Sunday, May 29, 2011


New friends? or lunch?

IN BIRDLAND IT RAINS AND RAINS AGAIN. I LOSE track of how many times I’ve emptied the rain gauge today, but last time it had 2 ¼ inches. The grass waterway in the field back of the house has become a delta, spreading out in a triangle where the waterway elbows into the beans, no grass to be seen. Beans and corn are just sprouting, making green pinstripes in the black fields, but with so many patches of standing water, I’m afraid Jim and Sean will have to replant if the rains ever stop long enough so the fields won’t swallow the tractor whole like they swallowed the mud boot right off my left foot so many years ago.
Birdland Delta

A few weeks ago I met a new friend. Someone introduced me as “the chicken woman” to Abby, who had just lost every one of her small flock to coyotes. I told her I had seen day-old chicks for sale at the feed store. “I know,” she said, “but you have to buy 25, and we only have room for about 6.” I had the perfect solution, and she delightedly agreed to share an order with me. The sign at the feed store said they would have new chicks on Wednesday, so we made plans to meet there and split an order to take home. On the appointed day, we met, only to discover no chicks—only ducklings. We asked chicks would arrive and the woman told us, “Oh, it’s so late in the season, you have to order them.” We spent some time pouring over the catalogs, and settled on a mixed order: Auracanas (who lay blue eggs) for Abby, and Buff Orpingtons (a big, fluffy, gentle breed that lays large brown eggs) for me. We paid for our chicks and went our separate ways in happy anticipation of our flock. Next time I saw Abby, she mournfully told me that our chicks wouldn’t arrive for two months! I thought we could do better by simply ordering them from a hatchery (the feed store was doing that anyway) if we could get our money back. She called, and the store would refund our money if we came together within the next few days. She called the hatchery and ordered a variety of “rainbow layers” which would lay eggs of various colors from tan to a deep brown, perhaps, if we were lucky, some blue eggs, too. They wouldn’t come for a while, but still two weeks earlier than our feed store order.

The next Wednesday, Abby’s husband, Daniel, and I met at the feed store to secure our refund. After the paperwork, I told him I was going to go to the back of the store to see if they had any ducklings, thinking I might take some home. (You only have to buy 6 ducklings, not 25.) Daniel followed along to see the fuzzy ducklings we thought would be waddling around in the pens. No ducklings today—only chicks! We laughed our way out of the store thinking we could have taken home our chicks today if only we hadn’t already ordered the rainbow layers.
Taking in the sights.

Our chicks arrived last weekend, and Abby and Daniel picked them up at the post office. Ellis drove me on back country roads to their house. My oldest recently got his learner’s permit, and never misses a chance to practice his driving. We pulled into town to pick up 50 pounds of chick feed and at the first stoplight he looked in the rearview mirror to see an escaped chick riding on the back headrest, taking in all the sights. Without thinking, I scrambled into the back seat and returned our passenger to with her sisters while Ellis yelled that I’m supposed to be in the front seat while he’s driving.

Home now, the chicks are brooding in a pen in the bathroom until they feather out and the weather gets a bit warmer and drier. We bring a few out every evening to work on Chick/Dog assimilation and impulse control. Ursula is curious and excited about her new friends, sniffing, quivering, wagging her big tail. Occasionally she reaches out with her paw or nudges them with her nose, trying sometimes to lick them. Her big tongue knocks them over, and we try to read her thoughts. Is she feeling friendly or hungry? The goal is to teach her that they are not lunch, so we can once again have chickens running around the yard. So far she has graduated to being off leash in the chicks’ presence, but only with supervision. We hope she will learn to be the protector of her new friends.

Hatch Beauty; Protect Peace; Blessed Be.

Mary Lucille Hays lives in Birdland near White Heath. She is interested in seasons and cycles and her own back yard. 

Friday, May 20, 2011

Walking the Path to Joy

IN BIRDLAND THE COOL DAMPNESS HAS LUXURIOUSLY STRETCHED OUT THE BLOOMING SEASON. Irises of pale lavender border the house, and the poppies, instead of popping like popcorn on a hot skillet, open in slow motion, turning dignified faces to the sun, a few more each day. At this rate, we will enjoy their blossoms for weeks instead of days. The rain keeps the grass green and the unseasonable coolness keeps the flowers fresh. In the evenings I have been stealing time to walk behind the mower in slow patterns across the yard. The grass has grown so tall—knee-high in some places, up to my waist in others—that I have to push slowly through it, putting my shoulders into the work, but I don’t mind. It has become a walking meditation to me.
I am enjoying the velvety green lawn that my mower unveils. I sometimes leave tall bunches of grass that has gone to seed, as an accent. I circle the mower around patches of stray Black-Eyed-Susans, Queen Anne’s Lace, and an occasional stately Thistle. I’m letting the yard be its own landscaper, with help from the birds and the wind.
I’ve been doing another kind of walking meditation—the labyrinth at Crystal Lake Park. It’s next to the hospital, and my stepfather, Bob, has been spending some time there. He had a bypass operation, so we’ve been visiting. 

