Synchronization of the seasons

 

Our bar wood benches and tables stowed away for winter

Season: n 1: suitable or natural time or occasion: 2: a period of the year associated with some phase or activity of agriculture (as growth or harvesting) Season vb 1: to make palatable by adding salt or condiment 2: to make fit by experience

Considering what might be the last fine day in 2021, yesterday we stowed away the pavilion furniture inside my former gift shop—one of many outdoor projects we aim to complete before snow flies.

                Since April, we’ve hefted mulch, compost, and garden waste which conditioned our bodies for this ritual of putting summer to bed.

I confess, lifting and stacking eleven barn wood tables and twenty-two benches claims every bit of our physical and mental fortitude. Yet, in the exercise of this annual task the past eight years, we’ve mastered a pattern for maximum space economy.

Our procession of preserving our belongings began last month when I parked my golf cart inside the pavilion’s storage room. For the first winter in twelve years, she won’t be left out in the cold.

                Betsy, my Club Car, hasn’t seen a golfer since I purchased her as my garden buddy—my back and step saver to and from beehives, and up and down hills from gardens to burn piles.

                Now Betsy rests amongst harvest baskets, coolers, bins of hot and cold cups, and other acquisitions.

Betsy, my golf cart, with garden companions 
                Rest. That’s exactly what my body craved when I closed the pavilion doors upon our completed chore. Instead, I asked my husband “What’s the weather forecast for this afternoon?”

                “Rain.”

                “Better plant my garlic,” I said and fetched my buckets of compost and oak leaves.

                On my knees with trowel in hand, I mused at the brevity of summer’s companionship with friends, flora, and honeybees.  

                The sun on my shoulders and the sore spot between, I tamped soil and oak leaves above forty-two garlic cloves. At last, I sat back on the heels of my chicken boots. “Finished! Praise God!”          

Oh yes, I’m surfeited of gardens. Their needs to meet my needs: beauty, fragrance, food.

                Indeed, homegrown garlic waits in our basement on the shelf with canned tomatoes, peach butter and jam, and currant compote. Squash and asparagus soup and raspberries fill our freezer.

                God is good. Faithful.

This is why we gather with family and friends to give thanks. Why we will soon find our bottles of sage and allspice in our spice racks.

For our hearts praise God in seed time and harvest for our land, food, and liberty.

Glad and exhausted, I carried my empty buckets, swinging by my sides in synchronization of the seasons, to the greenhouse.

Come suppertime, hungry with plates of barbequed pulled pork and roasted garlic, red potatoes, and broccoli before us, rain fell fast and hard.

Dear Reader, if you know the meaning of the Yiddish word “verklempt”, you grasp my emotional condition. If you grow food and are over seventy years old, you’ve been there and will be again.

Yes, I slept well last night.

 

 


A memorial to my Sweetie dog

Sweetie in my garden at last

You never know what you’ll stumble upon when browsing The Weed Lady’s place. As we drove north toward Fenton, I assured my friend Maureen something beautiful and valuable would call our names.  

     My two previous visits to this gardener’s paradise dated to more than a decade ago. Maureen’s recent birthday presented the perfect occasion to return. We’d spend the afternoon celebrating with plants and dine on beef tenderloin afterward at Lucky’s.

     “They have the best steak,” a friend of Maureen’s and Fenton resident had said. And I’d heard the same vote of confidence from Imlay City friends.  

    Maureen’s phone guided us to our destination on Fenton Road. I didn’t recognize the area for all the recent development. At last, The Weed Lady’s wooden house appeared on our right.

     As I remembered, the scent of every square inch surrounding the landmark welcomed us. A gurgling pool and begonias of various varieties sat amidst repurposed furniture and garden structures.

     Urns of all sizes and prices and succulent plants led us into the gift shop. Maureen spied Italian terracotta pots. Mama and Papa pots with offspring of all sizes waiting for a sunny window or garden. And our adventure had just begun.

     “Ready for the greenhouse?” I asked.

     “Yes! I’d like to find a succulent for my kitchen window.”

     On our path to the greenhouse, every garden structure imaginable sat arranged with like kinds. Again, the urns tempted me.

     “I cannot buy what I cannot carry to the car and into my gardens,” I said.

     Maureen smiled. “Good idea.”

     I spied a group of dog statues lounging under a huge tree. “I wonder if they have a Lab,” I said, thinking of my grand-dog, Lily.

     Approaching the odd doggie park, my heart leapt at the sight of a small collection of cocker spaniel figurines. Their sad, puppy-dog eyes reminded me of my ginger-colored pet named Sweetie Lee.

