A Saturday blessing

 

My expanded apiary: the mother hive stands between two captured swarms

I shook the kitchen rugs by the back steps. Next, I’d make coleslaw and put chicken and potatoes in the oven for company.

     All was well on another beautiful, Michigan Saturday.

     Then my husband shouted from down the hill, hands cupped to his mouth. “Your bees are on the ground and in the pine tree!”

     Well, if you read my letters occasionally and memory serves you right, you may recall my misfortunes as a beekeeper, a misnomer in the following situations.

     As a beginner over a decade ago, I mortally maimed the impregnated queen when releasing her from her little box to her skep where she would lay her eggs. Her death left thousands of orphaned worker bees and drones until I obtained post haste another queen for $50 (more dough than my weekly grocery budget in the eighties).

     I’ve since fed my honeybees two parts sugar to one part water and vigilantly guarded against yellow jackets and wax moths, dreaded honeycomb and honey robbers and bee killers.

     This past spring, two weeks after I brought home my new nucleus of queen, bees, and brood, a hive beetle showed up nearby the apiary. A website recommended a product which I retrieved from our henhouse. "Spread diatomaceous earth eight feet in circumference around the hive and wet it down with a hose,” the directions said. 

     And even though I had applied a chemical treatment to the queen’s brood box to repel the Asian Varroa Destructor, invisible mite to the veiled, naked eye, I sensed this prolific queen would not be kept.

     Yes, honeybees on the ground and in trees could only mean one thing.

     My first swarm.

     I ran downhill and recalled the needed equipment to capture the runaways: hive stand, bottom board, box (skep), frames, entrance reducer, inner and outer boards, and hive tool.

     My goodness! Yards from the hive, TWO swarms hung from two branches in a young pine tree, and within my reach!

     Ecstatic, I ran to the greenhouse and slid the hive tool into my pants’ pocket, gathered parts for two brood boxes, placed two cinderblock stands in different locations, and carried the bottom boards and boxes with frames to the swarms.

     Even though I knew swarming bees don’t sting because they’re protecting their queen, I suited up because I had no time to risk another mishap. Our company was due in two hours.

     First, I tapped the branch of the lower swarm and watched the glorious downpour of apis mallifera fall into their new home, set the bottom board and brood box upon a stand, and added the inner and outer covers.

     Within minutes, the second swarm fell from its branch into its new skep. The swarm on the ground followed the queen pheromone of its choice.

     Dear Reader, I walked up the hill a beekeeper instead of a bee loser and served dinner almost on time. Ten days later, worker bees exit three hives to forage and feed their queen.

     Praise God from whom all blessing flow! All is well.


Remembering significant things

 

Uncle Herm and Uncle Tab, March 2018

“Iris, don’t be surprised if Daddy doesn’t remember you. And I can’t promise he’ll be awake for a visit,” my cousin said on the phone.

     “Thanks for the warning. It’s been two years since we last saw him, so we’ll take the risk. Besides, Mel and I plan to visit Mom’s grave in Lexington.”

     “I suggest you visit Daddy in the morning. He’s at his best before lunch.”

     I hung up the phone, for we still use our souped-up land line with our thirty-two year old number. Our flip phones serve for emergencies and road travel.

     Uncle Tab, on the other hand, embraced modern technology, his cell phone a form of abiding with his grandchildren.

     That was before the death of his beloved wife three years ago. Then my uncle suffered a stroke. He lost the privilege of his phone and never returned home. Therefore, Mel and I visited my uncle in a memory care facility in Lexington two summers ago. Tough as nails, he survived another stroke and facility transition this past year.

     How I anticipated his laugh again! For I believed nothing could quench his “early to rise” commitment to life as a farm boy, coal mine operator, and great-grandparent.

     He never lost his love for play after a day’s work, such as running leg races with my sisters, cousins, and me when we visited for summer vacation. I remembered his face blackened with coal dust. The white of his eyes and pink lips could’ve been any other coal miner’s.

     Yet, as everyone else, I knew Tab McCoy by the flick of his fingers and swagger in his shoulders.

     I can’t recall life without Uncle Tab for he and Uncle Herm lived with my parents in our Kentucky homeplace in my infancy until they married as young men.