The labyrinth at Crystal Lake Park.
At some point I remembered how close the hospital is to the park and decided to walk the labyrinth. I first encountered a labyrinth of the same pattern (a copy of the design at Chartres Cathedral, built in the 13th Century) when I went on a self-styled writing retreat with my friend Karen, in New Harmony, Indiana.
The pattern is deceptively simple.
We rented a room in a quirky rooming house for a long weekend, and spent our mornings writing. We’d break for lunch and share what we’d written, then walk around the town. We’d have another writing session before dinner. In our ramblings we discovered the Chartres labyrinth. I didn’t really understand the point of a labyrinth. As a child, I always preferred a maze. In a maze you can get lost. I could take one look at a labyrinth and see the way in, and the way out. I dismissed it as futile, an empty ritual. That is, until I walked it. The pattern is deceptively simple. You won't understand the complexity until you walk it. No, you don’t get lost, but you lose yourself in the simple act of following a path that doubles back and cycles around all the way to the heart. Once I walked it, I wanted to do it again and again without knowing why. Karen and I had different styles of walking. I would stride purposefully, my cowboy boots clicking on the polished stone, Karen would glide meditatively at a much slower pace. I would make two circuits to her one. We met coming and going and would silently and lovingly greet each other, then step aside to pass. Sometimes we walked our meditative mandala twice in a day.

A path that doubles back and cycles all the way to the heart.
The central patch to a quilt on the
heart wing of the hospital.
The labyrinth at Crystal Lake is the same pattern, but with rough pavers rather than polished granite. Fragrant gardens surround the circle, some kind of allium blooms with a spherical head of florets. Walking the pattern takes you on a curving path that doubles back again and again. You begin to think in metaphors and rhythms. A path to the heart. Sometimes you go a long ways before turning back, sometimes only a few steps. Just when you think you’re close to the center, you switch back and find yourself on the periphery again. As I walked, I thought of my troubles and the love that makes them painful. I thought of the man up in the hospital bed waiting to wake up, a man who has been one of my fathers for thirty years. I thought of the moment when the doctors unhooked the bypass machine, and his blood began to flow back through the channels of his heart, just as I am making my way to the heart of the matter. In the center are six circles, like the petals of a flower. I pause and send blessings out each direction. I stand there breathing for a few moments, then turn and make my way back out the meandering path.
"If you're lost enough
to find yourself by now..."

The shadows it casts on
the side of the house
are a cool blue.
Back home now, in the evenings, though the sun is as bright red as a maraschino cherry, the shadows it casts on the side of the house are a cool blue. I marvel at the sharp focus of the shadows the setting sun makes of the Irises. I walk around the yard breathing in damp color, and wonder how difficult it would be to mow a labyrinth in the grass next to the barn.

Walk in Beauty; Contemplate Peace; Blessed Be.

Mary Lucille Hays lives in Birdland.
She is interested in community,
paths to peace, and her own back yard.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Spring Flowers Hold Seeds of Winter

IN BIRDLAND, SPRING IS FLOWING FASTER AND FASTER INTO SUMMER. It’s suddenly hot and all the rain gives us the emerald green wild growth and the humidity that fills the house. Flowers are busting out everywhere. The lilacs have already come and gone, releasing their musky scent. The memory lingers with the now brown, papery blossoms that still fill the bush. The lavender color is echoed in the Ground Ivey, Sweet Rocket, and Iris. The shape of the Sweet Rocket florets is echoed in the blooming Horseradish. Both are members of the Brassicaceae—the Mustard family—and have the same Cruciferous flowers, but the Horseradish is white. I pick them both for the table, just as I picked both purple and white Lilacs a week ago.

Just now I got up to check the lilac bushes (was my description of the dead flowers accurate?) and was caught by a sudden flutter of blue in the bush—an Indigo Bunting. I stepped forward to get a closer look and my window framed a Cardinal in the grass a few feet away. Such a generosity of color in my window pane. But back to the flowers.

The Cardinal is the same scarlet color as the lone poppy in a bed that widens every year. Just now the bed is filled with green, whiskery buds, each hanging like the head of a long-necked, prehistoric bird. Tomorrow, or maybe by this afternoon, more poppies will pop until the whole area is filled, briefly with red. (And now that I look again, and remember the Cardinal, I see that my Poppy is a little more orange, but only a little. Just a slight yellow highlight that shimmers in the sun.) But the flowers are delicate, shattering easily, the crepe paper petals bruise a pale pink and drop to the ground, leaving the complicated seed cases, like miniature pepper shakers ready to shake seeds over my bagel or into the yard, widening next summer’s circle.

The yard is also filled with work to do. Didn’t I just mow two sections of the lawn? And those are ready to mow again, but the South side of the house is knee-high, grasses going to seed.
Work to do.
Next to the driveway sits a pile of  perennials to be planted. Last week I managed to put in a row of Iris curving around the Hostas I planted last year to define my little picnic table area. I dug and dug, but have plenty more to divide. I envision a growing circle of color, rippling toward the cornfield like rings on a pond where a pebble has dropped.

