Edges of Old and New

Winslow Homer’s The Dinner Horn captivated my eye at first glance. Thereafter, whenever I visit the DIA, I seek the woman dressed in red, a small horn angled upward from her hand and mouth.
 My old soul is familiar with the planked porch adorned with potted geraniums and shaded by a trellis of vines. Day’s end glows upon the white hem of the cook’s long petticoat.
I know her posture, left hand upon her hip, calling her folk to their table. Within the context of my southern matriarchs, I’ve heard and witnessed this domestic vignette in similar poetic compositions.
In Homer’s time, The Dinner Horn portrayed our young country after the Civil War. The grazing sheep in the background speak of restored serenity and plenty.
Before and during the Great Depression, my maternal grandmother called her men and boys from cornfields by the pull of her dinner bell. She thought those were hard times until World War II took her four grown children to the city. That all but silenced the communal call to supper in the McCoy Bottom.
In my childhood of the early 1960’s, Mom hollered for my sisters and me from our small concrete porch in our Warren suburb. We weren’t allowed to play past the Zablocki’s four doors down and the Antico’s four doors up the block. 
An “outward looking artist” who appreciated the sphere of Nature’s elements, I wonder if Winslow Homer would’ve found our manufactured neighborhood picturesque. Would his eyes have seen our individual and collective narratives, our quest for home? Would he have painted the circle of children on our small patch of lawn when we sang "Ring around the Rosie?"
“I prefer every time a picture composed and painted out-doors. The thing is done without your knowing it,” Homer said in The Art Journal, 1880. 
Two years later he painted Snap the Whip, the only painting I remember displayed in my father and stepmother’s house. Forty years ago, unaware of Winslow Homer, I thought it strange that Dad would find interest in a large copy of bare-footed boys playing a game in a meadow.
My father moved us to Detroit in 1954 for a better life and never spoke of his childhood in Thacker Hollow, West Virginia. At last, it was the mountain range rising up behind the red schoolhouse in Snap the Whip that offered a clue.
Now I understand Dad needed and loved what he saw in Homer’s story. It spoke of his boyhood companions and agrarian heritage. The mountain spell never faded from his memory. 
Perhaps this explains why he grew a vegetable garden in his latter years. The edges of the old and new had made their peace.
“What a great school Nature is when the pupil is a persistent searcher for truth and has the strength of purpose to find adequate forms of expression,” Homer wrote.
Dear Reader, in this world of endless edges, our beloved American impressionist calls us home to our table and outward into Nature to see what we love. 
Let’s befriend the two.

Motherly Love & Lilacs

Yule Love It's lilac hedge planted in 1989 from Mom's Kentucky cuttings 
Our hedge of white and purple lilacs is fragrant with nectar. The crabapple tree reaches above it and hugs our lot line. I hear our bees and smile with relief. They’re harvesting Nature’s sweet flow of life—and so am I.
This is hallowed ground where neighborly conversation has fallen upon the carpet of Lily of the Valley beneath the branches. I cut bouquets in remembrance of my mother.
Our first summer here in 1989, Mom dug up shoots from her heirloom lilacs in Kentucky and shipped them to me via my elder sister who lives in Lake Orion. Bless my dear mother. She knew my barren land and I hungered for color.
One lilac hedge of two survived my husband’s lawn mower. My father also had that habit. So I dig up sprouts and plant them to comfort empty places. If I live to a ripe old age, I may hear bees buzzing in several lilac hedges.
In former travels and foraging, I’ve observed Old Fashioned lilacs standing as sentinels in abandoned farmsteads. Tenacious and romantic, the flower’s name and story originate in Greek mythology and a nymph named Syringa, lilac’s botanical nomenclature. The beautiful creature fled from Pan, the lusty god of forest and field, and transformed into an aromatic bush. Smart girl.
For years I’ve heard reports of the magical tradition of Mackinac Island’s Lilac Festival in June. Tis on my bucket list. Meanwhile, I remember one remarkable April twenty-five years ago. I walked the streets of Paris with my husband and second born daughter. Parisians passed with nodding purple clusters in their arms. Oh, the honeyed scent!
I reenact that French moment and carry my cuttings into the kitchen. My mind’s eye follows our teenaged daughter as she navigates the Paris Metro. I sense again her destiny. A mother gestates and births her children; she nourishes and guides them, to let them go.
To Paris. San Francisco. Uganda. Chicago. New York City.
It is my instinct and responsibility to advise my daughters of the Pans lurking in today’s vast and rapidly changing urban and rural worlds. Ancient Greek and modern American mythology and law cannot shield my children from harm. They must walk circumspectly. Be wise women.
Their sister’s grave is one of legions that cries out against lies and deception. A most difficult truth to accept is that motherly and grandmotherly love did not overcome her addictions. Neither can my love save my surviving daughters from consequences of their choices.
           I arrange Mom’s lilacs and place the vase on the dining room table. Their perfume infuses the house with her charity and thoughtfulness. That my four sisters and I have survived my mother strikes me with awe and hope.
           Dear Reader, it is a promise from Isaiah. “For as the earth brings forth her bud, and as the garden causes the things that are sown in it to spring forth; so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring forth before all nations.”

Minnesota Who?

