My Yard is Tired of Summer

My yard is tired of summer. The heat wave in July and August exhausted all its resources and now the yard is ready for fall. In late August, the sun sets a little earlier and comes up a little later, stealing more of the sunlight the plants crave. My redneck-engineered sprinkler system has experienced some system failures (the hoses cracked), so is not delivering water efficiently or effectively. I was gone during the worst of the heat wave when the plants needed more water than I had prescribed. The squashes just gave up and died. Butterfly bush quit putting out flowers. Rhododendron all but died. One of the bales in the straw bale experimental garden leaned over on its side, though the Early Girl tomatoes are still producing with the plant growing sideways.

However, when I mow the yard now, it doesn’t rush to grow back. The weeds don’t even try to hide from the mower blade as it brushes over them. The mower, too, is careless, anxious to be serviced and put away for the winter. The swath it makes is only half-heartedly cut (to be fair, that could be due to a dull blade and not the mower’s attitude). I should make another pass over the raggedly cut path, but I am tired of mowing. I look at trees that need branches trimmed and think, “I’ll trim them in winter, when my time isn’t consumed by mowing.”

Grasshoppers jump out of my way, sort of, knowing their time is short and ready to move on. Tomatoes that ripen are smaller now than the giants I got in early July. Pepper plants are covered with blossoms, but show no interest in producing jalapenos, bells and poblanos. I only harvested a handful of Romas before they surrendered. The grape tomatoes produce fewer every day, and I eat them from the vine as I check them. The ceaseless Kansas wind, even, is too tired to blow. Leaves and grass blades hang limp and still.

The roses put out fewer, smaller buds now, though the zinnias still bloom with enthusiasm. The surprise lilies have come and gone quickly. Tiger lilies and irises have withered and turned brown, what leaves aren’t serrated by grasshopper teeth.  Hollyhocks bloomed quickly and then produced seed, too tired to bloom all summer as in the past.  Even the sand burrs are turning yellow; they had too much rain early on to spread during the hot and dry. Then when it turned hot, it was too hot.

Like most people, I guess I am eager to move from this season to the next. We are always waiting for Friday to arrive, the holidays to get here, for the next birthday, for Christmas, for retirement. In this headlong rush to the next good thing, we miss some wonderful, here-and-now gifts: the enthusiastic “ki-eye” of a Mississippi kite as my mower drones, the wild kitten who flattens itself as its momma has instructed directly in my path so I won’t see it, the meteor showers, the beautiful full moon almost a harvest moon already.

Maybe it was the devastating heat that dragged on so long. Maybe it was the plethora of bad news from every device we use, of wars and disasters and violence fueled by hatred. Maybe it was the campaign season that has dragged on far too long. Whatever the reason, not only is my yard tired of summer, I am, too.  I anticipate. . .

The Evergreen Grove — LessonTwo

(I began this series many years ago. However, the lessons bear repeating.)

Three years ago during the holiday season, I was impressed by the Christmas-light-wrapped evergreen trees in what used to be called Pelican Park, just north of the swimming pool. To me that Christmas the variety of the trees and the lights called to mind and celebrated the diversity of humanity.

This year, the trees are showing me a different lesson — the fact that, despite our diversity, we all share certain commonalities, that the differences between us blur as life passes on. For instance, with the passing of time, the bulbs faded, to the point that the pink and red are almost indistinguishable. You have to look close to tell the difference between the white and yellow, or the blue and green. As they burnt out, bulbs have been replaced on the strings of lights. When the proper colors were not available, substitutes were used. Therefore, this season, we have some white lights among the pink, some yellow among the orange, some green among the blue. This is exactly the way humans are becoming. Very few of us, especially in the melting pot we call America, are of pure heritage. In fact, some of us celebrate the diversity of our ancestors, serving the lutefisk of our Swedish heritage alongside the tamales of our Mexican forebears.

There are other blendings not so obvious. Some of us come from a farming background, but may share more of that childhood in common with a city child from Arkansas than we do with a child from today’s family corporation farm. That child may have more in common with the child of a Wall Street banker than with my father, who farmed from the twenties to the sixties. Those from around the world who are alumni of a particular school may be more similar, at least on game day, than they are to their neighbors. Single parents across the country, even across the world, share concerns that the married couple across the street will never experience. All parents, married or single, share common fears and hopes. All children, from toddlers to octogenarians, who have lost a parent feel a common loss.

