My little Stonehenge

The first week of April, I surveyed the neglected tree line along our dirt road, stood akimbo, and inhaled a deep breath of reality.

“It will take weeks for me to remove the mess with my pruners and your Sawzal,” I later reported to Mel. “Let’s call James.”

He agreed.

Several days later at 8 a.m., James, tall and thin with a black beard and teeth white as the bloodroot bloom, parked his truck and machinery in our driveway. A young man assisted James as I approached and welcomed them.

“Good morning! This is Daniel,” James said.

I shook Daniel’s hand. “Thanks for helping James. Let me know if you need anything,” I said, and left them to their work.

While I returned emails at my desk, I relaxed with a sense of relief. Yet, hired help confirmed the fact my body can no longer sustain the labor of pulling up invasive vines from the earth— a new-found sport thirty-four years ago when Fritz Builders constructed our house.

I recalled the drizzly, chilly day Mel and I rented a hole digger for planting trees on our property. Mainly evergreens. Three dawn redwood, Metasequoia glyptostroboides, tributes to Kim, a friend who introduced me to the gorgeous attraction in her suburban front yard.

I’d forgotten how the three fiery, perfectly shaped red maples, Acer Rubrum, came to grace the hind part of our property. One, the red maple I’ve christened “Storytelling Tree” for whenever the spirit of story moves me or a visitor, stands nearby the fire pit. (Children seem to prefer chicken stories to any other.)

The red maple is native to North America and a member of the Sapindaceae (soapberry) family. The species comes in second to the Cottonwood as the fastest-growing on our land, and in the Eastern United States. Although the wind in cottonwood leaves sounds alluring, the bothersome cotton the Populus deltoids sheds dares me to curse.

A great-great granddaughter of Larken McCoy, a logger-farmer-builder who cleared his land and built his two-story homeplace in the McCoy Bottom along Peter Creek, Kentucky, I’ve inherited a bit of his spirit. However, I’ll endure those cottonwoods, leave their fate to the owner who follows our steps on this homestead.

 By the way, James returned yesterday with his wife Ashely to complete the job.

“Where’s Daniel?” I asked.

“He had a previous commitment,” James said. “He’s working seventy hours a week because our trade can’t find enough help.”

If only I were younger, I thought.

“James, I found a fine boulder where you’re wrapping up this morning. When you’re finished, could you help me move the boulder with our dolly?”


Ashely smiled. “James’ mother would ask the same thing.”

Dear Reader, James moved not only that beautiful boulder, but three, to the entrance of our driveway.

“There’s large rock other there, do you want it?” James asked.


He set the rock atop a boulder. “There!”

I smiled. “My little Stonehenge.”

A monument to my ancestors. Loggers. Farmers. Builders.

First fruits of spring


My Happy camper 

After several teasers of springtime, the scent of sparkling dew on grass greets me. Peepers sing in the marsh down the road.

The womb of morning blooms daffodils before my little camper named Happy. And why wouldn’t she be, surrounded by all this beauty?

Yes, this glory is well worth the wait—five months plodding downhill in snow and uphill again with six warm eggs in my pocket. Sometimes five. This happens when hens age.

These days with sky-high food prices, the recipients of my egg surplus are doubly grateful for their brown-shelled gifts. I wonder why more homeowners don’t keep layers. I’ve found the intangible benefits plentiful.

I kick open the henhouse door (it sticks at the bottom). “Good morning, girls!” I say.

The Isa Browns gather on the other side of the interior screened door, squawk until I unlock and swing the door open and their chute. They jump down into their pen, stretch their legs and peck.

I gather eggs, scrape their droppings off roost poles, and refresh their straw, feed, and water.

As diatomaceous earth deters creeping insects, I spread the white powder on the straw of the roosting and laying side of the house. Also, a sprinkle of powder on the pen’s ground offers a mite treatment when the girls dust bathe.

I close the henhouse door. “Thanks for the eggs! See you at sundown!”

The flock clusters by the pen door, plead for me to let them out to graze on grass as green as Ireland. If hens could drool, they’d be drooling.

I climb the hill and determine to repair their tractor pen posthaste for safe grazing while I’m occupied outside or inside.

Sure, there’s start-up and repair costs with hen husbandry. But once a sound, small structure is complete, there’s basically the feed and diatomaceous earth expense. Oh, and grain and water feeders. Hens must have access to a fresh supply of both.

The magnolia by the pergola begins to bloom

A luscious pink color catches my eye in the awakening landscape by the pergola. The magnolia! Of course. And the forsythia, in perfect yellow, springtime succession.

This moment quickens the intangible benefits my wise friend Andy spoke of when he suggested I add hens to my lifestyle. An avid deer hunter who kept dogs, horses, and hens, Andy once said, “I witness the seasons change when I walk to the barn in the morning and evening. I see things I’ve overlooked before.”

Such as the Moon and constellations rotating around Earth when I sit in the swing atop the hill after sundown.

In this season of my life where it is my privilege to behold the first fruits of spring, I recall my teenage years with four sisters and parents in a small house.

Dear Reader, come the first warm evening, I’d lay on the lawn in the backyard, my cocker spaniel Sweetie as my pillow, and stargaze.

Oh, blessed silence and breath. There’s no price tag for the many benefits of caring for a flock of hens.

