizard Whisperer rides off on his white horse into the sunset.
The Lizard Whisperer
(Had a picture of him on the white horse; missed the sunset)


 *See blog post #7 “For the Birds”
© Copyright June 10, 2014

 

 


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A Beautiful Mess

Blog Post #8


Enchanted trees…. 

That’s how I think of Jacarandas. They sprinkle fairy dust underneath their canopied branches of lavender blossoms. On streets lined with Jacaranda, rivers of purple flood the curbs reflecting the swaying limbs above. I love Jacarandas! I look forward to each May and June, when they’re at the height of their enchanting color, their exquisite beauty, and their—what was that? Did I hear someone say, “Mess?”
More than one person who has a Jacaranda tree has told me how much they hate them and the mess they make. But they’re so beautiful, I protest. These people are beyond enjoying their beauty. All they can see is the mess that follows the delicate display of their lithe, trumpet-like flowers. Lavender petals that fade and dry and moosh and get tracked onto the carpet and make it hard to clean up the yard. Pretty soon, I’m told, they wither and even become ugly.


Here’s a truth: messes and beauty go together; they walk hand-in-hand—opposites that not only attract, but also cooperate. Beauty is almost dependent on a mess. Before I have a beautiful jar of peach preserves, I have a kitchen full of bottles, pots and ladles, sugar granules on countertops, paring knives, bowls of pits and slimy peels, and sticky stuff just about everywhere. A real mess. But have you ever stopped to admire a jar (better yet, a dozen jars) of freshly bottled peaches? Beauty. Simple beauty. I make a practice of leaving jars of freshly preserved jams and fruit sitting in neatly ordered ranks and files on the table for  a day or two where I can admire them each time I pass by. They make me happy. They radiate beauty born of months of growth, harvest, honest toil, and…a mess.


So many messy situations culminate in beauty: creating a work of art, reorganizing a closet, sewing a new dress, preparing for and planting a garden, a haircut, making a Thanksgiving feast. Probably the most rewarding of messy situations are labor pains.
I can’t think of anything more beautiful than a baby.  But even a brand new baby has to be cleaned up at birth—and frequently thereafter; one continuous series of messes coming out of every end. Not to mention the state of the house as the baby grows. Constant upheaval and disarray. Stacks of laundry. Piles of dishes. Toys. Books. Pots and pans. All pulled from their places and scattered abroad like seaweed on the beach.

As children grow, they become expert at making messes: grimy fingerprints on mirrors, windows, doors and walls; bedrooms that look like a Goodwill drop-off; sand and dirt on freshly mopped floors; backpacks and shoes cluttering the entryway; and socks—endless smelly socks—emerging from every nook and cranny you didn’t know existed.

It’s all worth the beauty that attends the mess: crayoned pictures laden with hearts—drawn and given by the stacks; hugs and wet kisses; holding a tiny, trusting hand; the words “I love you, Mom” scraped into the dirt on the hill in the backyard….there’s nothing like it for the price of a mess. Nothing.  
My mother appreciated a good mess. She understood that messes were companions to creative beauty. She urged us to make messes and praised the beauty—or attempts at beauty—we created. She gave us (almost) free range of the house in which to make our messes.  She also taught us to clean, and somehow managed to have a clean house underneath the messes we made.


I recall the day I discovered that we did indeed make messes. (Frankly, before that day, I hadn’t noticed.) That day of enlightenment came when I was only about….oh, fourteen. (Not kidding.) My mother had a calligraphy project going at her drafting table at one end of the family room. I was busily mass-producing pictures to sell that required tedious cutting of burlap, fabric scraps and construction paper, as well as gluing and the use of markers at a card table set up on the other end of the family room. My sister was also occupied with a project of her own in the same room. (Heaven only knows where Craig was at the time. Probably making an entirely private mess of his own in his room.)
The doorbell rang. A friend was at the door. My friend. What’s worse, the friend happened to be a boy I liked. Someone I never expected to come to our house….ever! When I first opened the door, I was oblivious to the mess. When my friend walked in, I saw THE MESS in all Its Terribleness. I tried to stand in front of the card table to block, at the very least, my mess from view, but to no avail. My small frame was no match for the sheer quantity of MESS splattered across every square inch of that room screaming the words “Look at me!” like a flashing neon sign.
It turned out OK in the end. The friend left after a brief and, for my part, extremely uncomfortable few minutes. He surely had an eyeful of what went on in our house. But we continued to make messes, and we enjoyed the beauty we created. The real beauty, however, was in the time we spent, and the love that grew from making the messes together.


The beauty of Jacaranda trees comes before the mess they make, but the order really doesn’t matter. Shedding their flowers is so important to the production of fruit, seeds, and growth. It’s a necessary step toward an encore display of their magical fairy dust in years that follow. As I see it, what does matter is that they first give something splendidly beautiful to the world before casting their refuse on the ground, (which, by the way, still looks magical when it first falls). It is part of an important cycle. They make the most of their few moments to sparkle, knowing what will come.


Maybe that’s why messes are important to life: to help us better appreciate and recognize the beauty in special moments. Messes also help us see order in creation and throughout life. A mess can have elements of order to it, it can be part of a greater plan—as with the peach preserves. It may look a mess to the untrained eye, but there is order in the kitchen chaos working toward a planned goal. I always clean up after (sometimes during) a messy situation: an important lesson accompanying messes. The “cleaning up” lesson, if never learned, creates its own mess!


Surely, the cycle of mess and beauty is true of people. Our lives may seem a mess at times, but as we work through the chaos, we become more complete, strong and beautiful people—beautiful as to character, opposed to looks—better able to cast aside the refuse—those things that hold us back—and move forward, producing seeds of growth that contribute to a fulfilling and joyful future.


So, here’s to messes! And may our messes create as much beauty as the Jacaranda!


© Copyright June 7, 2014