And there is a deeper lesson, beyond the trappings of the now imperfect lights. Once those trees were just saplings, twenty or thirty feet apart. Now, not only have their root systems intertwined, the trees themselves touch. They are growing closer together, and they will continue to do so. As humans age, we also grow closer to those around us, if we allow ourselves to do so. As youngsters, we distrusted those different from us. They appeared different, therefore they could not be at all like me. Yet, as years go by and experiences shape us, just like the wind and rain and lightning and heavy snow shape this grove of trees, we grow closer together, no longer isolated individuals, but a cohesive group that draws shelter from our similarities and no longer fears our differences.

Just as it did three years ago, the same sun still shines on these trees, and the same Son still shines His light for all humanity. These trees still draw their nourishment from the source underground, and all humankind has the opportunity to draw on the same stream of Living Water. The Bible says that every man shall acknowledge Jesus as Lord. Until that day comes, I hope that we can all continue to grow together and find our common ground. And that is lesson two of the evergreen grove — harmony and hope.

The Lesson of the Evergreen Grove

(Author’s note: This post first appeared several years ago, before the lights were changed to white, before the hospital was updated, back when there was a Christmas truce in wars. But despite change, I think it bears repeating.)

 

They stand near a busy intersection in Pratt, America. Just north of the empty, snow-dusted swimming pool, they serve as a stepping stone in a path of parks stretching from the highway that borders the south edge of town to the capstone park adjoined by Highway 54 as it cuts Pratt in half. They must be visible from some of the hospital windows, just above them on the hill, these seven stately evergreens, each wrapped in a different color of festive lights.

As I drove past them last night, intent on just where on the racks and shelves of the busy stores I would find each item on my list, I was stopped short in my mental rush by the simple beauty of the arrangement. Each tree is unique in its own right. Though all are old and tall, some tower above the others. Some are full and round, others tall and spindly. Some cluster together, but two stand aloof at opposite ends of the grove. Some have branches that drape down, others’ branches sweep upwards as if in praise. Each is a testament to the glorious diversity of evergreen trees.

Then the lights — white, yellow, red, orange, pink, green, blue. Some are spaced precisely around the trees, others splashed on with a hurried hand. The orange lights blaze out for all to see. The blue ones are so subtle, they can’t be seen until night is well advanced. Together they present the same colors that make up the spectrum and the rainbow.

Shopping finished and more at peace, I drove back past the lights — and there it was. Glorious diversity. God made each of us as unique as this grove of evergreens, the tree that symbolizes the never-failing quality of His love for us. Some of us are round and full, others tall and spindly. Like the trees, some of us gather together, while others stand aloof. Some of our shoulders droop, while others of us lift our hands in praise. We are covered in many colors of skin, just as the trees wear different colors of lights. Yet each of us is a testament to the glorious diversity of the world we live in.

As this Christmas season rushes by us so fast that the bright colors begin to blur, I hope we can take the time to appreciate the world God made for us — the glorious diversity and the marvelous complexity of it. Each year near midnight on December 24, the entire world does seem to pause, to hold its breath for just a moment. Warring guns fall silent, and people around the world stop. Some give thanks that a baby was born nearly 2,000 years ago, just so He could die for us. Some people may even look heavenward, wondering when that bright star may come again.

Until it does, maybe from time to time we can remember the lesson of this grove of evergreens. Although each of them is different, they draw their nourishment from the same source underground, where their roots intertwine to help each of them stand. They all draw warmth and life-giving light from the same sun. They’re not so very different from us, this grove of trees. And as they stand together to celebrate this season, their lights send a message to all of us.

Why do summers feel so busy?

Why do summers feel so busy? I mean, there’s not that much more to do than in winter. Is there?

It only takes me about two hours a week to mow my yard. That’s not much. Unless you add in the rests and naps I take between mowing sessions. Still, it’s only one or two evenings a week. And then the trimming takes a couple of hours every other week or so. And then the lawn maintenance: weed killer, fertilizer, aerating. Of course, the shrubs have to be trimmed at just the right time. And there is always a tree limb or two that must come down. Then when your neighbors are outside, it’s only proper to introduce yourself and chat a bit.