     The two youngest sons of Floyd and Ollie McCoy bounced me on their knees and recited, “Ars Lee caught a flea sittin’ on her daddy’s knee.”

     At last, when we walked into Uncle Tab’s room, I said, “I’m Art Lee, and this is Mel,” he smiled and repeated my name.

     As we sat together outside during his lunch, he lifted a glass of milk to his lips and closed his eyes. “Lord, thank you for this food and my family. Please keep them from harm in your tender care. Amen.”

     Oh yes, my uncle is grateful for good food. As he dipped crinkle-cut fries in ketchup, I asked, “Do they serve you greasy beans here?”

     He paused, put down his French fry, and touched one large-boned finger to another. A family trait.

     “First, if you want to grow good beans, you’ve got to have good seed.”

     Mel and I nodded. Uncle Tab taught us how to save good seed from fresh greasy beans.

     He counted on another finger. “And you need fertilizer.”

     Dear Reader, I didn’t have the heart to tell my uncle that Mel no longer wants to string greasy beans and planted a string-less variety instead.

    That’s one significant thing he would’ve remembered.           


Use it or lose it

Cathleen, me, and Russ
Months ago, I drove my dirty 2010 blue Prius to Mister C’s Car Wash in Rochester. Thanks to my husband, personal grocery shopper and chauffer to church, restaurants, and Cook’s Farm Dairy in Ortonville, I hadn’t driven in weeks.

        I waited in Mister C’s long, hairpin queue and flipped radio stations to familiar voices and classical music. Meanwhile, young staff hustled moving all makes and models of autos.

       Opening doors. Wiping. Closing doors. Wiping. Reaching over windshields for the perfect shine. If they weren’t thoroughly enjoying themselves, they had me fooled.

     Amused by the synchronized movement of the machinery and employees, I forgot to shift into neutral when directed into the tire guides.

     Embarrassed, I couldn’t locate my gearshift in the dark. The word “Alzheimer’s” whispered in my head. “I’m sorry,” I said to the attendant. “I’ve not driven in quite a while.”

     He smiled. “Happens all the time.”

     I intended to call the Rochester Chamber of Commerce to praise Mr. C’s manager and team for their discretion with patrons who experience slips of mind.

     Rather, I forgot those ambitious folk until yesterday when I faced the challenge to finally hang new curtains in our master bedroom.

     What, you may ask, do those kids in Mister C’s Car Wash have to do with me hanging curtains?

     Well, for one, I didn’t forget this valuable reminder—if you don’t use it, you lose it.

     You see, my history with curtain rod bracket installation isn’t boast worthy. The screws fell out of the drywall, and although we have a stash of the appropriate anchor, I avoid using them. They fell out too and made a larger hole to patch and paint.

     Considering I didn’t marry a handyman, I was on my own.

     Secondly, the enthusiasm of those young men and women drying cars and trucks recalled the positive experience of bracket installation lessons from a friend several years ago.

     So I carried a pencil, hammer, nail, and Black & Decker drill upstairs where the project waited.

     After a deep breath and prayer, I climbed my yellow kitchen stool, an Armada Flea Market find. While my husband picked strawberries at Blake’s in Almont, I hung the sheers in one fourth the time it took to iron them.

     Down to the kitchen I went to compose the grocery list for our barbeque with Cathleen and Russ today. We can’t remember our last visit together.

     Truth is, we’re hungry for good company and strawberry-rhubarb pie with Cook’s lavender lemon honey ice cream.

     This morning, while the strawberries and rhubarb marinated in sugar, nutmeg, and a pinch of salt, I messed up doubling my butter crust recipe.

     Try, try again.

     While the pie cooled, I prepared summer’s first bowl of potato salad. Cathleen called from Dearborn. “All our roads have flooded! Will tomorrow work for you and Mel?”

     Dear Reader, I cannot thoroughly enjoy the first strawberry-rhubarb pie of the season without friends at our table.

     “Tomorrow at three. I’ll hold the pie and ice cream.”


Ask. Seek. Knock.

 

A honeybee pollinating a poppy bloom in my perennial island

Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. Matthew 7:7

 A fine day last May, I swiveled my writing chair to the window in search of the right word. Again. A hummingbird flew under the blooming arc of a Solomon Seal stem, sipped from a tiny, white bell, and darted away.

