Open Windows

My mother in her recliner by the window

I open my study window to a blessed breeze and birdsong. The ferns scorched by heat and drought whisper a rasping refrain.
Memories of open windows waft in with faithful, faultless voices of robins, redwing blackbirds, mourning doves, and numerous winged creatures I cannot identify.  
I sense the health and comfort of this place—welcome the compelling scent that summoned John Muir and other naturalists into the wilderness.
After hours spent before a computer screen, I’d rather tie my walking shoes and talk with trees along my country roads. However, memories linger, insist I stand and listen to Nature’s music—inhale her fragrance.
I see myself a child in first grade, circa 1955, lost in a maze of halls in my new, huge school in Detroit. On the verge of tears, I chance a glance into a large, sunny classroom. A wide beam of sunlight slants through a tall glass and shines upon a student ‘s black hair. Isn’t that my sister Linda? Why is she sleeping in that room?
Linda and her classmates nap on separate reclining wooden chairs. Unlike my room, her class is large with windows almost up to the ceiling. Although it seems strange to see the students sleeping rather than writing at their desks, I feel a little jealous.
The room smells fresh and clean, and quiet enough to hear a pin drop, as Mom would say. She knew a lot about pins because she sewed our clothes and hers.
After school, I ask Mom if Linda slept in a classroom with many bright, open windows stacked on top of each other.
“Yes. It’s a special class for children with sicknesses.”
“Is Linda sick?”
“Yes, with asthma. The fresh air and sunlight help her breathe better,” Mom says.
“Sick children need to rest during school?”
Mom smiles. “Sometimes.”
I wish all classrooms were like Linda’s. Doesn’t every child need fresh air and a bright place to learn?
But I don’t care about naps. I’d rather run outside at recess and feel the breeze in my sweaty hair as I did in the backseat of my father’s Chrysler with my face out the window. I’d close my eyes and taste the air—pass miles and miles on long summer drives from Michigan to Kentucky.
Until Mom spied me in her review mirror. She declared I’d fall overboard.
I hear the ferns rustling and remember my mother in her declining season when I shared her care with my older sister.
Mom sits in the recliner by the front window in our living room and watches the days go by. When I lift the frame, she hears the robins sing.
“Just listen to that pretty bird,” she says.
Dear Reader, I pray to find myself in my declining years sitting in the same recliner by the same open window. I’ll listen to the pretty bird.
And in July’s blessed breeze, I’ll recall when I lapped the air like a dog in the backseat of my father’s Chrysler.

Supper with Hutterites

Pauline and Dennis (foreground) sit at a Hutterite supper table in Kenton, Ohio
On my return from West Virginia last month, Pauline welcomed me into her Victorian home in Newport, Kentucky.
“On your way to Michigan tomorrow, will you have time to stop in Ohio for a visit with our friends the Harris family?” she asked.
“Yes. I packed a dress with sleeves as you suggested.”
“Good! I’ll ride with you. Dennis will meet us there.”
“What’s the name of their community?”
“Hutterite. But Dennis and I call them ‘plain folk’ as we do the Amish. Wanda and Michael don’t use electricity but drive a fifteen-seat van. Wanda loves to cook soup for company. I take dessert.”
The following afternoon, I found Ohio’s June agricultural landscape as breathtaking as Farming Magazine portrays it.
“Dennis and I enjoy escaping the city to spend a day with the plain folk. You’ll soon know why.”
We drove through tidy Ohio towns until Pauline nodded to a spacious white farmhouse. “There it is.”
Surrounded by trees and red barns, the house sat upon an undulating sea of green cropland. The flower garden along the front porch caught my eye from the road. A little blonde girl in a maroon dress ran barefoot with a dog the color of her hair.
I praised God for sight and His bountiful beauty.
Pauline spied Dennis’ van. “Looks like he beat us here.”
Two girls in long, colorful dresses walked down the steps. Two boys about seven and nine ran around the yard with their younger sister and the dog they called Carmel.
I knew Wanda by her matronly figure and smile.
“Welcome Iris!”
“Hello, Wanda. Thank you for the invitation.”  
“Well, come on in! Michael and Dennis ran an errand with the older boys.”
We found five sisters beside the large, harvest table arranging flowers in a vase. They tucked blossoms under each other’s scarves.
 “The flowers are for the funeral of a community member,” Pauline explained. She talked patterns and fabric with the young ladies.
For three hours Greta skipped in and out of the house to color with crayons. Nine-year old Hans led me into a barn to see his chicks.
“A rat killed two of them,” he said.
“I’m sorry.”
Around four o’clock after Dennis and Michael returned with her two young men, Wanda placed Pauline’s cheesecakes on the table. Three-year old Greta pointed to a chocolate piece. “That one.”
Later, we chopped vegetables and gathered silverware for supper.  Twelve people fit on benches with room to spare for the matriarch. The youngest children sat at their little table.
Joyously, Wanda carried in a soup pot of creamed chicken half her size, set it before us, and returned with a stockpot of rice. At last, the matriarch joined is. The patriarch dispersed hymnals.
Before the feast began, the family sang parts in harmony. The feeling was akin to my grandmother’s table when I was a child. Before the family dismissed, they sang from the hymnals again.
Dear Reader, I know why Pauline and Dennis visit the Hutterites.

They love to see the chocolate ring around Greta’s mouth. Plain and simple.

