Partly Cloudy with a Chance of Pain

Two Springs ago I began this minor treatise on planting a vegetable garden. Written from deep inside an early April reverie, I was pining to germinate something, anything really. Amidst icy sleet of an upstate New York “mud season”, I designed, and planned and prepared to plant a garden. Anticipating all that I knew this generous ground would bring forth, if it just had some seed and someone to plant.

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April 2016

“My organic heirloom seed order from Seeds Now is here! There are forty-nine tiny plastic bags spread across my table, and a stack of empty peat pots in the garage. Unfortunately, I have underestimated the chilly reality of the North. I am about a month too optimistic.  My vision of a knees in the dirt, direct planting has transformed.  It is more a Thich Nhat Hanh mindfulness meditation in dirt and patience.

Spooning the mixed peat and perlite into the small pots, armed with tweezer and chopstick, I drop each seed into the earthy mix. An “Om” here and a “Pea” there, topped with a prayer and a pat for good measure.

“You will be a grand Cantaloupe!  You will be the first Pea of the Spring!”

A healthy dose of encouragement is always a good idea. Tiny Chamomile dustings, wrinkled dried beans, they all have the miracle of “concrete potential.” They could be an abundant plant with the right environs.  They could create and recreate themselves, transmuting soil and seed into something that has never existed before, in exactly this particular way. Each seed was offered what I knew to give: time in the dark to incubate, warmth for encouragement, a bit of direct sunshine and enough water for “damp.” Life starts in the damp, and dies in soggy.

Some of those seeds must be coiled springs, set to explode at the first moisture. As the snow swirled across my waiting garden, the Kale has germinated in under 48 hours. We may be having some for dinner before it’s warm enough to plant in the garden! Others, like Amaranth and Borage seem quite comfy in their dark warm spot. As weeks go by, I begin to think that they are smugly enjoying my meddling attentions.  Through weeks of gray clouds, I shuttle them from garage to spare bedroom trying to find a temporary sunbeam.  I imagine how these transplants from a proper British Herb Garden might respond to my muttered queries on their much anticipated arrival after these weeks of attentions, and no visible sign of “green.”

“We are considering germination.  We will get back to you when we are…….(sigh)…..ready.”

They aren’t ready, it isn’t time…yet. Nothing is more ambiguous than “concrete potential.”  In my chilly garage are all the makings of a glorious vegetable garden, it already exists out there in the Ethers. I am imagining it. I am hoping, no expecting some Findhorn scale bounty (https://www.findhorn.org/aboutus/vision/) complete with homegrown pollinators.

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Bees! I have read the books, taken the classes, dreamed of bees, and yes, even dreamed that I WAS a bee. I have assembled my hives, arranged for a Beekeeping friend to migrate some of her ladies to my silent boxes hopefully in May, when they have regained their robustness. Bees don’t wish, they do. They act on what is there.

With the help of a Beekeeping mail list, a small library, and all the observation skills I can muster, I have assumed the mantle of responsibility for these miracle workers.

 I will try to make the most informed beekeeping choices.  I will keep them warm in winter, cool in summer, keep the bears away and feed them when they are hungry.   All the while knowing they are completely in charge of their own survival.  They are carrying me, I’m only along for the ride, and maybe some honey. “

That was two Springs ago.  This winter we were warm in sunny Tampa watching leaves the size of bedspreads grow sprout out of my white Bird of Paradise. I grew Basil and Parsley in a pot by the pool and listened from the screen porch to the “Uh-UH” birds comment on our private conversations.

The bees have survived a second hard winter in the shed at the back of the barn.  When I last checked in April, the golden hued “Italian” bees greeted me at the door as I removed the mouse guard.  This, a metal gate with holes the size of bees.  It makes bees come through the door single file while keeping out cold and the “winter hungry” mice. They were gloriously happy to fly out the now open windows in search of a Spring that wouldn’t arrive for another month.

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The Russian crew next door are a bit more curmudgeonly in chilly temperatures. Note that Dr. Zhivago stayed in the Ice Palace until there were flowers blooming. They may be grumpy, but they are pragmatic. These dark ladies may swagger but they are less likely to blame a beekeeper for accidents of broken combs or spilled honey. They just get down to the business of cleaning it up, putting their world back in order and you had best “get out of the way.” On this cold day, a single dark Russian bee came out of the hive, buzzed with great agitation, spun on her back legs and strode back into the darkness.

“It’s not time!!!”