A gift for cast down sheep


My baby Ruth's Easter bucket with a wind-up sheep and chocolates

If you have a beloved lamp (or several) in disrepair, I recommend the Village Lamp Shop just north of downtown Rochester. East of the traffic light by the Dairy Queen on Romeo Road, look left for a yellow house with “139” painted white on a brown awning shading the front entrance.

FYI, you’ve missed the shop if you reach the fork of Parkdale and Romeo Roads.

Now, two things: the window on the shop’s left says “GIFT SHOP”, and that’s no exaggeration. Once the brothers and experts with lamp restoration have taken care of your problems, browse the most original shop I’ve had the pleasure to enter.

That’s if you appreciate antiques and recycled castaways transformed into art, and that’s using the term broadly.

 I never fail to find gifts, useful and quirky, some less than $10, and most above. I promise you will smile within minutes, amused at the variety of oddities.

When I dropped off two abused pole lamps several weeks ago, a little basket of white, wooly sheep with darling faces caught my eye. I picked up a sheep to discover a windup key on its side.

“Bless my soul,” I whispered. For I’d recently read a book titled “A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23” wherein W. Philip Keller, a shepherd, illuminates God’s relationship with us, His sheep.

I’m ever grateful for the friend who gifted me the book, a woman with eyes to see what people need. In the pocket-sized masterpiece, Keller ruminates the twelve parts of King David’s shepherd song as I’ve never read or heard it preached before.

In his progression from “The Lord is my shepherd” to the final “I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever” is the fifth promise, “He restores my soul.”

When a child memorizing this psalm for Sunday school class, I related “He restores my soul” to God’s forgiveness of my sins—washing my heart, mind, and spirit whiter than snow.

At age twelve, a tragic family event separated me from my Sunday school class and church services—and Pioneer Girls on Friday nights where my teacher placed my first Bible into my hands.

From that day when cast down, separated from my Bible teachers and fellow students, I couldn’t comprehend my Shepherd daily restored my distressed soul with His promises hidden within my heart.

Five years later, one marvelous day after cheerleading practice, a friend who needed her soul restored as much as I, asked, “Iris, would you like me to pick you up for Sunday school this Sunday?”

The Lord is our Shepherd, we shall not want. He makes us to lie down in green pastures. He leads us beside still waters. He restores our soul.

Dear Reader, I bought a wind-up sheep for my book giver and daughters.

“How cute!” they said.

We watched the sheep turn in circles as their dogs sniffed the odd little creature.

As Philip Keller says, “We may rest assured that our Shepherd will never ask us to face more than we can stand.”

My Easter song


My three girls: (L-R) Kelly, Becky, Ruth, Easter 1979

I miss my daughters most at Eastertime. Sewing their dresses, finding three new pairs of white patent leather shoes.

            The Easter of 1979, our family lived on Great Smoky Drive outside Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Young with our futures before us, we’d left our extended families, neighbors, and church in Michigan for my husband to seize an employment opportunity.

Becky, our firstborn, attended fourth grade and loved her teacher and class. Perhaps her new pierced ears helped her adapt. She conscientiously sterilized her earrings with peroxide in a small paper cup.

When I crossed the Allegheny River to drive our middle child, Kelly, to preschool, her younger sister Ruth said, “Alligator River!”

Sponsored by the church we attended, Kelly also loved her teacher and fellow students. She cried when I returned to take her home.

“I want to go to preschool, too!” Ruth said.

Nonetheless, as Easter Day approached, the girls anticipated our return to Michigan for their Easter egg hunt with their cousins.

And I longed for dinner with my sisters and their families. Foremost, though, I recalled the Easter Sunday service within the sanctuary of our former church, the highlight being Buddy Mack’s solo of “The Holy City.”

We didn’t stick in Pennsylvania and soon moved our belongings back to Michigan. Each Easter Sunday, Buddy Mack sang “The Holy City” to the glory of Christ’s resurrection.

By 1990, Becky had dropped out of college addicted to drugs. My husband, daughters, and I received word of her death July 6, 1996. Shattered, we left our church and never heard Buddy Mack sing “The Holy City” again.

Dear Reader, as you heal, it’s peculiar what you remember and hold dear. As Easter Day approaches, I remember Buddy Mack’s gift to fellow pilgrims, and sing his song on Buddy’s behalf. Please sing along.

Last night I lay asleeping
There came a dream so fair,
I stood in old Jerusalem
Beside the temple there.
I heard the children singing
And ever as they sang,
Methought the voice of Angels
From Heaven in answer rang
"Jerusalem, Jerusalem!
Lift up your gates and sing,
Hosanna in the highest.
Hosanna to your King!"

And then methought my dream was chang'd
The streets no longer rang.
Hush'd were the glad Hosannas
The little children sang.
The sun grew dark with mystery,
The morn was cold and chill
As the shadow of a cross arose
Upon a lonely hill.
"Jerusalem, Jerusalem!
Hark! How the Angels sing,
Hosanna in the highest,
Hosanna to your King!"

And once again the scene was chang'd
New earth there seem'd to be,
I saw the Holy City
Beside the tideless sea
The light of God was on its streets
The gates were open wide,
And all who would might enter
And no one was denied.
No need of moon or stars by night,
Or sun to shine by day,
It was the new Jerusalem
That would not pass away.
"Jerusalem! Jerusalem
Sing for the night is o'er.
Hosanna in the highest
Hosanna for evermore!"