                Now, I’d already determined to remove this large, invasive lily from my gardens this spring. Entirely. Like its cousin, Lily of the Valley, Solomon shows no respect for neighbors. Leave one root in the soil and up pops a shoot to the pull of the sun.

                Yet, there I stood, a veil lifted from my eyes to see the bliss in the beautiful flight of the miniature pollinator.

                So I rethought my extermination of the Polygonatum. However, upon a closer look of the flower bed, Solomon’s roots infringed upon a Bleeding Heart. I’m most protective of her dangling, pink gems which hummingbirds also pollinate. Furthermore, Bleeding Hearts mind their borders.

I swiftly resolved to no longer give garden space to wandering species. Take Mother Nature’s volunteers, for instance.  

She may’ve meant well, but Creeping Bellflower appeared by the front faucet several springs ago, and unbeknownst to me waged underground warfare with deep, tuberous roots.

Suffering battle fatigue the end of April, I consulted two garden experts. “That’s probably Campuanula rapunculoides, the bad purple Bellflower. It’s everywhere,” one botanist said.

“You have two options,” both authorities agreed. “You can apply an herbicide to the leaves, or remove the roots with a shovel and a four-tined iron fork.”

I’ve never used herbicides and would rather not. However, those two basic tools are my right and left hand, which meant much labor throughout the spring and summer.

“Eventually, you’ll remove enough roots to control invasive growth. Use newspaper under your mulch to prevent the sun from sprouting shoots,” my advisors said.

After paying three weeders $350 for three hours to begin the Bellflower and lily evacuation, I counted the unaffordable, continuous cost.

Thus, I carried my shovel and fork into my perennial island, opened the earth, and rescued a blooming Oriental poppy from clumps of Lily of the Valley.

Meanwhile, honeybees flew in and buzzed through the long, quivering purple-black stamens surrounding the poppy’s ovary. With some effort launching, the honeybees flew away with black pollen sacks on their back legs.

And with some effort, I added two large garbage cans of lily and Creeping Bellflower roots to a burn pile. Then I settled on my bee-watching chair. There I observed worker bees descend upon the hive’s bottom board, many sporting orange, gold, and black socks on their legs.

Dear Reader, this bliss, a portion of my terrestrial and spiritual endowment, began thirty-four years ago when I asked God to lead us to a home where my husband and I could grow old together.

And He did.

Little did I know, come springtime, I’d find pollinators and flowers my steadfast companions.

 


Sixth Annual Yule Love It Lavender Poetry Contest Winners


 SIXTH ANNUAL YULE LOVE IT LAVENDER FARM POETRY CONTEST WINNERS 2021

THEME: THE COLOR OF SUMMER

JUDGE: LINDA SIENKIEWICZ

 

FIRST PLACE: JACK D. FERGUSON, AUBURN HILLS

To Draw a Rainbow

 

Pink florescence unfurls.

The tight loop, freed by arthritic hands

blue with cold, tickles the tannin-stained stream.

An old man imagines his grandson alongside, and together,

by his hand, teaches him to read the tributary waters they wade.

 

He watches. Gazes upon the opposite bank

awash in saffron nettles that sting exposed wrists and sees…

beyond the cattails, below the hemlock,

the cherry red of wake robin planted

beside a root beer float river

ripe with browns, brookies, coasters

and once, not so long ago, grayling.

 

In the dappled splash of apricot sun

an olive deceiver disappears. The tightness

of line revives the essence within.

Hand over hand, his rosary recited in solitude.

 

Here, in a place sacred to no-see-ums,

swarms of bronze mosquitos and cobalt dragonflies,

he bows, net in hand, amidst a jubilee tabernacle

of plum and purple shadows and vows:

The boy will learn to draw a rainbow from the river.

 

SECOND PLACE: CHRISTIAN BELZ, PONTIAC

The Fun Season

In youth, I thought of summer

                as a 3-D kaleidoscope

                filled with colored, scented

                gemstones reflected six ways.

Emerald green cartwheels across the lawn,      

                fresh-cut grass tickled our noses

                and stuck to bare feet.

Orange push-ups, freeze tag, we giggled

                mad dash around the yard,

                while tongues strained to un-stick

                lips and fingers.

