Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Memorial Day Memories

Sylvia survived three of her children and her husband. Most of them are buried in a small country cemetery not too far from my house. She joined them there last fall at the age of 88. It was extremely important to her that the graves be decorated, and every year, she spent money she really couldn’t afford on hideous arrangements of plastic flowers to put on the graves on Memorial Day. She also sent money to her daughter-in-law in California to buy flowers so that her son’s grave would be decorated. As this Memorial Day approached, I couldn’t help but wonder if Sylvia’s two surviving daughters would drive the 90 miles from their homes to come here to decorate her grave with the dedication that she would have devoted to theirs had she survived. However, having said that, this business of decorating graves on Memorial Day was and is totally foreign to me. My parents did not believe in visiting graves or decorating them. In fact, my parents did not believe that children needed to be at funerals, so I did not attend the burials of any of my relatives (two great grandmothers, two grandmothers) who died when I was a child. Instead, it was a tradition that on Memorial Day we got up very early and drove to the Charlton Flats picnic area in the San Gabriel Mountains. My dad would set up his camp stoves and began getting ready to prepare breakfast—pancakes and sausage—for most of the people at the church we attended, who would begin to straggle in within an hour or so. Us kids would run around and play and have a good time, and eat lunch too, and as the day wore on, people would turn on their radios (not sure if these were transistor radios or car radios running on auxiliary power) and the sounds of the cars racing around the oval at the Indianapolis 500 would fill the picnic area. Then came the Memorial Day when the family left for the traditional breakfast without me. I was stuck at home working on a college term paper that had to be finished. There were no personal computers back then, these term papers were pounded out on a standard manual Royal typewriter. I think the church-sponsored breakfast came to an end about that time. People grow weary of doing the same thing over and over, year after year....

Friday, May 27, 2005

What I saw...

•When I was about 5 years old, I was standing by an old board fence that separated us from the neighbors. There was this white fuzzy thing on the fence. As I was looking at it, baby spiders suddenly came pouring out. I was mesmerized, and I have been fascinated by spiders ever since.

•May 1981. We had just arrived here from the west (Oregon by way of Los Angeles). It was getting dusky. My parents set up their pop-up camper for themselves and our son, and R maneuvered the U-Haul truck so we could begin unloading our household into the new house. We bustled around for a while, and just as R and I were getting ready to leave for town to find a motel to sleep in, there they were. Fireflies began flickering with their pale, greenish light. They were everywhere, hundreds and hundreds of them, rising and falling. I think we were already on overload from stress and excitement and just the sheer unexpected beauty of this place, and now we were well and truly stunned. We had no idea fireflies came with Missouri.

•When we were still attempting to raise some fresh vegetables, I had gone out to water the hill of squash I had planted a few days before. I had a spray attachment on the hose and I put it to the fine mist setting and began, to be frank, playing in the water. I had it shooting up high, hoping that as it fell, the fine mist would make a rainbow. Suddenly, a hummingbird flew into the mist, landed on the bare ground where the squash were to sprout, and began taking a bath in the spray. Again, I was transfixed by this sight. I think I almost forgot to breathe.

•I was moving toward the screen door at the back of the house, and just as I got there, a lizard darted across the deck and snapped up a cockroach. A few days later, I watched a lizard (perhaps even the same one) drinking water from a plant saucer sitting on the deck.

Nothing earth shattering or very profound, just things of wonder I have witnessed that I don't have to worry about seeing again and again in my mind's eye.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

You don’t need a weatherman to know the way the wind blows

It would not surprise me if some of the left-wing radical groups, similar to those that made their presesnce known in the late 60s, start agitating again given the political climate in the country, but this isn't about the SDS or the Weather Undergound. It realy is about the weather. I sometimes think weathermen are fairly useless. In this part of the country (south central Missouri) one can never really believe the forecast, but one can’t ignore it either. The farmers here, most of whom raise hay to feed cattle (row crops are difficult in these parts), are very much interested in the long-term forecast, because once a field of hay is cut and the hay is drying on the ground, they really don’t want it to rain. “If you don’t like the weather, just wait 15 minutes and it will change” is frequently heard in these parts, and it is generally true. We are on the fringes of tornado alley, and this area has had several small tornadoes in recent years. Storms that came up so sudden that Doppler radar didn’t even pick up the tornado. We can hear the tornado siren where we live, but it didn’t even blow when the last tornado blew through the area a half-mile from our house. These storms here tend to blow up in the late afternoon. The day starts off sunny and bright, and by 3:30 or so thunder is rumbling in the distance. Almost every time we have lost power because of a thunderstorm, it has occurred right at dinnertime. R finally bought a small propane camp stove so we wouldn’t have any more half-cooked dinners left on the stove (everything is electric in the house except the heater). My ancient clothes dryer finally broke, and the appliance man who we used to call to fix these things – The Tinker – has retired. In any event, I’ve had the drier 25 years, and I bet it was 15-20 years old when it was given to me. We went looking for a dryer recently and were disgusted at what we found. Even the top-line models, approaching $1,000, only offered a one-year warranty. What does that say about the quality of the product? Not a whole lot. Right now, sheets on the clothes line that stretches between the porch and the barn are flapping gently in the afternoon breeze, but I note that it is clouding up, so I better head on out there and reel them in.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Spring (redux)