     I lost Sweetie forty-five years ago and had since searched for a proper memorial to place in my gardens. The price on the cocker spaniel was right. I lifted my little Sweetie with no effort and carried her while Maureen and I browsed tables of succulents in the greenhouse.

     “Look at the pattern on this urn,” Maureen said, pointing beneath the table where we stood.

     The vase, embellished with wine-colored flowers and filled with wet potting soil, appeared to have been abandoned. Again, the price compelled me to purchase the unique treasure. But I couldn’t lift it on my own.

     My birthday friend and I selected our succulents and made our purchases, including the rejected vase the clerk emptied for me.

     Dear Reader, I placed my Sweetie dog in a garden today to view from my kitchen window. Her sad puppy-dog eyes drew loving tears.

     For as Maureen and I dined on Lucky’s steak, I recalled my boyfriend who bought Sweetie for me, for she became my confidant during my parents’ divorce.

     Thanks to Maureen and The Weed Lady, I at last found the proper memorial to my beloved and faithful pet. 


All the trees of the world

 

The white pine above my three hives

A youngster born near the border between eastern Kentucky and West Virginia, I imagined all the world resembled mine—green mountains, far as my eyes could see. 

     Within these mountains lay flatlands Appalachians named “bottoms”. My folks called our home the McCoy Bottom, and our farmhouse the “homeplace”.

     My mother’s grandfather, Lark McCoy, had cleared the bottom’s timber for crops and built his homeplace, barn, smokehouse, henhouse, two cabins, and beehives.  

     Mom’s father Floyd, however, had built his homeplace with a Sears kit on the opposite end of the McCoy Bottom. The roads being too narrow, Sears delivered the shipment via Peter Creek.

     A tributary formed by the runoff of rain flowing down mountain hollows, Peter Creek divides the bottom. My grandfather tended his honeybees along his side of the creek, and grew corn on a hillside on the other until his untimely death.

     From my earliest memories, Mom would point to the hill where young trees grew and say sadly, “That’s where Dad planted corn.”

    My grandfather also grew green apple trees along the path between his homeplace and my great-grandfather’s. The barn with bats in the haymow faced the orchard from the other side of the lane.

     Just when I learned to find toeholds in their gnarly trunks, Mom and Dad packed up our household and drove away. The mountains slowly shrunk into flat cornfields that endured throughout the eternal state named Ohio.

     After Dad crossed another river and drove into Detroit, I couldn’t believe the straight, paved streets lined with houses and driveways far as my eyes could see. Then he turned his car into one of those driveways and unloaded the trunk.

     Feeling sorely homesick for the bosoms of my green mountains, I found consolation sitting under the shade of the one tree in our front yard. Impossibly huge to climb, however.

     One school day I cried again to stay home.  Mom said, “Iris, you have to go to school. You won’t pass to first grade if you miss much more.”

     I walked down the porch steps to the tree and sat beneath it facing the street, out of Mom’s sight from inside the house. I fell asleep and awoke to find bird droppings on my head. Mom led me to the bathroom and scrubbed and rinsed my hair and scalp in angry justification of delivering my discipline.

     To my mother’s dismay, the incident encouraged me all the more to climb and sit beneath trees.

     The other day when I failed to spy the queens in my three hives, I laid down under a pine to stretch my back and put life in perspective.

     My goodness, dear Reader! I wish you could’ve seen what I saw. Under the clear, blue sky and sparkling boughs of the white pine, and the sound of bees restoring order in their home, their queens didn’t matter.

     The cool, green grass upon my neck, my Lord whispered, “I will never leave or forsake you.”

     All the trees of the world are His.


Under the Influence of a kitchen window

 

View from my kitchen window

My husband took the spray bottle of vinegar and water from under the kitchen sink. Then he retrieved a rag from the basement. What’s he up to? I wondered.

     After three rainy days, sunlight seized him to wash away the remains of our granddog’s slobber from the outside kitchen door-wall. A month since Lily’s last visit, I’d wiped her drool from the inside glass three days ago while on a cleaning spree.

     What else is a gardener to do when confined to a dusty, neglected house? So I set my favorite albums on the turntable and got down to business.

     At the conclusion of a congenial reunion with my household belongings, I returned the spray bottle and Howard’s Restore-a-Finish to the cabinet under the kitchen sink.  

     Very thankful for my home, I paused before the window above the sink. I’ve spent a good portion of the past thirty two years cooking, dreaming, planning, praying, and repenting there. And washing thousands of teacups and saucers.

