Friday, April 29, 2011

Open and Shut Case

IS IT BETTER to have a door stuck open or a door stuck closed? I have both at the moment, and neither is quite convenient, but they make life exciting. In Birdland the rains come and the winds blow. Ancient latches succumb to the oxidation of time. A silver stream winds through the back field til it gets to the new grass waterway where it slips underground, and the wind rips big panels of corrugated metal from the roof of the barn. The grass grows thick and bright and green, and the breeze carries the scent of the new lilacs across the yard.
Various trees and bushes in the rose family have already begun to shed their petals, which carpet the lawn.

I hope the storms left a little pollen for the bees to make their honey and to begin the fruits of peach, pear, and apple. The winged seeds of maple make humble bouquets at the tips of twigs overhead.

I don't know what I do to deserve the luck I have. Last week on the way to work I discovered my car had a flat tire. I thought it was no big deal, since I was riding with my friend, Gayle. I called her and asked her to pick me up instead of waiting for me at her house, and pulled my car over to the side of the road.

I'd deal with it after work. I thought since Ellis was about to begin driving, his first lesson could be how to fix a flat. But my youngest is pretty busy, and after work I soon remembered it would be dark before he would get home from track. Besides, I would need to pick him up, so I thought I'd just go fix that flat myself. No problem, really. I always fancied myself an independent women. Now was my chance to prove it. I pulled the jack and the spare out of the trunk, but would you believe I couldn’t budge even one of those lug-nuts?

I tried and tried, even jumped on the tire iron with all my substantial weight, but they were stubborn. Well, I had towing insurance, so I'd just go home and call for help. I began walking back toward my house when suddenly an SUV comes barreling down the road, someone leaning out the passenger side window. It was my farmer neighbors, Jim and Sean. As they got closer, they slowed down and Sean called out a question. “Are you having car trouble, Mary?”
I admitted to my difficulties, and they pulled up behind my car and got out. By the time I unloaded the jack and the temporary tire from the trunk, Sean had already loosened the lug nuts. They quickly changed the flat and we saw the problem: I had somehow run over a screw. “Oh, we can fix that,” said my farmer friends.

Before I could thank them, they had packed up my tire in their car, and I drove myself home on my spare. Shortly after, they showed up with my tire reinflated, apologizing for not being absolutely certain that the plug they put in wouldn't leak. “What I'll do,” said Sean, “is come back tomorrow morning and make sure it's okay. Will you need to go anywhere before 7:00?”

We talked a little about the weather. I admired the new grass waterway they put in, and Sean told me he was thinking about cutting a tree out of the waterway in the back field. Would I mind if he cut it up and brought it down to my house for firewood? Would I mind?? My question is this: whatever did I do to deserve such friendly and caring nieghbors? And how can I make sure I keep doing it? For that matter, what did I do to deserve the delicate scent of lilac after a rain, and the calm blue sky? The tiny, red stalks like miniature trees that will become Peony bushes in a few short weeks, set to bloom by the end of May? A shut door is a protection; an open door is an opportunity, even if it's swinging wildly in the breeze.
Open Beauty; Protect Peace; Blessed Be.

Sunday, April 24, 2011


WHAT COULD BE MORE SATISFYING on a damp, misty morning than sweeping out a barn? On Saturday I answered my friend, Bill’s call for a work party
at the Kalyx Center. The Kalyx Center has a barn and a house, both lovingly moved onto Bill’s land in Willow Branch Township. The barn is a venue for various events—Contra Dances, Weddings, Concerts, Reunions. He is getting ready to host an event, and called for friends, far and wide to join him in the preparations. I like to go to Bill’s work parties. They are an equal balance of work and party.