The garden doesn’t take much time either. Well, if you don’t count the multiple evenings and weekends it took to get it set up and planted. I have my hoses and sprinklers set up so I just turn on one spigot and let it run for about an hour. That gives water to the flower beds next to the house and yard, the Bobo Memorial Garden, the vegetable garden and the planter under the maple tree. Well, I still have to take a hose or a watering can to the hanging baskets, the pots on each step, and the planters by the stairs. And the flowers by the mailbox. The althea bush, Charles’s tree and the lilac bush need watered once in a while. There are still a few trees of heaven sprouting that need cut and treated with herbicide. There are holes yet to fill, as well as soil testing to do in preparation for reseeding the dog yard this fall.

Then the vegetables begin to ripen and it’s time to make zucchini cake and zucchini bread and zucchini everything, then you shred or chop zucchini for the freezer. And you have cucumbers with ranch dressing, and hummus, and with onions and in salads. And then you make pickles. And then finally, you can’t stomach another cucumber. Then the tomatoes start.

And when the yard is done, there is also the house to paint. Ten years ago, my house saw its last coat of paint; it’s time. But first, I need to scrape, sand, fill and prime the window frames. And rebuild the porch rails. I have all the pieces, but need to paint the house first.

I must always hurry through the yard work, too, because I need to go visit my children, or go to meetings or work. Friends and family come to visit me as well, so there is yard and house tidying to do. I seem to have more laundry in the summer, too. I wear fewer clothes at a time but change more often. There are birds to watch and listen to, as well as wild kitties to try to tame. Bart needs walked more often, for his health and mine.

I don’t even have kids in summer sports, no traveling teams or schedules to meet. But it seems I don’t have time to write, to sew, to cook. I turn down invitations to dinner in order to mow. And yet, already I notice the days getting shorter. My gauge of the passing seasons is the length of time I must wear my sunglasses from my car to the office door. By mid-winter, the shadows are so long in the morning, that only a shaft of sunlight about a foot wide bothers my eyes. In mid-summer, I leave them on until I get inside the door.

Yes, summers seem busier. But are we really busy, or do we simply convince ourselves we need to do things outdoors in order to stay in touch with the natural world? I really don’t know, but for now, I need to go turn off the water and weed the flower beds.

Unanswered Prayer

This morning when I woke up and looked out the window, it was another glorious spring day—in February! Crocuses bloomed in my flower bed and it promised to be a great day for a walk. And that made me think about how often we pray for weather (let it be cold, let it be warm, let it rain, let it not rain). Personally, I like the warm winter we’ve been having, but there is a down side to it. Some plants need a certain number of cold days to bloom properly in the spring. If we don’t get enough cold days, we’ll have more bugs of the annoying kind. We could take it further to the economic impact of those who depend on selling items needed in cold weather. There’s also the problem that the warmth fools plants, animals and insects into believing it really is spring and then—whammo. Kansas weather changes hit, and it’s below freezing for a solid week, killing the tender buds and baby animals.

We plead for outcomes all the time, even for sporting events. I can imagine God saying, “Really, you want that team to win?” Yet, how many times has God provided not what we want, but what we NEED. For instance, seventeen years ago, I prayed that God would hold my marriage together, despite our problems. Yet God provided what my husband and I needed, not what we wanted. Neither of us would have grown as persons had we stayed together. We had become like an ill-fitting shoe and a sore foot. It was time to change.

Twelve years later, when my new-found love Charles was facing leukemia, I prayed he would be healed, that we could share our lives for many years. God healed him—by taking him home, and we had only five months. Yet both of us learned profound truths in those five months, and we lived our many years together in that short few weeks.

A few years ago, a spring blizzard we didn’t believe would materialize dumped 28 inches of snow on our town, and led to our mad rush stopping for three days, as, trapped in our homes, we marveled at this reminder of Who is really in charge.

Sometimes I have prayed to be spared certain experiences, and yet, those have often been the very experiences I now cherish. As Garth Brooks sings, “Sometimes I thank God, for unanswered prayer … Some of God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers.” When has God not answered your prayers the way you wanted, and you later gave thanks for that?

Spring

Quote

Today the window I looked through was anticipation of spring. Walking on break, I heard the unmistakable trill of sandhill cranes flying north. My heart leaped; sandhills going north is a sure indicator of spring. Going south in the fall, they signal winter. I caught sight of the flock for just an instant before they were lost against the blinding bright sky.