     Tree branches thrashed in the wind and rain. “I know the feeling,” I whispered. “Trust me, this storm shall pass.”

     I thanked God for the mind and strength to vacuum and polish what my husband and I have accumulated in fifty two years of marriage—many small treasures now stowed away in plastic bins in the basement. Four thousand square feet wouldn’t be enough space to display the love and life lived in this little house and on these three acres.

     I observed the rainstorm long enough to notice splatters of dishwater between the window panes, yet resisted the urge to grab the spray bottle.

     Rather, I watched the last blossoms of phlox and rose stand their ground against autumn’s tantrum. I remembered our house in Detroit, the view of our neighbor’s lush and lovely backyard while I cooked and washed dishes as a young mother.

     Our three girls learned to wash and dry dishes in that sink and before the side window, although not tall enough to appreciate the view. Perhaps that’s why they negotiated opting out of the chore.

     Nonetheless, the landscape of passing and emerging seasons nourished my soul, mind, and spirit. And enhanced what I fed my family. A culinary prompt of sorts.

     I’d like to say my fondness for the Detroit kitchen window consciously influenced my choice for the generous window I stand before several times throughout a day. Truth is, in my hours studying our house plans, I cannot remember focusing on the kitchen window’s location.

     But God is good. He knew my needs. My family’s needs.

     Because when the cook is happy, the house is happy, especially after the cook dusts the furniture and floors and wipes windows clean.

     Dear Reader, when my husband retired, he assumed the biannual wrestling match with washing our windows. This makes the cook of the house happy.

      At the conclusion of his reunion with the spray bottle and rag, he consumes beef tenderloin and baked potato with sour cream. And perhaps apple pie a la mode.      

    


A constant memorial to Albert Newman

 

Driving north on US23, my husband passed a sign between Ossineke and Alpena. You are now crossing the 45th Parallel, Halfway between the Equator and the North Pole.

            “Dad would point to that sign when he drove us to Gram and Gramp’s on Grand Lake,” Mel said. “Perhaps that planted the seed of my love for geography.”

            I imagined us crossing the 45th Parallel line, our car a speck amongst millions of vehicles on America’s highways—one reason we chose the road less traveled to Cheboygan.

We also preferred the old route with stately homes in small towns with attractions that provoked Mel’s childhood memories. Pinconning’s vacant Deer Acres Fun Park, for instance.

“Yeah, Dad stopped there. And the Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox Park. But someone’s taken them down.”

“And your dad probably stopped for ice cream.”

Mel grinned at another seed his father planted.

We dined on enchilada and chili relleno in Alpena—checked in to our hotel in charming Cheboygan before nightfall.

“Thanks for taking this trip with me,” I said. “The last time Al and I talked, he said, ‘I love Mel.’ And I said, ‘Al, you love everybody.’”

My husband first met Al Newman four summers ago during my fiftieth high school reunion for my graduating class of 1967. There, we met Al’s wife Denise. Sitting under a pavilion within Stony Creek Metropark, we talked for hours with fellow classmates and their spouses.

Two Octobers later, Mel and I met Al and Denise in Mackinac City before we toured Mackinac Island with other friends. Again, we recalled our past and present families as time permitted.

From Vietnam’s jungles to his prison ministry, occupation as an upholsterer, and the joys and trials of parenthood, Al and Denise kept us in fits of laughter and tears.

As we promised, we phoned or emailed one another until a good friend notified me of Al’s passing last month. I called Denise and made travel arrangements.

On the beautiful Saturday morning of September 18, Cheboygan’s Northshore Community Church filled with folk honoring the life and times of Albert Newman. Of all blessings, Mel and I met his son Albert, and Denise found a moment alone with us.

After a fellow Vietnam vet presented Denise with the American flag, their Pastor spoke the concluding words. “Al loved the language of Scripture, and he loved to eat. He anticipated the Supper of the Lamb together with fellow Christians.”

When we stood to leave the sanctuary, the woman to my left turned to me. “Pardon me. Are you related to Al?”

Iris O'Brien and Albert Newman, senior prom 1967

“No. We dated our senior year in high school. He stood by my side through my parents’ divorce, and broke up with me before I left for college. We met again at our 50th class reunion.”

Dear Reader, I imagine Al ascending above the equator, poles, and parallels of Earth into infinite realms of our Heavenly Father. And I’m watching the signs.

I, too, anticipate the Supper of the Lamb.