Fascinating people show up with remarkable food. I brought bread, of course, the laziest thing in the world for me to make, but I also got to eat quiche (one small slice each of fiddlehead fern quiche and morel mushroom quiche) and pie and marinated tofu, and various fruits and vegetables.
It was an indoor kind of spring morning, so when Bill gave me the choice of clearing brush along the driveway or clearing out the barn, I chose the barn. It’s a big, red barn constructed with wooden pegs. Years ago Bill and friends dismantled it and carried it piece by piece to his farm where they rebuilt it. It is a historic barn, but with some lovely additions. The barn doors slide open to reveal huge walls of glass, the panes artistically arranged in a symmetry of panels, with unimposing strips of stained glass adding just a hint of color. The basketball hoop at one end and the oak floor make the barn feel like a gymnasium or a dance hall. The stained glass makes it feel holy.

First we made some space in the lofts and stacked the stackable chairs, pushing other chairs to the periphery of the room to open up space. The corrugated tin roof has openings, which let in pinholes of light, but which also let in the rain, so we had to be careful not to move the dozens of buckets placed carefully to catch the drips on rainy days. Once we had cleared out the center of the barn we began to sweep. The prairie winds make sure a lot of dust blows through an old barn, and beginning at one end of the floor, I make big circles of clean and smaller circles of dust to be brushed into the dustpans. As I sweep, one of Bill’s friends assembles a space heater, another clears away the brush outside. Bill moves more furniture, and eventually we all break for quiche, admiring the sun coming through the big windows onto the newly clean floor.

I find on a table a tiny medicine bottle with a miniature bouquet—a little spike of grape hyacinth next to a minuscule, red maple sapling. Maple saplings are springing up all over my yard at this time of year, but I would never have thought to pull one for a bouquet, or to pair the burgundy colored leaves with the deep blue balls of the grape hyacinth. These pairings of color and texture make me happy, and Bill tells me that his friends picked them last week, and here they are still fresh! It strikes me that the leaves of the spring maple sapling are the same red as the adult leaves will be in the fall. The symmetry makes me smile again. I return to my broom and find myself still smiling with the shared work and shared food; the shared stories and common goals. I don’t think I can make it to Bill’s event, but we’re all interested in creating community and fostering culture.

It’s okay if the barn leaks a little, or if the dust blows in again after we have swept the whole thing out. There will always be more work parties, more quiche, more pies, more friends. Community nurtures community and builds upon itself.
Work in Beauty; Sweep in Peace; Blessed Be.

The Beehive

Some parts of my yard are slow to wake up from the long winter, but the Daffodils are already fading. Today I picked the last few that lookedfresh, and added some Tulips, still tightly closed under the overcast sky. I cut two branches of pink blossoms, one from the Redbud and the other from the Weigela. Both are blooming generously,offering pink seashell shapes. The Redbuds are like tiny snails, and the Weigela like clusters of clams. I admired, but did not cut, the blossoms onthe peach trees—themost ever those trees have produced. We should have at least a pie or two from the three little trees that came up in the compost pile after we processed the harvest several years ago. Each flower opens exuberantly to offer a spray of stamens, like tiny antennae sending secret messages to the bees. I hope the bees will comebringing messages of their own.

This time of spring brings such a mix of seasons. Warm weather mixes with cold; lush green mixes with dead stalks of last year’s growth. In my little path thedried brown flowers of Sedum still stand, while
new green leaves emerge from the base of the bouquet to remind us that each new part of the cycle emerges from the last one.

This morning I am remembering a visit to a cemetery in the Yucatán. On the drive home from the Mayan Ruins we saw the green stucco wall with the high gate, and our friend, Heidi asked if we’d like to stop. The cemetery itself was full of bright color. Instead of headstones, we saw structures like little stucco houses, two and three stories tall.
Some of the fancier ones were tiled and closed up with padlocked windows, but most were open alcoves housing offerings of flowers, candles, little statues, photos, and notes for the departed loved ones. These were in the top story of each tiny apartment. Heidi began to tell us about the Yucatec funeral customs. She said that the body must be buried within three days, and is generally not embalmed. Instead the deceased is put into a box for three years, and then the bones are cleaned. Eventually the bones are put in a container in the lower story of these little cemetery houses. Heidi says that the family bones are all together. I’m intrigued by this process, which seems to recognize the cycles of life and death and life.