I already did one post about Spring, and although we are technically still in Spring, the changes that come about as part of the change of the season from winter have already taken place. The flowering trees and shrubs are finished, the maples have dropped their seeds, the unmowed grass is now 4 feet high and heavy with seed heads (and ticks). I really wanted to say something about the dogwood, which is one of the first things to burst into bloom, certainly before the trees in the upper canopy of the woods begin to leaf out. Lots of people have dogwood trees in their yards and they are spectacular. We ourselves have two mature trees that bloom and a small forest of 6 young trees that we planted about 5 years ago to replace a dogwood that got wiped out when the highway came through. But, the real experience of a blooming dogwood occurs when one drives by an area of woods where the wild dogwood trees are blooming. It is eerily beautiful. I just finished reading a novel by Willa Cather and she describes this very well: “On the steep hillside across the creek the tall forest trees were still bare... from out of the naked grey wood the dogwood thrust its crooked forks starred with white blossoms – the flowers set in their own wild way along the rampant zigzag branches. Their unexpectedness, their singular whiteness, never loses its wonder, even to the dullest dweller in those hills. In all the rich flowering and blushing and blooming of a Virginia spring, the scentless dogwood is the wildest thing and yet the most austere, the most unearthly.”

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Happy Mother’s Day.

“Her children rise up and call her blessed.” And indeed, we have. One only has to look at how her children treat her to see how much she is honored and loved by them. When I was born, my mother had an idea of what a little girl was supposed to be like. But I acted very much more like a little boy than a girl. And she had the God-given sense to let me alone, to let me be who I was, and not make me fit into a preconceived (whether personal or cultural) mold. I thank God that she is my mother.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

An Apple a Day

The local store has been selling "jonagold" apples for the ridiculous price of 50-cents a pound. I can't remember the last time I have seen good apples that cheap. To be sure, mealy, mushy, basically unedible red delicious apples (on the other hand, my late father-in-law loved a mealy apple) can be had for 39-cents a pound at times. These jonagold apples area outstanding. Where did these marvelous apples come from -- surely not after months in cold storage. It surely isn't apple season in the United States (is it?)!!! Did these come from the Southern Hemisphere? Well, no matter. Here I sit eating this incredibly good apple. Crisp, jucy (like its dripping out the corners of my mouth) , sweet. Have I died and gone to heaven? No, I see on the screen in front of a paper on carotid artery stenting, so I guess I am still firmly here. Nuts.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Primary colors...

Such a feast for the eyes today at the birdfeeders. A small group of male Goldfinches, resplendent in their bright yellow and black summer clothes, and next to them, the bright red Cardinal, and then on the ground, a vibrant blue Indigo Bunting. And at least three male Rose-Breasted Grosbeak, dapper fellows in their black and white suits with the bright reddish-pink bib. And here comes an Orchard Oriole, a warm reddish chestnut brown--not nearly as spectacular as the Baltimore Oriole, but beautiful enough. And who might this one be? For several days now, we’ve had many good close-up views of this bird (olive green on top, yellowish on the bottom, no wing bars) as s/he lands on the suet feeder that hangs in front of the window and are reasonably sure it is a female Summer Tanager, but not absolutely sure. And briefly, just briefly, there was a Northern Waterthrush perched in the tree—or possibly a Louisiana Waterthrush, hard to tell in just a brief glimpse—in fact, maybe not either of those at all, but a Thrush for sure. To anyone not interested in birds this is terribly boring. Sorry. Although I no longer go out with binoculars and peer at the tops of trees for hours on end... once a birder, always a birder. And we learned today who has been responsible for the two mighty holes that have appeared in the barn. One opinion was that it might be an armadillo and I did, afterall, find an armadillo-snout-shaped hole in my hosta bed, another was that it was woodchuck. How much wood could a wood chuck chuck if a wood chuck could chuck wood? I heard R calling “You wanna see who’s been making the holes in the barn? Come ‘ere.” So I went into his office, which has a clear view of the barn, and there, sitting on the raised threshold of the barn, is a very large.... groundhog. Sitting like a statute. S/he sat there for quite a while before ducking back inside. I guess we’ll let it stay there. It won’t hurt the cat, and she certainly can’t hurt it, we have no garden for it to tear up, and it can’t hurt the barn any—it’s already on its last legs because the leaking roof.