The purpose of things and people

Our first morning glory of the season
Everything is designed with a purpose in mind. A bed for rest. A knife to slice our bread. A toaster, butter, and strawberry preserve to sweeten the day. Tongues to taste, swallow, talk, and sing. Bless and curse.
            Fish, birds, and mammals feed on flies. Soil, rain, sun, and wind grow our food and flowers. Grandmothers serve our favorite dessert.
            We depend upon the clock, car keys, clothing—sports and art to influence our mood, remind us we’re mortal. To put the needle upon a record, listen to Hillary Hann play Bach, pull her bow of horsehair across four strings of catgut, fiber from a sheep’s insides.
Day in, day out, doors open and close. Our brains arrange twenty-six letters to inspire, teach, guide, forgive, debate, destroy, and build myriad things.
Our AC runs and stops by the thermometer control on our living room wall. We drag the hose from gardens to trees and water, water, water from our well. I harvest red and black currants to compote for Thanksgiving’s turkey.

Our henhouse weathervane, a Christmas gift from our middle daughter
The weathervane on the hen house roof waits to spin its arrows pointing north-south, east-west, to announce rain is imminent. And when we hear thunder in the night, the rooster whirls this way and that. I lift my hands to Heaven and join in his rain dance.
For what is the purpose of a drought but to teach us to how to hunger and thirst—to be content without the color green and the bounty it brings?  
Even though my husband’s weeded, composted, and watered the earth, our raspberry patch is bearing a skimpy crop again his summer. If a drenching rainfall doesn’t revive our fall-bearing plants, there’ll be few berries to consume on vanilla ice cream, and perhaps none to freeze for pies and crisps this coming winter.
And we’re not alone. As everyone is designed with a purpose in mind, I drove to my friend Erna’s for encouragement, and to see how her raspberry bushes are faring.
“The berries are hard and without flavor,” she said as we walked to her large vegetable garden. “I’m leaving the fruit for the birds.”
Oh, I must admit it’s true: misery loves company. Thankfully, Erna’s is good and upbeat. After a second serving of her homemade cheesecake, I left resigned to whatever purpose this drought has in mind.
For one, after hauling water morning, noon, and night to our beehive, birdbaths, and little flock of hens, I’ve developed a greater empathy and respect for farmers of large livestock herds.
It’s the heat that takes you to your knees. A poor raspberry crop doesn’t tug at my heart like dehydrated hens gasping for water and robins feeding their young.
Yes, dear Reader, the drought draws me closer to observe their nest—to pause my steps from the compost bin on my way uphill.
To let my heart rejoice at the sight of the first fledging fly from the nest—to sing in times of drought, and in times of showers.

A significant summer

Four resident baby robins 
Come spring, we watch fat female robins and the wreath on the west pavilion post. Years ago, a mama robin built a nest in the wreath’s cradle and it's become a popular destination for breeding our state bird.
                  A benefit of husbandry, harboring songbirds is not for the fainthearted. It’s sad to find a baby that didn’t survive to fledge its nest. Considering what Ben Franklin said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” we visit the nest daily.
                  Mind, not excessively to frustrate Mama and Papa into a tizzy, but a quick peek in the morning and before sundown to confirm all is well, especially in this heat wave.
                  “I’m worried the baby robins are dehydrating,” I said to my husband during dinner last night. “They’re leaning their beaks over the edge of the nest.”
                  He laughed. “That’s what they always do. Haven’t you noticed?”
                  “Well, I have found babies on the pavilion floor,” I defended.             
                  “Don’t worry. They’ll be okay.”
                  Trusting Mel’s judgment, I didn’t check the robin’s nest before I left the house this morning for Seven Ponds Nature Center. A pair of Sandhill cranes crossed our dirt road just yards before me, aiming for the bog. A resident of this former cow path thirty years, I’d never been so close to the cranes’ beautiful sticklike legs.
                  Again, I worried for the wild birds because I’ve seen mink emerge from the marsh by the roadside. Those slinky black critters invaded our hen house once. We’ve since closed the chute at nightfall.
                  As I drove north, orange day lilies lined Rochester Road in full bloom, a sign of July’s Independence Day. Last week, day lilies bloomed in ditches along the routes I traveled in West Virginia and Kentucky, a memory of blissful childhood vacations.
                  Upon returning from weeding the herb garden a while with fellow members, I carried my camera downhill to our robin’s nest. To my relief, I found four breathing babies and rejoiced at the sight.
                  I’m thankful for these imprints of stability within Nature. No matter the weather, condition of our health, or demise of our country’s moral convictions, we may depend upon baby robins to occupy our wreath each summer.
                  The faithful robins, cranes, and double portion of day lilies are timely gifts in our country where some folk clamor to seize public places and opinion, raze historic statues, and impose myriad forms of sexual behavior upon the human race.

A volunteer English lavender blooms in our patio slate
                  Predictably, lavender shrubs bloom in my gardens—another tribute to the Fourth of July, flavoring the celebration with lavender lemonade and its heavenly scent.
                  And should you visit Seven Ponds Nature Center, you’ll find Flora at work with the foliage and sweet yellow flowers of lady’s bedstraw.
                  Both strewing plants from medieval times, lavender and lady’s bedstraw remain gardeners’ favorites for their beauty, food, fragrance, and medicinal value.
                  Dear Reader, if our earth’s goodness mattered to malcontents, might they forgive perceived injustice and embrace this significant summer of birds and flowers?