I want a beehive for my tombstone
No formaldehyde for me
Just sprinkle seeds of clover
I’ll be breakfast for the Bee.

Today I walk around the yard and see the deep green leaves of the Ghost Lilies. Thriving now, they are gathering sunshine to feed the bulbs we can’t see deep in the earth. Soon they will wither and fade and fall, and even disappear, but
just when we’ve forgotten, those bulbs will send a secret shoot up from the musky soil to grow toward the sun and burst forth with a spray of pink, shell-like trumpets.

For I’ve lived my life in cycles
And this is just one more
I’ll be waiting for the morning to arrive.

And the Bee will take me ‘round the bend
And then she will return
Collecting her Nectar for the Hive.

In the spring I can’t believe in Death, not a real, permanent Death, anyway, because everywhere in the spring life is springing up from decay.
My mulch pile rots to nurture the hostas I planted last year at the base of trees, while the bones of Dylan’s cat, Knowles, will provide minerals for the roots of the plants in my spiral rock garden.

Now only cry a little
And only for the Beauty
For the Clover will make seeds of us all.

And the Bee will keep the cycle
And the Sun will rise again
And someone may remember my Song.

Let’s sing of cycles and sunshine and seeds.
The maples are already pushing out tiny leaves and delicate helicopters of the lightest green. In a month, maybe more, these, too, will turn brown, let go, and spiral down to bury themselves in the sweet earth.

And the Bee will take me ‘round the bend
And then she will return
Sipping Sweet Honey from the Hive.

Gather Beauty; Sip Peace; Blessed Be.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Sudden Storm in the Frog Night

Birdland is suddenly muggy, and I can hear the frogs sing in the pond through the open window. Opening the windows for the first time in the season is always a cause for celebration. These frogs have a deep, satisfying chirp, and I like to think they are bullfrogs, but I don't really know what kind they are. The grass is patchy, mostly green but dappled with large brown spots of winter's thatch. A few nights ago I mowed two sections of the yard, just up by the house. I was racing sunset and the onset of dew, and the setting sun won. I like breaking tasks into manageable parts. Maybe I'll find for a few more sections tonight.

Spring seems to be flirting with summer already. In my yard the daffodils are in their glory, and narcissus is following closely. The redbuds have joined in and the weigela is covered with tight little buds, like pink capers, now beginning to open in the warmth of the afternoon. The peonies I dug last fall to line my path with have sent up scarlet shoots, and the leaves of the ghost lilies are knee high.

Ellis' friend, Mackenzie, has hatched us some chicks, which we brought home two days ago. Yesterday I spent the bulk of the day setting them up with a brooder in the aviary. Ellis and I raked out last year's composted litter and added a fresh mulch of hay. My youngest can be pretty motivated to do chores when they're for the chickens. We put some fencing in to keep the old rooster from stealing their food, and provide them some protection from his spurs, but he seems to have accepted the chicks without incident. They're small enough to venture through the bars of their fence into the larger part of the aviary, but our old rooster is more interested in baiting Ursula. My dog is very interested in these events, and kept sniffing around the outskirts of the aviary.

The rooster would puff up his chest and jump at the chickenwire, whenever Ursula got too close. Meanwhile, we put up a light, to warm them, and a plastic wall to keep out the worst of the wind, and a little wooden nest box I made years ago when we had quail. By evening they had settled into a comical routine of scratching in their new yard, and by the time I fell asleep thinking about the song of the frogs, the safety of the chicks had settled in my mind like a comforting blanket.

Around 2 A.M. I half woke to dampness coming in through the open window, but wasn't fully awake until I realized I could hear the wind. Without my hearing aids, I don't even hear thunder, and won't wake up until Isis frantically nudges me awake. My old dog has always been afraid of thunder, but she's getting deaf now, too. Here in the darkness, I could hear...something... and if it really was the wind, maybe it was the freight train noise they say accompanies a tornado. I was contemplating the wisdom of various responses from waking Ellis up to wait out the storm in the basement to rolling over to go back to sleep. By morning the storm will have passed. Sleep was just about to win out when I remembered the chicks. Their protection was minimal; the plastic wall I put up and the wooden nestbox were enough for a breezy night and a light rain, but these gale force winds?