Sapphire blue pool, we swam circles,

                splashed chlorine tinged water

                as lips turned purple ‘til mom wrapped

                us in beach towels, poured sweet lemonade.

Tin-copper sips from the garden hose,

                moonstone grey days, fickle rain,

                sitting in faded jeans on damp

                wicker chairs by the smoky fire.

A slight turn of Michigan’s kaleidoscope,

                the gems that were our summer days

                would reset to another prismatic slice

                of rainbow joy.

 

 THIRD PLACE: MARY LANPHIER, ROYAL OAK

True North

 

Do we have a language for the world of green

A synesthesia of the scent of pine

The gossip of poplars

Or fresh mown grass

The deep beauty of ferns giving depth

To the dusk of a forest’s edge

 

Every morning I watch

The fire of the Sun

Rise from his bed in a cobalt lake

Scattering diamonds across the waters

A gift, the heat of a summer day

The forever blue of the sky

 

Each August and usually in July

I paint my toes

That particular shade of tangerine

It glows against my summer tan

Framed by the shreds of faded jeans

Last year’s white sandals

 

Is there a word for purple

Where the sunset fades to dusk

Where berries stain our fingertips

Is magenta an electric name for hibiscus

Faces raised to the Sun

Bursting yellow at their hearts

 

Does the chorus of insects

Sing me to sleep

As the coals of my campfire

Glow red

Beneath a gentle blanket of smoke

 

 

 


The watchfulness of love

 

A snapping turtle visits Erna's gardens

My earliest memory of watchful love goes back to my adolescence sixty years ago.

                A dark December evening, I returned home from babysitting the Zablocki children five doors down on Wagner Street. I opened the front door to find my mother and granny sitting on the living room sofa. They looked up with a threaded needle and tiny doll clothes in their hands.

                Granny smiled. “Well, hello Irish.”

And that’s how she spelled my name on the birthday cards she mailed from her home in Phelps, Kentucky to my family’s mailbox in Warren, Michigan.

                Both Granny and Mom had arrived at the house after I left at 6 p.m. This meant Mom brought our new baby sister home from the hospital.

                Mom stood, her belly and the bounce in her step considerably deflated. Old enough to know a bit about the birds and the bees, spontaneous sympathy and respect for my mother smarted my eyes.

                In the quietude of night, my mother took my hand and led me to my parents’ bedroom where our new baby slept in the crib.

Mom hovered over my shoulder as the soft glow of the hall light shone upon her fifth newborn.

                “What’s her name?” I asked.

                “Sonia Ann,”

                A decade later, I stood by my firstborn’s crib with engorged breasts and watched her breathe and sleep. I may have forgotten the moment beside Sonia’s crib, yet my body and spirit remembered.

Love and instinct knew to hover over my baby in prayer and thanksgiving.

                This week, twenty-two years after watching my third-born accept her college diploma, I stopped by Erna’s house in Washington Township. A fine day, I spied my friend digging holes in her vegetable garden for her homegrown tomato seedlings.

                I waved and hollered, “I’ve come for my book!”

                Erna promptly retrieved 7 Women from inside her house, then uprooted three huge succulents to embellish a terracotta pot in my backyard.

A visitor never leaves Erna’s place without something yummy to eat or rooted to grow.

Wally and Erna Hermann help their visitor make her way safe across their street to the lake

We turned toward my car when a strange figure appeared on the sidewalk leading to the backyard. Was Erna’s husband Wally playing a prank?

                “What’s that?” I asked.

                “Oh,” Wally said, “do you like turtle soup?”

                “That’s the largest turtle I’ve ever seen!” I said.

                Wally pointed to the lake behind the houses on the other side of their street. “She’s making her way home. This happens almost every year with the snappers.”

                The creature fascinated me, its neck stretched in pride to display a two-foot long prehistoric reptile.                         

                “They lay their eggs in my gardens,” Erna said. “Let me show you.”

                I followed her to a tiered garden where canna lilies laid uprooted. “The turtle buried her eggs here. One year I counted nine.”

                At last, the snappier moved. The claws on her toes scraped the cement on her way down the driveway.

                Dear Reader, Erna called today. “I found the turtle at my front door! Can you believe it?”

                Yes I can. That ancient mother knows Erna watches over what she grows and loves.      