Yule Love It creamed asparagus mushroom soup & Cold Frame Farm rosemary baguette  
Perhaps my praise for Minnesota Mike’s deer proof fence is hasty. But I’m compelled to shout the good news. There’s a pot of creamed asparagus mushroom soup on my stovetop, one delicious victory for mankind! 
                  What on earth am I talking about? Just who is Minnesota Mike? And what does he have to do with deer?
                  Your questions are entirely justifiable. I could direct you to my friend Jack who would offer his first-hand version of Minnesota Mike’s invention. And I may do that. Depends upon how my Muse moves.
                  See, Jack is my mountain dulcimer teacher. I’ve spoken of him before, his directive out of the blue, “Iris Lee, you need a mountain dulcimer.” In retrospect, I could suspect he may have had an ulterior motive. But Jack isn’t like that. Turns out he was right about the dulcimer.
From the Thursday morning long ago when he walked into my memoir class, I’ve learned to listen when Jack looks me in the eye.
For instance, that day last summer after my dulcimer lesson overlooking vibrant colors of his wife’s beautiful gardens. I simply had to see what Maggie was growing up on the hill where she enjoys most every second of summer daylight.
“Let’s go!” Jack said.
We walked between two huge raised flowerbeds before we reached the summit of their property, a fitting elevation bearing fruit of Maggie’s love and labor. In one corner of the fenced garden stood a swing Jack built for her—enough to provoke envy. 
Preoccupied with the features within Maggie’s landscapes, I almost overlooked the slanted green rods in the ground to my right and left. “What are these?”
Jack grinned. “That’s Minnesota Mike’s deer proofing perimeter.”
“A fence around a fence? I don’t see it.”
“The deer don’t either,” Jack replied.
He pulled on the fishing line tied to an eyehook drilled into a green rod. “The line runs through eyehooks on the rods surrounding the garden,” he explained. “It works like a spider’s web. When the deer feel the wire, they back off.”
“I doubt the line would deter the forty-some deer that feast on my gardens."
“Well, all I can say is it works for us,” Jack said.
As asparagus does, it shot up overnight barely a week ago. The first time in four years growing it, deer chomped off the tips. I called Jack and made an appointment for a deer proof fence lesson.  
A chivalrous man, Jack donated six rods with drilled holes for eyehooks to hold the four lines to save my crop. My husband painted the poles green and twisted the eyehooks into place.
Last Wednesday, the most gorgeous garden day yet this spring, I hammered six slanted poles into the soft earth surrounding our asparagus patch. The sun sank as I pulled the fishing line through each eyehook, illuminating the lines like a spider’s web.
Dear Reader, Minnesota Mike is the mythical man who designed Jack’s deer proofing perimeter—a maker of blissful moments in the garden and at the table.

My Workhorse

Years ago, a chronic power outage in the pavilion and a hundred cups of coffee triggered a bright idea. If I had a golf cart, my staff and I could drive the hot pot to the kitchen to brew.
Instead, I trudged uphill, the shortest distance between two points, with the huge percolator. Never again, I vowed, as sixty farm girls huddled together on a cold September morning, yawning for caffeine, waiting for my Farm Girl Revival to begin.
The following spring, Andy, our late handyman, rewired the inadequate electrical lines. Afterward, we found a used golf cart. I paid more for that little sprite of a vehicle than my husband did for our first car.
Oh, what a happy day when Andy and his wife, Kathy, pulled into our driveway with my lifesaver. He rolled my $2,600 expense off the flatbed and up to the front porch where I stood. He looked sheepish.
“Sorry we’re late. We took it for a test drive on the back forty.”
Kathy took the wheel. “It’s fun to drive. We didn’t want to let it go. Get in. I’ll take you for a spin.”
Andy flipped up the cart’s back bed and took a seat.
I say unequivocally, many farm burdens lifted that day. I learned to spare my body and use my "old fart cart" for transport upon the property’s rolling vistas. Andy made a frame for the bed to secure my garden tools, potted plants, and containers of lavender scones, brownies, and ice cream—and bags and boxes of lavender products for the gift shop.
When the hens came along, my husband wheeled their feed downhill to their house. After we closed the farm to the public, for some unknown reason, the name Betsy came to mind. Perhaps it was after she helped us transfer the freezer and refrigerator from the pavilion to the basement. No job for an old fart.
Truly, we couldn’t maintain this place if it wasn’t for Betsy’s tough little spirit. Surprisingly, the highlight of our grandson’s visits is driving our golf cart.
“Why do you call it Betsy?” he once asked.
It was last week when I piled bags of dirty, torn, and stapled weed cloth onto Betsy’s bed and realized the answer to his question.  That cute little thing reminds me of my grandmother-in-law, Betsy. She worked and played with her entire heart.
After eight years of strenuous labor, it seems Betsy enjoys our part-time retirement. On occasion, I take her on farm inspections, no burden to carry but me. She’s become a part of our family and memory, as did my husband’s 1975 Mustang, and our Valero station wagon as parents of three little girls.
Betsy’s big chores this spring and summer are to deliver hundreds of dead lavender plants to the fire pit, and old weed cloth to the road for trash pick up. Come August and September, I’ll pack her up with vegetables from the garden.
Today, dear Reader, my workhorse carried three packages of honeybees to their hives. For Betsy and me, it’s pure recreation to welcome bees and queens to their new home.

I understand why Andy and Kathy didn't want to let Betsy go. She's got personality. And a work ethic that won't quit.