Since I stopped using the riding mower, the lawn takes longer to mow and the grass grows taller between mowings. But I get the exercise of the walk, and the push mower gives me more maneuverability. Sometimes from up on the seat of the riding mower, I would see a renegade Milkweed or Thistle I wanted to preserve for the butterflies, but couldn’t always change course in time, and often as not, I would mow it over. Walking behind the push mower I can easily circle a volunteer Black-Eyed-Susan, or even a tuft of tall grass that I want to accent the lawn. When the grass is cut short it’s easy to think that my lawn is a monoculture, but letting the grasses go to seed reminds me of the diversity there: Timothy, Fescue, Turkey Foot, Foxtail all lend their different tones and blades and flowerheads to my back yard.

Bright Constellations of Dandelions
Ready to Fly Away on a Wish
I like too, to see the bright yellow constellations of the Dandelions scattered around, both the random yellow dots scattered around the yard when I look from the attic window, and the smaller constellations of flowers in one plant. We’re just entering into Summer, but the quick cycles of various flowers remind me that the seeds of Winter are always with us. The Dandelions have both the sunny flowers and the ghostly seed heads make me think of diagrams of an atom, with a nucleus of dark seeds ready to fly away on a wish. The maples are dropping seeds of their own, brown papery wings like the discarded wings of cardboard dragonflies. These are scattered on my path, a gentle reminder of the autumn and winter ahead.
Fly in Beauty; Flow in Peace; Blessed Be.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Mother's Day

My mother's gifts have informed who I am.

THIS TIME OF YEAR the days tumble over one another and if I'm not careful I forget to look for the yellow roses before it's too late. I almost forgot the asparagus too, but luckily got distracted on the way to feed the chickens and found myself by the grape arbor instead, which is just in front of the asparagus bed. I actually gasped aloud when I saw the shoots, a few of them already two feet tall. Another day and they would have been beyond steaming, woody and branching out to feathery ferns. I set the scoop of chicken feed on the grass and snapped off the shoots. They will grow back, and I will snap them off every few days. Dragon tail soup for the next six weeks until I have to stop harvesting and let the plants recover.

Then my friend, Gayle, called. “Do you want some morel mushrooms?” she asked. “I found some in my yard, and I don't like mushrooms.” She cut them for me and I had a delicious stir fry, the greens of asparagus and broccoli made savory with the brown mushrooms and olive oil. Of course that reminded me that I need to get to the woods and see if it's too late for ramp—the wild leeks that grow so abundantly. I think it is too late. I'm afraid I have already missed most of the spring flowers—Dutchman's Breeches, Spring Beauty, Jack-in-the-Pulpit, Bluebell. Worse, I have missed the deadline for my Mother's Day musings. I should have been writing about this last week, but then the day was still just an abstraction, a vague, future event.

Grape Hyacinths

Today I am thinking of the yellow roses.

My task is to now gratefully recognize these gifts.
Inhale Beauty
Today I am thinking of the yellow roses that will come soon, and my mother, who used to have a lovely bed of climbing red roses by the front stoop. The roses were old-fashioned, more for rambling than cutting. As a child, I didn't appreciate them—thought their stems were too spindly, their thorns too sharp and close together. They were nothing like the florist variety, those tall elegant stems, like princesses standing straight up in a vase, demure face closed in a tight bud, or slightly open. These were messy and abundant, dropping petals and pollen, wild and uncontainable—sort of like my mother's children. Now in memory I see them in the sunshine (though they were on the north side of the house) two bushes out front, just full of crimson flowers. In my mind they will bloom all summer long. I'd like to drive past and see if they're still there, but afraid of how I'll feel if they're gone.

The roses and missed blooms have me thinking about my place as a daughter. I try to be a good one. Sometimes I think I achieve that; mostly I think I could do better. I could call more often, stop by for lunch once in awhile, offer my help with little projects. I think about those roses and the gifts my mother gave me. I'm told she taught me to read as a toddler, with flashcards attached to every conceivable noun in the house: table, chair, refrigerator, telephone, curtain, mother. After my children were born I once discovered an old reading workbook at a friend's house, and recognized instantly that it was the one my mother had used to teach me. Each letter had a mnemonic drawing to help a child remember the sound the letter made. H was for “Harry,” who was breathing heavily after running (“H-H-H-H”). He sat in chair made of a lower-case “h” to rest. Thumbing through that book brought home how many hours my mother must have spent reading to me and my brother and sisters.

My mother's gifts have informed who I am, not only as a daughter, but also as a sister, niece, friend, teacher, writer, and especially, mother. I know I could do better in those areas too, but here's the thing: What felt like instinct as I loved and cuddled and nurtured and disciplined and taught my own children was knowledge inherited, and inhaled at my mother's knee. My task now is to gratefully recognize those gifts and turn them back to my mother, and outward to the world.
Inhale Beauty; Exhale Peace; Blessed Be.

Mary Lucille Hays lives in Birdland near White Heath. She is interested in cycles and heritage and her own back yard. A week after Mother's Day she is still grateful for a loving mother.