Part Two: The mystery of the yellow cart

 

Robert Bloomingdale, the rescuer of Amy's cart, and his wife Dana

I turn my car into the driveway of a large, purple-gray house adjacent to the vacant lot where the happy yellow wheelbarrow sits.

I admire the stone fireplace, twin bay windows, light tower, and wrap-around porch with hundreds of spindled posts—someone’s Victorian dream come true.

                Finally, after fretting about the cart for several months, I walk up the steps onto the porch and turn the switch to a door chime—one of many feminine touches to the lovely home and surrounding gardens. I ring the bell again.

No answer.

I leave a note with my phone number secured under a heavy bell, well placed by the door for my apologetic inquiry. I drive away with a hope and a prayer.

My phone rings at 4 p.m. with “Robert Bloomingdale” on the caller ID. “Hello, this is Iris.”

“And this is Robert Bloomingdale. My wife found your note. We’ve wondered who would be the first person to turn off the road and ask about Amy’s cart.”

“Amy’s the name of the gardener?”

“Yes.”

“She didn’t abandon the wheelbarrow, or something tragic didn’t happen to her?”

“Oh no. I never met Amy. I acquired her yard cart before her house in Rochester was demolished to clear the property for a new house,” Robert says. “She left her estate to her nephew who sold the house to me.”

“Amy must’ve loved flowers to own such a sweet little thing,” I say.

“I found her garage full of interesting and useful tools. Amy’s garden shed was stuffed with potting soil and pots. She’s the only woman I know who decorated the outside of her house with ladybugs and painted her house yellow.”

“Aren’t you concerned someone might steal Amy’s cart?” I ask.  

“I’ve thought about that possibility,” Robert replies. “But it’s worth the risk of losing it to entertain people in an unexpected, whimsical way.”

“Well, you’ve certainly entertained me, and at last granted me consolation,” I confess.

A man born to build, Robert and his wife, Dana, own a salvage business—an occupation for those anointed with eyes to see “the potential and purpose in everything,” as Robert says.

“I’ve attempted to leave the salvage business several times, but the salvage business won’t leave me,” he adds.

For instance, October 4, 2020, Robert drove Amy’s yellow barrow, “too cute to let it go,” with one of her hoes to their property. He stopped at the entrance of his vacant lot.

“I knew that’s where the yellow cart and hoe belonged, and hoped they would make someone smile as they drove by,” Robert says.

In Amy’s honor, he’s playing with the idea of planting flowers around his charming acquisition with a “vignette” of garden tools.

“I also envision growing grapes on the five acres to make wine. We’d name the business Yellow Cart Vineyard—Amy’s legacy.”

Dear Reader, of all the possessions we attain in our lives, the humble and utilitarian speak most quietly yet powerfully of the beautiful, purposeful life.

And I’m first on the growing list of people who want the happiness of Amy’s yellow cart.


Mystery of the yellow wheelbarrow

 

A lonely wheelbarrow waits for rescue 

More than a year ago, driving our usual route south on Rochester Road on a Sunday morning, I noticed something new. A bright yellow wheelbarrow sat alone on a mown lawn at the bottom of a high, sloping hill.

A little gem, the abandoned two-wheeled cart provoked a tinge of sympathy and worry.

“Did you see the yellow wheelbarrow?” I asked my husband.

“Yes. I saw it when I went grocery shopping the other day.”

A retired outside salesman, Mel must drive someplace every day for his mental health. And mine. A homebody, I’m glad to oblige his kindness to bring home the bacon and fetch the chicken feed.

                Last night, Sunday, May 23, on the last leg of our long drive north from a visit to my Appalachian roots, we passed the mysterious cart again.

I sighed. “It’s still there. In the rain.”

“Oh no.”

For my spouse knows I respect garden tools. He once felt my wrath when he left my Warren hoe in the elements to rust.

As driving, writing, and gardening encourage contemplation, over the months I’ve puzzled out reasons why tool maintenance matters to me.

One most significant childhood memory came to mind. My father stands before his workbench in the garage with his oil can in one hand and a rag in the other, a tool secured in a vice. Ashes fall from the cigarette clamped between his teeth.