She spat at me.  Returning to her post, she tucked her fuzzy body back in formation.  For the entire Winter, months and months of cold, they surround their Queen in a tight ball of bees, rotating from inner to outer circle as their own survival dictates. The bees stay close, hopefully to the abundant stores of last Fall’s honey. Abundant honey unless, that is, a greedy Beekeeper has taken too much for themselves.

Bee Lore says the Russians high survival rate in cold, wet weather comes from their cultural sensibility to keep their numbers small until it is absolutely “Spring.” The “Spring” that matters: when the sun comes back and there is actual food out there.  They don’t lay eggs until it stays warm. I think the elegant Russian Queens don’t care for a cold backside.

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What changed in 2 years? Time feels shorter, kids and grandkids don’t wait, they keep growing like Kale. I like to be in places where the sun shines and green things grow all the time.  The time to do what you want is right now.

My grass is too long for suburban standards; we no doubt look abandoned, but only by human standards.  The Owl house, bat house and blue bird houses are in place, only the Purple Martin condo is still tucked into the barn. Fruit trees are blooming, last year’s Sunflowers have tossed their seeds about, and I’m sure the bees are grateful for no mowers, they have had every Dandelion and clover to savor in peace. None of these living things makes a reservation with me or keeps a schedule.  They show up and grow when the time is right.  And so will we.

Choose Your Resources Wisely

It was misty on the big thumb that is Clearwater Florida this morning.  We live on the inside curve of the Clearwater-St Petersburg peninsula.  In the armpit, if you will, of “old Tampa Bay.”  The bay is beautiful. Shades of watery blue beneath whitecaps and the shadows of Great Blue Heron wings. A clam pot for birds, a safe passage for kayak and paddleboard the Bay lacks the primordial punch of the great womb that is the Gulf of Mexico.

We drove North and then West to the causeway at Dunedin.  We passed through the gate and maneuvered into a parking lot for 100 with 98 spaces left. The thick fog of a bottom-heavy steel gray cloud was just rising as we kicked off our shoes on flour white sand. Bands of blue green water snaked through the opaque ashen waves as the rising sun topped the palms at the edge of the beach. If you want to have color, you have to have light. Without illumination, life is just shades of gray.

 

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Those that show up at the beach on a morning like this didn’t come with sunscreen and a People magazine.  We come to the edge to restore and rejoice, or to soak up “beach time”, before the vacation runs out. Some stand ankle deep in salty water to reclaim dreams, or discover new journeys. Some come to petition the deities of great bodies of water for their divine assistance. Today I wasn’t clear who was doing what, except for one of us.

I saw them coming.  The two women walked slowly towards us wearing ultramarine blue t-shirts in different sizes. The older woman walked on the left. The deep lines of her face framed her expression of deep gratitude.  Clearly this was an extraordinary day for her to be walking here on this thin strip of land between waters, on this March day, with this young woman.  The older woman held her worn-well Keds in her hand as they walked barefoot near the water. She leaned in, listening attentively to the words that flowed from her companion. Neither seemed to feel the sharp shell rubble or notice the few passersby.  They were intent, focused.

Indeed! They were pregnant with change. The younger woman was supremely pregnant, probably beyond pregnant and well into “overdue.”  She walked strong, straight but with great care, balancing a belly that looked as if it might burst open at any moment.

 

“You came to the right place,”

I thought, thinking of the saltwater that filled that belly. Then I realized,

We are always in the right place,”

The young woman spoke fervently, passionately. Her arm movements animated her story and the old women with the wrinkles smiled a quiet smile. We passed unseen.

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It is my practice to stand at the edge of earth and water to check my trajectory and clear the emotional flotsam. Placing my thoughts in fragile shells, I create a shrine of temporal impermanence that holds my concerns and hopes for this day. The Gulf is my resource for reflection on the mud and miracles that happen daily. I imagine the Nereids float silently nearby, offering illuminating advice that wordlessly seeps into mind and heart through the souls of our feet stuck deep in the moving sands.  Their whispered encouragements float down from Tern’s wing,

 “Be brave! Be strong! Live! Live!”

Standing in sunlight and blue water one moment, and chilly wind of storm clouds the next, it’s all here, and it’s all good.

“Look at the sea, She lives there,

and She knows how it works,”

was my silent reassurance.

I walked up the beach a bit and found a message scratched in the sand by a sure hand on a sturdy stick.  It was addressed to the Sea and the Wisdom herein,

“I am ready now

I am ready now Baby”

March 19, 2018

She chose her Resources wisely I thought, as I wrote,

Godspeed!

in the sand with my toe. We are all in this together.