Bart took me for a nice walk after work this balmy evening. People and dogs were everywhere, eager to release a winter’s pent up activity on this, the first truly spring-like day. The twenty inches of snow released green as it retreated. My garden sprouts with hyacinths, tulips, daffodils and paper-whites. Soon, riotous blooms will show in wild extravagance.

Later, we took our before-bed short walk in the open field across from my house. The air as we went down the steps smelled of rain—somewhere. As I stood at the end of the leash while Bart “read” the notes left on a bush by other animals, I looked up at the night sky. It was so clear and bright that I could almost feel the earth rotating beneath my feet and see the stars spinning above me.

Then I caught the honk of geese. Our local resident, over-wintering geese do not fly at night. They go out to forage after daybreak and come home to roost before dusk. These geese flew with a purpose, day and night, focused on reaching the summer nesting grounds. I saw the ghostly gray vee above me against the navy blue sky.

I felt connected to the history that has gone before me as well as the history that will go on beyond me, the consistent circle of season following season. This was proof that God is in His heaven, that hope springs fresh, dawn after darkness.

One of my favorite poems by Carl Sandburg says:
I want to do the right thing, but often I don’t know just what the right thing is. Every day I know I have come short of what I would like to have done. Yet as the years pass and I see the very world itself, with its oceans and mountains and plains, as something unfinished, a peculiar little satisfaction hunts out the corners of my heart. Sunsets and evening shadows find me regretful at tasks undone, but sleep and the dawn and the air of the morning touch me with freshening hopes. Strange things blow in through my window on the wings of the night wind and I don’t worry about my destiny.

 

 

Through My Window – Kansas Sunsets

Tonight, the window through which I viewed the world was Bart the dog walking me. We’d both been needing it for a while. I’d been under the weather with the respiratory stuff, either too busy, too cold, or too sickly to let him walk me in the past couple of weeks. So tonight felt good.

And then we saw the sunset. Started out with a blue the color of the sky blue crayon, and the clouds (no rain, but moisture) and a translucent peach the color of peach jello. I could hear the terrain underfoot—crunching buffalo grass, the slippery pine needles, the rasp of the sandy soil against paved parts of the alley. By the time we got down the alley to the hill across from the house, the blue of the sky had paled and the peach turned to crimson. As one color grew stronger, the other had to fade, yin and yang.
And then there was the fact that the temperature from the low this morning to the high late this afternoon was 39 degrees. Ah, Kansas. What did you see today that resonated with you?

Through My Window – Dads

When I woke up today and looked out my bedroom window, I was thinking about fathers. My sister-in-law just lost her father this week, and a friend learned her father is in the early stage of Alzheimer’s. It made me thankful for the wonderful times I had with my father, as I tagged along at his heel while he went about his work on the farm.

All those times we went traipsing through the pasture looking for a cow, I remember finding ripe persimmons, gooseberries and blackberries, but never a cow. I remember “driving” the pickup back from the pasture seated on his lap. And “driving” the tractor while he and my brother tossed hay bales onto the wagon. On trips to the sale barn to buy calves, I always sat on my hands to keep from making any move that could be considered a bid. When our purchases were done and paid for, we went to the auction barn café for a piece of pie. Dad never got a piece for himself, or a donut for that matter. He always said he’d just take a bite or two of mine, a bite that ended up being half of whatever we had ordered. I really didn’t mind, because we had such adventures.

Trips to the grain elevator in Hepler, where I watched the pickup load of wheat run like a golden river into the belly of the elevator. The smell of leather saddles, bridles and other gear at the feed store. How the smell of sweet feed almost made me wish I was a horse or cow—until I smelled the fried chicken or chocolate cake my mom was famous for. I remember helping Dad load the pickup with hay we’d bought, so proud when I got strong enough to stack it four high myself. The imagination I use as a writer developed when I stayed at the truck while Dad worked the different fields. That pickup bed became a ship, or a tree house, or a cabin in the woods, or a smoke spotter’s tower.

My brother was old enough to leave home for a full-time job about the time I was old enough to be a little help tagging along with dad. I doubt I was much help, but I’ll always treasure those times. I’m thankful to have had a father who was a dad. I hope that what I learned at his heel made me a better mom, a better writer and a better person.