I hear the click of the can with the drone of Van Patrick or Ernie Harwell’s voice with the roar of Tiger fans. Dad wasn’t a tidy man, and didn’t possess an abundance of equipment and machinery, but he lubricated what he owned and put it back in its place.

Mom did too. She hovered over her Brother’s sewing machine with the tiniest oil can I’ve ever seen. A remarkable seamstress and cook, Mom sewed for pay and catered dinner parties for our family’s doctor.

We didn’t know the word “entrepreneur” or the term “cottage business” in the fifties and sixties. Nonetheless, I observed my mother’s skill, efficiency, and adherence to “use what you have, and return it to where it belongs.”

With this nurturing in mind, I lean to the minimalist side when acquiring all manner of household and yard gadgets. One shopper in the house is more than enough to overwhelm our budget and storage space.

So, now comes summer, another season and there sits that darling wheelbarrow disused. Once upon a time, someone cared enough to paint the metal its happy daffodil color. For what purpose did the owner push this little burden-bearer downhill?

I want to know what happened to the owner, solve the mystery of the orphan, why the prolonged desertion.

Dear Reader, life’s too short. This morning I drove down and turned into the driveway where the object of my concern languishes.

What did I find? A fallen limb and rake resting in the barrow. Perhaps it’s time to drive up the hill and knock on a door.


Affection for life and place

 

Joan and Elmore Higby, May 1947, Romeo High School Senior Prom

I delivered my bee equipment to Mary Jo for her to relay to our bee-maker. We’d pick up our installed hives when notified.

This season, after several years beekeeping with a son in his back forty, Mary Jo’s going solo on the Hosler homestead where she raised her four boys.

Change—a constant element in the skill of producing honey and a healthy environment in our own backyard. It is good to control what we can, for if yellow jackets don’t attack honeybees, verona mites may oblige if you don’t apply the treatment at the precise time. Oh, and wax moths also prey on the Apis mellifera.

Sound similar to the challenges of raising children? That’s why I appreciate Mary Jo. We encourage one another, do our best and accept the results of our efforts.

She gathered the hive she built from a kit and painted the color lavender. Her husband, Bob, offered to transfer my gear to Mary Jo’s van. Within minutes, I became acquainted with a man who’s passionate about genealogy.

“We know so much about our families because of Bob’s research,” Mary Jo said.

Bob lit up. “Nothing makes me happier.”

Elmore and Joann Higby, June 1950, Romeo United Methodist Church
They led me into the kitchen of their beautiful home. Spacious windows granted a panoramic view of Mary Jo’s backyard gardens, plowed fields, and distant barns and farmhouse.  

She smiled. “That’s Ingleside Farms where I grew up. My dad Elmore had the vision seventy-two years ago as a young, second-generation farmer. My sister Connie and her husband Rick Schapman now operate the farm with their three boys.”

I imagined four generations observing seedtime and harvest from their kitchen table. What a wonderful life.

“Mom lives in the next house down from us. She enjoys painting watercolors, and she’s very good,” Mary Jo said.

We stood around a large, marble island—what seemed the hub of family activities. The motion of Mary Jo’s projects at hand, growing sunflowers for an outdoor wedding on the farm, and producing a tribute for her mother’s ninetieth birthday, drew my eyes to an old black and white photo.

“This is my mother, Joann Higby, and father at his high school prom,” she said. “Mom’s a sophomore. Dad’s a senior. My grandmother altered Mom’s dress from a hand-me-down formal.”

Mary Jo walked me to my car. “I’ll call with the time and place to pick up our bees.”

Driving home, I remembered the diaspora of my family from our Kentucky farm where my ancestors grew crops, raised livestock, and kept bees. The words of Kentuckian Wendell Berry, farmer and prophet who penned his Jefferson Lecture of 2012, came to mind.

Delivering our nation’s highest prize for “distinguished intellectual achievement,” Berry titled his essay, “It All Turns on Affection.”

As his mentor Wallace Stegner, Berry observed Americans have divided into two kinds: “boomers” and “stickers.” “Boomers ‘pillage and run,’ whereas stickers ‘settle and love the life they have made and the place they have made it in.’”

Dear Reader, this settling and loving the life she has is what I witnessed within the Hosler’s kitchen. Why Mary Jo and I carry in our bones the affection for honeybees.

As she noted about four generations operating the family farm, “I guess that’s a lot of sticking around.”



