Hearts A'bustin' with Wildflowers

Iris steps foot on the Appalachian trail in the Smokies, a life-log dream come true
Let the weather forecasters talk of snow, ice, and tornadoes blowing in from the west. I’m listening to the Peepers, Sand Hill Cranes, and Robins. “Spring is here!” they sing.
            We would do well to remember this is typical April, the month of winter’s famous last tantrums. Just when we’ve enjoyed a few fine days in shirtsleeves outside, she likes to throw us off track, show us she’s boss.
More scientifically put, the clash of moist, warm air from the Gulf of Mexico with cool, dry air from Canada creates hazardous weather conditions. If it’s not a blizzard or ice storm, April sends forth a killer frost upon blossomed fruit trees while we sleep. The damage is enough to make a grown gardener cry because that means her thousands of wisteria buds will turn to dust.
Wake Robin Trillium
           Yet, through these tribulations we learn to stand in our ruins. We develop patience and resilience. We use our minds, heart, and hands to care for what we have. Perhaps next April will be kinder.
As we pass through Nature’s four seasons and man’s seven ages, we adapt and grow in wisdom to release what we have lost with grace and forgiveness. Each age brings amendments to our minds, bodies, and lifestyle.
I first noted April’s capricious weather April 5, 1975, when I delivered my second child in Crittenton Hospital, Rochester. Kelly Elizabeth came swiftly and naturally, the way my husband and I had hoped and prayed while participating in Lamaze classes. I held my newborn and adored her sleeping face.
That night, after my husband left for my sister and brother-in-law’s house, I gazed out the window into the darkness. Becky, our firstborn, now had a sister. We were a family of four and would never be the same. Our baby’s yellow gingham bassinette embellished with rickrack awaited Kelly in our two-bedroom townhouse we suddenly outgrew.
When Mel and Becky arrived the next morning, our four-year old looked through the nursery glass for her first glance at baby Kelly.
Trout Lily along the Appalachian Trail

On our drive south to Warren, Mel mentioned the treacherous roads the previous night. A blizzard had swept through the Metro Detroit area as Kelly and I slept. There wasn’t a trace of snow anywhere.
From that April to this, I expect snow or ice before the month expires. I’ve recorded a few dates with snow flurries in May.

Forty-three years later, April’s drama returned to the forecast—heavy rains and high winds from the west aimed toward Lexington, Kentucky, our destination the following afternoon. We visited Uncle Tab on our way to The Great Smoky Mountains.
By the time you read this, dear Reader, our Wildflower Tour directed by Seven Ponds Nature Center naturalists Carrie and Cathy will be history. 

I have at last walked a patch of the Appalachian Trail and paths lush with yellow, white, and red Trillium, Fringed Phacelia, and shrubs like “Hearts-abustin’-with-Love.” All accompanied by birdsong and binoculars.
Now, how could a gray-headed gardener allow April’s tantrums to deter such glorious springtime adventure?
Especially a flower lover named Iris.

From Asparagus to Beans

Asparagus soup with garlic bread
Last week we consumed our last bag of frozen Turkey Craw and Greasy beans from our garden. With no bacon handy, I seasoned them with butter, added onions and a few potatoes. Himalayan salt and ground pepper finished off the flavor to culinary nirvana.
Trust me, potatoes make all the difference when you boil green beans. If you can find them, small new potatoes flatter the stringed variety like no other.
My mother didn’t invite potatoes into her green bean pot—probably because she also served new potatoes in white gravy as a side dish. I don’t think she’d object to my green bean variation, though.
Preparing the last of our beans claimed our meal a special occasion. For the main dish, I chose the Romine brothers’ Farm Field ground beef for meatloaf with the works. Chopped onions, garlic, and green pepper. Oats. Homemade canned tomato sauce. Dried parsley and nettles. Dijon Mustard. Worcestershire Sauce.
“Think I’ll throw in some corn,” I said.
Mel, slicing radishes for our salad, made no remark. Chances are he didn’t hear me.
We love sweet corn—wait all year for local roastin’ ears, as my southern uncles say. It’s not worth the battle to grow corn in our little vegetable garden protected by a seven-foot deer-proof fence.
My pickled beets complimented our plates, a la Uncle Tab’s recipe with cloves.
Afterward, I cleared our empty dishes from the table with a bittersweet taste on my tongue. No more Turkey Craws and Greasies until July.

Blanching Turkey Craw Beans to freeze
The following day in Michael’s while waiting in the checkout aisle, a wall of magazines clamored for my purchase. Food publishers know how to lasso a farm-girl who’s starved for fresh vegetables and fruit.
Bold letters “farm to table” and “95 recipes” hooked me. I almost drooled over the colorful cover art. Juicy strawberries centered with brown eggs and chives—radishes, carrots, asparagus, red onion, cucumbers, and red stems of Swiss chard with a few blocks of cheese offered a balanced meal.  

But you cannot judge a magazine by its cover, so I turned to the index. My goodness, recipes for all four seasons followed by a map of “Fresh Across America” in one magazine.
What a deal! I could use the publication the yearlong as my crops come in, beginning with HONEY-LEMON ASPARAGUS and concluding with SAUSAGE-STUFFED BUTTERNUT SQUASH.
Oh! Asparagus!
Dear Reader, pardon me, I have to run. It’s a warm, sunny, blustery day out there. I must go inspect my asparagus patch and draw off honey. 
Bon appétit!