What would you do? Obviously the best plan was to slip on my garden shoes and run out into the rain in my nightgown. I was soaked to the skin before I got to the driveway. I could see the light shining bravely in the aviary, but was sure I'd find a pile of wet, dead chicks. Flashes of lightening lit my path as I ran into the wind. When I got there, the chicks' little yard was empty. Maybe after they died, rats had carried them away. I lifted the lid of the nestbox and six pairs of bright eyes looked up at me. They were huddled close together, and seemed to be warm and dry, but wondering why I was disturbing their rest. I adjusted the plastic wall to block the worst of the wind and water until the storm passed, and then went back into the house to change into a dry nightgown.

Walk in Beauty; Work in Peace; Blessed Be.


In Birdland the grass must be greening up, and bulbs will be sending up leaves of various shades and shape—the bright spring green of Day Lilies and the darker forest green of Ghost Lilies. The daffodils may even be blooming, their

yellowdresses dancing in the chilly breeze.

In the Yucatan we have made an expedition to another Mayan ruin, Mayapán. It is a warm, sunny day with a bright blue sky with a few buoyant clouds floating above the massive

pyramids. We have brought a large umbrella to guard against sunburn.

The stone buildings are dark against the open sky and we begin to tour the ancient city. We approach one of the pyramids and some people are nearby, in snowy white shirts and brightly colored pants and skirts, with colored sashes of cotton tied around their heads. They have small clay pots of incense burning. It smelled to me like Sage, but my friend, Heidi, says, no, it's something else. They ask us in Spanish if we'd like to be purified, and we each stand still while the aromatic smoke washes over us. The man who gave me the blessing had a stocky build and a soft voice. He asked me my name, and when I told him, he began speaking softly, my name woven into his words as he circled the incense in front of me, behind me, and all around. Periodically, he would sprinkle more herbs into his bowl and the coals would spark and flare. He pauses to ask me to lift my arms and then passed the bowl of smoke beneath them. I am bathed in the earthy aroma. All the while, a smiling man photographed us. I thank my benefactor and turn to see Heidi, herhead bowed, a woman with a white blouse and a skirt the color of tangerines speaking softly, both hands on top of Heidi's head. She pulls her hands away suddenly, and gives them a little shake. Heidi looks up and smiles. We continue our walk, and the people progress through the ruins, stopping to bless each building, chanting and playing long notes on a conch trumpet. Later, we see them from the top of the biggest pyramid, a parade of color and sound winding through the ancient city.

We chose a flat rock with a little shade at the edge of the settlement for our picnic lunch of putanesca, which Heidi introduced as a “a dish with a story.” The story is that it is pastawith a sauce that the putas would make after a hard night's work. Whatever they had in their cupboards would go in the sauce, and all good women would have olive oil, garlic, anchovies, peppers. It was delicious, and we passed around bottles of tamarind water, a tart drink, like lemonade. Nearby the procession entered a barrel shaped building and we could hear the solemn music and smell the incense. As we ate, a strange tree caught my eye, with small green balls growing directly from the trunk, like a stalk of Brussels Sprouts. “Papaya,” said Heidi. They were small, yet. After our lunch we continued our tour.

The weathered stones were once covered with some kind of plaster and painted with pictures. Only a few scraps of the murals remain, and we visited those, now protected with a roof of thatch. The ochre and turquoise paint is faded, and the figures are hard to make out, but the scraps helped us imagine what the pyramids once looked like. We found some columns of stones stacked in rough layers of various sizes and colors.

One wall had a face carved in large blocks. Someone had left an offering of bougenvilla flowers, the bright pink lovely against the sandy colored stone.

We finished our tour and thought about the beauty of the stones and the flowers and the people. The smell of incense lingered as we walked quietly back to the car, and we felt pure and whole and sanctified.

Climb in Beauty; Consecrate Peace; Blessed Be.