A trillium story

 

Jack's Wake Robin trillium purchased last spring from Telly's Greenhouse in Troy

Unbeknownst to me, my friend Jack planted trillium last spring from Cottage Lake Gardens in Washington State, and our local Telly’s Greenhouse in Troy.

With tender care, Jack planted the seedlings under a black walnut tree, sheltered between his garden shed and the Clinton River Trail. A hopeful patron to natural beauty and the eye of its beholder, this April, Jack began scouting to spy the pleasure of his investment.

Meanwhile, unbeknownst to Jack, Sunday, April 25, on a saunter of my country roads, the first trillium blossom surprised me in the timber along Stoney Creek. The three, white petals usually appear around Mother’s Day.

I learned this fact upon my family’s introduction to Addison Township in spring, 1989. Back then, this native species of the family Melanthiaceae blanketed the forest floors in our little patch of the world.

I also discovered red blooms in the windrows of our serpentine road, an old cow path. Pioneers of the area knew the red trillium as Wake Robin, analogous to our State bird.

Sadly, each spring as subdivisions arise around us, the deer population grows and the trillium diminish. And I’ve yet to find the lone red flower at the foot of a bank west of us.

On schedule, Jack sent an email that same evening of April 25, addressed to our writer’s group named Leaps. Mind, Jack’s the veteran cowhand who casts his lasso every Sunday to gather our submissions for critique.

           “Faith,” he wrote with a photo attached. “That's what you practice when you put things in the ground. Almost one year ago I planted five trilliums. Here is the first evidence that there is life below the leaf mold. Product of the same faith that produces when you plant on a page. Who'll be sowin' seed tomorrow?”

“This is remarkable,” I replied. “I saw my first blooming trillium a few hours ago.”

          Thus commenced Jack’s email reports.

          May 1: “I should tell you we have foliage of two more trillium.”

          May 2: “The trilliums increase. We have three to celebrate now, with hope for more.”

          May 3: “Hope you're all enjoying the rain. The trillium are.”

          May 6: Jack phoned. “Iris Lee, four trillium are up!”

In the midst of our enthusiasm, Jack paused. “I think I planted six seedlings.”  

Yes, this is serious. You see, Jack’s a retired driver of eighteen-wheelers, musician, storyteller, and poet who’s learned the succession and significance of such delicate, enduring, and serene matters of the human experience.

While we rejoiced, I said, “Do you remember my favorite book about the history and spirit of storytelling?”

“It’s on my desk before me.”

“I know there’s several passages that apply to what we’re experiencing now. I’ll email them later.”

In Jack’s call for submissions at the conclusion of Mother’s Day, he emailed, “According to Ruth Sawyer in The Way of the Storyteller: ‘During these early racial beginnings of storytelling, story was not distinct from poetry.’”

Please know, dear Reader, our stories of faith, hope, and love in our modern day are not distinct from poetry. And like trillium, poetry is perennial. 


Good news to ponder

 

Our Eastern Redbud in morning light

A moonbeam wakes me at 5:20 this morning. “Ponder my faithfulness,” my Lord whispers.

              I stretch my back, admire the contrast of the glowing light on our new, dark wood floor, and spy the vacuum cleaner. Today, the last day in April, I dust the house our God provided.

“Thirty days hath September, April, June, and November, all the rest have thirty-one. February has twenty-eight, but leap year coming one in four, February then has one day more,” I recite.

My husband offered little patience while I struggled to memorize the number of days in each month using this mnemonic device. Thankfully, I’m a February baby and can never forget the odd ball 28.

“Dad taught us the verse as kids on our way up north,” Mel said. “Every summer he’d say, ‘Do you remember?’ Then we’d say yes and say it.”

“Well, my dad didn’t teach the rhyme to my sisters and me on our way south every summer,” I replied.

I consider my husband’s devotion to his National Geographic Atlas, hours mesmerized with boundaries, coastlines, and oceans while adventures from the world over wait upon my bookshelves.

We’re all faithful to different interests.

            I listen for more ponderous things, reluctant to let April go. I wonder if her meager rainfall will bring abundant May flowers.

            “Consider good news,” nudges my Counselor.

My garden fairy, forever reading

Yes. My health, home, and husband, although he claims I hate geography.