2 lbs. fresh asparagus, trimmed
¼ cup honey
2 Tbsp. butter
2 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. sea salt
1 tsp. balsamic vinegar
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce

1.     Boil asparagus in large saucepan for 1-2 minutes. Drain, pat dry.
2.     In a small saucepan, combine the remaining ingredients. Bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer uncovered for 2 minutes.
3.     Transfer asparagus to a large bowl; drizzle with glaze and toss gently to coat.

Profile of a List Maker

My beloved mother, Sadie Lee McCoy, on a hot, humid day in Kentucky. A trooper extraordinaire.
I found a slip of paper on the kitchen counter. Since Mom was nowhere insight, I seized the opportunity to investigate. Spy, in other words.
            I recognized my mother’s penmanship from her signature on my report cards. Mrs. Warren O’Brien. A woman of few written words, she seldom wrote a comment in reply to the school’s request.
            Thus must be Mom’s grocery list, I thought. Her lower-case cursive was small and clear with a break here and there between letters. What on earth did t.p. mean?
            Was it candy like M&M’s? Once in a blue moon Mom brought a bag home from A&P or doling out Saturday and Sunday night TV time. My sisters and I loved M&M’s with Disney.
            I heard Mom walking up the basement steps and decided to stay put and solve the t.p. mystery. She took the pen next to the paper and added more items.
            “Mom, what t.p.?”
            “Why, Iris, that’s toilet paper.”
            Yuck! I’d let my imagination run in the wrong direction.
            Mom put the list in her purse. After dinner she drove off to A&P without me. As least I knew what t.p. meant.
            In recollection, that inedible domestic necessity deserved more respect than my childhood chagrin and immaturity could pay. In the end, my family could’ve survived just fine without M&M’s. On the other hand, our family of six without toilet paper would’ve faces a serious sanitation crisis. And who would’ve borne the blame?
            Truly, that’s the bottom line, the ultimate lesson learned from Mom’s abbreviation. Mothers write lists for peace of mind and household harmony. It’s their duty to keep cupboards and the fridge stocked with food, and bathrooms supplied with toilet paper, soap, and clean towels.
            It’s odd. Not once did I hear Mom speak t.p. A busy woman, perhaps she reserved it for her grocery list, a matter of saving seconds. I see it as a type of forerunner for today’s lol, one of social media’s irksome offspring that dilute the strength of the English language and human relationships.
            Thus, I’m devoted to lists, and use acronyms sparingly. I say good morning to my daily to-do list, AKA Action Log, and goodnight with the next day numbered per priority. I shut down my computer and sleep like a baby.
            My husband thinks I’m obsessive, yet he’s not a planner, the go-to person in an emergency. And he doesn’t sleep through the night.
            I’ve heard men say it’s useless to write lists. “Why should I when my wife tells me what to do?” is a standard defense.
            Since life is too bountiful, beautiful, and brief to fuss over these inbred differences, it helps to keep a mental list to practice the way to peace and joy.

            Dear Reader, I praise pen and paper, that moment when my mother t.p. taught me the purpose of writing lists.

A Beekeeper's Pledge

Uncle Herm with a truck load of produce from his garden
While visiting Uncle Herm in Kentucky’s McCoy Bottom several summers ago, I asked him where he kept his beehives.
           He narrowed his dark eyes. “Honey, mites killed all my bees before your mommy died.”
           A novice beekeeper, my heart sank. Mom passed in 2007. If Herman Glen McCoy, third generation beekeeper, couldn’t fend off mites back then, how could I in the present epidemic?
           Snagged in a moment of sadness and defeat, we stood beside one of his vegetable gardens, the graveyard high on the mountainside overlooking us.
His father and grandfather McCoy are buried there. Their bees produced enough honey to feed their large families and sell to folks up and down Peter Creek.
During the Depression and WW II, their produce, poultry, eggs, and honey helped nourish those remaining in their Appalachian homeland. With most the young men off to war and the women working in factories up north, my grandfather hired women as farmhands. They’d sometimes show up in heels to hoe the cornfields, asking for food or cash in return.
           In the last decade of her life, my mother, Sadie McCoy O’Brien, often spoke of her father’s generosity, his bees and honey. “Dad was happy when he found wide-mouth jars for his comb honey. That’s the only way he put it up.”
           Mom moved from Michigan back to the McCoy Bottom in the mid 70’s. She built her dream house with a pantry spacious enough to hold the fruit of her labors. For over twenty years, her “brother Herm” deposited jars of honey and buckets of produce on her back doorstep.
Uncle Herm and me in his kitchen

           “Uncle Herm, did you ever go back to beekeeping?”
“No. Everybody lost their bees. Then Gearl got sick, and it was too much with growing the gardens.”
During my aunt’s illness and since her passing, Uncle Herm’s never missed a summer growing several crops, giving the bulk away.
I eyed his green beans hanging in clusters from corn stalks. “Do you still have some honey?”
“There might be some in the basement.”
I followed him down steps into damp darkness to a shelf of canned food.
He took a quart and wiped off the shoot. “I don’t know if this is any good.”
“It’s crystalized, that’s all.”
“Well, if you want it, take it.” He walked to a bench and picked up a hive smoker. “This was Daddy’s. I won’t be using it, so take it too if you want.”
I hugged my uncle and skipped up the steps with his gifts, brought them home, and have dutifully used them.
           Dear Reader, although our three hives from last spring didn’t survive the winter, they left honey behind for us. This week we’ll see what reward awaits our time, expense, and devotion. 
Then, if bee biology and other forces of nature favor us, I’ll use my forefathers’ smoker for our one package of bees May 19. I’ll face the mites and other bee enemies for their sake.

And to perpetuate my heritage—fourth generation beekeeper.