 

(http://www.theoi.com/Pontios/Nereides.html)

Photos: Carol Martell, Honeymoon State Park, Dunedin Florida

Let Yourself Grow!

Winter Landscape at Sunset

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Winter Landscape at Sunset, Anton Mauve (Dutch,  c.1885-87.)

“Look deep into nature and you will understand everything.”

— Albert Einstein

This week in mid December the thermometer at the wide window of my western exposure has reported -7 to 44F. Standing close to the fire in the woodstove, I watched the “outside life” slide slowly into the quiet whispers of winter. In just a few hours, the last leaves caught in the wire fence, tufts of emerald green grass, and stiff stalks of Kale disappeared beneath brilliant white snow edged in hard grey ice. The sky darkened, the wind blew. The Poplar communities huddled together, the white Birches leaned and dipped, carrying pencil thin snow loads in silence, until wind or sun relieved them of the burden.

The spare plainness of organic form on light, black branches on white snow, wiped away any subtlety or shading. The four elements of life shouted out their truth; the earth is quiet, the water still, time in the light is short! Sporting illusions are meant for gentler, longer days. Epiphanies come fast and furious in this stark landscape. Ice isn’t gentle, and cold has no conscience.

We are not separate from what we like to call “Nature.” Bring on your fancy down jacket, and the heat tape, we are that which we call Nature, and she is us. Skate if you wish across frozen natural truths, you will eventually come home to the thin ice of Earth born mortality.

I have already accepted the mantra:

Whatever works for a tree, works for me.

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Winter Landscape, Edvard Munch 1915

These are my gentle alignments that come to pass on a quiet walk in the overgrown backfield on a snowy December afternoon. The frosty air clears my sinuses. I watch as the dogs push warm noses into mysterious snow mounds. They look up at me with fantastically funny white beards and a comic’s straight man face, “What? What’s so funny?” New snow is a dog’s miracle.

Extraneous thoughts drain out of my head like the watery mucus from my running nose. It’s very bright, very clear.

“A bonus!” I think.

The snow adds so much light to a dark day. I am grateful for the reflected light that fills my eyes in the days of long slow darkness. I have left my backpack full of, “I need to,” over there, leaning against the side of the barn. When words stop, senses come out of hibernation.

Stepping back, there is a crunch of boot on fresh snow. A tall elegant Truth strolls by me, donned in ice-encrusted branches with hoarfrost festoons on curled brown leaves. I follow the crooked finger with my eyes, walking across downed Goldenrod and winding grapevines to the rear tree line where I see the Dogwood relative splayed out across the fence. The still attached leaves had taken on ice and snow and the weight was too much. The cold caused brittle, the wind blew, and the graceful tree was snapped in half. In a tenuous fracture, she was broken from the weight of water and ice encasing the leaves that clung to her branches; a casualty of the natural progression of cold and wet at the entrance of winter.

Standing in the hour of sunlight of the afternoon of just pre-solstice December, it came to me. In this light it was crystal clear. It is our inability to let go of our leaves at the end of a season that causes human beings so much angst, and yes, agony. It is our inability to accept that seasons come and go, wind happens, all things have a natural ending as well as beginning. It is just all grist for the mill. To argue this changes nothing. To cling to the past is to be weakened, taken down, cracked open in the cold leveler that is winter.

I heard it clearly out there.

“Let it go already! Give it up! Move on, forgive,

 Let yourself Grow!”

The anger, the hurts, disappointments, the stuff, the sadness, let it all go. Toss it onto the great sacred compost heap of human experience. Let the leaves of past seasons become the rich indiscriminate fertilizer of collective wisdom.

Out in the field, my crunchy truthful friend spoke.

“No need to understand the whys, drop the leaves on the ground and walk away.”

 

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Winter Day Ending David Grossman

In the past week at this Northern latitude, mountainous grey thunderclouds have tumbled across our upper landscape. It has snowed, rained, precipitated in shapes that only the far Northwest Native people would recognize as separate entities. We have been blown about by winds capable of moving massive arctic fronts across our entire continent. We have been frozen solid, thawed, wet and flooded all in the same afternoon.

These are powerful forces and yet the trees, for the most part, stand strong in the wind, despite the cold, despite the short days. All the while, in the dark ground, the roots stretch out, growing thicker and stronger, reaching out to new depths.

 

Tomorrow will be a short dark day, the next the darkest yet, the Solstice of 2016. I intend to enjoy this time. I wish you Safe passage and Much Growth this blessed Winter season.