The scent from his French press wafts upstairs to my pillow. Mel is a morning and coffee person.

            Although I wake early, I’m inclined to absorb the morning slowly with a cup of herbal tea.

The sunrise strikes the blooming redbud tree waving magenta branches outside my window. The clock says 7:15 when my feet touch the floor to descend the stairs for my camera.

“The sunrise is burning up the redbud again,” I say to my mate.

He knows my priorities and nods.

I carry my Sony cyber-shot upstairs, open the bedroom window, click several photos of Mother Redbud and my garden fairy forever reading her book, and gather my stack of morning devotionals.

The wind licks and licks raindrops while I journal, read, and pray.

To conclude my meditations, I open to the good news in Hebrews 13 and pause on verse 5. “Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.”

I vacuum the bedroom floor and marvel that meteorologists know the exact time the sun arose this morning and will set at 8:33 tonight.

And I figure the age of our redbud from twenty to twenty-three years old. Six of her offspring grow in the valley where lavender once bloomed.

With the life-expectancy of 50-75 years, the trees will long outlive me. Encouraging prospect, indeed.

Dear Reader, this time each year I email photos of Mother Redbud’s edible blossoms to my daughters. And whoever would embrace something worthy, beautiful, and faithful to ponder.

I listen to April bellow another farewell. We submit to 31 days in May.

 


The man who heals people and rebuilds tractors

 

Dad's 1959 Edsel Ranger he restored

My chiropractor and I share common family history. His father restored old tractors including a 1953 Ford Jubilee, and his mother hailed from Barbourville, Kentucky. My father rebuilt a 1953 Chrysler engine and restored a 1959 Edsel Ranger. And Granny praised Barbourville’s camp meeting as the best in Appalachia.

                I owe these trips down memory lane to painful and persistent sciatica. And that commenced when I dismissed smart body-mechanics I’d learned in my “Fundamental Movement” course at Central Michigan University, 1968.

                Although lower back aches afflicted my mother and two of my four sisters, I avoided bodily injuries and surgery. But when you’re a granddaughter of a farm wife who cooked and cleaned for company until she reached eighty, you’re prone to remain confident about what you can lift and carry when you’re seventy.

                In retrospect, a hard fall on snow-covered ice a decade ago, and lifting 37-pound boxes of books led me to a decisive moment in August 2019.

                “I think my chiropractor can help you,” my medical doctor said.

                Oh no. I didn’t want to add another name and phone number to my list of two doctors. And I guessed one adjustment wouldn’t undo my damage.

                However, my physician looked me in the eye and handed me a business card. “I suggest you make an appointment at your earliest convenience.”

An x-ray revealed arthritis in L4 and 5. I recalled Mom’s “arthur-itis’, her willpower to bear discomfort, and determined to trust my genetics and the chiropractor to untangle the mess I’d made of my body.

Within several months, the searing trauma subsided. I began morning sit-ups and pushups, working my way from twenty to a hundred sit ups and forty push-ups.

“Just keep doing what you’re doing,” my chiropractor said. “Remember, magnesium and heat are what your back needs. Not cold.”

Month by month I passed 2020 checking off another visit on my calendar, enjoying first-time-grandfather stories about his granddaughter.

“How is it someone so little can melt your heart in a second?” he said during a treatment.

On cue, his receptionist knocked on the door. “Your wife, daughter, and granddaughter stopped by to see you.”

“Would you like to meet my little angel?” he asked.

There’s more to healing someone’s suffering than ultrasounds, adjustments, and vitamins.

My chiropractor's 1953 Ford Jubilee tractor

And of all ancient occupations known to humankind, he said upon my last appointment, “I’m sowing buckwheat this spring on some of our acreage up north.”

“Then I think you might want a few beehives. I’ve read there’s nothing like dark, buckwheat honey,” I replied.

“That reminds me. Thanks for the eggs,” he said.

The man who can’t wait to turn the key on his tractor to plow and sow seed is also thinking of raising egg-layers when he retires.

Dear Reader, after building our friendship, I’ll miss my monthly adjustments of spine, soul, and spirit.

Perhaps the man who heals people and his little angel will appreciate some hen coaching.

And I’d love to see his father’s 1953 Ford Jubilee tractor.